African-American history in what is now Clay County stretches back to at least as early as 1764. It is punctuated with dark days (the Tutsons), triumph (Orange Park Normal School), perserverance (the Forrestor family) and beauty (Augusta Savage).
No complete narrative has been published yet, so here we present some important source material, hoping one of you may be inspired to more fully write the story.
Shown is the Melrose Negro School No. 4
Sources of Black History at the Archives
A wide variety of material is available at the Archives, including:
Orange Park Normal School
The Hand School. A mixed race school prior to desgregation. Also called the Orange Park Normal School.
Paper: "The Hand School", by Faye Irwin.
"Nest of Vile Fanatics": William Sheats and the Orange Park Normal School, Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 4, April 1986, page 393.
The Freedmen's Bureau at Magnolia
The Freedmen's bureau served as an orphange for black children from all over the Jacksonville area. It was called an asylum, but served as an orphange and hospital. Various extant records of the Freemen's Bureau are available in subject files at the Archives. A description of its activities is in Parade of Memories, pg 114.
The Goldmine of Names
The Goldmine of Names contains more than 50,000 entries which refer to the records of people in Clay County before about 1920. Black records are notoriously difficult to find, even with the help of the index. Volunteers are happy to help you with some custom searches if you are having difficulty.
Our first free African-American Family – The Forresters, by Vishi Garig is available at the Archives.
A history of slavery in Clay County begins on page 59 of Parade of Memories.
Dr. Schaefer's online history of Civil War Colored Infantry troops in Florida
Records available at the Archives
Extant Collection of Slave Documents from probate files and other sources
African-American census 1860 of Clay County
Free blacks in East Florida 1794-1820
Black burials in Green Cove Springs through 1939
Mt. Olive Cemetery records
African-American Obituaries in Clay County
First territorial survey of the McIntosh plantation at Laurel Grove -- perhaps showing slave quarters
Tutson Testimony further outllined in Parade of Memories, pg 101
The Civilian Conservation Corp records indicate that Companies 416 and 418 (both African-American unites) worked in Clay County.
Hill Top Museum
Lumber and Sawmills
Turpentine (Naval Stores)
[also an article]
(of the Fleming slave family, WPA Oral Interview)
Mentions in a WPA Oral Interview that the Bellamy Road was built with slave labor, and that Dr. McRae had a grist mill in the lakes region, perhaps near McRae.
Contemporaneous writing about slavery
Treatise on the Patriarchal System of Society, by Zephaniah Kingsley (download is 1.6 meg)
W. J. Stillman, wrote about his observations at the Fleming plantation in 1857: "I went up the St. John's River to a plantation called Hibernia. The owner of the plantation, old Colonel Fleming, was one of the traditional patriarchal planters, and the experience I gained there certainly agreed with the views of the institution of slavery entertained by the great majority of the Southern people I have known. I never heard of punishment of a slave or saw a discontented Negro; the black children were the jolliest little creatures I ever saw and the adults seemed to do as much or as little as they pleased." (Parade of Memories, pg 64)
Favorite Sons and Daughters
Dr. Louise Cecilia Fleming
(1862-1899) was born to slave parents on Fleming Island in 1862, shortly before her father was captured and taken away by the Union Army. Lulu grew up on Hibernia Plantation before its white owners had to free her. She was baptized at the Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville at age 14, trained to become a teacher, taught in St. Augustine, attended Shaw University in North Carolina and graduated as valedictorian.
In 1886, she became the first African American woman appointed as a foreign missionary and assigned to Zaire, Africa. Afterward, she returned to America and attended medical school and became the first African American at The Women’s Medical College at Philadelphia, from which she graduated in 1895. Once again, she returned to Africa to work, serving there only four years before contracting African sleeping sickness and dying back in Philadelphia.
Hurston, Zora Neil
Vanessa Williams narrated her life story, which is available at the Archives.
She presented one of her pieces, "The Diving Boy," toNina cummer (The Cummer Museum) in Jacksonville in 1940.
Her "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" appeared on the cover of Crisis Magazine in April 1939, pg 97.
OTHER AREAS TO RESEARCH
Richard Norman and Norman Studios
Richard Norman was born in Middleburg and went on to found "Norman Studios." He had an early understanding that there was a niche market for films starring black actors and for black audiences. His property still stands.
History of St. Lukes Church
Mt. Olive Cemetery
Orange Park Negro Elementary School
On the National Register of Historic Places
The Joseph Green House
Sites in Clay County are cataloged on pg 36 of African-American sites in Florida.
Books at the Archives
Six Black Masters of American Art, which details the life of Augusta Savage, including her time in Paris.
African American Heritage of Florida, by David Colburn and Jane Landers
African American Historic Places, by Beth L. Savage
African American Lives, by Gates, Jr. & Evelyn Higginbotham
African American Sites in Florida, by Kevin M. McCarthy
Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, by Daniel L. Shafer
Army Life in a Black Regiment& Other Writings byThomas Wentworth Higginson
Augusta Savage, a binder
Black Society in Spanish Florida, by Jane Landers
Every Tongue Got to Confess, by Zora Neale Hurston
Family Records of the African American Pioneers of Tampa and Hillsborough County, by Canter Brown & Barbara Gray Brown
Harlem Renaissance, Art of Black America
If It Takes All Summer, MLK, by Dan R. Warren
New Negro Artists in Paris, by Leniger-Miller
Our Kind of People, Black Upper Class, by Lawrence Otis Graham
Slave Narratives 1936 – 1938 Florida
Slavery in Florida, by Larry Eugene Rivers
Two Months in St. Augustine, 1964
Women and Sisters: Antislavery Feminists in American Culture. By. Jean Fagan Yellin