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Rotary Happenings: Sanibel Historical Museum has put donation money to good use

By Staff | Jun 8, 2016

Just about a year ago, Sanibel Historical Museum and Village Board Chair Karl Rodman and Museum Manager Emilie Alfino were on hand to receive a $5,000 check from Sanibel-Captiva Rotary for the continuance of preserving and sharing the History of Sanibel. So on his return visit recently, Rodman was eager to share with our club how the museum had used some of this money in producing a 7-minute film presentation titled “Black Pioneers of Sanibel” for the museum. Unfortunately modern technology threw us a curve ball and decided our fate Friday morning was to see a silent film version of the history of the Gavin, Walker, and Jordan families and the stories they have documented about their families beginning in 1917. Luckily for us, Rodman could follow the film segments and give us highlights presented by Eugene, Oscar, and Ron Gavin; along with Jim Jordan and his mother Mozella Jordan. These families were pioneer entrepreneurs, coming to Sanibel as sharecroppers and tradesmen. Although segregated during their early years, respect for the families and the important contributions to establishing a real community here on Sanibel earned them admiration from many of Sanibel’s white pioneering families. Black pioneering families not only worked the land and fished the waters, but functioned in the construction/ plumbing/carpentry and electrical trades.

But as Jim Jordan recollected, “a separate, but equal mentality was a way of life back in early Sanibel;” segregation did exist and no more so than in the education of the children of these pioneers. In 1896 Sanibel established its first school on island, the “Sanibel School for White Children.” The black children had to leave the island to get their education and it wasn’t until 1929 that these children had their own school on Sanibel, the “Sanibel School for Colored Children.” This school was part of the Rosenwald Schools Project a partnership between Julius Rosenwald, part-owner and president of Sears, Roebuck and Company and the African American leader Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee Institute, to establish 5,000 schools for black children across the South.

It wasn’t until 1963 and the opening of a new school “The Sanibel School” that desegregation in education took place, the first in Lee County.

Sanibel and Captiva’s early black pioneers and their family members were hardworking, honest, well-known, and respected throughout the islands; many serving the needs of islanders by establishing their own businesses on the islands. Old film footage of island caterer, the late Mozella Jordan, appeared in this new film and reminded us of how gentle, thoughtful, and intelligent this woman was, as a loved member of the St. Michael & All Angels Church Congregation she and fellow St. Michael members led the way of desegregation here on Sanibel and Captiva.

A dedicated exhibit focused on the Black Pioneers of Sanibel is housed in the Caretakers’ Cottage at the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

“This cottage was built after 1925 behind the Mayer family’s Bayfront home, Shore Haven, now part of the seven building historical village complex along with the Caretakers’ Cottage. Through the years it served as guesthouse, bathhouse, caretakers’ cottage, and annex for the Mayers. In the 1950s and 60s Hannah and Isaiah Gavin, after farming and living on Sanibel for decades, stayed there to help widowed Daisy Mayer with housework and gardening.” Museum info.

An extensive collection of pictures and memorabilia are on display in the Cottage as a tribute to these black pioneering families along with a looped showing of the 7-minute film “Black Pioneers of Sanibel”.

This is an important part of Sanibel Island history and Rotarians appreciate the generosity of these pioneering families for sharing their stories and pictures with the museum for the production of this film.

Rodman also told us that the film came in under budget and remaining funding is being used currently to underwrite the admission price of children visiting the Sanibel Historical Museum and Village.

“History is a vision into the very soul of who we were and what we did, to become who we are and what we become” unknown

Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets at 7 a.m., Friday mornings at the Dunes Golf & Tennis Club, until mid-June. Arrangements for a new meeting place for the next two months will be announced on our Sanibel Rotary website www.sanibelrotary.org, or on our Facebook Page, Sanibel-Captiva Rotary Club.