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Pearl City Community Reunion 2008

July 28, 2008; South Florida Sun-Sentinel; Families renew ties to historical Pearl City, Descendants of pioneers honored; by Jonathan Del Marcus.

African-American families with ties to Boca Raton's historic Pearl City neighborhood shared memories and rekindled relationships during a recent two-day celebration.

Activities included a barbecue lunch July 4 at Hughes Park and a service at Sugar Sand Park's Willow Theater on July 5 at which descendants of three pioneer families were honored.

The 2008 Pearl City Community Reunion's theme was "family and community: dwelling together in unity." The reunion's chairman, John Martin, said the organization's mission is a "God-led effort" to reunite community pioneers and offspring of those descendants, and to develop a historical record of their families' lives in the neighborhood.

"There is in all of our history a moral value that has really been forgotten," said Martin, who grew up in Pearl City's Dixie Manor apartment complex. "It meant family. It meant neighbors. It meant the neighborhood."

Pastors of five churches, four of which are in Pearl City, participated in the July 5 service.

"Some of you look at Pearl City and say, 'That's an old community.' But it's your community," said the Rev. William Cooper of Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Honored were the Jackson family, who trace their arrival in Pearl City to 1924; the Dolphus family, 1925; and the Goddard family, 1925. A representative of each family received a plaque.

Amos Jackson, 76, a retired parks superintendent for the city, was one of the Jackson family descendants honored. He was born and raised in Pearl City. He played sandlot and semi-pro Negro League baseball on neighborhood fields.

Harrison R. Goddard, 85, whose parents, Homer and Lulla Mae, bought property on Northeast 12th Street in the early 1930s, accepted the plaque on behalf of his family.

"Your neighbors helped you out. You had no problem with anything," he recalled at the barbecue. "Now everybody is trying to beat somebody out of something. These are the facts. Things change."

The idea to have reunions had its genesis a few years ago.

"It's such a small community and you start losing people in that community," said Geri Spain, who served as secretary of the reunion. "You have feelings of nostalgia and how simple life used to be. And we wanted to celebrate that in a different way other than at a funeral."

The group had its first reunion last year. It expects to have the next one in 2010.

Henry James Jr. grew up in Pearl City and recently moved to Northeast 11th Street from Hanover, N.H. His grandfather and grandmother moved there in 1918 and were instrumental in founding Macedonia Methodist Church on the same street where he now lives.

"Last year, Harrison [Goddard] and I reconnected. That's when I found out that he was my grandmother's godson," he said at the barbecue.

Organizers want to help those with ties to Pearl City to create and chart their family histories and genealogies. Assistance is available for those who want to prepare and document their family history and genealogical tree.

In 1915, Pearl City was established as a subdivision of Boca Raton for the black community, said Susan Gillis, curator with the Boca Raton Historical Society. While there was no official color barrier, it was the only area where blacks could live in Boca Raton, she said.

The Pearl City neighborhood has traditionally been associated with Northeast 12th, 11th and 10th streets, also known as Ruby, Pearl and Sapphire streets. City officials define the area, which is bordered by Dixie Highway and Federal Highway, as historic Pearl City.

To those who lived in the area, Pearl City includes other nearby areas to which African-Americans also moved, including the Butts Farm, Sugar Hill, Lincoln Court, Yamato and Range Line sections.

"You've got to start teaching these generations how valuable Pearl City is," Cooper said. "It's not just common ground, but it's holy ground."

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,3741412.story

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