The Durkeeville Historical Center is a hard place to spot if you don’t know what you are looking for.
The small building is located in Durkeeville, the historic African-American community that began in the 1930s near downtown Jacksonville.
Surrounding the quaint museum are famous landmarks such as Durkee Field — home of the famous Negro league team, the Jacksonville Red Caps, and the location of the first ever Florida vs. Georgia game — and the Jefferson Street Pool: the first major pool of its kind available to African Americans in Jacksonville.
The crowded museum building is filled floor to ceiling with historical materials. Every wall and available surface is covered with knowledge about Durkeeville. Drawers contain albums of countless photos of weddings, football games and famous Negro league baseball players such as Hank Aaron, all taken in the Durkeeville area.
Pamela Singleton, vice president of the Durkeeville Historical Society, said the majority of the materials contributed to the center are donations from people who have lived, or have relatives that lived in Durkeeville.
Singleton is the granddaughter of Charles “Hoss” Singleton, who was a famous musician and songwriter in Jacksonville during the 50s and 60s.
“Hoss” Singleton is best remembered for his lyrics to “Strangers in the Night,” sung by Frank Sinatra.
In 2004, Pamela Singleton moved to Jacksonville. Singleton said she had always had an interest in history even before she joined the Durkeeville Society.
Though Singleton did not originally know much about Durkeeville, she quickly fell in love with the area after the center’s founder, Dr. Carolyn Williams, invited her to, and introduced her at, a meeting.
Singleton quickly became more involved and went on to work as a secretary and advertiser at the
center until she became vice president.
“Seven years later, I’m still here,” Singleton said. “It kind of draws you in and doesn’t let go. You meet interesting people all the time here.”
Dr. Carolyn Williams, a Jacksonville native, was the Durkeeville Historical Society’s museum curator and historian, but passed away last year after a battle with cancer.
Not only working with the Durkeeville Society, Williams also was heavily involved
at UNF, teaching in the department of history, serving as the director of the gender studies program, and co-directing the Bette J. Soldwedel Gender Research Center.
Williams held many other titles during her life. She served as the corresponding secretary for a chapter of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, was a historian for the Norman Studios Museum Board and worked for many other organizations outside of just Durkeeville.
Singleton said Williams was a fountain of knowledge when it came to anything about Jacksonville or Durkeeville.
“She would just start talking about a picture and say, ‘Oh, and this person…’, and the next thing you know it’s like you’re in school,” Singleton said.
Lloyd Washington, the society’s current president, said Williams was truly the face of the center and helped the center receive donations through her many connections in the Jacksonville area.
In fact, Members of the Durkeeville Historical Society said they have so much historic material being given and donated to them that they do not have room for it all.
“The sad thing about it is that we don’t have storage space [for everything],” Washington said. “A lot of this stuff is ending up in the garbage can.”
Washington said the Ritz Theatre and Museum, another small museum in a historic area of Jacksonville, is having similar problems with storage issues.
“If we had a warehouse or storage space, we could literally fill it,” he said.
The historic center is trying to bounce back from a recent slump in funding by hosting several events, open to the public, and reaching out to include more members in the society, such as James Robinson, who is an applications systems analyst at UNF and a history professor at FSCJ.
Robinson said he takes three of his history classes to the center for tours and the center’s monthly fish fry.
“I teach history at FSCJ and I got involved [when] we started taking field trips here,” said Robinson.
By getting more people involved, Washington and Singleton hope to draw more people to Durkeeville and revive the center.
Every last Saturday of the month, the Society and center hold a monthly fish fry to raise funds for keeping the center open. Washington said the fish fry is their main source of income.
Due to their recent struggles with funding, tours of the Durkeeville Historical Center have been reduced to the days that the fish fry takes place and by appointment only. Class lectures for UNF or any other school can also be made by appointment.
The center also hosts a yearly celebration of the Negro leagues and rents the space for organizations to have meetings and small events. Community service hours can also be fulfilled by volunteering at the center.
The Durkeeville Historical Center is struggling, but remains one of the few places where UNF students have the chance to learn about a part of Jacksonville that is slowly disappearing after recent funding cuts by the city of Jacksonville and a decrease in overall donations and funding.
Email Zach Sweat at firstname.lastname@example.org
The next Durkeeville fish fry will be held Nov. 24 at 11:00 a.m.
To contact the Durkeeville Historical Society, visit their web page: http://durkeevillehistoricalsociety.com