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 In 1606 an event happened that was little noted and not long remembered but it was of great historical importance.  The Cathedral Archives in St. Augustine recorded the birth of the first African American child in the continental United States. This was 13 years before the first enslaved Africans were brought to the English colony of Jamestown in 1619. It was the first spark in the fight for civil rights for African Americans.


Although Spain didn’t free her own slaves until 1811, it was only too happy to assist the slaves of rival British Colonies in the New World to their freedom. In the colony of San Agustín, known today as St. Augustine, about 12% of the population was African and of those about one fifth were free persons respected citizens of the colony. Is is any wonder that escaping slaves from the Carolinas caught the Underground Railroad of the era and headed not North but South to the welcoming Spanish colony of San Agustín. Here, in 1738, the first free community of ex-slaves was established as the northernmost defense line of the colony and called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose or Fort Mose. Today, it’s Fort Mose State Park.

The state marker in front commemorates the site of Fort Mose

Should you visit in June, you could witness the reenactment of the Battle of Bloody Mose. The original battle occurred during an obscure war between Britain and Spain known as the War of Jenkins’ Ear. Any other time might find reenactors inhabiting the park. You will always find interpretive signage and a museum to explain the significance of the park as well as the usual hiking, kayaking and picnicking.

We visited the Harvest Time at Fort Mose. The event celebrates the first harvest at Fort Mose in the fall of 1738. Settlers had spent the spring, summer and early fall of 1738 building their homes and the fort, planting their first crops and tending their livestock. Florida’s Governor, Manuel de Montiano provided food from the government stores for the new settlers until they could harvest their first crops.
A reenactor demonstrates how early settlers made a fire at Fort Mose

I spoke with some of the reenactors. Thomas Jackson, past-president and current treasurer of the Fort Mose Historical Society, reenacts a militia soldier. He explained the role, “The Spanish said the runaways could live free in Spanish Florida if they would become Catholic and the able-bodied men joined the militia. That’s why Fort Mose was established, to defend St. Augustine.”

Andrew Batten displays the food  eaten at Fort Mose Thomas Jackson portrays a Militia soldier at Fort Mose

Andrew Batten was a reenactor who worked with the food probably eaten at that first harvest celebration. He explained how the foods from different cultures blended here. “The Spanish were much more open to using foods of different cultures than most other European cultures.  Thus you find oranges, lemons and limes which they originally brought from the Middle East and planted in Spain then brought to Florida. The collard greens and black eyed peas came from Africa and the pork to season them was from the first 200 pigs De Soto brought to the new World in 1539. After four years eating those pigs there were 800. The millions of wild hogs we see today are all descended from those first 200 pigs.”

A series of signs in front tells the story of Fort Mose as pieced together by archeological digs

The Battle of Blood Mose proved the value of the African American militia to the colony. Since that time, St. Augustine has offered opportunity to many Black citizens. One was Jorge Biassou, one of the original leaders of the Haitian slave uprising of 1791. He became a Spanish general and was sent to St. Augustine in 1796. He was the second-highest paid official in St. Augustine and remained there until his death in 1801. You can visit his grave in Tolomato Cemetery on Cordova Street.

Ironically it was one of Biassou’s decendants, Henry Twine, who as president of the local NAACP chapter almost a century and a half later, worked with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement to bring equality to the African American citizens of St Augustine. He later became the first black vice-mayor of St. Augustine and served as city commissioner from 1983 to 1992. It is largely through his efforts that Fort Mose became a state park.

 An official state marker denotes his home at 163 Twine Street and Twine Park, located at the intersection of Riberia St and Lovett St. memorializes Twine and his wife, Katherine (Kat) Twine, The area where the Twines lived is known as “Lincolnville” today.

Freedom Trail Sign commemorating the Twine's residence

It was established by a freed slave after the Civil War and then was known as “Little Africa.” Today, it is a lovely district of renovated Victorian homes, several of which have been turned into bed and breakfasts. There is an annual Lincolnville Festival to honor its roots. What was once the district’s only Black school, The Excelsior Building, is now home to the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center.  It was where both Henry and Katherine Twine attended school in the days of segregated schools.

Actual sign that once graced the Monson Inn

Thanks to St. Augustine citizens like the Twines, equality was finally gained. ACCORD Civil Rights Trail has placed markers on these buildings and places so you can visit many of the sites that figured significantly in the Civil Rights struggles that took place in St. Augustine during Dr. King’s visit in 1964.

A guest studies the exhibits at ACCORD Museum

ACCORD President, Dalonja Ducan, gave us a tour of the museum. The ACCORD Civil Rights Museum was once the home of Dr. Robert B. Hayling, the dentist credited with bringing Dr. Martin Luthor King to St. Augustine and forever removing the “White Only” signs. The museum is small but packed with unique memorabilia and priceless signed documents of prominent Civil Rights leaders including Dr. King and Dr. Hayling.  Some of the artifacts are unique to St. Augustine like the “Monson Motel” sign where so much of the activities took place. It wa at this motel that Dr. King was arrested and put in the St. Augustine Jail. He wrote a "Letter from the St. Augustine Jail" to a friend in New Jersey, Rabbi Israel Dresner, requesting support in the movement. The rabbi and his friends responded leading to the largest mass arrest of rabbis in American history on June 18, 1964. This also occurred at the Monson motel as did the infamous incident where the motel owner poured muriatic acid on a group of protesters peacefully swimming in the pool.  This was where they arrested Mrs. Mary Parkman Peabody, the 72-year-old mother of the governor of Massachusetts for her efforts in the Civil Rights struggle. An act that focused the attention of the nation even more on the activites occuring in St. Augustine.  Some are universal to the South, like the “Kelly’s Colored Tourist Home” sign. Another thing the museum brings to life is Dr. Hayling, the person, what his life was like outside of his Civil Rights activities. His dentist office, lab and waiting room are preserved here.  

Signed letters and photos from Dr. King Typical of signs once seen
all over the South.
Dr. Hayling was awarded St. Augustine's highest honor.

Dr. Hayling paid a high price for his activities. There were bomb threats; his home was shot into barely missing his pregnant wife and killing his dog. When not of this stopped him, a group of racist, abducted him along with several men involved in the struggle, broke his ribs, knocked out some of his teeth  and smashed his right hand. Still he did not give up. When asked by a reporter what he was planning, Dr. Hayling responded, "I and the others have armed. We will shoot first and answer questions later. We are not going to die like Medgar Evers."

One of Dr. Hayling's work rooms. The doll belonged to his daughter.
The round circle in the floor was where a dentist chair once stood.

Perhaps my favorite exhibit in the ACCORD Museum is Katherine Twine’s Freedom Hat. I love the story of that hat. It shows the determination of people like the Twines and Dr. Hayling. Kat Twine’s broad-brimmed hat with the inscription, "Freedom Now" became a famous symbol of the movement.   She wore it during the Civil Rights Demonstrations, because due to the large numbers of people being arrested, they were often forced to stand long periods of time in an unsheltered outdoor stockade. The hat’s broad brim gave her a bit of relief from the blazing Florida sun.

Kat Twine's famous Freedom Hat.

Currently the ACCORD Museum is open by appointment only but in the future it may have regular hours.  The people of ACCORD wish to share the stories of the “heroes” and “sheroes” –as they refer to them– of the local 1960s Civil Rights Movement.  You recognize the bravery of those fighters in clips from "Crossing in St. Augustine" by Ambassador Andrew Young, and "Dare Not Walk Alone," by Jeremy Dean depicting the struggles in St. Augustine that many contributed to the final passage of the Civil Rights Act by President Lyndon Johnson.

Evidence that we have moved past those dark days is seen in the marker and the Foot Soldiers’ Monument in the plaza housing the former Slave Market. The corner of St. George Street and King Street where Andrew Young led a march has been renamed Andrew Young’s Crossing. On January 27, 1986, Central Ave was renamed by the City of St. Augustine as "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Avenue." The street bearing his name in St. Augustine is one of only two upon which Dr. King actually led a march.

Another spot bearing a Freedom Trail marker is St. Paul AME Church. Founded by a former slave, Richard James, the church had kept the torch aloft for equal rights.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and many of the prominent national Civil Rights leaders left St Augustine on July 1, 1964. The fight here was not over completely but it was well on its way. President Johnson spoke in Washington as he signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964 with Rev. King at his side. Speaking of the racial violence and injustice, the president said, “…it cannot continue. Our Constitution, the foundation of our Republic, forbids it. The principles of our freedom forbid it. Morality forbids it. And the law I will sign tonight forbids it…”

For more info: 

http://fortmose.org/

https://www.floridastateparks.org/park/Fort-Mose

http://www.accordfreedomtrail.org/

 

 

 


 

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