Community mourns loss of Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn

by Linda Cue, Alachua County Library District

As a librarian, developing programs for the Alachua County Library District, and helping to provide many services, I’ve witnessed how information can empower an individual and even an entire community. However, it wasn’t until I met and worked with Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn that I truly began to understand that community service demands passion, commitment, and dedication.

On Aug. 5, Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn, Tricia to her many friends and colleagues, died in her home surrounded by family and close friends after battling an illness. Her death not only left a void for those who loved and knew her best, but also left a void in a community that she embraced, served, and worked passionately to empower.

Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn moved to Gainesville 30 years ago. While first teaching Black Women in Film in the Women’s Studies Department and then working as a senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of Florida, she along with her husband, Dr. Kenneth Nunn, a law professor at the university, raised two daughters and worked diligently with so many in the Alachua County community to provide and create projects about the often hidden history of this county.

A professor and community activist, Dr. Hilliard-Nunn’s research and activism involved the history of enslaved Africans, plantations, and lynchings in Alachua County. As a result of her research, she created the documentary, “In the Shadow of Plantations,” highlighting the history of enslaved African Americans in Alachua County. With her research involving The Newberry Six, she uncovered and lead an entire community to confront and reconcile with a history of lynching and racial injustice. 

Besides her research, she was director of the Community Outreach Partnership Center at the University of Florida during the 1990s, worked with the Gainesville community to restore historical black areas (Porters Quarters, Seminary Lane, and Pleasant Street), created Markare Publishing Company, founded The Powerful Elder Organization, served on the board of The Cotton Club, and was a member of The Pleasant Street Historic Society, while participating in numerous church, civic, library, and community activities and events.

As a student in her Black Women in Film class, I was captivated and discovered films by African American women that I didn’t realize existed. I was encouraged to question ideas and perceptions about popular and familiar films portraying African American female characters.

As a librarian, I was honored to assist Dr. Hilliard-Nunn in searching for books, microfilms, and documents in the Florida Reference section of the library and spent hours, and days, searching for information involving African American history in Alachua County. 

As a friend to the library, she developed and presented programs on James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Juneteenth, African American history in Alachua County, black hair, African dance and art, and so many other topics.

As a friend, Dr. Hilliard-Nunn brainstormed ideas for programs with me, discussed books, authors, and films, and shared strategies about how to research and record my family history.

The Alachua County Library District’s mission is to build a better community by creating opportunities to participate, connect, and discover. Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn effortlessly embodied the meaning of this mission. She influenced students, colleagues, friends, and her community. 

As her students, colleagues, friends, and members of this community, we will move forward connecting, discovering, creating, and serving to build a community that recognizes the value of everyone. Thank you, Dr. Patricia Hilliard-Nunn for your service and for being a brilliant example.

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