African American History in Florida 4-H

Through the years, the overall objective of 4-H has remained the same: the development of youth as individuals and as responsible and productive citizens. 4-H serves youth through a variety of methods. Some of the contributions of African Americans within the Florida 4-H program are included on the following pages of history:

Background History

Extension work with African-Americans began in Florida in 1915 and was headquartered at Florida A&M University (FAMU). As was common in the southern United States at that time, 4-H work was segregated. About 1,250 boys and girls were enrolled in farm makers clubs and home makers clubs in 1917 in Alachua, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Marion, and Washington counties.

By 1920, African-American 4-H club work had expanded to 18 counties. The program for men and boys was expanded to include corn clubs, potato clubs, pig clubs, and savings clubs. For the girls there were canning clubs, poultry clubs, improvement clubs, dairy clubs, sanitation clubs, and savings clubs.

Camp History

In 1927, twenty African-American 4-H members attended an interstate meeting of the Southern Negro Boys and Girls 4-H Camp at Tuskegee, Alabama. Three girls and three boys selected on the basis of outstanding records in project work and leadership attended the first Negro 4-H Camp at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1948.

African-American 4-H members initially camped at the district level using tents. A state council for African-American girls was organized during the annual short course at FAMU in 1955. However, in 1948, 4-H Camp Doe Lake, the first permanent 4-H camp for African-American 4-H club members opened in the Ocala National Forest. Located on a 30-acre lake, the camp could accommodate 130 campers per week.

African American Agents

Noah Bennett, the first county agent of African-American decent was employed in 1939. In addition, Miss Floy Britt, Home Demonstration Agent from Florida A & M came to Hillsborough County in 1940 to worked with African-American clients in Plant City, Citrus Park, Sulfur Springs, Port Tampa, Bealsville, and Seffner.

In 1941 Sumter County welcomed the first African American agent to conduct programs for black youth; Mr. Alonzo Young.

The 50s saw the beginning of the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exposition, and the hiring of the county’s first African American agent, Victoria Simpson.

Isaac Chandler began in 1953 and continued to serve until 1988 (Lewis, M. D., et al). Chandler began his career through organizing school and community clubs for African American boys and working on corn and swine projects. After segregation, Chandler received the majority of the responsibility for the 4-H program in Hamilton County (Tyree, A.B., 2007).

Society Changed

During the 1960’s society was also changing and segregation was no longer permissible. It was a learning experience for everyone. The state 4-H staffs from the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women were combined. The merger melded 4-H programs serving boys and girls, blacks and whites, into one state 4-H program. At the county level, separate programs for African-American, Native American Indian, and white boys and girls were also merged.

Another major trend during this decade was increasing the number and availability of 4-H programs focused on urban youth who did not have an agricultural background.  This also included programs for African-American youth in the early 1960s.  Sudella Ford, Home Economics Agent, worked with the African-American 4-H clubs in Hillsborough County.  The two largest African-American clubs at that time in the county were located in Bealsville and Citrus Park.  Although these clubs were segregated from the white clubs in the county, all 4-H members came together at the Florida State Fair where African-American and white girls participated in the fashion show together.