During the first meeting of the African American History Museum Task Force, Orlando Senator Geraldine F. Thompson was elected as Chair. The nine-member group met for the first time last week to work on the planning, construction, operation and administration of the most comprehensive collection celebrating Black history in Florida.
The Task Force was appointed shortly after the passage of HB 1441, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis. The group is charged with recommending the location, content, funding mechanism, programming and sustainability measures for the Museum. The Task Force will prepare a report by June 30, 2024 to be presented to the Governor, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
According to Senator Thompson, the Task Force begins its work amid tensions related to the racially-motivated killing of three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, a travel advisory issued by the NAACP warning travelers to Florida of a hostile environment evidenced by the rejection of an AP African American Studies Course which was said to have “no educational value”, prohibiting discussions of race in classrooms that might make students feel uncomfortable, denial of funding for initiatives focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, reducing African American representation in Congress from four to two, and the adoption of K-12 teaching standards that suggest that enslaved people benefitted from slavery because they gained skills that could be used for their own benefit.
“I am committed to working with other Task Force members to ensure that we tell the unvarnished truth about the African American experience in Florida,” Senator Thompson said. “We can’t celebrate the progress that we have made as a State and a Nation without acknowledging the pain associated with that”.
Senator Thompson indicated that she is also sensitive to pressure that has already begun from Task Force members to locate the Museum in St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee or other areas of Florida.
“There are currently negotiations going on related to land that was given to the town of Eatonville for educational purposes and that’s something that I am looking at while remaining open to alternatives that might be convincing from other members of the Task Force,” she said.
Senator Thompson, a Democrat, was appointed to the African American History Museum Task Forceby Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican, and was nominated as Chair by Palm Beach Senator Bobby Powell who was also appointed by President Passidomo.
A third Senate appointee is Terri Lipsey Scott, Executive Director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg. Members appointed by Governor DeSantis include Pinellas County State Representative Berny Jacques; Brian Butler, President and CEO of Orlando-based JCB Construction, Inc.; and Dr. Altony Lee, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor of Public Affairs for the Board of Governors of the State University System.
House Speaker Paul Renner appointed Duval County State Representative Kiyan Michael; Gayle Phillips, Executive Director of the Lincolnville Museum and Cultural Center in St. Augustine; and Howard M. Holley of Palm Coast, Founder of TouchPoint Innovative Solutions and former senior vice president at the Xerox Corporation.
Orlando State Representative Bruce Antone’s legislation helped create the Florida museum of Black history.