How We Started
Inspired by her own Legacy Community in Leon County, Dr. Sandra Thompson, CEO of Legacy Communities of North Florida, and professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, approached Dennis Smith, the Resident Planner at Florida State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning, about a project that would record African American Legacy Communities’ histories and economic assets. The two devised a project that captured each community’s history and its informal and formal markets. The Florida Department of State made North Star Legacy Communities a reality for Dr. Thompson, the research team, and Legacy Communities throughout Jackson County.
Our First County
The Florida State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning began documenting, recording, and assembling the stories of Legacy Communities in Jackson County, Florida in the fall of 2020. The team talked with local community members, recorded living histories, assembled videos, produced guidebooks, and began a local business database of all companies and organizations in Jackson County’s Legacy Communities.
Expanding The Project
In the fall of 2022, Dr. Sandra Thompson and the Florida State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning expanded upon the work completed by the 2020 team by heading east into Gadsden County. With the support of the Florida Department of State’s Division of Historical Resources, the Barnebey Planning and Development Lab engaged with Gadsden County residents to profile their legacies along with opportunities for economic development.
After extensive research, exclusive interviews, and community engagement, the Florida State University Department of Urban and Regional Planning Barnebey Planning and Development Lab is proud to present the Jackson County and Gadsden County mapbooks. Within each book are personal and community histories that have been recorded and shared with the world to document and preserve North Florida’s Legacy Communities.
What Are Legacy Communities?
Legacy Communities are tightly-knit communities formed by enslaved and emancipated people that served as the primary hub for economic activity and social support in a nation that actively sought to dismantle their prosperity.
Throughout the 1900s, African American residents from rural communities in the South began moving to the northern and western regions of the United States. This historical movement was known as the Great Migration. Some factors that influenced this Great Migration include increased suburbanization pressures from whites, a lack of economic opportunities for Blacks, and racial violence from Jim Crow era laws which perpetuated white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan. These factors resulted in the decline of many Legacy Communities due to dwindling resources from slowed population growth. Today, these communities are still recovering from this violent period of instability.
What Is North Star’s Purpose?
FAMU’s Dr. Sandra Thompson created North Star to document the legacies of historic African American communities and promote cultural tourism across North Florida. Gadsden, Jefferson, Jackson, Leon, and Madison counties were identified as possible locations with a high concentration of legacy communities. North Star supports preserving cultural sites and promoting economic revitalization within identified legacy communities.
Florida Black History Timeline
|Spanish Period – With the arrival of the Spanish, diseases caused the enslaved natives to struggle, while revolts from inhumane treatment created social and production problems. The Spanish turned to the Atlantic Slave trade to solve these problems because they viewed enslaved people as cheap and easy to manage, and it ensured a constant flow of labor.
|American Revolution – The first significant change in the colonies’ economy area’s economies had arrived with a change in leadership. Unfortunately, the abolitionist movement remained on society’s fringes as southern plantation owners had made fortunes off exported goods export of goods like cotton with low-cost slave labor. Additionally, religious institutions found it hard to defend freeing enslaved people since they also participated in the slave trade.
|Southern Antebellum Period – This was a turbulent time for enslaved peoples as southern plantation owners believed that the practice was beneficial. Abolitionists were cruelly put down and criticized for attempting to change the status quo.
|Seminole Wars – These wars were gruesome as native Seminoles fought to protect their lands while Andrew Jackson’s army sought to remove them. The story of Scott’s Massacre led to the First Seminole War, while McLane Massacres was another horrific attack to neutralize natives fighting against the area’s settlement. Gadsden’s story begins here. Tragically, its namesake came from the war’s history and played a significant role in its outcome.
|American Civil War – A devastating time for the United States, but brought the old age of repression to an end in favor of a new era that created prosperity and opportunity for recently emancipated individuals.
|First May Day – May Day is Florida’s version of Juneteenth; the emancipation proclamation was delayed getting to Florida until May 20 th. People celebrated with cookouts, gatherings, and reflection upon hearing the news. While emancipation was supposed to end these inhumane actions for good, the turbulent and violent era of Jim Crow laws followed.
|Southern Homesteading Act of 1866 – It was an attempt by the United States federal government to stop the debt cycle that arose during Reconstruction as many, both black and white, resorted to sharecropping and tenant farming. The concept was to sell land at low prices for those in the south, but many still could not participate as what was considered “low prices” by the government were still largely unaffordable.
|Jim Crow – These were laws politicians enacted after the conclusion of the Civil War by southern states to enforce racial segregation. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was established to facilitate campaigns against Jim Crow laws. Prominent court cases from this era, including Plessy vs. Ferguson and Brown v. Board of Education, sought to undo these damaging legal codes. This period ended with the implementation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
|The Great Migration – As discussed previously, this was a decades-long series of events where African Americans from the southern United States migrated to other regions. This migration resulted from economic, societal, and even spatial influences as cities began changing due to the creation of suburbs. In addition, white flight arose during this time due to the new spatial dynamic in cities. White families sought to leave overcrowded, diverse city centers for clean, spacious, racially unified outlying communities.
|The Great Depression – Due to the financial difficulties associated with The Great Depression, The Great Migration slowed. As a result, the industrialized north lost many job opportunities African Americans were seeking to secure. Additionally, technological advances in agriculture led to decreased labor demands, leaving many without an option. Only the onset of World War II would provide any new major economic opportunities for African Americans.
|Urban Renewal – The arrival of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made racial discrimination illegal in policy, but the practice continued. For example, large infrastructure projects, such as the national highway system, divided and demolished many African American communities to make way for interstates. It also diverted traffic away from the remains of small towns to the more metropolitan cities leading to a decline in economic opportunity for rural areas. Today, these remaining Legacy Communities suffer from the economic degradation caused by urban renewal projects because it would impact a family’s ability to establish home equity or build generational finances.
Texas Freedom Colonies
The Texas Freedom Colonies Project is an educational, social justice initiative dedicated to preserving the heritage of Texas’ historic African American settlements. Dr. Andrea Roberts and her team’s inspiration were key pillars for the final website design. Please visit their website, linked below, to learn more about how Dr. Roberts and her team sought to preserve the heritage of Black settlements in Texas.