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During Tense First Meeting, Task Force Debates Applying For U.S. Civil Rights Trail

Florida Frontiers/Florida Memory
Rodney L. Hurst (center) participates in the peaceful lunch counter demonstration that ended in the violence of Ax Handle Saturday

There’s some disagreement about whether Jacksonville should apply to be part of a newly-created U.S. Civil Rights Trail.

That was a sticking point Wednesday at the first meeting of a new committee created to inventory Jacksonville’s Civil Rights history.

The idea for the group began when City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche read a Florida Times-Union editorial lamenting Florida’s exclusion from the national Civil Rights Trail.

But on Wednesday the committee learned from fellow member, and Visit Jacksonville representative, Monica Smith that for Jacksonville to be included, the state would have to pay the regional tourism agency that organized the trail — Travel South. Only then could Jacksonville apply for its sites to be included.

According to Smith, Florida’s tourism agency was one of the cofounders of the regional consortium of tourism agencies, along with Georgia. After some time, the Sunshine State bowed out.

Rodney Hurst is one of 27 committee members and the organizer of lunch counter sit-ins in 1960 that led to Ax Handle Saturday, Jacksonville’s infamous bloody attack on peaceful black protesters. Smith’s presentation turned tense after he peppered her with pointed questions about the trail recognition process.

“It’s patently ridiculous. If the interest is making sure that civil rights history and black history is expanded and extended to folk throughout the South and throughout this country, then there should not be an application process or you pay a fee to join an organization,” Hurst said.

Hurst suggests creating a local civil rights trail in addition to possibly applying for the national designation. He said there’s a reason why six of the 18 Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame inductees were from the River City.

“The state of Florida and the city of Jacksonville’s history speaks for itself and a lot of these states that have had significant events for civil rights, you learn about them whether you see it somewhere as part of an application or a website,” he said.

The committee will meet again in two weeks, when the group will begin the process of breaking into subcommittees to study different aspects of creating a Jacksonville trail and revising the current working list of events and places. Hurst and author Tim Gilmore will tackle which events or places should be included, while others will continue to investigate the logistics of commemorations.

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.