Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum visits Civil Rights exhibit, calls for state museum in capital city

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Amid a national fervor surrounding failures to indict the white police officers who cut short the lives of two unarmed black men, newly sworn-in Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum visited the Florida Museum of History’s new collection of Civil Rights-era artifacts Friday morning.

The mayor called the exhibit “very powerful” and wondered aloud about the efficacy of a permanent display of related materials housed in Tallahassee.

“I think it would be incredibly powerful for the capital city of Florida to be the collector of African-American history for this state,” said Gillum. “This exhibit is just one example of the rich role that this state played in the evolution of civil rights not only in Florida, but in the country.”

“If we can assemble this kind of collection temporarily, imagine what you could gather for a permanent museum. I’m in support of that. Obviously we’d have to have the support of the legislature to make it happen,” he continued.

Gillum proposed that such a museum occupy part of the new Community Redevelopment Agency project at Cascades Park. The state is currently in the process of transferring land around that site to the city. Gillum hopes that the historic jail which housed several dissenters against Jim Crow policies will be preserved for historical purposes, with other parts of the tract going to use for developing commercial projects.

Midway through the visit, Secretary of State Ken Detzner greeted Gillum to discuss joining forces in promoting the exhibit. “Any ideas you’ve got, we’ll be happy to partner with you,” he offered.

The exhibit — “Civil Rights in the Sunshine State” — is open until April 5th and memorializes local aspects of the movement including the 11 students from Florida A&M and Florida State who were arrested while peacefully demonstrating at a Tallahassee Woolworth’s lunch counter. Eight of them chose “jail over bail,” withholding their money from an unjust system as a symbol of their struggle for equality.

Ku Klux Klan infiltrator and journalist Stetson Kennedy, integration pioneer Harry T. Moore, and St. Augustine civil rights stalwart Dr. Robert Hayling are also profiled, along with Richard Nixon ally and “forced busing” opponent Gov. Claude Kirk and James Brock, a St. Augustine hotel manager who poured muriatic acid into a pool of mixed-race swimmers in 1964.

Some of the tactics chronicled call to mind the Dream Defenders, who occupied the Florida Capitol during the summer of 2013 in protest of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin and Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

Mayor Gillum serves as Executive Director of the Young Elected Officials Network affiliated with People for the American Way. That group was a major benefactor of the Dream Defenders, many of whom were alums of PFAW training programs.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.