However, new laws under U.S. rule limited the rights of free African Americans to assemble, carry firearms, serve on juries, or testify against whites. They were taxed unfairly and subject to curfews. They could be whipped for misdemeanors, impressed for manual labor, and even forced back into slavery to satisfy debts or fines. Interracial marriage was prohibited, and the children of such marriages could not inherit their parents’ estates, even if they had been born before these laws were enacted. Under such restrictions, those who could afford to leave evacuated Florida. Some free African Americans left the cities to live with the Seminole Tribe. In 1850, it’s estimated that about 1,000 free African Americans remained in Florida, compared to 39,000 enslaved. Some of their stories can be read at the Florida Slave Narratives.
The nation was divided over the issue of slavery, and war ensued. At the start of the Civil War, Fort Marion (as the US Army had renamed Castillo de San Marcos) was occupied by Confederate forces. By 1862, the Union gained control and operated a recruiting office for U.S. Colored Troops (mainly the 33rd Regiment and 21st Regiment) from within the fort. Learn more about the Civil War in Florida.
On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all enslaved peoples living in the Confederate states, which included Florida. According to Mary Anne Murray, an eye-witness who was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) some seventy years after emancipation: “All the slaveholders were ordered to release their slaves and allow them to gather in a large vacant lot west of St. Joseph’s Academy, where they were officially freed.” These liberated men and women would become the founders of Lincolnville, originally called "Little Africa. In the decades that followed, their descendants celebrated the anniversary of emancipation. After the Civil War, amendments to the U.S. Constitution banned slavery in all states, not just the ones that had seceded, and gave African Americans the right to vote and to hold public office.
In 1866, emancipated African Americans created the community of Lincolnville in the southwestern part of town, a place where they successfully owned property, ran businesses, educated their children, and led their community. A tour through modern-day Lincolnville shows a quiet community of restored architectural treasures spanning 45 blocks, some constructed before African Americans founded the community, others built by Henry Flagler's railroad employees, and many by African American carpenters and builders. Learn more about Lincolnville.
A decade later, when Federal troops were removed from the South and Reconstruction ended, strict segregation became a way of life enforced by both laws and social customs. In Lincolnville, businesses did well, in part thanks to segregation. African Americans' only option was to spend their money in their community, which helped some businesses grow. Outside of Lincolnville, African Americans worked as wait staff at the Ponce De Leon Hotel and other Flagler properties; played on the first professional black baseball team, known as the Ponce de Leon Giants, or Cuban Giants; and labored on projects in town.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, three schools opened for African Americans in St. Augustine: St. Benedict Catholic School, Florida Normal College (later known as Florida Memorial College), and Excelsior High School. Although segregated, these schools were building a foundation for the students to improve their lives and their community.
The Great Depression was the worst economic crisis in U.S. history, and African Americans were said to be the "last hired, first fired." To address this and other concerns, President Franklin Roosevelt created a Federal Council on Negro Affairs, also known as the Black Cabinet. Mary McLeod Bethune, well known for starting a school for African Americans in Daytona Beach, served as an organizer for the Black Cabinet and founded the National Council of Negro Women in 1935. Many diverse African American organizations fought for anti-lynching legislation.
Through the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), laborers were employed on preservation projects at Castillo de San Marcos. Through the Federal Writers Project (FWP), Zora Neale Hurston captured folk stories, songs, traditions, and histories of African Americans in small communities across Florida. However, despite these gains, segregation remained in camps like the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Federal Housing Administration refused to insure mortgages in African American neighborhoods, and it wasn’t possible for sharecroppers or tenant farmers, many of whom were African American, to collect social security.
War Abroad and At Home
World War II affected nearly every aspect of life in the United States. Learn more about WWII in Florida. More than one million African Americans fought in the war, most serving in segregated units. On the homefront, African Americans became riveters and welders, rationed food and gasoline, and bought victory bonds. A "Double V" campaign called for a victory abroad and a victory at home against racial segregation and discrimination. Near the end of WWII, the Army and Navy began integrating, and in 1948, the U.S. Government ordered full integration of its Armed Forces. Learn more about how African Americans have shaped, and been shaped by, American military history.
Most of St. Augustine remained segregated throughout the 1940s and '50s. However, as part of the Department of the Interior, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument was open to citizens of all races after the Secretary of the Interior prohibited racial discrimination in all National Park facilities in 1945. President Truman's 1948 Executive Order 9980 desegregated the federal workforce. African Americans labored on preservation work and served on the park's maintenance team.
Then came the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that ended legal segregation in schools. The unanimous decision that deemed racial segration of children in public schools unconstitutional helped establish the precedent that "separate, but equal" was not equal at all.
As federal property, the Castillo's grounds could not legally be segregated, and they were an assembly point outside of local control. The local city and county police departments were widely criticized by activists for failing to protect them during marches and demonstrations and for appointing numerous local racists as special deputies. Activists applied for permits from the National Park Service to hold meetings outside the fort, and FBI reports indicate that several gatherings consisting of songs and speeches took place in the spring of 1964. Read the FBI Reports.
Original video of a 1964 civil rights gathering on the grounds of Castillo de San Marcos.
Leaflets for the May 17 meeting were distributed through town encouraging residents to “Come, See, Hear the one & only Mr. Hosea Williams…at the 'Freedom Tree' on the lawn of the Old Fort.” Ms. Maude Burroughs Jackson was one young participant in the Freedom Tree gathering. In March of 2021, she shared her experiences during the 1960s civil rights movement in St. Augustine with Ranger Ted Johnson. Listen to the Oral History Interview with Maude Burroughs Jackson.
Protests to integrate more public areas, including segregated beaches and pools, drew the attention of supporters and opponents of integration. Extensive media coverage of these protests, and the violence used against integrationists, led to more public support of the civil rights movement. The events of the summer of 1964 in St. Augustine are widely credited for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in July of that year.
Ranger Ted Johnson interviews Ms. Maude Burroughs Jackson who recounts her experiences during the civil rights movement in St. Augustine in the 1960s.
The struggle did not end in 1964. The SCLC pulled out of St. Augustine after the Civil Rights Act passed, leaving the local movement without most of its leadership and facing backlash from angry residents who wanted to keep segregation. Businesses, public facilities, and schools legally integrated, but in some cases, it took years. But African Americans were now able to pursue opportunities formerly unavailable to them. At Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, most African American employees were historically employed in the Maintenance division, but in 1980, Martha B. Aikens became the park's first African American Superintendent. Dedicated individuals and organizations in St. Augustine pursued, and continue to pursue, telling all American stories. By working together, the modern civil rights movement can address the less visible, but very important inequities in society.
1821: The United States aquires Florida from Spain through the Adams-Onís Treaty. Basic civil and human rights that were recognized by the Spanish government were eliminated, causing a major setback for Africans and their descendants.
1821-1860s: Both public and private slave sales are conducted in St. Augustine and in the Plaza de Constitución.
1861-1862: Confederate occupation of Fort Marion (Castillo de San Marcos) and St. Augustine.
1862: Federal troops retake the fort and St. Augustine.
1862-1865: A recruiting office for U.S. Colored Troops (mainly the 33rd and 21st USCT) operates from within the fort.
1862: A draft of the Emancipation Proclamation is read to enslaved African Americans in a vacant lot in St. Augustine. President Abraham Lincoln issues the proclamation on January 1, 1863.
1865: The Civil War ends. Congress passes the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in the United States. The military occupation of Florida is headquartered in St. Augustine during the Reconstruction Period.
1866: Formerly enslaved, newly freed people in St. Augustine establish the community of Lincolnville, also known as “Little Africa.”
1867: The Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph from France open a school for freedmen and teach their first class of African American students.
1869: The Freedmen’s Bureau, established by Congress in 1865 to assist African Americans in the transition from slavery to freedom in the South, authorizes a construction project for a new African American school in St. Augustine.
1870: Congress passes the 15th Amendment, granting African Americans the right to vote. The first African American men are elected to Congress.
1875: The Civil Rights Act of 1875 is enacted, prohibiting racial discrimination and guaranteeing equal access to public accommodations regardless of race or color.
1877: Reconstruction ends with the withdrawal of occupying Federal troops and the Democrat George Drew as governor.
1883: The Supreme Court overturns and declares the Civil Rights Act of 1875 “unconstitutional.”
1889: Frederick Douglass speaks to a racially diverse audience at the Genovar Opera House on St. George Street.
1898: The St. Benedict Catholic School for African American children opens in Lincolnville.
1913: The Florida Legislature passes a law titled “An Act of Prohibiting White Persons from Teaching Negroes in Negro Schools.”
1916: Three nuns from the Sisters of St. Joseph are arrested for teaching African American students.
1918: Florida Normal College for African Americans, later known as Florida Memorial College, is established on a 110-parcel of land known as “Old Homes Plantation” in St. Augustine.
1924: Frank B. Butler, a local African American entrepreneur, opens a real estate office in Lincolnville. Starting in 1927, he begins purchasing land on Anastasia Island. After WWII, he develops this property into a resort area where African Americans could enjoy the beach.
1927: Famed author, anthropologist, and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston publishes an account of Fort Mose in the Journal of Negro History. In the 1930s, she works for the Federal Writers Project (FWP) and documents folk culture in Florida.
1937-1945: Ray Charles studies at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine.
1942: Zora Neale Hurston relocates to St. Augustine. During her time St. Augustine, Hurston publishes an autobiography titled Dust Tracks on a Road.
1943: Jacob Lawrence, a prominent African American artist, paints at the Hotel Ponce de Leon in St. Augustine. His works are later displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art.
1950s: Lincolnville became a center for the local civil rights movement.
Dr. Robert Hayling, a black dentist in St. Augustine, organizes the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to protest segregation in St. Augustine.
A "sit-in" at a local Woolworth's Department Store led to the arrest of 16 students, including 7 juveniles. The county judge, Charles Mathis, sends four young people to state reform school where they remained for six months. They become known as the "St. Augustine Four" and inspire more demonstrations.
The Ku Klux Klan, and other white segregationists, commit a number of violent acts, including assault, shootings, and arson, against local civil rights leaders in St. Augustine.
Dr. Hayling, Henry and Katherine Twine, and other local civil rights leaders, ask Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Reverend Hosea Williams, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to come to St. Augustine to help.
Dr. King speaks to local churches, rallying supporters and teaching his methods of non-violent resistance.
Sit-ins, wade-ins, swim-ins, marches, and other civil rights demonstrations are organized in St. Augustine. White segregationists verbally and physically assault the deomonstrators, and many are injured and arrested.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other members of the SCLC are arrested and jailed for trying to eat lunch at the Monson Motel Restaurant on the bay-front in town.
At a "swim-in" protest at the Monson Motel, the motel manager pours muriatic acid into the pool. The images are shared widely with the nation.
Integration opponents attempt to prevent African Americans from swimming in an organized "wade-in" at the segregated St. Augustine Beach, causing a violent riot that injures dozens of people.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The law outlaws segregation and major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national, and religious minorities. The demonstrations in St. Augustine are widely credited with garnering the national attention needed to pass the act.
1968: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, during a trip to support the sanitation workers' strike for better wages and safer working conditions. Shortly after his death, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, is signed into law prohibiting the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, or national origin.
1970-1971: All schools in St. Johns County, including St. Augustine, are desegregated.
1980: Martha B. Aikens becomes the first African American Superintendent of Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
1984: Otis Mason is elected St. Johns County School Superintendent, the first African American school superintendent in the county.
2017: The African American Civil Rights Network Act of 2017, signed into law by President Trump in January 2018, authorizes the NPS to facilitate activities to commemorate, honor and interpret the history and significance of the civil rights movement. Learn more about the African American Civil Rights Network.