Florida Black Historic Marker Honors Zora Neale Hurston, But Not in Eatonville

 

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.

 

 

Where Is Douglas C. Lyons Going With This ‘Florida Black Historic Marker Tour’ Now?

Entering Rosewwod

Mark your calendars. We’re coming up on the third stop of the “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour.” We’ve already visited Delray Beach and Rosewood. Where to next? Be here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, July 6th to see our next destination. Check out our trip through Florida’s Black History. You’ll enjoy the ride and might even learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons

Photo Credit: Moni3@English Wikipedia

Rosewood Marks the Second Stop of the ‘Florida Black Historic Marker Tour’

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

ROSEWOOD — Drive too fast and you’ll miss it. The name may exist on a map as a dot along State Road 24 just northwest of Cedar Key. In real life, however, it’s a stretch of two-lane highway surrounded by fields. Off to the side is the historic marker that tells the tale of death, humiliation and restoration.

In the 1920s,  Rosewood was a small black settlement in Levy County. Many of the residents built and owned their homes, and the community contained several businesses, churches and a Masonic Lodge. Life was good. Well, as good as any poor group of residents who endured the post-slavery mores of white southern society in the early 20th century.

On January 1, 1923, the Rosewood community came to an end. A white woman in nearby Sumner accused a black man of rape. What followed next was the gathering of an angry mob of white men that descended on Rosewood. They drove its residents into the nearby woods, burned the community and killed five black residents in the process. Those blacks who survived took a vow of silence and never returned. The shame of the devastation remained for decades.

If this story is beginning to sound familiar, you’re probably old enough to remember the movie. Rosewood hit the big screen in 1997, 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 in Rosewood.)  The film pretty much adhered to the tragic events that resulted in the complete destruction of Rosewood.

Fortunately, the story didn’t end there.

Entering Rosewood

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. On May 4, 1994, 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.

The Historic Marker was dedicated by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004.

The next destination on our Florida Black Historic Marker Tour tells a another remarkable story of state history. Check back to see where we end up next.

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

Accessibility: This trip takes planning. Rosewood, Fla. is roughly an hour’s drive out of Gainesville and amounts to an eye-blink along State Road 24. Take SR 24 south from Gainesville for 49 miles before reaching Rosewood.

Area Attractions: Make a day trip out of the Rosewood visit and drive to the end of SR 24 into Cedar Key on the Gulf of Mexico. Cedar Key is Florida’s second oldest city. It’s a fishing, and artist village that moves at a slow pace befitting a small coastal community. Fewer than 1,000 residents live there permanently, and the main drag runs less than four blocks.

You won’t find any fast food establishments, Starbucks or a Walmart Superstore. Think boating tours, fishing charters, a museum, a wildlife refugee and some unique bars, galleries and restaurants. Hotel lodging is available, but may be hard to find on peak holidays and during the height of tourist season.

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

Our First ‘Florida Black Historic Marker Tour’ Stop Is …

 

 

By Douglas C. Lyons

West Settlers Historic District Marker and Me

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.

5th Avenue: The Hub of West Settlers Historic District

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.

Spady Cultural Heritage Museum

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.

Area Attractions: There’s still more to do outside of Delray Beach’s  Historic West Settlers District. However, the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum is worth a visit, as is Donnie’s Place Restaurant.

Photo Credits: Douglas C. Lyons and Ebyabe

 

 

 

1969 Band Protest Against ‘Dixie’ Brings Results for Black Students in Pensacola

“In the fall of 1969, the Escambia School Board chose Pensacola High School to host a football exhibition featuring the Pensacola Naval Air Station squad. The school band planned to play ‘Dixie’ as part of its ‘Fiesta of Flags’ halftime show, but several blacks who belonged to the ensemble objected to the song. The band director gave them an ultimatum — play the tune of fail the music course.

The students took their dilemma to [Rev. H. K.] Matthews, who also despised ‘Dixie’ because he believed it romanticized the antebellum plantation culture. School officials refused to compromise with the dissenters or meet with Matthews, so he decided that the black students who participated in the halftime festivities should make their sentiments clear. When the band began to play ‘Dixie’ near the end of the halftime routine, most of the group’s black students lowered their instruments and walked off the football field. Many white band members kept playing, unaware that the students had abandoned their marching formation, while some stopped in astonishment as their classmates left the group.

Blacks in the crowd cheered the protest, except for a few parents who shouted at Matthews angrily. Stunned silence characterized the response of white crowd members. In the days that followed the episode, PHS reversed their policy on ‘Dixie,’ removed it from the band’s song list and did not fail any blacks as punishment for their actions.”

So What?!: In case you haven’t noticed, the push to remove memorials that commemorate the ugly memories of the antebellum South continues to this day.

Source: Beyond Integration: The Black Freedom Struggle in Escambia County, Florida 1960-1980 By J. Michael Butler The University of North Carolina Press, 2016 p. 75

The Racist Origins of West Palm Beach, Fla.

“In May 1893, [Henry] Flagler broke ground on the Lake Worth side of Palm Beach for the six-story, Colonial-style Royal Poinciana Hotel. A workers’ slum sprouted immediately near the site to house the bulk of the one-thousand laborers thrown at the task. They dubbed their shantytown, The Styx — perhaps a reflection of their feeling toward what they built, or of the exorbitant rent they paid or of their belief they were in the sticks, a remote and wild region.

The Styx lasted until Flagler built his company town for all but his most favored white workers across Lake Worth in a two-hundred acre enclave. On this land — considered the least desirable in the area for settlement because of its dampness — James Ingraham laid down the grid for West Palm Beach.”

Source: Some Kind of Paradise: A Chronicle of Man and the Land in Florida By Mark Derr University Press of Florida, 1998 p. 42

Florida Has the Blues

By Douglas C. Lyons

Who would have thought the first published account of blues singing on a public stage took place in Florida? Hard to imagine with more popular musical venues like Chicago, Memphis, St. Louis, not to mention the Mississippi Delta.

However, Jacksonville grabbed a spot in music history with the performance of Professor John W. F. “Johnnie” Woods, a ventriloquist who incorporated the blues into his act. A reviewer for the Indianapolis Freeman saw the show and wrote in the paper’s Stage section that Woods and his dummy, Henry, “set the Airdome wild by making little Henry drunk.”

It all took place on April 16, 1910 in the city’s LaVilla neighborhood, then the city’s segregated black neighborhood. Actually, during the early 1900s, LaVilla was known for its thriving business community and culture.

Jacksonville was so prominent among blacks that it was once dubbed “The Harlem of the South.” The city still has a significant black presence, but who knew it had a place in music history as a place where the Blues began.

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

 

 

 

Gone Fishin’

“Electon officials in Ocoee planned a system of fraud that pa  ralleled the Jacksonville strategy: poll workers would challenge  black voters, who in turn would be forced to appear before the local notary public, R.C. Biegelow, and swear that they were registered voters. Whites in Ocoee later admitted that Biegelow was sent on fishing trips which made it impossible for prospective voters to find him.”

Sources: Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 by Paul Ortiz University of California Press 2005, p. 220 and; Lester J. Dabbs, “A Report of the Circumstances and Events of the Race Riot on November 2, 1920 in Ocoee, Florida” (M.A. Thesis, Stetson University, 1969) p. 24

Zora Neale Hurston Festival Kicks Off with a Look Back

 

Zora Neale Hurston

Historic Eatonville, Fla., opens its doors to all visitors and fans of Zora Neale Hurston on Saturday, January 21 with its Back in the Day: Reflections of Historic Eatonville. The event kicks off the annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival.

The start time is 6:p.m. at the Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts on 227 East Kennedy Boulevard. The event consists of an opening reception, gallery talk and features an exhibition of the artifacts and memorabilia from Early Eatonville. The event is free and open to the public.

For more information, call 407 647-3188 or go to the website: ZoraFestival.org

 

 

 

Before the Montgomery Bus Boycott …

 

“In Jacksonville, after the city council in 1901 had passed a bill over the articulated opposition of the Negro community and its two Negro councilmen, colored people angrily stayed off the [street]cars in an attempt to pressure the mayor into vetoing the bill. This boycotting proved futile, as did a similar step by Pensacola Negroes four years later, when they tried to force the city’s streetcar company to lobby against the Avery streetcar-segregation bill, then before the Legislature.”

Source:  “The Boycott Movement Against Jim Crow Streetcars in the South, 1900-1906”  by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick; The Journal of American History Volume 55, Issue 4 (March 1969)   pages 760-761