Members of the community gathered Thursday evening to honor one of the most historic days in Florida’s history: Emancipation Day.
There has long been a push in Plant City to preserve its deep and unique history by spreading accurate knowledge and heartfelt memories with future generations.
An event last week aimed to do just that as members of the community gathered to honor Florida’s Emancipation Day.
On May 20, 1865 Gen. Edward McCook arrived to Tallahassee, Florida and loudly read President Abraham Lincoln’s words to all who were near. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Lincoln on Jan. 1, 1863, but the South — which was in the middle of the Civil War — refused to enforce the proclamation and free the slaves there. So McCook’s statement was a day of history for Florida, coming 11 days after the end of the Civil War.
Plant City decided to highlight the monumental day in an Emancipation Day celebration May 20. Sponsored by Bealsville,Inc. and the Improvement League of Plant City the event drew a steady crowd as the community gathered to take part in honoring the significant moment in history. William Thomas Jr., president of the Improvement League, read the entire proclamation to the group.
“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual freedom,” the proclamation read. Thomas Jr. continued reciting Lincoln’s words for several minutes, much like McCook had done on that same day all those years ago.
The event was held at the Glover School, 5104 Horton Rd., one of the community’s most iconic historic landmarks. The significance of the location was lost on no one. Bealsville was named after Alfred Beal, who was born a slave on Nov. 25, 1859 to Mary Reddick.
When the Federal Southern Homestead Act of 1866 allowed residents the chance to buy land many in the community did. Beal worked on his mother’s farm until 1884 and then in 1879 he was married and began his own family. He and his wife Esther had a homestead near his mother’s home.
Beal was a farmer of unmeasurable talent. When hard times hit the community and forced many of his neighbors into foreclosure he was able to stay afloat. The little money he saved he used to buy forfeited property and sold them back to the former owner.
He also donated land for a school, a church and a cemetery. In 1923 the area was officially named Bealsville in his honor. He died on Nov. 25, 1948.
Bealsville was settled by free slaves in 1865 and 12 original families, upon gaining their freedom, remained on their former slave owners’ plantations to build a future for their families and neighbors. The community’s first public school was called Jamison School and was established around 1873. Right after the civil war a two-room structure was built on property adjacent to the cemetery donated by Beal and students from the first to fifth grades were taught. In no time the community’s school was at a capacity and there was a desperate need for something new.
During the 1930s the community fought hard for a new school for their children, but were told there simply wasn’t enough money to buy the land needed to make it happen. Bealsville residents raised more than $1,000 and donated more than 10 acres of land for the school. The structure was then named the Glover School after resident William A. Glover whose family had donated the land the Hillsborough County School Board had the school built on. Students from Keysville, Hopewell, Coronet and Trapnell were transported to the Glover Center.
Many of the students traveled from miles away and passed several schools restricted to only white students. The students at Glover were using textbooks that were years — and in many cases over a decade — old that had missing pages and writing strewn throughout the text. Over the years it grew and by 1954 grades first through ninth were all taught on the location.
A history of the school and the community was shared Thursday evening during the Emancipation Proclamation event to highlight the significance of gathering at the school to remember the words that impacted so many who called Florida home. Keith Clark, a descendant from the original founding families, was in attendance as were long-time Bealsville residents who have been an active part of the community.
“One of the things that was difficult for me to accept is we would get books that were 10 years old from the white schools and be expected to learn from it,” Doreatha Brown, a former student and then teacher at Glover School as well as a director of Bealsville Inc., said to the crowd. “I feel like as a child I was cheated, so I decided I wanted to become a teacher. I told the boys and girls it doesn’t matter what color they were, when they entered the door they entered the world of learning.”
The William Glover School was a “strawberry school” and the school year revolved around strawberry season rather than traditional summer months. When the fruit was ready to be farmed the students were often in the fields with their families. The school did transition eventually to a traditional schedule.
Then came the desegregation of schools in Hillsborough County. In 1971 a court ordered county schools to adhere to the federal judge’s recommendation of a “Black-White ratio of 20 to 80” in each school, so black students were bused to formerly all-White schools for nearly all of their schooling. The Glover School was converted to a sixth-grade center.
According to the school’s history, in 1980 the school was permanently closed and “after much deliberation, the Bealsville Incorporation was organized and the Hillsborough County School Board returned the ten acres of land and the building to the Corporation. The Historic Glover School Campus is now listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.”
After the official ceremony was over attendees lingered on the historic site and spent time checking out the museum at the school and getting to know the Bealsville directors and officers including Brown, President Henry Davis, Executive Director Gwendolyn Thomas and Treasurer William M. Thomas Sr.