Business district part of DeLand’s rich Black heritage

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

Here are some of the Black History Month events coming up in Volusia and Flagler counties.

The West Volusia Historical Society will present a discussion titled “Yamassee Business,” which details the development, prosperity and demise of a prominent African-American business community called Yamassee that thrived in DeLand from the 1920s to 1950s.

The 7:30 p.m. discussion will take place on Feb. 20 at Greater Union First Baptist Church 240 S. Clara Ave.

“It’s going to be very informal. We don’t have very much information, but we want people to come to this dialogue and bring their memories of this community as well as any photographs they may have so we can all share our stories and begin to build an archive,” said Jackie Kersch, chair of the West Volusia Historical Society Community Outreach Committee.

Local panelists
The event also will focus on why the business district developed separate from the town’s main center, who were the leaders, and why it didn’t last.  Responses will be shared by current community leaders.

Panelists will include Mary Allen, executive director of the DeLand African American Museum of the Arts; Clarence “Bo” Davenport, former DeLand Public Works director; Sidney Johnston, grants and contracts manager at Stetson University.

Prosperous district
Yamassee encompassed what today includes Adelle, Clara, Euclid and Voorhis avenues.

The district was created by James Washington Wright, a prominent Black businessman who started with nothing. He bought an orange grove in the area which he and his brother, Tony Wright, made profitable.

Wright saw the need for retail businesses in the Spring Hill area, which was an African-American community in DeLand.

Working together
Spring Hill is located roughly south of W. Beresford Avenue, west of South Woodland Boulevard and to the north and east of State Road 15A.

It extends further beyond on the southwestern side of the city and lies inside the the city and in unincorporated Volusia County today.

Wright also got help from Whites like Francis Whitehair. They created what would today be a chamber of commerce.
“We really must celebrate this history. If you don’t know where you came from, you really don’t know where you are going,” Kerch said.

“DeLand has always been known as a city where people work together to solve problems and this is an example of where that worked across racial and economic boundaries and we would like to know more about it.’’

More history
She further stated, “DeLand definitely does have that rich history in African-American heritage like the other major municipalities around the county.

“We at the historical society are trying to reinterpret the Black hospital at the Old DeLand Memorial Hospital Museum, which was built through a cooperate effort of Tony Wright and a White woman who was a winter visitor, Elizabeth Burgess. Maybe today we can still learn from these examples,” Kerch noted.

One of the main features that stand in the area is the historic White building, which is on the corner of West Voorhis Avenue and Clara Avenue.

For more information call 386-734-5904 or email jkersh@stetson.edu

Black History Day at Daytona State
Daytona State College has designated Wednesday, Feb. 21, as Black History Day, which will include performances by Bethune-Cookman University’s Divine Nine and Daniel “Saxman” Fuqua.

The event will be held on the main campus at the student landing from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Food will be provided by Daytona State alumni and alumna Deborah Reshard, owner of Lil’ Mama’s Kitchen.

For more information, call 386-506-3402 or email Marcellas.Preston@DaytonaState.edu.

Orange City Festival
and gospel showcase

The City of Orange City is hosting its sixth annual African-American Heritage Festival on Saturday, Feb. 24 beginning at 9 a.m. at Mill Lake Park, 207 E. Blue Springs Ave.

The event will include food, crafts, STEM projects, a Brain Bowl tournament, sweet potato pie contest, as well as other educational and health events.

There also will be a Gospel Talent Ensemble on Friday, Feb. 23 at Orange City’s United Methodist Church, 96 E. University Ave. The event starts at 9 p.m.

For more information, call 386-314-1033 or 386-456-0610.

‘Mother and Child’ presentation
The African American Museum of the Arts in DeLand is hosting a “Mother and Child” sculpture presentation at 11 a.m. Feb. 23 at the Noble “Thin Man’’ Watts Amphitheater, 322 S. Clara Ave., DeLand.

The sculpture, of a Black mother and child was carved in sandstone by John Merchant. It was donated to the museum by John Wilton and Ray Johnson.

The ceremony is free and open to the public.

For more informaiton, call 386-736-4004.

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