OCALA, Fla. – The Black History Museum of Marion County is small, but it holds a large part of history.
Marion County School Board member Rev. Eric Cummings said he holds the Black History Museum of Marion County close to his heart because it sits inside Howard Academy.
“I oftentimes think of the struggle dealing with the racism, segregation, Jim Crow lives. The desire to want to have education coming out of slavery,” Cummings said.
It was the first school for African Americans in Ocala that opened in 1866. Cummings’ father attended Howard Academy.
“He often talked about the comradery and expectations that Howard had for them as students... They had fun at school, but had very high expectations for education,” said Cummings.
Howard Academy became a high school in 1927 and was one of only two schools in Florida that awarded high school diplomas to Black students. The disparities in education were far greater than the white schools.
“They were succeeding with hand me downs. They got the used books. They were old and history had changed... They had some huge challenges but they succeeded,” said Cummings.
The museum not only holds report cards, class photos and trophies from Howard Academy. It also houses war artifacts, and photos from Paradise Park, a tourist attraction for Black people near Silver Springs.
Paradise Park was a popular tourist attraction near Silver Springs for Blacks during segregation. You'll find some historical clothing and photos from the events that took place at the park.
Along with the museum, Howard Academy is a community center. Offering tutoring services, family resources and meeting spaces. The centuries-old building has its number of problems including busted pipes and failing supports. Repairs estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“To see it disappear is a tragedy, that’s why we had to do something,” said Cummings.
The Marion County School Board has agreed to front some of the cost to renovate the building and keep history alive. They hope Howard Academy will continue to serve as a view of the past, and a resource to foster success in education for the future for all students.
Howard Academy and the Black History Museum of Marion County is located at 306 NW 7th Avenue in Ocala. The community center and museum are accepting donations to help with renovation costs and can be made through the Marion County Public Education Foundation.