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Jacksonville is rich with African American history; explore stops along Jax Heritage Trail, including the Catharine Street Fire Station and the Clara White Mission, founded by a former slave and in operation for over 100 years.
Take in a live performance at the Ritz Theatre & Museum in Jacksonville’s historic African American community of La Villa. During La Villa’s height of activity in the 1920s-1960s, it was known as the “Harlem of the South.” The Ritz Theatre & Museum begins its exploration of Jacksonville’s African-American heritage with an animatronics story of native sons James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson who composed the African-American national hymn, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” Stroll along recreated streets depicting the daily lives of African Americans in Jacksonville during recent history. On any given weekend, you can see nationally acclaimed African American performers at the Ritz Theatre wowing sold-out crowds.
Another historic location of immense importance is the Kingsley Plantation, Jacksonville's oldest residential home and Florida's last still-standing plantation home. Wander through the remarkably preserved slave quarters, barn, plantation house and kitchen house dating back to 1814. The historic site is also the southernmost point of the Gullah-Geechee Nation.
For a glimpse into Zora Neale Hurston’s early years, visit two landmarks in the historic Springfield neighborhood. The neighborhood, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has recently begun a renaissance and new developments are revitalizing historic houses and new retail shops. On the trail, Bishop Henry Y. Tookes House is one of the few remaining large residences in the old Sugar Hill Community, a neighborhood of Jacksonville’s African-American middle class during the first half of the 20th century, where Hurston also spent her childhood. Matthew Gilbert School was the former Florida Baptist Academy where Hurston attended school in Jacksonville. Besides Hurston, alumni include two-time Olympic gold medal winner, Robert “Bullet Bob” Hayes. There are countless number of tales and historic markers along the trail in Jacksonville.
It is in Jacksonville that native sons James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson composed the “Black National Hymn” called “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” in 1900.