Martha Bireda spends her days in her girlhood home sorting through scraps of the past, filed away in shoe boxes, in closets and under beds.
Her mother, Bernice Russell, spent a quarter of a century collecting thousands of photos, notebooks filled with census records, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia.
After her mother's death last year at the age of 76, Bireda came home to the neighborhood she left in 1962 to compile them into a pictorial history of Punta Gorda's black community.
"She wanted the book finished because our story was not being told," said Bireda, who expects to have a proposal to her publisher by early next year.
Russell was passionate about the past because she saw it as a way to improve the future for her predominantly black neighborhood on the city's east side.
She believed that too many of the black children there had too little respect for themselves and their neighborhood because no one had told them the story of how black men and women helped build Punta Gorda.
No one told them that the Charlotte County Courthouse was built on land once owned by a black man or that four black men were part of the group of 34 men who signed the petition to incorporate Punta Gorda in 1887.
"Every major institution in this city has black …