Florida’s Grown Folks Black History Tour Honors Zora Neal Hurston


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.”

Site where Zora Neale Hurston wrote her autobiography Dust on the Road.

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.



How Morehouse College Shaped This Floridian




Howard Thurman

“Our manhood, and that of our fathers, was denied on all levels by white society, a fact insidiously expressed in the way black men were addressed. No matter what his age, whether he was in his burgeoning twenties or full of years, the black man was never referred to as ‘mister,’ nor even by his surname. No. To the end of his days, he had to absorb the indignity of being called ‘boy,’ ‘nigger’ or ‘uncle.’ No wonder then that every time Dr. Hope addressed us as ‘young gentlemen,’ the seeds of self-worth and confidence, long dormant, began to germinate and sprout. The attitudes we developed toward ourselves, as a result of this influence, set Morehouse men apart.”

Source: With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman   Harcourt Brace & Co.; 1979, p. 36

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Interfaith Peacemakers

Florida’s ‘Grown Folks’ Black History Month Tour

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

By Douglas C. Lyons

ROSEWOOD — On January 1, 1923, this enclave of modest houses and small businesses in Levy County, came to an end. Today, the only reminder of its existence is a historic marker along State Road 24 just outside of Cedar Key.

All it took back then was the word of a white woman in nearby Sumner who accused a black man of rape. What followed was the gathering of an angry mob of white men that burned the black settlement to the ground and killed five black residents in the process. The survivors fled, taking a vow of silence and never returned. The shame of the devastation would remain for decades.

Rosewood, Fla. 1923

Fortunately, the story didn’t end there.

Years later, the massacre prompted the 1997 movie Rosewood, starring Don Cheadle, Ving Rhames, Esther Rolle and Jon Voight. (For all you Guardians of the Galaxy and Walking Dead fans, the actor Michael Rooker played Sheriff Walker.)

More importantly, though, the state of  Florida tried to right the wrong.

In 1994, several survivors of the Rosewood families filed a claims bill in the Florida Legislature, and ultimately a Special Master appointed by the Florida Speaker of the House ruled that the state had a “moral obligation” to compensate the survivors for mental anguish, property loss and the violation of their constitutional rights. Gov. Lawton Chiles signed a $2.1 million compensation bill, which gave nine survivors $150,000 each and established a college scholarship and a separate fund to compensate descendants who could prove property loss.

Ten years later, Gov. Jeb Bush dedicated a state historic marker at the site of the massacre along SR 24, about 50 miles south of Gainesville. in 2004.

If you go, the trip will take some planning.  Rosewood isn’t exactly in the center of things. In fact, my suggestion would be to make a day trip out of the visit and drive south to the end of SR 24 into Cedar Key, Florida’s second oldest city. It’s a fishing, and artist village on the Gulf of Mexico. You won’t find any fast food establishments, Starbucks or a Walmart. Think boating tours, fishing charters, a wildlife refugee and some unique bars, galleries and restaurants. Hotel lodging is available, but may be hard to find during the height of tourist season.

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

Photo Credits: State Library & Archives of Florida, Moni3@ English Wikipedia and Doris T. Harrell



Do You Remember That Fight in Miami Beach?

Cassius Clay: The boxer who would become Muhammad Ali.


This week — Sunday actually — 54 years ago, a young boxer from Louisville, Ky. made history in Miami Beach. Cassius Clay, a 7-1 underdog, beat then heavyweight champ Sonny Liston in a unanimous decision.

The fight was among the most anticipated, watched and controversial matches in boxing. Few expected the upset. At the time, Clay was known more for his ability to taunt Liston than his skills in the ring. It took six rounds for Clay to silence his critics.  Liston refused to answer the bell in the seventh round.

Even fewer would guess that the new champion would go on to become an iconic American hero who would transcend the sport of boxing. Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali, became a devout follower of the Nation of Islam and opposed the Vietnam War — all unthinkable behavior for a heavyweight boxing champion.

Photo Credit: WikiMedia Commons

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