St. Johns County Submits Bid for Florida Museum of Black History

St. Johns County Submits Bid for Florida Museum of Black History

While the NCAA basketball tournament is getting underway, the search for a home for the Florida Museum of Black History already has its own Elite 8.

The project to create a museum celebrating Florida’s Black history comes from a bill signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in May of last year and includes the selection of a nine-member Task Force appointed by DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner. The members include EVOLVE News publisher Howard Holley.

The Task Force is charged with providing recommendations for the planning, construction, operation and administration of the Museum. According to the legislation signed by DeSantis, the Museum is to be “a multipurpose facility capable of generating self-sustaining revenues, with archival research and storage facilities, meeting rooms, a full-service banquet facility and a performing arts center.” The Task Force is required to file its final report by July 1.

After 13 communities from across the state made presentations to the Task Force earlier this year, eight cities and counties, including St. Johns County, submitted formal written proposals for consideration. The other contenders include Eatonville, Jackson County, Nassau County, Opa Locka, Panama City, Sarasota and Seminole County.

The St. Johns County proposal gets right to the point with a quote from a 2020 Cultural and Marketing Review by consultant Robin Malpass & Associates: “It is difficult to name a destination in the United States with a more varied and rich history of the African-American experience than St. Johns County.”

The presentation goes on to address the seven selection criteria outlined by the Task Force, including historical significance appropriateness of location, regional economy, regional demographics, transportation infrastructure, local funding and other support and educational resources. The St. Johns County proposal also includes 25 letters of support from a range of organizations and local governments from Florida Memorial University – whose former site in St. Augustine is the suggested location in the county’s bid – to the cities of Palm Coast and Jacksonville; the Northeast Florida Regional Council; the JAXUSA Partnership and the Diocese of St. Augustine.

The county’s proposal also lists more than 35 significant sites of Black history in St. Augustine, including Fort Mose, the Zora Neale Hurston House and the Lincolnville Museum & Cultural Center.

Tera Meeks, St. Johns County tourism director, said the letters of support highlight the community’s enthusiasm and commitment to the Museum project.

“The Florida Museum of Black History is a unique opportunity for meaningful cultural development,” she said. “Because the Museum will be an asset that encourages visitors to explore the historical sites in the area, it is important that the surrounding community embraces and supports the initiative.”

Meeks said St. Augustine and St. Johns County’s reputation as a tourist destination make it a prime location for the Museum as well.

“Tourism is one of the dominant industries in St. Johns County and history and culture are one of the area’s strengths,” she said. “Much of the planning for future tourism development in the county focuses on historic and cultural assets, programs and opportunities. The Florida Museum of Black History is a project that fits very nicely in our community, which has more than 35 sites of notable Black history and has completed a study defining what a successful local performing arts center would look like.”

In the presentation, county officials expressed confidence the community will support the Museum project financially through planning, construction and beyond.

“St. Johns County and the surrounding community have diligently and creatively provided support to art, culture and heritage assets and programming in the area,” the report states. “Together, we are confident and committed to expanding that collective support to the Florida Museum of Black History with great enthusiasm.”