Celebrate Black History Month this February in the New Smyrna Beach Area, Florida. With several locations to learn and appreciate the role of African Americans in building not only the local community but also in influencing the U.S. education system, this area supports the hearty celebration of African-American history.
Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum
Start at the Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum, where you can immerse yourself in photos, memorabilia, and artifacts that illustrate the history of race relations in this area. The personal accounts shared in the oral histories will make the past come alive for modern-day visitors.
Time your visit to coincide with the 31st annual Black Heritage Festival held by the museum, taking place on February 24, 2024, in Pettis Park. Activities include demonstrations of various tasks the African American community performed, such as sugar cane grinding, quilting, and soapmaking. Visitors can also learn about both daily life and life-changing events in the community through the tales spun by various storytellers.
Learn about the life of Mary McLeod Bethune, a 19th-century educator and civil rights activist born to former slaves, who moved to the New Smyrna Beach Area in 1904 to open the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute for Negro Girls, known today as Bethune-Cookman College. On the campus, you can tour the home of this accomplished woman, with her furniture and belongings arranged as they were when she lived here from 1913 until her death in 1955.
Next, head to Port Orange, where the site of the first African-American community in Volusia County is located. Known as Freemanville, the past is celebrated each February at the Freemanville Day Ceremony held at the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, the only remaining landmark from this community. Take some time to read the historical placards to learn more about the families who lived here and understand the struggles that led to the town's disappearance.
Mary McLeod Bethune Beach
Finally, end your day at Mary McLeod Bethune Beach. The park’s nearly 800 feet of seaside paths overlook the Atlantic and run along the only beach African Americans were allowed to use during the first half of the last century. Picnic pavilions and ample opportunities to view the area’s well-known dolphins, manatees, and pelicans provide the chance to relax and reflect on what you’ve learned about the history of the Black community in the New Smyrna Beach Area.