Brotemarkle, Ben


Ben Brotemarkle is author of the book Beyond the Theme Parks: Exploring Central Florida, a look at historic preservation efforts and cultural festivals throughout the region that provide residents with a sense of community and visitors with interesting vacation options.  The book received the inaugural James J. Horgan Book Award from the Florida Historical Society.  Dr. Brotemarkle’s book Images of America: Titusville and Mims, Florida is a photographic and textual history looking at one of the world’s most important archaeological digs, the home of civil rights martyr Harry T. Moore, and the launch site of America’s manned exploration of space.  His book Barberville is a photographic and textual history looking at the infamous Barber-Mizell Feud of 1870, the establishment of the rural Barberville community, and the creation of the Pioneer Settlement for the Creative Arts where historic buildings from throughout Central Florida are preserved.  His latest book Crossing Division Street: An Oral History of the African American Community in Orlando is an interdisciplinary examination of the past, present and future of an historic neighborhood. 

Prior to becoming Executive Director of the Florida Historical Society, Brotemarkle was Associate Professor of Humanities and Department Chair at Brevard Community College in Titusville. As creator, producer and host of the weekly public radio program The Arts Connection on 90.7 WMFE-FM Orlando from 1992 to 2000, Brotemarkle covered the local arts and cultural scene including theater, music, dance, film, the visual arts, and literature.  His award-winning features have been heard around the world on Voice of America Radio, across the country on National Public Radio, and throughout the state on Florida Public Radio.  Brotemarkle also occasionally produces and hosts special programs for public television.  His 1999 television documentary The Wells’Built Hotel: A New Guest Checks In was awarded the Presidential Citation of the Florida Historical Society.  His latest television documentary A Legacy of Hope: The Moore Heritage Festival of the Arts and Humanities is airing on several PBS stations. 

As a part-time professional singing-actor, Brotemarkle has appeared in more than two dozen Orlando Opera Company productions, with Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach, and has been a featured performer in Cross and Sword--the official state play of Florida in St. Augustine. 

Brotemarkle serves on the board of directors of the Florida Historical Society, the state’s oldest cultural organization and is a member of the Brevard County Historical Commission.  A board member of the Association to Preserve African American Society, History, and Tradition (PAST, Inc.), Brotemarkle helps to plan, present, and promote activities and exhibitions at the Wells’Built Museum of African American History and Culture in Orlando.  Dr. Brotemarkle is the Education Committee Chairman for the Moore Heritage Festival of the Arts and Humanities, organizing student workshops, public forums, oral history panels, and appearances by guest speakers. 

Brotemarkle has a Ph.D. in Humanities and History from the Union Institute and University, a Master of Liberal Studies degree and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Humanities from Rollins College, and an Associate degree in Voice Performance from the Florida School of the Arts.  Brotemarkle lives in Titusville with his wife Christina.

Dr. Brotemarkle is available for signings, lectures and program participation.  You can contact him via e-mail at ben,




The reviews are in for Crossing Division Street:

“Dr. Brotemarkle does not restrict his study to only the Orlando area.  This well-written book provides an excellent overview of the history of African-Americans in Florida while including the national perspective as well.  This Professor and Department Chair of Humanities/Communications/Social and Behavioral Sciences at Brevard Community College has penned a treasure trove of information on this subject.  This book is a valuable addition to this field of study and is written in such a straightforward easy style, it should be made accessible to middle and high school students.”

Cathy Mathias, Florida Today

“James Baldwin once remarked: ‘American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.’  Swap out the word ‘American’ for ‘Orlando’ and Baldwin’s observation provides a dead-on description of Benjamin D. Brotemarkle’s new book, Crossing Division Street: An Oral History of the African-American Community in Orlando.”

Darryl E. Owens, The Orlando Sentinel

“…Brotemarkle’s book “Crossing Division Street: An Oral History of the African-American Community in Orlando”  has no competition...”

Billy Cox, Florida Today

“ …Ben Brotemarkle [is] well remembered in Orlando from his days on public radio.  Now Brotemarkle is a professor and department chairman at the Titusville campus of Brevard Community College, and he’s got good news.  His new book, Crossing Division Street: An Oral History of the African-American Community in Orlando, has just been published by the Florida Historical Society Press.”

Joy Wallace Dickinson, The Orlando Sentinel

Parramore legacy: 'Black history is part of everybody's history'

Joy Wallace Dickinson
Sentinel Staff Writer

July 2, 2006
    Even if Ben Brotemarkle had done nothing more (and he has accomplished plenty), I'd like him and laud him just for his first book's title: Beyond the Theme Parks: Exploring Central Florida, a much-needed guide to "the real Florida" published several years ago by the University Press of Florida.
    "Brotemarkle takes us on a leisurely tour of 15 of Central Florida's most interesting towns and cities, offering much more than the standard thumbnail sketches of each place," a reviewer for Travel Writers International Network wrote. "This book is a keeper!"
    It is indeed, except I can't seem to keep one on the shelves because I'm always pressing my latest copy on a visiting friend or new arrival.
Now, Brotemarkle's latest book has won the Florida Historical Society's Samuel Proctor Oral History Award.  It's called Crossing Division Street: An Oral History of the African-American Community in Orlando, and Brotemarkle will be in Orlando on Thursday to talk about it at a lunchtime program at the Orange County Regional History Center.

Connection and community
    These days, Brotemarkle is associate professor of humanities and department chairman at Brevard Community College in Titusville, but a lot of us remember him as a reporter, producer and host on local public radio and especially from The Arts Connection, the weekly program he created and hosted on 90.7 FM (WMFE) in Orlando from 1992 to 2000.
    It was as WMFE's arts and cultural reporter and during his work on The Arts Connection that Brotemarkle got an in-depth look at the sometimes hidden parts of Central Florida that eventually made their way into Beyond the Theme Parks.  In contrast to the conventional wisdom that Central Florida is a rootless place without much sense of heritage, Brotemarkle in his interviews "saw lots of pockets of strong community and history," he said recently
    When he began digging deeper during research for a master's degree and then a doctorate, Brotemarkle focused on Orlando's black community, gathering stories from which to construct its history.
    One true tale involved pioneering aviator Bessie Coleman and her ties to Orlando, including her friendship with church and civic leader Viola Tillinghast Hill.
Undaunted after flight schools in this country turned her down, Coleman had trained in France and was the first American woman and the first black American to obtain an international pilot's license, on June 15, 1921, two years before the more famous Amelia Earhart was qualified to fly.
During a speaking tour through Florida in early 1926, Coleman met Viola Hill and her husband, the Rev. Hezakiah Keith Hill, and stayed with them at the parsonage of Orlando's Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church. On April 30 that year, Coleman was in Jacksonville, practicing for a flight exhibition, when her plane crashed, killing her and her mechanic, William Wills.
    After thousands attended a funeral in Jacksonville, her body was put on the train to Orlando, and the service that followed was one of the largest Mount Zion Missionary Baptist had ever seen.  After it was over, mourners -- led by Viola Hill, who would accompany the body to Chicago -- crowded the Orlando train station to say goodbye to an American heroine.
    One of Brotemarkle's favorite interview subjects, Maya Angelou, talked with him during a visit to Orlando about Eatonville's own Zora Neale Hurston, whom she called a major influence on her life.
    Another favorite, the late drummer David "Panama" Francis, told Brotemarkle stories about playing for dances at Orlando's South Street Casino on summer nights when it was so hot he could hear the perspiration "squish squish squish" in his shoes.
Francis was known as a great jazz drummer, and a lot of people "don't realize he played on a whole list of classic rock recordings" by artists such as Buddy Holly and the Four Seasons, Brotemarkle said.
    Something else many folks don't realize is that the area now called the Parramore section of Orlando has been the center of much positive history and was, in the early to middle 20th century, home to doctors, lawyers, black business people and professionals of all types.
    "There's an important legacy there," Brotemarkle says. Many positive things happened, of interest not just to African Americans but to everybody, Brotemarkle says.  "People are becoming more and more aware that black history is part of everybody's history."
Copyright (c) 2006, Orlando Sentinel