Oranges and Organization: Week of October 9th

Hello, everyone!

Before I forget, Juanita Wright’s oral history was uploaded to YouTube last week! Juanita is an older member of the Mims community in North Brevard. She discusses some interesting topics including her community’s reliance on midwives for childbirth, her personal mission to improve Mims’s infrastructure, and her hopes for the next generation living in Mims. In particular, she expresses her desire for the youth of Mims to understand the difficult events in Mims’s past, including the presence of the Ku Klux Klan and the murder of Civil Rights Activist Harry T. Moore (who you can find out more information about in this post).

  • You can watch Juanita Wright’s oral history here.

In other news, I had the opportunity to work on a very interesting oral history known as “Firing the Groves” this week. The video features three gentlemen who have decades of experience working in the citrus industry in Brevard. These men are: Coleman Mitchell, Alfonso Wilson, and John Moorer. The video covers topics such as harsh working conditions, worker camps, types of citrus, typical wages, and growing techniques.

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Citrus workers picking fruit in Cocoa, Florida near the Indian River in 1949. Image from the Florida Memory Project: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/294941

However, the most interesting part of this interview relates to its name, “Firing the Groves.” This actually refers to the technique of keeping citrus trees warm and protected during freezing weather. Believe it or not, Florida actually does get its share of cold weather from time to time. Unfortunately, when that happens, citrus crops and even the trees themselves can be lost causing significant losses in profit and time. This interview reveals that it can take 10 years for a citrus tree to produce a crop that is profitable! Wow, right?

What’s even cooler is that this interview actually showcases a couple of demonstrations. One shows how a citrus tree can be “budded,” which refers to to the process of grafting the plant. The other demonstration is of how an antique metal heater can be fueled and lit to keep groves warm during subfreezing weather.

Other issues such as immigrant migrant workers, a move towards land development over agriculture, and the pressures of sourcing water are also discussed.

I highly recommend checking out this interesting and candid interview to get a sense of what the citrus industry was really like in its heyday!

  • Check out “Firing the Groves” here!

 

The second part of my week has been working on organization. The excel sheet we’ve been using to keep track of the oral histories in our collection is a print out, and things have gotten a little…messy. Lots of notations and messy check marks make it difficult to read clearly. This information really needed to be updated in a digital format that was easier to read and easier to edit. Let’s just say I’ve spent some solid hours squinting at an excel spreadsheet this week!

Another reason to keep these files updated digitally is to allow for easy access to information if something goes wrong. For instance, Brevard County’s website was recently overhauled, resulting in some of our oral histories and their links to go missing from the page. Thankfully, I was able to source the needed information and get them back online with our IT department. However, if I had all the YouTube links and other information in a central place, it would have been a much easier task.

Along a similar line of thinking, I have also been working on getting all of the edited oral history video files, transcript PDF’s, and YouTube description documents put together. Thankfully, I’ve kept all the files I’ve been working on organized in folders and subfolders on the computer. However, previous oral history files that were worked on before I arrived are scattered across several user accounts and aren’t cohesively organized. So my task is to get all these pieces together and backed up in a secure location. I’ll definitely be continuing this process next week.

Until next time, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce

 

 

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Sams House: Week of July 24th

Hello!

This week I continued where I left off from last week, working on Isaac Houston and Martha “Pat” Woelk’s oral histories. Isaac Houston’s video has been quite a challenge due to its length. At 2 hours long with a transcript just under 21,000 words, there was a lot of work to be done in getting it ready to post.

Thankfully, the interview is very interesting and contains a lot of important information about segregation and integration in Brevard County. As both an educator and a member of the Black Community, Mr. Houston had a great perspective on these events.

  • The link for Isaac Houston’s YouTube video can be found here.

Martha Pat Woelk’s oral history deals with the history of the LaRoche and the Sams families, which are both her relations. This interview is unique because it tours the viewer around the Sams House property and gives a personal perspective. The Sams House is a historic home that was built in 1875 in Eau Gallie, Florida and then transported via the Indian River to its present location in Merritt Island in 1878. I was astounded to learn that the entire home was dismantled and reassembled in order to accomplish this. When you think of a house, you generally consider it a permanent structure!

Here is an excerpt from the YouTube description I am writing to provide some context:

The focus of this interview primarily concerns the Sams house, located in Merritt Island, where this oral history was filmed. The home was originally built in 1875 by John Hanahan Sams, who came from South Carolina after the Civil War to set up a homestead in Florida. Pat was the last of the Sams family to live in this historic home, and she has much to say regarding the history of its architecture and landscaping features. Included in this discussion is the unique story of how the oldest building on the homestead property, which was originally constructed in Eau Gallie, Florida, was disassembled in 1878 and moved by raft up the Indian River to its current location in Merritt Island. A second, two-story home was also built on the property by 1888, and the land and properties were occupied by Sams’ descendants until 1995. The house is currently a Florida Heritage Site sponsored by the Brevard County Historical Commission, The Brevard County Tourist Development Council, and The Florida Department of State.

As you can see, I had to do a little research to find out more about the families and the history of the home. The wonderful thing is that it remains as a historical site that you can visit today! In fact, it is the oldest standing home in Brevard County. The area also contains a lot of Native American artifacts and beautiful local wildlife.

You can visit the Sams House at: 6195 North Tropical Trail on Merritt Island, FL 32953.

  • Here is a link to an article about the house from the Florida Historical Society.
  • Here is a link to another website with some more information about the Sams House
  • And here is a link to the official Brevard County webpage about the property and the surrounding conservation area. [The site is currently part of Brevard County’s Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program.]
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Sams House/Property Today (Click to link to the photo’s source at the Florida Historical Society’s Blog)
  • The link to the Martha Pat Woelk YouTube video can be found here.

I also started another oral history this week for a lady named Lucy Mae Seigler. She is another member of the Black Community who talks about her family and life in Mims, Florida.

(Mims is in the northern part of Brevard County and is also where Harry T. Moore, the Civil Rights activist I wrote about previously, was murdered in his home. If you are in the area, you can visit the Harry T. Moore Cultural Complex at: 2180 Freedom Ave.
Mims, FL 32754 . Check out their webpage here.)

Lucy Mae is a deeply religious woman who discusses at length the importance of the Christian faith to her life. This interview focuses primarily on her family history and the fellowship and community she found at the Greater St. James Missionary Baptist Church of Mims. This video is currently being transcribed and will be edited for accuracy and posted online next week.

Finally, I have the line up for the next two oral histories I will be working on, which I will have more information on in next weeks’s post!

As always, thank you for reading!

-Heather Pierce