A Bicentennial Salute During Black History Month

By Visit Tallahassee

Leon County Honors Black Heritage in Its 200-Year Journey

Leon County proudly celebrates Black History Month in its Bicentennial year. The Tallahassee-Leon County Bicentennial serves as a pivotal moment to acknowledge the immense triumphs, aspirations and ambitions of Black Americans. Filled with unwavering perseverance, remarkable achievements, and a cultural legacy spanning art, music, literature, architecture, sports, science and beyond, Tallahassee-Leon County pays homage to Black history not just in February but throughout the year, recognizing the contributions of trailblazing individuals, historical sites and movements that have profoundly shaped society.

From revered civil rights luminaries such as Rev. C.K. Steele, Wilhelmina Jakes, and Carrie Patterson to pioneering black business leaders like George Proctor—a freed slave whose architectural prowess graces some of Tallahassee’s most cherished homes—the indelible impact of these leaders resonates deeply within Leon County. The iconic John G. Riley Center and Museum, a treasured entity listed on the National Register of Historic Places, stands as a poignant reminder in downtown Tallahassee, harkening back to the vibrant African American neighborhood of Smokey Hollow, which once thrived across the present-day Cascades Park area.

Ambitious from the beginning, Tallahassee stands at the forefront of pivotal movements in the fight for freedom and equality. Noteworthy events include the historic first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott House on May 20, 1865—nearly a month before its arrival in Texas on June 19 (Juneteenth). The Tallahassee Bus Boycott, led by Florida A&M students in 1956, stands as another testament to the city’s pivotal role in Black history. The Grove Museum, originally constructed by enslaved African Americans and later the residence of Governor LeRoy Collins, holds significant artifacts that narrate history, including the pen Governor Collins used to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act, marking the end of segregation in Florida.

Located within the Cascades Historical Plaza on the former Leon County Jail site, the Tallahassee Civil Rights Memorial honors the bravery of individuals who led protests against segregation. Adjacent to the Civil Rights Memorial is the solemn Lynching Historical Marker at Cascades Park, a testament to the tragic history of four African American lynching victims.

Founded in 1887, Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University (FAMU) is one of the largest historically black universities in the nation and a cornerstone of Tallahassee-Leon County. Home to one of the largest repositories relating to African American history and culture in the Southeast, the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center & Museum is one of only 10 black archives in the country.

The Union Bank, Florida’s oldest surviving bank building, reopened after the Civil War as the Freedom Saving and Trust Company for emancipated slaves. Now a museum, the Union Bank is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and currently houses special exhibits from the Florida A&M University Black Archives.

Steeped in history and culture spanning over a century, Frenchtown stands as a vibrant testament to the invaluable contributions of the African American community. The Soul Voices of Frenchtown narrates the story of the neighborhood’s compelling history, preserving the stories handed down through generations, illuminating its establishment during the Reconstruction era and its transformation into the thriving community it is today.

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 state’s 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.

From the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration and Parade to the Harambee Festival, Frenchtown Rising, the Jubilee Gospel Music Festival and Soul of the Southside, just to name a few, there are plenty of events year-round that celebrate and honor Black History and Culture in the community. Storied Paths specializes in downtown Tallahassee walking tour experiences and offers a Black History Tour highlighting African American contributions through a curated walk highlighting key civil rights sites and cultural landmarks.

Also in honor of Black History Month, the Tallahassee-Leon Geographic Information Systems (GIS) department has created various self-guided tours and storymaps to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of Black Americans. Take the self-guided tour around Leon County and learn about our local Black history at TLCGIS.org/History.

As we celebrate Black History Month during Tallahassee’s Bicentennial year, Tallahassee-Leon County invites both residents and visitors to explore the courageous stories and historic landmarks that have shaped our region. For detailed information on Black heritage sites, trails, local black celebrities, black-owned restaurants and itineraries dedicated to Black culture and heritage, visit VisitTallahassee.com. Additionally, download the Visit Tallahassee app, available for iPhone and Android devices, for a mobile-friendly experience.


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