Through the years, leaders in the community have stepped up to create museums or save historical houses belonging to prominent figures in Central Florida’s African American history.
Their main goal: to preserve their stories and to educate the community.
Whether it’s Black History Month or any month of the year, we’ve put together a list of places to visit where you can learn more about the people who have broken barriers and served their communities.
1. Mary McLeod Bethune House, Daytona Beach
This is the house where Bethune lived in the early 1900s. It was purchased in 1913 and she lived there until her passing in 1955. She was a civil rights leader known for advising presidents and fellow educators. At her home, which she also called “The Retreat,” you will be able to see her personal library, and artifacts and pictures from Bethune-Cookman University.
2. Wells’ Buillt Museum of African-American History and Culture, Orlando
Dr. William Monroe Wells was one of the first black doctors in Orlando and is known for having delivered more than 5,000 babies in the City Beautiful. He moved to the area in 1917, and in 1921, he built a hotel for African Americans barred from Florida’s segregated hotels. Bo Diddley, B.B. King and Ella Fitzgerald were among the performers who stayed here. The hotel has been restored and now serves as a tribute to notable local and national African Americans.
3. Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts, Eatonville
This museum celebrates Zora Neale Hurston, a Harlem Renaissance author best known for her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” published in 1937. Better known as “The Hurston,” the museum specializes in art by individuals of African descent. It’s located in Eatonville, the first incorporated all-black city in the nation. Every year, the city goes all out for its annual “Zora!” festival in late January. Technically, visitors can celebrate the global icon year-round by visiting this museum and exploring her “native village” of Eatonville.
4. Jackie Robinson Ballpark, Daytona Beach
Here you can relive history at the minor league baseball park where ground-breaking baseball player Jackie Robinson became the first African American to join an all-white team. He scored a homerun in the first integrated Major League Baseball spring training game in 1946. While at the ballpark, you can also check out a statue of Robinson, historical markers and a museum.
5. Orange County Regional History Center, Orlando
Built in 1927 and located in the heart of downtown, this museum used to be the old Orange County courthouse. In 2000, it opened up as the history center. It features many exhibits honoring the past, exploring the present and shaping the future. This includes an exhibit on the history of the African American community in Central Florida. Not only does it touch on prominent figures who made a difference, but it also allows you to expand your understanding of the triumphs and tragedies of people who lived in the area. The exhibit includes paintings from Florida Highwaymen, a group of 26 African American artists who used vivid and bright colors to display the beautiful untouched Florida landscape in the early 1950s through the 1980s.
6. Mary S. Harrell Black History Museum, New Smyrna Beach
This museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving African American culture and history. The museum displays a collection of photos, oral histories, memorabilia and artifacts to educate the community about the history of race relations in small town Florida over the course of the 20th century. You can find the museum in the old Sacred Heart/St. Rita church building, constructed in 1899. The museum was named after its founder in 2012. It also hosts an annual three-day black heritage festival that features an education day for students, a community talent show and gospel music.
7. Howard Thurman Historical Home, Daytona Beach
On Fridays and Saturdays, you can visit the three-bedroom home where Dr. Howard Thurman lived from birth in 1899 until he left for high school. Thurman is the author of more than 20 books and provided spiritual guidance to prominent civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. He shared many memories of his childhood home and often recounted the uplifting spiritual experience he got from sitting under the big oak tree in the house’s backyard.
8. African American Museum of the Arts, DeLand
Founded in 1994, this museum features a revolving display of art, and over 150 African-related artifacts. It is also the only museum in the area devoted primarily to African American cultures and art. The museum was founded by Irene D. Johnson and her husband, Maxwell. They wanted to have a place where African American artists could display their artwork year-round and they also wanted to create a space that would shape the minds of young African Americans in a positive way.
This museum works to preserve the history of the former Seminole County town. William Clark, brother of Joe Clark who was one of the founders of Eatonville, sought to find another town for African American citizens living west of Sanford. In 1891, Goldsboro became the second all-black incorporated township within the United States, but it lost its charter in 1911. In 2009, Frances Oliver spearheaded The Goldsboro West Side Community Historical Association, Inc. to celebrate and preserve the history of Goldsboro. This eventually lead to the opening of the museum, which is now managed by Oliver’s niece, Pasha Baker. Oliver collected the town’s history including pictures, artifacts and documents for more than 40 years. The community even donated items they have kept in their families for generations and helped to financially contribute to the museum.
10. Harry T. & Hariette V. Moore Cultural Complex, Mims
The husband and wife were both educators and civil rights activists. Harry T. Moore established the first branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Brevard County in 1934. The couple died in 1951, when their house was bombed on Christmas night. The murder case was investigated, but never prosecuted. A state investigation in 2005 and 2006 resulted in naming the likely perpetrators as four Ku Klux Klan members, all dead by that time. The couple are the only husband and wife to be killed for the Civil Rights movement. This museum has created a replica home on the same site where they died. The museum says its goal is to make sure their stories are told over and over again.