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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Collier County Museum Will Showcase Black History

May 30, 2022 08:41PM ● By Lisa Marlene

The family of Collier County Museums is poised to create a new addition. The Black History Baggage Car of Naples, which will help to foster appreciation and understanding of Collier County’s unique heritage and cultural development, adds to the present museum locations, including Collier Museum at Government Center (Naples), Museum of the Everglades, Immokalee Pioneer Museum at Roberts Ranch, Naples Depot Museum and Marco Island Historical Museum.

“The railroad baggage car is located at the Naples Depot Museum. It’s being made possible thanks to the Collier Community Foundation’s grant awarded to the Collier County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP),” says Vincent Keeys, NAACP Collier County president and retired railroad worker. “The grant allowed us to secure a well known architect to create a set of renderings, making it possible for us to transfer the ideas we had for this Black History Baggage Car of Naples from our heads onto paper. Breathing life into the concept wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Southwest Heritage and Friends of Collier County Museums, an organization that actively contributes funds, professional services and countless volunteer hours to support the museum’s collections, exhibitions, educational programs and historic restoration projects. Additionally, we are most grateful for the African American Cultural and Historical Grant we were awarded from the Department of State.”

Naples’ residents since 2003, Keeys and his wife Diann are long-term active members of the NAACP, as well as community activists involved in Kiwanis International. “Naples became what it is today thanks to railroad executives such as S. Davies Warfield. The railroad brought not only increased commerce, but also many wealthy and elite individuals and families that came here for sport and winter recreation. The goal is to make the baggage car an exhibit space that tells the county's Black history of workers known as 'Pullman Porters' that accommodated customers riding the railroad across the country. There are a lot of stories such as the ‘Gandy Dancers’ formally known as ‘Inland Navigators’ that laid track. This is why we want to include African American storytelling pieces via exhibits of African American artists such as Zora Neale Hurston and A. Philip Randolph from Florida,” advises Keeys, who adds that it was George Pullman, inventor of the sleeper car in 1864, who hired African Americans at the end of the Civil War, helping to lift them from poverty into the middle class of society. "Pullman, one of the wealthiest individuals at the time, employed a lot of black labor.”

The baggage car will be a space to tell the story of the porters along with other African American storytelling pieces, exhibits, artists, and local heroes such as Cleveland Bass whose family still owns and operates the family business, notes Keeys, “We’ll also include Langston Hughes and Granville T. Wood. There is a lot of truth to be told, and so many historians want to share.”