On Thursday, January 6, members of the Historic Hernando Preservation Society (HHPS) and the general public gathered at the Brooksville City Hall to honor Mable Sims, a local conservator of African-American history in Hernando County. In recognition of her contributions to preserving the heritage of this important segment of the community, Ms. Sims received the LeeAnne Shoeman Award, named in honor of a woman who was instrumental in founding the Historic Preservation Society in 2008. Ms. Shoeman was also an active member of the organization until her death.
In presenting Ms. Sims with the award, Jan Knowles, president of the HHPS, remarked, “We met at the history museum around 1990 and Mable had all these wonderful artifacts. She is one of the most interesting women and she carries on with the heritage that is so important to all of us.”
Ms. Sims started to accumulate family mementos, photos of relatives dating back to the 1800’s, letters and other artifacts. Soon her collection included artifacts donated by people who had traveled to Africa, as well as those she collected on her own trip to Africa.
She then decided to “take her show on the road” and began visiting local schools. She called it History on Wheels. The children were fascinated by the artifacts and the stories she related about her own experiences as well as the stories handed down by her parents, grandparents and other relatives. Ms. Sims received letters and drawings from the children showing how much they appreciated her visits.
In accepting the award, Ms. Sims stated, “I want to let you all know that it’s such a beautiful thing to look among you and all the love and the caring that you all give to me. God bless you for coming and sharing this moment with me.”
Among the people who turned out to view the award ceremony was Betty DeBusk, a longtime friend of Ms. Sims. In researching the history of her church, First Baptist of Brooksville, Ms. DeBusk discovered that Mable’s great, great grandfather, Arthur St. Clair was a member of the congregation. Betty helped her trace some of her family to Alabama where they lived prior to moving to Florida in the mid-1800’s.
Tawana Huggins, Mable’s daughter-in-law, described her as family-oriented.
“I got to know more of her when she introduced her family history to me. She had artifacts of her family and told me about her two aunts that helped raise her. It seemed like it was a loving family. They taught her and gave her a lot of knowledge about her history.”
For Kojack Burnett, another friend, what impresses him the most about Mable is her ability to communicate with people.
Pastor Del Barnes has known Ms. Sims since 2006. They met when she was doing one of her presentations at Brooksville Elementary School.
“She was reading to the students, telling them about Black history and about her trip to Africa. She was also showing the artifacts she had brought back from Africa. She’s giving, thoughtful and acknowledging. She’s not afraid to acknowledge others for their accomplishments and for what they’re doing for others,” Barnes commented.
Besides the various mementos and artifacts she keeps at her home, Ms. Sims also has a storage unit containing many other items. She is always learning something new about, not only her own family history, but the heritage of African-Americans in Hernando County. Not surprisingly, she is in the process of writing a book. Another goal is to see a museum of African-American culture and history established in the community. With her dedication, there is no doubt that her dream will become a reality.