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St. Augustine Grant Application Draws Ire From Civil Rights Group

Frank Murry via St. Augustine Government

Several Civil Rights era historical sites in St. Augustine could soon get national designations. That’s after the city’s grant application got high marks from a state cultural panel last week.

But some of the sites have already been documented and commemorated by independent civil-rights advocates — and they feel they’re being left out of the city’s project.

St. Augustine wants Florida to pay for the documentation of up to 57 civil rights sites.

With state funding, the sites can get on the National Park Service register of historic places.

St. Augustine Projects Planner Jenny Wolfe said some of the sites may already be recognized for other historic significance but not yet for their role in the Civil Rights struggle.

“So they may already be listed on the national register, so to speak,” Wolfe said. “One of the sites on there is also the dining hall of the Ponce de Leon Hotel, and obviously that building is a national historic landmark.”

But city officials aren't alone in documenting these sites.

ACCORD, one of the largest civil rights groups in the area, worked for years to create a museum and a historic trail that includes many of the same landmarks the city is now nominating for national designations.

In a written statement, an ACCORD  spokeswoman said the group “was not made aware this endeavor” and that “the addition of another attraction will confuse the public” and “continue to drive a wedge between the black community-based organizations and the city.”

But Wolfe said if the state approves the funding, the city will elicit the community’s input.

“What we’ll need to do is establish a type of, I don't know if you want to call it a task force. But we’ll definitely get people from the community, including ACCORD,” she said.

Wolfe said it’s likely the city will win the grant, but won't know until next spring after the Legislature adjourns. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.