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South Brooksville street renamed in honor of Sarah F. Davis, community matriarch

After the road was formally renamed and dedicated Monday for longtime educator Sarah F. Davis, Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins, center, stands for a photo with Davis’ family members, from left, granddaughters Mallory Davis of Tampa and Jennifer Collins of Atlanta, daughter Angela Collins of Atlanta, son Mack Davis III of Tampa and daughter-in-law Janette Spencer-Davis of Tampa.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

After the road was formally renamed and dedicated Monday for longtime educator Sarah F. Davis, Hernando County Commissioner Jim Adkins, center, stands for a photo with Davis’ family members, from left, granddaughters Mallory Davis of Tampa and Jennifer Collins of Atlanta, daughter Angela Collins of Atlanta, son Mack Davis III of Tampa and daughter-in-law Janette Spencer-Davis of Tampa.

BROOKSVILLE — Before Monday, few people in south Brooksville gave much thought to Newgate Street.

Just a block long and shaded by massive oak trees, the road doesn't see much traffic. It connects School and St. Francis streets in a residential corner of a predominantly black community.

By midday Monday, the little road meant everything to friends and family of Sarah F. Davis.

What was Newgate is now officially Sarah F. Davis Drive, renamed in honor of a beloved community matriarch who served her neighborhood until she was killed in her home on St. Francis at age 80.

Two years later, friends, family, and city and county officials gathered near the corner of Newgate and St. Francis for a dedication ceremony.

"She has left a legacy of kindness, compassion and strength of character for all who were fortunate enough to know her," county Commissioner James Adkins told a crowd of about 50 people.

Davis taught many of south Brooksville's residents over the course of a 30-year education career in Hernando County. She spent most of that time at Moton School, which was at one point the only African-American school in the county. Davis graduated from there in 1946 and returned in 1954 to teach third grade. She could step out the front door of her home and walk across St. Francis Street to the campus.

After she retired, Davis maintained a presence in the community. She volunteered at her church, Bethlehem Progressive Baptist, headed up the neighborhood's crime watch, and worked at one of the nearby sheriff's substations for 14 years. She was actively involved with the NAACP, the Black Educators Caucus, and the South Brooksville Revitalization Task Force.

The former Moton campus now houses a local social services agency and Head Start program. On Monday, as speakers paid tribute to Davis, a light breeze carried the gleeful shouts of children on the playground.

U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, was sheriff when Davis was slain in May 2010. The day will go down as one of the most tragic in the county's history, he said.

"She embodied what we all strive to be," he said, "and that's just a decent, good human being."

Authorities said Byron Burch, 41, a career criminal and distant relative of Davis, killed her so he could steal her jewelry and sell it to buy drugs. They said Davis had tried to help Burch by allowing him to perform odd jobs around her house.

Burch's trial is scheduled for next month. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Davis' children, Mack Davis III of Tampa and Angela Collins of Atlanta, pulled down the piece of black cloth to reveal the gleaming new sign that bears their mother's name.

Eventually, Sarah F. Davis Drive will be extended eastward to Emerson Road, providing another access point to the neighborhood.

That's fitting, her son said.

"Because she touched everyone who lived in this area in some way."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@tampabay.com.

South Brooksville street renamed in honor of Sarah F. Davis, community matriarch 09/17/12 [Last modified: Monday, September 17, 2012 10:26pm]
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