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Task force chooses St. Augustine, not Eatonville, for Black history museum

Layout of the proposed Florida Museuam of Black History
Presentation by Andrew Chin
Dean Andrew Chin of Florida A & M University presented this rough layout of the proposed Florida Museum of Black History near St. Augustine.

A state task force on Tuesday chose St. Johns County, not Eatonville in Orange County, as the location for a proposed Florida Museum of Black History.

The Florida Museum of Black History Task Force voted 5-4 to ratify its rankings from last month's meeting and select an undeveloped site near St. Augustine belonging to Florida Memorial University.

St. Johns County and Eatonville were close in those rankings. But the averages were skewed by one task force member, Republican State Representative Kiyan Michael of Jacksonville, who gave St. Johns a perfect 110 and scored Eatonville 32 points lower.

Michael defended her scoring at Tuesday's meeting.

"Never did I deliberately tank any score to rise up another location," she said, citing media criticism. "I took the information that was given me."

Advocates for the Eatonville site, like Orange County Democratic State Representative Bruce Antone, touted the town’s sustainability with tourism and local support and its ready-to-build location.

Antone had sponsored the bill creating the task force but was denied a place on it.

"This was a huge decision for the state of Florida, a huge decision," he said after the vote. "And I knew we had one chance to get this right. And I think today we blew it. I know we blew it."

He said the St. Johns location lacks funding and has no sustainability or feasibility plan or assurance the land can be used for development.

St. Johns County representatives, however, touted widespread regional support and the importance of St. Augustine to African American history.

Joe Byrnes came to Central Florida Public Media from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.
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