St. Johns County is negotiating with Florida Memorial University to develop a campus-style museum of African American history, performing arts, cultural exhibits and more. | St. Johns CountySt. Johns County is negotiating with Florida Memorial University to develop a campus-style museum of African American history, performing arts, cultural exhibits and more. | St. Johns County
St. Johns County is negotiating with Florida Memorial University to develop a campus-style museum of African American history, performing arts, cultural exhibits and more. | St. Johns County

St. Johns County ranks first for Black history museum

Published on April 16, 2024 at 5:14 pm

St. Johns County has been ranked as the frontrunner for the new Florida Museum of Black History, the county announced Tuesday.

St. Johns was followed by Eatonville/Orange County, Sarasota and Opa-locka.

Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

The Florida Museum of Black History task force invited the county to a special meeting in Tallahassee on Friday to answer questions about its proposal. The top three sites will go to the state for final consideration.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (HB 1441) last May to create a museum dedicated to Black history.

Initial criteria, discussed during a task force meeting in December, outlined 12 expectations. Local funding and community support had the highest impact compared with historical significance, availability of land, adaptability of the location and infrastructure.

Article continues below
Jacksonville Today thanks our sponsors. Become one.

Other communities that applied were Amelia Island, Quincy, Seminole County, Daytona Beach, Havana, Jackson County, Panama City and St. Petersburg.

The St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners voted to negotiate a purchase and sale agreement with Florida Memorial University to develop a campus-style museum of African American history, performing arts, cultural exhibits and more.

A feasibility study in 2019 called for a self-sustaining performing arts facility with a 500-seat main theater and a 200-seat black box theater along with supporting facilities and amenities.

“Let’s go get this and make it happen!” County Commission Chair Sara Arnold said in a news release Tuesday.

Florida Memorial, one of the oldest academic centers in the state, began its third incarnation in St. Augustine in 1918, the news release said.

The advent of the Civil Rights Movement brought a whirlwind of changes to St. Augustine. Students joined the movement, and their events significantly influenced federal legislation resulting in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

But the activism created tensions in the community, and the school was relocated to Dade County in 1965, with Florida Memorial maintaining ownership of the land in West Augustine, the county said.

Tera Meeks, tourism and cultural development director, cited a cultural marketing review from 2020 that indicated St. Johns County is a world-class destination for African American heritage.

It read in part that “St. Johns County has the assets and product to compete as a world-class African American Heritage destination.” It also concluded, “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.”

Meeks said county leaders will take charter buses to Tallahassee with community partners to “continue our collective pitch that St. Johns County is the premiere location for this museum.”

County Administrator Joy Andrews also pitched St. Johns County as the best choice.

“There is not another locale within the state better poised for this museum,” Andrews said. “St. Johns County embodies Florida’s history at first sight. We possess the power to cultivate and uphold a Black History Museum here. Our community network is robust, our partnerships strong. It’s our duty to champion culture, to pay homage to history, ensuring this endeavor thrives now and for generations to come.”

Information from Jacksonville Today reporter Will Brown was used in the report.


author image Senior News Editor

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. 

author image Senior News Editor

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, where as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. 


Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.