tampabay.com

The historian of Angola, Fla.

By RODNEY THRASH
Published February 18, 2007


THE STORY: After more than 20 years in television news, Vickie Oldham was jobless. Unsure of her next move, she revisited a Florida history book she'd read years earlier. While flipping through that book, she realized her new purpose: telling the story of a lost settlement called Angola. Last February, she did just that. Her documentary, Looking for Angola, premiered on PBS. The piece aired over four nights and featured music, old photographs and newspaper clippings, interviews with Florida historians and anthropologists and re-created scenes with bay area actors.

FROM THE STORY: "Little is known about Angola except for brief references in old newspaper clippings, other historical documents and oral histories. Its precise location remains a mystery, though anthropologists and historians believe it was somewhere along the Manatee River. What is known is that black slaves and Seminole Indians escaped to west-central Florida and created a community. They called it Angola, after the region in West Africa of the same name. It was looted and burned in 1821. Survivors escaped to the Bahamas."

THE REST OF THE STORY: Shortly after the program's debut, Oldham was named director of development at Fort Valley State University, a historically black school in Georgia. Her research on the lost Florida settlement continues. Last month, the Comcast Foundation donated $90,000 toward her project. That money, combined with a $10,000 grant from the History Channel, will fund training workshops, interactive lectures and student field trips for the next three years at schools in Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties. "This educational component was always a dream of mine," Oldham said. "We're all elated that it's finally coming to fruition."

WHAT'S NEXT: With the assistance of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, underwater archaeological work along the Manatee River is expected to begin later this year.