February marks Black History Month, a celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time to recognize their central role in United States history. Volusia County and the New Smyrna Beach area have many exhibits and opportunities to learn about the history and accomplishments of African Americans here in our county and throughout all of Florida.
One of the best places to explore the history and importance of African Americans in our area is New Smyrna Beach’s Mary S. Harrell Black Heritage Museum. This museum houses one of Florida’s largest collections of African American artifacts, ranging from photographs and clothing to newspaper articles, all that tell the story of African Americans' influence in our community. Even the outside of the museum is worth exploring, as there are markers surrounding the building that document the history of the Old St. Rita Colored Mission Church and its journey to becoming the museum you see today. Admission to this museum is free. The museum also hosts several events each year, including the Black Heritage Festival.
The New Smyrna Beach Museum of History is another wonderful place to visit. The Museum preserves and presents a comprehensive view of the history of Volusia County and the state of Florida through engaging exhibits and tours. The museum boasts exceptional collections of maps and photographs from the late 1800s and onward, a turn of the century printing press, and civil war era artifacts. The exhibits also include African American historical pieces and artifacts. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for teens and free for children ten and younger.
A visit to Bethune Beach will allow you to learn even more about Volusia County’s African American heritage. This historic, beachfront park is a significant piece of New Smyrna Beach’s African American history. The beach gets its name from the educator, stateswoman and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune. Bethune is most well-known for her influence in politics. She was the founding president of the National Council of Negro Women, and also President FDR’s Director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. During the years of segregation under Jim Crow Laws, African Americans were not allowed on New Smyrna Beach, so Bethune took it upon herself to make a stretch of oceanfront that African Americans could access. Now known as Bethune Beach, the area includes a boardwalk, playground, picnic pavilions and more.
While exploring all of these historic sites and museums, you must also be sure to stop in and support the many black-owned businesses in our area, like the delicious Finger Lickin’ BBQ and Wings. This fantastic eatery is just off the Causeway that serves a variety of wonderful BBQ and wing options.
For more information about African American History in Volusia County and the New Smyrna Beach Area, and to plan your visit to our many historic sites and museums, head to https://visitnsbfl.com/