Historic African-American Sites in and around Jacksonville, Fla.
African American landmarks and legacies can be found at a variety of sites Jacksonville and Duval County. While some of these sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public.
1960s Civil Rights Historic Site Marker
Hemming Square, Downtown Jacksonville
On Saturday, August 27, 1960, forty Youth Council demonstrators from the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP staged a sit-in at the W.T. Grant Department Store, at the corner of North Main Street and West Adams, and at Woolworth’s Five-and-Ten Cent Store across from Hemming Park. Seeking access to the whites-only lunch counters, the youths were met by 150 white males wielding axe handles and baseball bats. Many were injured while others sought safety at nearby Snyder Memorial Methodist Church. The event was a turning point in Jacksonville’s civil rights movement.
Bethel Baptist Institutional Church
215 Bethel Baptist Street
This building has long served as the focal point of the religious and community life of Jacksonville’s black citizens. The congregation was organized in July 1838 with six charter members, including two slaves belonging to Elias G. Jaudon. During the Civil War the church, located west of downtown LaVilla, served as a Union hospital. After the war, the congregation split with black members forming their own church called Bethel Baptist. In 1901, six individuals met in the church basement to form the Afro-American Life Insurance, the first black life insurance company chartered in Florida. Destroyed by the Great Jacksonville Fire of that year, the church was rebuilt in 1904. Its design incorporates both Romanesque Revival and Late Gothic Revival styles. (904) 354-1464.
B.F. Lee Theological Seminary Building at Edward Waters College
1658 Kings Road
This four-story building was built in 1925-1927 to house the Theological Department of Edward Waters College. Founded in 1905, the first graduating class in 1914, included Henry Y. Tookes, who later became a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida. The design of the building reflects the Jacobethan Revival Style that derived from the architecture of Elizabethan England and now serves as the administration building.
Bishop Henry Y. Tookes House
1011 West 8th Street
Bishop Henry Y. Tookes, assigned to serve the Florida District of the AME Church, and his wife Maggie, built this brick, two-story neoclassical-style house in 1939. The house is one of the few remaining large residences in the old Sugar Hill Community, a large neighborhood north of downtown that included some of Jacksonville’s African American middle class during the first half of the 20th century. Under Bishop Tookes’ administration, the college expanded with the acquisition of additional property, and the construction of the library, a women’s dormitory and the J.M. Wise Stadium. The Gamma Rho Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, founded in 1908 at Howard University, in Washington, D.C., occupies this rehabilitated property and offers a tour of Jacksonville’s African American sites.
Catherine Street Fire Station #3
1406 Gator Bowl Blvd
Built in 1902 to replace a fire station destroyed by the Great Jacksonville Fire of May 3, 1901, the station was manned by black firemen for several years. Originally located at 12 Catherine Street, the fire station was moved in 1993 to Metropolitan Park immediately east of downtown Jacksonville. The building was rehabilitated at its new waterfront location to serve as the city’s fire museum. (904) 630-0618.
Centennial Hall at Edward Waters College
1750 Kings Road
Named to commemorate the centennial celebration of the AME Church, this three-story brick structure was built in 1916 by the Rev. Richard L. Brown, one of the few black architects and builders of the period. The building was home to the college’s high school department, printing plant and cafeteria. The building was renovated in 1980 and currently houses a library, classrooms, offices and several academic programs.
Clara White Mission/Eartha White Museum
613 West Ashley Street
This mission is a memorial to Clara English White (1845- 1920). Eartha M.M. White (1876-1974) continued the humanitarian work of her mother, with a life of public service in Jacksonville that included the Clara White Mission, the Milnor Street Nursery, and a tuberculosis sanitarium for Jacksonville’s African American community. The Clara White Mission moved in 1932 to its current location where it serves as both a museum and a community development training center. (904) 354-4162, www.clarawhitemission.org.
638-644 West Ashley Street
Constructed between 1891 and 1895 to house the grocery store of Minorcan descendant Sebastian Genovar, the three-story building has housed African American owned and operated businesses such as the Wynn Hotel and the Lenape Tavern/Bar. At one time, this part of West Ashley Street in LaVilla was the primary commercial and social center of Jacksonville’s African American community. The building is being rehabilitated to house a museum and office space.
J. P. Small Memorial Stadium
Southeast Corner of Myrtle Avenue and 8th Street
J. P. Small Memorial Stadium is the last remaining historic stadium in Jacksonville. The park was first called Barrs Field after local businessman, Amander Barrs, who was president of the Jacksonville Baseball Association. In 1911 Barrs gained control of the area close to downtown Jacksonville from Dr. Jay Durkee who had inherited it from his grandfather, Joseph Harvey Durkee. The historic African American community that emerged in and around the property became known as Durkeeville. Under city ownership in 1926, the recreation field was renamed Durkee Field and sometimes called the Myrtle Avenue Ball Park. Originally used for spring training by the Philadelphia Athletics and the Brooklyn Dodgers, the field was later home to the Jacksonville Red Caps, a local team associated with the Negro Southern Leagues. J. P. Small Park was declared a local historic landmark in 2003.
Off Heckscher Drive on Fort George Island
Kingsley Plantation is one of the few remaining examples of the plantation system of territorial Florida and the site of what may be the oldest plantation house in the state. Plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley was married to a Senegalase woman, Anna Madgigine Jai, whom Kingsley originally purchased as a slave. Visitors can explore the plantation house, remains of 25 tabby construction slave quarters, a barn, waterfront, kitchen house and interpretive garden. Part of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve, the National Park Service operates a visitor contact station and bookstore on site. (904) 251-3537, www.nps.gov/timu.
Masonic Temple Most Worshipful Grand Lodge
410 Broad Street
Completed in 1916 by the Black Masons of Florida, this six-story red brick structure serves as headquarters of the Masons of the State of Florida Grand East and the focal point for the Jacksonville black community’s commercial and fraternal events. Designed by Earl Mark and Leeroy Sheftall, the architectural design reflects the works of both Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. The 1926 Negro Blue Book described it as, “one of the finest buildings in the world owned by Negroes.”
Matthew Gilbert School
1424 Franklin Street
Reflecting the Italian Renaissance style, Matthews Gilbert School was constructed in 1926 to serve the Oakland and East Jacksonville communities. Alumni include two-time Olympic gold medal winner, Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes. The site was originally occupied by the Florida Baptist Academy founded in the 1890s by Bethel Baptist Institutional Church. J. Rosamond Johnson, brother of James Weldon Johnson, served as music director at the academy. The Florida Baptist Academy relocated to St. Augustine to become the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute, and then to Dade County, where it is now Florida Memorial College. (904) 630-6700.
Moncrief Cemetery District
Intersection of Moncrief Road and Edgewood Avenue
Memorial, Sunset Memorial and Pinehurst Cemeteries were developed and managed by the Pension Bureau of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company to provide burial options for blacks in segregated Jacksonville. With over 6,000 graves, these three cemeteries along with the adjacent Mount Olive Cemetery, New Mount Herman Cemetery and Greenwood Cemetery, were the major burial grounds for Jacksonville’s African American community. Six members of the Lewis family, including Abraham Lincoln Lewis, founder of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company are interred in the 1939 Art Deco style Lewis Mausoleum in Memorial Cemetery. The Lewis Mausoleum was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church
841 Franklin Street
Designed and built by Jacksonville’s first black architect, Richard L. Brown, this 1922 church reflects his eclectic style. Built of concrete block, textured on the upper stories to simulate quarry stone, the church includes a large portico at the main sanctuary entrance. A.L. Lewis, one of the Afro-American Life Insurance Company founders, served for over 50 years as Sunday School Superintendent of Mount Olive AME Church.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church
201 East Beaver Street
After the Civil War, several dozen freedmen formed the Society for Religious Worship and were formally recognized in 1866 as the Mount Zion AME Church. A 1901 fire destroyed their brick sanctuary which seated 1,500 worshippers. Within months the church was rebuilt. This Romanesque Revival style church features arched windows and door openings, art-glass windows and a prominent bell tower. (904) 355-9475.
The Norman Studios
Arlington Road between Rogero Road and Cesery Boulevard
In the 1920s, Richard E. Norman (1891-1960) a white filmmaker and distributor of silent films, produced a number of works using all African American casts and crews. This was during the era of a rising racism, including the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Norman’s feature-length “race films,” such as the “The Flying Ace” and “The Bull Dogger,” were part of a national movement to portray positive images of blacks, and served as an antidote to the racism of the time. The Norman Studios in Jacksonville represent the last remaining vestiges of the city’s movie industry that rivaled Hollywood, California, in the early years of filmmaking. They are nationally significant as one of the few remaining intact studios in the country that demonstrate the participation of African American in the early history of filmmaking in the United States. (904)716-0706. Tours by appointment.
Old Brewster Hospital
1885 Monroe Street in the LaVilla neighborhood
Built in 1855, this Victorian style residence was sold in 1901 to the Women’s Home Missionary Society of the Methodist Church. Here, the missionary society established the first Jacksonville hospital for blacks and the first training facility for black nurses. The hospital and nursing school were an outgrowth of the Boylan-Haven School, a private institution for black girls also located at that time in La Villa.
The hospital moved to other facilities in 1910, eventually relocating to North Jefferson where it became Methodist Medical Center. The Old Brewster Hospital building was moved from its original location to its present site in 2006.
Old City Cemetery
Bounded by East Union, Long, Jessie and Washington Streets
Opened in 1852 on land donated by steamboat captain Charles Willey, the Old City Cemetery was the primary burial ground for Jacksonville’s pre-1880 residents. Sections were designated for Freedmen, confederate soldiers, Jews, Masons and Catholics. Members of Jacksonville’s pioneer black families, such as Clara and Eartha M. M. White, are interred here. The cemetery’s one mausoleum is the grave of African Princess Laura Adorkor Kofey, a disciple of Marcus Garvey and his Universal Negro Improvement Association. The Garvey movement was committed to the unity of all black people worldwide in order to build economic and political power. Mother Kofey formed a rival organization before her murder in Miami on March 8, 1928. Reportedly over 7,000 followers accompanied Mother Kofey’s funeral procession from Miami to West Palm Beach, and finally to Jacksonville, where over 10,000 attended her interment.
Old Jacksonville Beach Elementary School
376 4th Avenue South
Mother Rhoda Martin founded the Jacksonville Beach Elementary School for Colored People. In 1939 the county built a four-room brick school structure, which also served as a community center, well-baby clinic and recreational area for the community. The building was moved to its present location and renovated to house the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Museum, depicting the 1939-era school with original furniture and artifacts. (904) 241-6923.
Old Stanton High School
521 West Broad Street (Private)
The Trustees of Florida Institute established Stanton High School in 1868 as the first public black school in Jacksonville. It was named for Edwin M. Stanton, an outspoken abolitionist and Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. This masonry vernacular style structure, completed in 1917, was the only black high school in Jacksonville at the time. James Weldon Johnson, the first African American to pass the Florida bar through an oral exam, and the lyricist of Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, “the black national anthem,” was a student at Stanton High and served as principal from 1894 to 1902. A true Renaissance man, Johnson was an educator, lawyer, journalist, writer of books and plays, diplomat and Field Secretary for the NAACP. Closed as a public school in 1971, the building now houses the private school, “Academy of Excellence.”
829 North Davis Street
Located in a traditionally black commercial district in the La Villa neighborhood, this 1929 Art Deco style building housed a cinema, shops and offices. The Ritz and surrounding commercial properties grew into a thriving arts, entertainment and shopping area for this black community. Though the original Ritz Theater structure was demolished, the decorative corner and sign were incorporated into the new Ritz Theatre and La Villa Museum. The museum exhibit of African American history tells the story of everyday life in northeast Florida, while the theater presents African American shows and educational performances. (904) 632-5555, www.ritzjacksonville.com.
Susie E. Tolbert House
1665 Pearce Street (Not currently open to the public)
This house on the Edward Waters College campus was the residence of Susie Ella Middleton Tolbert. Born in Chicago, Mrs. Tolbert made her home in Jacksonville and pursued her life’s work there. The mother of seven developed the Willing Workers Club and the Christian Endeavor Organization for her church, New Bethel AME. Mrs. Tolbert supported needy Edward Waters College students by providing free room and board, and lobbied for better facilities and equipment for the black children in Jacksonville.
Augusta Savage was born on February 29, 1892 in Green Cove Springs. Savage moved to Jacksonville, Florida in search of work as a sculptor, but was unsuccessful. In 1921, she moved to New York’s Harlem community where she established herself as an artist and a teacher. Her sculpture, The Harp was influenced by Negro spirituals and hymns, most notably James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Gamin, a sculpture of her nephew, won her the Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1929 and the opportunity to study in Paris for one year. Upon returning from Europe, Savage established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in Harlem in 1932. In 1937, she became the first director of the Harlem Community Arts Center, an institution where African Americans could learn about their culture through the study of fine arts. After 1945, Savage fell into seclusion. Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens has a rare bronze Savage sculpture, The Diving Boy, on permanent display.