Florida’s ‘Grown Folks’ Black History Month Tour

Third in a series of Florida “Black” Historic Marker Destinations

By Douglas C. Lyons

SAINT AUGUSTINE — The city’s Lincolnville neighborhood should be a ‘must’ stop on every visitors’ trip to America’s oldest city. It’s a picturesque section of town, located just south of the famed historic district. The fact that it is also Saint Augustine’s historic black community gives the area its own bit of uniqueness.

The challenge is to see it before it disappears. Like many black neighborhoods situated near prime development areas, Lincolnville is undergoing gentrification.

Whites are moving into the community that was founded by freed slaves. Older homes are giving way to new developments. Property values are going up, and many longtime residents are moving out. It’s an all-too familiar trend.

There is still a lot to love about Lincolnville. The area’s architecture includes the city’s highest concentration of Victorian-era homes. The Lincolnville  neighborhood is a picture perfect place for walking tours, something almost everyone does during their stay in Saint Augustine’s historic district.

The area also has its fair share of history, including the 1964 civil rights demonstration that made Saint Augustine a brief focal point during America’s Civil Rights Movement. There’s a lot to see and during those quiet moments along the neighborhood streets, all that history seems to come alive.

Lincolnville remains the city’s historic black community.

How long that lasts is anyone’s guess.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com. 

Photo Credits: Douglas C. Lyons & Doris T. Harrell

 

 

Protests for Rights Occurred Long Before the Civil Rights Movement

 

 

“Many years later, the people would stand up to water hoses and sheriff’s dogs to be treated as equal. But for now the people resisted in silent, everyday rebellions that would build up to a storm at midcentury. Rocks stuffed into cotton sacks in Mississippi at weighing time. The ‘Colored Only’ signs pulled from the seat backs at public buses and converted into dartboards in dorm rooms in Georgia. Teenagers sneaking into coffee shops and swiveling on the soda fountain stools forbidden to colored people in Florida and then running out as fast as they’d come in before anybody could catch them. Each one fought in isolation and unbeknownst to the others, long before the marches and boycotts that were decades away.”

Source: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson; Random House, 2010 p. 99

A Different Take on the Rosewood Massacre

 

 

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

“The white press depicted Rosewood as a riot stemming from the familiar poisonous root of sexual assault, exacerbated by Negroes with guns. But the black press cast the fighters of Rosewood as heroes. The New York Age compared the incident to recent acts of self-defense in Chicago where ‘the Negro was not afraid to fight back and when that fight was over he felt that he had something pretty near a fair chance before the law. Those are two conditions which the suffocating, damning atmosphere of the South does not permit.'”

Source: Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson; Prometheus Books, 2014 p. 192

Photo Credit: State Library and Archives of Florida

A Moment in ‘Future’ Florida History

By Douglas C. Lyons

Gov. Rick Scott

Wait! What? Gov. Rick Scott now wants the state Clemency Board to rewrite rules for restoring voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time and repaid their debt to society. Where was the governor’s zeal before a federal judge forced his hand?

Before U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled that the current state procedure was “arbitrary” and open to bias in granting clemency, Scott and the rest of the Florida Cabinet were content to let applicants for clemency wait five years before even applying, and then waiting some more before getting a hearing.

The Clemency Board only meets four times a year and faces a backlog of more than 10,000.. There are roughly 1.5 million ex-felons in Florida who are eligible to seek restoration of their voting rights.

Bottom line? The system is arbitrary and subject to potential bias.

Don’t expect a big rush to change by the governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and chief financial officer — all Republicans who are the clemency board — to change the process. All this is posturing as the state moves to appeal the federal judge’s ruling against Florida’s clemency process.

Fortunately, voters can change the Florida Constitution this November to allow convicted felons to vote in future elections. Voters can also let at least two Clemency Board members know that they don’t appreciate the long delay in allowing ex-felons the right to vote. Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam wants to be governor. CFO Jimmy Patronis wants to be re-elected, and Rick Scott is expected to run for the U.S. Senate.  If their names are on the November 6th ballot, cast your vote and make your feelings about voting rights known.

Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blkinfla.com.

Photo Credit: Shealah Craighead/State of Florida

 

Remembering a Florida Power Couple on Valentine’s Day

 

 

Abraham Lincoln Lewis

By Douglas C. Lyons

Here’s some Florida Black History that is appropriate to Valentine’s Day. It’s a love connection of some historic significance: the marriage of Abraham Lincoln Lewis and Mary Sammis. It was a very big deal in our state’s history.

Lewis was born in 1865 and would grow up to become rich businessman in Jacksonville. He amassed a fortune in several enterprises, including the Afro-American Life Insurance Company. He purchased enough oceanfront property along a strand of Amelia Island, which become American Beach, a popular tourist destination for blacks during the days of racial segregation.

Lewis married well. At age 19, he married Mary Sammis, the great-granddaughter of the eccentric yet wealthy landowner, planter and slave trader and political activist Zephaniah Kingsley and his Senegalese wife, Anna Jai.

Lewis, according to the book, An American Beach for African Americans, brought ambition and reliability to the marriage. Mary Sammis brought a respected name and recognition, making the pair quite the power couple of their day.

Photo Credit: State Library & Archives of Florida

Miami ‘Nightlife” Proved Tough for This Boxing Legend

 

 

Cassius Clay: The boxer who would become Muhammad Ali.

“Cassius struggled to get to sleep that first night. He later complained that the worst times of training in Miami were the lonely hours after dark. ‘I just sit here like a little animal in a box at night,’ he told a sportswriter in 1961. ‘I can’t go out in the street and mix with the folks out there ’cause they wouldn’t be out there if they was up to any good. I can’t do nothing except sit … Here I am, just 19, surrounded by showgirls, whisky and sissies, and nobody watching me. All this temptation and me trying to train to be a boxer. It’s something to think about.'”

Source: Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X by Randy Roberts and Johnny Smith; Basic Books, 2016, p. 5

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

Florida’s First Black Congressman Leaves an Enduring Legacy

Josiah T. Walls
Josiah T. Walls

“Driven from public service by the same white supremacists he had conciliated while in office, Josiah T. Walls fought successfully to have public land set aside near Tallahassee for the establishment of a training school for black students. Initially known as the State Normal College for Colored Students, it later became the Agricultural and Mechanical School, later still the legendary Florida A&M. Marginalized and ignored, Walls passed the final years of life working on the school’s farm.”

 

Source: Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman; Grove Press, 2013, pages 260-261

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress

 

The Unexpected Becomes a Historic Appointment

Justice Joseph W. Hatchett

 

“During the interview, the governor never mentioned the historic nature of the appointment, but ‘of course, we both knew that.’ One thing the governor did ask, however, was whether I would be willing to run for office if appointed. “I knew that you had to run — I didn’t know when — but I said, ‘Sure. I’ll run.’

At this point, I thought an appointment unlikely, ‘so I said yes to anything,’ and lo and behold, then the next thing that happened was I was appointed.”

Interview with  Joseph W. Hatchett on his historic appointment to the Florida Supreme Court from Florida’ Minority Trailblazers: The Men and Women Who Changed the Face of Florida Government by Susan A. MacManus; University Press of Florida, 2017, pages 350-351

Florida’s ‘Grown Folks’ Black History Tour

 

Second in a series of Florida “Black” Historic Marker Destinations

CRESCENT CITY — Take the turn off US Highway 17  onto Eucalyptus Ave. and open the door to a glimpse of old Florida. A mix of modest wood-frame and brick houses dot the small lots in this black neighborhood, where strangers still get a friendly wave from people passing the time sitting on their front porches.

A. Phillip Randolph

Turn the clock back to 1891, when opportunities beyond framework, fishing and work at the nearby sawmill were limited, and it’s easy to see why the Rev. James Williams Randolph, a minister and tailor, moved his family to Jacksonville. For the minister’s second son, the move would be significant — for the nation.

A. Phillip Randolph would go on to lead the nation’s first predominantly black labor union — The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. As a civil rights leader, he helped shape a movement that ultimately ended legal racial segregation in the United States, The recognition of his birthplace is one of the estimated 80 state historic markers that designate Florida’s rich black history.

In the late 1800s, Jacksonville was the black mecca of the South. At the time,  black professionals like the Randolphs could thrive in a community that boasted of prominent black businesses and a growing black arts and cultural scene. It was here that young Asa Phillip Randolph learned from his father that conduct and character often made more of an impression on others than skin color.

A. Phillip Randolph would eventually leave Florida altogether and make a name for himself as a labor leader and civil rights icon. He founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the influential black labor union, and he became a leader in the civil rights movement, organizing not one but two “marches” on Washington.

Crescent City hasn’t changed much from the days when Randolph’s father led Sunday services at a church not far from Randolph’s home. Nestled between two lakes about 23 miles south of Palatka, this community shows no signs of the population boom and development that have fueled other parts of the state.

Yet, the citizens of this Central Florida town recognized Randolph’s historical significance. Town leaders worked with historians and state officials to name a street after the civil rights leader and erected a state historic marker along the street where Randolph was born and spent the first two years of his life.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

Florida’s ‘Grown Folks’ Black History Tour

 

First of a Series of Florida’s “Black” Historic Marker Destinations

SUMATRA — Long before the term came into being,  the”Negro Fort” was a sanctuary city. Built and later abandoned by the British, the outpost was home to runaway slaves fleeing Georgia and the Carolinas for a better life. It didn’t take long for white southerners to view an outpost of armed blacks as a threat.

The battle for the “Negro Fort” began on July 27, 1816. It didn’t last long. A cannonball from a U.S. Army gunship hit a powder magazine, which contained the fort’s ammunition. Most of the 300 black residents inside the complex were killed, and the explosion could be heard 100 miles away in Pensacola, Fla.

Today, Fort Gadsden is perhaps Florida’s most inaccessible historical sites. It is one of the estimated 80 black historic landmarks that is commemorated in the Florida Historical Marker program. However, given its remote location in Florida’s Panhandle, it’s a destination that few will visit, or even know.

“Isolated” is too kind of a description. What’s left of the fort sits in the Apalachicola National Forest off SR 65 just south of Sumatra, a pinprick of a community on the Franklin-Liberty county line. Don’t expect crowds. Solitude dominate the picturesque setting. It’s like visiting a cemetery in the woods.

The park offers scenic river views, a picnic area, kiosks that explain the fort’s history and short hiking trails. There’s also that mass grave commemorating the victims of the Negro Fort’s final battle and the remains of soldiers who died in the rebuilt fort that was occupied the site until 1863.

Don’t be intimidated by the closed gate at the park’s entrance. The park is accessible by foot and “open” to the public during daylight hours. A visit takes effort, but the trip to a piece of Florida’s past now lost of history and its inconspicuous location is worth it.