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UWF Trustees OK Wentworth Name Change

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UWF
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On a 5-4 vote, the University Of West Florida Board Of Trustees approved changing the name of the T.T. Wentworth Museum in downtown Pensacola.

The idea for changing the name stems from discovery of a massive amount of memorabilia about Wentworth’s time as a Ku Klux Klan leader in the 1920s and 30s. If approved by the state, the museum would be known as the Pensacola Museum of History at the University of West Florida.

“I’m perplexed to find anything in there that we might discover in 100 years,” said Trustee Jill Singer. “And so I believe that it is time for us to support the recommendation that currently on the table, and a change to the name in light of events is warranted.”

But, the decision was not without some dissent.

“I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I abhor and I condemn the Ku Klux Klan and what it stood for,” said Trustee Bob Jones. “It’s racism, anti-Catholicism, it’s anti-Semitism, and it’s anti-immigrant standing.”

During Thursday’s meeting over Zoom, trustee Bob Jones sponsored an amendment to table the issue until the June meeting, specifically asking about the legality of a name change.

“I feel it hard to say yes to this motion without the needed information and background being available,” Jones said. “If I’m to say no to this motion, it’s only because I don’t like to act without full information and a sound legal basis.”

Jones also defended the non-Klan portions of Wentworth’s lengthy life and career — as county commissioner, tax collector, businessman and historian — and said that history is the history, and cannot be changed.

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Credit University of West Florida
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UWF Trustee Bob Jones

“Somebody once said history is not for you to like or dislike; it’s there for you to learn from,” Jones told the BOT. “If it offends you, even better; because then you’re less likely to repeat it. It’s not yours to erase; it belongs to all of us.”

After discussion and rejection of Jones’ amendment to table the issue until the June meeting, the original was approved, also on a 5-4 vote. The proposed name change now goes to the state Internal Trust Fund, which oversees all state properties.

The BOT also heard from Jamin Wells, a UWF historian and lead researcher into the memorabilia provided by the Wentworth family. The research, he said, is driven by three essential questions.

“The first is, what is the history of Pensacola’s KKK during the 1920s; second, what was T.T. Wentworth’s role in the KKK at this time, and third, more broadly, what are the legacies and impacts of this history,” said Wells.

Work began last July on the material, with hopes of achieving four basic goals.

“To conduct a resurvey of the Wentworth collection, looking for KKK-related materials; said Wells. “Digitize and make publicly available up to 750 items that relate to Pensacola’s Klan during the 1920s, to identify and collaborate with community stakeholders on their findings, and produce a project report and relevant scholarly products.”

“This unexpected journey may turn out to be far more important than any name, on any old city hall facing Ferdinand Plaza” – read to the trustees by Rob Overton, Executive Director of the UWF Historic Trust from a statement by the Wentworth family, which have given their blessings to the new name.

“They were surprised by this revelation, and that they once again have to rethink how to move forward,” Overton said. “They’re very concerned about how to heal the community, and they’re actually looking at a project to forward lament and reparations. They were taken aback by this too, but they’re interested in trying to make things right.”

Thursday’s Board of Trustees vote is the second in the process. The first came from the Florida Historical Commission in February. The final vote will come from the Internal Improvement Trust Fund in the next few weeks.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.