Push on for Florida Museum of Black History

Photo courtesy: African American Task Force website

The Florida African American Task Force has been planning on creating an African American History Museum in the state. This museum will be built to showcase the contributions that Black Americans have made in Florida. 

There were eight people appointed to the task force by Gov. Ron DeSantis and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo: Sen. Geraldine Thompson, Brian M. Butler, Rep. Berny Jacquws, Tony Lee, Gayle Phillips, Sen. Bobby Powell and Nashid Madyun. 

Regardless of the sudden pushback for the creation of the museum, a roundtable talk and their monthly county presentations took place Monday to discuss the future of the museum.  

“I really believe that’s in us to see the vision, write the vision and make it plain to see what we’re doing so that this can change the lives of not just Black folks but everyone in Florida,” Sen. Powell said. “If you go to Washington D.C. and see the museum … [you won’t] just see Black people there. And everyone I saw walked out inspired and they learned.”  

Sen. Thompson added, “The value of the museum reflects that we have made tremendous contributions to the United States and to the world and certainly to Florida, but nowhere is that information pulled together in one place and that’s what the museum will offer.”  

With these values in mind, Rep. Bruce Antone, the sponsor for the 2023 Florida Museum of Black History act [CS/HB 1441] wants to make sure that the museum is big. 

“The vision is to build a big ol’ Black museum … 100,000 square feet and we’re not talking about a shack on the side of the road … with a whole lot of history the chronology of Black folks from the time they got on that boat in Africa and until slavery, the reconstruction, segregation, civil rights and today’s progress,” Antone said. “So, this is really an opportunity, a one-time opportunity for us to do something big that talks about Black folks and Caribbean immigrants and their history.” 

There has been some concern that DeSantis, who has stepped down from the presidential race, will no longer continue to sponsor the museum despite him already signing the amended version of the bill [CS/HB 1441] in May 2023. The last sentence says that the legislation will consider commissioning and building an African American museum. 

During his run for the Republican nomination, DeSantis would use the museum as one of his talking points, especially after the tragic 2023 Jacksonville shooting which was believed to be racially motivated. 

He went to Jacksonville where he delivered his speech and he brought up the museum and how “nobody should be treated differently because of their race.” 

“The word ’consider’ concerns me, given that all that’s done is that we hear presentations from locations who would like to have it in their particular city. If we talk about the content and then it is considered but nothing happens then that is problematic. So, we need to hold the governor’s feet to the fire. Let’s make him prove it,” Thompson said.

There are 12 district sites that are being considered for selection: Alachua, Broward, Duval, Gadsden, Hillsborough, Leon, Miriam, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Pinellas and St Lucie. 

These districts are just the few in the state that are certified to teach African-American history in the K-12 system.  

“It’s important that our children, in addition to going to historic places, also visit this museum to learn about African Americans in Florida and the contributions that were made. Yes, some of our history is painful and some of it makes not only us uncomfortable but other people uncomfortable as well, but we need to tell the truth,” Thompson said.  

Not only is the location still being discussed but the task force wants to incorporate Black architects. “What is important to me is that we consider African Americans designing the museum. So, we solicited the Black architects to apply for the schematic drawing,” Lee said. “We ultimately landed on FAMU [School of Architecture and Engineering Technology] to participate in the exercise on our behalf, so I am excited to see what FAMU delivers.”  

The task force is asking for FAMU architects to design enough rooms to take over the 100,000 square foot museum so the chronological order of the Black American experience is told in its entirety. “I see people getting married here, there needs to be a rooftop and a theater. Just everything you can think of that showcases Blackness,” Lee said. 

Although there is a lot of competition between the different counties that want to claim the museum, the task force created a survey that is open till Feb. 29. This survey is meant to gather stakeholder input on the proposed Florida Museum of Black History. 

“The idea of this museum is about history not to make us bitter but to make us better,” Powell said.