Please join us at the historic Cracker Johnson House, 719 14th Street in West Palm Beach FL 33401 from 6-10 on August 21, 2013.
We will give tours of the house, have food courtesy of Straight Smoked Meats, and announce the beginning of a community conversation series sponsored by the Interactivity Foundation. IF is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that creates forums for communities to explore policy. IF recently awarded a grant to the Freshwater Project, headquartered at the Cracker Johnson House, to do a series of community forums in West Palm Beach on various topics. Among them: the arts, food policy, education, crime and punishment, and global humanitarian crises, in both English and Spanish.
The first topic: The Future of the Arts & Society. Free printed copies of the discussion guide below will be available at the open house.
We are happy to honor special guest: Dr. Deandre Poole of Florida Atlantic University. Read about him on the 8/14 edition of The Root
RSVP not required, but help us plan by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or clicking HERE.
Questions? Call Dan at 202-486-8217 or 561-249-0385
This 4-minute documentary appeared on the local West Palm Beach ABC affiliate WPBF in August 2009. It tells the story of the Hopkinson/McGann family’s quest to restore a piece of black history. In 2004, writer Natalie Hopkinson and her mother Serena Hopkinson fell in love with the abandoned 11-room boarding house, and later learned it was built in 1926 by one of black West Palm Beach’s most prominent citizen: James Jerome “Cracker” Johnson (1877-1946) who was a bootlegger, numbers-runner and real estate mogul who loaned the city $50,000 to balance its books during the Depression.
The Hopkinson/McGann family spent most of the decade lovingly restoring the home that is a contributing structure to the National Register of Historic Places. It is now home of the 501c3 The Freshwater Project, which works to raise awareness about this community and its rich history.
Today two journalists from the local ABC affiliate WPBF 25 came by the house to film a segment on the CJH restoration project as part of their ongoing series “Palm Beach County: A Century of Change.” The journalists were incredibly thorough. By the end of the day, we put much more flesh around the legend of the man who built the 1926 house; We literally found Cracker Johnson. (WATCH THE VIDEO of the program that premiered Sunday Aug. 16 at 11 p.m.)
But let’s start from the beginning. Monday morning, WPBF filmed the CJH architecture and unique features like the secret room where they say the wealthy entrepreneur James Jerome “Cracker” Johnson stashed booze during prohibition. Serena and Natalie gave interviews about trying to restore the house back to its former glory. They filmed Derrell Outler, handyman extraordinaire, as he busted up the yucky ceramic tiles throughout the main floor of the house were recently discovered to cover gorgeous oak floors (!)
James Jimenez Johnson, the grandson of Cracker Johnson (who looked just like him) also came by the house to share stories he heard about his grandfather growing up. He told the crew that his grandfather did a lot of things, “some legal, some illegal” but that at that time as a black man, “not everyone could go to Harvard, Yale or MIT.” He said his grandfather never kept money in banks but in safes. So the day the white mob murdered his grandfather in 1946, it set off a gold rush in all of his vast holdings to find where he hid the piles of money. Read more…
Some have remarked on the “sadly named” Division Avenue where the Cracker Johnson House is located in West Palm Beach, because it has made a certain kind of headline in the past. But on Friday nights on the 1400 block there’s only one Division to speak of: either you “family” or you ain’t. If you family, as fisherman and cook extraordinaire Willie so defines it, you are entitled to partake in his Friday night ritual. Willie gathers up the week’s catch. “I do a looooot of fishing,” he explained. This Friday it was bluefish, barracuda, sand perch and of course catfish.
Dr. Natalie Hopkinson (black cardigan) and Serena Hopkinson (white shirt), welcome a tour bus full of historic preservationist in Palm Beach for Florida’s annual statewide conference in 2009. A special thanks to Kimberly Fairall, Gwen Ferguson and Caroline Weiss at the Florida Preservation Trust for adding the house as a stop on the African American Heritage trail. We had an amazing time at the conference, met many supportive people committed to helping us with getting funding for our project. The final gala at Donald Trump’s Palm Beach country club Mar-A-Lago was fabulous as well.
Here are some shots of the preservationist group visit.
We are really honored to be able to showcase the Cracker Johnson House this weekend at the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation‘s annual meeting that is taking place in Palm Beach this year. Serena is a bit nervous about showing the house in its less than perfect state of rehab. But we’ve done a slideshow of before photos that will make the “reveal” even more impressive. We still have a long way to go, but we’re proud of our progress.
We are hoping attending the trust’s annual conference this weekend will allow us to network and find out more about resources are available to help us complete this project, as well as to develop programs to be able to open the house up to the local community for all to enjoy. We signed up too late to get tickets to the big gala at Donald Trump’s chi-chi Mar-a-Lago Club. But we are on a waiting list. Serena and Natalie told the director of the Trust that we have already gone shopping for this black-tie event, so we simply MUST get in!