As part of this year’s state budget, Gov. Ron DeSantis is considering more than half-a-million dollars to build a park in Arlington that would honor the descendants of formerly enslaved people, the Gullah Geechee. The Gullah Geechee people lobbied for what will be called Freedom Park.
Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation Community Development Corporation President Saundra Morene isn’t stopping her quest for historic preservation in Arlington though.
The Jaxson’s Ennis Davis recently met up with Morene in the Brooklyn neighborhood, where she dreams of saving what little remains of its African American history.
A couple of blocks away from the Fresh Market shopping center, across Chelsea Street from an industrial laundry facility, the “Buffalo Soldier house” stands, abandoned and boarded up, as it's been for at least a decade.
“That dates back to the end of the Civil War,” Davis said.
For those driving or biking past, there’s no marker, no indication this place, a couple of blocks away from I-95, is special. Nothing communicates that this area just southwest of Downtown was important during and after the Civil War.
“Jacksonville basically served as the Union hub for their operations within Florida,” Davis said.
And when the war was over, African American fighters, nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by Native Americans, settled in Brooklyn and nearby LaVilla in droves, Morene said.
“Ever since I was a child, my brothers would bring us by here so we could see the house,” she said.
Today, Brooklyn is changing fast, with more luxury apartments and chain restaurants planned just blocks away.
Morene tried unsuccessfully to get the area designated an African American historic district recently — not enough current residents were interested in that idea, she said — but she isn’t giving up on structures like this house and their potential as tourism drivers.
“I think the very first thing we can do is probably look to preserve it on the state registry if it is not on the state's registry, and bring about awareness that’s it’s here, bring about awareness to the city that it does not need to be torn down but it does need to be documented as such,” she said.
Maybe, she said, it could be made into a museum celebrating Jacksonville’s place in antebellum and Civil War history.
As for Freedom Park, she said even if the state appropriation gets final approval, private donations will still be needed to complete the project.