City backs creation of Black history museum


By summer of 2023, Apalachicola could have a museum devoted to African-American history and culture, provided a state grant for funding come through.

At a special meeting Monday evening, city commissioners voted unanimously to devote $250,000 in matching monies to the project, which is seeking a $1 million African-American Cultural and Historical grant from the Florida Department of State.

A $500,00 grant request would have required no local match, but grants above that require a 50 percent match of the difference. The match money would be taken from what is expected to be an additional $333,000 budget surplus for the 2020-21 fiscal year

“The addition of the Apalachicola Museum of African-American Culture and History, will enable the city to tell the story of a vital segment of our ancestors who have been left out of the narrative,” reads the grant application, authored by Apalachicola native Willie Tolliver, now on leave as a social work professor at Hunter College in New York City, together with Valentina Webb, long active in a leadership role on the Hill, and Leo Bebeau, the city’s finance director.

The two-story 5,000-square-foot structure would sit next to the current Holy Family Senior Center, at 220 Dr. Frederick Humphries Street. The exterior of the new building would be designed to complement the center’s century-old Spanish-style structure, complete with a red tile roof.

A newly-created local nonprofit, the North Florida African American Corridor Project, would assist with program development once the project is completed.

“The overall Apalachicola history narrative often omits the history of the African American population of the city and the broader region,” reads the grant. “The official historic sites contribute to this erasure. A marker outside of a restored downtown cotton warehouse states that Apalachicola was once the largest cotton port in the south, yet no mention is made of the enslaved population that not only produced the crop, but outnumbered whites during the cotton boom of the 1830s.”

The application also makes reference to the state-owned Orman House Museum. “Absent from official literature is that the Ormans were the most prominent slave-owning family in the county. Adjacent to the restored main house Is the tumbledown remnants of slave quarters, on the verge of ruin,” it reads. “The official Orman House narrative describes lavish dinners on the fine china on display In the house, yet nothing about the hands that served the food and set the table; no window into how the Ormans' lives were Intertwined with those of the people they enslaved - whose numbers exceeded their own.”

The grant application foresees the proposed museum “as both a symbolic and physical hub for the African American community in Apalachicola, as well as a learning opportunity for other citizens and visitors alike to learn the full history of Apalachicola….The community pride that would result from this effort would be much needed and well deserved.”

At the meeting, Webb outlined how the Holy Family location made the most sense for the proposed museum, as it will anchor a proposed series of sidewalk and lighting improvements on the Hill, as well as an Apalachicola Historic Interpretative Displays and Black History Trail project, which has emerged highly ranked for a state grant.

“As recently as the 1960s, the Hill was a vibrant area with family homes, a thriving business district, a Black high school, and several churches and fraternal organizations, all of which contributed to an extended social life. Today, the community Is under threat,” reads the museum grant application. “After decades of economic disinvestment and the collapse of the seafood industry, more than 75 homes on the Hill are vacant. Some are uninhabitable and abandoned. Others have been purchased and restored by newcomers to the neighborhood, often from other cities, whose presence is now driving the economy and gentrification."


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