St. Augustine Is Recommended as the Home for the Florida Museum of Black History

 

Words by Taylor Brown

On May 2 the Florida Museum of Black History Task Force announced St. Augustine as its recommendation for the location of the state’s upcoming exhibit.

The task force panel required proposals for the planning, construction, operation and administration of the museum from qualifying cities in Florida. The museum’s location has been in debate since Governor Ron DeSantis signed it into law last May. The state’s concern is perpetual funding and leaders are delegating the decision to find the best contending city that can fund and sustain the museum long term. 

St. Augustine proposes itself as a proper choice because of the historical and geographical significance it holds which, in return, would enable continuous funding and other opportunities. Additionally, the surrounding counties of the Northeast Florida region support the St. Johns County location and have committed to leveraging their funds and resources for the asset.

Residents of St. Johns County are overjoyed by the recommendation. Albert Syeles, president of the St. Augustine EpiCentre Alliance, believes the museum will have a large social and economical impact on the region. It will provide jobs as well as educational and research opportunities for the community.

The county’s approved proposal outlines St. Augustine’s plan to construct a campus-style museum that will include a performing arts facility. This is Syeles’ main interest in the development as he sees the need for a performing arts center in St. Augustine and he believes it will be a wonderful opportunity to showcase the city’s important Black history. 

The city was a prominent player in the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 being a location for lunch sit-ins, marches and demonstration events that would push then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the act into law. It was also home to one of the nation’s most important civil rights movement landmarks, the Monson Motor Lodge. Furthermore, St. Augustine is a part of Martin Luther King Jr.’s journey as he took part in requesting service from a segregated restaurant which resulted in his arrest in June of 1964. Former St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar noted in “The St. Augustine Record” that King’s night in jail is an important part of the county’s history. The city’s proposal also emphasized that it is home to Fort Mose, a national landmark that is recognized as the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in the United States in the 1700s.

St. Augustine plans to locate the museum on a 14.2 acre sugar plantation that would be leased to the county by the Florida Memorial University. The plantation relied on slave labor to operate which is relevant history for the site of the museum. The city reported 10.2 million tourists in 2023 and would house the museum on the west side of town, making it one hour from Interstate 4 and 90 minutes from Interstate 75, both major highways for travelers.

Expected to cost between $100 million and $200 million, the museum is still in development, and the task force must submit its final report by July 1. Construction will begin once the Florida Legislature signs off on the recommendation. 

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