Celebrate African American History & Culture
Tallahassee reflects and commemorates its African American heritage and culture year-round. From being the first city in Florida to hear a reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on May 20, 1865, a full month before June 19, 1865 when the remainder of the nation recognized that all enslaved persons were emancipated to museums, boycotts and the only stop in Florida on the National Blues Trail, Tallahassee celebrates the impact African Americans have made on the country.
It’s a story of struggle, perseverance and achievement with a legacy that includes art, music, literature, architecture and lasting contributions to Tallahassee and the entire State of Florida. The region has a wealth of African American heritage sites, offering a glimpse into the people, places and events that shaped our society.
Florida’s first site listed on the Mississippi Blues Trail, the Bradfordville Blues Club is a historic, one-room cinder block “juke joint” showcasing an impressive list of nationally renowned Blues acts. The BBC features a different artist every Friday and Saturday evening, while Miss Ernestine fries up catfish for music-goers around the bonfire.
This 24-acre downtown park includes Florida’s Prime Meridian marker, Capital City Amphitheater, multi-use trails, an interactive water fountain, Discovery playscape, numerous historical markers and spirit houses that are a commemoration to Smokey Hollow, an area that was once a thriving black community.
Built in 1838, this prominent Classic Revival style building still has its original gallery set aside for slaves who were members of the church but sat apart from their masters. This is the only Tallahassee church remaining from territorial days.
Established in 1887, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students. Today, as one of 103 historically black colleges and universities (HBCU’s) in the nation FAMU remains the only HBCU in Florida’s 12-member state university system. The first president, Thomas DeSaille Tucker and legislator Thomas Van Renssaler Gibbs, guided the school’s beginning including its move from Copeland Street to its present location on the most prominent hill in Tallahassee. FAMU offers 97 degree programs and has an enrollment of more than 10,000 students. The university is also home to the Meek-Eaton Archives Research Center & Museum.
In the 19th century, many French settlers moved to the area that is now bounded by Tennessee Street, Alabama Street, Woodward Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. In 1831, the then dubbed Frenchtown was comprised of plantations, churches, homesteads, educational institutions, businesses and residences. Following the Civil War, many former slaves migrated to the area and it developed into a thriving middle-class African American community. Only a few original structures remain with preservation efforts underway. Famous musicians including Ray Charles, Nat Adderley and brother Cannonball Adderley lived and performed in this community.
Soul Voices of Frenchtown features nine markers with audio components that tell the history of Frenchtown, one of Tallahassee’s oldest African American communities. Through them, visitors will discover and celebrate a time when Frenchtown was a thriving, self-sustaining community of families, homes, businesses and pride – a time when Frenchtown had it all.
An ordinance passed in 1936 prevented African Americans from purchasing plots and burying family in the Old City Cemetery, which at that time was one of the only cemeteries in town. Several Black community members led by J.R.D Laster, the area’s first Black funeral director, purchased 16 acres on Old Bainbridge Road and established Greenwood Cemetery.
The mission of The Grove Museum is to preserve and interpret the Call-Collins House, its surrounding acreage and its historical collections, in order to engage the public in dialogue about civil rights and American history. Built by enslaved craftspeople, the ca. 1840 Call-Collins House at The Grove is one of the best-preserved antebellum residences in Florida. Home to several generations of the Call and Collins families, mostly recently LeRoy and Mary Call Collins, the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The John Gilmore Riley Center/Museum for African American History & Culture, Inc. is a historical and cultural gem that represents the thriving black neighborhood, known as Smokey Hollow, that once existed in what is just east of downtown Tallahassee. It is especially significant when compared to other such historical sites in that it is the last vestige we have of the accomplishments of an entire group of people, the black middle class, which emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Established in 1996, the museum’s programs provide an environment and means to encourage and empower participants to develop an awareness of and gain an appreciation for the educational and social contributions of African Americans to Florida’s history.
Built in 1843, this historical home is the former residence of state official William Knott and his wife, Luella. In 1865 the home served as temporary Union Headquarters and it is where the Emancipation Proclamation was read in Florida, on the front steps. Restored to its 1928 grandeur, the home is now a museum.
In 1976, the Carnegie Library on the historic campus of Florida A & M University became the founding home of the Black Archives Research Center and Museum. Known as the “Black Archives,” the center’s mission includes collecting, preserving, displaying and disseminating information about African Americans and people of Africa worldwide and is one of only ten Black archives in the country. This collection is the most extensive in the Southeast and contains more than 500,000 archival records and 5,000 artifacts in its collection.
Opened in 1977, the Museum of Florida History collects, preserves, exhibits, and interprets evidence of past and present cultures in Florida, and promotes knowledge and appreciation of this heritage. As the State’s History Museum, it focuses on artifacts and eras unique to Florida’s development and on roles that Floridians have played in national and global events. Through exhibits, educational programs, research, and collections, the Museum reflects the ways that people have shaped and reacted to their cultural and natural environments. The museum is home to a permanent exhibit of landscape paintings by Florida’s original twenty-six Highwaymen.
The Battle of Natural Bridge took place in March 1865. Union forces, including two regiments of U.S. Colored Troops, landed near the St. Marks Lighthouse hoping to capture Tallahassee. The advance was halted by the Confederates and the Union troops retreated to the coast. The Battle of Natural Bridge Reenactment is held annually in March.
The oldest public cemetery in Tallahassee, Old City Cemetery is one of the city’s most distinctive historic sites. It is the final resting place for many of the men and women who contributed to the development of Tallahassee and the state of Florida. Because it was Tallahassee’s only public burying ground (nearby St. John’s Episcopal Cemetery was established for its congregation in 1840), Old City Cemetery represents a cross-section of Tallahassee’s people during the 19th century — slaves and planters, governors and store clerks, veterans of wars and victims of yellow fever are all buried here.
The Tallahassee Museum features the restored Bellevue mansion with an attached kitchen, slave cabin, a one-room schoolhouse used by former slaves and the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the states first organized black church. It is also one of the few museums in the nation that combines a collection of more than 14 historic buildings and artifacts, a natural habitat zoo of indigenous wildlife and an environmental center on a 52-acre lakeside setting.
Includes 16 terrazzo panes that tell the story of the city’s bus boycott of 1956 and lunch counter sit-in demonstrations of 1960-1963. The sidewalk, located on East Jefferson Street, includes names of some of the Civil Rights leaders and other activists who participated in the protests.
Built in 1894, this historic home is listed under the register of historic places. It now houses a museum celebrating the rich heritage of the Taylor, Casanas, Howell and Alexander families, the Frenchtown community and the civil rights movement.
Once the National Freedman’s Bank for newly emancipated slaves, the building today acts as an annex to the Carrie Meek/James Eaton Sr. Black Archives Research Center.