St. Augustine/St. Johns Gets Nod for Black History Museum

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

St. Augustine/St. Johns is in line to be the home of the Florida Museum of Black History after a close vote earlier this month by the task force charged with making recommendations to state officials.

The 5-4 vote in favor of the St. Johns County location came during a more than three-and-a-half hour meeting May 21 in Tallahassee that was not without some sharp discussion among task force members about the selection process. At the Task Force’s April meeting, members ranked the locations on a 110-point scale with St. Johns County, Eatonville and Opa-locka taking the top three spots.

“We have prevailed,” said St. Johns County Commission Chair Sarah Arnold, in a media release. “It was a tough fight through a very eventful process. Now we are excited to move forward to continue building stakeholders.” Arnold was also in attendance at the Task Force meeting.

Task Force Chairwoman State Sen. Geraldine Thompson initially asked if members were ready to vote on a location and said the committee should take into consideration information presented at the May meeting from Andrew Chin, dean and associate professor in the School of Architecture & Engineering Technology at Florida A&M University, on the top three sites.

“We had a survey that went out and we had over 4,000 respondents, and the majority of the individuals who responded to the survey said Orange County,” Thompson said. “I think we should take into consideration all of the information we have now available to use before we make a very crucial, very important decision.”

Task Force member Howard Holley, who is also publisher of EVOLVE News, made a motion to accept the rankings as the final vote in the site selection process and submit one choice for the site of the museum based on the April rankings.

“I don’t think us discussing random inputs and letters is a good way for us to wait and vote and make a decision,” he said. “There’s noting that’s happened formally between this meeting and the last meeting that’s changed the rankings.”

During the public comment period on Holley’s motion, several speakers advocated for the Eatonville location, including State Rep. Bruce Antone, sponsor of the legislation establishing the museum.

“If we’re going to make a decision, it needs to be objective; it needs to be based on facts not opinion,” he said. “Eatonville is an appropriate location. This is the best place to do it.”

St. Johns County Administrator Joy Andrews also spoke during the public comment period citing the community’s support for the museum.

“I think one can clearly see that you desire to ensure that the chosen location will not only honor the significance of Black history but also support the museum’s operational success,” she said. “We are confident in our site feasibility so we will offer to the Task Force that if we move forward with the selection today, St. Johns County will fund a feasibility study and a sustainability study if chosen.”

Before the vote was taken, Task Force member State Sen. Bobby Powell challenged using the April rankings as the basis for the museum location.

“It would be untruthful for us to say we chose to use the rankings as our final vote,” he said. “That was never part of the discussion.”

Thompson agreed with Powell’s contention, saying, “We agreed to accept the rankings as they were but not as a final vote for the location.”

Holley responded with another call for a vote, saying, “Let’s make a vote on that now.”

Task Force members voting in favor of St. Johns County’s bid were Holley, Gayle Phillips, who serves as executive director of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center in St. Augustine; State Rep. Berny Jacques; Dr. Tony Lee; and State Rep. Kiyan Michael.

Following the meeting, Andrews said St. Johns County officials are gearing up to continue the work to bring the museum project to fruition.

“We are ready for the next step in this long, winding journey to secure St. Johns County as the Florida location to celebrate and cultivate the state’s Black History,” she said in the release. “The work has just begun and we are more ready than ever.”

The Task Force is scheduled to meet June 5 and is required to submit a final report to the Florida Legislature and Governor’s Office by July 1 with its recommendations.