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Living History

Featured Photo from Living History

The staff of the Goldsboro Museum is determined to keep the town’s rich history alive. Meet Francis Oliver who has spent decades collecting local archives, which are on display at the Goldsboro Museum – one of several projects of the Goldsboro West Side Community Historical Association, which Francis helped establish in 2009.

Desperate to escape the harsh Jim Crow laws of Alabama, Francis Oliver’s father moved his family to Goldsboro just after World War II. Established in 1891, Goldsboro was the second-oldest city founded by blacks in the country, and the family hoped to find a more enlightened atmosphere there. They did indeed discover a thriving pocket of African-American culture and community in Goldsboro, but even by the mid-20th century, the history of the town itself was beginning to erode.

The town had long lost its charter in a 1911 land and power grab by Sanford banker and former mayor Forrest Lake. Many Goldsboro residents believed a concerted effort was made to erase the former city’s significant history. Goldsboro’s Clark Street, for example, which was originally named for city founder William Clark, was rechristened Lake Street after the Sanford mayor. A similar fate befell several other Goldsboro roads.

As years grew into decades, Goldsboro’s history could have easily been lost. But for the past several decades, Francis has labored to make sure that doesn’t happen by collecting countless photos, documents, letters, and household items capturing the community’s past.

Today, the fruits of her labor are on display at the Goldsboro Museum, one of several projects of the Goldsboro West Side Community Historical Association, which Francis helped establish in 2009.

“We built the museum,” she says, “so we can tell the real story.”

Francis, who is 74, was 4 when her family moved to Goldsboro, and she has lived there for most of her life. She used her retirement money from a 30-year teaching career to acquire a treasure trove of artifacts. Some were donated by local families. Others she bought from homeless men and women who would sift through discarded belongings of Goldsboro families who moved on to other places.

“I have never thought about how much I spent – I’m still spending my own money,” Francis says, laughing.

The museum occupies a trailer where the town’s post office once stood and is tightly packed with items from monumental historical documents to snapshots of everyday life, such as a checkerboard with Coke bottle caps as game pieces and a Barber dime with a small hole punched through. A dime was a nice chunk of change in Goldsboro’s heyday, Francis explains, and someone might thread a string through that hole to make sure they did not lose the coin.

Stroll through the museum, and you will see a well pump, jail keys, an old crayon box, and a 1908 Goldsboro Elementary School report card.

Two water fountains, one for whites and one for “coloreds,” recall the strict segregation of the era. To add to the indignity, the spout of the fountain for blacks was at the back, meaning those seeking to refresh were likely to drench their shirt.

Francis remains the chief curator of the museum, but today the duties of running day-to-day operations of the Historical Association fall largely to her niece, Pasha Baker.

Pasha has an encyclopedic knowledge of Goldsboro history. She is particularly sensitive about the community’s forced annexation into Sanford more than 100 years ago. The town was robbed, she says, not just of money but of the opportunity to thrive through the 20th century. Ask Pasha for directions after turning onto 13th Street, and she is quick to correct, “You mean Historic Goldsboro Boulevard.”

The City of Goldsboro was largely the creation of store owner and carpenter William Clark. Early residents included celery and railroad laborers and also business owners who, for African-Americans, were relatively well off by the standards of the day. But the city would enjoy only two decades of existence after receiving its charter in 1891. After serving as mayor of Sanford, Forrest Lake won a seat in the Florida Legislature, where he led a successful move to dissolve the charters of both Sanford and Goldsboro and create a new and larger City of Sanford.

Goldsboro as a city ceased to exist in 1911 and was left with $10,375 in debt. A lawsuit filed by Goldsboro citizens dragged on for 40 years before finally being dismissed by the Florida Supreme Court in 1953. A copy of the court’s decision is featured prominently in the museum.

Mayor Lake would eventually serve a prison term for embezzlement, and many of the streets in Goldsboro eventually got their proper names back.

Some of the museum’s most important contents are copies or replicas because the trailer is prone to flooding. It is the Historical Association’s desire to build a new fireproof and floodproof museum that could safely harbor all kinds of valuables. Francis says she would like to see that happen within five years. She also hopes to buy a small house next door and turn it into a theater.

In addition to the Goldsboro Museum, the Historical Association runs the Crooms Academy Museum, with mementos from what was once Seminole County’s all-black high school (which Francis attended). Also on the same block is the appropriately named Francis Oliver Cultural Arts and Goldsboro Welcome Center and a large vegetable garden.

The conventional wisdom, Francis says, is that Forrest Lake did what he did because Sanford was blocked from growing by Lake Monroe to its north and Goldsboro to its west. Asked what she thinks might have happened had her community been left alone, Francis does not hesitate to reply. With no physical limitations, she says, Goldsboro would have continued to grow and prosper, overshadowing even Sanford itself.

“The whole city could have been Goldsboro,” says Francis. “I truly believe that.”

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