7. Martha Hippard was considered one of the most powerful people in Florida
Born in St. Augustine, Martha Thompson Hippard (1894-1959) moved to Nassau County as a child, eventually establishing the Plum Garden restaurant, lounge and rooftop bar in Fernandina Beach. In a time where the rules were set up to keep a good woman down, Hippard defied the odds by making much of her wealth operating outside of the law.
At her height, she carried the reputation of one of the most powerful people in Florida. Known for carrying suitcases filled with money, her gambling hideaways were so secret that her personal chauffeur wasn’t allowed to know where she was at. It is said that her notoriety as a gambler had the profound impact of drawing prominent Georgians and Floridians with boxes of money to gamble away at her high-stakes American Beach hideaway, which was built in 1938.
Developed in 1935, American Beach was a beach resort for African-American’s established by the Afro-American Life Insurance Company under the direction of A.L. Lewis on Amelia Island when African-Americans were not allowed at many beaches in the Jacksonville area. Others say her property at the beach was used for dances and club parties. Whatever the case, Hippard eventually lost the property in exchange for a gambling debt in 1953. On October 12, 2001, the Hippard House was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
6. Ghost town Yukon had ties to a 18th century plantation called Mulberry Grove
In 1787, the Spanish granted a large tract of land to Timothy Hollingsworth who established the Mulberry Grove Plantation on the property. Following the Civil War, the plantation’s last owner, Arthur M. Reed, deeded a portion of the property to his former enslaved workers. A community called “Blackpoint Settlement” grew, eventually becoming the Town of Yukon. The community was situated across the railroad tracks from Naval Air Station Jacksonville between Roosevelt Blvd and the Ortega River. During its heyday, Yukon had paved streets, sidewalks, a downtown business district, hundreds of residences and its own railroad depot.
Designated as a flight and safety hazard, Yukon was essentially closed down by the Navy in July 1963 and most of its buildings were demolished. However, if one pays attention, several elements of Jacksonville’s ghost town, including the Mulberry Grove Plantation cemetery for enslaved people and freedmen, eerily live on in an area being reclaimed by mother nature.
5. Assassinated Universal Negro Improvement Association leader lived in Jacksonville
Laura Adorkor Kofi was originally born in Ghana, Africa around 1893. Her father allegedly was a King in the British West African coast. It is said that Kofi began hearing voices and visions, which was God calling on her to help Africans in America. Kofi soon began to believe that it was her mission to travel to America and deliver her message to the African people.
She arrived in the United States around 1918, quickly rising as a national field director for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. In 1927, while living an Eastside shotgun house, she established the African Universal Church and Commercial League, where she fused the importance of education and economy into her sermons. As Kofi became more and more popular, gaining thousands of followers and becoming a chair with the UNIA, other public speakers at the time became jealous. By the time her involvement with the UNIA ended, she had tens of thousands of followers, many of which would see her speak at the Masonic Temple on LaVilla’s Broad Street business district.
While on the pulpit in Miami, an assassin shot and killed Mother Kofi in March of 1928 at the age of 35. Although she died in March, Kofi was not buried until August 17, 1928. Huff Funeral Home on Davis Street (pictured) was responsible for her funeral and her body and had to wait for burial instruction from Kofi’s family in Ghana. While waiting for direction, Huff’s displayed Kofi’s body, charging 25 cents a person to view and pay respects. Eventually, it was decided that Kofi’s body was to be interred at Old City Cemetery. Upon the actual day of the funeral, Kofi’s service had nearly 10,000 attendants who had showed up to pay their respects, with almost 7,000 following her funeral procession.
While Mother Kofi’s story is largely forgotten in Jacksonville, her impact on the African American community was significant enough that there is a small collection of research materials related to her life and works exists at the New York Public Library.
4. Ida B. Wells considered Jacksonville to have a progressive 19th century black community
One of the lost truths of Jacksonville’s storied past is that it was known for having a progressive minority community during the late 19th century. So progressive that it caught the attention of Ida B. Wells in 1892.
Born in Mississippi in 1862, Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an early leader in the Civil Rights Movement and one of the most outspoken African-Americans of lynching. On October 26, 1892, Wells began to publish her research on lynching in a pamphlet titled Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. After highlighting several lynching cases across the country, Wells concluded her document by using Jacksonville was an example of self help could overcome lynchings:
“Of the many inhuman outrages of this present year, the only case where the proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed themselves in Jacksonville, Fla., and Paducah, Ky., and prevented it. The only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense. The lesson this teaches and which every Afro American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”
Subjected to continued threats for her outspoken nature, Wells eventually left the south for Chicago where she remained active in both the civil rights and women’s suffrage movements, becoming the most famous black woman in early 20th century America.