A year ago today, Florida lawmakers issued a formal apology to the descendants of The Groveland Boys, four young black men who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949. The arrests, forced confessions, their abusive treatment as prisoners — three died at the hands of the police — and subsequent trial garnered national attention and brought shame to Lake County, Florida, particularly its then-sheriff Willis V. McCall. As the saying goes, “Better late …”
The formal apology is a good thing for the state of Florida. It helps ease the wounds of a racist past and also recognizes a history that often passes unnoticed.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.
“While [Thurgood] Marshall and [Franklin] Williams attempted to put together a preliminary legal strategy, the New York office of the NAACP advised Harry T. Moore in Florida that the Legal Defense Fund would vigorously defend the Groveland Boys and requested that Moore rouse local public support for the case. Moore immediately sprang into action. He had already sent telegrams to [Florida] Gov. Fuller Warren on July 20 and July 22 calling for punishment of the parties responsible for the rioting in Groveland, and now, in a letter to the governor on July 30, he demanded a special investigation and a special session of the grand jury “to indict the guilty mobsters.”
Fifty years ago today, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down by an assassin’s bullet. The world lost a true leader, a leader and an American icon.
Let us not forget King’s time in Florida. In 1964, he organized a protest in America’s oldest city — St. Augustine — during the city’s celebration of its 400 anniversary. What they found, as described in the book, To the Mountaintop by W. Roger Witherspoon, was a battle zone.
“St. Augustine was worse than Mississippi in many ways,” said Rev. C.T. Vivian, a King lieutenant. “They used guns, chains, lead pipes — the whole works — on black people there.”
A series of night marches by blacks to the city’s Slave Market in downtown St. Augustine ended in violence. Not only did the police decline to help the marchers, many of them participated in the attacks.
“The police force and the Klan were the same thing,” Vivian said. “Guys who would be beating you in the morning, you would see over at the jail later as deputies.”
Fortunately, the campaign had a happier ending. A federal judge ultimately ruled in favor of the black demonstrators, and the protest ultimately helped move the 1964 Civil Rights Act closer to passage. Today, tourists can celebrate the efforts of the civil rights foot soldiers at a memorial in the city’s famed historic district.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Florida Memory State Libraries and Archives of Florida
Think you know something about black history in Florida. Well, take this quiz, and let’s see what you’ve got under the cap. It’s only 10 questions, and the chance to learn more.
— Douglas C. Lyons, founder of www.blackinfla.com.
1.) Name the first black man to step foot on Florida soil?
a.) Juan Carolos
b.) Juan Garrido
c.) Juan de la Santadimingo
d.) Juan Ortega
2.) What was an early destination on the Underground Railroad?
a.) Fort Mose
b.) Fort Myers
c.) Key West
d.) Negro Fort
3.) Zora Neale Hurston lied about her age to get an education?
4.) Name the Floridian who would earn the nickname ‘The Admiral.’
a.) Guion Buford
b.) David “Chappie” James
c.) James Perry
d.) David Robinson
5.) What black Oscar winner was born in Florida?
a.) Cuba Gooding Jr.
b.) Hattie McDaniel
c.) Butterfly McQueen
d.) Sidney Poitier
6.) Name the city that boasts Florida’s first black man and woman to state Legislature in the modern era.
b.) Key West
7.) Who was called the ‘first martyr’ of the Civil Rights Movement?
a.) Medgar Evers
b.) Martin Luther King
c.) Harry T. Moore
d.) Juliette Hampton Morgan
8.) What was the name of the school that would become Bethune Cookman University?
a.) Bethune Cookman College
b.) Cookman Institute
c.) Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls
d.) Daytona Normal & Industrial Institute
9.) Who are the Mascogos?
a.) Front line of the 1984 Florida State University football team
b.) Descendants of the Black Seminoles
c.) Name of inhabitants of the Negro Fort
d.) Nickname for black soldiers in the Battle of Olustee
10.) In what Florida city did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wage a campaign against states rights?
c.) St. Augustine
1.) B. — Juan Garrido, a conquistador born in Africa, is the first black man to set foot in Florida and the New World in 1513 when and an expedition that included Juan Ponce de Leon first set foot on what would be the Sunshine State.
2.) A. — Fort Mose, just outside of St. Augustine, became a destination for runaway slaves from the American colonies when Florida was Spanish territory.
3.) A. — True. Zora dropped 10 years off her age as a young woman in Baltimore to qualify for a scholarship and a chance to pay for a college education.
4.) D. — David Robinson, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and star in the National Basketball Association with the San Antonio Spurs, was born in Key West.
5.) D. — Sidney Poitier who won an Oscar for his role in Lillies of the Field, was born in Miami.
6.) C. — Miami residents elected Joe Lang Kershaw in 1968 and Gwen Sawyer Cherry two years later in 1970.
7.) C — If there were a title of “First Civil Rights Movement Martyr,” it would belong to Harry T. Moore, a schoolteacher who founded the NAACP Florida State Conference and among other things organized campaigns to register black voters and raise black teacher salaries during the 1940s.
8.) C. — In 1904, Mary McLeod Bethune opened the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Girls. Subsequent growth and mergers would lead to university status and the 2007 re-naming, Bethune Cookman University.
9.) B — These Seminole Indians descendants live in Mexico and remain in close contact with Black Seminoles in Texas.
10.) C — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. launched a campaign in St. Augustine to draw attention to opponents of civil rights.
So, how did you do? If you scored:
8 to 10 — You know your stuff! Congratulations.
6 to 8 — You obviously cracked a book or two.
4 to 6 — Need more black history in Florida schools.
0 to 3 — ‘Flori-duh!’ C’mon. You can do better.
To learn more history, check out www.blackinfla.com.
“As a youth Chappie James was told repeatedly, at home and in school, that he would succeed if he were able to drive whites of their negative stereotypes of blacks. He also learned that it was important that he demonstrate personal reliability in supporting the society’s paramount values, like patriotism. Young James also was taught to have confidence in authority and to believe that if he passed society’s tests by developing personal qualifications he would be generously rewarded.”
Mary McLeod Bethune made this day a red-letter date in American history for black women. On December 5, 1935, she founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) as an “organization of organizations” to represent the concerns of Black women, here in America and abroad.
The NCNW gave black women the chance to realize their aspirations for social justice and human rights as the organization took on job discrimination, barriers to voting rights and fought for anti-lynching laws. Today, the NCNW consists of roughly 36 national African American women’s organizations and more than 230 community and campus based sections. It’s mission remains to advocate, empower and lead nearly three million women , their families and communities.
Bethune, of course, was a noted educator, founder of Bethune Cookman College, and perhaps the most influential black woman of her time. The NCNW is just one of the many accomplishments that are part of Bethune’s rich legacy.
“As racists rewrote Florida’s history as well as its constitution, it was forgotten how well black people in Florida had taken to electoral politics. According to Carter Brown’s study, Florida’s Black Public Officials 1867-1924, nearly 1,000 black people, the great majority of them Florida-born ex-slaves, held office following the Civil War. By profession, they ranged from farmers and laborers to craftsmen and preachers.”
“By the 1850s, black people in Florida had to belong to someone or have a white benefactor to vouch or their integrity and obedience. Key West passed an ordinance prohibiting all blacks — slave or free — from walking the streets after dark. The discrimination against free blacks in Key West became so oppressive that many left, as did their counterparts in Pensacola and St. Augustine. Yet, at the same time planters allowed their skilled slaves — the blacksmith and the carpenters — to hire themselves out to other planters and businessmen, even in distant cities. The white owner kept 70 percent or more of the wages.”
“No less a friend of ‘the Negro’ than [Florida] Gov. Farris Bryant, LeRoy Collins’ successor and an unapologetic segregationist, conceded that the state had failed black Americans, especially when comparing black people’s experience to the sustained welcome granted Cubans.
‘I think the Negro people in Miami and surrounding areas who were being booted out of their hotel and service jobs by Cubans really conducted themselves very well,’ Bryant argued. ‘I think under similar circumstances they might have been forgiven for a pretty violent reaction.'”
Sources:A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida by N.D.B. Connolly, The University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 221; and “Unwelcome Guests,” Wall Street Journal, May 6, 1963; and Farris Bryant interview by Joe R. Frantz, March 5, 1971, 11, Civil Rights during the Johnson Administration, 1963-69, Part 3 — Oral Histories, Proquest Twentieth Century Black Freedom Struggles
SAINT AUGUSTINE — The legendary Zora Neale Hurston and the town of Eatonville, are almost inseparable. Eatonville is one of the nation’s oldest all-black townships and the literary, if not spiritual, home of Ms. Hurston.
But, you won’t find a state historic marker erected in Ms.Hurston’s honor in the town that freedom built. For that, you have to travel to a far older quaint, historic community — St. Augustine, Fla.
There, at the corner of King and McLaughlin Streets just over the city line, sits a weathered two story Vernacular construction house, one of Florida’s few surviving structures that is associated with the famed author’s life.
Zora Neale Hurston once lived here.
In 1942, Ms. Hurston taught literature at the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute, a small “Negro” college that later was relocated to Miami. The name changed, too. It’s now Florida Memorial College.
Ms. Hurston’s time in St. Augustine was well spent. She taught, lived in modest comfort in the then-on-campus building, and she completed her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road.
Making tracks is pretty much what we’ve done on this initial Florida Black Historic Marker Tour. We’ve trekked across the Sunshine State from Delray Beach to Rosewood, back to Fort Lauderdale and finally to St. Augustine. There is one more stop, a bit of a disappointment for me, but an adventure nevertheless.
Our last stop can only be described as the eerie remains of a brutal war involving an early black settlement located in what may now be Florida’s most inaccessible historic site.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
Accessibility: Easy. From I-95, head east into St. Augustine on SR 16, which is Charles Usinas Memorial Highway. Take it to North Ponce de Leon Boulevard (SR 5) and turn right. Take North Ponce de Leon Boulevard to West King Street. The marker is about two miles away at 791 W. King St.
Area Attractions: The marker is located in a residential community. So there’s not much to see in the area. The best bet is to hop back in your car and head east on King Street into St. Augustine for sightseeing and entertainment.
Castillo de San Marcos is the big tourist attraction in the city historic district. Take King Street from the marker to Avenida Menedez (A1A). Turn left and continue north for less than a mile. You’re also close to the bridge to St. Augustine Beach.
Fort Mose Historic State Park is the first of two black historical attractions that should be on anyone’s itinerary when visiting St. Augustine. The waterfront site contains plenty of park amenities and an interactive museum that tells the complete story of the first legally sanctioned black settlement in what would become the United States. From the marker, go east on King Street to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and turn left. Take North Ponce de Leon Boulevard to Saratoga Road and turn right. Keep straight to the fort.
Lincolnville is the picturesque historic black community of St. Augustine. It is worth a visit. Take King Street east to Martin Luther King Ave. Turn right and you’re there. Lincolnville remains historic, but has undergone re-gentrification. Still, the homes, churches and tree-lined streets make for quiet walks. Riding tours are also available.