© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

An 'anomaly' of the South: How Black and white settlers worked together in Palm Beach County

Unique History of Inclusion (Part 1) at the Norton Museum of Art Stiller Family Foundation Auditorium, on March 1, 2023.
Lowe Collection
Unique History of Inclusion (Part 1) at the Norton Museum of Art Stiller Family Foundation Auditorium, on March 1, 2023.

Descendants of early Palm Beach County settlers will spotlight the racially-inclusive history of the county in a discussion series at the Norton Museum of Art this week.

Amid intense debate surrounding Black history teaching standards in Florida, the speakers will bring to light rarely-explored local stories, from the fields of law and architecture to education and the arts.

“The bonds that were created and the things that caused us even to move forward with the civil rights movement and everything else — it's just wonderful stories that people have not talked about, discussed and connected the dots to see," said Dr. Catherine Lowe, founder of Artists Showcase of the Palm Beaches.

The speakers at the Unique History of Inclusion in Palm Beach County (Part 2) event will explore unique stories such as the local legal victories of attorneys Thurgood Marshall and William Holland, how Delray Beach's Yvonne Lee Odombroke racial school barriers, and the cultural impact of the Sara Lee Negro doll that was created in Belle Glade by a white female designer.

READ MORE: 'Blatant distortion': Head of Black history for Palm Beach County schools blasts new guidelines

Dr. Lowe, a Black ophthalmologist with deep ties to the art community in the county, will be joined by land-use attorney and historian Harvey Oyer III, who is white.

Violist, Gareth Johnson performing at Unique History of Inclusion (Part 1) at the Norton Museum of Art Stiller Family Foundation Auditorium | March 1, 2023
Lowe Collection
Violist, Gareth Johnson performing at Unique History of Inclusion (Part 1) at the Norton Museum of Art Stiller Family Foundation Auditorium | March 1, 2023

Oyer said early pioneer settlers who were Union Army veterans, like his great-great grandfather Captain Hannibal D. Pierce, arrived during the era of Republican Reconstruction in the South.

Many fought the war to end slavery and segregation and worked cooperatively to create communities in the hot, harsh Florida environment.

"Palm Beach County, may be uniquely in the history of the Deep South, had a remarkably integrated society in its early pioneer days," Oyer, who was a chairman at the Historical Society of Palm Beach County, told WLRN.

"Blacks and whites and Jews and Christians lived and worked cooperatively for the first several decades of pioneer settlement. This is notable because our largely integrated way of life started shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War in a former Confederate state," he said.

Dr. Catherine Lowe (left) and Harvey E Oyer (right) in West Palm Beach
Courtesy of Dr. Catherine Lowe (left) and Harvey E Oyer (right)
Dr. Catherine Lowe (left) and Harvey E Oyer (right) in West Palm Beach

He said it was an "anomaly in the history of the American South" but that, unfortunately, through time, Florida "suffered from some of the same social ills as the remainder of the Deep South," such as the Ku Klux Klan involvement in local government and Jim Crow era policies.

Dr. Lowe said teachers and historians shouldn't be afraid to confront the uncomfortable parts of history and also recognize how cross-racial interactions help shape the political and cultural landscape in the county.

“We should be really trying to be direct about talking about facts that have happened in history,” Lowe told WLRN. “We have to be able to deal with it, to analyze it, and to grow from it and pull the positive things from it so we can go forward.”

If you go:

WHEN: Unique History of Inclusion in Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach runs on November 2nd at 5:30 PM "

WHERE: Norton Museum of Art

Learn more here.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
More On This Topic