Jacksonville Beach voices will recount times past this Saturday, February 23 at the Roda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Center in Jacksonville Beach. In an effort to promote Black History Month and further cultural communications, a guest panel of four speakers will share memories of what is was like to grow up Black in the surrounding beaches communities at a time when segregation was law and a stark and visible division between black and white was standard.
Lillian Sullivan, President of the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage center shares that the event is an extension of an initiative taken on by the center to record the oral histories of the people that lived through the difficult times to ensure that the lessons learned would live on.
“We’ve been working on this for some time because the African-American community at the beach has such a rich history that we have not fully tapped into,” Sullivan says. In Jacksonville Beach desegregation was carried out gradually through the 1960s, and even into the ’70s. The panel is expected to share celebratory stories of friends joining together to enjoy stretches of the beach that were once off limits to them.
“There will be stories of families enjoying The Hill, which was the business district of the Pablo Beach neighborhood and was home to restaurants like Pearl’s Kitchen,” Sullivan says. “At night, The Hill was home to the 600 Club, which was one of the main hubs for nightlife in the neighborhood.”
The Rhoda L. Martin building itself is a part of the rich history African-American history in Jacksonville Beach. The seminal building was built in 1939 and was the first brick structure in the largely African-American neighborhood at a time when bricks were seen as a white luxury. Secondly, the building served as the Jacksonville Beach School for Colored People, which Martin helped open after years of educating children in her kitchen.
Today the cultural heritage center’s mission is to promote African-American history at the beaches. Sullivan, who attended the Jacksonville Beach School for Colored People herself, hopes to maximize the momentum from the story teller events. “We want to offer a permanent program for schools and the community as a whole to come learn more about what it was like to grow up Black at the beaches and how that can help inform the important decisions we face today as a community,” Sullivan says.
The event will take place at the Rhoda L. Martin Cultural Heritage Center at 2 p.m. Saturday, February 23. The center is located at 376 Fourth Ave. S.