In Long-Empty Church, Activist Sees Potential For Museum Of Jacksonville’s Civil Rights Past

Apr 23, 2018

Fifty-eight years after blacks and whites met in a church to negotiate integrating Jacksonville lunch counters following a riot, a city task force is considering whether that church should become a museum.

Snyder Memorial, a one-time Methodist church, was a sanctuary for some blacks who were beaten with ax handles and baseball bats by whites attacking downtown lunch-counter demonstrations in 1960, according to our Florida Times-Union news partner.

Meetings between white businessmen, ministers and black activists began months later, as downtown merchants felt the pinch of a black boycott.

The building on the edge of Hemming Park was suggested as a museum site this month by a task force member who was a sit-in organizer and took part in the talks that followed, Rodney Hurst.

“It just makes sense,” said Hurst, a civil rights activist and former City Council member. “It’s a city-owned building and it has civil rights history.”

The task force on Jacksonville’s civil rights history is supposed to recommend steps to build knowledge of local civil rights history and cultivate tourism involving civil rights sites. The task force has no power to decide Snyder’s future, only to recommend choices to Council President Anna Lopez Brosche.

So far, nothing has even been recommended about the 1903-vintage building, which has been vacant for years and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But the building at 226 N. Laura St., in easy eyeshot of City Hall, exemplifies the kind of site Jacksonville could end up promoting to build interest in the city’s racial history. A museum there would borrow from the approach already used to draw tourists to sites like the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated; the bombed 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., where four schoolgirls were killed; and the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., where sit-ins sparked copycat efforts nationally.

“I think Snyder Memorial could be the long game for this. And that’s really exciting to me,” said Chris Janson, a University of North Florida education professor who runs the school’s Center for Urban Education and Policy.

Janson works with Hurst on projects that incorporate local black history into education programs, such as a mural project being painted by high-school-age artists in the city’s Eastside. He said Jacksonville’s legacy is comparable to those in cities that are already recognized for their roles in civil rights struggles.

You can read a longer version of this story that includes historic photos and additional information on Jacksonville.com.