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'Documenting Black Jacksonville': UNF professors publish interviews 85 years later

For the first time, University of North Florida professors are digitally publishing hand-written documents that show what it was like to live in 1930's Jacksonville.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Untold stories from Jacksonville's Black history are now seeing the light of publication 85 years later.

For the first time, University of North Florida professors are digitally publishing hand-written documents of interviews that show what it was like to live in Jacksonville as a Black man or woman after the Civil War. They're notes from interviews from LaVilla and Durkeeville in the 1930's, and some interviews are even with former slaves.

UNF professors Dr. Laura Heffernan, Dr. Tru Leverette and Dr. Clayton McCarl are documenting the stories you haven't heard about Jacksonville's Black history. Because the interviews are from points of views you don't usually hear from, they say it gives a fuller picture of what it was like to live in Jacksonville.

"The vibrancy of the Black community during segregation is an interesting thing, and it's not something people normally think about," Leverette said.

Sheets and sheets of interviews by Viola Muse, a local hair salon owner and writer with the Negro Writers’ Division of the Florida Federal Writers Project, headquartered in Jacksonville, detail the lives of children, former slaves and everyday people in Jacksonville during the Civil War, the Great Depression and the Jim Crow era.

"The interview notes that she took when she was speaking with Charles Cotes, who was 108 years old when she did the interview," Heffernan said, "it just gives you a really close picture of what freedom meant and didn't mean in those years right after the Civil War."

"It makes it really real, the people's lives and what their interests are," Leverette said. "I have a 12-year-old who likes art. To think about these 11-year-olds who are in a school where they're not allowed to be taught art in the grand scheme of the curriculum, that's really meaningful."

The professors are hoping curriculum for the Duval County Public School system can come out of their project.  

"I talk to my students here at UNF about what they've learned about their city and its past," said Heffernan. "They haven't really gotten a sense of kind of the local struggles of everyday people."

They're uncovering parts of Jacksonville's past to help shape it's future.

The professors are looking for people who knew Viola Muse. If you did or know someone who did, reach out to UNF.

See the digital publication here. They want to have it completed by next summer.

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