St. Augustine, Fla. (June 1, 2023) – When first visiting Florida’s Historic Coast, it’s easy to spot the Spanish influence and history, from the architecture to the cuisine. Even more captivating and inspiring is the rich African American history of the nation’s oldest city. It spans centuries, from the arrival of the first free blacks in 1500s with Spanish explorers and the country’s original Underground Railroad in the 1700s to the birthplace of the first African American college graduate in 1824 to historic protests and sit-ins by black activists including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s that paved the way for the Civil Rights Act.
In the month of June, there are a variety of events celebrating the history of African Americans on Florida’s Historic Coast. All of them are hosted in locations that are intrinsically tied to the black experience in St. Augustine: Fort Mose Historic State Park, St. Paul AME Church, Lincolnville, and the Excelsior School Building.
The settlement of Garcia Real de Santa Theresa de Mose, now referred to as Fort Mose Historic State Park, was established in 1738 as the first free black settlement in the United States. It was inhabited by former slaves, many of West African origin. Many visitors may be surprised to know that the original Underground Railroad actually flowed from north to south, leading slaves who escaped from Georgia and the Carolinas between 1738 and 1763 to freedom at Fort Mose in La Florida.
Today, Fort Mose Historic State Park serves as a historical and cultural destination, managed by the Florida State Parks Service. On the first Saturday of every month, visitors can attend the Militia Muster and experience a free musket firing demonstration from historically-authentic reenactors. Children can join the muster with Junior Militia training, complete with wooden toy muskets. On Saturday, June 24 a coalition of free Black Fort Mose militia, Spanish militia, and Native American allies fight the British and Scottish invaders at the Battle of Bloody Mose. This is a reenactment of an actual battle that took place on June 26, 1740, during General Oglethorpe’s invasion of Spanish Florida and resulted in the end of his campaign. Reenactments take place at 11am and 1pm and are free.
Learn more about the original Underground Railroad and the courageous women that made it possible at the theatrical presentation and art exhibit, The Courageous Women of Fort Mose at the Waterworks. The Fort Mose State Park and the Fort Mose Historical Society jointly present a historical reenactment of the moments when the fight for freedom overcomes chains. In addition, Dr. Deeh Israel, the Women of Mose, and Dr. Jane Mahoney will unveil and sign their new book, “The Courageous Women of Mose: All for Freedom.” Visitors will also be able to peruse and purchase art inspired by the story of Fort Mose and the freedom seekers. The performance and exhibit are free and open to the public.
St. Paul AME Church, located on Martin Luther King Avenue in historic Lincolnville in downtown St. Augustine, has been a cornerstone of the community since 1873. It played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights movement, with leaders such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Andrew Young, Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, and Jackie Robinson speaking from its pulpit. To celebrate its historic 150 years of service, they are hosting the St. Paul AME Community Festival on Saturday, June 10 and Sunday, June 11 to commemorate “150 Years of Transforming and Impacting Lives.” The festival is family-friendly, with food, music, a children’s corner, live entertainment, and community. The festival runs from 10am to 5pm on Saturday. Sunday morning begins with the 150thAnniversary Worship Celebration at 10:45am. The festival fun continues from 3pm to 5pm. Admission is free.
After the Civil War, many free blacks settled in a section of St. Augustine that came to be known as “Little Africa.” In the late 1800s, the neighborhood was renamed “Lincolnville,” in honor of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. It became a revolutionary center for the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, hosting leaders such as Robert B. Hayling, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Zora Neale Hurston, the St. Augustine Four; Cora Tyson, the Rev. Goldie Ubanks, Jeannie Price, Audry Willis, and Hank Thomas. Situated in the middle of Lincolnville is the Excelsior School Building, home to the first public black school in St. Johns County in 1925. Former students and community members preserved the building, and it now houses the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center. It is an African American museum dedicated to preserving, promoting, and perpetuating over 450 years of the African American story through the arts, educational programs, lectures, live performances, and exhibits.
The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center (LMCC) is hosting a Juneteenth Celebration, from Thursday, June 15 through Sunday, June 18. The LMCC is bringing in musicians, artists, and speakers to honor the memory of freedom fighters and embrace the jubilation of Juneteenth. Thursday features John Capouya and his lecture “Respect: Soul Music and the Civil Rights Movement,” which explores the role of popular soul artists who assisted the Civil Rights Movement. The lecture is from 4pm to 5:30pm and is free. That is followed from 7pm to 9pm by a performance of Smooth Jazz with Marcus Click, a talented saxophonist. Tickets are $25 per person. The celebration continues Friday with The Mahøgånëë Xperīence, an exploration of music, art, and the Gullah Geechee experience with recording artist Mahoganee. Tickets are $20.
Saturday marks the opening of a new exhibit at the museum - African American Influence on Tourism in St. Augustine. The exhibit focuses on Black travelers and the businesses that served them. Museum hours are from 10:30am to 4:30pm. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students. Saturday night the festivities move to The Waterworks, 184 San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine, where Grammy-Award Winner Dom Flemons performs with the Bad Dog Mamas. Tickets are $25-$50. The Celebration concludes with the Heritage Brunch on Sunday, June 18 from 11:30am to 2pm at LMCC, featuring Dr. Longineu Parsons II, international trumpeter and master musician. Tickets are $55.
Juneteenth, a combination of the words “June” and “Nineteenth,” is a federal holiday that commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people. It is a day of celebration, to recognize the end of slavery and the progress towards equality. There are many ways to Celebrate Juneteenth on Florida’s Historic Coast, in addition to the Juneteenth Celebration at the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center. The Juneteenth Community Festival is a free community festival hosted at The Corner Market in Lincolnville on Monday, June 19 from 11am to 6pm. The St. Augustine Music Festival is hosting its 3rd Annual Juneteenth Recognition on Monday, June 19 from 7:30pm to 9pm at the Cathedral Basilica. The music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor will be performed by artist Ann Marie McPhail and pianist Yokino Miyaki. And in the city of history, a walking tour of Lincolnville and the Freedom Trail is pleasant and educational. The area features numerous historic buildings and locations with plentiful historic markers and informational signage.
Come see why the road to freedom goes right through St. Augustine. For a truly enriching experience, book your next vacation or staycation on Florida’s Historic Coast. For images to accompany postings click here.
Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida’s Historic Coast includes historic St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra, and 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches. For more information on events, activities, holiday getaways and vacation opportunities in St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches, go to the Visitors and Convention Bureau website at www.FloridasHistoricCoast.com, in Spanish at www.Viajastaugustine.com, become a fan on Facebook or call 1.800.653.2489.