How to do Black History the Right Way in Indian River County

Florida isn’t traditionally known to be a historical destination but rather a beachside and outdoor filled attraction.   But if you are someone that is looking for more of a culture enriching experience, then you can bet that you will leave with a memory card or phone full of moments for you to share with friends and loved ones.

As many of us know that the civil rights movement dates back to the late 1960s.  Although Indian River County was a small rural area at that time, it was greatly felt here.   According to county appointed Historian, Ruth Stanbridge, “when integration was nationally implemented, there weren’t riots but rather a friendly manner to create peace in our community.”  Ruth Stanbridge recalled living in Indian River County as a white woman during those times while in college and shares, “that it was just a way of life but we still had respect for one another.” Just as some kids didn’t wear shoes to school in the early 1900’s (she shares images of those children on display at The Indian River County Historical Society.) “They just didn’t know anything different, it was normal.”  But she does begin to share her outlook on how black women, didn’t get the opportunity to vote till much later after black men did.

In 1948, Dodgertown became the spring training complex for the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Dodgertown was the first racially integrated spring training camp.  Hall of Fame player Jackie Robinson was one of the first black players to play here in 1942.  Today it is known as The Jackie Robinson Training Complex and a stop on the Civil Rights trail.

The old historic Macedonia Baptist Church where the Gifford Historical Museum and Cultural Center exist, was the place of worship for the railroad workers during those times.  They couldn’t worship at the white churches, so they decided to build their own place of worship.  In the early 90s, the church was going to be burned down and thanks to the IRC Historical Society, whose passion is to preserve our Indian River History, they were able to convince the county to have it placed in Gifford.  A town just northeast within  Vero Beach.   Gifford was established “during construction of the Flagler railroad between1890-1896, many job opportunities existed for black workers as work progressed along the route.” – Indian River Guardian 

Old Macedonia Colored Church

formerly: Historic Old Macedonia Colored Church present: Gifford Historic Museum & Cultural Center

After the restoration of the historic church in 1998, the vision was for the church to become a historic museum and African American library for the community. Jonnie Perry, Director of the Museum and Cultural Center served as a member of the Progressive Civic League of Gifford and the MLK Birthday Committee, in 2016 and shares with us how she was asked to take on the challenge to transform the historic church into a museum.  Creating a committee of community leaders to take on this project under Gifford Community Cultural & Resource Center, they opened the Gifford Historic Museum & Cultural Center on February 24th, 2018.  20 years to the month of the dedication of the restoration of the historic church.

The museum includes an African American library and artifacts, a children’s library, and archives of achievements by black residents of Indian River County. A Cultural Center of resources including, Florida Highwaymen art, African art, and remembering the Gifford School 1901-1937 and Gifford High School 1938 to 1969.

Volunteers of United Way | Gifford Historic Museum & Cultural Center

(left to right) Briana, Dominique and Nikita – United Way volunteers, “Day of Caring” October 2, 2019 at the Gifford Historical Museum & Cultural Center

One of the Cultural Center’s community partner is the Laura Riding Jackson Foundation for its “Teens Listen” program.   A program where teens record “oral histories” of Black pioneers of Gifford, Wabasso, Fellsmere, and Oslo communities.   A program Perry helped create and implement for the foundation and community.

The Museum & Cultural Center aspires to provide a dedicated space for group events and activities of cultural and historical significance.

To provide excellence and diversity in programming by presenting esteemed artists, educators, and related professionals as role models.  They will continue to provide opportunities for community outreach and public engagement.

Students touring the Gifford Museum

Students touring the Gifford Museum

The Gifford Historical Museum & Cultural Center is embarking on expanding the Museum & Cultural Center soon.  Proving the opportunity to use creative expression through visual and performing arts education, focusing on film, music, and art, providing diversity in cultural programming and related projects of interest to the community. 

The museum is open from 10 am to 2 pm, the last Saturday of each month, and is available by appointment Monday through Saturday throughout the month.   For tours and visits to the library, please call 772-985-7573 or via email.

Some of their upcoming events include:

Gifford Black Vendors Day, which occurs the 4th Saturday of each month 10 – 2 pm on-site led by Gifford’s Black Vendor Day Coordinator, LaDonna Williams.   Perry supports their initiative by donating the outdoor space for vendors to set up and sale their products and services.  She truly believes in supporting the black community of up and coming entrepreneurs in the best way possible.

The Arts is another big component of The Gifford Historical Museum & Cultural Center.  This is why showcasing black artists’ work throughout our county is another mission through their outreach. The next exhibit is, The Grid Comes to Full Circle II, Drawings, Prints, and Mixed Media Works by Students of Dr. Terry K. Hunter.  It will be held  at “Raw Space” gallery,

1795 Old Dixie Highway, Vero Beach, Florida 32960, Gallery Hours: Wed-Fri 3 pm-6 pm; Sat. 11 am-2 pm, Phone:(305) 213-9411, Email, January 1– February 26, 2021.

Jonnie Perry | Executive Director of The Gifford Historic Museum & Cultural Center

Jonnie Perry | Executive Director of The Gifford Historic Museum & Cultural Center

This exhibition presents works of art created by students of Dr. Terry K. Hunter. Included are drawings, prints, and mixed media works produced by Dr. Hunter’s students between 1977—2020. The exhibition demonstrates the dynamics of the teaching/learning continuum relative to Dr. Hunter’s axiom of “artist as teacher, teacher as artist.”  For nearly fifty years, Terry K. Hunter has taught drawing, printmaking, and design in public schools, higher education, and community outreach initiatives. 

The Grid Comes Full Circle II, provides an opportunity to examine Dr. Hunter’s commitment to teaching and learning in the arts. The works in this exhibition are viewed through a lens of structured creative problem-solving, combined with challenging methodology geared toward developing individual, personal expression. Dr. Hunter will present lectures, conduct guided tours, and provide instruction as a part of the activities associated with the exhibition.  Our history is very much apart of our individuality and the legacy that we leave behind.  We hope that as you visit our county and enjoy the beaches and outdoor attractions, that you will also indulge in its history.

Here’s a short film on the history of Gifford High School created by Indian River County Historical Society.

History of old Gifford High School from IRCHS on Vimeo.

Be sure to visit the Gifford Historic Museum and Cultural Center’s website to learn more:

Website | Tel: 772-985-7573

We will be updating this article as more updates of the Cultural Center expansion are announced.

  1. James Broxton says:

    What an informative article and such a history rich presentation of the past and things to come. I look forward to hearing more about this project and being a part of seeing it coming to fruition. Congratulations on an excellent vision and what a way to preserve the legacy for future generations.
    James Broxton

    • Jessica Arenas says:

      Thank you so much James! It was an honor learning about the rich history Gifford brings to our community. We are excited for what’s to come for it’s residents and Indian River County as a whole.

  2. Lauralee says:

    I saw this church building for the 1st time a few weeks ago. I was captured by its charm. Now knowing what is on the inside, I will be sure to stop in. What a rich source of Black history! Thank you!

  3. Debra Williams says:

    Great article, enlightenment and informative! This is first hand knowledge
    for me. Love the opportunity of diversity awareness within programs and mentor ship to enlighten all partakes. Thanks for sharing.

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