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Celebrate African American Heritage on Florida's Historic Coast

Updated: Jun 11, 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, St. Augustine. 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.

Cultural re-enactors
Cultural re-enactors

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.

Founders day
Founders day

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.

Fort Mose parade
Fort Mose

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.

First free blacks
First free blacks

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.

Fort Mose   Isabel de los Rios
Fort Mose Isabel de los Rios

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.

A new exhibit at the museum is opening - 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.

Fort Mose state park
Fort Mose state park

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.

Come see why the road to freedom and African American Heritage goes right through St. Augustine. For a truly enriching experience, book your next vacation or staycation on Florida's Historic Coast.

Located midway between Daytona Beach and Jacksonville, Florida's Historic Coast includes historic St. Augustine, the outstanding golf and seaside elegance of Ponte Vedra Beach, and 42 miles of pristine Atlantic beaches.

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