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Civil Rights Task Force Could Stick Around Past Current Leadership Term, If It Narrows Focus

Exterior of Jacksonville City Hall.
Joslyn Simmons

Incoming Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman is “amenable” to allowing the city’s Task Force on Civil Rights history to continue its work through his tenure. But not without narrowing its scope and focusing its charge.

“Obviously civil rights are extremely important to me,” Bowman, a major backer of the city’s LGBT-inclusive human rights ordinance, said. “I talked to one of the co-chairs a couple weeks ago and said ‘look, I really need to understand. You say you’re wanting more time. What is it you’re trying to accomplish and what’re you trying to do?”

Current City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche created the task force after an editorial in The Florida Times-Union lamented Jacksonville’s exclusion from the National Civil Rights Trail. Brosche staffed the 27-member committee with local civil rights icons, historians and artists to try and figure out how Jacksonville could be added to the list of participating cities and states. A report detailing its findings is due June 25.

However, once the task force discovered the national trail was founded by a southern consortium of state tourism agencies and required an entrance fee and application process, work pivoted to creating a local city trail. But figuring out which sites or people should be included, where a historical timeline would digitally live and whether to create a new museum and/or to contract the formation of a self-guided smartphone app has greatly inflated the task force’s charge

For good reason, task force co-chair Warren Jones told WJCT last month.

“I think the history is ongoing and I’m amazed at some of the timeline items that have been brought forth. I grew up here and I didn’t realize some of the history that has happened in Jacksonville. So, I think having a task force that will work on a regular basis — once a month, maybe once a quarter — to make sure that timeline is maintained and that funding is maintained,” he said. “I think that’s critically important.”

Jones joined some fellow task force members in calling for permanence. The task force could be made a permanent fixture of city hall with the passage of legislation. Brosche said this week she wants to meet more with task force members before committing to sponsoring it, but isn’t against the idea.

Bowman, whose term begins in July, said he’s waiting to make a final decision on keeping the committee.

“I’m happy to look at the report that they put out. Frankly, I do think 28 members is — hey I have to work with 18 all the time — so, getting that many people together and try and get one direction is a little tough. I look forward to seeing the out brief and the recommendations and suggestions and we’ll take it from there,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve talked to one of the co-chairs and so far I haven’t gotten a cohesive answer on what it is they’re trying to accomplish and why they need more time.

“This is an awful a lot support work that goes on within our building and of course it’s taken a lot of civilians’ time as well. I know it’s dedicated time, I just want to make sure it’s heading in a direction and that we’re helping out as much as possible.”

Bowman added that he and Mayor Lenny Curry have discussed the possibility of creating a separate civil rights museum and both are supportive of the idea.

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.