Mark your calendars. The fifth stop of the summer “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour” is coming up. Check back here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, August 3rd to see our next black historic destination. Enjoy the trip, and check it out. You’ll learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
By Douglas C. Lyons
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.
According to the excellent biography, Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, Ms. Hurston took the teaching job as summer employment in order to “keep on eating.”
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.
Mark your calendars. We’re coming up on the fourth stop of the “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour” summertime road trip. Check out www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, July 20th to see our next black historic destination. Enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
Photo Credit: Douglas C. Lyons
“Over and over, I have echoed the words of the Apostle Paul (Romans 7:21): ‘I desire to do what is right, but wrong is all that I can manage.’ The most persistent struggles of my life have always centered on the gray areas of compromise. It may be that a man cannot live in a situation or society of which he cannot approve, or to which he cannot consent without compromise. After all, this is the issue upon which the survival of the weak turns when the fight is for survival itself.”
Source: With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman Harcourt Brace & Co., 1979 pages 249-250
“Violations of Spain’s territorial sovereignty in Florida were a regular feature of U.S. foreign policy for the remainder of the decade: the Patriot War of 1812, a naval attack on the black and Indian fort and settlement at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River in 1815, and Andrew Jackson’s devastating raids against Seminole villages along the Suwannee in 1818. The same U.S. hostility toward free blacks among the Seminole, and the Seminole refusal to return their allies and family members to slavery, contributed to the three Seminole wars from 1818 to 1858.”
Source: The New History of Florida Edited by Michael Gannon University Press of Florida, 1996 p.180
“We are calling on land grant colleges to extend their borders as we have never called on them before, not only to help the immediate students that go to their schools but to reach out in the community miles around for students to come in. Give students an opportunity. Build tents for these boys to study so they can come in Whatever is done now, get these young people prepared with their hands to learn these technical things that they must have to carry on now. I would advise that you bestir yourselves and do everything you possibly can to bring that into action. The masses are depending upon the colleges and leaders.”
Source: Excerpt from an address by Mary McLeod Bethune before the NYA Regional Conference on the College Work Program for Negroes in 1940.
Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World Essays and Selected Documents Edited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith Indiana University Press, 1999 pages 225-226
“Officers began combing the four blocks between NW 46th and 48th streets, from NW 12th to 14th avenues, knocking on doors. In a frenzied two hours, during which the rains began falling heavily, officers carried out a court-ordered writ of possession, legally authorizing the execution of eminent domain… By 1:p.m., officers had forcibly evicted thirty-five families from their homes, casting them and their property out into the storm. To minimize water damage to their possessions, kids, expectant mothers, unemployed men and old folk struggled to move couches, dressers and other furniture under mango and avocado trees.”
Source: 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. 147
By Douglas C. Lyons
DANIA BEACH — Once a symbol of racial stigma and separation, this iconic stretch of Florida beachfront is now the only state park to be named after African Americans. Welcome to Florida’s Mizell-Johnson State Park.
Fort Lauderdale’s one-time “colored beach” wasn’t exactly a tourist attraction. Thanks to racial segregation, the better-known public beach was off-limits to blacks. Petitions by black residents to integrate proved futile — at first. Instead, Broward County officials gave blacks their own beach just south of the city.
The beach for blacks wasn’t easily accessible. There was no road and bridge to get to it. You had to take a boat to get to and from the island, which left black beachgoers at the mercy of an inconvenient ferry service. What the beach lacked in bathrooms and other amenities, it more than made up for in mosquitoes.
Still, for the powers-that-be, the “colored beach” was far enough from the city’s more prominent “whites-only” strand along A1A and Las Olas Boulevard to keep the races separated. For black residents, a ferry ride to the desolate island between Whiskey Creek and the Atlantic Ocean would have to do.
That was then. This is now.
The Jim Crow laws are history. Public beaches are now open to everyone, and a quick drive from downtown Fort Lauderdale can bring visitors to the former John U. Lloyd State Park. The park was renamed in 2016 for two local civil-rights leaders who helped integrate public accommodations in the area: Dr. Von D. Mizell and Eula Johnson.
Located just south of Port Everglades Inlet, the park contains 310 acres of recreational diversity. The Atlantic still beckons swimmers. The shoreline is three miles long and a tranquil alternative to the more congested public beaches to the north. The only interruption to the sounds of the wind and waves is the occasional jet flying overhead from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport or the horn from a cruise ship departing Port Everglades.
The irony is hard to miss. The one time “whites-only” beach is now a popular tourist attraction. The congestion is a mix of sand, shore and crowd control. Mizell-Johnson State Park offers a nearby and more serene alternative.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
Accessibility: Easy. From downtown Fort Lauderdale head south on Federal Highway (U.S. 1) past the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport into Dania Beach. Turn left on East Dania Beach Boulevard and follow the A1A signs to the Intercostal Waterway. Cross the bridge, follow the curve but bear right onto North Ocean Drive. At that point, follow the road into the park.
Area Attractions: The park offers far more than the beach. Its various recreational activities are amenities that patrons of the old “colored beach” could hardly imagine for themselves. There are fees involved as this is a state park.
For boaters, there is easy access to the inlet, the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean. Whiskey Creek provides an ideal venue for observing wildlife by canoe or kayak, which can be rented at the Loggerhead Cafe at the north end of the creek. For the nature lover, the park is an ideal setting and even offers a spot to watch manatees playing near the inlet. The park also has picnic facilities for those who want to bring food and enjoy an old fashioned day at the beach.
Photo Credits: Doris T. Harrell, Linda M. Lyons and Douglas C. Lyons
By Douglas C. Lyons
A few years back during my stint as an editorial writer covering the Florida Legislature, a state senator and I were discussing black politics in the state.
The senator, then a member of Miami-Dade County delegation, had a pretty grim assessment about black Floridians living in the Panhandle region.
“Black folk living west of Tallahassee are catching hell,” he said.
I could only nod. My experiences of Florida’s black communities primarily centered around the southern and central parts of the state. At the time, I had never been west of Gadsden County, which borders the Tallahassee area. What little I saw in that county wasn’t exactly idyllic.
Years later, as I turn the pages of the book, Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida, 1960-1980 that long-ago conversation in the state capitol office came back in a rush. J. Michael Butler’s book is a brutal assessment of the David-vs.-Goliath struggle in Florida’s Panhandle region. It’s confrontation pitting local black leadership against the overwhelming dominance of the region’s white power structure.
In this case, though, David had no stone, no slingshot and no real help.
The story follows the work of Rev. H.K. Matthews, a local pastor in Pensacola and at the time president the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. It starts at a gathering of 500 black residents at the sheriff’s department to protest the police shooting of a black teenager. Despite evidence to the contrary, a grand jury declared the incident ‘justifiable homicide.”
The protest, like the others organized to decry the marginalization of Pensacola’s black residents, had the typical singing of hymns, prayers and chants, including this one led by Matthews: “Two, four, six, eight, who shall we incarcerate?”
The words were followed by the names of the town’s white civic leaders, including the county sheriff, Royal Untreiner. Usually, the chants would go unanswered by the police presence. This time, however, the response was swift.
Matthews was arrested and later charged with felony extortion. The case went to trial, where an all-white jury heard officers testify that Matthews had said “assassinate” instead of “incarcerate.” The jury found Matthews guilty and a judge ultimately sentenced the minister to five years hard labor.
The rest of the book tells a panful story of a black community’s attempts to overcome daunting odds to achieve some semblance of equality and justice. It’s not pretty. There is no happy ending here.
There are riots at area high schools over symbols of white supremacy. Black leaders get co-opted by the white establishment, and the few gains that do occur are undermined by entrenched local and state politicians. While Matthews boldly boldly represents the SCLC, he gets little help from his national office, or the NAACP. The fight for civil rights in the Florida Panhandle pales in comparison to the groups’ struggles to remain relevant nationally as civil-right organizations.
To paraphrase that earlier conversation: “Black folk … are catching hell.”
The book is a must read for anyone who is serious about black and white relations in Florida and today’s ongoing struggle of race and social inequality. The book’s general conclusion best describes its overall significance.
“The lessons of the Escambia County movement transcend local, state and even regional context. The story of racial power, privilege, change and continuity is not this community’s alone, for others throughout the United States encountered similar conflicts.”
To better understand the current racial unrest still smoldering in places like Baltimore, Ferguson, Mo., or New Orleans, consider this read of Pensacola’s past.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
“If your dream ain’t bigger than you, there’s a problem with your dream.”
Deion Sanders, Major League Baseball and National Football League superstar, sports broadcaster and Florida native.
The ‘So-What?! Significance: This is certainly not the day to doubt yourself. America was founded on a hardcore belief — a dream that became a world superpower. What worked for a nation started with a dream among individuals.