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.

7. Sugar Hill: Jacksonville's Upscale Neighborhood Destroyed by Urban Renewal

Aerials over Sugar Hill from the 1940s.

From the late 1800s until the 1960s, Sugar Hill was the neighborhood where Jacksonville's most prominent African-Americans lived.

A prestigious upscale community, Sugar Hill was home to professional African-American families -- doctors, lawyers, teachers, bricklayers, ministers, morticians, pullman porters -- who developed a commune of comfortable, impressive, spacious homes. Like many urban Jacksonville districts, the neighborhood began as a streetcar suburb.

Former Sugar Hill residents included Abraham Lincoln Lewis, owner and founder of the Afro-American Life Insurance Co.; William Raines, a high school principal; and Sara Blocker, a schoolteacher who took the Duval County school system to court for equal working rights for African-American teachers.

Sugar Hill would eventually become the victim of large development projects. These include the construction of I-95 through the neighborhood's heart, the continued expansion of the Shands Medical Center and urban renewal. More than 75 percent of the families were relocated outside the neighborhood after their homes were demolished in the late 1960s by the city Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Bishop Henry Y. Tookes House at 1011 West 8th Street

8. The Cultural History of the Shotgun House

Thousands of shotgun houses can been seen in this early 20th century aerial over LaVilla. Today, only three remain in Downtown Jacksonville neighborhood.

It can be argued that the Shotgun is the South's version of the rowhouse. Predominately found in the urban South, shotgun houses tended to be narrow across the front in order to maximize the number of units on each residential lot. Running deep on the lot, rooms were typically arranged one behind the other connected by a long hallway. Because this long hall usually ran the entire length of the house, the name derived from the possibility of firing a round from the front door through the back door without hitting any part of the house.

These structures exemplify a type of working class housing style that was common in black urban neighborhoods during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The shotgun houses represent the Folk Victorian Style of architecture, which was popular between 1870 and 1910. This style is defined by the application of Victorian decorative detailing on simple frame structures in an attempt to mimic the popular high Victorian architecture of the era. Many scholars believe shotgun houses reflect African building traditions that entered the American Southeast via the transatlantic slave trade through the Caribbean Islands, starting in New Orleans and brought to cities like Jacksonville by migrating Black freedmen.

Urban Jacksonville has lost 50% of its residential population since 1950. The loss of shotgun housing districts is a major reason for this decline. Despite an urban landscape being dominated with them a century ago, not many significant shotgun rows remain today.  This isolated row in Durkeeville gives the viewer an impression of what many residential streets in Lavilla once resembled.

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