People generally focus on the Daytona international Speedway and the 23 mile long pristine beach when they think of Daytona Beach, but often they do not recognize the cultural diversity and Historical monuments and buildings that recognize the invaluable contribution made by Blacks to the area. (Opening photo of the historic African-American Mt. Moriah church in Freemantle, near Daytona; photo by  Lysa Allman Baldwin.)

Stay for the Halifax Festival.

All these came to light when a group of nine media personnel was taken on a five day trip to the area, arranged by the Georgia Turner Group headed by Georgia Turner and the Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau headed by Tangela Boyd.

Our first official visit was to the Museum of Arts and Sciences, located on the beautiful Tuscawilla Nature preserve, a six acre site complete with nature trails. Exhibits include the Center for Florida History which features a 130,000 year-old. 13 foot tall Giant Ground Sloth that once roamed the land nearby.

Several permanent collections are displayed including the Cuban Museum, African ritual art, decorative art, Chinese Art and the Root Family Museum featuring American collections donated by the Root family.

African Ritual displays. at MOAS.

Senior Curator of Education, Zach Zacharias explained the recently installed fascinating display of natural history specimens culled from the museum’s large collection of shells, fossils, rare butterflies, bird’s nests and other extra ordinary examples of the natural world and the sea.

The group then visited the New Smyrna Black History Museum which featured an 1899 former Catholic Church which was restored in 1999 and converted to a race relations and African American history museum including historical inventions by African Americans. There are more than 70 African-American inventions the history of the New Smyrna Beach area comes alive through research library and a variety of artifacts, with particular emphasis on the settlement founded by Dr. Andrew Turnbull in 1768.

The art of the Cuban Museum.

Most of these inventions are now known to many Americans and the Museum itself needs urgent steps to improve and renovate this building.

African Americans were among the Daytona Beach area’s earliest settlers. A large colony of freedmen (free slaves) was established in   1866 by Esther Hill and John Milton Hawks in an area just south of Daytona Beach.

The area is now known as the towns of Ponce Inlet and Port Orange. Hawks and his wife, both physicians, were staunch abolitionists who spent the Civil War years caring for Black Union soldiers and their families.

It was primarily these soldiers and their families, numbering as many as 1,500 who settled in this area following the Civil War. Among the 26  individuals who voted to incorporate Daytona in 1876 were two Black men, Thaddeus Goodin and John Tolliver. Tolliver played an important role in the town’s early years, building much of the original Ridgewood Avenue, (US Highway 1).

The historic Casements
is a Daytona area landmark.

Tolliver’s father, Henry, had been one of the ex-Union soldiers who came to Florida with the Hawks. His prosperous homestead, located in the north east corner of Port Orange, was the center of a black hamlet that became known as Freemanville. Originally populated by freedmen from the nearby Hawks’ colony, Freemanville grew rapidly during the 1800s as Africa American workers poured into the area to work on the east Coast railroad.

Influential African American leaders such as Dr. Howard Thurman, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune and Jackie Robinson, have also left their legacies in Daytona Beach.

Our next stop was the Daytona Lagoon water-park and entertainment center. Facilities include go karts, miniature golf, laser tag, rock wall climbing and video games. There is fun for all ages including the Phoenix extreme swing ride which is a favorite.

Director of Group Sales Richard Shaw explained that the facility can accommodate 5,000 guests at one time, and in addition 250 people can be in the sports bar.

The facility has the third highest safety rating in Florida.

View turtles at the Marine Science Center.

Visiting the Marine Science Center which specializes in sea turtle and seabird rehabilitation was highly educational and interesting.

The turtle rehabilitation area of the Marine Science Center received 67 sea turtles, 985 hatchlings and 563 wash backs in 2008. The center has been providing invaluable service and rehabilitation for turtles and birds.

The Center cares for injured sea turtles, freshwater and terrestrial turtles, injured sea birds and non releasable hawks and owls, wood storks, pelicans and gulls. There are also aquariums housing fish, turtles, eels, coral reef inhabitants, snakes and other creatures

A 250 pound, more than five foot long, loggerhead sea turtle was released recently after nearly a year of coordinated care.

The historic Ponce de
Leon Inlet Lighthouse.

The next day we headed for the historic Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse, Florida’s tallest lighthouse. Heavy downpours prevented the team from climbing the 203 steps (175 feet)

This National Historic Landmark is one of the few light stations in the country with all the original keepers’ dwellings and outbuildings still intact.  The Ayres Davies Lens Exhibit building houses two magnificent first order Fresnel lenses; the rotating Cape Canaveral Lighthouse lens and he Ponce Inlet Lighthouse’s original fixed first order lens.

Next we visited the site of Freemanville, now called Port Orange. A state historic marker was unveiled in February 2003 recognizing this historical community.  It was settled by freed slaves after the Civil War in 1867 and the Mount Mariah Baptist Church is the last remaining structure.

Built in 1911 and which is also in urgent need of renovation and repairs.

It still provides a place of worship for the original settlers’ descendants. Trudy Crusco is the Pastor. The oldest surviving member is Albertha McLeod. Nearly all the settlers, excepting one, Albertha, had to abandon their properties when the authorities told them they had to move unless they had a bathroom in the building.  Another example of Jim Crow policy.

Early the next morning we headed for the Old Spanish Mill and Griddle House in DeLeon Springs, located 30 minutes west of Daytona Beach.  We all tried our hands on the griddle making our own pancakes.

Some 6,000 years ago, Native people lived around the spring and along the spring ruin. In the 1500s legend and folklore claim that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon sought and discovered the mythical Fountain of Youth at De Leon Springs. There is no historical record or archaeological evidence to support this.

Hear the excitement
of the Daytona 500.

The Daytona International Speedway was our next stop. We experienced a 30 minute backstage look at the racing world, including a stop in pit row, the NASCAR garages, the infield area and Victory Lane. The group also enjoyed an exciting romp through the Daytona 500 Experience.

The Sprint Car Show and Swap Meet set inside the Speedway infield, showcases more than 3,000 collector cars and trucks.

The action kicks off with Grand American Road racing’s famous Rolex 24. Daily events lead p to the crown jewel of racing, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500.

The historic Bethune House.

Later we toured Bethune Cookman University Campus including the home and gravesite of founder Mary McLeod Bethune.. The daughter of former slaves, Dr. Bethune became a renowned educator, civil rights leader and an advisor to five U.S. Presidents. For most of her life, she resided in Daytona Beach, where in 1904; she founded the Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with little more than $1.50 in cash, faith in God and five little girls for students.

Through her persistent efforts, Bethune received funding from several wealthy northern industrialists who spent their winters in the area. They included Thomas H. White of the White Sewing Machine Company and James Gamble of Proctor and Gamble fame.

The school became a co-ed high school in 1923 as a result of a merger with Cookman Institute of Jacksonville, Florida and later evolved into a junior college, and then a four year institution called Bethune-Cookman College.

Today, Bethune-Cookman University offers baccalaureate degrees in 37 majors and a master’s degree in transformative leadership. Parts of its tradition-rich campus have been named a Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places.

The City of Ormond Museum of Art.

Our tour included the Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center. Opened in 2003, this $23 million, 2,500 seat facility hosts an array of cultural, musical and theatrical events year round. Gracing the front entrance is a stunning bronze statue of Dr. Bethune.

Two hours later we were touring the childhood home of Howard Thurman, a mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Situated in one of the area’s oldest residential areas, the two story frame vernacular was built in 1888. Thurman lived there until 1917.

A teacher and Dean of Chapel at Morehouse College, Howard University and Boston University, Dr. Thurman created, taught and wrote of a climate of action-oriented non-violence that was later inherited and institutionalized by the Civil Rights Movement.

He was one of the most influential Black Americans in the 20th century and is known to many as the nation’s greatest theological advocate of the unity of the human race. In 1990, Dr, Thurman’s home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Even though it rained most of the time the media team was in Daytona Beach, our organizers left no stone unturned to ensure that all the important sites were covered.

The Jackie Robinson Ball Park.

It came as no surprise to us when we were taken to the historic Jackie Robinson Ballpark. He has an exciting history.

In 1946 he came to Florida for spring training with the Montreal Royals, he Brooklyn Dodgers Triple A, a farm club.

He was banned from playing in Jacksonville and Sanford, but not in Daytona. Robinson debuted in Daytona on March 17, 1946.

The Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort provided accommodation for the team of Journalists. The 744 newly renovated guest rooms were comfortable with coffee maker in room movies, iron and ironing board and hair dryer.  The Resort also offers high speed internet, valet parking and on site laundry and dry cleaning.

General Manager Craig Bloom donned the chef’s uniform to ensure that the menu was to our satisfaction.

Daytona is world famous for its BEACH.
(Click the photo to book the
Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort.)

The organizers of our visit did not forget to take us to some of the culinary delights of the area. They included Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse, located at the Hilton, Angell & Phelps Café, a Chocolate Factory, Bubba Gump Seafood Company and Market, Sherry’s Kitchen & Buffet, Stone wood Grill & Tavern, the Old Spanish Mill and Griddle House, a Taste of the Tropics Seafood & Grill.  Our final breakfast was held at Dancing Avocado Kitchen.

— Feature by Edwin Ali, Jetsetters Magazine Florida Editor; photos courtesy of Daytona Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.