Florida's African-American Museums
By Lauren Tjaden
Florida was home to noted anthropologist and Harlem Renaissance figure Zora Neale Hurston, the most prolific, significant African-American woman writer in the USA between 1920 and 1950. She was a scrappy, powerful woman with a fierce intellect and the gift, as one friend quoted, “of walking into hearts.”
John G. Riley also called Florida home. Born a slave in 1857, Riley became a civic leader and principal of Lincoln Academy, one of three freedmen schools in Florida that provided secondary instruction for former slaves and their descendants. This remarkable individual died a millionaire in 1954.
From great leaders to everyday heroes, African-Americans are an integral part of the history and development of Florida. Discover these Florida museums that highlight and preserve their contributions, and celebrate African-American culture.
Haiti holds bragging rights as the first free Black independent nation, and the Haitian Heritage Museum remembers that well. The museum provides a cultural Mecca for Little Haiti that showcases Haitian art and historic artifacts, as well as Haitian music, films and literary works, and emphasizes and sustains Haiti’s rich culture and heritage globally.
An art gallery, a Caribbean Marketplace and a theater: The Little Haiti Cultural Complex has much to offer. Aspiring cultural arts students, artists hoping to display their talents, businessmen who know the importance of the local history—and even couples searching for a looking for a vibrant venue n which to get married -- are all invited to celebrate Afro-Caribbean history at the Complex, which promises a variety of year-round internship and volunteer programs.
954-357-6282 or toll-free 877-902-1113
To say this library is the biggest and best is only the truth: encompassing a staggering 60,000 square feet, it houses more Afrcan-Americanhistory books and books written by African-Americans than any other facility in the country. It offers a research facility, the aforementioned 85,000 books, documents and artifacts by and about people of African descent, a community cultural center, a 300- seat auditorium, meeting rooms, exhibit areas, a historic archive, a viewing and listening center and other historical material on Black history.
More than a historical landmark, the Old Dillard has been the central point of African-American education and culture in Fort Lauderdale since it was built in 1907 as the city’s first school for African-American students. Today, the museum the transports visitors back to that time: its Heritage Gallery is complete with its original chalkboard and wooden desks, as well as memorabilia and displays. Dillard also offers guided tours, films, lectures, workshops, classes, conferences, collaborative museum exhibitions, displays and ethnic celebrations. For a special treat, attend an intimate live performance in the Jazz Room, which pays tribute to America’s original art form and Fort Lauderdale music legend Julian “Cannonball” Adderly, who taught at Dillard High School.
African-American activist and educator Solomon David Spady would approve of the museum named for him. Its youth programs are impressive, teaching everything from practical skills like healthy cooking to the loftier pursuits of poetry and Kemetic yoga. And when you step aboard Spady’s “Ride & Remember” Historical Tour, the history of Delray Beach comes to life. There’s more; check out the museum’s website for its latest events, celebrations and exhibits promoting Black and Caribbean history in Florida.
Built in 1925 for African-American sea captain Joseph Blanchard, who was instrumental in Punta Gorda’s early business community, the house makes learning fun with educational scavenger hunts and community breakfasts. Their new exhibit, the African Roots of Southern Cooking makes learning tasty, too, not only talking about but also offering samples of African-based Southern foods. Established in 2004 by historian Bernice A. Russell, a descendant of one of the first African-American pioneer families in Punta Gorda, The Blanchard House is dedicated to the cultural preservation of the contributions that African-Americans have made throughout Charlotte County and Southwest Florida.
Concerts, book signings and toy drives are but a few of the events hosted at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum. Named in honor of the man often regarded as “The Father of Negro History” and the creator of Black History Month, the museum features an African-American art gallery and a rotating exhibit showcasing the work of African-American artists. The lush Legacy Garden pays homage to African-American culture; it’s available for weddings and events. The museum preserves and highlights contributions that African-Americans have made to the history of St. Petersburg.
Small and unassuming, this little gem is not to be missed. It boasts a revolving display of art and more than 150 African-related artifacts, as well as items for sale. Admittance is free.
386-478-1934 or 386-416-9699
The Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum has a motto, “Sharing Yesterday… Preserving Today... Shaping Tomorrow,” and it lives up to the saying. It provides a peek into history and race relations in small-town Florida with historical memorabilia, photos, and artifacts, including more than 100 replicas of African-American inventions, Florida East Coast Railroad artifacts and photographs from Chisholm High School, the first black school in Volusia County. A shotgun house is on permanent exhibit, with furniture and decor of the early 20th century. The museum also hosts festivals and events, in addition to banquets and golf tournaments to benefit scholarships.
Zora Neale Hurston, the most prolific Black woman writer of the Harlem Renaissance, described the rural community of Eatonville, as “a city of five lakes, three croquet courts, three hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers, plenty of guavas, two schools, and no jailhouse.” Established in 1887, the city – where Hurston grew up -- claims fame as the nation’s first incorporated black township. The museum named in Hurston’s honor features the work of prominent African-American artists, hosts walking tours of Eatonville’s historic sites, and celebrates her legacy each year with an annual arts and humanities festival focusing on African-American literature, art, and culture.
Sanford, FL 32771
On Dec. 1, 1891 the town of Goldsboro marched into history as the second black incorporated City in the United States. The Goldsboro Museum showcases and preserves the history, heritage, livelihood, and culture of the area.
Art, culture and music: Jacksonville’s historic African American community of La Villa was rich with them from the 1920’s-1960’s, lending it the nickname the “Harlem of the South” – and the Ritz Theater movie house, opened in 1929, was at the heart of the action. In 1999, The Ritz Theatre and Museum were constructed on the site of the Theater, documenting this fascinating period in Northeast Florida’s history. In the museum’s permanent collection, “Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing,” Jacksonville’s local sons, James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, tell you how their song became the African American National Anthem. You’ll get a glimpse into Clara White’s Mission, and feel the rhythm of the “Harlem of the South” nightclub in the 1940’s. Search for family in the society photographs of Ellie L. Weems, or experience a sit-in at the Woolworth’s counter, just like the Civil Rights Protestors did in the 1960’s.
904-824-1191 or 205-826-0608
Housed on the site of St. Augustine’s first Black public high school, the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center has a fascinating knack for bringing history to life. Besides featuring combined exhibits, artifacts, art and stories that highlight the African roots that helped shape the Ancient City, it boasts a steady stream of events. One is its Emancipation Day Re-enactment that celebrates the tale of formerly enslaved African-Americans who settled the community of Lincolnville following the signing of life-changing legislation in 1863. It also hosts Lincolnville Jazz at the Excelsior from December through April, a concert series that showcases jazz from its African roots to the fusion sounds of the millennia.
With books signed by W.E.B. DuBois and artifacts used by Harriet Tubman, the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum offers mind-boggling collections. Founded in 1976 and housed on the campus of Florida A&M University, Meek-Eaton is one of only 10 Black archives in the country, serving as a repository of more than 500,000 archival records and more than 5,000 museum artifacts dedicated to African-American history and culture in America and the diaspora from the continent of Africa.
You’ll find this cultural treasure nestled at the bottom of a hill in Tallahassee, a historic home that serves as a reminder of Smokey Hollow, a thriving Black neighborhood that once existed just east of the capital’s downtown. It’s one of the last remnants of the achievements of the black middle class which developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Dedicated to preserving African American landmarks and legacies in Florida, the museum offers events throughout the year that include cultural exchange programs, rock-a-thons, a lunch-and-learn series, as well as tours of historic Tallahassee sites.