By Lindsay Forrest, DVI Intern
Since 1976, Black History Month has offered the world a chance to remember and honor African Americans who blazed new trails and ways of thinking, and who fought for equal rights no matter an individual’s race, ethnicity or gender. In honor of this month, #DTJax has highlighted some of the most influential African Americans that have impacted the Jacksonville community. Among the various leaders and activists, we have Asa Phillip Randolph, Clara and Eartha White and James Weldon Johnson.
Asa Phillip Randolph
Born on April 15, 1889, Asa Phillip Randolph was born in Crescent City, Florida and moved to Jacksonville with his wife in 1891. From his strong upbringing, Randolph learned that color was not an indication of a person’s character or behavior. A superior student in writing, acting, singing and reading – Randolph attended the Cookman Institute in East Jacksonville and become valedictorian of his graduating class. Randolph can be described as a person of many attributes, but he is most noted for his organizational abilities and leadership in labor unions. He was a socialist, union organizer and civil rights leader most known in the African American community for these contributions:
- Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters – Randolph was the founder and president of the first primarily African American labor union organization called BSCP. He established the Fair Employment Practices Committee and ended racial segregation and discrimination within the military as the leader of this organization.
- 1963 March on Washington – Known as the largest political rally for human rights in United States history where Martin Luther King Jr., gave his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington, D.C., Randolph began planning and organizing this rally in December 1962.
- “Freedom Budget” – a proposal written by Randolph that identified policies and programs to eliminate poverty within a ten year period. Although the budget was never fully passed, all minorities were given better access to schooling, unemployment compensation, social security benefits and better living conditions because of his hard work.
Clara and Eartha White
Known as American humanitarians, philanthropists and businesswomen who devoted their life earnings and time to help people in need. Both Clara and Eartha White’s social mission originated when they began feeding hungry people in her neighborhood on Clay St. in the 1880’s. After her mother passed, Eartha took over the former soup kitchen and turned it into a non-profit organization aimed at social services for all people in need. The Clara White Mission served as an arts and sewing center during the Great Depression, a rooming house for released prisoners and the homeless and a center for cooking, ceramics, and learning. Eartha White was also responsible for founding the Mercy Hospital; The Boy’s Improvement Club, a home for single mothers, an orphanage and adoption agency; and a halfway house for recovering alcoholics. Clara and Eartha White are two of the most generous social activists who dedicated each and every moment they had in order to help the local Jacksonville people.
The Clara White Mission still plays a large role in the Jacksonville community today – their mission is to “reduce homelessness through advocacy, food, housing and vocational programs” in order to get as many people off the streets. In fact, CWM serves over 400 meals each day to people in need on 613 W. Ashley St. To find out more information, visit their website.
James Weldon Johnson
The son of Helen Louise Dillet and James Johnson, James Weldon Johnson was born in Jacksonville, Florida in 1871. Johnson was an author, educator, lawyer, diplomat, achievied songwriter and civil rights leader. He is most noted for his executive secretary and leadership position at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – an organization that aimed to put a halt to racial hatred, to stop discrimination and to achieve equality for all people. He was also known for his poems, novels, and anthems regarding black culture during the Harlem Renaissance. He was also appointed by the Roosevelt Administration in 1906, as the US Consul of Puerto Cabello, Venezuela. Essentially, James Weldon Johnson was an extremely talented, driven and influential African American born in the heart of LaVilla Downtown.
Most recently in #DTJax, Lavilla has delegated the intersection of Houston and Lee Streets, as the “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” Park in honor of James Weldon Johnson and his birth site. The “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” anthem was written by Johnson and his brother John Rosamond and dubbed the “Black American National Anthem” in 1899. To learn more information about the park, check out this article.
The Ritz Theatre and Museum, described as a destination within the “Harlem of the South” area in 1929 where the people of LaVilla sought out entertainment and culture. Today, the reconstructed museum offers music concerts, exhibitions and lectures to represent the rich history of this community in #DTJax. Check out the website to learn more and book your tickets here.
Looking for a way to celebrate Black History Month? Attend the Ritz Chamber Players concert series on February 24 at the Hicks Auditorium on 303 Laura St. The spring concert kicks off with the first song as “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and ends on a piano trio. For more information or to reserve your seats check here.
To find out more information and facts about Black History Month in Jacksonville, check out this article.