St. Mary's Missionary Baptist Church in St. Augustine

    By Florida Division of Historic Resources Staff

    Martin Luther King Jr.'s announcement at St. Mary's Missionary Baptist Church helped make history.

    Florida has a rich and diverse history.  African American landmarks and legacies exist in various locations throughout the state. The following historical sites can be found in St. Johns County.  While some of these sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public.

    St. Augustine
    Butler Beach

    On Anastasia Island east of St. Augustine on Highway A1A just south of the Mary Street ramp
    In 1927, Lincolnville businessman Frank B. Butler bought land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River, which he developed into Butler Beach. For many years this was the only beach that African Americans were allowed to use between Jacksonville and Daytona Beach.

    Cary A. White, Sr. Complex, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind
    207 North St. Marco Avenue
    This classroom and dormitory area is dedicated to the memory of the first African American deaf graduate of the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. Cary A. White, Sr., worked at the school for 46 years and was an assistant in the dorm where Ray Charles lived while he was a student at the school. (904) 827-2219.

    Excelsior High School

    102 Martin Luther King Avenue
    Built in 1924 as a public high school for St. Augustine’s African Americans, for 50 years this building also served as a state social service center. Currently home to the Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center of Lincolnville, the exhibit includes seven historical themes. The building also includes a reading resource center and a small library. (904) 824-1191.

    Fort Mose Historic State Park
    Fort Mose Trail, two miles north of St. Augustine off U.S. 1
    In 1693, King Charles II of Spain decreed runaway slaves were to be given sanctuary in his colonies. Black fugitives from the British Colonies made their way south and fought against a British retaliatory attack on St. Augustine. In 1728, the territorial governor abolished the slave market and freed any remaining soldiers who were slaves. Ten years later Governor Montiano established Fort Mose´ as the first free black settlement in North America and the northernmost outpost protecting the capital of Spanish Florida. The Spanish encouraged enslaved Africans to flee English settlements in the Carolinas, promising them freedom if they converted to Catholicism. Fort Mose´ was a diverse community made up of people from widely varied backgrounds: Nandingos, Congos, Carabalis, Minas, Gambas, Lecumis, Sambas, Gangas, Araras and Guineans. The fort and village were abandoned in 1763 and for more than 175 years the remains of this first free black town lay forgotten in a salt marsh north of St. Augustine. Although nothing remains of the fort, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1994 and is a tangible reminder of the people who risked and often lost their lives in their struggle to attain freedom. A festival is held annually to reenact the journey to freedom. A Florida State Park Visitor Center showcases the history of the site. (407) 823-2232.

    Lincolnville Historic District

    Bounded by Bridge, Cordova, Cerro and Riberia streets
    In 1866 former black slaves began settling a three-block area in St. Augustine at first known as Africa but later renamed Lincolnville. By 1885, Lincolnville was a growing black business and residential community. Lincolnville has the greatest concentration of late 19th century architecture in the city.

    St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church and School

    86 Martin Luther King Boulevard
    This block of property in the Lincolnville District is owned by the Catholic Church and contains historic buildings important to St. Augustine’s African American heritage. It was part of the “Yallaha” orange grove plantation before the Civil War and was conveyed to the church by the Dumas family in 1890. The first building constructed in 1898 was the school (currently under renovation), originally called St. Cecilia, later St. Benedict. It is the oldest surviving brick schoolhouse in St. Augustine. With a tower and original wraparound porch, it is a landmark of Victorian architecture. Part of the proceeds came from Saint Katharine Drexel, a wealthy Philadelphia heiress who founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People and established more than 60 Catholic parochial schools around the country.
    The Sisters of St. Joseph who came from Le Puy, France in 1866 operated the school. They were involved in a civil rights case in 1916, when three Sisters were arrested for violating a 1913 Florida law that made it a criminal offense for whites to teach black children. St. Benedict the Moor Church, located on the north end of the property, designed by Savannah architects Robinson and Reidy, was completed in 1911. The rectory was built in 1915 and housed the Josephite Fathers out of Baltimore, who pastored here for many years. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visited the rectory in 1964. (904) 824-2806.

    Willie Galimore Community Center
    399 South Riberia Street
    This recreational facility is named in honor of St. Augustine native Willie Galimore. The former Florida A&M three-time All American played seven years with the Chicago Bears in the National Football League. (904) 825-1010.

    Adapted from Florida Black Heritage Trail, published by the Florida Department of State, in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA, copyright 2007.  For more information on African American sites, please visit

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