Since coming to Goldsboro in the 1940s, the Coleman family has grown deep roots in Seminole County while keeping their hometown’s rich history alive
On the heels of World War II, Alabama natives Levi and Wilma Coleman heard about the all-Black, vibrant Florida community of Goldsboro. The young couple, desperate to escape Alabama’s harsh Jim Crow laws, packed their belongings and caught a Greyhound bus to this small Seminole County town, full of hope for a better home to raise their growing family.
“It was a good decision – when I think about how we did grow up here, we were a very happy family,” says Francis Coleman Oliver, 77, the eldest of Levi and Wilma’s 10 children... all girls.
“That’s right, all girls!” Francis reiterates with a laugh.
Levi, like many Black men of his generation, began his career in Goldsboro picking oranges. After a bad truck accident, he left the orange groves behind to become a construction worker, eventually starting his own business and becoming the first Black licensed contractor in Seminole County. Levi even built each of his girls a home in Goldsboro to give them a start in life.
“My father’s block and brickwork can still be seen all over the City of Sanford,” says a proud Francis. “We got so many memories right here in Goldsboro, like climbing our principal’s mulberry tree and almost sinking in a boat my dad made himself! The truth is, we really were in an all-Black community. We all went to all-Black elementary and high schools and colleges.”
Francis does recall a distinct act of racism as a young girl when a Valentine’s Day dance held at the Sanford Civic Center did not allow Black children to attend. Francis and her friends tried to go to the dance, anyway, and were hosed down right outside the building.
Francis, who went on to become an activist and vocal community leader, is a lifelong member of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and has experienced everything from sit-ins to being tear-gassed and jailed in the fight for equal rights. She spent 30 years as an educator in the Seminole County Public Schools system and began her career in all-Black schools, but as the Civil Rights Movement made strides in the 1960s and ‘70s, integration came to Seminole County.
Where Are the Coleman Sisters Now?
All 10 of the Coleman sisters graduated from high school, and five sisters went on to college. Most of them worked in education or business, and the majority of the girls stayed close to home. Sadly, the Colemans lost their sister Peggy in 1976 to a drowning accident at Wekiwa Springs. The sisters remain extremely close and get together every year during the holidays, just the nine of them, for a full day of eating, sharing jokes and memories, and exchanging gifts.
“We don’t tell anybody what happens on that day,” grins Francis. “It’s just for us. And now, our extended family is so big with all our nieces and nephews, grandkids, and great-grandkids, when we get together, we need to rent out a clubhouse or events center.”
The Goldsboro Legacy
Francis has spent her life reflecting on Goldsboro’s history as a once-thriving, all-Black town, which lost its charter in 1911 when the city was annexed by Sanford. Many Goldsboro residents, like Francis, believe a concerted effort was made to erase the former city’s significant history. Determined to preserve her hometown’s rich legacy, Francis used her connections and her own retirement money to amass artifacts capturing the community’s past. She eventually opened the Goldsboro Museum, one of several projects of the Goldsboro West Side Community Historical Association, which Francis helped establish in 2009.
Francis serves as chairman of the association, but the day-to-day operations are run by her niece Pasha Baker, who was fascinated by the work her aunt put into documenting Goldsboro’s history.
“We have a lot on our shoulders to keep up the Goldsboro legacy,” says Pasha. “We strive to be a catalyst for cultural tourism and business in the Goldsboro community. It’s the best way to contribute to our community and our society as a whole.”
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