What do a beach resort, a ballpark and a research library have in common?

February 15, 2012

African-American history.

It’s African-American History Month and Florida has a lot of history to offer.  VisitFlorida has compiled the following list for Floridians and non-Floridians alike to visit and learn. 

NORTH FLORIDA

  • American Beach, Amelia Island. Florida’s first black-owned beach resort, it still belongs in part to the founders’ descendants.
  • Julee Cottage Museum, Pensacola. Part of Historic Pensacola Village, this African-American history museum resides in the circa-1805 home of free black woman Julee Panton.
  • John G. Riley Center/Museum for African-American History & Culture, Tallahassee. Housed in the circa-1890 home of a local African-American citizen, it scans the history of black Tallahassee and the nation from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights movement. Its historic black neighborhood, known as Smoky Hollow, was home to cookie-maker “Famous (Wallace) Amos.”
  • Kingsley Plantation, Fort George (near Jacksonville). Past the row of haunting slave cabin ruins, Kingsley puts human faces to the horror of slave plantation life by introducing some of the African inhabitants, such as Anna Madegigine Jai, the owner’s freed African wife, and slaves Gullah Jack and Abraham Hanahan.
  • Lincolnville, St. Augustine. St. Augustine’s historic African-American district, originally named “Africa,” boasts the city’s largest concentration of Victorian homes. Here Martin Luther King stayed while supporting local civil rights movements. It was also home to the man who taught Ray Charles, a student at the local school for the deaf and blind, to read music in Braille.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

  • Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach. Robinson scored a home run for his people as the first African-American to join an all-white team. It happened here, where a sculpture and park commemorate the 1946 event.
  • Mary McLeod Bethune House, Daytona Beach. Dr. Bethune, a civil rights leader who advised presidents and fellow educators, lived here in the early 1900s. Visit her home (renovations were done in November 2010) to view her personal library, artifacts and photographs on Bethune-Cookman University, where some of the buildings are designated national historic landmarks.
  • Howard Thurman Home, Daytona Beach. Howard Thurman lived in this home until he moved to Jacksonville to attend the Florida Academy Baptist High School, the closest high school available to black Daytonans in the 1910s. Thurman is the author of over 20 books and provided spiritual guidance to prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Parramore District, Orlando. A reviving downtown row of African-American shops and restaurants selling African wood carvings, caftans, masks, jewelry, reggae paraphernalia, barbecue, greens, roti, jerk and other African- and Caribbean-inspired food, art, clothing and gifts.
  • Wells’ Built Museum of African-American History & Culture, Orlando . Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Ella Fitzgerald were among the performers of “the Chitlin Circuit” who boarded here. The hotel has been restored to house a tribute to notable local and national African-Americans.
  • Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville.  Named for Eatonville’s famous Harlem Renaissance writer and folklorist, it exhibits the work of changing African-American artists and hosts an annual winter arts and humanities festival. Ask for a walking tour brochure of Eatonville’s historic sites.

SOUTH FLORIDA

  • African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, Fort Lauderdale. The ultimate word on black history, it contains an art gallery, research document collection and book and photograph libraries.
  • Bahama Village, Key West. In the Florida Keys, proximity to the Bahama Islands meant free interaction between the two lands. Bahama Village grew up after the Civil War as home to the “Conchs,” as the Bahamian immigrants came to be known. Today, Bahamian restaurants, roaming chickens, shops, an 1865 church and a park keep the neighborhood lively.
  • Old Dillard Museum, Fort Lauderdale. Once a segregated school for black children where saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley directed band, it traces the history of the city’s jazz scene and displays masks, musical instruments and other archival artifacts.
  • Overtown, Miami. Soul food restaurants, historic churches and the circa-1913
  • Lyric Theater mark the cultural importance of “ColoredTown,” as it was originally known. One of Miami’s oldest neighborhoods, it dates back to the 1890s.
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A Remarkable Three

February 9, 2011

In honor of  Black History Month, I began searching for  influential African-Americans with a Florida background. It didn’t take long to find a remarkable three.

Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955):  Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach, FL was started by Mary McLeod Bethune,  an educator and civil rights activist who served as an advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960):   Author of four novels and two books on folklore, Hurston grew up in Eatonville, FL, the first incorporated black township in the nation. Her book Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937, “has become the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.”

Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981):  Born in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1899, Dr. Thurman was an author, theologian, philosopher, educator and civil rights leader. He wrote 20 books, started a multicultural church in California, and served as Dean of Theology at Howard University and Boston University.

Bethune and Hurston are already well-known, but the achievements of Daytona-born Thurman are new to me. A few fascinating quotes by Dr. Thurman are now among my favorites.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.

A dream is the bearer of a new possibility, the enlarged horizon, the great hope.

When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among others, To make music in the heart.