Robin Reshard is a woman of many talents, but this month her talents for storytelling and research are front and center. After many months of painstaking research she, her research intern, Abigail Melton, and exhibit curator Brianna Sharpe, delivered a special treat for Black History Month, “Words and Deeds: Conveying the Stories of Early African American Land Deals.” This month long exhibition began with a reception on Tuesday, February 2nd, and a discussion on Thursday, February 4th. Thursday’s discussion was led Dr. Patrick Moore, University of West Florida and C. Renea Brown, Escambia County Exemptions Coordinator.
The deed that served as the catalyst for this event came from Reshard’s great-great-great grandfather Wiley Woods. Woods purchased his land at an auction in Arkansas and the Woods family still has part of that land. For the inquisitive Reshard, the unknown details of that deed prompted her to think of land deeds and the stories they have to tell. Her inspiration deed was recreated by local muralist and portrait artist Carter J. Gaston and is also on display.
“Words and Deeds” is an opportunity to see how communities in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties were shaped by the land and its owners. One of the oldest deeds in the exhibit dates back to 1805, which is even more stunning given that Florida was a slavery state at that time. This contradiction caused one visitor to ask, “How could a slave own property?” The answer is in the exhibit.
This exhibit has information on the first African American owned bank and one of the first African American real estate companies. This is an opportunity to learn about land rights during this period and also how squatters and outright trickery cost some African Americans their land. Meet a woman who bought slaves and then gave them their freedom. These deeds reveal so much.
During the reception and discussion of this exhibition, some of the family members came and shared part of their ancestor’s stories. Those in attendance included Pearl Perkins, descendant of John Sunday; Angela Anderson, descendant of Sarah Jones; Brian Wyer, descendant of Joseph Wyer, slave to Euphrosine Hinard; C. Renea Brown, descendant of Jacob Kelter; Ethel Wingate Coleman, Alvin Wingate, John Wingate, Gerald Wingate, all descendants of Aaron Wingate; and Lizzie Harris, longtime member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church
The free “Words and Deeds” exhibit was made possible by the University of West Florida, John C. Pace Symposium Series, the University of West Florida Historic Trust, Cognitive Big Data Systems, and Robert Robino Productions. The exhibit is located in the atrium of DeVilliers Square, 321 DeVilliers and is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm the entire month of February.
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