Elder Lee Harris is the longtime pastor of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Durkeeville. He holds a revitalization plan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1996 as evidence that some of the promises made to Durkeeville residents have not always been upheld. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Durkeeville revitalization study a ‘new chapter’ for historic Black community

Published on July 1, 2024 at 4:20 pm

Jacksonville Mayor Donna Deegan signed legislation on Monday to invest $200,000 in studying how to redevelop more than three dozen empty properties in the Durkeeville neighborhood.

To residents like Durkeeville Neighborhood Association President Stanley McAllister, it shows the city of Jacksonville is willing to help the historic majority-Black community move forward.

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The legislation calls for the Jacksonville-based Community Planning Collaborative to conduct a study that will assess conditions throughout the community that is between Kings Road and Eighth Street and flanked on the west by Myrtle Avenue. It mandates that the firm will work with residents and community leaders “to ensure (an) equitable and inclusive plan for revitalization.”

McAllister says it means a lot that Deegan mentioned that his neighborhood was “redlined” nine decades ago before her ceremonial signing Monday.

“We’ve come together as a coalition of several organizations and shareholders in Durkeeville to forge forward and be able to get the residents, and future residents, the necessary tools to succeed rather than perpetually leave them in conditions to fail,” McAllister says.

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Durkeeville was founded by Civil War veteran and land speculator Joseph Harvey Durkee, who sold parcels to Black families. Black contractors James Edwards Hutchins and Sanford Augustus Brookings designed and built homes for middle-class Black families in the 1920s and 1930s.

The community was further molded by a pair of New Deal era programs. The National Housing Act of 1934 made it more challenging to buy a home with a mortgage in Durkeeville and other majority-Black communities in Jacksonville. In 1937, the Durkeeville Housing Project opened, creating public housing for Black residents who were mostly shut out of renting elsewhere. The public housing was built through the federal Public Works Administration.

Carlotta Williams helped the city of Jacksonville receive a $21 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1996 to help revitalize Durkeeville. She was all smiles during the July 1, 2024, signing of a law that will see the city invest in a study of the best way forward. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Carlotta Williams was one of the people who worked throughout the 1990s to revitalize the public housing properties in Durkeeville. As a community leader, she wrote a grant that helped Jacksonville receive $21.5 million in 1996 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.

“We’ve done this before,” Williams said Monday. “The problem is, now will they complete what we started? I’m not sure.”

She says previous development attempts “got stuck” because developers didn’t take advantage of available tax credits, and also because toxic ash was pervasive in the soil from a former city incinerator site.

Temisha Hill is the president of United Community Investors, a nonprofit geared at sparking collaboration among residents and communities within Jacksonville’s Urban Core. She says the newly approved study will bridge the gap between Durkeeville residents and the city.

“The community finally has a voice,” Hill says. “The experience of living in the urban core is essential. We need angel investors so this work can continue once the study is in place.”

Community Planning Collaborative co-principal Ennis Davis says the goal is “withintrification,” which incorporates community input in development. [Editor’s note: Davis is an opinion contributor to Jacksonville Today.]

“There needs to be some specific focus around community — and, really, Black communities to be honest with you,” Davis said Monday. “With this intersection of cultural heritage and public policy, that’s what the study really entails. …What we’re doing is implementing.”

Ennis Davis is the co-principal of Community Planning Collaborative, a Jacksonville-based urban planning firm that will lead the study to assess conditions for development in Durkeeville. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Promises have been made before. Deegan and Council Member Jimmy Peluso said as much during their remarks Monday.

“This is a critical investment into one of the oldest African American communities in Jacksonville. And dearest, truly,” Deegan says. “When I ran for office, I said disinvested communities — the communities that we have left behind since the time of consolidation — are the communities I want to most invest in and lift in this administration. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s how we succeed as a city. When everyone in our community has the opportunity to thrive, then we will be the city we desire to be.”

Deegan mentioned that she always enjoys being in the same space as Elder Lee Harris. For the second straight July 1, that was the case.

Mayor Donna Deegan shares the pen with Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church Elder Lee Harris before signing legislation that will see the city of Jacksonville invest $200,000 to study how to revitalize Durkeeville on Monday, July 1, 2024. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

Harris is the longtime pastor of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church.

One year prior, he attended Deegan’s swearing-in. On Monday, Harris called Deegan a unifier who loves Jacksonville and “seeks to keep her word” when it comes to promises made in under-resourced communities.

“It’s a reflection of what’s taken place in the past,” Harris says. “We have labored. We have struggled. It’s a commencement to being a new chapter in the life and history of this community.”

author image Reporter email Will Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. He previously reported for the Jacksonville Business Journal. And before that, he spent more than a decade as a sports reporter at The St. Augustine Record, Victoria (Texas) Advocate and the Tallahassee Democrat. Reach him at

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