First digital Black Heritage Trail Map for Alachua County hopes to secure phase two funding
A Gainesville woman working with the Alachua County Community Remembrance Program Committee has created the first digital Black Heritage Trail Map for Alachua County.
The digital map will launch by early December this year along with a complete renovation of the Alachua County Truth and Reconciliation website.
Jacque Micieli-Voutsinas, Ph.D., and Jackie Davis from the Community Remembrance Program Committee, which is working with eight subcommittees, presented the finalized digital map and website at a County Commission meeting on Nov. 14. The digital Black Heritage Trail Map is an archive and tool for information.
“It is a source of pride and joy,” Micieli-Voutsinas said. “That is a real source of deeply embodied felt pride and shows community resilience and empowerment and just living life joyfully in spaces that did not always welcome you. It is also an educational resource for everybody to understand the shared history of Alachua County, including the shared histories of Black Alachua County.”
Work on the digital map started in October 2022. The committee was established in 2020 following the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama to memorialize documented cases of victims of racial violence. The committee’s Alachua County Community Remembrance Project (ACCRP) answered this initiative call and contacted Micieli-Voutsinas about the digital map project, said Micieli-Voutsinas.
“We want to make a map to have this visual entity of what is Black heritage and Black history in the county,” Micieli-Voutsinas said. “And we want to put it online and do something that has not been done before.”
The digital map shows the locations of historically Black community buildings around Alachua County.
The Florida legislature created the Study Commission on African American History in 1990. The commission identified historically Black sites and buildings that were compiled into the first edition of the Florida Black Heritage Trail in 1991.
This trail is a list of North Florida’s heritage sites, but no digital map exists. The digital map has 140 locations across Alachua County. The team working on the map does not plan to stop there. But there's a problem: They are out of money.
Micieli-Voutsinas said she hopes to receive a grant to continue the project this year. The University of Florida awarded an initial grant of $68,000 for this digital map in October 2022, Micieli-Voutsinas said. The grant is part of the $400,000 UF Research’s Advancing Racial Justice Seed Fund.
But the grant ran out this year. Micieli-Voutsinas said she hopes to secure the funding for “phase two” of the digital map. With a new grant, she said she wants to create a phone app, add geolocations and expand the website. The current budget was not enough to do any of these expansions.
“We want to do a couple of things,” she said. “One, to correct those errors and add more histories to the map. Two, to expand the website and make it interactive. One of the hopes in phase one was to have the geolocations. We couldn’t manage this because of budgetary and time constraints we had. But that would be one of the components for phase two that we were hoping for.”
The community is excited about the future of the digital map, too.
“The Black Heritage Trail Map would be an invaluable service to finding out what really happened and to stop whitewashing things and accept what really happened and to move on,” said Paul McGarvey, a retired associate English professor from the University of Philadelphia who lives in Alachua County.
McGarvey said this is only the beginning. “You just knocked on a big door,” he said.
The county pledged to its Black history through the Truth and Reconciliation Initiative in 2018. The digital map was thought of as part of the county’s efforts to continue the initiative after the remembrance events in 2020, said Davis.
Those who are listed on the digital map think it is a great idea, too. The Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center in Gainesville is one of the 140 sites on the map.
Barbara McDade Gordon, a Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center member, said she thinks it is a good thing for the community.
“I think it is a great idea,” McDade Gordon said. “I love maps. I think maps are wonderful, and they are definitely good expressions of information. They are visual where people can see them, and they contain a lot of information that you can see immediately in front of you.”
But other community members disagree.
“I think it makes them think it does,” said Sandy Campbell, a retired director of otolaryngology and ophthalmology at UF who lives in Suburban Heights. “But it is not really making an impact.”
Campbell said she thinks the bigger issue is gentrification rather than memorializing historical Black sites.
“It shows historical sites. But what happens when those sites do not exist?” she said. “Zoning is a big issue. It hurts the Black communities more than others. They give information that distorts reality. People are living there now but when rezoning happens, they will no longer be there.”
Carl Smart, the Alachua County deputy manager, disagrees. He thinks the project will incentivize people to preserve these sites.
“By identifying the sites and speaking to the significance of the sites, I think it certainly will educate and provide an incentive for more conservation of these sites,” Smart said. “When people know the importance of these sites, I hope they will be more inclined. Private citizens, government, businesses, private agencies, nonprofits — all would be inclined to help conserve these sites. And it is because they are such a significant part of history.”
Campbell is not convinced, though.
“I think it will [incentivize] for a very select group. It will not reach the community as a whole,” Campbell said. “It will not help young kids who need to understand more of their history. It will be, for lack of better words, a smoke and mirror to make some feel better.”
Sarah Sissum, a UF graduate student in museum studies who is involved in the research for the digital map, said she thinks gentrification is an active problem, but the focus is justice.
“At the end of the day, there is only so much you can do to convince very wealthy developers — oftentimes, white, wealthy developers — not to go for these heritage sites,” Sissum said. “So, in terms of a map, hopefully, it helps to preserve buildings. But it is also realizing that in a lot of ways it is functioning in a way to remember what has already been taken — what has already been lost. We care about preserving history, but we are more focused on kind of giving justice to people whose histories have already been taken from them.”
Davis said the digital trail map gives the community an opportunity.
“It has given the effect of giving a lot of rural people in Alachua County a voice,” Davis said. “And giving them a sense of pride in their community and their history. It has been really impactful for all of Alachua County, but particularly for the rural areas that are often overlooked.”
“We know that the Black community has felt neglected to a certain degree, so it is recognizing this history and its overall value to the county,” he said. “The county is showing that it is serious about its Truth and Reconciliation program and through that with the community, I think it will be very impactful. We have got representatives from each of our subcommittees, and it has made the difference. It is not just the county doing this; it is very community-driven.”
But the work is hardly done. The start of that work is with the community in “phase two.”
In the first phase, the community came together to create the trail map by sharing stories.
“Just doing this map, people that live out in these rural areas — got together, talked about their history and learned things about each other that they did not know,” Davis said. “And they shared stories. By sharing these stories, they all developed a different relationship to each other and to their place. So, just the work of creating this map created communities of people — more aware of each other and of place and of their shared history.”
Sissum said she hopes young people will get involved because the elder population is mostly pushing the map’s efforts. Phase two can also be an opportunity for the community to get involved.
“I hope more than anything it continues and hopefully expands the sense of relief or addressing the past within the Black and African American communities in Gainesville,” she said. “I hope more than anything that they can enjoy it and can be a part of it.”
Micieli-Voutsinas is ready for the community to be a part of the project and plans to involve them in “phase two.”
“What we are really excited for is public feedback,” she said. “Like, hey did we miss your area? Hey, did we miss this place? Hey, did we get something wrong? We would actually like to know that because then we can go ahead to correct it for phase two or add additional spaces. You cannot ever get everybody to participate, but we would like more and more people to participate over time. So, we can make sure the map is really representative of all the histories of Black Alachua County.”
And Micieli-Voutsinas said she thinks the map also offers responsibility for the past.
“We have a responsibility to understand the land we stand on and how we got here,” she said. “So, I see that the digital Black Heritage Trail is a reparative offering.”