Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center
Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center

Explore the rich history of the black experience through the many exhibits housed in the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center

African-American history can be found throughout St. Augustine – a city recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for its pivotal role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That history is at times inspirational and filled with joy. At other times, it can be tragic and filled with injustice. For visitors to the city, it can be difficult to put that long history in perspective. Where to begin? The obvious choice is the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center.

The museum is located in the former Excelsior High School, the first public high school for Black students in St. Johns County. Built in 1925, the high school operated until desegregation in the 1960s. It later served as a government office building and, thanks to public support, it was saved from demolition in the 1980s. Impressive restoration efforts followed and are continuing, including current efforts by the National Park Service.

Infographic of "Football Teams and Players" including famous black athletes and Willie Galimore from Lincolnville Museum

Notable Excelsior alumni are highlighted in the museum including Florida A&M All-American and Chicago Bears football player Willie Gallimore. A leader in the local Civil Rights movement, he was tragically killed in 1964 in an automobile accident on his way from St. Augustine to the Bears’ training camp. His son, Ron, became the first Black gymnast to represent the U.S. in the Olympics.

As the name implies, the museum is located in Lincolnville – a part of the city founded by freed Blacks who settled here in 1866 at the end of the Civil War. Lincolnville became a vibrant Black commercial and cultural center for the city and despite the problems of segregation, it was largely self-sufficient. As the museum states, “the road to Black history runs through Lincolnville” and numerous exhibits proudly highlight life in this neighborhood, including a re-creation of local living room in the 1920s.

A major part of the museum is devoted to local Black history that began 300 years before Lincolnville. Both free and enslaved Blacks arrived in 1565 with the Spanish founders of St. Augustine. The exhibits explain that for the Spanish, slavery had nothing to do with skin color and was for most, a temporary status. Also highlighted is Fort Mose located about five miles from the museum. Established by the Spanish in 1738, it was the first legally-sanctioned community for people of color in what would become the United States. An entire room of the museum is dedicated to recognizing the impressive military service of local Black residents.

Landscape shot of Fort Mose in St. Augustine FL with site map in foreground and marsh land in background
Fort Mose Historic State Park

Of course, the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s is a main focus. A new exhibit consists of the original lunch counter from the local Woolworth’s where four young Black men were arrested in 1963 while sitting at the counter in the Whites Only establishment. Dubbed the St. Augustine Four, the men spent months in a reform school before being freed as a result of national media attention.

Martin Luther King exhibit at the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center in St. Augustine FL

In 1964, Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested here for his role in the Civil Rights protests – his original fingerprint card from that arrest is on display. The major role played by local residents in the passage of the Civil Rights Act is fittingly immortalized here. Local segregationists are depicted as well. One of the most unusual artifacts on display is a monogramed pair of cowboy boots once owned by FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. The story of how they got there is well worth the cost of museum admission.

Graphic with images of Ray Charles and description of achievements found at the Lincolnville Museum in St. Augustine FL

The arts and culture of Lincolnville prior to World War II was not unlike that of New York’s Harlem. Bands, musicians, artists and entertainers who lived and performed here are featured among the exhibits. This includes Ray Charles who learned to read both braille and music while a student in St. Augustine. Today, the Excelsior continues to sponsor jazz concerts featuring well-known artists.

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center is located at 102 M.L. King Avenue. They're open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Admission: $10 adults; $5 youth (7-17) and college students

Free parking.