The legacy of a restored Central Florida home and the impact it has left on our county’s African American heritage
Clifton Lewis moved to Bartow in 1989, when the historic L.B. Brown House was facing demolition after falling into neglect following the death of Brown’s daughter, Lavinia Thomas, the home’s last resident. After Lewis learned about the fate of the house, he founded the Neighborhood Improvement Corp. and led a successful quest to restore the home.
Lawrence B. Brown, a man born into slavery in North Florida, came to Bartow in the 1880s and became an entrepreneur. In addition to his business endeavors, he was a self-taught carpenter who went on to construct several houses, including the two-story Victorian structure, complete with porches on both floors and elegant exterior details, including wooden scrollwork and porch balusters.
Once Lewis restored the home, he created an event intended to be a scholarly conference where academics would examine historical issues. Eventually, the entertainment elements of the festival took priority, turning the event into the festival it is today. In honor of this past year’s anniversary, Lewis revived an element of the scholarly talks, featuring Canter Brown, a history professor and Fort Meade native, who moderated a panel discussion titled “African-American Defenders of Freedom.”
The festival attracts a large local crowd as well as visitors from other cities, some even traveling from out of state to enjoy the event, and serves as an opportunity to promote the county’s African-American heritage.