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Humanities council explores real Florida in Citrus County

A piece of real Florida, where the history is compelling, the culture genuine. A place with enough environmental dilemmas, water excursions and social issues to keep 200 Floridians immersed in local culture for a weekend.

That is what the Florida Humanities Council was looking for in a site for its 1997 Florida Gathering.

And, humanities council officials say, that is what they found in Citrus County.

"We want to show other Floridians a little bit about the cultural history of an area that they may not discover on their own." said Susan Lockwood, assistant director of the Florida Humanities Council.

In most states, the federally-funded humanities councils publish brochures and sponsor programs to promote state history and culture.

But educating Floridians is more difficult, Lockwood said, because newcomers know little about their new home.

The three-day Florida Gathering, which begins tonight at the Riverside Hotel and Resort, attracts Floridians who want to immerse themselves in an area.

The itinerary for this weekend includes this plug: "Nowhere else in Florida will you find a more idyllic setting than that of Citrus County."

Over the weekend, they will choose among kayaking around Tiger's Tail Island, exploring the Crystal River Indian Mounds, cycling along the Withlacoochee State Trail, singing Floridian folks songs and attending forums that discuss environmental, historical and social issues the county faces.

Some of the seminars will chart the progression of tourism in the state, while others will focus on the history of the Citrus County area. One seminar will discuss the life of May Mann Jennings, an important suffragist who grew up in Crystal River.

Another highlight of the weekend is a Saturday afternoon panel discussion during which scholars will talk with descendants of residents of Rosewood, the African-American community in Levy County that has become the subject of the John Singleton-directed film Rosewood.

Many of the Florida Humanities Council programs show teachers how to educate students about state history.

"Florida's teachers were born and raised elsewhere," Lockwood said. "They don't know Florida.

"How are they going to teach children in our schools a respect for Florida if they weren't raised here and they don't have it themselves?"