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Task force votes to approve St. Johns County for Black History Museum

Aviles Street in downtown St. Augustine. It is the oldest city in the U.S. It was founded by the Spanish in 1565.
Aviles Street in downtown St. Augustine. St. Augustine is the oldest city in the U.S., founded by the Spanish in 1565.

The Florida Museum of Black History Task Force voted to approve the group’s final recommendation of St. Johns County for a statewide museum on Friday, June 28.

After more than two hours of contentious debate, the task force voted 6-1 on the issue.

Senator Geraldine Thompson represents Eatonville and chaired the task force. She was the lone dissenter.

Thompson said the task force never conducted a feasibility study of the top three sites, and that the results of a public survey where Eatonville received the most support were ignored.

“I know there were over 4,000 responses to the survey. And I think when the public provides input, we need to give it some weight,” Thompson said.

The survey results, which were tabulated by the task force, pointed to Eatonville as the winner.

“I have to respond to my constituency, the constituency in this particular instance, are the people of the state of Florida who have given us their input. And we have not that I can see, we have not reflected that in any way,” Thompson said.

Howard Holley, with the state’s Division of Historical Resources said he believed the results of the public survey had been considered in the final decision.

The Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine. The statues are inspired by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.
The Bridge of Lions in St. Augustine. The statues are inspired by the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés.

“I do not agree at all with the statement that it was not given any weight, or that people's responses to the survey were not considered. I can speak personally to that,” Holley said.

Plus, he said the task force had already voted to recommend that the legislature fund and conduct a feasibility study before starting to build the museum.

“So, I would not want the public to think that the statement that it had no weight at all on us, on our vote is correct. In my opinion, and speaking for me, that would be inappropriate and incorrect,” Holley said.

Thompson and other members of the public and elected leaders who spoke during public comment, also raised concerns that the task force had not stipulated the exact location of the museum at each site. And that environmental concerns including flooding risks hadn’t been considered.

In total, nine people signed up to make public comment at the meeting. About half spoke in favor of St. Johns County as the site of the museum, and the other half spoke in favor of Eatonville.

The recommendations will now be sent to the governor and Legislature by July 1. They will ultimately decide where the state’s Black History Museum will stand. The task force is now formally disbanded.

Read over the results of the survey here.

Danielle Prieur covers education in Central Florida.
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