County Commission to provide letter of support for community leaders hoping state will select Sarasota as home of Black history museum

Task force appointed by governor and Legislature to submit report to governor and Legislature before July 1

Commissioner Mark Smith. Image courtesy Sarasota County Government

With Sarasota County Commissioner Mark Smith having brought the issue to their attention this week, the board members agreed, by consensus, that Chair Michael Moran would sign a letter to be sent to state officials, supporting efforts of Sarasota residents who would like to see Sarasota become home to a state Black history museum.

Vickie Oldham, president and CEO of the Sarasota African American Cultural Center, is spearheading the effort, Smith pointed out during the board’s regular meeting on April 9.

Smith added that he believes Sarasota is one of perhaps eight finalists competing to host the project.

As the Tallahassee Democrat has explained, “A task force appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature has been meeting

since September to develop a plan for the building and programming of what will be the first ever state-run Black history museum.

“Twelve localities had expressed interest in hosting what could be 100,000 square feet of exhibition space spread over the size of a city block dedicated to, in part, the history of slavery and segregation in Florida, and to highlight the accomplishments of African American Floridians,” the Democrat continued.

The museum was created when Gov. Ron DeSantis signed 2024 Florida House Bill 1441 in May, the Democrat noted. That bill was a response, the Democratadded, to the Florida Department of Education’s release of “new history standards that teach some people learned valuable skills while enslaved.”

The Democrat then pointed out, “The task force reviewed results from an online poll of Floridians conducted by the Department of State. More than 4,000 Floridians answered questions about why they went to museums and what kind of experiences a Black history museum should offer. Of those, 3,000 elaborated with handwritten responses.

“An overwhelming majority — more than 80% — said the museum should be a gathering place where Floridians can talk about issues,” the Democrat continued, reporting comments made by Johnathan Grandage, assistant director of the Division of Historical Resources within the Florida Department of State.

Along with Sarasota, the other finalists are Eatonville, Panama City, Seminole County, Opa Locka, St. Johns County, Nassau County and Jackson County, the Democrat reported.

Smith provided his commission colleagues a draft of the letter of support that county staff had written in preparation for his April 9 remarks.

“Great,” Chair Moran responded, adding that he believed all of the board members had received a copy of that draft.

Vickie Oldham. Image from the website of the Sarasota African American Cultural Center

No commissioner objected to Smith’s proposal.

House Bill 441 says, in part, “The museum shall be a multipurpose facility capable of generating self-sustaining revenues, with archival research and 33 storage facilities, meeting rooms, full service banquet facilities that include a kitchen capable of serving at least 250 people at a single event, and a performing arts theater that shall be made available for private events.”

Among the responsibilities of the task force members appointed by DeSantis and the Legislature are the following: the development of recommendations for archival and artifact acquisition, preservation, and research; exhibits; installations; and educational materials that complement and support required instruction provided in public schools in accordance with state law. “The recommendations must include materials relating to: 1. The role of African-American participation in defending and preserving Florida and the United States, including, by way of example and without limitation, the contributions of the residents of Fort Mose, the Tuskegee Airmen, and all African- American veterans. 2. The history of slavery in the state. 3. The history of segregation in the state. 4. Notable African Americans in this state. 5. Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, including the founding of Bethune Cookman University. 6. The history of historically black colleges and universities in this state. 7. The inherent worth and dignity of human life, with a focus on the prevention of genocide.”

The task force is required to submit its report to the governor and legislative leaders before July 1, the bill points out. “After receiving the report of the task force, the Legislature may consider legislation pertaining to the commissioning, construction, operation, and administration of the museum,” the bill adds.