BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
Each year, the City of Port Orange honors its African-American heritage, and hosts a ceremony in partnership with Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and the Port Orange Historical Trust.
This year’s 11th Annual Freemanville Day Ceremony takes place on Feb. 11 at Mt. Moriah, 941 N. Orange Ave. The program begins at 4 p.m.
Alberta McCloud, one of Freemanville’s few remaining residents, is slated to speak at the ceremony on Tuesday.
Keeping story alive
“Efforts continue to ensure that Freemanville’s rich legacy endures,” said Dr. Leonard Lempel, a professor of history at Daytona State College.
“In 2002 a state historic marker commemorating Freemanville was placed near Port Orange’s Riverside Pavilion on the east side of U.S. 1 and in February 2004 the inaugural Freemanville Day ceremony was held at the site.”
Freemanville Day ceremonies have been held every February since that time at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, helping to keep alive the Freemanville story so that future generations can draw inspiration from the band of settlers just removed from bondage, who braved the Florida frontier in search of the American Dream, he explained.
B-CU to participate
Students from Bethune-Cookman University will perform at the Freemanville Day Ceremony accompanied on the piano by Dr. Rose Grace, Assistant Professor of Piano and chair/founder of the Music Outreach Program.
The performers are Marquis Thompkins, bari-tenor and Courtnee James, mezzo soprano.
Home of freed slaves
Port Orange was officially recognized as a community at noon on April 26, 1867, by the U.S. Postal Service. Dr. John Milton Hawks, a Union Army surgeon, and his fellow Union Army officers established Port Orange after the Civil War.
Initially, 500 former slaves settled near the shores of the Halifax River on public lands secured with the help of the U.S. Freedman Bureau in 1866.
They came to Port Orange to work for the Florida Land & Lumber Company, which Hawks and his partners formed. An additional 1,000 freed slaves made Port Orange their home six months later.
Expansion of area
Falling on hard times, the settlement, the company and the integrated school disbanded in 1869. A majority of the settlers returned to their home states or headed for area citrus groves looking for work.
Over time, the few families and individuals who stayed made up the pioneering African-American neighborhood of Port Orange known as Freemanville.
“During its heyday in the 1920s, Freemanville expanded in size and included homes both on the east and west side of U.S. 1.,” Lempel explained. “The hamlet at its peak boasted a two-room schoolhouse with 65 pupils, two teachers, and a principal along with two churches – Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, built in 1911 and Mt. Zion AME Church.”
Many years later, Freemanville’s population saw a steady decline as many residents moved north to the rapidly growing city of Daytona Beach.
Freemanville’s school closed in the 1950s, and today all that remains are a few crumbling remnants of the building’s foundation and today only one house remains from the era when Freemanville flourished.
For information on the ceremony, call 386-506-5522.