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Funding needed for Naples black history exhibits

Group shot of railroad employees on the steps of the Naples Depot’s loading dock. Collier County Museums 06.17.60
Posted at 10:50 AM, Feb 27, 2023

NAPLES, Fla. — Hundreds gathered for a purpose at the Sports Complex located in Naples for the "Jazz on the Lawn," enjoying live music, food, and drinks.

All of the proceeds from the event went to the Black History Baggage Car Project, which is an exhibit that will honor black figures of Southwest Florida.

Including the group of men that worked along the Naples rail stops after World War II.

“Here in Naples, a lot of people don't recognize that African Americans played a major role of contribution be it labor or patents," said Vincent Keeys, Collier County's NAACP Chapter President.

An old Baggage Car will be the center display for the exhibit which will showcase different contributions that blacks had in Collier County.

Group shot of railroad employees on the steps of the Naples Depot’s loading dock. Collier County Museums 06.17.60
Group shot of railroad employees on the steps of the Naples Depot’s loading dock. Collier County Museums 06.17.60

Keeys was the one who discovered the old baggage car that will be used in the exhibit. He said when he found it, it was being used for storage of Christmas Items. As a former railroad worker, he explained the significance of the railroad and the impact the men who worked on it made.

“It wasn't until the railroad, that came here in '27, that really opened tourism and construction. That was when Naples became a mark on the map," said Vincent Keys, President of Collier County's NAACP chapter. "You'll probably remember when President Roosevelt visited the Everglades, and they came by train."

Seaboard Air railway crew
The Seaboard Air Line Railway section crew lays railroad tracks near the Gordon River Grove in Naples, FL in December 1926. They are nearing the soon-to-be open Naples Depot, which welcomed its inaugural train on January 7th, 1927. Collier County Museums 78.4.28

A first of its kind in Collier County, The Baggage Car Project will be in the Naples Depot Museum.

“Which was the train depot, with many passengers that came from the 1920s," said William “Bill” Dwight President, Friends of the Collier County museum. "Much of the depot itself as well as the tracks were built by African Americans.”

The Green Top Social Club and Mr. Benning’s house located in the McDonald’s Quarters section of Naples in the early 1950s. Collier County Museums 87.9.6
The Green Top Social Club and Mr. Benning’s house located in the McDonald’s Quarters section of Naples in the early 1950s. Collier County Museums 87.9.6

With the baggage car out of storage, it will now be the key visual to tell the stories of what blacks contributed to Collier County. Dwight added the Naples Depot Museum is the appropriate place for the exhibit because the 10th Street/Goodlette Road corridor had traditionally been home to the Naples black community.

"We are hoping to learn more, because there is not a lot known, well there is a lot know but we want to learn more,” Dwight said.

A key component that is holding up the project is the funding. Keeys said the project is halfway to its goal, but still needs help from the community.

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