Galvanizing Awareness and Support for Carpenter Creek in Pensacola

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Landslide

Galvanizing Awareness and Support for Carpenter Creek in Pensacola

Galvanizing Awareness and Support for Carpenter Creek in Pensacola
Feb 11, 2022

The inclusion of Pensacola’s Carpenter Creek in the Landslide 2021: Race & Space report has catalyzed local media attention and sparked a dialogue with local city leaders with a new focus on the African-American history of the city’s iconic waterway.    

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Carpenter Creek, Pensacola, FL - Photo courtesy Angela Kyle, 2021

In December, the Pensacola News Journal published a front-page feature on the Creek spotlighting its inclusion in Landslide, and documenting the story of Jennie Hudgins, the African American woman whose land adjacent to the Creek became colloquially known as “Jennie’s Swimming Hole”. Lifelong local resident Robert Miller shared a vivid recollection contrasting the Creek he grew up on with the landscape that exists today:  “The Creek back then, Miller recalled, was very different. With 10-feet deep pools, clear water and white sandbanks. ‘It was like going to the beach.’”    

Conversations are now underway with city leaders and local stakeholders regarding an appropriate way to honor the legacy of Jennie Hudgins, as well as with the History department at University of West Florida regarding an oral history project.    

“Black Pensacola residents have been inspired by hearing this untold story,” said Hudgins’ great- great granddaughter, Angela Kyle. “Community members in their 80’s and 90’s still have memories of the Creek, and an association with the location as sacred because of the baptisms that used to take place. It is a race against the clock to capture these stories and these memories before they disappear.”  

In March, Hudgins descendants, Kyle, and her mother, Ora Wills, local historian and author, will return to New Hope Missionary Baptist, the church that “Mother Hudgins” helped found, to celebrate the church’s Centennial anniversary. In addition, Kyle has founded and launched Jennie’s Legacy, an initiative designed to galvanize greater awareness and mobilize support, particularly among the Black community.  

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Carpenter Creek, Pensacola, FL - Photo courtesy Angela Kyle, 2021

Attention to the Creek and the underscored connection to the site’s social and cultural significance could not come at a more critical time.  

Less than a mile upstream from Jennie’s Swimming Hole, erosion and damage reportedly caused by the installation of stormwater features by the City of Pensacola are impacting the parking lot of a local senior citizen’s community, creating a dramatic cliff.  In the same vicinity uprooted trees now span the creek bed, as seen in this video filmed and shared on Facebook by City Councilwoman, Sherri Myers.  

While the watershed restoration plan underway since 2020, moves forward under the direction of environmental infrastructure firm Wood, vocal environmentalists are adamant that more be done quickly.  

Barbara Albrecht, director of the Panhandle Watershed Alliance said in an interview with local press that “solving the issues along the creek will necessitate a break with the status quo and the political will to propose new solutions.” One such approach, she said might be conservation easements. "We should have conservation easements so that anybody that lives along here, gives up a part of their property for a tax break, give them whatever they want.  

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Carpenter Creek, Pensacola, FL - Photo courtesy Angela Kyle, 2021

Kyle’s hope is that the City, County, and State can align and find opportunities for funding from the federal government’s $1Trillion Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act.  “I don’t know what’s coming in Wood’s recommendations later this year, but whatever recommendations are made will require significant investment. A project like Carpenter’s Creek is in the bulls-eye for IIJA funding which has hundreds of millions of dollars designated for projects that deliver on environmental remediation and resiliency.”  

Securing funding will require a coordinated and collaborative effort, which is where Kyle wants Jennie’s Legacy to play a role. “While the environmental issues and damage to Carpenter’s Creek are visible, the Black history and heritage of the location have been erased.” Bringing this story back into the foreground will engage a broader constituency of Pensacola residents, and re-frame the Creek’s narrative, Kyle said.  

“We have an opportunity and an obligation here to not just solve an environmental problem, but to also address these issues of equity and access that have too long been ignored.”