Florida Museum of Black History site proposals include Confederate statues, possible conflict of interest
TALLAHASSEE, FLA. 2/7/23- Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, asks a question of Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, as he presents his bill (SB 6B) that would allow Florida to relocate “unauthorized aliens” to sanctuary jurisdictions outside of the state, during the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. The bill passed the committee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

‘History should not be denied no matter how complicated, and the statues are a central part of Southern heritage.’

A task force responsible for advising the Florida Legislature on a proposed state Black history museum fielded nine pitches Friday from local governments and organizations.

Two proposals raised eyebrows, one for including Confederate statues among its recommended exhibits, the other for a possible conflict of interest with one of the task force members.

The first proposal to elicit consternation came from Havana Community Development Corporation (CDC), a nonprofit headquartered in a 62,000-square-foot Gadsden County facility formerly used as Havana Northside, the city’s first African American high school.

The Havana CDC said it would help refurbish and repurpose the school campus to house the museum if selected and cleared for state funding.

Harold Knowles, the nonprofit’s CEO, said his group envisions the museum as “a scholarly institute” devoted to the history, artifacts, papers and studies of both African American history and the Old South Confederacy.

To deliver this “blend of multicultural exhibits and parallel research,” he said, the museum would have to foster “an atmosphere of objective rigor, free of hi,storical emotional overlays.”

To that end, Knowles continued the museum would have to include symbols many Black residents view as celebratory of their past oppression.

“While it’s true we plan to curate artifacts from the slave, Jim Crow and Civil Rights eras, we would be remiss if we did not also curate, acquire and display academic papers and antiques, including Confederate statues, many of which have been removed from the courthouse squares of numerous southern cities,” he said.

“In our view, history should not be denied no matter how complicated, and the statues are a central part of Southern heritage.”

Though the fourth meeting of the Florida Museum of Black History Task Force took place remotely, several group members group were noticeably uneasy in response to Knowles’ remarks.

The group’s Chair, Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson, described his comments as an “interesting perspective.” She noted that the Legislature removed a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith from the National Statuary Hall in Washington. The state replaced it with a monument to Black educator and civil rights activist Mary McCleod Bethune.

Erecting a previously dismantled Confederate statute, “causes some, I don’t know, confusion at least in my mind about what it is we’re trying to do,” Thompson said. “But … I’m sure you have a larger package and more details we can take a look at,” she added.

Republican Rep. Berny Jacques, the task force’s Vice Chair and a co-sponsor of a 2024 bill that would protect historical monuments, disagreed with Thompson’s estimation, calling Knowles’ proposal an “innovative perspective.”

“History should not be erased, no matter how you feel about it, and you cannot tell the tale of the experience of Black Americans without including a lot of these statues that have been canceled or torn down,” he said. “I don’t think they should come down at all, but if they are coming down … there should be a place where Floridians can view them and conceptualize the full history and not pretend nothing happened.”

Task force members also heard proposals from Amelia Island in Nassau County, Opa-locka Main Street, Jackson and St. Johns counties, and the cities of Daytona Beach, Panama City and Sarasota.

The final and most elaborate presentation came from the Carter G. Woodson African American Museum of Florida, a facility already operating in St. Petersburg with a $50 million capital campaign that hopes to expand significantly if approved as the state’s official Black history institution.

Its Executive Director, Terri Lipsey Scott, who served as the principal speaker during the presentation Friday, is also a member of the Florida Museum of Black History Task Force.

That could constitute a conflict of interest, Jacques said before asking for the panel’s legal counsel to weigh in.

Thompson and task force members Brian Butler, the President of Orlando-based JCB Construction, and Touchpoint Innovative Solutions CEO Howard Holley echoed Jacques’ concern.

So did Scott, who said that her role with the Woodson Museum “began as one of passion” and isn’t a position she intended to hold onto as it grows and is potentially selected as the state museum site.

“I can assure you that I will not be the Executive Director of this museum,” she said. “Not because of anybody else’s suggestion, but because I’m of the opinion that the brightest and the best needs to be at the helm of what we’re building here in the community.”

An attorney advising the task force said that while he needed to look more into the issue, state statutes “clearly” prevent any state officer from voting on a matter that would economically benefit them, as could be the case for Scott.

In such cases, the person would have to recuse themselves. The attorney added that Scott may want to examine a statute blocking public officers from participating “in any matter which would inure to the officer’s special private gain or loss.”

Scott said she wished she had known ahead of time to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

Holley, who screened the presentation proposals before the meeting, said he would have informed her beforehand if the application had mentioned the Woodson Museum specifically.

“Because it said ‘St. Petersburg,’ consistent with all the others, I assumed it was a municipality or a marketing organization,” he said. “I apologize for that oversight on my part, because I would have said something.”

Lawmakers this year unanimously approved legislation (HB 1441) to establish the task force. The measure’s sponsor, Orlando Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, envisioned a single, monumental structure full of artwork, life-size replicas of people and interactive displays spanning 100,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 10,000-square-foot entrance hall and atrium and 10 halls dedicated to different Black history themes.

Antone’s bill detailed various on-site revenue source options, including “meeting rooms, full-service banquet facilities that include a kitchen capable of serving at least 250 people at a single vent, and a performing arts theater that shall be made available for private events.”

Curiously, Antone was not among those Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner named to the task force after the bill passed, a decision about which he said he was “extremely disappointed.”

Other members of the task force present Friday included University System Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs Tony Lee and Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center Director Gayle Phillips.

Two other members — West Palm Beach Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell and Jacksonville Republican Rep. Kiyan Michael — did not attend the meeting. They were absent when the panel convened last month too.

Five other monthly meetings are planned through May, by which a proposed location, design, digital rendering, floor plan, marketing plan and plan for a transition from state funding to self-sufficiency — all funded with a $20,000 state appropriation — must be approved.

After that, Florida Department of State staff must assemble a report, due back to lawmakers on July 1.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


  • TJC

    December 15, 2023 at 4:21 pm

    Oh, this ought to be interesting, a Florida Black History museum, the mission of which is heavily influenced by DeSantis cronies. What could possibly go wrong?
    I’m sure they’ll do their best to make sure the museum doesn’t have anything in it that might hurt the feelings of White people, or make them feel uncomfortable.

    • Impeach Biden

      December 15, 2023 at 8:44 pm

      Then we have the mayor of Boston throwing a party and oh, no white folks were invited. We also have Doja Cat recently tell white folks to keep their mouths shut when the audience sang the lyrics of one of her songs. She didn’t want Whitey to sing the “N” word that was in that song. Only black folks can say that. Whitey is the devil. Racism is all around TJC.

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  • truth

    December 15, 2023 at 6:11 pm

    Kiyan Michael is a Republican

    • Impeach Biden

      December 16, 2023 at 6:33 am

      That was pointed out in the article. Did you read it?

Comments are closed.


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