5 One-tank Trips to Take During Black History Month

by Natalie Jackson
One of the best ways to learn about history is to immerse yourself in the places where history has taken place. As we recognize Black History Month, our faculty, staff and parents have compiled this list of  “One Tank Trips” to places in and around Jacksonville that help to teach the story about Black America in the South. 

American Beach

American Beach was Florida’s first African-American Beach. Abraham Lincoln (A.L) Lewis, influential American businessman and the Florida’s first African-American millionaire, purchased 200 acres of land along the oceanfront of Amelia Island in 1935; the slogan was “Recreation and relaxation without humiliation.” American Beach was one of the only places that offered safe overnight accommodations during Jim Crow Segregation. More recently, MaVynee Oshun Betsch, “The Beach Lady,” who was great granddaughter to (A.L) Lewis, spent her life sharing the American Beach environmental and historical beauty of this area. She worked to open a permanent American Beach Museum that is now open to the public. 

American Beach is located just a few miles North of Jacksonville, where you and your family can spend the day enjoying the warm Florida weather and ocean views, visit the American Beach Museum to learn more about it’s vast history. 

Fort Mose 

Fort Mose Historic State Park served as a legally sanctioned free settlement for those fleeing from slavery from the English Colonies in the Carolinas. This became the first settlement of its kind in the United States. During the years of 1986-1988 a team of specialists from the Florida Museum of Natural History carried out historical and archeological investigations of Fort Mose and found that African-Americans played pivotal roles in the rivalries and confrontations of England and Spain in the colonial Southeast. 

Located in St. Augustine, Fort Mose is a great place to bring your families and friends to visit for the day. They have picnic tables, kayak launches, and many educational opportunities including a visitor center and museum. 

Kingsley Plantation 

The Kingsley Plantation has an unusual, but interesting history. Zephaniah Kingsley (a successful slave trader, merchant and planter) and his wife, Anna Madgigine Jai (a former slave) lived on the Kingsley Plantation from 1814-1837. Under Spanish rule, Anna was able to become business partners with her husband and own her own plantation as well as her own slaves. Zephaniah believed society should recognize a class of free blacks, like his wife Anna. After Spain lost control of Florida in 1821, laws that stripped liberties from American slaves began to apply to Anna. In 1832, Anna moved with her two sons, and 50 freed slaves, to Haiti where she sought to found a plantation there. 

The Kingsley Plantation is located in Jacksonville, Florida on the Timucuan Preserve and is free to the public. There are iPhone walking tours that take you throughout the plantation where you can see well preserved buildings, beautiful 400 year old oak trees, and the natural wildlife that inhabits the area. For the little ones there is an adventure backpack which includes binoculars, a nature journal and more. After visiting the Kingsley Plantation be sure to check out all the other activities the Timucuan Preserve has to offer. 

Jacksonville Heritage Trail 

This self-guided trail allows you to explore famous places and points of interest and learn about Jacksonville’s rich African-American history. The Heritage trail comprises 21 locations across Jacksonville- which can be a lot to tackle in one day. Our guide to keeping the car rides to a minimum, the kids entertained, and making the most of your day includes visiting just a few locations all in downtown Jacksonville. 

Your first stop could be James Weldon Johnson Park (formerly Hemming Park) located across from Jacksonville’s City Hall. James Weldon Johnson Park’s mission is to serve as an urban space engaging diverse communities and bringing life back to “the heartbeat of the city.” James Weldon Johnson Park has several community events, fundraisers and celebrations for you and your family to take part in. The park is named after James Weldon Johnson, who was an American-Writer and Civil Rights Activist. 

Your second stop of the day could be to the Ax Handle Saturday Mural located on A. Philip Randolph Boulevard. This mural was inspired by the events of Ax Handle Saturday. On that day, The Youth Council of the NAACP were participating in a peaceful protest (sitting at a Whites-only lunch counter) when they were attacked by more than 200 White men wielding  ax handles. The mural captures this historical event that took place in Jacksonville. 

Then end your day at the Ritz Theater and Museum which operated for nearly 30 years showing films and catered to the black community located in the LaVilla neighborhood of Jacksonville. During the 1920s-1960s LaVilla was known as the ‘Harlem of The South’. Today at the Ritz you can see plays, musicals, comedies and more - look on their events page for upcoming shows and performances to line up your day. 

Plaza de la Constitución and Andrew Young Crossing

Many local businesses, churches, and parks in St. Augustine became the meeting place for peaceful protests of racial segregation. This brought many civil rights activists to the city including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who once called St. Augustine “the most lawless community” he had ever encountered.  

Many of these locations you can visit today due to the great efforts of historic preservation by the city of St. Augustine. Including the Plaza de la Constitución where a myriad of the night marches, held by foot soldiers, culminated. The Plaza is marked by a bronze statue with four life-sized busts representing those who fought against racial inequality; this sits in the southeast corner of the plaza. 

Just a few yards away in the corner of The Plaza marks Andrew Young Crossing. Andrew Young was an early leader in the civil rights movement; under the instruction of Martin Luther King Jr. he found himself in St. Augustine with the purpose of shutting down demonstrators that were feared to jeopardize the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Less than an hour later Andrew Young was bravely leading a group of peaceful demonstrators to The Plaza when he was beaten by a mob of segregationists. You can walk along the bronze footsteps of Andrew Young on the plaza coquina sidewalk. 

These two historic markings are right in the heart of St. Augustine and are surrounded by many local businesses and restaurants you can visit to finish off your day. When walking through some of these surrounding businesses you may even find more preserved civil rights history.