Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center and Its Role in the Story of Black History in America

Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center is the center of Black history not only in St. Augustine, Florida but also one of America’s most important places of Black history recognized by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as vital to the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The museum states, “the road to Black history runs through Lincolnville” and numerous exhibits proudly highlight life in the Lincolnville neighborhood. Visitors can learn about the more than 450 years of Black history stretching from the empires of West Africa, to early colonial Florida and up to the 20th century.

The story of Black history in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in America, goes back to the 1500s when Africans explored Florida as soldiers under the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon. In 1738, African Americans established the first legally sanctioned free black settlement in the U.S., and escaped British slaves found freedom in St. Augustine by converting to Catholicism and joining the Spanish in defending their territory. A major part of the museum is devoted to this local Black history that began 300 years before Lincolnville. 

The summer of 1964 was a crucial time in America’s Black history, and Lincolnville played an important role in that history. Starting with local protests against racial segregation in Lincolnville, the marches and rallies soon attracted America’s most well-known civil rights leaders and organizers, including Dr. Martin King Jr., who led a peaceful protest walk from Lincolnville to the Plaza de la Constitucion 

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center is located in the former Excelsior High School, the first public high school for Black students in St. Johns County. Built in 1925, the high school operated until desegregation in the 1960s. After desegregation, the school was closed and the building housed government offices until the mid 1980s when a group of former Excelsior students and community members rallied to save the building from demolition. The museum first opened in 2005 as the Excelsior Museum and Cultural Center and then it changed to its current name in 2012. 

It was a fortunate day when Regina Gayle Phillips, the now Executive Director of the Museum, happened upon the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center. She did not grow up too far from St. Augustine and spent many hours on St. Augustine’s all-Black Butler Beach with her family. As many talented and professional people do, she started as a volunteer, then joined the Board and got more and more involved. “I am passionate about what I do and so I put my all into it. I bring enthusiasm to the table and there are great people around me to get things done. We are less than a handful but we all work hard and do what we can,” Phillips said. Now, we have some professional [museum] help and our exhibits are a reflection of this work.” 

Since Phillips took over as Executive Director in 2018, the Lincolnville Museum has developed into a staple of the tourism industry for the region. In addition to being a successful businesswoman (now retired), Phillips is on the boards of several of the local organizations in St. Augustine and the Vice Chair of the Tourist Development Council of St. Johns County. She has secured a number of grants from prestigious organizations, including the National Endowment of the Humanities, the National Park Service particularly for shoring up the building itself but also for the exhibits, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, along with many other important grants especially from the state of Florida.  

Today, the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center continues its mission to preserve and promote African American history through art, educational programs, lectures, live performances, oral histories, and immersive exhibits. Phillips said, “We reach out to schools to bring students here and quite a few are coming in the next few weeks – a local school and then some coming from Miami and other,  cities like Orlando and Gainsville. We have not gone into the schools ourselves, as we just don’t have the staff but we are very open to student groups.” 

From February 9 to 14, the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center and the Women’s Exchange of St. Augustine will host and celebrate Anna Murray Douglass, wife of Fredrick Douglass, during a week of interactive, educational, social and fun activities at the Cultural Center and at the historic Peña-Peck House. An article in The New York Times made reference to the purple wedding dress that Anna Murray Douglass wore and it is said to be part of the inspiration for this event.  

On February 9, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) member Deeh Israel will be joined by four other notable Black women in the Lincolnville community to share their pasts, their contributions to St. Augustine and their thoughts about the future.

On February 10, the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center and the Woman’s Exchange of St. Augustine will start with the exhibit “1838-1890 : A Brief Exposé on African American History in St Augustine” which presents various topics from Florida Statehood through the Post-Reconstruction Era, including a look at Fredrick Douglass’s time in St. Augustine and African American fashion post Civil War. 

On Saturday, February 18 from 12 pm to 4 pm, at the Solomon Calhoun Community Center, the St. Augustine Archival Society presents “Resilience Family Fest” at the Solomon Calhoun Community Center featuring musical performances, food trucks, historical reenactments, pop-up exhibits, arts and crafts activities, oral history interviews, and much more. All are welcome to the free community event; young and old, individuals and families, residents and visitors. 

Partners include, Flagler College Proctor Library, Flagler College Honors Program, Friends of the Main Library St. Augustine, Governor’s House Cultural Center & Museum, Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center, St. Augustine Historical Society, St. Johns County Public Library System, and Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. “Resilience Family Fest” is supported in part by the St. Johns Cultural Council, St. Johns County Parks and Recreation, Compassionate St. Augustine, and Lincolnville Porch Festival.

Over the course of two weekends, February 10-19, Fort Mose (moe-say) Historic State Park will host its second annual Jazz and Blues Series, including the legendary Mavis Staples and Gladys Knight! 

On February 25, the Museum presents the San Marco Chamber Music Society in a production of the children’s book “Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.” by Doreen Rappaport with an original score by composer Kevin Day. 

St. Augustine Ponte Vedra and the Florida Historic Coast have a comprehensive section of their website devoted to Black History in St. Augustine. There are a significant roster Black historical and cultural sites ranging from Fort Mose and the Mission Nombre de Dios to the Freedom Bell where, in January 1863, President Lincoln’s proclamation was read aloud that all of the slaves in the state of Florida were free. St Benedict the Moor Church and Butler Beach are also on that list with many other places. 

The Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, operated by Friends of Lincolnville Inc., is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, welcomes support and involvement towards making this historical institution a hub of African American tradition and culture. Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center is located at 102 M.L. King Avenue. They are open Tuesday – Saturday from 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Admission: $10 adults; $5 youth (7-17) and college students. Parking is free. 

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