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Fort Mose: The First Free African-American Community

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Fort Mose, formerly known as Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, was a military fort and the first free black settlement built by colonial Spanish Florida’s Governor, Manuel Montiano, in 1738.

The site was the first place that gave refuge to Africans challenging enslavement in the English Colony of Carolina. Slaves that were able to escape from the British colonies were directed there.

The fort was built following the 1693 Edict of King Charles II of Spain which stated that any male slave who escaped from the English plantation to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he is willing to join the Militia and become a Catholic. Hence, the slaves that fled to the site and passed inspection were taken into the Spanish militia and placed into service.

1763, the site was abandoned when Spanish Florida became British. It was later leveled by the British in 1812. In 1968, a retiree located the site from an old map. He purchased the land and began a campaign to have the site excavated and turned into a tourist attraction.

In 1986, an archeological excavation, led by historian Jane Landers and Kathleen A. Deagan, was done. The excavation revealed the site of the original Fort Mose as well as the second facility constructed in 1752.

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Our History

Prince Hall: The First African-American to Join the Freemasons

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Prince Hall, who is considered the father of African Freemasonry, is believed to be born between 1735 and 1738. His exact place of birth is not known though he mentioned in his writings that is homeland is England.

Hall developed interest in the Masonic fraternity because Freemasonry was founded upon ideals of liberty, peace and equality. At some point, he and some other blacks requested for membership

With the white Freemasonry but they were rejected. On March 6, 1775, he and 15 other blacks sought for membership and were initiated into Masonry by members of Lodge No. 441 of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. They then formed the African Lodge No. 1 and Hall was named the Grand Master. However, their mason had limited power as they could not perform some essential functions of a fully operating Lodge.

Due to this, they later applied for a charter at the Grand Lodge of England. On September 29, 1784, the Duke of Cumberland, issued a charter for the African Lodge No. 1. It then became the first African Masonic lodge. Hall was made the Provincial Grand Master of the Lodge on January 27, 1791.

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Our History

In Dahomey: The First Broadway Musical Comedy Written by African Americans and the First to Star African-Americans

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In 1903, African-Americans made history when they produce the musical comedy titled “In Dahomey.” It was the first full-length comic show to be written and played by the African-Americans. It was written by Jesse Shipp, and produced by produced by Harry Seamon and McVon Hurtig.

The comedy was opened on February 18, 1903, at the New York Theatre. It starred two iconic figures at the time which include George Walker and Bert Williams. It was a remarkable accomplishment in the evolution of the African-American musical comedy and one of the most successful comics of its era.

It enjoyed recognition for a total of four years and had 53 completed performances. It had two tours in the United States and one in the United Kingdom.

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Virginia State University: First Fully State-Supported Four-Year Institution of Higher Learning for African-Americans

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Virginia State University, formerly known as Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (1882–1902) and Virginia State College for Negroes ((1902–1946), was established on March 6, 1882. The school was founded to serve the needs of the African-Americans that were at the time excluded from other public institutions in Virginia. It became U.S. first fully state-supported four-year institution of higher learning for black Americans.

The school was founded following a bill passed by the state legislature sponsored by a black attorney, Alfred Harris. It was not opened until October 1, 1883, due to a hostile lawsuit. John Langston was elected in 1885 as the university’s first president. Langston later became the first African-American elected to the Congress from Virginia.

In its first academic year, 1883/1884 session, the school had 126 students, seven faculties, one building, a 200-book library, 33 acres of land, and a $20,000 budget.

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