3. Booker T. Washington almost lynched in Jacksonville

One of the founders of the National Negro Business League and key proponent of African-American businesses, Booker Taliaferro Washington (1856 - 1915) was a dominant leader in the black community during the late 19th and early 20th century. Although the Tuskegee, Alabama-based Washington visited Jacksonville several times, his 1912 trip may have been the most colorful.

In 1912, Washington conducted a Florida tour, visiting Pensacola, Tallahassee, Lake City, Ocala, Tampa, Lakeland, Eatonville and Daytona Beach before concluding the trip in Jacksonville on March 7th and 8th. Washington’s visit to town was arranged by the Jacksonville Negro Business League, led by several influential African-Americans including Joseph Blodgett, Abraham Lincoln Lewis, Charles Anderson, Lawton Pratt and William Sumter. Arriving by special train from Daytona Beach, Washington visited several schools and points of interest and attended a banquet in Old Fellows Hall. He also gave a speech to 2,500 citizens at the Duval Theatre.

At the time, a local African-American man had been accused of a crime. In fear of a lynching possibly taking place, Washington was encouraged to cancel his stop in Jacksonville. Nevertheless, he came and on the way to the Duval Theatre, an automobile in his entourage was stopped by a crowd of angrily white men who demanded that Washington be handed over to them. When it was discovered that he was not in the car, the men allowed the driver to go without harm. Later, at the Duval Theatre, Washington urged African-American residents to buy as much land as possible, get rid of immoral leaders, denounced lynching and appealed for better race relations.

2. Abolitionist Frederick Douglass takes Springfield by storm

“We have always learned in our schools that the one who gave liberty to our country was George Washington. The one who will always be known as the savior of his country is Ulysses S. Grant. But we have one of our own race who…is as great as the greatest–one who carved his way from darkness into light. This man is Honorable Frederick Douglass!”

This is what Joseph E. Lee had to say about Frederick Douglass right before he spoke in Springfield in August 1889. Born in 1818, Frederick Douglass rose from slavery to become an abolitionist leader and one of the most famous intellectuals of his time, advising presidents and lecturing to thousands on a range of causes, including women’s rights and civil liberties in general.

The guest of honor at the Sub-Tropical Exposition, a band played at every station and at every stop that Douglass made on his train ride to Jacksonville. By the time he arrived in town, over twenty thousand gathered to hear the inspiring orator speak, dwarfing the eight thousand in attendance at the confederate veterans union that would take place across the street in 1914, leading to the renaming of that space to Confederate Park. According to the Florida Times-Union, Douglass was “the most historic character” in the “checkered history” of black Americans.

Despite the local media’s view and fear of the large African-American crowd that came out, James Weldon Johnson was one person in attendance and in total awe of seeing Douglass in person. What stood out to a teenage Johnson, was Douglass’ powerful presence and supreme eloquence when addressing criticisms regarding his marriage to Helen Pitts, who was white.

1. The father of Jazz robbed, dumped and gets his revenge in Jacksonville

Tired of traveling with Will Benbow’s minstrel show, Ferdinand Morton and girlfriend Stella Taylor quit when they arrived in Jacksonville in 1910. Here, she quickly left him for man who he happened to know as a supposed-to-be pool player. Seeking revenge, Ferdinand caught up with his rival at Nick’s Pool Parlor on Davis Street and hustled all of his money out of him.

To soothe his sorrows, Ferdinand purchased a trombone that he used to perform at the Globe Theatre (now Clara White Mission) while living in LaVilla. He eventually went back on the road with Billy Kersands’ Jacksonville-based tent show, gaining the name Jelly Roll Morton. In 1915, his “Jelly Roll Blues” became one of the first jazz compositions ever published. A colorful character also called a gambler, hustler and pool shark, today many jazz historians claim Morton to be the father of jazz.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com