Panels from Cocoa and Mims: Week of September 18th

Hello everyone,

Sorry that there’s been a little delay with my updates! I haven’t been at work due to a major storm that hit our area. Brevard County just weathered Hurricane Irma, which made quite a mess of things in Florida, including knocking out power at the Central Brevard Library in Cocoa, where I work.

Thankfully, things are returning back to normal, and my internship requirements are almost completely satisfied! I’m still learning a lot about history and technology as I work here, so I plan to continue contributing for as long as I am able!

On that note, I have been working on the two panels I mentioned in my last post. The first is the Mosquito Beater Panel. This great group of longtime, often lifetime, Brevard County residents are known for their annual meetings held to discuss the old days in Brevard County. It was great to work on this panel because it contained the founding member, George Harrell, known as “Speedy.” (If you are interested in the Mosquito Beaters, I suggest checking out my last blog post: Historic Homes and Panels: Week of August 28th).

In addition, there is also a lot of discussion of baseball in this panel. Baseball was an extremely popular sport in Brevard County and the area attracted many people who were interested in playing the sport. The interview talks about how businesses in Cocoa even shut down to let employees see local games! One of the more interesting mentions is of a ballplayer named Felipe Alou. He was a black player who came to Cocoa before he made it big in the Major League. Mr. Boonstra and I had to do a little searching to find information on his time on Cocoa, but here is a small passage from a larger article we found on the website for the Society for American Baseball Research:

Alou began his professional career in Lake Charles, Louisiana, helping to integrate the Evangeline League. Soon after he arrived, the league voted to expel Lake Charles and Lafayette (the two clubs that had black players).8 Instead, the blacks were shifted to other teams in other leagues; Alou, having just arrived in the United States, rode a bus to Cocoa, Florida to play in the Florida State League. Desperately homesick, and stung by racism for the first time in his life, he pulled it together enough to hit a league-leading .380 with 21 home runs. [source]

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  • I think this interview will be a popular one on our YouTube channel, check it out by clicking here!


The other panel I’ve been working on is of four gentlemen from Mims, Florida, which is in the north part of Brevard County. They are: Samuel Hendrix, Joseph Ricard, P.W. Robert, and Ralph Sharpe.

The panel is quite lengthy, with a 42 page printed transcript, but it contains some great information on the people and places that made the Mims community unique. What’s even better is that the four gentlemen are good friends and grew up knowing one another. Thus, there’s a lot of funny personal stories from their boyhood that are both entertaining and informative about what it was like growing up in the 1920s and 30s in rural Brevard.

As always, Ancestry.com has been a huge help in my research efforts. I was able to verify correct spellings, locate extended family members, and confirm occupation information for many of the individuals contained in this panel. Using Ancestry has been a great experience in learning how databases work, as I’m frequently challenged to find alternative means of looking up information. For instance, I am frequently conducting multiple searches based on location, last name, or occupation. Family members are best found when using census documents, but military draft cards can also supply next of kin information. Also, by expanding the parameters of the search, such as being flexible in the spelling of names, can yield more successful results.

Here is an instance of finding an individual through Ancestry under the draft card option. In this instance I did not have the correct spelling of “McLemore,” but took a guess with the flexible spelling option enabled, and was able to locate his information and confirm his identity with his place of residence (Mims, Florida).

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The Mims panel was particularly informative because it contained a lot of information about the Citrus Industry. This included information about the Blue Goose Packing House, in Mims. The panelists describe the process of picking, packing, and labeling the Indian Fruit before it went to market across the country. The families of these panelists were directly involved with this industry, including building the crates that were used to ship the fruit.

Here’s a vintage label from the Blue Goose Packing House:

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There is also discussion of the Great Depression, WPA projects, World War II, pastimes like hunting and horseback riding, and other local interests. This panel is particularly rich with personal stories that feature entertaining stories about creating moonshine, schoolboy pranks, going camping, and family gossip.

That panel should be posted by next week! I will link it here when it becomes available.


Finally, I have an exciting piece of news to share, I may be able to work on a brand new oral history! It will be filmed here at the Central Library and I will be able to work on research, creating questions, and conducting the interview! I’m very excited about this possibility, but can’t share too much information yet. It’s often difficult to get all the pieces to fall into place for these projects to happen, including scheduling, execution, and editing. However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this prospect will turn into reality!

Thanks so much for reading! See you next time!

-Heather Pierce

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Melbourne Village and Digital Organization: Week of August 21st

Hello!

This week I uploaded the two oral histories I discussed in last week’s post to YouTube:

  • Charles Terryn (Early Cape Canaveral/Palmetto Berry Farming): Click here
  • Guenter Wendt (NASA Engineer): Click here

I hope you enjoy these videos! I especially enjoyed learning more about the Space Program from Guenter Wendt. It has great personal stories about astronauts (particularly the Mercury Seven).

If you would like to learn more about these two video subjects, be sure to check my blog post from last week by clicking here!


This week I began editing a new oral history for Hester Wagner. Hester was a long time resident of a unique community in Brevard called Melbourne Village. Known as an “intentional community,” Melbourne Village was founded in 1946 by three well-educated women from Dayton, Ohio: Virginia Wood, Elizabeth Nutting, and Margaret Hutchison. They witnessed hard times during the Great Depression, which fueled their ideas on what an idealized, prosperous community would look like. The community was partly based on the theories of economist Ralph Borsodi, who believed in self-reliant living off the land in a post-Depression world.

Hester talks a lot about the two natural hammocks in the community, Erna Nixon and Deerhead Hammocks, as well as the abundant wildlife. However, most of the interview features information on the politics of Melbourne Village, which is based on a Town Commission. Political splits, religious tolerance, and community involvement are all topics discussed.

One helpful resource was a book we have in the collection of the Brevard County Central Reference Library. It’s called Melbourne Village: The First Twenty-Five Years 1946-1971 by Richard C. Crepeau.

It was really helpful with verifying names and events. There is a PDF version of the book and another work by the interviewer of this oral history, Georgiana Kjerulff, among other resources available on the Melbourne Village website.

The community is still active today and you can learn more by visiting their website here.

Click here to view Hester Wagner’s oral history!


Another project I began working on was creating an organizational system for the videos we have been uploading to the county website and to YouTube. Since we have over 50 videos uploaded now (I just uploaded my 20th since my internship began), we needed a way to organize them for our audience.

I had the idea to create YouTube playlists so that people can easily find videos that fall under topics they are interested in learning about. It’s interesting to see how what once was predominately just an entertainment and social media platform, has now become an excellent educational resource. The trick is making sure the information is presented in an efficient and useful manner. A cool part about this internship is learning how being digitally savvy provides an important skill set for such a broad range of tasks. Computers have really changed the way we get information to the public from a historical perspective. I’m glad that there are digital tools that allow backlogged oral histories, that were once simply collecting dust on a shelf, to reach the largest audience possible.

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Working on some playlist categories that will be published on the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube channel soon.

Finally, I began one other project. It’s a bit different than most oral histories; it is an outdoor oral history following a group of descendants of former residents of a place called “Maytown” around old building sites.

Maytown is now a ghost town to the north of Brevard County in parts of neighboring Volusia County. It was once the location of two railroad crossings, but is now mostly empty, rural acres and a few abandoned buildings.

I should have more information on that next week as I finish the video researching and editing process.

Thanks for reading!

-Heather Pierce

Palmetto Berries and NASA: Week of August 14th

Hello, everyone!

This week I’ve been working on two new oral histories–actually, two stories of Cape Canaveral. One is for a gentleman named Charles Terryn, whose father worked as a palmetto berry farmer in Cape Canaveral, and the other is for a gentleman named Guenter Wendt, who was a mechanical engineer for NASA beginning with the Mercury Program.


Charles Terryn grew up at Cape Canaveral with his extended family, including his grandmother who owned a convenience store selling sodas, snacks, and gasoline to residents, and later to military personnel who came to work at the Cape. Charles talks a lot about his father’s business of growing, harvesting, and processing palmetto berries, which were sold and shipped to pharmaceutical companies to be used in medicinal products. This involved long days from dawn ’til dusk, all they way from autumn to late spring.

I was curious as to what medical purpose the berries serve and found out that they are mostly used in products to help with male prostate conditions. The berries look like this:

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Palmetto Berries (Photo credit to the Tampa Bay Times)

(These berries are no longer legal to harvest in the wild in Florida due to them being a crucial part of the local food chain.)

Like with most oral histories, I spent a lot of time researching names and places. One great tip I learned is using the census records on ancestry.com to find the names of neighbors and extended family that lived in the same area. In Charles’s case, it worked really well because the Cape Canaveral community was very small.

Newspapers also continue to be a great source for information, such as for finding the name of one of Charles’s Seventh Day Adventist pastors from Cape Canaveral, Pastor DuBose. It’s all about utilizing a variety of resources, and checking them often!

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I found the name of Charles’s pastor, Pastor DuBose, at his historic Seventh Day Adventist Church from Cape Canaveral using online newspaper databases.

The interview also included some interesting information the home Charles Terryn grew up in, which doubled as his grandmother’s store. The building, along with several other buildings, including the above mentioned church, were moved from their original location on the Cape when the Air Force purchased the land and forced the local population to move in 1950. The end of this interview contains footage of Charles and the interviewer, Roz Foster, walking around the historic homes as they stand today in their new location.

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The Terryn Store of Charles’s youth
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The Terryn store as a private home (2007)
  • If you are interested in learning more about the Terryn family and these building I recommend you check out this article written by the interviewer, Roz Foster, in 2008 Spring/summer edition of the Indian River Journal (the official publication of the Brevard County Historical Commission). Click here.

Ironically, it was due to the moving of families like the Terryns that made way for technological progress at the Cape. My next oral history was conducted in 1992 with Guenter Wendt, a German born engineer and official “Pad Leader” at NASA during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Guenter was born in Berlin, Germany and fought with the German Air Force during WWII. His aeronautical engineering skills served him well, but he was unable to continue his work in Germany after the Allied victory.

So, Guenter moved to the United States to be with his father and began work with the Defense contractor McDonnell Aircraft. While Guenter was often strict, even affectionately earning the nickname “der Führer of der Launch Pad” from Astronaut John Glenn, he had close relationships with the astronauts and crew at NASA. He even participated in practical jokes around the facility called “Gotcha’s,” which is discussed in the interview.

Guenter’s personal stories about his time working with these individuals made his interview extremely interesting to watch (especially for space history buffs!).

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Guenter Wendt (left) with Astronaut Walter M. Schirra Jr.

The end of the interview even includes Guenter discussing some of his memorabilia from his time at NASA and narrating clips of launches at the Cape.

Checking the names and spellings for this interview has been particularly interesting. One mention of a contractor for the Gemini Program was difficult to hear; I could only make out the word “Martin.” So I did a little research online and was able to find the full name, Martin-Marietta. This was listed in the “Project Gemini Case File” by NASA in an online PDF. Thankfully my detective work paid off! Check it out!

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I used this document to confirm the “Martin-Marietta Corp” name mentioned in the interview. You can also see McDonnell Astronautics Co. listed 4 lines below (the company Guenter worked for).

While there is a lot of great history in Brevard County, it’s hard to resist the glamour and wonder of NASA’s space program at Cape Canaveral. Even today, if I’m away from home and someone asks where in Florida I’m from, I always tell them, “I live on the Space Coast!”

(As you can see from our binders of NASA photos, the Brevard County Historical Commission also takes space seriously!)

Binders of NASA photographs in the collection of the Brevard County Historical Commission
  • These interviews should be posted next week to the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube page, which I will also link to on this blog. Please look forward to them!

Thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

Wild Grapes, Happy Creek, and Travis Hardware: Week of July 31st

Hello again! I have a fairly long update post this week with links to 3 new oral histories for you to view!

This week I have been working on three oral histories. The first is finishing up the Lucy Mae Seigler video from last week. I’ve really enjoyed working on this interview because it highlights the importance of the church community in the life of the local people, in this case Mims. Many people have mentioned how the church and the home were the cornerstones of life, so it was nice to see an interview that focused on that element. I especially enjoyed the story of Lucy Mae creating wild grape jelly from grapes that showed up in her yard after Hurricane Charlie in 2004. Lucy Mae took this as a sign from God, so she decided to pick the grapes in order to make jelly for her family and friends.

  • It is a really great story, and I encourage you to watch Lucy Mae Seigler’s oral history by clicking here.

The next oral history that I’ve been working on is for a woman named Evelyn Briggs Smith. Evelyn is the descendant of two pioneer families in the north Merritt Island area, the Briggs and the Beneckes. This oral history has a lot of really entertaining personal stories and information concerning the pioneer lifestyle of Brevard’s earliest settlers.

The Benecke family came from Germany to homestead in Merritt Island on a place called “Happy Creek” in “Happy Hammock.” The area was named for the moonshine that use to be distilled on its shores, making everyone, well, happy! Evelyn discusses how her family was both tough and resourceful in order survive among wildcats, rattlesnakes, alligators and hurricanes! (Floridians don’t mess around!) Evelyn’s mother Lena even use to catch baby alligators to sell to northern tourists! (Can you imagine that?) Other interesting stories include a boy cousin named June, eating sea grapes and sea turtles, and swimming in phosphorescent lagoons!

Here are some photos from the Happy Creek area circa approximately 1900 provided by Evelyn’s cousin, Ray Benecke, to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service). Click here to visit the source page of the following images:

Please also take a look at these small articles about the Briggs and Benecke families in the Brevard County Historical Commission’s official publication, the Indian River Journal.

Click here to access the issue of the Indian River Journal from Fall/Winter 2016, which contains the following clippings:

Happy Creek

Happy Creek and Briggs

Like all oral histories, there were plenty of names that needed to be checked for spelling and accuracy. However, I lucked out with several names in this history due to their unusualness. I’ve come to appreciate finding unusual/uncommon names since they’re often easier to research. For instance, in this interview there was an individual mentioned named Zannie O’Berry (never mind her male cousin June!). While I had to ensure a correct spelling for Zannie, it wasn’t too much trouble since there was only one person with such an unusual name living in Brevard County! These instances make the research part of my job fun.

  • Check out the really interesting oral history of Evelyn Briggs Smith by clicking here!

Finally, I started a third oral history for a gentleman named Roy Wall. This video was slightly challenging due to his age at the time of the interview; unfortunately, he had a bit of a hard time hearing the questions and sometimes got off track. Roy was born in 1889 and was 103 at the time of this interview! He lived to be a very impressive 106 years old and I’m very thankful he was interviewed before he passed away.

Roy was a distinguished Mason, served for 16 years on the Rockledge City Council and was also a member of the Cocoa Chamber of Commerce. Today Roy Wall Boulevard in Rockledge, FL is named after him.

He worked in Brevard as a banker during the Great Depression, and witnessed first hand the difficult times that followed when the banks closed. In 1936 he began working at the Travis Hardware Store in Cocoa, Florida. The Travis Hardware Company began in 1885 as a boat selling items up and down the river. The company is still family run and in operation toady over 130 years later! Roy discusses how much he enjoyed working at the hardware store and his deep admiration for its owner, S.F. Travis. Mr. Travis was well-known for his generosity and his upright and honest business practices.

Here are a couple of recent photos I took of the Travis Hardware Company in Cocoa, Florida. It’s only a short walk from where the Historical Commission is located at the Central Reference Library. They still do a lot of local business and they often attract tourists visiting downtown Cocoa Village.

  • Please check out Roy Wall’s oral history by clicking here!

That wraps this week, until next time!

-Heather Pierce

Property Deeds and Panels: Week of June 19th

Hello, everyone!

It’s been a productive week at the Brevard County Historical Commission. I uploaded two new oral history projects to the YouTube channel. You’ll remember I’ve been talking about Roy Roberts Jr. and Jack Salmela; they are both now up and available to watch! Please check them out:

Click for Roy Roberts Jr.

Click for Jack Salmela

I also began editing a new oral history this week from the archives. This was for Mary Elizabeth (“Beth”) Scobie. She comes from a well known family who settled in the north part of the county in the 1800s. She is a charming woman who talks a lot about the early days in the Titusville area as well as her family’s fishing business and many personal memories. I sent the video off to be transcribed and began the editing process. I will hopefully be posting her interview next week.

In the meantime, you can take a look at a section about the Scobie family from one of the Brevard County history books produced by the Historical Commission!

I also edited my first full panel interview. This interview is hosted by Wes Houser, a politician and business man in Brevard, and features Dave Nisbet and Joe Wickham, two prominent County Commissioners. These two men were extremely influential in the development of Brevard County and have really valuable perspectives. I’ve sent this off to be transcribed and am hoping  it turns out well, since this is the first project I’ve sent to them with more than two speakers.

Editing the panel interview in Adobe

Next I will be continuing to work on the additional oral histories we have on Joe Wickham. Joe Wickham spent about 30 years in politics in Brevard County and even has a park and road named after him: Wickham Road and Wickham Park. (Which will be instantly familiar to anyone who lives in Brevard). He was particularly influential in building roadways and getting a strong mosquito control program.

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Named after Joe Wickham

The other interesting thing that happened this week is that I was able to watch Mr. Boonstra research property records for a historic home in Rockledge. A patron requested to find out who the first owner was, which meant looking up records in our microfilm collection. We were able to piece together clues to find out that the home was built in 1907 by the brother of a well known figure in Brevard, Hiram S. Williams. The man’s name was J. C. Williams, and by using Ancestry.com we were able to see his name was John, as well as find his birth year of 1846.

John C Williams listed as Hiram S. William’s brother
John C. listed below his brother in the census


While I was waiting for some oral histories to finish uploading and converting I did some more research on my own and found some more records on John C. Williams. He lived in New Jersey and died there in 1913. I used clues such as the name of his mother and sister, who lived with him at the time of the 1900 and 1910 census, to confirm his identity.

I’m still not sure why he was building a home in Florida when it seems that he was residing in New Jersey…perhaps a summer home or investment? However, while there are still some unanswered questions, I’m still really enjoying this type of genealogical work.

I’ll be continuing my work on the panel interview and additional Joe Wickham interviews next week!

Until then, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

Many Mosquitoes: Week of June 12th

Hi everyone,

This week I was able to finish editing and submit the oral histories of Roy Roberts and Jack Salmela for transcription. Both have come back this week so I am working on finishing the edits so they can be posted to YouTube ASAP.

Roy Roberts was a citrus farmer and and land developer whose father served as a county sheriff. Roy lived in Scotsmoor, Florida in his childhood home, which he actually physically moved to its current location after the U.S. government forced him, and many others, to sell their land when they began developing the space program at Cape Canaveral. His interview had some interesting stories including his father’s experience arresting individuals behind illegal moonshine operations and some stories of the early pioneer days in the county creating a homestead.

Jack Salmela lived in Sebastian, Florida and worked for many decades at the Brevard County Mosquito Control District. As one can imagine, mosquitoes are a HUGE problem in Florida. So, Jack’s work was extremely important in this county. He even won several awards for his environmentally conscientious methods of implementing mosquito control. One of these was the Conservation Service Award, which is the highest honor bestowed by the Department of Interior to private citizens.

I’m becoming accustomed to encountering names of people and places I am unfamiliar with when working with these oral histories, but discovering the correct spellings and locating information always feels like a treasure hunt. Using Ancestry.com I was able to locate several individuals mentioned in my current projects. For instance, I was able to confirm the name of Roy’s childhood school teacher Mrs. Lillian Hutzler using the 1930 U.S. census. I love making these discoveries because it feels like I’m plucking these people right out of history; each discovery brings a real rush of excitement! I feel like I’m saying “You’re not forgotten!”

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Lillian Hutzler was a school teacher in Orsino (part of Merritt Island, Florida)
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Ancestry.com helps you understand old documents if you are not skilled in reading cursive or if a document is difficult to read.

Sometimes I wonder what records will be left of me when I’m no longer living. With the internet, things may be easier for future genealogists and researchers, but I’m sure the excitement will still be the same.

In other news, Mr. Boonstra and I were able to find a new picture for the banner of the Brevard Historical Commission’s YouTube channel! Last week I just put up a default image, but now it has an image of a 1920’s golf course in Rockledge, Florida. I’m so happy that we now have a real piece of Brevard’s history headlining our page! Check it out by clicking here!

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A screenshot of the new icon and banner for the YouTube page. (Recognize these names?!)

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I plan on having the Roberts and Salmela interviews up on YouTube and the website early next week, so please look forward to that!

I’m still hoping to work on an oral history from scratch, including researching questions and being present for the interview process. I know Mr. Boonstra is looking into potential candidates, so I hope something will work out. I think it would be a great learning experience about how history is put into action!

That’s about it for this week, thanks for reading!

-Heather Pierce

“Moore” to Come: Week of June 5th

Well, hello there!

It’s been a good week at the Brevard County Historical Commission. I started off by finishing up the editing of Edward Poe’s interview transcript. Unfortunately, the transcription we got back was not the best; it contained numerous errors and overlooked several phrases, which is why our revision process is so important. One problem was the omission of sentence starters like “And…” or “Well…”  as well as typing out full words such as “them” when it was spoken as “’em” or “you all” instead of “y’all.”

Although these words and spellings aren’t necessary to understand the information, including them ensures the transcript is true to the voice of the person being interviewed. Spoken language contains lots of unnecessary words and phrases, but since the transcript is a record of a spoken conversation, it needs to include such words and speech patterns in order to be as true to life as possible. (This was also a problem in the Mercer King interview that needed to be corrected).

Thankfully, Mr. Boonstra and I were able to make the necessary corrections to ensure it was as accurate as possible before posting to the county’s website. (By the end, I think it was actually one of the best I’ve worked on in terms of verifying names and references.)

Here is the link to Edward Poe’s interview on YouTube: Edward Martin Poe Interview.

This internship definitely reinforces my researching skills since I am often digging into multiple places for pieces of local history. I definitely have a big crush on Ancestry.com by this point! The census records are awesome resources for finding family member names, occupations, and place of residence.

For instance, it allowed me to verify the name of a dentist in Titusville mentioned in Mr. Poe’s interview. It also allowed me to find the full name of a person present for Victoria Raymond’s interview, “Kitty” Hay. Since she was only referred to as “Kitty,” I used the name of her mother, Lucille Hay (who was mentioned in the interview), to find the census record for her family. This confirmed that her given name was “Katherine” and “Kitty” was a nickname. I used clues such as her father’s occupation as a surgeon and her two siblings being twins (indicated in the record as being the same age) to verify I had the correct census record.

The census record from Ancestry.com displaying the correct spelling of Dr. “Lichtenberger,” a dentist in Titusville, FL mentioned in Edward Poe’s interview.
The census record indicating “Kitty’s” full name as “Katherine Hay” for the Victoria Raymond interview.

Victoria worked at the Naval base in Melbourne during World War II and one of the interesting things I learned from editing her interview is that there were German prisoners of war kept in the county! I had no idea. She said they were very happy to be kept in Florida’s warm climate as opposed to being sent to Russia!

She also had some interesting stories about her work at Brevard County’s first radio station, WMMB, including about how she went on to cofound a new local station, WMEG. She was even able to interview the first astronauts in the Mercury Program!

Here is the link to the Victoria Raymond Interview on YouTube.

Finally, I began the editing process of the interview of Evangeline Moore, the daughter of the Civil Rights pioneers Harry T. Moore and Harriette Moore. The Moores were tragically killed in 1951 when a bomb was placed under their home in Mims, Florida. As an undergraduate at the University of Central Florida I read the book Before His Time by Ben Green in my capstone class: “History and Historians.” The book details the life of Harry T. Moore and his important work with the NAACP and the Progressive Voter’s League to advance the rights of the black community.

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The Moore family’s story is a very important thread in Brevard County’s history, and I am excited to get to work on this oral history. The only downside is that the interview is done in a panel format, meaning there is a lot more editing to do than in a normal one-on-one situation. The quality of the video is also very low. So we are reaching out to the Florida Historical Society, where I did my previous internship, to see if their resources contain a better version of the recording. Thus, this project will be somewhat waiting on the shelf for now. However, I hope to work more on this project soon.

In the meantime I also gave the Brevard County Historical Commission’s YouTube page a small facelift by adding banner art and an icon to the page. Here is a link to the channel with all the videos completed so far. I am hoping to locate a better, historical photo for the page soon, but for now it looks a little less bare!

Finally, I converted a new oral history from DVD, the interview of Roy Roberts. So, I will be working on his video next week.

Thanks as always for reading!

-Heather Pierce