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State postpones final meeting of Museum of Black History Task Force until days before reporting deadline

The Florida Museum of Black History Task Force has one week to submit a report to the governor. Ron DeSantis and legislative leaders have put forward recommendations for creating a self-sustaining museum, but now state officials have postponed the group's final meeting a day before it was scheduled.

The Florida Division of Historical Resources postponed the meeting by a week, from Friday to June 28, just days before the report deadline. An announcement about the new date appeared on the Department website Thursday afternoon. Task force members also learned of the change less than 24 hours before their 9:30 a.m. meeting in Tallahassee.

The chairman of the task force, a Democratic senator. Geraldine Thompson of Orange County, told Florida Phoenix in a phone interview that the postponement surprised her.

“I'm disappointed because we should have had a report ready by June 30. I haven't even received a draft of the report and if we don't get it before the 28th, we're almost forced to vote on something we haven't really had a chance to scrutinise,” she said. “That's not how it works. We're being more deliberate and that's why I'm very disappointed.”

A staffer assigned to the task force said she was not authorized to discuss the change. Staff are writing the report based on discussions among task force members. One of DeSantis' picks for the task force – Tony Leewho works at the State University System of Florida, is not concerned about the postponement of the meeting.

“I believe the department is working tirelessly to prepare meeting materials accurately and an additional week will hopefully give them more time to prepare as Tallahassee has had recent weather events that have impacted downtown and the communities we all live in,” Lee wrote in an email to Phoenix.

Three tornadoes (two of them merging at one point) struck neighborhoods in Tallahassee on the morning of May 10, ripping off roofs, downing trees on homes and power lines, and causing widespread power outages.

A detailed analysis

At an earlier meeting in late May, the working group agreed on a location: nearly 20 acres of undeveloped land owned by Florida Memorial University, a few miles outside of St. Augustine. Martin Luther King Jr. once organized protests against racial segregation.

After hotly contested vote with 5:4 While the group supported recommending St. Johns County as a location for the museum, it did not discuss how to build on that site without state funding.

Even before the last-minute change, Thompson had doubts about the group's final product.

“We don't have a feasibility study that shows how we can do this self-sufficiently and self-sustainably. That was one of the tasks of the task force, and you can't do that without a feasibility study,” she said. “And so the idea was proposed to select a site and then do a feasibility study, which I think is backwards. So I'm not happy with the state of things.”

Feasibility studies are detailed analyses that predict the success of a project as well as possible problems that may arise.

The legislature has the final say

Thompson, who advocated for the historically black town of Eatonville in Orange County as a site for the museum, said she planned to raise the issue during Friday's meeting. The task force and its staff had planned to meet twice in June before the July 1 deadline, but that didn't happen because the report wasn't complete, Thompson said.

Without a feasibility study, Thompson said, construction of the museum will be delayed until state lawmakers can approve funding for it during next year's legislative session. The law establishing the task force did not guarantee that the state would fund a black history museum, nor that it would follow the task force's recommendations.

Lawmakers did not provide any money for the task force to conduct the analysis, but Lee still believes the group was successful.

“We have covered a lot of ground as a task force, and without having a feasibility study and the resources for a proper analysis, (but) we have done enough successfully,” Lee wrote, adding that he would be happy to be part of such a task force again. The group must disband after submitting its report.

Since the announcement of the creation of the Task Force last year, Black historians intervened to see how Florida would portray its history, given the growing controversy over its pre-K through 12th grade African American history curriculum, the NAACP's travel advisories, the loss of a black congressional district, and the hate crime killings of blacks in Jacksonville.

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Jackie Llanos Reporting. Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. Florida Phoenix maintains its editorial independence. Contact the Editor Diane Rado for questions: [email protected]. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook And Þjórsárden.

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