Southwest Florida’s Black History: Window into Hidden Past

In 1954, Carl Strickland — the first black officer to serve on the Naples, Fla., police force, and the first Naples officer killed in the line of duty — was buried in an unmarked grave in a segregated cemetery almost an hour from his hometown.

Strickland had served only 30 days before he was gunned down after breaking up a fight involving a man later convicted of the murder.

More than five decades later, Strickland’s grave in the historically segregated Woodlawn Cemetery finally was marked and his name was placed on memorials to fallen state and national officers.

Strickland’s story, featured at the Naples Depot Museum, is part of the black history of Southwest Florida, preserved with perseverance.

At the Punta Gorda Railroad Depot and Museum, two front doors are divided by a tall brick wall too tall to see over. Above one door at the depot is a sign that reads “White.” Above the other, a sign says “Colored.” Inside are separate waiting rooms, ticket windows and restroom.

“Because so much of our history has been eliminated or unheard of, it is important people hear the history,” said Harold G. Weeks, President of the NAACP of Collier County, and vice president of the Friends of Collier County Museums. “So much of the present and future is drawn from the past.”

Visitors to the depot can read about and see local history via displays inside, and visit an antiques mall around back that benefits the museum. Rotating exhibits appear on the “colored” side. One such exhibit, “The Struggle to Become Educated,” was provided by the Blanchard House Museum of African American History and Culture, only minutes away.

Pictures of “white” classrooms hang beside photos of “colored” ones, starkly illustrating the disparity. Black students spent fewer days in school than whites and had lower teacher-to-student. Black teachers were paid less than their white counterparts or, sometimes, nothing at all.

Read More:

Back to top