Black history comes to life in new Oakland art exhibit

Oakland’s Art and Heritage Center will host African American art, history exhibit through end of March

OAKLAND, Fla. – One west Orange County city is getting results for Black History Month with an exhibit that highlights local contributions to African American history.

Officials with Oakland’s Art and Heritage Center said black history is everywhere in the city and they’ll be be telling some familiar stories—and others for the very first time— at the exhibit that opens Thursday.

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One story comes from artist Kathleen Bell, who is one of the many featured in this “Honoring Black History” exhibit.

Bell said the pottery collection she is displaying tells stories of the past when African Americans worked in the fields wanting a better life.

Under each cup, bowl and plate are etched messages, hoping to inspire and motivate.

“The vessels are drinking cups and bowls and plates, asking the creator to fill us with his seeds and the water that he supplies,” Bell said.

Bell’s work is joined by that of other local artists, displaying replicas of artifacts telling stories of how past African Americans used grave markers to signify a passage through water and back to Africa.

Pieces from the Florida Highwaymen, self-taught artists from the 1900s, also hang in the halls.

“They didn’t accept that they were less than and what they felt in their hearts, so that to me is the history that resonates,” Bell said.

Just down the road, efforts to preserve history continue through the work of Betty Wade, who is working to save the cemetery where her family is buried.

“We should never forget history because we do repeat if we don’t,” Wade told News 6.

One commissioner hopes these preservation efforts will shed light on stories some people might not have heard.

“We been around since the 1800s. We are just as old as Eatonville, a lot of people don’t know that... Back in the day when the town was just started, when citrus was really strong, the Black community was an integral part of that,” Commissioner Joseph McMullen said.

Bell added this is the moment for younger African Americans to reflect.

“Respect your ancestors... who paved the way. We don’t stand alone; we stand on other people’s shoulders,” Bell said.

Catch the exhibit, which will be running through the end of March, located at 126 W. Petris Avenue at the Healthy West Orange Arts and Heritage Center at the Town of Oakland.

It’s open from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. from Wednesday to Friday.

If anyone would like to make an appointment to view this exhibit after hours, please email Elisha Pappacoda at

About the Author:

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.