I recently read the story of Elizabeth Moore, a real estate broker from Sarasota, Florida. With her husband, L.A. Moore, she owned the Moore Realty Company. Sometime between 1961 and 1963, the Sarasota Board of Realtors forced Elizabeth out the profession for a breach of ethics. Afterward, she relocated to Pennsylvania.  The reason she was expelled from the profession and effectively run out of town: in 1961 she sold a home in Whitfield Estates to Dr. John W. Chenault, and his spouse Dorothy Chenault.

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Elizabeth Moore, Sarasota Real Estate Broker

"What could have happened? Certainly the doctor has done nothing to provoke this outburst. It was as though a sudden sickness had taken the White man, wiping out his normal good sense and leaving him a raving idiot, feverishly gibbering absurdities."

Dr. John W. Chenault was born in Wyoming in 1904. He attended the University of Minnesota for both his undergraduate education and medical training. He completed orthopedic fellowships at the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa. Dr. Chenault was Director of Orthopedics for the Andrew Memorial Hospital, part of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1937 he established the Crippled Children’s Service at Tuskegee. From 1953-1957 he was administrator of the hospital at FAMU in Tallahassee, Florida. He moved to the Sarasota-Bradenton area in 1957, and became the first Black physician to practice at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Dorothy Chenault attended Oberlin Conservatory where she received a degree in music. She taught choral music at the Tuskegee Institute before the couple moved to Florida. In 1961, the Chenaults met Elizabeth Moore. She helped them purchase the home in Whitfield Estates.

Aware of the prejudice the Chenaults were likely to encounter, Moore began a charm offensive. She introduced Dr. Chenault to neighbors, and asked people how they would feel if a Black couple purchased a home on their street. Although friendly to her face, neighbors accused her of blockbusting. Whitfield residents and fellow Realtors encouraged her to cease her dealings with the Chanaults. Another broker offered to help Dr. Chenault find a more appropriate location in a "remote neighborhood." A member of the Sara Bay Country Club encouraged her to walk away from the transaction and offered to pay her legal fees if the Chenaults sued her. After the sale was complete, some residents of Whitfield Estates attempted to raise funds to purchase the home from the Chenaults. Some even argued that their property taxes should be reduced because the presence of a Black neighbor diminished the value of their homes. Eventually, Moore was effectively expelled from the profession for completing the transaction. Ebony magazine published Moore's story in October 1963 (p.93-100).

There is an even more tragic follow up to this story. On Sunday, March 14, 1965, Dorothy Chenault attended a demonstration in Tampa to protest the brutal attacks on non-violent marchers in Selma, Alabama a week earlier. A few days later, on Thursday, March 18, 1965, after Dorothy had gone to bed, Dr. Chenault penned a suicide note. "I'm tired of living" he wrote, "but I'm scared of dying." He walked into the bedroom and murdered his wife; then he took his own life. The next month, Jet Magazine published a profile of the couple. Although the Chenaults, by all accounts, had eventually won over their neighbors and enjoyed close friendship with people from all walks of life, Elizabeth Moore believed that racism contributed to Dr. Chenault's breakdown. "They were not permitted to lead normal lives" she said; "[t]hey were expected to be superhuman." She believed that Dr. Chenault had been driven to suicide by White resistance to their integration of the neighborhood.

I am from the Sarasota-Bradenton area. The Chenaults home was somewhere adjacent to the Sara Bay Club, down the street from Whitfield Presbyterian Church. I used to attend monthly FPZA luncheons at the Sara Bay Club; I've been to dozens of events at Whitfield Presbyterian. In all likelihood, I have driven past the Chenault home site many times. For a time, I was a member of the successor organization of the Sarasota Board of Realtors. I have never heard this story. How is that possible?

  1. Kevin
    Mar 14, 2018

    By the way. The Chenault’s paid $20,000 for their home. According to the BLS CPI calculator, that is worth $167,108 today. Homes in the same neighborhood now sell for 150-200% of that amount. The cost of housing has significantly outpaced inflation since the mid-20th Century.