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If ever there was a year that saw a resurgence of interest in Apalachicola’s Black history, it was 2021.
By summer 2023, Apalachicola could have a museum devoted to African-American history and culture, provided a state grant for funding comes through.
At a special meeting Nov. 29, 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.
“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. The two-story 5,000-square-foot structure would sit next to the Holy Family Senior Center, at 220 Dr. Frederick Humphries Street.
A second matter regarding a noteworthy 19th century Black author drew more controversy.
An exhibit at the Apalachicola Center for History, Culture and the Arts celebrated the legacy of Moses Roper, a leading abolitionist and former fugitive slave who authored a best-selling narrative that included description of his experiences while serving as a steward on a steamboat plying the Apalachicola River.
A month after the exhibit was unveiled, city commissioners voted to authorize a historical marker championed by Augusta West, director of Main Street Apalachicola, as well as by Elinor Mount-Simmons, who reviewed the historic materials on behalf of H’COLA (Hillside Coalition of Laborers for Apalachicola).
In an appeal to city commissioners prior to the meeting, West stressed the marker had been mentioned in the original grant application to the Duke Energy Foundation, which awarded the exhibit $10,000. She said the marker’s backers would move forward with placing it downtown, even if it were not granted space at Riverfront Park.
While there was unanimous support from commissioners for honoring Roper’s story, Despina George raised questions regarding the hurried process, particularly since the HCA closed its doors temporarily soon after the exhibit opened, when a newly-hired part-time executive director left for a full-time job, and members of the HCA board of directors resigned.
Calling for a more thorough review process given Roper’s tenuous connection to the city, she noted the city had two historic markers in the works to highlight Black history, including one for St. Paul AME Church, which includes mention of Emmanuel Smith, whose life and contributions to the city are well-documented.
Dr. Frederick S. Humphries, one of Apalachicola’s most illustrious and beloved native sons, passed away June 24 and was honored with a Nov. 5 celebration of life at the Holy Family Senior Center, inside of the building where he was taught as a lad by Catholic nuns.
Humphries went on to attend Quinn High School, Florida A & M University, and the University of Pittsburgh where he was the first African-American to earn a doctorate in physical chemistry there,
He would later lead Tennessee State University for 11 years, and then serve as president of FAMU from 1985 to 2001.
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