Jacksonville’s rich African-American history now includes the recently established Freedom Park to commemorate Cosmo, the historic Gullah Geechee community in East Arlington. Located about a mile and a half from our national park partner at Fort Caroline National Memorial, the park’s home is the triangle at the junction of Fort Caroline and McCormick roads across from the Monument Station post office. Freedom Park is a City of Jacksonville park made possible by funding assistance from the state. Although the park and Cosmo signs that line Fort Caroline Road to recognize the community are recent, the community itself dates back to the 1870s.
Cosmo was created by freed slaves, some of whom came from Kingsley Plantation across the St. Johns River. The small close-knit black community settled in an isolated area near Mill Cove after the Civil War where they fished, hunted, farmed, and harvested oysters along the river. In 1877, 40 acres of land was deeded to James Bartley by the Internal Improvement Fund – State of Florida in the area where Freedom Park now exists. Land in Cosmo was homesteaded by William Elliot (1821-1891) who is buried in the oldest grave in McCormick Cemetery which is east of the Cosmo community on McCormick Road. Several generations of the founding settlers are also buried in the Palm Springs Cemetery off Fort Caroline Road which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places. Two historic buildings that remain on Fort Caroline Road are churches that served Cosmo families: Alexander Memorial United Methodist Church was built in 1900 and the Church of the Living God, Pillar of the Living Truth which was founded in 1935.
Freedom Park is the first permanent marker of the Gullah Geechee communities in Jacksonville. It sits on land which was once the freedmen’s settlement community. The park includes paved walking trails and will eventually have markers that will honor the history of Cosmo and the Gullah Geechee, along with honoring veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cosmo was added last year to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 to Save” which is a list of the most threatened historic properties in the state. The National Park Service, our park partner, was instrumental in getting this community on this list which could lead to a historic designation for Cosmo.
The Gullah Geechee are descendants of West and Central Africans enslaved on plantations in Florida as well as North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Cosmo is just one Gullah Geechee community in Jacksonville. The Gullah Geechee also settled in communities in other areas like Fulton, Sunbeam, Greenland and LaVilla. In 2006, Congress established the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor as a National Heritage Area and created the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission to manage and protect the history.
The Cosmo Preservation Association is dedicated to preserving the memory and culture of the historic community. It was founded by the late Pastor E. Deloris Demps, who was the daughter of a Cosmo fisherman. She passed away in March of 2017 but prior to her death, she pushed for a museum and park to commemorate Cosmo. In 2009 a marker was installed in front of Alexander Memorial United Methodist Church. Signs marking Cosmo and the Gullah Geechee Corridor can also be seen along Fort Caroline Rd. The Cosmo Preservation Association continues to meet monthly to carry on Demps’ mission.
To learn more about the new Freedom Park, Cosmo Preservation Association, or Gullah Geechee heritage in Jacksonville, visit the following:
- Florida Times-Union: https://www.jacksonville.com/story/news/local/2021/01/24/new-jacksonville-park-spotlights-how-freed-slaves-formed-cosmo/6668829002/
- Florida Historical Society’s Florida Frontiers: https://myfloridahistory.org/frontiers/radio/program/413
- Cosmo Preservation Association: https://www.facebook.com/Cosmo-Preservation-Association-305856822903570
- Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission: https://gullahgeecheecorridor.org/