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Preserving the memory of Sarasotan Leonard Reid

The Sarasota City Commission took a step last week to preserve a slice of Sarasota history and support the Sarasota African American Cultural Coalition’s vision for a cultural center or museum.

The Commission unanimously approved drafting a cost sharing agreement to move the 1926 Leonard Reid house, currently located at 1435 7th Street, to the City’s newly acquired property at Orange Avenue. and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.

While the details will be finalized, plans call for the SAACC to lease the structure for office space where exhibits and conversations can be hosted about Sarasota’s Black history and serve as incubator space for the development of a permanent African American cultural arts center or museum.

“This is a practical and exciting way to preserve our local history while simultaneously activating the MLK corridor and stimulating economic development opportunities in this historically Black neighborhood,” said City Manager Tom Barwin.

A tentative agreement relocates the Leonard Reid house from 7th Street to the Dr. MLK, Jr. Way corridor.

Leonard Reid was a well-respected African American pioneer who was instrumental in the settlement of Overtown, Sarasota’s early Black community.

Reid also was an assistant, companion and close confidante to Col. Hamilton Gillespie, Sarasota’s first mayor and most prominent resident at the time.

Walking through palmettos near downtown, Reid helped Gillespie lay out what would be referred to as one of the first golf courses in Florida and possibly the United States.

Reid and his wife played a key role in establishing one of Sarasota’s oldest African American churches, Payne Chapel AME Methodist Church, founded in 1906.

Reid supervised the construction of his home where he and his wife, Eddye, raised their four children. Two daughters, Ethel and Viola, became teachers in Sarasota, with Ethel teaching at Booker School in the early 1930s. Both women lived their entire lives in the family house and worked to advance the Black community in Sarasota. In 1995, Viola, in her 80s, sold the Reid house and moved into an elder care facility. Four years later, the Leonard Reid house was granted a local historic designation by the City of Sarasota.

Discussions about relocating the house, which is in excellent condition, have been in the works for almost two years. Barwin added, “We’re pleased this initiative is moving forward. Many thanks to the Office of Economic Development, current house owners John and Tom Hermanson, SAACC President Vickie Oldham, and SAACC Board Chairman Dr. Washington Hill for their collaboration and continued partnership with this exciting venture.”

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