African American History: A Vital Part of the Tallahassee Story
The places and people whose courage and vision have made significant contributions to the Capital region, both past and present.
Celebrate the history, culture and strength of the Black community and the crucial role they played in shaping Florida’s Capital City. Explore the wealth of sites, experiences and stories, each offering a glimpse into the people, places and events that shaped our society and continue to do so today. From being the first city in Florida to hear the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation to museums, boycotts and the first stop in Florida on the Mississippi Blues Trail, visitors can experience the African American story woven into an inspiring narrative of struggles and triumphs.
Attractions, Museums + Itineraries
Tallahassee is home to several notable museums and attractions that highlight Black culture in Florida’s Capital City. Built in 1890, the John G. Riley Center and Museum was originally the home to local educator and civic leader John Riley and is the last visible evidence of Smokey Hollow, an African American community that once thrived in downtown. Today, the museum hosts tours and events that share the legacy of African Americans to Florida’s history.
Visitors to the Tallahassee Museum can experience first-hand the first organized black church in Florida as well as a school for children of former slaves. To help guide visitors through the African American experiences, the African American Heritage and Black Culture Experience itineraries features these sites and more.
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU)
Founded in 1887, Florida Agriculture & Mechanical University (FAMU) is one of the largest historically black universities in the nation and is a cornerstone of Tallahassee. 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. Explore the extensive collection of African artifacts showcasing history dating back to the 17th century.
While taking in the beauty of campus, visit the Eternal Flame, a monument that burns brightly as a symbol of Rattler excellence and the perfect spot to reflect on the history of the university. Coiled and proudly ready to strike in front of the Center for Access and Student Success Building on Wahnish Way, the 1,500-pound Rattler Statue is an ideal spot to strike a selfie.
Civil Rights and Emancipation
The Capital City has seen many significant steps in the pursuit of civil rights and equality. Stand on the steps of the Knott House where on May 20, 1865, Union Brigadier General Edward M. McCook read the Emancipation Proclamation publicly for the first time in the State of Florida on May 20, 1865, a full month before June 19, 1865 when the remainder of the nation recognized that all enslaved persons were emancipated. A turning point in the struggle for civil rights can be found at the Grove Museum, one of the best preserved homes originally built by enslaved African Americans and later the home of Governor LeRoy Collins. Among the artifacts preserved here, is the pen that was used by Governor Collins to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act ending segregation in Florida.
A short walk down Jefferson Street in the shadows of the Capitol, visitors experience the Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Sidewalk where 16 terrazzo panels recognize the Tallahassee residents and FAMU students who were instrumental in amplifying the national call for Civil Rights through peaceful protests, bus boycotts and sit-ins including Wilhelmina Jakes, Carrie Patterson and Reverend CK Steele. The pursuit for equality continues today. As a modern reminder to all who see it, the Black Lives Matter mural at the intersection of Railroad Avenue and Gaines Street stands as an expression of Tallahassee’s continued support of diversity and equality in the community.
Tallahassee Civil Rights Memorial
Located on the site of the former Leon County Jail now known as the Cascades Historical Plaza, the Tallahassee Civil Rights Memorial honors the courageous men and women who led the jail-in to protest segregation and interprets other key events of Tallahassee’s civil right history. A second smaller exhibit entitled “the Four Corners of History” shares the story of the Old City Waterworks Building, the Caroline Brevard Grammar School, the former Leon County Health Unit and the former jail site.
Located in the heart of Tallahassee is a community with history and culture stretching back over a hundred years, Frenchtown is a living and breathing monument to the contributions of the African American community. The Soul Voices of Frenchtown guides visitors on the journey of Frenchtown’s history in the voices of former and current residents as they tell stories handed down through generations. Learn how Frenchtown took root in the Reconstruction era and how it became the thriving community we know today. Among the landmarks of Frenchtown is the Lewis W. Taylor House that was built in 1894 and serves as a museum of African-American History, culture and civil rights.
Art & Artistry
Black artistry is at the core of the African American experience in Tallahassee. Experience the sounds that make up the spirit of the black community at the Bradfordville Blues Club, where, for over 50 years, legend has it that blues giants like Ray Charles, B. B. King and Chuck Barry played under its roof. The club is celebrated as Florida’s first site listed on the historic Mississippi Blues Trail. Experience other forms of art that thrive throughout Tallahassee, through local events and venues such as the Anderson Brickler Gallery and Black On Black Rhyme or enjoy a walk through FAMU campus to explore murals and artwork paying homage to the Divine 9 organizations and alumni that made FAMU great.
The Culinary Experience
From southern eats to snowball treats, Black-owned restaurants are an essential part of Tallahassee cuisine and culture. In fact, a stroke of culinary genius is spreading throughout Tallahassee, and it is inspiring a new generation of young, gifted, and black entrepreneurs. These businesses – The Chocolate Dandies, and Gurlie’s Lemonade have been filling bellies and dominating headlines with their creative approaches to sweet treats and cuisine.
Other must stop spots include Olean’s Cafe near FAMU, Earley’s Kitchen, Hemplade Vegan Café, and Leola’s Crab Shack.
Images of hope, messages of equality, and the voices of community are woven throughout Tallahassee-Leon County. The Black History and Culture Photo Gallery takes visitors on a journey throughout the city to the historical sites core to the black experience in Tallahassee. The photo gallery takes a look back in time at figures such as George Proctor and the Rutgers House, and a look ahead at the revitalization of locations such as the Frenchtown Heritage Hub. Experience where the past meets the present with this closer look at the Black History woven throughout the City.
For a mobile friendly version of the itineraries, download the Visit Tallahassee app available for iPhone and Android devices.