Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Jacksonville Civil Rights Task Force Begins ‘Collating” Historic Timeline Ahead Of Second Meeting

Ryan Benk
Rodney Hurst

Jacksonville’s new Task Force on Civil Rights History is diving deep into the city’s role in the modern Civil Rights Movement.

A subcommittee charged with creating a comprehensive timeline of events is looking back at the early 1800s to include pivotal moments in early Jacksonville history that set the stage for more recent ones like the 1960 lunch counter sit-ins and Ax Handle Saturday.

City Planner Joel McEachin two weeks ago presented the task force with the city’s version of the Civil Rights timeline. McEachin made clear that it wasn’t a comprehensive list. It began in 1941 with the River City’s Mary White Blocker, who was the third client in Florida to file suit for equal salaries for black and white teachers.

But the history being compiled by Rodney Hurst and Tim Gilmore begins much earlier — around the 1830s — and included corrections to some of McEachin’s dates.

Gilmore said his subcommittee’s charge is to create the most comprehensive account possible, and they want the public’s help.

“We’re collating timelines and there’s an input form that everyone who comes to the meetings can get to add anything that they think that should be included in the timeline. I think the history is so rich that whatever we come up with, it will leave things out out, but we’re trying to be as comprehensive as we can,” he said.

Hurst said the timeline will serve as Jacksonville’s first official historical record of Civil Rights, and it could be used to guide new monuments or markers. Still, he said, the timeline is more about educating residents, not erecting new memorials.

“You know just like with American history, even though it is incomplete and dishonest in my opinion, we need to make sure what happened in Jacksonville is told,” he said. “Doesn’t make a difference whether or not there is a monument or a statue, the information is what is key. When people do research, whether they can see that sight, or a person, or a picture or whatever — the fact that the knowledge is there that they can research it.”

Hurst said everything is on the table as the subcommittee, and the task force at large, continues its work. That even includes possibly applying for state or federal historic designation for certain neighborhoods like Brooklyn.

City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche set up the task force to investigate how Jacksonville, and Florida, could be added to a recently established national civil rights trail. But members are unsure after discovering the trail was designated by a consortium of state tourism agencies and requires a fee to join.

Hurst said he wants Jacksonville to set up its local trail, with or without the connection to the national one.

Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk

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.