St. Augustine’s nearly 450-year history and story involves an unimaginable number of people. The same is true for St. Augustine’s African-American history, told through the Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience exhibition at the Visitor Information Center in downtown St. Augustine. It is impossible to highlight each individual who played a significant role in African-American history, but here are five notable people who lived in St. Augustine and contributed to equality in the United States. All of these individuals are showcased in the Journey exhibition.
Isobel de los Ríos
Isobel de los Ríos lived in St. Augustine in the late 17th century. She was a free African-American who sold sweets and baked goods from her St. Augustine home. Ríos is considered one of the first woman African-American entrepreneurs.
Francisco Menéndez, an escaped slave, arrived in St. Augustine in 1724. The Spanish in St. Augustine saw Menéndez’s potential and appointed him the military leader of the Black militia at Fort Mose. He was recognized as a community leader and led the militia that built Fort Mose and protected St. Augustine from English attack.
General Jorge Biassou, an ex-slave, was a leader in the Haitian slave revolt against the French. He arrived in St. Augustine in 1796 with more than 30 followers. He lived on St. George Street and became Florida’s only Black political military leader at the time. He led a free black squadron at Fort Matanzas. He passed away in 1801 and was buried in the Tolomato Cemetery on Cordova Street in St. Augustine.
Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston is a well-known author who chronicled African-American life and southern black folklore. One of her most known pieces of work is her autobiography titled “Dust Tracks on the Road,” which she wrote while living in St. Augustine in 1942 from her rented, second-story room on West King Street. She also taught college courses part-time at Florida Normal and Industrial Institute (now Florida Memorial University). “Dust Tracks on the Road” became a controversial yet award-winning book.
Jacob Lawrence is recognized as one of the greatest African-American artists in American history. He painted artwork that depicted African-American life. His artwork was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and printed in Fortune Magazine. He came to St. Augustine in 1943 during World War II. He stayed at the Ponce de Leon Hotel, which was a training center for the Coast Guard during that time. Lawrence’s commanding officers realized his talent, and asked him to create 50 paintings that portrayed Coast Guard life.
For more information about the Journey exhibition, visit www.Journey2014.com.