Black History Museum

The building known as the 1942 Addition to the Williams Academy is currently located at the county-owned Clemente Park on Henderson Avenue. It is the remnant of the 1942 addition to the original 1913 Williams Academy structure. Williams Academy was the first government-funded school for African-American students in Fort Myers. The school was built during the school year of 1912-13. It was named for J. S. Williams, the Superintendent of colored schools in Fort Myers.

The original two-story building was located between Lemon Street and Anderson Avenue, facing Cranford Avenue, (now Dr. M. L. King, Jr. Blvd.) At the time, the Academy served grades 1-8. As the population grew, Williams Academy was limited to grades 3-8. Younger students were taught at various locations in the community. One of the locations was the Knights of Pythia Hall. Due to a fire on the 2nd story of the building in the early 1930’s, the school was converted to a one story structure. Between 1935 and 1937, the building was moved to the Dunbar High School site on Blount Street. When Dunbar High School was opened in 1927, the Williams Academy was renamed Williams Primary and used for first and second grade classes.

The Williams Primary School portion was dismantled in 1958 and the 1942 addition was relocated easterly on the Dunbar campus site. The 1942 addition remained as the stand-alone building, serving variously as a band/chorus building, day care center, and migrant health clinic. It was covered with aluminum siding in the mid 1980’s. From then until its relocation to Clemente Park in 1995, the building was used exclusively for storage by the Lee County School District. The architecture of the building reflected the vernacular construction of the era and is generally as originally planned. The building provides a visual comparison with facilities provided to the white students and represents the value that Lee County placed on black education in 1942. The structure serves to remind the community of past inequities in education, which should not be allowed to recur.

In November 1994, the Lee County School Board slated the building for demolition to make room for a parking lot. The Lee County Black History Society Inc. (LCBHS) acquired the remaining1942 addition (2 classrooms) from the school district on the condition that LCBHS move the building from its location on the Dunbar Community School property. The LCBHS raised the funds and moved the building to its present location at Clemente Park has served various functions in the Dunbar community through the years. In addition to serving as a recreational facility, the park has had many roles. It has served as a nursing home for the elderly when such facilities were still segregated (1950), a counseling center and the first library for the Dunbar community.

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