*Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the titles of current John Sunday Society President Teníadé Broughton and former President John Ellis.
Pensacola businessman John Sunday was one of most influential figures of his era.
A successful entrepreneur, community leader, philanthropist, city council member and state representative, his name should be widely recognized in the area based on his impact on the community. However, many contend that because he was a Black man living and working in the late 1800s and early 1900s, his achievements have been overlooked.
The city of Pensacola took steps to help correct that Thursday, renaming the north plaza of City Hall at 222 W. Main St. as the John Sunday Jr. Plaza. A granite base with a bronze plaque honoring Sunday was also placed in the plaza to highlight some of his many accomplishments.
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Previous coverage: Pensacola City Hall park to be named John Sunday Plaza
John Ellis, former president of the John Sunday Society, said the memorial is a step toward highlighting the important contributions of figures from historically marginalized communities in Pensacola.
“I see it as a small step towards recognizing not just John Sunday but other figures throughout its history,” Ellis said. “We hear a lot about the Spanish history of Pensacola, we hear about the French and the British, but there’s a much broader and more diverse history that the average person in Pensacola doesn’t know anything about.”
The effort to recognize Sunday has been in the works since the creation of the John Sunday Society six years ago.
The organization was established in 2016 to try to save Sunday’s historic 1901 home from demolition. The house, located in downtown Pensacola on the northwest corner of Romana and Reus streets in the Tanyard neighborhood, was ultimately razed, but the John Sunday Society lived on with a new focus on raising awareness and advocating for the preservation of Pensacola’s diverse and multicultural history and places.
The dedication of the new John Sunday Jr. Plaza
On Thursday, the descendants of John Sunday were there to take in the dedication of the new plaza. Natalie Sunday said she did not know about her relation to John Sunday until Councilwoman Teníadé Broughton helped fill in the gaps of her family history.
“It is a fantastic opportunity,” Natalie Sunday said. “It is wonderful to have an acknowledgement of my family history and they’re still really picking up on different things about my family since I really haven’t had anyone to really go down my family line to tell me.”
Sunday was born in 1838 to an enslaved mother, Jinny, and a white farmer, John Sunday, and worked at the Pensacola Navy Yard before serving in the Union Army. After coming back from the Civil War, he became a community leader, serving in the House of Representatives in 1874 and the Pensacola City Council from 1878 to 1881 and again from 1884 to 1885.
Sunday founded a successful contracting firm, which built hundreds of houses and commercial buildings throughout the city. When Jim Crow laws pushed African Americans out of downtown, he helped establish the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood as Pensacola’s primary Black business district.
Sunday once owned the land now occupied by City Hall, helped establish a local orphanage. In 1891. he donated the land for St. Joseph Catholic Church for the Black Catholics in the area.
Sunday was reportedly worth $125,000, the modern equivalent of over $3 million.
He died Jan. 7, 1925, at the age of 86 and was buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery.
Councilwoman Broughton, current President of the John Sunday Society, said if not for the racial attitudes of his era, Sunday’s name would have been ubiquitous around the city of Pensacola.
“We would have seen streets, we would have seen buildings, we would have seen things named in his honor to where we would not have had to come back and name the land at City Hall after him,” Broughton said. “But that again shows this reconciliation of our past to where someone who is very deserving, in fact, probably more deserving, was erased in the historical narrative. And now his name is connected to the most prominent site in the city.”
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