Gainesville’s civil rights organization, the Newtown Florist Club, is nearing publication of a Black business directory for the area that will demonstrate the “great deal of entrepreneurial activity going on in the Black community,” the group’s executive director The Rev. Rose Johnson said.
Work on the project dates back to 2017, though the club has recently renewed focus on the idea for its economic justice project ahead of February, which is Black History Month.
“To have the opportunity to take the time to collect that information, to see and hear what people are doing, it’s so exciting for the club and it’s exciting for the community, because there is a great deal of entrepreneurial activity going on in the Black community,” Johnson said.
Johnson said she believes there is a historical information gap around the Black business community that existed in Gainesville more than 50 years ago. The club’s executive director said E.E. Butler High School, which taught Gainesville’s Black students until its close in 1969, had an administration and staff that promoted “an expectation of excellence” that permeated into the community.
“Before urban renewal which took place in the early ‘70s, Gainesville had a thriving Black business community, I would say, especially … on the Athens Street corridor,” said Linda Hutchens, who has served as president of the Gainesville-Hall County Black History Society.
Angela Middleton, who has been the coordinator for the project, said they have been able to gather information on roughly 170 Black-owned businesses, entrepreneurs, nonprofit community resources and churches. Middleton said they are still hoping to reach out to several others before the directory is released.
“We would like for the minority businesses to be highlighted so that they can continue to grow and prosper,” Middleton said. “We would like to make it easier access to locate the minority businesses as well as the resources we have in this area.”
Through the project’s development, Middleton said she was excited to discover the range of businesses being created by young entrepreneurs throughout the region.
“We began to realize that, ‘Oh my God, there’s so much more going on here than we even realized,’ and the number of young people who were starting businesses, who had ideas about starting businesses,” Johnson said. “It just became quite an exciting process to even go through, so we just continued.”
Johnson said she hopes the directory’s publication will “inspire others who have wanted to start a business to think more about the possibility of doing that in this day and age.”