Where to Learn About Florida's Black History

    By Chelle Koster Walton

    African-Americans have played a large part in the development of modern-day Florida. Here are some opportunities to learn more about cultural heritage and African-American history in Florida.

    African-Americans have played a major role in Florida heritage since the unfortunate plantation days to their modern-day contributions to education, culture, business and government. In fact, Florida claims some African-American firsts, most notably the town of Eatonville, today an Orlando suburb, where citizens established the first town governed by blacks. To experience the depth of Florida's African-American background, visit it and these other "must-see" sites, just a few of the many opportunities to learn more about our state's vibrant cultural heritage.

    NORTH FLORIDA

    American Beach, Amelia Island. one of Florida's first black-owned beach resorts, it still belongs in part to the founders' descendants.

    Julee Cottage Museum, Pensacola. Part of Historic Pensacola Village, this Florida black 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 Madgigine 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 homerun 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. (The house is not open to the public.)

    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 major female voice of the Harlem Renaissance, writer, folklorist and anthropologist, "the Hurston" 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 Florida 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 "Colored Town," as it was originally known. One of Miami's oldest neighborhoods, it dates back to the 1890s.

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