A lesson in Florida’s Black heritage

B-CU students and local senior citizens spend a day exploring African-American history on the east coast.


To celebrate the close of Black History Month, Daytona Beach’s Leisure Services Department in collaboration with Bethune-Cookman University’s College of Liberal Arts spent a day touring some of Florida’s Black history sites on the east coast.

Seniors with the Oasis program at the John H. Dickerson Center board a bus on Feb. 24 for the east coast Black Heritage Trail Tour.

History professor Dr. Anthony Dixon and about 50 students from his African-American history and Florida history classes were part of the Black Heritage Trail bus tour. Joining them were 55 senior citizens from the Leisure Services Senior Oasis Program at the John H. Dickerson Center.

The group pores over artifacts at the Lincolnville Museum in St. Augustine.

The sites included the following in Jacksonville: Kingsley Plantation, the historic Durkeeville community, Edward Waters College and the Ritz Museum. St. Augustine sites were Fort Mose Historic State Park, the Lincolnville Historic District and the Accord Florida Civil Rights Museum.

The purpose of the Feb. 24 trip was “to bridge the gap between the academic examination of history and the public awareness of the affected community.’’ The trip brought together two generational views of African-American history and the uniquely different attitudes and reflections of their meaning and significance.

‘Eye-opening experience’
The older group was more inquisitive and experienced more of an emotional reaction to the historic spots than their younger student counterparts.

The dialogue was more sentimental from the older group.

Gloria Nedd, a member of the Dickerson Community Center Senior Oasis group, said this about being on the grounds of the Kingsley Plantation slaves quarters. “We are really blessed to stand here and see how far we have come as a people. It’s an eye-opening experience. All I can say is the struggle was real and God is good.’’
Here’s a little history on some of the stops.

Bethune-Cookman University students and faculty members pose in front of the Fort Mose Historic State Park’s Visitor Center in St. Augustine.

Kingsley Plantation
The Kingsley Plantation (also known as the Zephaniah Kingsley Plantation Home and Buildings) is the site of a former estate in Jacksonville named for an early owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, who spent 25 years there. It is located at the northern tip of Fort George Island at Fort George Inlet, and is part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve managed by the U.S. National Park Service.

The plantation was originally 1,000 acres, most of which has been taken over by forest; the structures and grounds of the park now comprise approximately 60 acres. The longest span of ownership was under Kingsley and his family, a polygamous and multiracial household controlled by and resistant to the issues of race and slavery.

Free Blacks and several private owners lived at the plantation until it was transferred to the state in 1955. It was acquired by the National Park Service in 1991. The most prominent Zephaniah Kingsley wrote a defense of slavery and the three-tier social system that acknowledged the rights of free people of color that existed in Florida under Spanish rule.

More than 50 B-CU representatives took part in the tour of historic sites on Florida’s east coast.

Kingsley briefly served on the Florida Territorial Council, planning the transition when Florida was annexed by the United States. During his time on the council, he attempted to influence Florida lawmakers to recognize free people of color and allow mixed-race children to inherit property.

Marriages between White plantation owners and African women were common in East Florida. The Spanish government provided for a separate class of free people of color, and encouraged slaves to purchase their freedom. Slavery under Spain in Florida was not considered a lifelong condition and free Blacks were involved in the economic development of the region, many of them owning their own slaves.

Fort Mose Historic State Park
It was established in 1738 by Colonial Spanish Florida’s Governor Manuel Montiano. Fort Mose gave sanctuary to Africans challenging enslavement in the English colony of Carolina.

Drawings show the floor plan of Fort Mose.

Approximately 100 Africans lived at Fort Mose, forming more than 20 households.

Together they created a frontier community which drew on a range of African backgrounds blended with Spanish, Native American and English cultural traditions. A Maroon Fort Mose, a maroon community, was legally sanctioned by the Spanish government making it the first free African settlement to legally exist in the United States.

Lincolnville Historic District
A Black dentist and NAACP representative named Robert Hayling from the historic subdivision of Lincolnville initiated the protest actions that eventually ended discrimination in St. Augustine.

Lincolnville, established in 1866, was the major Black residential subdivision in St. Augustine, and many of its residents were politically active. The historic district contains a large collection of 19th and early 20th century residences and churches.

In 1963, Hayling organized campaigns against local segregated public facilities catering to tourists.

He also urged the White House not to support the 400th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine set to take place in September 1965. When both efforts failed, he appealed to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) for help.

The SCLC called on New England universities to send volunteers to the city for March 1964 demonstrations and asked Lincolnville residents to provide food and lodging. By the end of one week of protests, police had arrested hundreds of demonstrators, including a delegation of rabbis and the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts. White vigilantes terrorized local businesses that dared to serve African-Americans.

In early June, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to St. Augustine and took part in a sit-in at Monson’s Motor Lodge. The same month, the SCLC arranged for baseball star Jackie Robinson to address a civil rights rally in Lincolnville. The publicity surrounding these two events hastened Congress’ passage of the Civil Rights Act on June 20, 1964.

According to the Durkeeville Historical Society, the community was an African-American streetcar suburb around the first decade of the 20th century.

It was founded in the 1930s when Blacks were barred from living in many parts of the city.

Those who came together to create Durkeeville were middle class and working class individuals.

Some were doctors, lawyers, educators and business people and ordinary laborers.  They created a neighborhood that sheltered and nurtured many during a challenging time.

By the 1980s, Durkeeville struggled with urban blight, poverty and crime associated with inner-city neighborhoods.

A number of the remaining long-term residents formed the Durkeeville Historical Society and collaborated with city officials to revitalize this historic section of Jacksonville.

Durkeeville still remains one of Jacksonville’s most intact and pedestrian-friendly working-class neighborhoods.

Andreas Butler and Duane C. Fernandez Sr. of the Daytona Times contributed to this report.  More information on the Black Heritage Trail can be accessed from myflorida.com.


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