Sarasota residents reflect on days of segregated beaches; celebrate new designation

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In Sarasota County, the Newtown community celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a new designation.

Newtown has been added to the U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

During the 1950s, Newtown residents helped desegregate Sarasota’s beaches.

Odessa Butler and others gathered on Lido Beach Monday, walking in their own footsteps, remembering their childhoods when beaches were segregated.

“It was scary because we didn’t know how other people would feel,” Butler remembered. “A lot of them would taunt us by saying you all leave. You don’t belong here, but we came and we were taught not to get excited.”

When she was little, she and her family were not allowed on any Sarasota beaches.

Minnie Elliott-Bryant remembers it just like yesterday.

“It was just a known fact that we were not allowed and we didn’t come because we weren’t allowed,” she said.

But the Civil Rights Movement wasn’t just happening in large, urban areas. It was literally coast to coast.

Those who lived in the Newtown community in Sarasota formed groups. They took beach carrier vans to Lido and other beaches, holding wade-ins that eventually lead to the desegregation of beaches.

“At that time, we didn’t realize the significance of the struggle that we were going through, but now we do,” Elliott-Bryant said.

Nearly 70 years later, Minnie and Odessa joined others to celebrate and reflect.

“Being a part of the movement and making history, it’s phenomenal to still have these individuals be a part of our community, still working every day in our community, still making a difference in our community, and to be able to tell the true story,” Sarasota NAACP Sarasota President Trevor Harvey said.

An official U.S. Civil Rights Trail marker describes the journey this group hopes will never be walked again.

“I am honored that I was a part of that first caravan that came out and I want to make sure our children and our grandchildren known from which we come. It always hasn’t been easy, but we are grateful it’s this far,” Odessa Butler said.

The Civil Rights Trail stretches through 15 states, with more than 100 locations. It's a collection of churches, courthouses, schools and museums where activists challenged segregation.

Newtown now marks the southernmost point on the trail.