Fort Lauderdale’s African American history goes back over a century, beyond the beaches, across the tracks. It started with an influx of Bahamians and farmworkers from other parts of the South, some of them blending with Seminole Indians. By the early 2000s, waves of West Indians and Spanish-speaking Afro-Caribbean islanders were joining the mix. Today, the sun-and-sand Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County area ranks near the top in diversity in the U.S.
As an oral historian, I know that efforts to preserve history in the midst of continual change can be a challenge. The new Black Broward Heritage Tour + Tasting has come up with a novel approach. Visitors can experience history in off-the-beaten-path excursions into the sounds, sights, and flavors of the area – and even this local learned a few things along the way.
The Historical Tour Experience
As the bus weaves through the historic and gentrified streets of historically Black neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach, the guide narrates like a modern griot reciting descriptive memories of places culled from the stories of community elders who sometimes ride along. Passengers disembark to look at buildings and artifacts that are like picture-window views into the African Diaspora, from ancient traditions to prominent people to the simplicities of daily life. The tour is capped off with the flavors of Southern or Caribbean comfort food in the heart of local communities where you can share reflections and make new memories.
“We want to tell the history and also showcase the community today,” explains Stephanie Jones, founder and CEO of Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism, Inc. (CHAT South Florida) which operates the tour. Local eateries benefit from tourism dollars in the process. “Food is a manifestation of culture and there is a history behind our staples,” she adds. “So people have a tasting and an educational experience.”
Millennials such as Emmanuel George are among the eight professionally trained guides turning an interest in history into tour-related business skills and passing on enthusiasm to younger passengers.
“I remind people that we’re the ones who are up next, and we need to learn Black history — not just locally where we live but in surrounding neighboring communities, too — to have more pride and also to help us to mobilize and make a difference in this world,” he says.
Here are some highlights of the Black Broward Heritage Tour + Tasting.
- The Historic Sistrunk Neighborhood – The tour travels on and off Sistrunk Boulevard, named for Fort Lauderdale’s first Black doctor, and features “Destination Sistrunk” cultural arts and economic projects. A memorial honors John H. Hill II, the first Black millionaire businessman in the Historic Sistrunk Corridor now marked for revitalization. Sites pay tribute to Eula Johnson, the first female head of the NAACP, who led the wade-in to integrate Fort Lauderdale Beach. The nearby Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park is the first in Florida named for African American civil rights activists.
- The African American Research Library and Cultural Center – It’s one of the top three research centers for African American history and culture in the U.S. AARLCC features major traveling exhibits and a Special Collections section with hundreds of rare materials and oral histories related to African Americans, Caribbeans, and the African Diaspora.
- The Old Dillard Museum –The structure, built in 1907 to house the city’s first school for African-American students, has been preserved with original furnishings and artifacts from decades of classroom use. The national historic landmark also features exhibitions and cultural activities and the Jazz Room honoring Cannonball Adderley, a former teacher at the school.
- Historic Black Pompano Beach – The hometown of Emmy-winner Esther Rolle has a street named for her and Broward’s newest cultural sites offer peeks into the fabric of Black daily life – past and present. The Ely Educational Museum is located in the former home of local educator and civic pioneer Blanche Ely with archives of research material on education in the segregation era. The Historic Ali Cultural Center hosts performing and visual arts presentations and classes, including public programs celebrating the history, culture and artistry of the local African American community.
- McMillon’s BBQ, Pompano Beach – Ribs with South Carolina vinegar sauce, mac and cheese, sweet tea and all the other homemade savory beans-greens-and peas southern sides.
- Tom Jenkins Bar-B-Q Restaurant, Fort Lauderdale – Legendary roadside food trailer turned even more popular restaurant location. There’s a trademark sauce you can buy by the bottle to take home, plus surprises such as Mississippi catfish and Brunswick stew.
- Sister Sara’s Crab House and Grill, Fort Lauderdale – Seafood soul with tubs of crab and shrimp cooked the way you want it, conch, ceviche and garlic butter sauce thick as New Orleans roux. Sides include a sausage, corn, potato and egg pot and seafood mac.
- Donna’s Caribbean Kitchen, Fort Lauderdale – The queen of Jamaican jerk seasoned cooking at the annual outdoor Jerk Festival celebrations, the restaurant also features dishes spiced with curry, staples such as akee and saltfish and callaloo, and meats for very special tastes such as oxtail, pig feet, goat, and liver and kidneys.
The four-hour Black Broward Heritage Tour + Tasting ($69) runs for up to 12 people. CHAT South Florida also accommodates large private groups and conferences. The company, founded in 2016, operates tours in African American communities in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties and plans to expand to Orlando, Key West and Jamaica in 2020. To book a tour, visit www.chatsouthflorida.com.