Black History
Black History

Black History Month in St. Augustine

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.

Summer in St. Augustine is hot – and 1964 was no exception. But 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.

On June 11, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested here while trying to get seated at a “Whites Only” restaurant – six months later he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Daily media coverage of the nonviolent marches, often met with cruelty and mass arrests, made St. Augustine the center of the international debate over civil rights. What happened here prompted Congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act signed into law by President Johnson on July 2. As Martin Luther King, Jr. later wrote, St. Augustine was the city that had to “bear the cross” of violence and brutality to inspire Congress to do the right thing for America.

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.

Fort Mose Historical Society Reenactment in St. Augustine FL

Fort Mose Historic State Park

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 inaugural Jazz and Blues Series featuring the Count Basie Orchestra, Gregory Porter, Amythyst Kiah, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and Tank and the Bangas.

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.

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center

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.

Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center in St. Augustine
Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center

ACCORD Civil Rights Museum

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.

ACCORD Freedom Trail

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.

Lyndon B. Johnson meets with Martin Luther King, Jr. and other Black Civil Rights Leaders.

Dr. Robert B. Hayling Freedom Park

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.

Hilton Hotel Preserves Civil Rights History

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.

Seaside Civil Rights Struggles

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.

Andrew Young Crossing

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.

The Corner Market

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

Ximenez-Fatio House Museum in St. Augustine
Ximenez-Fatio House Museum

Special Events and Tours



Ximenez-Fatio House – I Live Here As Well Tour (Thursdays-Saturdays from February 3 - March 12)

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 Live Here as Well” Tour finally 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. Told from the perspective of a black woman who worked at the house, this enlightening and dramatic tour features two centuries of black history in St. Augustine.

Fort Mose in St. Augustine
Flight to Freedom

Flight to Freedom (January 27-29 - rescheduled for April 28-30)

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.

Lincolnville Jazz at the Excelsior: Eric Carter & Company (February 11)

Eric Carter & Company will perform live jazz fusion at the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center (LMCC). Carter, the lead artist of Eric Carter & Company, has been playing music since the age of two and was in his first concert at the age of 13. He has been part of many bands, including Strictly Business while he attended Bethune-Cookman College, now Bethune-Cookman University. Lincolnville Jazz at the Excelsior showcases jazz through the ages from its African roots to the fusion sounds of today, in historic St. Augustine. The performances begin at 7:30 p.m.

Guided Tours of the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum with historian David Nolan (February 12, 19 & 26)

Local historian David Nolan will be conducting limited tours of the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum, the first civil rights museum in Florida. Tours are free, but donations are welcomed. RSVPs are required and should be made by emailing info@historiccoastculture.com.

Fort Mose Jazz & Blues Series (weekends, February 18 - 26)

From February 18 to February 26, Fort Mose State Historic State Park will host its inaugural Jazz and Blues Series featuring some of America’s most well-known and accomplished performers – collectively, they have received a remarkable 20 Grammy Awards! The Series will consist of five unforgettable performances during a two-week period at the heart of Black History Month.

Resilience Family Fest (February 19)

Featuring dance and musical performances, food trucks, historical reenactments, pop-up exhibits, arts and crafts activities, and much more, the Resilience Family Fest takes place at the Solomon Calhoun Community Center from noon-4 p.m.

Lincolnville Jazz at the Excelsior: Longineu Parsons (February 26)

Longineu Parsons presents a night packed with smooth jazz. Lincolnville Jazz at the Excelsior is a series of performances hosted by the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center. Lincolnville Jazz at the Excelsior showcases jazz through the ages from its African roots to the fusion sounds of today, in historic St. Augustine. The performances begin at 7:30 p.m.

Bog Brewing in St. Augustine

West King Wednesdays

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.

More Black History in St. Augustine

Read more about the African-American experience in the nation's oldest city.