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Fort Mose and other African American historical sites approved for state grants

An artist's interpretation of how Fort Mose looked.
St. Johns Cultural Council
An artist's interpretation of how Fort Mose looked.

A handful of historic sites in the Jacksonville area are receiving millions in African American Cultural Grants from the Florida Department of State.

The awards include more than $900,000 toward building a representation of what St. Johns County’s Fort Mose looked like around 1738, when it was the first legally sanctioned free settlement of formerly enslaved people.

“We haven’t seen this kind of support in the past," said Christina Parrish Stone, executive director of the St. Johns Cultural Council. "Our county doesn’t have this kind of funding available for preservation projects, and it's not something we expect to have happen again.”

Fort Mose was created after enslaved Africans risked their lives more than 250 years ago to escape English plantations in Carolina and find freedom among the Spanish living at St. Augustine.

Those who reached St. Augustine were granted freedom by the Spanish government in exchange for conversion to Catholicism and, for men, a term of military service, according to the Fort Mose Historical Society.

The warriors protected St. Augustine for years until Spain ceded all of La Florida to England in 1763. Facing enslavement again, the residents abandoned the fort and sought safety in Spanish Cuba.

The fort no longer stands, but the grounds have been designated as Fort Mose Historic State Park and a U.S. Historic Landmark.

The $933,500 African American Cultural Grant will go toward construction of a representation of the fort. Additional fundraising for the project continues.

In all, four St. Augustine projects ranked in the top third of more than 150 applications and will be awarded $2,933,500 in grants.

The others are Friends of Lincolnville Inc. with $1,000,000 for restoration of the historic Excelsior High School, home of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center; Zion Missionary Baptist Church with $500,000 for restoration of Zion Baptist Church in West St. Augustine; and the St. Johns Cultural Council with $500,000 for the St. Augustine Beach Hotel and Beachfront, recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places in connection with the 1964 wade-ins to protest segregation.

The purpose of the grant program is to provide funding for construction projects at facilities in Florida that highlight the contributions, culture or history of African Americans. Florida set aside funding from Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds.

Priority was given to projects that encourage the design or construction of a new facility or the renovation of an existing facility in an area with great cultural significance in which no facility exists; enhance the beauty or aesthetic value of facilities named for significant African Americans; or restore facilities on the National Register of Historic Places.

“St. Augustine is home to more than 450 years of African American history," said Parrish Stone at the St. Johns Cultural Council. “These grants will allow the organizations to continue their important work and share that work in a way that’s more accessible to the public."

Seven projects is Jacksonville were approved for funding:

  • Renovation of Old Stanton High School.
  • Preservation of Edward Waters University.
  • Eartha White Community History and Education Center.
  • Debs Store Restoration.
  • St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Preservation.
  • It's A Great Time To Be Alive History Project.
  • Restoration of Historic Mt. Zion AME Church Sanctuary.

See the full list of projects here.

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at or on Twitter, @rroguski.