Posted on

PBC Museum of Black History? Getting closer

When Ineria Hudnell, 97, died last year, one question hung in the air at her funeral: what about the museum?

The longtime educator had taught at the segregated Roosevelt High School in West Palm Beach (WPB) and, over the years, became a self-taught historian as she gathered news articles, pictures and community-submitted documents in an effort to record the history of African Americans in Palm Beach County (PBC). The 300-plus placards that make up her work are what caused the hanging-in-the-air question at her funeral.

“I remember thinking the same thing,” said state Senator Bobby Powell, who presented a proclamation at the service. “So, I asked the audience when I spoke ‘how are we going to make sure this happens?’ We have to respect our history and Mrs. Hudnell’s.”

Today, the effort is a bit closer. A state appropriations request to support the creation of a museum was signed last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis, thanks in part to the work of our state Senator. That funding would join $10 million in local funds that has been pledged already by the Palm Beach County School District (PBCSD) toward the same effort, but expanded, and with its eye on a particular location.  

That location? Roosevelt High School in WPB, where Mrs. Hudnell taught and for which there’s lots of community support for restoration. The School District pledge is to create a campus that has a history museum, yes, but also has a media center, a high-end academic studies program and a multi-purpose cultural arts center. The estimated price tag for all of that is $23 million, according to school district records, and while the state funding commitment is just $150,000 of the $350,000 requested, still.

 “It’s great news!’ said Dr. Debra Robinson, the PBCSD board member who has pushed this effort for years. “Every little bit helps, every little bit gets us closer to the goal.”

And this just in: local media covered the story, too. Read a Palm Beach Post article about plans for Roosevelt here and watch a video, below, from WPTV Channel 5:

The Senator, and others, talk history.

The recent moves also join other significant community efforts to ensure the history of the African diaspora in PBC is told. Consider:

School Board member Dr. Debra Robinson, left, 15th Judicial Circuit Judge Bradley G. Harper and Vernique Williams, FPL executive, at the Historical Society of PBC board meeting in April. The two ladies were installed, joining Judge Harper on the board.
  • Historical Society of PBC. In April, Dr. Robinson and NextEra Energy/FPL executive Vernique Williams were appointed to the society’s board, joining 15th Judicial Circuit Judge Bradley G. Harper. The society’s president and CEO, Jeremy Johnson, said that the society is on the team, too.
  • AARLCC. Members of the African American Research Library and Cultural Center, most of whom attended Roosevelt, were instrumental in preventing the demolition of their high school years ago. Their push now includes converting it to, well, an AARLCC. It recently hosted an event celebrating Mrs. Hudnell and L.A. Kirksey, another longtime educator for whom 15th Street in WPB is named. Read about it here.  
  • Storm of ’28 Coalition. The major hurricane blew across the entire County in 1928, killing thousands. Hundreds of black bodies were dumped in an unmarked grave in WPB but, thanks to the Coalition’s efforts, there’s now recognition at the site. They too seek a museum.
  • The Industrial/Roosevelt High School National Alumni Association and Friends, Inc. The local nonprofit works to ensure the memories, stories and, well, history, of the two schools are saved. Both had been segregated high schools that, despite that official unequal treatment, still ensured achievement for their students. The group discussed their interests Sunday with Dr. Robinson on ‘South Florida Sunday,’ the community news radio show on X102.3 FM. Click below to listen in.

The Industrial/Roosevelt group is also hosting ‘An Evening with the Stars’ on Saturday. Learn more about the event here.

Dr. Robinson is pleased with the forward movement on the museum even though, as she said, tough decisions still have to be made about the path forward. But one thing is clear, she said.

“We all want the same thing: some recognition of our contributions to the growth, development and change in this County,” she said. “We are all on Mrs. Hudnell’s team. We’ll get it done.”

In 1968, with its 27-0 record, the Roosevelt High School basketball team became the first black school in Florida to win the integrated state basketball playoffs.