Black History
Black History

Black History in St. Augustine

Enjoy our Multi-Cultural Heritage

Welcome to our community where you can experience one of the most important chapters in our nation’s history. For centuries, African-Americans have played a significant part in the multi-cultural heritage of Florida’s Historic Coast.

This rich chapter includes free and enslaved Africans as founding settlers in the 1565 Spanish colony of Pedro Menéndez. Nearly 200 years later, black citizens and soldiers helped defend that same Spanish province from English invaders. Here, where America was founded, we demonstrate that the Underground Railroad ran south first…to our historic coast.

Descendants of these proud community members joined with other African-Americans and settled again after the Civil War. Lincolnville near downtown St. Augustine became their new home. Their efforts created a thriving African-American business, social, and religious community. Come and share the stories of some of these places.

Below are several ways to experience the African American heritage found on Florida's Historic Coast.

Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose’ (Fort Mose’)

Just north of St. Augustine, off the Kings Highway (US1) is Fort Mose’ (pronounced Moh-say). Here, you can see where the Spanish government established this stronghold in 1738 as the first free Black settlement in North America. The fort with its Black militia was captained by Mandingo native baptized as Francisco Menéndez. In the Visitors’ Center, you will learn the story of the northernmost fort that played a critical role in defending Spain’s colony at St. Augustine.

When English Gen. Oglethorpe invaded, the fort’s militia defeated the English army. Unfortunately, the fort was burned in the process. Today, visitors can participate in the Fort Mose’ Militia’s monthly drills and enjoy a scenic walk through the park setting to the waterfront. In 1994, the site became a National Historic Landmark.

Lincolnville Historic District

Originally known as “Africa,” this enclave founded by freed slaves began in 1866 when Union troops occupied Florida during Reconstruction. Over the next 60 years, this settlement grew into a thriving residential and religious community with a significant commercial district along Central Avenue (now Martin Luther King Avenue). Located on a peninsula immediately west of downtown St. Augustine, Lincolnville remains a pleasant place to stroll, including along the scenic shorelines of the San Sebastian River and Maria Sanchez Creek (now Lake). In 1991, Lincolnville was designated as a National Register Historic District.

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, 102 Martin Luther King Avenue

Excelsior High School, St. Augustine’s first Black public high school, gained a new purpose as the home for the Lincolnville community’s collective heritage and an incubator for the creative development of future generations. Located along Lincolnville’s commercial backbone, the Mediterranean Revival style building is part of an architectural collection by local architect Fred A. Henderich.

The center was an outgrowth of an idea conceived by Otis Mason, an Excelsior graduate whose career in education began in 1950 teaching at his alma mater. Mason served from 1984-1992 as the St. Johns County School District’s first African-American Superintendent. He joined with other local leaders to preserve stories of the freed slaves and other African-Americans who established and nurtured the Lincolnville community. The museum and cultural center is a strong partner in portraying the heritage of Florida’s Historic Coast.

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

St. Augustine’s Civil Rights Story

In the 1960s, St. Johns County’s African-American community played a dramatic role in the American Civil Rights movement. Attracting participation from Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, local actions gained a national audience. Vice President Lyndon Johnson had visited St. Augustine on March 11, 1963, as part of the 450th anniversary of Ponce de Leon’s exploration of La Florida and the announcement of the upcoming 400th anniversary of St. Augustine’s founding. As typical throughout the South, St. Augustine and Florida were segregated. African-Americans were excluded from the celebrations. Peaceful protests took place throughout the downtown and surrounding the Plaza de la Constitución. The protests turned violent encouraged by participation from the Ku Klux Klan. Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested. Andrew Young was beaten. By this time, Johnson was President. He watched the events unfold on national television, incensing him to demand passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Nearly half a century later, in 2010, Young returned to St. Augustine at the invitation of Flagler College coed Jillian McClure. This led to several visits by Ambassador Young and a series of community healing activities. In 2014, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Ambassador Young returned a final time, serving as Flagler College’s Commencement speaker.

Today, you can experience some of the physical reminders of this era by visiting the Plaza, walking along the Andrew Young Crossing and over to the Foot Soldiers Monument. Across King Street is the former Woolworth’s Department Store. There, the restored lunch counter is the central feature of an exhibition in the Wells-Fargo Bank lobby.

ACCORD Civil Rights Museum, 79 Bridge Street

African-Americans in St. Augustine played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement, and the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum documents parts of this story. ACCORD, of the Anniversary to Commemorate the Civil Rights Demonstrations, began nearly 20 years ago, to ensure that this chapter in the city’s and nation’s history was presented. A partnership with Northrup Grumman Corporation led to creation of the Freedom Trail, and a series of markers have been erected throughout the community. The annual ACCORD Freedom Trail Luncheon speakers have featured Congressman John Lewis in 2010 and Ambassador Andrew Young in 2011.

For more on black heritage in St. Augustine, click here.