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Today, black history is everywhere in St. Augustine – from the downtown Plaza de la Constitucion and the streets of Lincolnville to the beaches of Anastasia Island. And there’s no better time to experience this rich heritage than Black History Month.
Best known for its Spanish and British history, the Nation’s Oldest City was significantly impacted by African American culture as well. From its beginnings during the Spanish Age of Exploration to the American Civil Rights era, African Americans have played key roles in the story of St. Augustine.
Africans were among the first to explore Florida upon its discovery. In the 1500s, they joined Ponce de Leon and Pedro Menendez as soldiers in the service of Spain. African Americans established the first legally sanctioned free black settlement in the U.S. in 1738. Escaped British slaves found freedom in St. Augustine by converting to Catholicism and joining the Spanish in defending their territory. Their home became Fort Mose, where free men and their families formed a militia and the northern defense post for the nation’s oldest city.The summer of 1964 in St. Augustine was hot – as is every summer. But in this year, for the first time in the long history of the Oldest City, the June weather was not the main topic of conversation. Instead, it was the daily struggle for (and against) civil rights taking place in the city’s ancient streets that captured the attention of residents millions of people worldwide. Starting with local protests against racial segregation, the marches and rallies soon attracted America’s most well-known civil rights leaders and organizers.
Today, black history is everywhere in St. Augustine – from the downtown Plaza de la Constitucion and the streets of Lincolnville to the beaches of Anastasia Island. And there’s no better time to experience this rich heritage than Black History Month. Narrated tours, museums, historic sites, special events, concerts and self-guided walking tours provide opportunities to experience the rich history of the black experience in the Oldest City.
In February 2023, Black History month is a time to recognize these important pages from St. Augustine’s Black History.
Established by the Spanish in 1738, Fort Mose (moe-SAY), or Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, was the first legally-sanctioned town for free black people in the United States. Inhabited by former slaves who had gained their freedom by escaping from the northern colonies to Spanish Florida, the fort was also an important part of St. Augustine’s defenses and its adult male residents were part of the local militia. Captured by advancing British forces in 1740, it was re-captured in the dead of night by the free black militiamen who decimated a famous Scottish regiment.
Now a National Historic Landmark, rising sea levels have inundated the actual site of Fort Mose, but a walk along the boardwalk through the salt marsh where the community was located provides a moving and inspirational reminder of the hard-fought freedom achieved by the people who called this place home. The Fort Mose Historical Society, now celebrating its 25th Anniversary, presents numerous reenactments annually to preserve and tell the story of this remarkable historic site.
In February, Fort Mose will host its 2nd annual Jazz and Blues Series featuring Mavis Staples, Christian McBride's New Jawn, Gladys Knights, Valerie June, Rhiannon Giddens and Christone "Kingfish" Ingram.
Located at 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine, the 40-acre park along with its picnic area, trails and kayak launch ramp are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The museum is open Thursday thru Sunday. Park admission is free; museum admission is $2.
Housed in the former Excelsior High School, the first public black high school in St. Johns County, this museum chronicles more than 450 years of black history in St. Augustine through exhibits, art, educational presentations, lectures and live performances. Currently features the “Women Who Made a Difference Exhibit” dedicated to local women who played an important role in Lincolnville’s history. The Museum and Cultural Center is open Tuesday thru Saturday 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for college students and ages 17 and under.
Located in the former offices of civil rights leader, Dr. Robert Hayling, this museum is dedicated to the unsung local “heroes” and “sheroes” of the 1964 protest movement. The museum features displays, artifacts, articles, a library and showings of documentaries and film clips depicting local civil rights history. Located at 79 Bridge Street, the museum is open by appointment by calling 904-347-1382.
Sponsored in part by the Northrup Grumman Corporation, this self-guided tour takes participants to more than 30 sites that played major roles in the civil rights demonstrations of 1964. These include churches, meeting locations, homes of key local civil rights leaders and places where non-violent protesters were attacked. Each stop on the trail features an historical marker describing the site’s significance. The trail winds through Lincolnville and downtown St. Augustine and extends to stops along the beaches of Anastasia Island. The trail is explained and delineated in a free brochure available at the St. Augustine Visitor Information Center, 10 S. Castillo Drive.
Located at the 601 Riberia Street, this 9-acre park pays tribute to Dr. Hayling, the St. Augustine dentist who organized the local civil rights protests in 1964 and brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the city that summer. With its expansive views of the Matanzas and San Sebastian Rivers, the park is a wonderful place to contemplate civil rights in America. Visitors can even let freedom ring at the park’s 14 contrabass, pentatonic aluminum chimes.
The beautiful Hilton Historic Bayfront Hotel at 32 Avenida Menendez not only reflects the elegance of Spanish Colonial architecture, it also commemorates the civil rights struggles of 1964. Located on the site of the former Monson Motor Lodge where Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and the swimming pool where acid was poured on civil rights activists, the Hilton has preserved the steps where the arrest took place. There is also a commemorative marker in the hotel’s pool.
In the summer of 1964, some of the most dramatic confrontations between non-violent civil rights activists and ardent segregationists happened on the beaches of Anastasia Island across the bay from St. Augustine. The popular ocean fishing pier in St. Augustine Beach became internationally famous when the media covered efforts by civil rights advocates to wade ashore at the Whites Only beach only to be met by vicious attacks. Just a few miles south at 5480 Atlantic View is the beachside cottage that was made available by its owner for Martin Luther King Jr. during his visit. The cottage was fire-bombed and shot up by segregationists resulting in one of the most ionic photos of the civil rights movement – Dr. King pointing to a bullet hole in its window. A bullet is still lodged in an interior door frame. The pier and cottage are both on ACCORD’s Freedom Trail.
Walk in the actual footsteps of civil rights leader Andrew Young on this pathway across St. Augustine’s Plaza de la Constitucion. On June 9, 1964, Young was beaten to the ground several times by segregationists as he and a large group of civil rights advocates walked across the plaza. Their non-violent response to their beating was a key incident in convincing Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Young later served as a congressman from Georgia, mayor of Atlanta and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
One of the few remaining Black-owned businesses in the Lincolnville Historic District, this market has operated for generations. Built in the 1920’s, a fund raiser for restoration is now underway. Great selection of locally-made items and Southern delicacies - try the Royal Beet products! 97 Martin Luther King Avenue. 407-595-5853
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Located at 20 Aviles Street, the Ximenez-Fatio House is one of the most well-known historic dwellings in the Oldest City. Now a museum, the story of the once private home and later boarding house was relatively easy to compile and tell – even information about guests was readily available. What remained hidden was the stories of the slaves who also lived and worked there. The “I Lived Here as Well - Together” Tour sheds light on people who spent their entire lives at the house, but because of their black skin, never once passed through the front door. The tour portrays both male and female perspectives and living and working in the Ximenez-Fatio House in the 19th century.
Experience the drama and dangers faced by slaves seeking freedom by escaping from the British Colonies in the north to sanctuary in Spanish Florida. This annual reenactment brings to life the desperation of people who risked their lives to leave behind a life of servitude to live as free men and women. Held at Fort Mose Historic State Park, walking tours into the heart of this reenactment take place every 15 minutes 9-11 a.m. and noon-2:45 p.m. Admission is free.
Guided and self-led tours of the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum, the first civil rights museum in Florida. Tours are free, but donations are welcomed. Limited dates and availability. RSVPs are required and should be made by emailing email@example.com.
Renowned historian and author, David Nolan, with the Accord Freedom Trail Organization, conduct Freedom Trail Trolley Tours on select Saturdays. Tours start at 8:45 a.m. from the Willie Galimore Center, 399 S. Riberia St., St. Augustine. Visit the sites that played major roles in the civil rights demonstrations of 1964 including churches, meeting locations, homes of key local civil rights leaders and places where non-violent protesters were attacked.
The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center and the Woman's Exchange of St. Augustine are pleased to invite you to a celebration of African American History in St. Augustine. Celebrating Anna Murray Douglass, wife of Fredrick Douglass during a week of interactive, educational, social and fun activities at the Cultural Center and at the historic Peńa-Peck House. The week will culminate with a celebration of Fredrick Douglass's birthday on the 14th and a commemoration of St. Augustine's many great thinkers and historic moments that helped shape history as we know it.
From February 10-19, Fort Mose State Historic State Park will host its 2nd Annual Jazz and Blues Series featuring some of America’s most well-known and accomplished performers including the legendary Mavis Staples and Gladys Knight! The Series will consist of six unforgettable performances during a two-week period at the heart of Black History Month.
Walk back through time and learn of Frank B. Butler and his significant role in creating the only stretch of beach between Daytona Beach and American Beach, north of Jacksonville, where African-Americans were allowed to enjoy the sand and the sea.
Celebrate Black History Month at the 2nd annual Resilience Family Fest. The event features dance and musical performances, food trucks, historical reenactments, pop-up exhibits, arts and crafts activities, and much more. Hours are from noon-4 p.m. and admission is free.
The Lincolnville Museum Cultural Center Presents the San Marco Chamber Music Society in a production of the children’s book “Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport with an original score by internationally acclaimed composer, conductor and pianist Kevin Day.
Every third Wednesday evening of the month, the business district of King Street west of U.S. 1 becomes a popular place for great food, good company, local shopping and fun. An impressive brewery, specialty restaurants, shops and even pop-up vendors offering interesting experiences like Tarot card readings make this the place to be from 5-8 p.m.
For more information, check out Resilience: Black Heritage in St. Augustine. A collaborative effort of 13 historical and educational organizations, Resilience provides the latest information on archives, learning resources, events, museums and sites devoted to telling the story of black history in St. Augustine.
St. Augustine proves why the African American story is one of our nation’s greatest strengths.
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