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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

How Funding of the DHR's Special Category Grants Would Affect Black History Sites in Florida

Rufus Johnson on the steps of Peck High School, one of the sites that would benefit from full funding of the 2023 Special Category Grants. Photograph via Florida Memory

Story by Mercedes Harrold, Florida Trust for Historic Preservation Board Member

The Florida Division of Historical Resources Special Categories Grants help fund activities such as archaeological investigations, structure rehabilitation, and museum exhibits. These grants provide a much-needed boost to an organization’s historic preservation strategies. For the last few years, the Florida Legislature has not funded these grants. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation encourages our legislators to fund this important grant program. Organizations who apply are required to provide matching funding, from 25 percent to a 1:1 match, for the requested funds which can be a lot to handle for any organization and shows the local community investment that can benefit greatly from a match from the state funds.

In honor of Black History Month, we would like to highlight grant applications that will help promote African American History in Florida.

Ranked #8 - Prospect Bluff: Archaeological Site Survey

Located in Gadsden County, Prospect Bluff is the location of two historic forts, including the Nineteenth-Century Negro Fort. In 1812, the British government built a fort at Prospect Bluff, which they abandoned in 1815. When the British abandoned the fort, a group of former enslaved individuals, who had sworn allegiance to the British for their freedom, and a group of Choctaw Indians took control of the fort. Approximately 800 former enslaved people sought and received asylum there and it became known as Negro Fort. The U.S. Government felt the fort and its inhabitants were a threat, and in 1816, Colonel Clinch and a group of Creek allies destroyed the fort, killed some of the occupants, and forced the survivors back into slavery. In 1818, a new fort, Fort Gadsden, was built on top of the former Negro Fort. Prospect Bluff is a site on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.

Grant funding would be used to conduct geophysical and archaeological investigations.

Ranked #12 - Reconstruction of Fort Mose

Located in St. Johns County, Fort Mose was the first legally-sanctioned free Black town in the present-day U.S. In 1738, the Spanish Government established Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose. Formerly enslaved Africans along with their Native allies, created a path to freedom for fugitives from slavery. This Underground Railroad was a predecessor to the more well-known Underground Railroad of the Civil War era. In return for their conversion to Catholicism, and if able, their service in the colonial militia, the Spaniards considered the Africans inhabitants as free people and they lived and served at the fort. The fort and its inhabitants provided protection of St. Augustine from threats from the north. In 1740, the Black militia was spurred into action when British troops attacked Fort Mose. Known as the Siege of Fort Mose, the British troops captured the fort; however, the Floridian force, consisting of the Black militia, Spanish soldiers, and Native allies counter-attacked and were able to repel the troops and cause them to retreat. Unfortunately, the fort was destroyed in the process and the inhabitants moved to St. Augustine. In 1752, the fort was rebuilt. When the Spanish Government ceded the territory to the British Government in 1763, many of Mose’s free Black inhabitants left with the Spanish and settled in Cuba. Fort Mose is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is a designated National Historic Landmark, is a site in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom, and a UNESCO Slave Route Project, Site of Memory.

Grant funding would be used to reconstruct Fort Mose, including reconstruction of the central fort building, a watchtower, and earthen and palisade walls.

Ranked #34 - Phase 2: Saving Peck High School, a Revered 1927 Rosenwald School

Located in Nassau County, the original school was a four-room building built in 1885 for African American students.

Professor Moses H. Payne, Howard University graduate served as the first principal and teacher for the school. Two years later, Professor William H. Peck, also a Howard graduate, served as Assistant Principal. In 1888, after Payne’s passing, Peck was promoted to principal. In 1909, four acres of property were purchased. Peck sought Rosenwald Foundation funding and community funding to complete construction of a new school, which cost $59,000. The Foundation provided $20,000 and the local Black community provided the remaining $39,000. Originally known as Colored School No. 1, the school was renamed for Peck in 1911, and construction was completed in 1927.

Rosenwald schools were a collaboration between Dr. Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald, the founder of Sears, Roebuck & Company. The latter’s Rosenwald Foundation helped fund the construction of 5,300 schools for Black children over a 20-year span. The local communities were responsible for matching the construction funds.

Grant funding would be used to rehabilitate the existing structure.

Ranked #65 - Maxey-Crooms House Restoration

Located in Orange County, the Maxey-Crooms House was the home of Woodford James Maxey and his wife Mamie née Crooms. Maxey was a prominent African American and the first Black mail carrier in Orlando. Crooms was the daughter of formerly enslaved Africans who moved to Orlando after the Civil War. Built in 1924, the home is considered an excellent example of the prosperity of the African American community of that time. The home is a local historic landmark.

Grant funding would be used to rehabilitate the existing structure.

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