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St. Augustine, Florida: History in Black and White

St. Augustine is a must on a northern Florida itinerary if American history and beautiful architecture are your interests. I hesitated driving south an hour from Jacksonville when my hotel night was reserved in Savannah, Georgia; a two hour drive north of Jacksonville.

St. Augustine was not even a consideration in my mind until a reader comment by Katherine on my post Drive North! $15 to $20 per day one-way car rentals from Florida mentioned Flagler College was initially a luxury hotel built by Henry Flagler in the 1800s. I love comments that spark travel ideas. Thank you Katherine. 

As I studied what to see in the Jacksonville area (and there are plenty of attractions), I kept seeing references to St. Augustine and how so many travelers mentioned their fascination with the history there.

Sitting in my rental car after checking out of the Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront, I debated whether I should go to St. Augustine, Florida 40 miles south or go directly north to Georgia and spend my day exploring the Golden Isles on my way to Savannah. I had a hotel reservation at Hyatt’s Andaz Savannah and heading to St. Augustine meant an additional six hours of travel and sightseeing. Travel is all about making choices of what you will see and experience and what you miss.

I missed spending time in Darien, Georgia with a trip to the Gullah Geechee community of Hog Hammock on Sapelo Island. My gain was seeing St. Augustine on a Sunday and walking through a neighborhood with several African-American church congregations.

St. Augustine is the oldest settlement in the USA

2015 marks the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine in 1565.

Founded 1565

St. Augustine is a walkable town. Parking is limited and most parking lots charge $10. That is how I ended up in the church neighborhoods, a few blocks south of the main tourist attractions.

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church of St. Augustine (1915) 89 St. Francis Street “Lincolnville”

During the era of the 1960s and The Civil Rights Movement, the congregation and its pastor, Reverend J.H. McKissick, gave support which allowed mass meetings to be held, engaged the leadership of the N.A.A.C.P. Youth Council to take the lead in the local movement. Gerald Eubanks, a local college student, was elected president of the council, and local dentist, Dr. R.B. Hayling, served as advisor. For these pioneering efforts this church is considered THE CRADLE OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT in St. Augustine.

Church was letting out as I strolled past. There are few things more colorful than an African-American church congregation on Sunday.

St Marys Baptist

St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church, St. Augustine 69 Washington St. “Lincolnville” founded 1875, present edifice 1937.

Inspired in its earliest days by the spirit of The Emancipation Proclamation and The Reconstruction following The Civil War, St. Mary’s occupies a unique position at the foot of Lincolnville and stands tall as a beacon of freedom and hope.

During the era of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in St. Augustine, this church, through the stout-heartedness of its minister and N.A.A.C.P. leader, Rev. Thomas A. Wright, and other local leaders, was the site of mass-meetings and a respite for the footsoldiers on the road in the quest for civil and human freedoms. These crusading examples, sustained through St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church, ordains it the Birthplace of The Civil Rights Movement in St. Augustine.

There is a relatively ordinary building across the street from St. Mary’s with a plaque on the wall.

NAACP house

N.A.A.C.P. office for St. Augustine in 1970s to 1990s.

A local NAACP chapter was first organized in St. Augustine in 1915. James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) was born in Jacksonville and became familiar with St. Augustine at an early age. A modern renaissance man, he was a poet, novelist, educator, diplomat, attorney, journalist and, songwriter—most notable for “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” – before serving from 1916-1931 as top official. One thing he did in that position was to arrange a meeting in St. Augustine between civil rights supporters and U.S. President-elect William G. Harding in 1921.

In addition Langston Hughes (1902-1967), the celebrated author whose books included Fight for Freedom: The Story of the NAACP, spoke in St. Augustine in 1954.

In the early 1960s, the NAACP, led by President Fanny Fulwood, protested plans to celebrate St. Augustine’s 400th birthday on an all-white basis. The NAACP Youth Group organized many demonstrations to protest segregated lunch counters and other facilities. They were pioneers in the efforts that led to the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. The NAACP dates its birth to February 12, 1909—chosen because it was the 100th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. This marker is dedicated to honor the 100th birthday of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.


Lincolnville Historic District, St. Augustine

Lincolnville was established in 1866 by freed slaves who leased land for $1.00 per year across from the developed part of St. Augustine. Originally called Little Africa, the name changed to Lincolnville in 1878 after streets were laid out. This area of St. Augustine was designated a U.S. Historic District in 1991 and contained 548 historic buildings at the time of its designation. The city of St. Augustine demolished many of these buildings in the 1990s.

Cedar House B&B

Cedar House B&B St. Augustine 1893 on the boundary of Lincolnville Historic District.

Henry Flagler, St. Augustine developer of luxury hotels

Henry Flagler was a partner of John D. Rockefeller in the creation of Standard Oil in 1867. Flagler used his oil fortune to turn St. Augustine into Florida’s ‘Winter Newport’ for luxury travelers with the opening of the Ponce de Leon Hotel in 1888.

Flagler College

The former Ponce de Leon Hotel is now Flagler College, St. Augustine.

Some of the waiters from Flagler’s Ponce de Leon Hotel formed the first professional black baseball team in the U.S. in the 1880s. They were known as the Ponce de Leon Giants. When they played in the north they were known as the Cuban Giants for broader appeal, although it is said there were no Cubans on the team.


Courtyard of Flagler College, formerly  Ponce de Leon Hotel (1888).

Flagler also built The Alcazar, another St. Augustine hotel, to handle the overflow guests from the Ponce de Leon. The Alcazar is now St. Augustine City Hall and the Lightner Museum.

Lightner Museum

St. Augustine City Hall and the Lightner Museum were originally the Alcazar Hotel built by Henry Flagler across the street from the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College.

City Hall

St. Augustine City Hall, the former Alcazar Hotel, seen from Flagler College, the former Ponce de Leon Hotel. The building on the left is Casa Monica, another historic hotel and the first member of the Autograph Collection of Marriott.

Casa Monica

Casa Monica, St. Augustine was the first member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.

St. Augustine, Florida is a city of history, both black and white.


Ric Garrido of Monterey, California is writer and owner of Loyalty Traveler.

Loyalty Traveler shares news and views on hotels, hotel loyalty programs and vacation destinations for frequent guests.

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  • For anybody who might be traveling in or through the area: St. Augustine makes for a fun day trip from Jacksonville. I’d actually recommend it before anything in Jacksonville itself.

  • AndyTLe May 5, 2014

    I live about 25 minutes north of St. Augustine. Having grown up near Colonial Williamsburg, it St. Augustine is certainly a nice day trip with some great beaches for an extended vacation.

  • paul May 5, 2014

    we just returned from a trip through Jacksonville and St Augustine and loved it. One tip for all you points collectors out there – we stayed in a Hampton Inn south part of Jacksonville for 5000 points per night – that is great value for your Hilton points in this post devaluation world.

  • AndyTLe May 5, 2014

    ^That Hampton Inn South/I-95… Is a great redemption(5000 HHonors points/ 2000 + $30). I was told by the staff that the hotel is going to be rebranded and leaving the Hilton family.

  • Ric Garrido May 5, 2014

    The traffic going to the beach in St. Augustine convinced me I made the right choice in skipping a beach trip on a Sunday afternoon.

    Hilton St. Augustine Historic Bayfront is an ideal location for touring the city by foot. HHonors category 7. Interesting design. I’ll have photos when I write a piece on the Spanish fortress.

  • Katherine May 6, 2014

    You’re welcome! I am glad that you took some time in North Florida and that you enjoyed St. Augustine.

  • Lyssa May 7, 2014

    I just returned from a trip to Key West and there is so much Flagler history there with him building the railroad. I want to visit his home Whitehall (now a museum) in Palm Beach sometime.

    Thanks for the pics of the college.

  • […] via Savannah, Charleston, and the Outer Banks. So far he’s written up Jacksonville and St. Augustine, and he’s doing all this with a $15 per day car rental. He checked and yes, you could drive […]

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