From the very early 1800′s to the present, the history of African Americans in Fort Myers was varied and plentiful. The following timeline details those events.

1800 African American slaves believed to be in the Bonita springs/Estero area.  To provide labor for the planned pineapple and tropical fruit plantations.
1821 Florida becomes a territory
1840-41 The establishment of a fort on the Caloosahatchee (Fort Harvey)
1842 Monroe County is established
1850 Fort Harvey reactivated and named Fort Myers
1858 Military Fort Myers deactivated
1860 Virginia businessman James E. Evans settled in the abandoned fort.  Mr. Evans is reported to have had 13 slaves
1861 Florida seceded from the Union becoming the southernmost slave state.
1861 The Civil War began and Mr. Evans returned to his home state of Virginia.
1862 United States Colored Infantry organized.
1863-64 The United States Colored Infantry of the Union Army was stationed at Fort Myers.
1865 The Battle of Fort Myers. (February 20, 1865)
1867 Nelson Tillis, first African settler arrives in Fort Myers.
1870s Nelson Tillis brought Wesley Roberts to Fort Myers from Key West to teach his children.
1885 Monroe county Board of Public Instruction established a school for African-Americans near Fort Myers on the property of Nelson Tillis, an emancipated Florida slave.
1887 Lee County was incorporated in 1887
1887 Colored School District (No. 2) was organized in October.  Lasted three months.  Wesley Roberts hired to teach at a salary of $20/month.
1888 Another temporary Colored District established (No. 130).  Term for colored children was one month shorter than for white children.  Inequity changed in February 1889.
1889 Trinity United Methodist Church was established.
1890 Ms. Annie Moore, 1st colored female teacher hired for $15/month.
1895 Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church was established.
1899 St. John First Missionary Baptist Church was organized.
1912 Friendship Missionary Baptist Church was organized.
1912 The first school was built for African Americans in Lee County.  Williams Academy was located between Lemon Street and Anderson Avenue (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.) facing Cranford Avenue.
1915 Ella Piper and her mother Sarah Williams came to Fort Myers from Brunswick, GA.
1915 Woodlawn Cemetery was opened on Henderson Avenue.
1916 Dr. Ella Piper opened the first beauty shop in Fort Myers.
1920 Dr. Emmit E. Velasco was one of the first black doctors to practice medicine in Lee County.
1920 Sarah Williams, mother of Dr. Ella Piper, began the Annual Christmas party celebrations for less fortunate children of Safety Hill.
1920 Jones-Walker Hospital for African Americans only was opened. It was the first hospital for black people in Lee County.
1924 The lynching of two black school boys in Fort Myers
(May 25-26).
1925 Angelita Swain George was the first principal/teacher of the one room colored school on Boca Grande Island
1925 The Lee County School Board commissioned the drawing of architectural plans for Dunbar High School in October.
1926 Dunbar High School built and opened.
1929 The community mourns the death of Mrs. Sarah Williams, mother of Dr. Ella Piper.
1930 The beginning of the Great Depression.
1931 Dunbar High School’s first football team organized.
1935 The R.H.L. Dabney American Legion Post #192 was organized (originally called Palm city Post #22)
1935-36 Williams Academy building was moved to the Dunbar High School campus.  Named changed to Williams Primary.
1937 Clinton’s Café opens for business.
1937 May Ola Ponder Wells Diggs began her practice as a midwife in Fort Myers.  She continued until 1973-74 delivering over 5,000 babies.
1938 McCollum Hall is built and opens for business.
1939-40 New Jones-Walker Hospital was built on Blount Street.  A modern new facility that operated until the 1970s.
1941 WWII begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
1942 Williams Academy gets a 2 classroom addition to accommodate the increasing student population.
1943 Buckingham Army Air Force Training School opens in Alva.  McCollum Hall used as a USO club for black servicemen.
1945 Dunbar Easter Parade is founded by Mrs. Evelyn S. Canady.
1945 Dunbar High School marching band began under the principalship of Edgar Leo Barker.
1945 Buckingham army Air Force Training School is closed.
1949 The dedication of Bunche Beach, the first colored beach, on John Morris Road in South Florida (near Iona).
1950 Rest Haven Nursing Home for Black senior citizens was opened.  It had 12 units for men and 12 units for women.
1953-54 Brown vs. Board of Education; the momentous decision of the United States Supreme Court outlawing segregation in public schools.
1958 Franklin Park Elementary School was opened and the 1st principal was Wardell A. Salters.
1958 Mildred Blalock opens the Beauty Box.
1960 The beginning of the decline in business growth in the Dunbar Community.
1961 Isadore Edwards became the 1st President of the local NAACP.
1962 Walt Wesley was the 1st Dunbar graduate to receive a scholarship to play basketball at the University of Kansas.
1962 Dunbar High School, on High Street, graduated it’s last class.  A new high school was opened this year.
1962 The Southward Village Housing Project was started.
1963 Dunbar Senior High School built on Edison Avenue (1963-1969).
1963 Lewis “Doc” Carter began his career as one of the 1st black pharmacist in Fort Myers.  (Prior to  “Doc” Carter, there was Leon Lias.)
1966 Barbara Spikes Cook and Glenda Salters Hudson, became the 1st black telephone operators in Fort Myers.
1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assasinated. (April 4, 1968)Blacks and Whites meet at Exhibition Hall (previously segregated facility) to mourn King’s death (April 5, 1968).Negro ministers rode with white law enforcement officers through the Negro community until 3 a.m. Friday following the slaying to head off possible racial troubles.
1968 Veronica S. Shoemaker began her career as an elected public official in Fort Myers
1968 Statewide teacher public school strike.
1969 Blalock vs. the Lee County School Board.
1969 Integration of schools begins in Lee County.
1969 Dunbar Senior High School is closed.
1995 The Williams Academy was relocated to Clemente Park.
2001 The Williams Academy ribbon cutting and opening as Lee County’s 1st and only museum.
2009 The Williams Academy closes.
2010 The Williams Academy reopens as a museum.

 

Lee County Black History Society, Inc.

Description   The Lee County Black History Society, Inc. (LCBHS) is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. The organization is seeking ...