Jacksonville Park To Commemorate Descendents Of Slaves

May 13, 2019

Jacksonville descendants of enslaved Africans are poised to receive state funding to build a park commemorating the area's history. 

The Florida Legislature approved $521,855 in funding for the Gullah Geechee community’s proposed Freedom Park.

It would serve as an entry feature into the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which is a federal National Heritage area and part of the Fort Caroline National Memorial in Arlington.

Gullah Geechee are direct descendants of slaves who settled in the Coastal Lowlands, from North Carolina to North Florida. The single largest concentration is in Jacksonville, but Freedom Park would be the city’s first public area to recognize their history.  

Related: Culture Of Formerly Enslaved People Lives On In Jacksonville Homes, Food

“We’ve been trying to deal with capacity building for communities of Gullah Geechee descent and descendants who have been domiciled here since pre-civil war,” said Saundra Robinson Morene, who is the president of the Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Community Development Corporation.

According to the legislative description of the project, the park would include walkways that run in a continuous loop along with plants to provide visitors shade and buffer against the roadways. A sculpture would also be located at the corner of Monument and Ft. Caroline Road.

But more funding is needed to complete the park, said Morene.

She said she’s is not sure how much more, but added Jacksonville City Council members Al Ferraro, Ju’Coby Pittman, Sam Newby and Terrance Freeman have been working diligently to make sure the park happens.

“They’ve also tried to make sure as we move about spreading the word and educating individuals on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, we have a basis for which we can operate out of,” she said.  

Gullah descendants have been pushing to preserve their history, which has at times proven difficult.   

Related: Descendants Of Slaves Work To Preserve Jacksonville Community Heritage

In addition to raising awareness of the history and contribution of the Gullah Geechee, the public park’s other goal is to provide a safe and inviting place for PTSD veterans.

Advocates of the park pointed out 10-20% of the nation’s veterans suffer from PTSD. Part of the park’s mission will be to provide a healing garden for veterans.

The Freedom Park proposal was sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach.

The Guallah Geechee's funding request for the proposed park is before Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Contact Abukar Adan at 904-358-6319, aadan@wjct.org or on Twitter at @abukaradan17