St Augustine holds a unique place in the history of African-Americans in North America as the location of the first legally sanctioned free African-American town in the nation; Kathy Catron, Director of Communication for the St Augustine Ponte Vedra Visitors and Convention Bureau, told Historic City News this morning.
African-American heritage in the United States begins 450 years ago when blacks, both free and enslaved, were among the 800 colonists who established the St. Augustine settlement under the leadership of Spanish explorer Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles.
“From the time Spanish explorers stepped onto the shores of Florida, Africans had a place among the adventurous crew and among the earliest settlers,” Catron said. “St Augustine is celebrating African-American History month in February by telling the story of its role in history with a comprehensive exhibit called “Journey: 450 Years of the African- American Experience” along with a series of events.”
African-Americans have played key roles in the development of both the city and nation; from the 16th century, through the turbulent 1960s, and today. This vital contribution by people of color is well-documented, but not well-known. That is about to change.
Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience tells the fascinating story of blacks who helped settle the nation with original documents and artifacts, interviews, photos, art and more. The Journey exhibition is designed for visitors interested in the full history of America and its beginnings, and comprises four themes: Genesis of the African-American Experience; Fortress of Freedom; Breaking the Chains; and Crossroads of Change.
Among the fascinating and rarely seen artifacts in the Journey exhibit is the first known birth certificate of an African-American child, born in St. Augustine in 1595. A marriage certificate is also on display, a historic record that documents the earliest known marriage between two African-Americans in St. Augustine in 1598. The lunch counter of the local Woolworth’s, where four young people made history in a 1963 protest, is on display along with photos that tell the story of the “St. Augustine Four.” Perhaps the most compelling artifact is the arrest record and fingerprint card for Martin Luther King Jr., who was arrested in peaceful protest in 1964. St Augustine is the only Florida location in which Dr. King was arrested.
Journey is located inside the St Augustine Visitors Information Center and runs through July 15. The exhibit is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $5 for adults; $4 for seniors; $3 for youth 7-12; under 7 and all St Johns County residents are free.