“Perhaps realizing the substance of his legacy, William [Sawyer] did not pass without giving his son Bill, principal heir to his fortune, a last important lesson. ‘When my daddy was dying,’ the younger Sawyer recalled, ‘ he had me come in and gave me a long talk. He said, ‘Bill, try to be careful as you can with your developments and your monies and stuff like that because you are a nigger, and I want you to know that for the foreseeable future you are going to be a nigger.’
For a long time, Bill concluded, ‘I found that to be true.’
Sources: Bill Sawyer, Interviewed by Stephanie Wanza, August 25, 1997, 3, 59, Tell the Story Collection BA; and 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. 165
“Due to the outbreak of World War I, the promise of employment opportunities sparked another wave of rural migration to Pensacola. White newcomers outnumbered African Americans and accepted jobs considered undesirable a few years earlier. Only menial labor or domestic positions remained open to blacks, and 60 percent of Escambia County African Americans had no jobs at the decade’s end. Many simply left the area during the Great Migration in search for employment in the North, and white supremacy continued to permeate Northwest Florida. Throughout the decade, the Pensacola News Journal glorified the Confederacy, justified white supremacy, published cartoons and editorials that negatively stereotyped blacks, supported the Ku Klux Klan and sensationalized crimes that blacks allegedly committed.
Some African Americans responded to the increased anxiety by joining the Pensacola chapter of the NAACP, which was formed on June 15, 1919. It was Florida’s second local branch, and it enrolled seventy-three members in its first year of existence.”
“Zephaniah Kingsley, an African slave trader, maritime merchant, shipbuilder and planter, had arrived in the region in 1803. Kingsley’s wife was from Senegal, a victim of the slave trade he had profitably engaged in. Ana Madgigaine Jai Kingsley became a free woman, a planter and a slave owner herself. In 1821, Kingsley lived with his wife and his free African-American family at Fort George Island, a cotton plantation located where St. Johns River meets the Atlantic Ocean. He eventually owned plantations in what became five northeast Florida counties, cultivated by more than 300 slaves.”
“At dinner one night, at a large university center, there was a discussion of colonialism and what it had brought by way of blessings to the country. A very beautiful young Indian woman, an instructor at a nearby college, whispered to me, ‘Dr. Thurman, do you know why the sun never sets on the British Empire?’
‘No,’ I replied.
‘I will tell you,’ she said. ‘God cannot trust the Englishman in the dark.’
“As evidence of their success, the state of Florida received over $76 million in monies earmarked for welfare between January of 1949 and June of 1951. Not a dime of it went toward filling the nonmilitary public housing vacuum. In fact, thanks to white homeowner intransigence about the location of public housing sites, and landlord lobbying at both the state and municipal levels, no government housing would be built at all in Dade County between 1940 and 1954.”
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. 189; and “Public Housing in Dade County: Statement of Non-federal Contribution,” RG 207, General Records of the Department of Housing and Urban Development; Model Cities Reports, 1966-73, “Florida; FL 4 (part) – FL 5; Vol. 2, Part 1” filer, box 49, NARA.
“Turpentine bands were recruited from throughout the South, often by their fellow blacks. The most famous of these agents was Henry N. ‘Father’ Abraham, a native of South Carolina who went to work in a turpentine camp in Lawtey, Florida. While there, he became a hoodoo doctor and used the prestige and influence of that position accorded him in rural southern communities to recruit workers, receiving payment from the company for each person he brought to camp.For a fee, he healed the sick, removed and cast spells, predicted winning bolt numbers. He earned enough from his practice to buy 200 acres of land, on which he built homes for two dozen tenant farmers and their families. He became a successful strawberry grower, a wealthy and world-famous hoodoo doctor before his death in 1937. He was one of the few lucky ones. In many ways a decent, generous man, Father Abraham profited from a cruel business and then escaped while continuing to trade on ignorance and superstition.”
DELRAY BEACH — Welcome to South Florida and the ‘Village by the Sea,” the first stop of our summer “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour.”
The state of Florida has about 800 historic markers to honor homes, businesses and community landmarks that are a part of Sunshine State history. Many of those markers describe the contributions black Floridians have made to the state’s development.
My goal is to visit as many of them as I can.
I hate to admit this, but I discovered my first stop by accident. I was headed to my neighborhood soul-food joint in Delray Beach, Donnie’s Place. The restaurant is located in the West Settlers Historic District, the site of the city’s first African American community.
The West Settlers Historic District received local historic designation in 1997 and today remains in the hub of Delray Beach’s black community. Northwest 5th Avenue is the district’s cultural focal point. It’s home to The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, the former home of Solomon D. Spady, one of the city’s most influential African Americans.
The area hasn’t seen the development and re-gentrification hat has taken place in other in-town neighborhoods. Unlike some other iconic black areas in Florida, the West Settlers Historic District remains predominantly black community.
The black historic district in Delray Beach is just one of many historic attractions that tell the story of black achievement in the Sunshine State. Give credit to the Florida Department of State and the many local community organizations and county and municipal governments for stepping up and deciding to preserve Florida’s black history.
The next destination is in another part of the state and tells a compelling story about Florida’s remarkable black history. It’s a far cry from trendy Delray Beach. Stay tuned.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
Accessibility: Easy. Take the Atlantic Avenue exit off Interstate 95 east to N.W. 5th Avenue. Turn left, and you’re in the West Settlers Historic District.
Tomorrow is the day! We begin our summer road trip through Florida history on www.blackinfla.com., and the question is: Where should we start?
How about Jacksonville, a town that once was the South’s most progressive black community? Or St. Augustine, home of Florida’s first settlement for runaway slaves? Or Key West, a sanctuary city long before Americans ever knew about the term? Check back to see where we begin and follow us on this unique tour. You’ll enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
“I know you cannot all remember my name, but you will remember this face, remember this crown of white hair, remember the yearnings of a heart that is pleading for the unity of the world, that all of us may brothers be.”
Source:Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better WorldEdited by Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith; Indiana University Press, 1999 p. 57; and; “Address to a World Assembly for Moral Re-Aarmanent” July 27, 1964 Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, Bethune-Cookman College, Daytona Beach, Fla.
The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: Given her contributions, from serving as a key advisor to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to the generations of black graduates from Bethune-Cookman University, we shouldn’t forget Mary McLeod Bethune.
“You are young, gifted and Black. We must begin to tell our young. There’s a world waiting for you. Yours is the quest that’s just begun.”
James Weldon Johnson, author, civil rights, activist, composer, diplomat, educator and Florida native.
The ‘So-What?!’ Significance: The words resonate. They did when James Weldon Johnson first uttered them. They did when Nina Simone and poet Weldon Irvine recorded those same words in the late 1960s in the hit song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and the words should still have meaning today.