Jacksonville’s Lost Princess

April 28, 2014 29 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Jacksonville is home to a lot of history, no doubt. But there is one little tidbit that seems to get swept under the rug: that at one point in time, Jacksonville was home to a famous African-American activist and Ghanian Princess.

Early Life

Laura Adorkor Kofi (sometimes spelled Kofey) was originally born in Ghana, Africa in the late 1800s. Kofi’s father allegedly was a King in the British West African coast where she was born. No later than the 1920s, 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; a message that encouraged ancestry and promoted invitation, unity, and self-help. Kofi arrive in the United States in the mid-1920s in the city of New York.

Mother Kofi’s Work
Kofi made her way through cities like Chicago and Detroit, preaching to African-Americans about God and the importance of their roots. Eventually, Kofi founded the African Universal Church and Commercial League, where she fused the importance of education and economy into her sermons. For the historical times that Kofi was operating in, some of her material was controversial, radical, and even problematic. Nevertheless, Kofi still managed a huge following, and in just over a year she had become a prominent name in the South. Soon after, Kofi began working on the black nationalist movement, trying to revive Marcus Garvey and his United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

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. Fraud, theft, and other accusations began flying around Kofi’s name. On several occasions, Kofi was arrested. However, Kofi never faced any formal charges because she was considered too great of a benefit to the African-American community.

Mother Kofi in Florida

Kofi’s involvement with the UNIA eventually ended. Her movement among the South continued with the church though, and she eventually found herself in Florida. Kofi continued to work throughout the community to spread her message and the word of God. She spent the years of 1926 to 1928 in a small house on Florida Avenue in downtown Jacksonville.  By this time, she had tens of thousands of followers, with a large portion located in Florida.

After her release from an arrest later in the 1920s, Kofi made her way from Jacksonville down to Miami to give a sermon. Unfortunately, this would be where Kofi’s story came to an end. While on the pulpit, 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’s Funeral Home 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 the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville. 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.

Continuing Kofi’s Legacy

Several years after Kofi passed, her original organization reorganized under the name "Missionary African Universal Church." Under their new leader, Eli B'usabe Nyombolo, the new church formed what is today known as Adorkaville, located on New Kings Road. In the 1970s, Kofi’s successor died, the new group began to dissipate and Adorkaville died out.  

In fairly recent years, the people of Jacksonville have attempted to change this. Jacksonville’s Historic Preservation Commission has worked to declare Adorkaville a historic site. The plan is to restore Adorkaville back to its origin, develop a museum, and established some sort of trade line with Africa.

Article by Kristen Pickrell