Black notables shaped state of Florida

The Baltimore Sun

There's a story behind Caesar's Creek and Caesar's Rock, two landmarks in Biscayne Bay that probably are more familiar to boaters and locals than to the public at large.

The story is part of Florida's rich history that has been captured so well in the recently published tabletop book African American Sites in Florida by Kevin McCarthy (Pineapple Press).

In the case of the two Miami-Dade County landmarks, they were named for Black Caesar, an escaped slave-turned-pirate who plundered ships in Florida's upper Keys and skillfully used the vast network of cays and creeks off Elliott Key to hide from authorities.

He later joined up with another pirate of some renown - Blackbeard.

McCarthy is no stranger to Florida history. He has published 36 books, including tomes on academicians, black Floridians and American Indians, pirates and the Apalachicola Bay.

In African American Sites in Florida, McCarthy presents a county-by-county guide to a host of black notables who have influenced life in Florida and helped shape its history.

Businessmen, civil rights advocates, clergy, educators, former slaves, Negro Leagues ballplayers and pirates - McCarthy chronicles their lives, exploits and accomplishments and weaves their stories into historical narratives of Florida's 67 counties.

His meticulous research, coupled with an array of black-and-white photographs, makes this book a must-read for anyone interested in Florida's history.

The author pays tribute to those already known to many for their contributions to American history, such as educator Mary McLeod Bethune, writer Zora Neale Hurston, Air Force Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James Jr. and labor leader A. Phillip Randolph.

McCarthy, though, delves deeper to bring out appealing stories of feats that mirror the times and on occasion span several chapters.

Take the case of John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, regarded as one of the finest shortstops to play in the old Negro Leagues.

His story is told in earnest in the book's Putnam County chapter, but the Hall of Famer appears in the Palm Beach County chapter because industrialist Henry Flagler hired him along with other black ballplayers to play for guests of his Breakers hotel.

Broward County offers several interesting contributions, ranging from the historic "wade-ins," an organized effort by the Fort Lauderdale chapter of the NAACP in which blacks entered the city's whites-only beaches to protest segregation, to the opening of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, one of the few black repositories of its kind in the nation.

African American Sites in Florida takes readers on a whirlwind tour of churches, cemeteries, historic houses and schools and, at times, the book takes on an appearance of a literary museum archiving the state's past.

The book is an entertaining and informative work.

Douglas C. Lyons writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad