Plan a Heritage Highway Road Trip: Savannah to St. Augustine

Planning a road trip? Interstate 95 through Georgia and Florida is an open road to African-American history.

If you can’t get to Washington, D.C., to celebrate the Smithsonian’s popular new National Museum of African American History and Culture, we have a great detour for you. One of the country’s most traveled highways, Interstate 95 also is an important pathway to African-American history and culture. In Georgia and northeast Florida, it leads travelers past sites of special significance and is the ideal drive for a multi-day trip of educational importance.

  • Distance: Approximately 180 miles
  • Driving time: Approximately 3 hours

Before You Go
Check your tires. Much of the drive takes place at interstate speed, making a blowout especially dangerous. As always, you’ll want to be sure your tires are structurally sound and properly inflated. AAA Members can get a free vehicle maintenance inspection (a $24.95 value) at more than 7,000 AAA Approved Auto Repair facilities around the country and arrange to make any repairs necessary. Plus, members save at every visit: Get a 10% discount on labor (up to $50) and repairs also come with a 24-month/24,000-mile guarantee on parts and labor

Start: Savannah
This city played a major role in the civil rights movement and is a good place to start exploring. The Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum examines Savannah’s integration, from its public institutions to its private businesses. Named for the man who’s considered the father of Georgia’s civil rights movement, the museum offers guided, narrated tours of its three floors of interactive exhibits, videos and memorabilia.

  • Also: First African Baptist Church on Franklin Square is one of the nation’s pioneer black churches. Built by slaves who worked on it at night, it was organized in 1773 and officially constituted four years later. Its sanctuary contains many artifacts from its earliest days.

Head South
From downtown Savannah, take Interstate 16 west about nine miles to I-95. Proceed south on I-95 into Florida. You’ll find several important landmarks along the way.

  • Take exit 358 east (State Road 105) 19 miles to Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville. Now overseen by the National Park Service, the former cotton plantation (1813­­­–39) is named for its Scottish owner who purchased his wife as a slave and freed her in 1811. The main house and the ruins of slave cabins survive as examples of the plantation system.
  • Backtrack to I-95 and head seven miles south, into downtown Jacksonville. Hemming Park (at Monroe and North Hogan streets) is near the site of a 1960 lunch counter sit-in, where demonstrators were met by a violent mob. The bloody “Ax Handle Saturday” was a turning point in the local civil rights movement; a historic plaque marks the incident.

Finish: St. Augustine, Fla.
From downtown Jacksonville, take I-95 south about 31 miles to exit 318 (State Road 16), into St. Augustine. Best known for its Spanish colonial legacy, the city also figures in early African-American history. Fort Mose, two miles north of town off U.S. Highway 1, is considered North America’s first free black community. Established in 1738, it was destroyed after Spain ceded Florida to the British in 1763. Twenty years later, Spain regained control of Florida.

  • Also: The Lincolnville Historic District, bounded by Cedar, Riberia, Cerro and Washington streets, was settled in 1866 by former slaves, and artifacts remain. In 1964, the neighborhood was a focal point for Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights leaders who demonstrated at nearby Plaza de la Constitución.

Keep reading in: