ANSWER: I always have mixed emotions when I come here, and this is my third time in the last 10 years. There are so many memories here.
Q: Did you realize as a young girl Boca Grande was a special place?
A: As a little girl of 6 or 7 years old, I can remember as I stood at the back door of our back porch and looked out over the water just wondering: What is out there? What kind of people are out there?
Q: Did you feel as if the island was your true home?
A: We grew up rich on this island. I tell everybody I was a little, rich migrant girl growing up in Boca Grande. We had everything we wanted. All the water, all the beautiful weather. There was only about 75 of us living in railroad housing.
Q: Did you leave the island much?
A: Early on we didn't do a lot of going off the island because of our transportation. We had trains and, of course, the ferry was there.
Q: How long did your family live on Boca Grande?
A: My dad worked here 52 years. With all the whites around us, we were just the luckiest group. He used to tell us: You know something? I'm going to tell you this right now. We wouldn't have been freed if hadn't been for white folks. So there's some good white folks somewhere. I always remember that.
Q: How did Louise Crowninshield attain an exalted status among the African-Americans on Boca Grande?
A: Our fairy godmother was Miss Crowninshield. My middle name is Louise and that's her first name. She did all kinds of things. She provided food. We had a school lunchroom and I don't think there were many lunchrooms around at that time. She provided Christmas toys for everybody on the island. We had everything that we wanted on this little island.
Q: How did you have fun on the island?
A: For our leisure we did fishing, crabbing and shrimping. Picnicking. At night we would gather round a big boil pot and we would cook. Those were the kinds of things we did for our activities and having a good time.
Q: Did you mingle much with white islanders or visitors?
A: We got to meet all kinds of people. Growing up, boat travelers would come down into our quarters across from the white folks' quarters when the ships came in. And every year we had a big picnic for the school. We would go out to the beach and have a beautiful time. Some of the rich folks would come down to watch us and some would talk with us. Miss Crowninshield would have people come into the school to talk with us to tell us about birds and Africa.
Q: Miss Crowninshield also had a big impact on your segregated school?
A: I guess she was superintendent of the school because she provided everything for it, all the books and all. All the people who graduated she sent them all to college. She paid for my schooling, tuition and all, all my little clothes, books and and things. About 50 percent of us went to high school and 25 percent went to college.
Q: How did you ever thank her?
A: When you came home from school on the island for Christmas and all, you had to go to her house to see her. And she just loved it. And we had to tell her and bring the grades. It just made you feel you were wanted and were loved.
Q: When was the Boca Grande school desegregated?
A: 1968 was when the Boca Grande School desegregated.
Q: Did you ever encounter racism on the island?
A: No. I had to go to Fort Myers for that. I went to get an ice cream cone and the woman said you have to go to the back.
Q: Was there any deprivation at all on island?
A: We were never hungry. We were rich here.
Q: What happened in 1979 when all remaining African-American workers had to move following the sale of their railroad-owned homes.
A: When they had to move from here, they had made enough money working with the railroad they could go and buy houses elsewhere like Sarasota. We were blessed.
Florence Jelks, speaking, and her seated sister.
Fact BoxFlorence Jelks at glance
Occupation: retired teacher
Hometown: Boca Grande
Education: Florida A&M (now Florida State University)
Family: Married three times with a son and daughter