Visit the museum and journey to another century, when pride and purpose flourished in the African American community despite the challenges of segregation. Walk along a city street that takes you back in time to a place where family heritage, entrepreneurial spirit, community activism, academic excellence and creative talent were the expected standard. Pause to reflect on the lives of ordinary people who made extraordinary accomplishments against a backdrop of racism and injustice. Visit the birthplace of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” and learn how native sons James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson composed the “Negro National Hymn”, inspiring Augusta Savage’s sculpture, “The Harp”, and forging remarkable, many-faceted careers out of the ashes of the Great Fire of 1901. Explore this Special Place and discover how the story of African American life in Jacksonville enriches every life.
The mission of the Ritz Theatre and Museum is to “research, record, and preserve the material and artist culture and present in an educational or entertaining format, the many facets of African American life in Northeast Florida that make up the historical and cultural legacy of this community.”
To accomplish this mission, the 11,000 square foot Museum houses a permanent collection of artifacts, objects, photographs, documents and assorted ephemera that assist in the interpretation and understanding of local history and puts into perspective the role of African Americans in the development of the region and nation.
The museum’s permanent collection is featured in an exhibit entitled “Lifting Every Voice in LaVilla.” The title incorporates a reference to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” known as the Negro National Hymn and composed by two noted native sons of Jacksonville, brothers James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson. An animatronic mixed media presentation tells the Johnson brothers’ story and a series of vignettes replicate scenes of everyday life in Jacksonville’s African American community during segregation.
The Ritz Theatre and Museum also presents a broad range of related public programs and special events. The museum’s permanent collection continues to grow through ongoing scholarly research and donations of objects, documents, photographs and other significant materials from the community.