5 Civil Rights Landmarks in Florida You May Not Know About (But Should)

The Sunshine State was a critical part of Black people’s move toward liberation in the United States.

The Ritz Theatre and Museum in Jacksonville, Florida, with its iconic sign and historic architecture.

Now a museum, the Ritz Theatre in Jacksonville once hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ray Charles.

Photo by Red Lemon/Shutterstock

Florida is often overlooked in conversations about the Civil Rights Movement, but the state—specifically St. Augustine—played an integral role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

It’s not widely known, but a “swim-in” in St. Augustine was the catalyst for passing the Civil Rights Act. On June 18, 1964, a group of Black and white swimmers at St. Augustine’s Monson Motor Lodge entered the “whites-only” pool. To disperse the protesters in the pool, the motel’s manager, Jimmy Brock, threw a bottle of hydrochloric acid into the water, and the shocking photo documenting the incident drew national and international attention to the violence against the activists’ fight for civil rights. The following day, July 2, 1964, the Civil Rights Act was approved in the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson.

Florida is also home to civil rights activists who fought for equal pay, equal access to education, and the right to vote and often lost their lives to the cause. The following five places in Florida honor the 60th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by enabling travelers to learn more about Florida’s—and, by extension, the United States'—civil rights history.

The entryway Hampton House, with blue blobs on the floor and a pinlight chandelier

Black patrons stayed at the Hampton House during Miami’s segregated years.

Courtesy of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau

1. Historic Hampton House, Miami

Miami’s connection to the Civil Rights Movement was captured in the movie One Night in Miami, which depicts the meeting of Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke at the Historic Hampton House Hotel to celebrate Ali’s defeat of Sonny Liston in 1964. At the time, Miami Beach was segregated, but Black patrons were welcome at the Hampton House in Brownsville, Miami’s thriving Black neighborhood.

The hotel was a Green Book locale and also hosted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who honed and practiced his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” here before the March on Washington in 1963. Today the Historic Hampton House is a museum and cultural arts center that offers individual and group tours (reserve online ahead of your visit) and ongoing community events like art shows and live performances.

An orange sign goes into detail about Newtown

The Heritage Trail is an important part of telling the story of Newtown.

Courtesy of Visit Sarasota County

2. Newtown, Sarasota

Just a few miles north of downtown Sarasota, Newtown is a small community that was established in the 1900s when Jim Crow laws segregated Black Americans from Sarasota proper. One of Newtown’s most influential civil rights activists was Neil Humphrey Sr., then Sarasota’s NAACP president, who led wade-ins to desegregate Sarasota’s beaches, which were in time desegregated with the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The Newtown Heritage Trail offers both self-guided driving and trolley tour options that honor the neighborhood’s Black activists. Visitors can also stop by the historic Leonard Reid House, built in 1926 by one of Sarasota’s first Black pioneers, Leonard Reid, or visit the Greater Newtown Historical Gallery, a repository of Newtown history that includes family photo collections and artifacts

a standard historical landmark sign, this time in dark blue explaining the history of the homesite

The Moores were murdered by Klu Klux Klan members for fighting for Black Americans’ rights.

Courtesy of the Harry T. & Harriette V. Moore Cultural Center

3. Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Memorial Park and Museum, Mims

The Harry T. and Harriette V. Moore Park and Museum, located in Mims, a little over an hour south of Orlando, is named after a civil rights activist couple. In 1934, Harry founded the first NAACP chapter in Brevard County and fought for equal rights for Black Floridians, which cost Harry and Harriette their teaching jobs and, eventually, their lives.

On Christmas night, 1951, the couple was injured by a bomb planted under their house by the Ku Klux Klan. Harry died en route to the hospital in Sanford, and Harriette died nine days later. Visitors to the museum can learn more about the couple’s lives and their activism during the Civil Rights Movement through special exhibits, lectures, and storytelling.

The exterior of the Lincolnville Museum, with enormous palm trees surrounding it

Lincolnville was an all-Black town in St. Augustine, and the museum celebrates that history.

Courtesy of St. Johns Cultural Council

4. Lincolnville Museum and the Accord Civil Rights Museum, St. Augustine

St. Augustine is one of Florida’s most important cities in the civil rights movement. Be sure to visit the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center, which is dedicated to the history of Lincolnville, the city’s all-Black town that was founded in 1866 and flourished with Black-owned businesses, schools, and entertainment venues. The museum also has exhibits dedicated to the civil rights activists who staged sit-ins and protests around St. Augustine.

Just a few blocks away, the ACCORD Civil Rights Museum houses an extensive collection of documents, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s fingerprinted jail card and the original Monson Motor Lodge sign. The museum is just one of many stops on the ACCORD Freedom Trail, which includes more than 30 historic homes, churches, and protest sites around St. Augustine.

exterior photo of the Ritz Theatre with its neon red-trimmed awning in Jacksonville, Florida

The Ritz Theatre and Museum pays tribute to the Johnson brothers of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” fame.

Photo by Patrice Ross

5. Ritz Theatre and Museum, Jacksonville

Jacksonville’s LaVilla neighborhood was a hub for Black businesses and entertainers from the 1920s to the 1960s, earning the nickname “The Harlem of the South.” The Ritz Theatre was at the heart of the action, hosting greats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Ray Charles. In 1999, The Ritz Theatre and Museum was built on the site of the 1920s Ritz Theatre to pay homage to Jacksonville’s Black history.

Some of Jacksonville’s most influential Black residents were brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson, who penned the lyrics and composed the music for the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” The song was adopted by the NAACP during the Civil Rights Movement and is still sung at national events like the Super Bowl. Today, the Ritz Theatre and Museum has a special exhibit and an animatronics show dedicated to the Johnson brothers, which hosts live performances throughout the year.

Mariette Williams is a freelance writer living in south Florida, and when she’s not traveling, she’s lost in a good book. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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