State Sen. Thompson elected chair of African American History Museum Task Force

Democratic Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, Fla., last week became the chair of the African American History Museum Task Force, saying she’s committed to “tell the unvarnished truth” about the painful past of African Americans in Florida. 

During the group’s first meeting last Monday, members chose Thompson as its leader, according to a press release. The nine-member group must plan the construction, operation and administration of a museum celebrating Black history in the state. By June of next year, they plan to prepare a report for Gov. Ron DeSantis, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner. 

“I am committed to working with other Task Force members to ensure that we tell the unvarnished truth about the African American experience in Florida. We can’t celebrate the progress that we have made as a State and a Nation without acknowledging the pain associated with that,” Thompson said in a press release. 

Thompson’s commitment to telling an unvarnished truth reflects heightened tensions in the state following the killings of three Black people at a Dollar General store in Jacksonville, a travel advisory issued by the NAACP warning travelers to Florida of a hostile environment and controversial K-12 African American history standards that have drawn attention nationwide, among other concerns. 

Tuskegee Airmen

Florida’s African American History Museum is expected to include an exhibition about Black Americans in aviation, like the Tuskegee Airmen.

As the group works on deciding the location of the museum, Thompson stresses in the press release the importance of Eatonville as the country’s first incorporated all-Black city. Eatonville is located 6 miles north of Orlando. 

Other members of the task force have floated places such as St. Augustine, St. Petersburg and Tallahassee as options for the museum’s location. 

“There are currently negotiations going on related to land that was given to the town of Eatonville for educational purposes and that’s something that I am looking at while remaining open to alternatives that might be convincing from other members of the Task Force,” Thompson said in the press release. 

Earlier this year, the Legislature and DeSantis approved the creation of the task force and appointed its members. The appointments drew controversy as Orlando-based Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, who came up with the idea of the task force, did not make the cut, as previously reported by Florida Phoenix. DeSantis, Passidomo and Renner appointed three members each. 

Aside from Thompson, the other lawmakers in the task force are Republican Reps. Berny Jacques from Pinellas County and Kiyan Michael of Duval County, and Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell from Palm Beach County. 

The other five members are two executive directors of museums, two business executives and an interim assistant vice chancellor of the Board of Governors. 

While Antone won’t be part of the group assigned to work on the planning, construction, operation and administration of what is expected to become the most comprehensive collection celebrating Black history in Florida, he still hopes to have some influence on how it will be created. 

To that end, he’s produced a 59-page blueprint detailing how the task force should go about its business. He envisions 10 separate exhibition halls within the main building that would focus on Black Americans in the military; Black Americans in aviation; Black men and women in space; Black scientists and inventors; Black art and Black Florida artists; and an exhibition on the history of slavery in the state. 

Black historians are watching closely how this task force will approach its responsibility in creating a history museum that tells the state’s past accurately and faithfully.

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