Celebrate Black History in The Palm Beaches

January 26, 2022

While always something to be honored, celebrated and studied, Black history comes into finer focus during the month of February.

Whether you’re looking to learn about a different culture or become more aware of your own, here are a few ways to immerse yourself in The Palm Beaches’ Black history this February and throughout the year.

Events and Exhibits

Every Sunday through the month of February from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach will be holding its third annual Gospel & Jazz in the Gardens. Visitors will have the opportunity to listen to gospel and jazz from world-class artists among the monumental works of Ann Norton. Performing artists include Troy Anderson, Nicole Yarling, Ritah Wilburn, and Nikki Kidd. Advanced reservation is required. To make a reservation call 832.5328. Prices: 15$ adult, $10 senior, $7 child/student.

The Ebony Chorale of The Palm Beaches
The Ebony Chorale of The Palm Beaches; photo by CAPEHART

Boynton Beach Arts & Cultural Center will host an art exhibition of works by Black artists and poets from Palm Beach County. Running until February 26, the free exhibition includes paintings, drawings, textiles, mosaics, and poems by 18 working artists and four artists studying at local universities or high school.

In honor of Black History Month, the Historical Society of Palm Beach County is organizing “History Talks” with Kitty Oliver. The free event will take place on Zoom on February 9. As one of the first African American freshmen in 1965, Kitty Oliver takes her readers on a journey from her hometown Jacksonville to the University of Florida and beyond. Dr. Kitty Oliver (PhD: Multicolored Memories of a Black Southern Girl), creator of the cross-cultural Race and Change Initiative, is a veteran journalist of the Miami Herald, an author, an oral historian, a media producer, a professional singer, and an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University. Her Race and Change Oral History Archive is housed by the African American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC) in Fort Lauderdale. 

The Richard and Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum honors Black History Month with the special exhibit More Than a Game: Champions in the midst of Desegregation through February 26. Presented by the Historical Society of Palm Beach County and the Palm Beach County Sports Commission, the exhibit honors the 1968 Maroon Devils and their basketball coach, Floyd Andrews, from Roosevelt, the all-Black high school in West Palm Beach. Coach Floyd Andrews led his team to the first state title during integrated play. The school closed in 1970, as part of the long-delayed process of desegregation.

Historical Society of Palm Beach County
The Historical Society of Palm Beach County

 On February 5, participate in the kickoff event for Black History Month organized at The Square in West Palm Beach. The event’s theme Stories of Black Excellence, Brilliance, and Joy: Fostering Pride Through Children's Literature will be presented by The Office of African, African American, Latino, Holocaust, and Gender Studies in collaboration with Rohi's Readery. The kickoff event will include live music, local black-owned businesses, performances, and several workshops focused on stories of Black excellence. More information here.

This February, the Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts honors James Drayton during the16th Annual African-American Film Festival taking place on February 1, 8 and 15. Hosted by William “Bill” Nix, this year’s event theme is "A Salute to Education: Stories of Triumph," and includes three award-winning films paying tribute to James Drayton, a former West Palm Beach city commissioner, founder of the annual African American Film Festival, the African American Heritage Bookstore in West Palm Beach, and the Together We Stand Democratic Club. The event lineup includes:

  • February 1 at 7 pm: lean on Me
  • February 8 at 7 pm: Akeelah and the Bee
  • February 15 at 7 pm: The Great Debaters

Tickets are $12 per show or $30 for the series and can be purchased online or by phone at 561.832.7469 or 800.572.8471.

Lean on Me

The Mandel Public Library of West Palm Beach will observe Black History Month with a series of free events. On February 4, the Library will host Art Revolution, a Black-owned, artist-led West Palm Beach public art collective and firm, for a lecture on their work. On Saturday, February 5, Silver Screen returns with a screening of the 2013 drama “Belle.” The film was inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of Royal Navy Captain Sir John Lindsay (Matthew Goode). On February 11, families with children up to 5 years old are welcome to join Children’s Librarians for music and movement, songs, rhymes, art, and of course, great books that celebrate Black History Month. Click here for all other events organized by the Mandel Public Library during Black History Month.

Museums and Historic Sites

In West Palm Beach on 8th Street, the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church was originally founded in 1893 in an area of Palm Beach known as the “Styx.” This is where Black workers settled as they built Henry Flagler’s hotel and other properties until they were eventually forced to relocate to West Palm Beach. Many moved to what is now the Northwest neighborhood, the historic center of West Palm Beach’s Black community. The church first moved to Clematis Street in West Palm Beach, where it founded the first school for African American children in Palm Beach County. In 1925, the church again relocated to its current location on 8th Street, where you can see the National Register of Historic Places site today. Also on 8th Street at Rosemary Avenue, work is underway on the multimillion-dollar revitalization and expansion of the Sunset Lounge, a famed 1920s-era cocktail bar and music venue where icons like Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald performed.

In Delray Beach, visit the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, home to photos, memorabilia and other artifacts that document Black history and heritage in Palm Beach County. Even the museum’s location is significant: It’s the former home of the late Solomon D. Spady, a prominent African American educator and advocate who came to Delray Beach as a teacher and principal in 1922 and made a lasting impact throughout his career. The Spady Museum also hosts historic tours of the area, as well as art shows, speakers and other events.

Spady Cultural Heritage Museum
Spady Cultural Heritage Museum

As you explore West Palm Beach, keep an eye out for a series of markers that help preserve and celebrate Black history. One of them recognizes the legacy of James Jerome “Cracker” Johnson, an entrepreneur and property owner whose generosity to the city and the neighborhood earned him a Robin Hood-like lore and the nickname, “King of Black West Palm Beach.” The marker is situated in the sidewalk outside what remains of his former bar across the street from the site of the Grand Theatre on Rosemary Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets. Several other markers, created by Habitat for Humanity with the help of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center (AARLCC) of Palm Beach County, can be found nearby. The first, at the northeast corner of Tamarind Avenue and Banyan Boulevard (formerly 1st Street), describes the boundaries of the historic Black community. Another, on 5th Street between Douglass and Division, marks the original 1916 site of Pine Ridge Hospital, the only hospital for Black patients in Palm Beach County and several surrounding counties during segregation. Another was placed on Division Avenue between 5th and 6th streets at the lot of the once grand home of Hazel Augustus, the first Black architect in West Palm Beach. A fifth marker is at Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and Tamarind Avenue, recognizing a neighborhood known as Freshwater Lakes.

These are some of the stories that the AARLCC of Palm Beach County has helped to preserve and celebrate. The organization is dedicated to finding and saving original source materials pertaining to local Black history with the goal of creating a museum to house these important artifacts (learn how to donate here).

At Tamarind Avenue and 25th Street in West Palm Beach, a small park holds an important piece of history, the Hurricane of 1928 Mass Burial Site, where approximately 674 Black residents were buried in an unmarked mass grave. They were victims of a mammoth hurricane that struck South Florida on Sept. 16, 1928, causing the Lake Okeechobee dike to collapse and flood much of the south side of the lake. It is believed that up to 3,000 people died in the storm, many of whom were Black migrant workers who had no warning about the storm. The site remained unmarked until the early 2000s. Today, there is a marker and a fence surrounding the small plot of land. The Storm of ’28 Memorial Park Coalition is working to build a permanent memorial, museum and educational facility.

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