If you are in, or will be visiting, the Daytona Beach and Volusia County area and are interested in African American history you won’t want to miss out on this free brochure titled Daytona Beach Area Share the Heritage: A Guide to African-American Cultural and Historical Sites. The brochure features 18 sites, giving a brief background, location, phone number, and website if available. Sites include Bethune Cookman University, the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum, Howard Thurman House, Jackie Robinson Ballpark, and many others. The brochure may be viewed online or downloaded by visiting this website. It is well worth taking a look as some of these locations aren’t so well known.
We all live somewhere; whether it be a town, village, or city; urban or rural, small town or giant metropolis. What makes it home though is a sense of community. Men like Rufus Pinkney are what makes a community.
You don’t know who Rufus Pinkney was? Well you must not have lived in DeLand, Florida at any time for the past sixty odd years. Rufus was an institution in the downtown area. Even if you didn’t know his name you knew who he was. He was a local legend. Was he a sports star? Was he a political figure or a prominent banker or lawyer? No. Mr. Pinkney shined shoes. That’s right. He shined shoes and he was a more beloved representative of small town community than any sports star could be.
Rufus was born June 12, 1932 in Palatka to parents Pearl and Rufus Pinkney. As a child the family moved to Miami before Rufus left south Florida, ending up in Mississippi where he met his future wife, Mary Louise Gray. Rufus and Mary had two children; a daughter Sharon and a son, also named Rufus.
Pinkney operated his shoe shine business out of a small building located in the parking lot near 127 E. New York Avenue. Here, according to a Daytona Beach News-Journal article “…is a jumble of polishes, brushes, calendars, shelves of gleaming shoes, and more signs. One praises him as the “Master Engineer in Charge of Preserving the Primary Means of Personal Locomotion,’ and a bulletin board [was] thickly thumbtacked with business cards.” His shop was most recently adorned with a sign painted by Stephen Danko showing an alligator shoe with the words “Shoes Shined by Rufus”. Mark Lane of the News-Journal reports that Pinkney had shined shoes in Deland since 1955 and before that in St. Augustine at the old railroad station.
In addition to his skill at shining shoes, Rufus was a well-known local harmonica player and received the gift of being a great conversationalist. He was an elder at Greater Refuge Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ. When you saw him he was always dressed well and of course his shoes were never scuffed.
Rufus passed away September 12, 2016 after suffering a stroke. In his 84 years though he touched many lives. Personally, I can remember Rufus from back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s when I worked in downtown DeLand. He used to always stop in for his daily coffee. Sometimes more than once a day would we see him. He never really lingered long though he was always pleasant and had a smile and kind word for everyone. He couldn’t linger because he was busy. He had to get back to the shop and take care of business.
Recently the City of DeLand unveiled a mural in Mr. Pinkey’s honor near where his popular shoe shine stand used to be. It is only fitting that he be remembered in this way. Please read more about the mural unveiling and see several photos here.
Today brought news of what is sure to be a controversial new release from Fonthill Media and distributed by Arcadia Publishing and author Phillip Thomas Tucker. The book is titled Blacks in Gray Uniforms: A New Look at the South’s Most Forgotten Combat Troops 1861-1865. Needless to say the title will no doubt come under some scrutiny as will the subject matter.
This is a subject that has hot feelings on both sides and some, including Kevin Levin, have almost made a career of arguing against the notion of black Confederate soldiers. In fact, he has a soon to be released book on the subject, Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth.
Author Phillip Thomas Tucker has written widely on several historical themes including the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Alamo, Custer’s Last Stand, and others, often with poor to mixed reviews, especially from authoritative sources.
As for whether there were black soldiers in the Confederate army you will have to make your own decision. The evidence, including findings I made working on my book ST. AUGUSTINE & THE CIVIL WAR (Civil War Series), shows there were black soldiers in the Confederate army. My small number of finds however were musicians and non combat soldiers. North Carolina historian Michael Hardy however has found record of several black Confederates who fought. These trace amounts do not lead to the claims many have put forth of large numbers of blacks fighting for the Confederacy but they should make us step back from the statement that there were NO black troops in the Confederate service.
While Arcadia is often very generous in supplying me with review copies I did not receive a copy of this title. Personally, while skeptical, I will withhold judgement until seeing the book and reviewing the notes and bibliography which I hope are included. Often times, with the space limitations imposed by Fonthill Media these are left out. For a title like this that would be a critical error in my view.
At the recent annual meeting of the Florida Historical Society, Charles Tingley, Senior Research Librarian for the St. Augustine Historical Society was presented the Arthur W. Thompson Award for the best article in any issue of the 2016 Florida Historical Quarterly.
The article titled, “Another Invisible Man: Alexander H. Darnes, M.D.,” concerns a long forgotten man who was born and raised in St. Augustine enslaved by the Smith family. He spent his teenage years as the valet to Edmund Kirby Smith, a U. S. Army officer who became a Confederate general.
After the Civil War, he received his college education at Lincoln University in Chester, Pennsylvania and graduated with a medical degree from Howard University in 1880. He immediately set up a medical practice in Jacksonville, Florida. He was the first African-American with a modern medical practice in Florida. Darnes was the physician to James Weldon Johnson, the author of Lift Every Voice and Sing and was fondly remembered in his autobiography.
He served with courage during two of the greatest health emergencies in Jacksonville
history: the small pox epidemic of 1884 and the yellow fever epidemic of 1888. At the time of his death in 1894, Darnes was the Deputy Grand Master of the Prince Hall Masons of Florida.
Mr. Tingley began researching Alexander Darnes prior to the St. Augustine Historical Society erecting a statue to A. H. Darnes and E. Kirby Smith at their childhood home in 2003. This building is now the Research Library for the Historical Society
Thank you to the good folks at LSU Press for sending a review copy of Devils Walking: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s written by Stanley Nelson.
After midnight on December 10, 1964, in Ferriday, Louisiana, African American Frank Morris awoke to the sound of breaking glass. Outside his home and shoe shop, standing behind the shattered window, Klansmen tossed a lit match inside the store, now doused in gasoline, and instantly set the building ablaze. A shotgun pointed to Morris’s head blocked his escape from the flames. Four days later Morris died, though he managed in his last hours to describe his attackers to the FBI. Frank Morris’s death was one of several Klan murders that terrorized residents of northeast Louisiana and Mississippi, as the perpetrators continued to elude prosecution during this brutal era in American history.
In Devils Walking: Klan Murders along the Mississippi in the 1960s, Pulitzer Prize finalist and journalist Stanley Nelson details his investigation—alongside renewed FBI attention—into these cold cases, as he uncovers the names of the Klan’s key members as well as systemized corruption and coordinated deception by those charged with protecting all citizens.
Devils Walking recounts the little-known facts and haunting stories that came to light from Nelson’s hundreds of interviews with both witnesses and suspects. His research points to the development of a particularly virulent local faction of the Klan who used terror and violence to stop integration and end the advancement of civil rights. Secretly led by the savage and cunning factory worker Red Glover, these Klansmen—a handpicked group that included local police officers and sheriff’s deputies—discarded Klan robes for civilian clothes and formed the underground Silver Dollar Group, carrying a silver dollar as a sign of unity. Their eight known victims, mostly African American men, ranged in age from nineteen to sixty-seven and included one Klansman seeking redemption for his past actions.
Following the 2007 FBI reopening of unsolved civil rights–era cases, Nelson’s articles in the Concordia Sentinel prompted the first grand jury hearing for these crimes. By unmasking those responsible for these atrocities and giving a voice to the victims’ families, Devils Walking demonstrates the importance of confronting and addressing the traumatic legacy of racism.
In December 2015 my wife and I visited Memphis and we were able to tour the National Civil Rights Museum, housed at the Lorraine Motel, where King was gunned down on April 4, 1968.
Just a few thoughts and then I will share some of the exterior photos I took. The admission charge of $15, while seemingly high, isn’t that unreasonable. This is not a state or federally operated museum. According to their website, the state owns the property and the museum is operated by a 501 (c)(3) not for profit organization. This is where I take issue with the naming of the museum. The name implies a governmental endorsement but that does not appear to be the case. In addition, with the modern emphasis on Civil Rights for all people, the naming of the museum should more reflect the goal of the museum, which is the education of visitors about the Civil Rights struggles for African-Americans.
As a final aside, we found the employees and volunteers to be standoffish and unhelpful. They were more interested in getting a tour group through rather than assisting those of us, and there were several, who were paying. The security checkpoint seemed overdone and the employee working it came off as dictatorial and rude. Those working in the gift shop were more interested in talking and socializing with each other and we left without making a purchase. As a museum junkie, that is something that seldom, if ever, happens.
On to the positives, and the museum itself is a positive. This is a wonderful place. The exhibits are well done, interesting, and this is overall truly a gem of a museum; a true must see for those interested in American history. One can not tour this facility without feeling a deep respect for what these men and women, young and old, black and white, went through in order to achieve what seems like such a basic thing to us today.
Must visit attractions include the Montgomery Bus Boycott exhibit, including a sculpture of Rosa Parks seated on a bus. We Are Prepared to Die: The Freedom Rides 1961 is a truly moving experience, bringing to life the horrors that were perpetrated upon those looking to secure the most basic of rights and freedoms. The Freedom Rides encountered violence on a scale I find unimaginable, having not lived through this era.
The true highlight of the visit however are seeing Dr. King’s room and the area from which James Earl Ray fired the shot that killed Dr. King. The room Dr. King was staying at was a basic room, nothing fancy. Room 306 is set up as it was the fateful date when Dr. King stepped out onto the balcony, thus meeting an assassin’s bullet. A visit to the Legacy Building is a must do as well. This allows you to see where Ray was staying and the vantage point he had when he fired his shot. In addition, there is a very interesting display covering the conspiracy theories associated with King’s killing. It is unfathomable that it took two months before Ray was captured in England after attempting to use a fake passport.
This is a well done museum that is worth a visit by anybody interested in American history. It covers an important subject, one which we should never forget. Some training of staff in basic customer service skills would go a long way toward making this a more enjoyable destination.
Frederick Douglass was born in 1818 and died on February 20, 1895.
My connection to Douglass is through my research for my book ST. AUGUSTINE & THE CIVIL WAR (Civil War Series). It turns out Douglass, who had personally met with Abraham Lincoln on several occasions, gave a speech in St. Augustine in August 1889.
Douglass was visiting nearby Jacksonville to give a speech at the Sub-Tropical Exhibition. Douglass was convinced to take a train ride and speak in the nearby city. He was given an afternoon reception at the Genovar Opera House located on St. George Street. He later spoke to a racially mixed audience of approximately 700. His speech was an abbreviated version of his Jacksonville lecture.
Unfortunately the Genovar Opera House and other nearby buildings burned to
the ground in April 1914.
In June 2009 the City of St. Augustine erected a small marker on St. George St. commemorating the speech and Douglass’s trip to the city. The marker is easy to pass by. It is located near Treasury Street on the left hand side as you are walking toward the Plaza. GPS N29.53.638 W081.18.772
Here are a few books that are new to my library. I will be posting more library additions shortly; January was a busy month.
Lincoln’s Bold Lion: The Life and Times of Brigadier General Martin Davis Hardin written by James T. Huffstodt; published by Casemate Publishers. Cover price is $32.95.
I have a special interest in this book due to Hardin being buried in St. Augustine.
From the publisher: This is the first biography devoted to the life of a remarkable young man who, in the words of Civil War historian Ezra Warner, “embarked upon a combat career which has few parallels in the annals of the army for gallantry, wounds sustained, and the obscurity into which he had lapsed a generation before his death.”
And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography written by Ralph David Abernathy. Cover price is $19.95.
Originally published in 1989, this beautifully written autobiography of the Rev. Dr. Ralph David Abernathy—Martin Luther King Jr.’s partner and eventual successor—not only tells his own story but also expounds on the leaders he knew intimately, including King, Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, and Lyndon Johnson, among others. Revealing the planning that went into major protests and the negotiations that brought them to a close, Abernathy chronicles a movement, recalling the bitter defeats they faced, the misery and deaths they suffered. Amidst these struggles, though, he celebrates the victories that integrated communities, gave economic and political power to the disenfranchised, and brought hope to people who had not dreamed of it. Throughout, Abernathy’s close relationship with King is central to the story—and to the civil rights movement. In 1956, when Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus, it was Abernathy who enlisted King to join the protest. Together, they led the landmark bus boycott for 381 days, during which Abernathy’s house was bombed and his church dynamited. From there, the two helped found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and they were jailed together more than 40 times. Their protests and marches took them all over the South—Selma, Albany, Birmingham—and to Washington and Chicago as well. An unsung hero of his era, Abernathy’s inspiring memoir ultimately shows how their victories, and even their setbacks, led to social and legislative changes across the entire country.