Conceptual rendering of the Black History Museum. PHOTO COURTESY OF ST. JOHNS COUNTY

Miami – The first-ever state regulated Florida Black History Museum is coming to St. Augustine in St. Johns County and Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens is playing a key role for the location.

A state-appointed nine-member task force, which was selected to provide recommendations for the planning, construction, operation and administration of the museum, narrowly selected St. Augustine as the site for the museum over Opalocka, Eatonville in Orange County and Seminole County.

The target site for the museum in St. Augustine is currently owned by FMU and the two sides are in negotiations over a lease or sale agreement.

The location is the former home to the college when it was known as Florida Normal and Industrial Institute.

According to a statement on its website, FMU, which is the only HBCU in Miami-Dade, said the Florida Memorial University Foundation has agreed to lease the 14.5acre property to build the Black museum.

FMU said the foundation will not sell the historic land.

“Since the announcement of this proposal, there has been some misinformation circulating about FMU selling this historic land,” the statement said. “This is not the case. The Florida Memorial University Foundation (FMUF) has agreed to lease property in St. Augustine to St. Johns County for the purpose of building the Florida Museum of Black History.”

The university released a statement saying the FMUF is handling the lease agreement negotiations with the City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County.

“FMUF, not Florida Memorial University, is managing the negotiations for the potential lease of the 14.5-acre property that is located in St. Augustine,” the statement read.

The FMUF couldn’t be reached for comments by press time.

In the statement, FMU said when completed, the museum will be an outstanding historical and financial partnership for FMU and will create job opportunities for the citizens of St. Johns County.

In contrast to the offer to lease the land, St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved the purchase and sale agreement negotiation with FMU for the land which has been dormant for years.

FMU relocated to Miami-Dade in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement when tension in St. Augustine boiled over after the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, spearheaded by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and other civil rights activists.

In a proposal, St. Johns County and St. Augustine were described as “steeped in the African American experience from the West African influence of the Gullah Geechee people to the contemporary leaders and trailblazers, such as Dr. Otis A. Mason, the first elected black superintendent of schools in Florida.”

“The community of St. Johns County has a strong track record of partnership and coordination focused on historic and cultural events,” St. Johns officials said in the proposal. “Together, we know we can seamlessly integrate the St. Johns County-based Florida Museum of Black History into the experience, creating a memorable immersive educational experience for all those who visit.”

Tera Meeks, St. Johns’ tourism and cultural development director, described

the area as a world-class African American heritage destination with its varied and rich history of the African American experience.

The task force’s vote came unexpectedly on May 21 after supporters of St. Augustine pushed the panel to adopt its earlier ranking of the competing sites as its final recommendation.

St. Augustine reportedly stood slightly ahead of Eatonville in the ranking, but its lead was due almost entirely to a Jacksonville-area legislator on the panel who gave her neighboring city a perfect score, while assigning poor marks to Eatonville.

In the end, St. Augustine was the choice of all three members of the task force who were appointed by Speaker of the House Paul Renner, a Republican whose north Florida district includes St. Johns County, where St. Augustine is located.

The other two task force members favoring St. Augustine were appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Jacksonville native.

For the past nine months, the task force carefully reviewed the proposals

submitted by government officials in their bids to build the museum in their counties or cities.

Their selling points were offering sites that are rich in Black history including Seminole County which was the home to the first branch of the NAACP, and St. Augustine was the site for the series of civil rights protests that led to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

In addition, the first free Black settlement in the U.S. was in St. Augustine in 1738.

Orange County’s first Black community, Jonestown, was founded by slaves in 1880, which is just one mile away from Downtown Orlando.

Most people who lived in Jonestown were workers who lived in small houses or shacks, but there were also some residents who owned businesses, according to Orange County’s proposal for the museum.

Opa-locka, which was the first city in the United States to name a street after the only Black U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009, became a predominately African American city during the 1980s.