L.B. Brown House

photo by: Tina Sargeant

Preservation Magazine, Spring 2024

Legacies and Legends: A Florida Museum Network Focuses on Black History

Althemese Barnes knows there’s strength in numbers. In 2001, she formed the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network (FAAHPN) as a way for Black history museums in the state to share information and resources. “It’s difficult trying to operate or compete in a big pool,” says Barnes, the founder and former executive director of the John G. Riley Center & Museum in Tallahassee, Florida, one of the FAAHPN’s founding members. “Museums could feel more comfortable and successful as part of the network.”

Today the FAAHPN encompasses about 30 museums, and it consistently receives grants to fund its work—including one from the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund in 2020, to help the network create a guide and training program for organizational leadership succession. By securing its members’ future, FAAHPN will be able to keep drawing attention to what Barnes calls “our legacy, our legends, our community history.” Read on for profiles of three of the network’s museums.

A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center, Gainesville

By Heidi Tyline King

Union Academy in Gainesville, Florida, was founded by the Freedmen’s Bureau in 1866 to educate Black students, and in 1921, A. Quinn Jones arrived from the Florida Panhandle as its new principal. Two years later, he was leading the city’s brand-new Lincoln High School. For the next 70-plus years, his small bungalow on Pleasant Street served as a hub of academic and community activity. It housed everything from teacher trainings for the school and piano lessons taught by his wife, Frederica “Freddie” Jones, to NAACP chapter meetings and church gatherings for the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he served as Sunday school superintendent for more than 30 years. Jones died in 1997 at the age of 104. The Jones family later donated the house to the city, which opened the A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center on the property in 2017.

“The Pleasant Street/5th Avenue Historic District is significant as the first and most important Black residential neighborhood in Gainesville,” says Carol Velasques-Richardson, cultural affairs manager for the city. “Founded immediately after the Civil War, the areas represented a transition in the status of Black people in Alachua County from that of slave laborers supporting a rural plantation economy to one of freedmen seeking to establish a new existence of economic independence and cultural self-determination in an urban environment.”

Historic Portrait of A. Quinn Jones

photo by: A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center/UF Special Collections

A. Quinn Jones, a leading 20th-century Florida educator.

The building required a comprehensive restoration and gentle care to return it to the Southern vernacular that it represents. “The actual foundation was tilted and there were leaks from the plumbing,” says Velasques-Richardson. “[The city] did its best to preserve the original wood flooring and restore the home back to its original color and layout.”

A Renaissance man who spoke five languages, Jones was born in Gadsden County, Florida, in 1893. He oversaw the graduation of the first class of eight students from Lincoln High, a Rosenwald School built in 1923 across the street from the Joneses’ house. In 1926, he led Lincoln’s accreditation as one of the first two Black high schools in the state. He also completed two master’s degrees and taught classes at Florida A&M University and Bethune-Cookman College (now Bethune-Cookman University) during his summer breaks.

A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center

photo by: Ryan Wendler

The A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center.

“What makes Mr. Jones so special is that he was responsible for educating generations of African Americans in this area and throughout the state,” says Velasques-Richardson. “He taught all of the classes at school initially and lobbied for African Americans to receive actual diplomas. He wasn’t allowed to attend local school board or principal meetings, so he stood outside the window and made notes.”

Today, Jones’ papers are housed at the University of Florida (UF), also in Gainesville, but his original desk and typewriter, among other items of his and his wife’s, can be viewed at the museum. The site also hosts educational workshops and rotating exhibits, the A. Quinn Jones lecture series in partnership with UF, and a music series. In addition to touring the home, visitors can listen to an impressive collection of African American oral histories available at the site through UF’s Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

Carol Velasques-Richardson

photo by: Ryan Wendler

Carol Velasques-Richardson inside the A. Quinn Jones Museum & Cultural Center.

“We have an amazing story to tell,” says Velasques-Richardson. “The elders of our community love and embrace the museum as a community center, but it is also a gateway to introduce a new, younger audience to the rich African American culture in our community.”

Spady Cultural Heritage Museum, Delray Beach

By Jessica Poitevien

In 1922, Solomon D. Spady moved from his home state of Virginia to Delray (now Delray Beach), Florida, to serve as the town’s third-ever Black public-school teacher—a position that also came with the title of school principal. During his 35 years at the Delray County Training School (later called George Washington Carver High School), Spady oversaw its growth from 100 students in grades one through eight to more than 300 students, with its first four-year high-school class graduating in 1939.

Solomon D. Spady

photo by: Spady Cultural Heritage Museum

Solomon D. Spady, a prominent Delray Beach mid-20th century educator and community leader.

Over the course of his career, Spady introduced a variety of extracurricular activities, including sports teams, a drama club, and two literary societies. He was an active member in the community, too, leading several local service organizations before retiring in 1957 and moving back to Virginia.

As an influential person in Delray Beach, Spady’s name came up often when retired teachers Vera Farrington and Charles Spencer Pompey embarked on a project in 1995 to document previously uncollected information about the city’s earliest Black residents.

Their timing was impeccable, as the city commission had been considering demolishing Spady’s former house, a Mission Revival–style building that had been abandoned for several years. Farrington and Pompey established a nonprofit called Expanding and Preserving Our Cultural Heritage (EPOCH) in 1996 and managed to convince the city to purchase the house. The sale closed in 1997, and EPOCH and the Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency worked together to restore it over the next few years. Through EPOCH, the two educators started what is now known as the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum (SCHM), which opened in the restored residence in 2001.

“The mission is to collect, preserve, and share Black history, but my vision is to bring people together around Black history—all people from anywhere,” says Charlene Farrington, Vera’s daughter and the museum’s executive director.

Spady Cultural Heritage Museum

photo by: Jason Nuttle

The Spady Cultural Heritage Museum.

The Spady Museum features regularly changing exhibits highlighting stories from Black history and the African diaspora, with an emphasis on local culture. Even the more internationally focused exhibits have a tie to local history, allowing visitors to relate to the information more easily. For example, the museum ended 2023 with a showcase of rituals and rites of passage in several West African countries, prompting visitors to think about coming-of-age celebrations in the United States.

To help connect those dots, someone from the SCHM team is always available to offer insights on the latest displays. Guests can take advantage of other programming as well: Visitors can contact the museum ahead of time to schedule a walking tour of its neighborhood, the West Settlers Historic District. Bus tours around all five of Delray’s historic districts are also offered periodically. The bus tours often coincide with the museum’s larger event programming, such as a youth arts festival in honor of Black History Month, or Juneteenth celebrations.

Charlene Farrington Spady Museum

photo by: Jason Nuttle

Charlene Farrington among the works on display at the museum’s recent exhibit "(in)visible: Nepantla," which showcased the work of artist Kandy G. Lopez.

Other offerings include a mentorship group for middle- and high-school girls, plus a program launching in August for teens and adults interested in taking a deeper dive into Black history. The plan is for students to meet once a month over a 10-month period. The curriculum will focus on life in Africa prior to the slave trade before covering the Middle Passage and then delving into local Black history in Delray Beach and South Florida in general.

It’s all a part of the overall mission to help those on the journey to “understand the dynamics of a racially mixed community and what it takes to navigate that successfully,” Farrington says. “We’re standing here with arms open, wanting to welcome anybody that’s interested in peaceful coexistence.”

Historic L.B. Brown House, Bartow

By Heidi Tyline King

When retired telecom manager Clifton Lewis and some of his Bartow, Florida, neighbors were starting a local community improvement group around 1998, they decided to restore an abandoned building known as “the old Thomas house.” Soon after, he found himself spearheading a multi-year restoration and preservation of the stately but rundown Victorian-era residence. In 2001 the group got the house (shown at the top of this story) listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the project culminated in 2003 when it opened as a museum called the Historic L.B. Brown House.

“We jumped in without even knowing who had built it,” says Lewis, president of the nonprofit Neighborhood Improvement Corporation of Bartow and museum director of the Historic L.B. Brown House. “It was in bad shape. Rather than being constructed on a slab, the foundation sits on old pine logs. I grew up watching my father build and repair things, so working with my hands wasn’t foreign to me, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. However, as soon as word spread, folks started coming out of the woodwork to help and support the cause.”

As it turned out, the home had been built in 1892 by Lawrence Bernard Brown. Born enslaved, the self-taught carpenter sold Bibles, made cabinets, and repaired furniture and umbrellas. He eventually acquired property in the area and built as many as 60 smaller houses that he sold or rented, becoming a wealthy man. After Brown died in 1941 at age 84, his oldest daughter, Louvenia Brown Thomas, continued to live in the family house until her death in 1989.

Lewis and the Neighborhood Improvement Corporation worked closely with the state of Florida’s Division of Historical Resources, local historian Canter Brown Jr. (no relation), and Robert Brown (L.B. Brown’s son) to ensure that no liberties were taken with the construction, architecture, or carpentry during each phase of restoration.

L.B. Brown

photo by: Polk County Museum

L.B. Brown, born enslaved, became a wealthy and prominent local business leader through entrepreneurial pursuits such as homebuilding.

“Thinking about the restoration makes my heart flutter,” says Lewis. “We discovered some of the 1890s wallpaper was still on the walls behind old paneling. We also found items that Mrs. Thomas had tucked away inside the fireplace.”

Clifton Lewis at L.B. Brown House

photo by: Tina Sargeant

Clifton Lewis, president of the nonprofit Neighborhood Improvement Corporation of Bartow and museum director of the Historic L.B. Brown House, on the museum's porch.

The group furnished the house using period items, often relying on Robert Brown’s memories to guide them. The second floor includes many original family pieces. Robert, who died in 2012, also shared the family Bible and several ledger books from the 1890s that became useful references throughout the restoration.

“Robert was very pleased with the outcome, although he did point out that the floors were too polished,” says Lewis. “In the 1920s and ’30s, there was no air-conditioning in the building, so the windows were always open, and in spite of his mother’s best efforts, the house was dusty.”

Parlor L.B. Brown House

photo by: Tina Sargeant

The living room of the L.B. Brown House has been refurbished with period items.

Today, with its two-story veranda and ornate woodwork, the house is one of the few Vernacular-style buildings from the era that still exist in Florida. The Florida Department of State named L.B. Brown a “Great Floridian” in 2000; others on the list include Walt Disney and Zora Neale Hurston. A concrete foundation stone from another house Brown built, signed with his initials, is part of the permanent collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The Historic L.B. Brown House is open for tours and special events such as the annual L.B. Brown Heritage Festival, held each February to honor the contributions of Brown and other leaders to the Bartow community.

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By: Heidi Tyline King and Jessica Poitevien

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