Mark your calendars. The second stop of the “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour” summertime road trip is coming up soon. Check back here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, June 22 to see our next black historic destination. Check it out. You’ll enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
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
If you listen carefully, tuning out the noise from the park’s boardwalk and picnic areas, you can almost hear the sounds of North America’s first legally sanctioned free black settlement.
Whether it’s the sounds of hammer beating molten iron at the blacksmith, the squeals of children or the cadences of the local militia, the village of El Pueblo de Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose attracted blacks — slave and free — from Africa, Spain and the Americas. More than 100 men, women and children once lived in the old fort that protected St. Augustine.
Fort Mose was built in 1738, and its occupants found refuge from the harsh life of slavery by joining the Catholic Church and pledging allegiance to the king of Spain. In 1763, when the British took control of Florida, the residents of Fort Mose left for Cuba, and freedom.
Today, the old fort is a 40-acre waterfront park located east of U.S. 1 just north of St. Augustine. It houses a picnic areas, a marina for canoeing and kayaking and a boardwalk where birders can see White Ibis, Great Blue Heron and Bald Eagles. The remains of the earlier settlement are long gone, but the significance of Fort Mose Historic State Park should not be lost to history.
The Defense of St. Augustine
The original Fort Mose may have been built by Spain to defend St. Augustine, but as the first community of free black men and women in North America, it served as a haven on the original Underground Railroad for runaway slaves who fled from the harsh plantation life to the north.
The Fort Mose Historical Society, the Florida Department of State and Florida Living History Inc., a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public about the state’s colonial and territorial history, hold commemorations of the founding of Fort Mose with stirring re-enactments of the proclamation that established the settlement and named the community’s first leader.
Admission to the event is free of charge. There is a $2 admission fee to the park’s museum for adults; children 5 or younger are admitted to the museum for free.
Safe haven for slaves and freed blacks
The re-enactments are reminders of the rich black history of North America’s oldest city. When Spain regained the Florida territory after the American Revolutionary War, the seeds of an enduring black community in St. Augustine were planted, beginning with a free black community that readily accepted newcomers from the American colonies and the Haitian revolution.
The one-time center of black business and residential life, Lincolnville, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Florida Black Heritage Trail, and there have been efforts to restore some of houses in the area. The Andrew Young Crossing sits in the midst of the city’s historic district and commemorates the 1964 march led for civil rights that ended in violence.
Race played a major role in shaping what is now Florida. Under Spanish rule, blacks not only found asylum from slavery but a comfortable enough life that black men were willing to protect it by serving in the militia to protect Spanish Florida from the British. The struggle between two countries led to the creation of Fort Mose, and ultimately its undoing.
For more information, contact:Fort Mose Historic State Park, 15 Fort Mose Trail, St. Augustine, FL 32084, (904) 823-2232
I’m not sure if people living in the Fort Lauderdale area realize what a treasure they have in the Mizell-Johnson State Park. Many probably won’t recognize the park’s name.
Say John U. Lloyd Park, and perhaps, you’ll see a glint of recognition.
Von D. Mizell was a prominent black physician and founder of the local NAACP chapter. Eula Johnson was a businesswoman who owned several gas stations and became NAACP chapter president. Both worked to change the Jim Crow laws that kept blacks and whites separate.
On July 4, 1961, they led a “wade-in” protest at Fort Lauderdale’s “whites-only” public beach. The one that is now the economic engine and tourist attraction.
In their honor, the one-time blacks-only beach was renamed after Mizell and Johnson. Three pavilions have also been renamed to honor other black dignitaries in the Fort Lauderdale area.
Regardless of the name change, the park is a beautiful locale and a nice alternative to the city’s more popular — and heavily used — beach.
Yes, the Fort Lauderdale beach along A1A and Las Olas Boulevard is free, and there’s a cost to get into Mizell-Johnson. It is a state park after all.
The irony is hard to miss. The one time “all-white” beach and cultural attraction for Fort Lauderdale can be a experience of sand, shore and crowd control. The more serene historic “all-black” beach in Dania Beach is the real jewel.
In place of the congestion that comes with a tourist-trap strip, Mizell-Johnson State Park offers a very pleasant shoreline, park amenities and tranquility. If you’re looking for serenity in South Florida, I can’t think of a better spot to find it.