African-American History and Heritage on Florida’s Historic Coast

Best known for its Spanish and British history, the Nation’s Oldest City has been 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.

May 31, 2021
Fort Mose Historical Society

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Freedom’s First

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.

Fort Mose Historic State Park has also been recognized as one of the original sites on the southern route of the Underground Railroad. In 1994 the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The grounds include accessible tours, a museum full of history, an interpretive exhibit, and many opportunities for enjoying the natural beauty of the site. The park also hosts numerous historic reenactments throughout the year.

Fort Mose is located at 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine, less than 5 minutes from the city’s historical attractions, restaurants, and shopping areas.

The Civil Rights Movement and St. Augustine

St. Augustine played a pivotal role in the nation’s Civil Rights movement. On June 9, 1964, Civil Rights movement leader Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested in St. Augustine during a protest for human rights. Alongside King was Andrew Young, who led a night march from Lincolnville to the Constitution Plaza where he was met with violent opposition. His courageous walk is now memorialized in the Plaza with the Andrew Young Crossing, where visitors can walk in his footsteps. Around the same time, the “St. Augustine Four” caught the attention of the country with the simple act of sitting at the Woolworth’s counter. St. Augustine became a site for politics, protest, and progress during this era.

Find out more about the oldest city’s contentions and contributions to civil liberties in America.

St. Augustine Civil Rights Library

In 2013, Flagler College launched the Civil Rights Library www.CivilRights.Flagler.edu, an extensive online archive. This resource is the culmination of years of research and collaboration between faculty, students, historians, and witnesses who lived in and visited St. Augustine during the tumultuous times of the Civil Rights movement. The student-led project features locally exclusive artifacts, including FBI files describing Martin Luther King Jr.’s time in St. Augustine, details on the arrest of the St. Augustine Four, audio of Jackie Robinson’s visit, and Civil Rights archives from Andrew Young.

Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center

Learn about the under-the-radar story of the African American experience in St. Augustine. Visitors can learn and experience the important African American story at Fort Mose, the first free African American settlement in North America, and the incredible journey through the first 455 years of history at the Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center, who’s newest exhibit includes Lincolnville Lifeways, which explores the bustling Lincolnville neighborhood in the mid-20th century through the eyes of its inhabitants.

The 2021 year-long celebration of the history and culture of Black Americans living and working in St. Augustine is showcased in “Resilience: Black Heritage in St. Augustine. This series of virtual programs is a community project celebrating 455+ years of Black stories and contributions in St. Augustine. In addition to the calendar of events, the Resilience program provides a complete listing of collaborative sites, museums and tours where the St. Augustine Black History story can be visited.

By Appointment: ACCORD Civil Rights Museum

Discover St. Augustine’s role in the struggle for Civil Rights and the city’s pivotal influence in the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Housed in the former offices of Dr. Robert Hayling, a local dentist who was instrumental in getting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to personally participate in the efforts to desegregate the Oldest City, the museum features numerous artifacts and documents relating to the local Civil Rights movement. Admission is by appointment only. Contact Liz Duncan at 904-347-1382. Admission is free (donations accepted). 79 Bridge St., St. Augustine. www.AccordFreedomTrail.org

Accord Freedom Trail

The ACCORD Freedom Trail Project consists of 31 historic markers located at various sites significant to the St. Augustine Civil rights movement. A cell phone audio tour is available by calling 904-335-3002. Learn more at www.accordfreedomtrail.org.

African Americans in Sports

Explore the World Golf Hall of Fame "Honoring the Legacy" exhibit that celebrates African Americans in golf from the late 1800s through today’s game. This exhibition contains rare photographs, audio, video, and memorabilia, as well as a sculpture designed by the renowned artist Mario Chiodo which celebrates 13 African American golf legends. For more about this special exhibit visit World Golf Hall of Fame.

WAYS TO CELEBRATE AFRICAN-AMERICAN HISTORY, HERITAGE AND CIVIL RIGHTS

First Saturdays - Militia Muster and Training at Fort Mose Historic State Park
From 9 a.m. - 2 p.m. members of the Fort Mose Militia offer visitors the opportunity to participate in the children's militia training, using wooden toy muskets and authentic uniform accessories. Admission is $4 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians or bicyclists. 15 Fort Mose Tr., St. Augustine. 904-823-2232 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Mose

February - Flight to Freedom at Fort Mose

Each year in mid-February at Fort Mose the Flight to Freedom event recreates the 17th century experience of the hundreds of slaves who traveled here in search of freedom, featuring several reenactors portraying the various characters who would have impacted a freedom seeker's journey to Spanish Florida. 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine. 904-823-2232 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Mose

March - Annual Commemoration of the Founding of Fort Mose

The founding of Fort Mose in 1738 is the central theme of programs presented throughout the day. Admission is $4 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians or bicyclists. 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine. 904-823-2232 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Mose

June - Battle of Bloody Mose

This annual re-enactment of the June 26, 1740, Battle of Bloody Mose provides visitors with an exciting look at this pivotal battle between the British under the command of Georgia’s James Oglethorpe and the Spanish militia, composed of former British slaves who had been granted their freedom by the Spanish. The event is weather permitting. Admission is $4 per vehicle or $2 for pedestrians or bicyclists. 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine. 904-823-2232 www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Mose

Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida’s Historic Coast includes historic St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra, and 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches. For information call 1.800.653.2489 or go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau website at www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com. Check us out on Twitter @FlHistoricCoast on Instagram @FloridasHistoricCoast and @ViajaSanAgustin on Facebook.com/OfficialStAugustine and Facebook.com/ViajaSanAgustin. #StAugustine #PonteVedra #FloridasHistoricCoast #ViajaSanAgustin