National Cultural Heritage Tourism Center Launches Florida Heritage Trail Project in Pensacola



By Tony McCray

Eugene Franklin, the President of the Florida Black Chamber, represents Florida on the National Black Chamber’s Board of Directors as the National Tourism Director. He is posing with Hank Harris, the CEO of the National Black Tourism Marketing Corporation, and a talented Black artist, Eric O’Neal, from Chicago by way of Southern University to announce the rejuvenation of the famed “Forgotten Communities” Art Exhibition.  The three-cultural heritage tourism industry leaders have begun discussions with the Northwest Florida Regional African-American project development organizers of the BP Oil Spill Economic Settlement Funds Proposal.  The State of Florida is receiving $400,000,000 of BP Economic Settlement Funds in July 2017 and per Franklin the dialogue revolves around the possibility of a joint effort to develop a business plan which is structured around cultural heritage tourism.

Heritage Artist, Eric O’Neal, is originally from Chicago, Illinois. Eric attended the Art Institute in Chicago in the 1980’s and moved onto Southern University to continue his artistic education.  O’Neal made the comment that, “You never know just how talented you are until you are surrounded by other artists!”  O’Neal moved to Pensacola to work with the local school district after meeting with artist  Sonya Evans and Eugene Franklin, and other artist  at the former Gumbo Gallery, the current location of the “Gathering Awareness Bookstore, in the Belmont and De Villiers Historical Business District.. Erik’s talent, love for the Pensacola area and its history led to him being named, Arts & Entertainment Director for the National Cultural Heritage Tourism Center and will work with Reverend Jesse Turner, President of the Pensacola Cultural Heritage Society to paint the history and culture of People of African Descent in Pensacola and across the State.

The Gumbo Gallery became the birthplace of the Forgotten Communities Artwork, and Eugene Franklin believes in the magic of the visual arts combined with food and music creates the perfect combination for successful business enterprises to grow out of the utilization of all three.  Franklin made the following comments to the Gulf Coast Voice Newspaper concerning the marketability to the national and international tourism industry.  He stated, “Culture produces a community’s  wealth, Heritage preserves it!  I believe that it is time for us to Rebuild the Walls in our communities and Rebuild God’s people.  The celebration of our rich culture, heritage, and traditions that are rooted in our communities and churches are the cornerstone of this rebuilding process.  We seek inclusion and an acknowledge that we, too, are American and our culture and history has value.  Amen!  Amen”!

The powerful African-American Heritage Trail trio is participating in the “Old Spanish Trail” Celebration this weekend in Pensacola. Much of that trail still exists, and activities include a 100 year centennial celebration to begin in 2019 and end with a 2029 motorcade grand finale from St. Augustine to San Diego. The present-day, all-volunteer Old Spanish Trail Centennial Celebration Association OST100 is collecting oral histories, travel logs and news articles related to the Old Spanish Trail to conserve the roadways, businesses and historic sites of the original Old Spanish Trail auto highway both physically and in the memory of the American people.  The current work of revitalization, historic preservation, public/private partnerships, restoration, and road enhancements, follows the lead of the original founders of the OST, who involved greatly diverse interests in building and beautifying the original roadway.

Franklin, Harris, and the artist Eric O’Neal will be focusing on the Estevanico Trail that complements the Old Spanish Trail with its historical significance in the preservation of the richness of the African-American Heritage.  The groups that Franklin, Harris, O’Neal, and Turner represent are sponsors and partners of the Old Spanish Trail celebration organization, OST100!

A reenactment of the second Old Spanish Trail (OST) auto highway association’s 1916 Pensacola conference will take place Dec. 1 – 3 in Downtown Pensacola. Mayor Ashton J. Hayward will welcome guests at the opening ceremony of the OST100 conference at 6 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Lee House in Pensacola. At that time, Hayward will accept an “Official OST City” designation for the city of Pensacola from Charlotte Kahl, chair of the OST100.

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