10 Facts About Jacksonville's Black History

February 26, 2014 16 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

In honor of Black History Month, here are ten facts about Jacksonville's African-American history that you might not be aware of.

3. Harlem: The Lavilla of the North?

Inside the Central Hotel at the intersection of Broad and Beaver Streets. Courtesy of the City of Jacksonville Historic Preservation Office

Many refer to Jacksonville's LaVilla as the "Harlem of the South." Spanning the 1920's and also known as the "New Negro Movement", the Harlem Renaissance was an urban black cultural movement stimulating from the Great Migration from the South.

Jacksonville's James Weldon Johnson called it the "flowering of Negro literature." He should know since he was a notable figure and leader of the movement.

Harlem originally developed in the 19th century as an exclusive suburb for the white middle class. Primarily fueled by the Great Migration bringing hundreds of thousands of African-Americans to northern cities to escape southern oppression, it did not become a dominant African-American neighborhood until the second decade of the 20th century.

In reality, what Harlem experienced was a taste of what was taking place in Jacksonville's LaVilla before many of its black intellectuals and talents, such as Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, Philip Randolph, and Ma Rainey, left the South and Jim Crow, in search of a better life.

4. Negro American League's Jacksonville Red Caps

Durkeeville's J.P. Small Memorial Park is Jacksonville's last historic baseball stadium. Baseball's beginnings here trace back to 1911. This was the year when Dr. Jay Durkee donated the site to Jacksonville Baseball Association Presidents, Amander Barrs, who converted it into a recreational field.

Some of the first teams to play here include the Jacksonville Tars and the Jacksonville Athletics, a team on which James Weldon Johnson played.

Baseball legends who played here over the years include Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Henry Aaron, and Buck O'Neill, who also attended college at Edward Waters College.

During this era, major league teams such as the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers also played a few games here. In 1936, after the original stadium was destroyed by a fire, the current structure was constructed. It was built much larger than the original to partially help separate the races during the era of segregation.

In 1938, once called Durkee Field, this ballpark became the home of the Negro American League's Jacksonville Red Caps.

The Negro American League was a professional baseball league established in 1937 during the time organized American baseball was segregated. The league was disbanded after its 1962 season.

Joining the Negro American League in 1938, Jacksonville's Red Caps was the league's only team in Florida. In 1939, the Red Caps relocated to Cleveland, becoming the Cleveland Bears. In 1941, the franchise returned to Jacksonville before being dropped from the league and being replaced by the Cincinnati Clowns.

Other Negro American League franchises included the Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs, Memphis Red Sox, Birmingham Black Barons and the Detroit Stars.

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