A documentary that highlights Daytona’s Black history will air on Sunday.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Daytona Beach has a rich Black history and legacy.
Many of its Black residents have excelled and made names for themselves whether it was on a local, national, or global scale.
“Beyond Midway: The Evolution of a Daytona Beach African-American Neighborhood” will air live on PBS at WDSC TV-15 on Sunday, Feb.14 at 3:30 p.m. in celebration of Black History month.
“It has a lot of the city’s history, especially Blacks in the city, the Black middle class and entrepreneurs. We need to tell the story,” said the film’s creator Percy Williamson. “Many don’t know the rich history of Daytona. We need to know it, understand it and expose it to the young.”
Gordon Parks’ influence Williamson created the documentary when he was the city of Daytona Beach’s Leisure Services director after doing an art exhibit on Gordon Parks’ photography in 2015.
Parks worked for the U.S. War Department in 1943; he came to Daytona to photograph Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and then Bethune-Cookman College.
“Parks was amazed by the community surrounding Dr. Bethune and the school. He photographed the iconic scenes. It was his photography that inspired the documentary, Williamson recalled. “His exhibit was the largest that we had. People came from everywhere. They talked about the city and Midway.”
Parks’ photography is permanently displayed at the Southeastern Museum of Photography at Daytona State College. Parks was also an author and worked on movies, including “Shaft.”
Daytona State College is a partner in the documentary. Derrick Brightenbock, the college’s photography department chair, and Larry Lowe, manager of WDSC TV Chanel-15, also played critical roles in its creation. In addition, students worked on the documentary.
“Beyond Midway’’ is in a panel discussion format, and Williamson is the moderator.
Panelists include retired school administrator, Harold V. Lucas, Sr.; Betsey Hardeman, a retired superintendent of schools; local businessman, Warren Trager; retired history professor, Dr. Leonard Lempel; retired insurance executive, James Daniels; and retired attorney and Daytona Times publisher emeritus, Charles W. Cherry, II.
“They are all prominent people who either grew up here, know the history or someone who did. Lucas names all the businesses on the Avenue. Cherry was the publisher of the Daytona Times, which did numerous local history articles. Dr. Lempel did a lot of research on local Black history,” stressed Williamson.
Focus on communities
The documentary details five communities where Blacks lived, including Midway (Second Avenue and Bethune-Cookman area), Waycross (South Street, Cedar Street, White-hall Street, Bellevue Avenue), Silver Hill, Newtown and Pine Island.
The documentary takes an in-depth look at Midway. Some of its landmarks include Second Avenue (now Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Boulevard) and Bethune-Cookman University.
Williamson emphasized, “Second Avenue was the economic center of the city. Whites owned everything east of the railroad tracks; the Black businesses were west. During segregation, Blacks couldn’t go across the river. They were forced to create their own businesses. It was absolutely amazing.”
The area had restaurants, theaters, doctor’s offices, clubs, lawyer’s offices, cabs and more,” Williamson said.
Rich Black history
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, Howard Thurman, Jackie Robinson, Charles W. Cherry Sr., Richard V. Moore, Joe Harris, Dufferin Harris and several Black teachers are also highlighted.
“Daytona is a cradle of the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. Bethune is an international icon. A lot happened because of her. She worked for President Franklin Roosevelt. Howard Thurman was her friend. He mentored Dr. King and taught him Gandhi’s non-violent protest,” explained Williamson.
“Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier here in the minor leagues a year before he did it in the Majors. Bethune had a role in that.”
The film also mentions Bethune-Cookman’s role and influence.
Williamson said, “A lot of things would not have happened without Dr. Bethune or Richard V. Moore. Cookman was so entrenched in community. Unfortunately, it’s not today. The city or county wouldn’t be what it is without Bethune-Cookman. Anything significant that went on came through the school.”
Some buildings highlighted include the Ritz Theater, Busy Bee Restaurant, the Campbell Motel Gypsy Tea Room and more.
“Beyond Midway” details urban renewal and its impact on the African American community. For instance, Joe Harris Park (aka Harlem Park) was dirt roads and houses before then.
“There were some advocates and opponents. A lot of leaders wanted it. The city had to bring in the federal government. They came in and bought out a lot of property. The city was supposed to pick up urban renewal but never did,” Williamson explained.
“Instead of rebuilding, a lot of people left. Many moved to the Madison Heights area, which was county property. The city annexed it later.’’
The documentary focuses on the three municipalities of Daytona (west of railroad tracks), Daytona Beach (beachside and downtown) and Seabreeze (Bell Air Plaza, Seabreeze, areas on AIA) merging into today’s city in 1876.
Williamson noted, “Even then historical records show that Daytona was 60% Black.”
The film is also available for educators and organizations to share with others. Williamson already has had teachers inquire about getting access to it.
“We want it to be available for educational purposes,” he added.