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Jacksonville Civil Rights Task Force Members: History Shouldn't Be Narrowed

Ryan Benk
Task force member Rodney Hurst.

As the deadline for a city report on civil rights history approaches its late June deadline, some civil rights history task force members are urging incoming Jacksonville City Council President Aaron Bowman to allow the body to continue its work.

The task force was originally set up by current City Council President Anna Lopez Brosche to investigate why Jacksonville was not included in the National Civil Rights Trail, but its focus became entirely city-centric once it was discovered an extensive application process and membership in a tourism consortium were barriers to entry.

Since then the task force has set upon creating an extensive historical timeline that goes all the way back to the 1800s, one that will be posted in some form on a city website and potentially used in education materials. The task force has also discussed the possible placement of new markers and memorials, the creation of a smartphone app and the founding of a new civil rights museum.

Duval County School Board Member and task force co-chair Warren Jones said the timeline should be finalized before the end of Brosche’s term, but that they’d be leaving a lot of other necessary work on the table.

“It’s going to take time, resources and additional work to find a permanent location for a civil rights museum. I’m sure that’s going to be one of the recommendations. Also, civil rights history is still being made throughout this nation and especially in Jacksonville. So, you would need some organized effort to maintain the museum and keep it current,” he said

Bowman told WJCT News he’s not opposed to allowing the task force to continue, but that he’d like to see its focus narrow and its work to have a hard goal and end date.

“This is an awful lot of 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,” he said.

Bowman said the 27-member task force may be too large and its charge too broad. He’d like to see the committee focus on something like the creation of a new civil rights museum, a move he said he and Mayor Lenny Curry support.

But task force member Rodney Hurst, a pivotal figure in the city’s 1960 lunch counter sit-ins, said because civil rights history has been neglected for so long in Jacksonville, the task force’s work is necessarily broad.

“Our scope might be limited, but our conversation is not limited because civil rights … you don’t confine it to just a narrow culvert of some kind. So, all the conversations about getting an app, and about a repository and whether or not we’re going to have a civil rights museum — none of that is part of the charge, but it is part of the conversation that we come up with,” he said.

Hurst said making the task force a permanent standing committee at city hall would send a much-needed positive message to Jacksonville’s African-American community and to the rest of the country and Jones, who said he and his co-chair Ju’Coby Pittman are setting up a meeting with Bowman, agreed.

Bowman said he could see himself supporting the hiring of permanent city staff to run a potential civil rights museum, but that he’s waiting to read the task force’s final report to make any final determinations.

Brosche said she too is waiting to hear more from the task force before deciding to carry legislation to make the body permanent.

The task force’s final report is due June 25. Brosche’s term ends the last day of the month.

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.