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In Brooksville, will past let the future in?

Published May 21, 2006

It's not uncommon to see Howard Delaine seated in the shade outside Howard's Barbecue as you drive along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard heading into Brooksville.

In the early afternoon, a slow time of the day, you could sit with the 79-year-old and he'd regale you with stories about growing up black in Brooksville - how years ago city officials pushed black people into the swampy, undesirable south section of town.

Delaine used to have a pool hall and game room, but it's shuttered now. Local officials promised to help him with a grant to renovate, he said, but the money never came through. That's how he came to be selling ribs, chicken, corn bread and collard greens from an old trailer.

Delaine isn't left with a lot of trust, but he smiles mischievously when asked about Brooksville Mayor Joe Johnston's idea to relocate residents of south Brooksville and replace the so-called "Sub" area with an industrial park. The mayor wants to trade trash, abandoned houses and overgrown lots for economic vitality.

"For enough money," Delaine says, "I'll go anywhere.

"I'm not going to give it away."

As Delaine recalls the old days, his boom box is tuned to the local AM radio station. Our conversation stalls as a talk-show caller complains that white men are victims of racism.

Delaine shakes his head. History tells him that when the folks from uptown throw around big ideas, black folks should beware.

Joe Johnston III grew up in Brooksville. He loves this town and seems sincere in his desire to take care of the folks in the Sub while at the same time removing a sore spot that has haunted people around here for generations.

Still, he shouldn't expect the residents who would be relocated to shower him with trust.

Here's a little irony: The mayor's father, Joseph E. Johnston Jr., was the Brooksville city attorney in 1948 when the city adopted the zoning that sowed the seeds for the blighted harvest his son is trying to eradicate.

The 54-year-old mayor is in his final year in office, thanks to term limits. He'd like to get this started before he leaves. He wants to secure grants to acquire the property and relocate residents. He envisions that much of the community could remain intact even in relocations. Churches could be moved, an important consideration. This place is not without its positive traditions.

But south Brooksville is starved for economic activity - a black community without a barbershop, if you can imagine. Even the bars and juke joints closed for business. Small churches and a funeral home seem to be the only viable endeavors. Men congregate under shade trees in front yards and vacant lots drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon. Drug dealers ply their trade on the street.

Litter and empty boarded houses are scattered throughout the community. Any historical attachment has not translated into a communal pride, the desire to make the neighborhood a place they're proud to come home to, a place where old-timers like Howard Delaine can pass on their businesses to children knowing that their future prospects look brighter than the bleak past.

South Brooksville is crying out for bold, drastic change. The questions is, will history obstruct its future?

Andrew Skerritt can be reached at 813 909-4602 or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 4602. His e-mail address is

[Last modified May 21, 2006, 03:30:25]

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