Jacksonville group criticizing city for not including more African Americans in Bicentennial celebration planning

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville’s celebration of its 200th birthday this June has many remembering the important events that shaped our city.

A local civil rights group is blasting the city for not including more African Americans in planning the Bicentennial celebration. Vocal activist Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition is calling out city leaders and organizers saying, once again, African American residents are being ignored.

Photos at the Eartha White Historical Museum in LaVilla show a portion of Jacksonville’s history and the impact African Americans have made in shaping the city. When the Bicentennial plans were announced earlier this month, we saw the fanfare that’s expected. but what Ben Frazier and others are asking is why more Black organizations were not involved.

“And my question is why is that? Why do they constantly fail to acknowledge and ignore when it comes down to major celebrations or events or functions that take place in Jacksonville Florida,” Frazier said. “We are no longer accepting their excuses.”

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We took Frazier concerns to Alan Bliss of the Jacksonville Historical Society which heads of the Bicentennial task force. He said he had a long conversation with Frazier last night and while he said they are inclusive, he also said Frazier is making a valid point.

“He shared with me his perspective and I shared with him the outreach that we have been,” Bliss said. “His position is that it has been inadequate and I choose to agree with him on it. It is always possible to do more and we have never celebrated a Bicentennial before and I probably won’t be around for the next one but we have an opportunity now to be inclusive and we will always strive to be more inclusive and reach out further and be better at what we are.”

When the celebration plans were announced, city council member Ju’Coby Pittman had concerns as well. She agrees Frazier has a valid point but said plans are changing and this is not just a one-day celebration.

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“This is a year-long celebration and he is right we need to be involved,” Pittman said. “And one group not on the initial list, but is now part of the celebration, is the Eartha White Museum.”

Adonnica Toler of the Eartha White Museum said, “We are part of the celebration and I want to take this time to encourage other African American organizations to reach out and participate — and actually we are in LaVilla and LaVilla was actually a very culturally diverse community.”

And that’s what all these organizations say they want to see happen. So when history looks back in the next 100 years, it shows a city that is still growing and becoming more accepting of all cultures.

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