February 9, 2023
Black History in Clay County
African American history runs deep in Clay County with significant people and places playing a notable part of the community upbringing. Celebrating Black History is one of the many ways we can remember and honor those legacies.
Here’s a look at some of Clay County’s notable people and places that help us remember the past.
The Orange Park Normal and Industrial School
The private Orange Park Normal and Industrial School opened in 1891 by the American Missionary Association to educate Black students. In 1885, the Florida Constitution mandated the segregated education of black and white students in public schools.
With numerous dormitories, classrooms and workshops throughout the ten-acre campus, the school and their students began to prosper, attracting the attention of the white community. Soon thereafter, white children began enrolling in the school hoping for a similar education.
Trades including sewing, bookkeeping, cooking, woodworking and more were taught, along with piano being a highlight of classes. Classical studies included American literature, history, geography, government, grammar and more.
Segregationist William Sheats, the Superintendent of Public Education of Florida urged the legislature to pass a law in 1895 prohibiting any Florida school, public or private, from teaching black and white students together. While the school eventually fought and won their case, the school closed in 1917. Segregation persisted for another 50 years, but the Normal School serves as a pioneer in the ways of integrating education in schools.
Clay County’s Own Civil Rights Movement Icon
Maude Jackson, a native and resident of Clay County has an inspirational past involving her college days in St. Augustine and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jackson attended Florida Memorial College in St. Augustine from 1960 to 1964 and was an active participant in the local civil rights movement including sit-ins, marches and protests. When Dr. King visited the area, Jackson was a part of his inner circle while in town. During one visit, she prepared dinner for him. She participated in organizing local meetings and taking care of office duties in the movement’s local offices.
Dr. King personally asked Jackson to participate in a protest in Tallahassee as he wanted to see someone from the Northeast Florida represented in the movement. She was jailed during the movement, with Dr. King reassuring her that she was not in jeopardy in losing her teaching internship at Webster Elementary School.
Today, Maude Burrouighs Jackson lives in the Hilltop community, an almost exclusively Black community in Middleburg. She went on to teach school at Charles E. Bennett Elementary and is noted as being one of the first teachers in Clay County to teach in a desegregated classroom.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church Celebrates 150 Years
The Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Green Cove Springs celebrates a major milestone with their 150th anniversary in 2023. The roots run deep within the church with generations of families being a part of the congregation.
The congregation is celebrating the occasion with a unique publication that will support the renovations of a parsonage into a Family Life Center/Fellowship Hall. A community celebration is planned for later this year.
A native of Green Cove Springs, Augusta Savage was born in Clay County in 1892. She was one of the leading artists of the Harlem Renaissance, preeminent African American literary and artistic movement of the 1920s and ’30s. As a sculptor, she was the first African American to join the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. In 1932, she established the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts in New York City along with the Salon of Contemporary Negro Art.
She was named the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center and the New York World’s Fair of 1939 commissioned her to create a sculpture symbolizing the musical contributions of African Americans. Savage was also a prominent activist for African American rights and allowing those of color to pursue the arts. Her artwork has appeared in many museums and galleries including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens.
In Green Cove Springs, a community center and park are both named in her honor. In 2023, the Augusta Savage Cultural Arts Festival is set to take place on February 25 at Spring Park along the St. Johns River. Visitors can enjoy live music from regional bands, high school musicians, church choirs, and participate in arts activities and enjoy local food trucks.
The history and stories are alive as we celebrate Black History in Clay County. To learn more about Clay County’s history and African American heritage, or to plan your visit to the area, please visit www.ExploreClay.com.
This blog was written with collaboration of the Clay County Historical Archives.