“…We know that this history is greater than terror. It is a history of strength, solidarity and hope,” said President Kent Fuchs at a ceremony honoring the Rev. A.S.J. Allen, a prominent Black citizen of Alachua County who was a victim of racist violence in 1904.
It is such an honor to be joined by Vice Mayor Brown and Commissioner Chestnut and to be here with you. I also want to warmly welcome all the Allen family members who are with us today. It is a privilege to have you on the University of Florida campus.
As a university, the study of history is part and parcel of our mission. Sometimes this involves long-ago events in far-off places, but the history that brings us together today is neither long-ago nor far-off. It happened just a few miles from here, just on the edge of living memory.
I am grateful to Professor Ortiz and to the many students who helped shine a light on this history by recording oral histories, researching public records and combing through old newspapers. I also want to express my gratitude to Alonzo Felder, the Allen’s great grandson, as well as many other family members who have shared their personal knowledge, memories, photos, family documents and discoveries.
Thank you for helping us to see and to understand. Without you, this history, though so nearby and so close to our times, would not be told.
The Rev. Allen, a farmer, Methodist minister, school teacher and leading citizen in his community, was killed in a murder in April 1904 in Newnansville, near present-day Alachua. The killer was a White neighbor never brought to justice for his crime, which is the tragedy and travesty of so many other racist killings of that era across the South and here in Florida.
Those are terrible facts. But thanks to Rev. Allen’s descendants and to our scholars and students, we know that this history is greater than the terror. It is a history of strength and hope.
We know that Rev. Allen had refused to sell land that included a cemetery containing the remains of enslaved people. His tenacity may have helped to fuel the cruel and racist news coverage that his killing received from The Times-Union in Jacksonville and other newspapers. The Mt. Nebo United Methodist Church stands today on the land that was so precious to him.
We also know that the black community rallied to seek justice for Rev. Allen, despite the hardships and discrimination of their times. Black lodges and churches raised precious funds to hire a prominent lawyer to get the case heard by a grand jury. They loved and respected Rev. Allen and they did their utmost for him. The grand jury exonerated the killer but could not erase their love or quest for justice.
More than a century later … here in Florida, across the South, and in places like the site of the race massacre in Greenwood, Oklahoma … our society is only now coming to terms with the loss that endures in the present due to the racist violence of the past.
Rev. Allen had been nominated during the Presidential administration of Theodore Roosevelt as a possible candidate for Postmaster of Alachua County. He was one of the leaders of a vibrant Black community that was steadily weakened by violence against him and others, by discrimination and by enforced inequality. What could have been if Rev. Allen had become Postmaster of Alachua County? What could have been if his Black neighbors and friends had been able to achieve their ambitions, hopes and dreams? We know our community, university and our country would be better and richer.
Most of Rev. Allen’s family members moved to other regions following his killing. Tomorrow, their descendants – all of you here today and others -- will be welcomed to the Soil Collection Ceremony in Alachua coordinated by the county’s Community Remembrance Project. Some of the soil will be sent to The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, where Rev. Allen’s story will be memorialized with those of other victims of lynchings and racist violence.
Digging up and collecting the soil, digging up and collecting the stories: This is vital work. Many hundreds of miles away from the former Newnansville, another UF scholar, Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist, is at the forefront of the effort to recover human remains at the site of the race massacre in Tulsa in what was once the thriving Black community of Greenwood.
Professor Stubblefield, whose parents grew up in Tulsa and whose great aunt lost her house in the attack, said her family never spoke about it. “By restoring history,” she has written, “we can make history.”
I thank all of you for honoring Rev. Allen’s memory; for bringing his story and the story of his community to light; and for helping us see and understand that story.
Thank you for restoring history—and for making history. I pray that you will find healing, peace and hope this weekend.