St. Augustine's African-American history used to consist of stories handed
down from one generation to another, rarely shared outside the black
African-Americans are rooted in the city's history back to its founding in
1565 by Pedro Menendez of Aviles. By 1738, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de
Mose (Fort Mose) -- was the first free black town in what is now the United
States. Two centuries later, the acclaimed leader of the civil rights
movement, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., answered the call for help
from Dr. Robert B. Hayling, a local dentist. St. Augustine's place in the
nation's civil rights history was assured for the pivotal role the city's
strife in the summer of 1964 played in the passage of the Civil Rights Art.
St. Augustine's African-American heritage now comes to life in the
well-documented and highly visible markers along the 40th ACCORD Freedom
Trail, in the visitor center of Fort Mose Historic State Park and in the
Excelsior Museum & Cultural Center in the heart of Lincolnville, the city's
historically African-American community.
Ambassador Andrew Young, a former Atlanta mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the
United Nations, has donated the interviews linked to a documentary,
"Crossing in St. Augustine," to Flagler College for a digital archive. The
documentary tells the story of Young and other demonstrators who were beaten
by whites in the city's Plaza de la Constitucion in June 1964.
St. Augustine updated its official tour guide test/manual to expand its
black history information in 2009. Walking tours and trolley and trailer
train tours now highlight Lincolnville and the city's black history as they
do other parts of our heritage.
The Foot Soldiers Remembrance monument, a sculpture honoring the heroes and
sheroes of St. Augustine's civil rights era, is expected to be installed
this year in the Plaza.
Looking ahead, First America Foundation, Inc., the non profit organization
formed to create events for the city's 450th anniversary, 2012-2015, will
focus in 2014, the 50th anniversary of the civil rights movement in St.
Mayor Joe Boles has organized a steering committee to consider the creation
of a St. Augustine Civil Rights Museum, too.
Certainly St. Augustine will play a role in the 150th anniversary of the
Civil War, another point for African-American history to be showcased.
A future link is in the works to the National Park Service's Gullah-Geechee
Cultural Corridor. It emphasizes the route slaves took in the 1600s to
Spanish St. Augustine and freedom via an "underground railway."
On Monday, the Tourist Development Council will discuss the upcoming
contract with the St. Johns County Cultural Council as the new manager of
the Category II Art and Culture bed-tax grants starting in October. The
Category I bed-tax tourism promotion funds are administered by the Visitor
and Convention Bureau. Both these categories can bring more visibility to
our African-American heritage tourism opportunities.
The goal of the bed-tax, the county's four percent tax on overnight paid
lodging, is to get visitors to stay longer.
As we conclude Black History Month in St. Johns County, we see much progress
in telling the city's African-American story but much more to be done. We
encourage the TDC to establish a committee to formally link the TDC with
40th ACCORD, the Excelsior Museum & Cultural Center, Fort Mose Historic
State Park, First America Foundation, Inc., and Flagler College to ensure
that the our African-American story becomes as well known to residents and
visitors as our place in history as the nation's oldest continuing European