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Posted: February 10, 2019

Black History Month:  St. Joseph’s Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children

By Julie Morgan

The St. Josephs Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children is a piece of black history in a place you would never thought you'd find it, Mandarin, a predominantly white suburb of Jacksonville, FL.

If you know the Mandarin area today it's not the same as it was when this one-room schoolhouse was built in 1898.

History tells us Mandarin was majority black in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s.

According to Sandy Arpen with the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society, Mandarin today is only 7 percent black.

This historical building has survived different uses over the past 120 years but has again realized the original purpose, nurturing minds. In 1898, it was the minds of black boys and girls.

In 2019, it's the minds of everyone who didn't realize such a place existed.  But it does exist.   Where?

The St. Josephs Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children is located in the Walter Jones Historical Park

The schoolhouse is located on the grounds of the Walter Jones Historical Park.  Do you know someone who may have attended this school? History begs you to speak up.

This isn’t the only piece of black history here. 

Walk inside the Mandarin Museum and you’ll see a variety of artifacts. 

One such item is a replica of the Steamboat Maple Leaf.   

When the ship was sunk in the St. Johns River, four people lost their lives.   Four black men.   They are remembered here in the Mandarin Museum.

Four people were killed when the Steamboat Maple Leaf sunk in the St. Johns River: Simeon Field, Eli Foster, Charles Sumner and Benjamin Wiggin.

Field, Foster, Sumner and Wiggin were asleep in this area of the ship.

When you visit the Mandarin Museum, you’ll learn more about Mandarin’s black history including how Harriet Beecher Stowe spent her time in this area.  You’ll also find out about a free black pilot by the name of Romeo Murray and his connection to the Maple Leaf.

The park itself is open daily from dawn to dusk.  You can tour the museum and schoolhouse Saturdays, 9-4.

Listen to my interview (below) with Sandy Arpen about the St. Josephs Mission Schoolhouse for African-American Children.   It answers your questions about exactly how the school got started, how the Sisters were punished for teaching black kids and what kids today say about segregation.

If you missed last week’s Black History Month spotlight on Augusta Savage, check it out here


Black History Month:  Augusta Savage

Augusta Savage was born in 1892 in Green Cove Springs. Savage was a leading artist during the Harlem Renaissance as a sculptor, art teacher and activist. 

Savage went from being a little girl creating clay art in her hometown to a woman whose vision was showcased in Paris, influencing a generation of young black artists. 

Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens Director and CEO, Adam Levine says this exhibit tells Savages’ whole story. “The reason having this exhibition here is so important isn’t just because Augusta Savage was from here it’s because she is included alongside the great artist of all time.”

Levine says Savage wanted to show black people through a lens that ran counter to the stereotypes of the day. “There were not images of black men and women that were depicted favorably by and large in popular culture.” 

Savage ultimately moved out of the south to New York where she earned a reputation as a portrait sculptor for prominent African-American figures like NAACP leader W.E.B DuBois. 

As her recognition grew, she earned a prestigious scholarship to Paris, but wasn’t admitted. 

One of the things that catapulted Augusta Savage to fame was when she was rejected from a fine arts school in France because of her color, because she was a black woman. People began to write letters challenging that. Some of those letters are at the Cummer including those from W.E.B. DuBois. 

She faced oppression her whole life and many of the issues she faced still resonates today. 

Savage eventually made it to Paris on a fellowship after the debut of her sculpture, “Gamin”. It’s considered her most successful sculpture. 

Marcia Ripley, visited the Augusta Savage exhibit and says, “I’ve traveled a lot and have been to all of the fancy museums. But to see something by a black woman, or a collection of art by a black artist is amazing. You don’t often…you don’t see that.” 

Augusta Savage ensured her legacy through the work of young artists. 

One of Savage’s largest pieces was inspired by another Jacksonville native, James Weldon Johnson. Johnson wrote what’s affectionately known as the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The piece is called “The Harp”. It was destroyed because she couldn’t afford to cast it in bronze or store it. A smaller version of “The Harp” is at the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens right now. 

*This story is from Action News Jax*


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