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Light of history will shine

(ran PW edition of PT)

During the Depression, two brothers took advantage of hard times and began buying chunks of land next to the citrus groves where they worked. Through the years, the property expanded and developed into what is known as Baskin-Dansville, a mile-square area of nine neighborhoods that is home to almost 5,000 people.

The community grew so quietly and was so hedged by citrus groves that it was virtually unknown to surrounding towns and municipalities for several decades.

A yearlong project of compiling the history of this area culminates at 1 p.m. today with the presentation of "The People's History of the Baskin-Dansville Community" at Heritage Park's museum, 11909 125th St. N, Largo.

The program, held in conjunction with Black History Month, will feature exhibits, photographs, slides and information collected from oral interviews of some of the community's longtime residents.

Sue Searcy Goldman, a retired college professor and volunteer education assistant at Heritage Park, has been working on the project with a small group of other volunteers since last February.

"The community is changing rapidly, and the impetus for the project was to capture the essence of the community as it was and is now," Mrs. Goldman said.

"The first property owners were Lloyd and Dan Henry, brothers who came here from Dawson, Ga.," Mrs. Goldman said. "Lloyd Henry had come as early as 1915 to work in the groves, and Dan came in 1920, but they didn't start buying property until 1935. They started with 10 acres and added more land regularly every year or two. They sold to other black families, and that's how the community developed."

Mrs. Goldman said the community has a history of strong family loyalties. "The people have a sense of value that is based on a deep spirituality," she said. "They've always been very self-sufficient and innovative. They have been resistant to incorporation because of the community's history as a family-oriented base. I think it's unique that a group has not wanted to become urbanized for such unselfish reasons."

The nine neighborhoods that make up the community are Baskin, Dansville, Oak Village, Taylor Lake, Ridgecrest, Ridgeview, Harmony Homes, Martin Terrace and Gulfview Terrace.

The community also has nine churches, Mrs. Goldman said.

Bernice Jones Campbell and Sonjia Wynn Campbell, who live in the Baskin-Dansville community, have been doing the oral history interviews.

"It's important for children, black and white, to know how the area developed and the significant contributions that residents made to it," said Sonjia Campbell. "As the older generation passes on, many of these things are lost and the next generation has no knowledge of them."

The search for photographs and other memorabilia has not been easy, she said. "The response to the project has been really great," she said, "but cameras were not commonplace for black people to have in those early years, so when we find photographs, they're really valuable."

Sonjia Campbell and her family returned here five years ago after 20 years of living all over the world. "We came back because this was home," she said. "My husband was in the military and we lived in Japan, the Philippines, the Azores, Portugal and different states here, but we always planned to come home."

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