Leon County Celebrates Tallahassee's Rich African American History
LEON COUNTY CELEBRATES TALLAHASSEE’S RICH AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2020)–Leon County 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 to museums, boycotts and Florida’s first spot on the National Blues Trail, Tallahassee celebrates its history and 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 Leon County has a wealth of African American heritage sites, offering a glimpse into the people, places and events that shaped our society.
Frenchtown Walking Trail – Soul Voices
Recently launched by the John G. Riley House, 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.
John G. Riley House Museum and Smokey Hollow
The John G. 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.
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 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.
Located downtown on the corner of Monroe and Jefferson Streets, the Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Sidewalk tells the story of the city’s 1956 bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-in demonstrations of 1960-1963. History comes to life at The Knott House Museum, where the Emancipation Proclamation was first read to Floridians 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 reenactment of the reading is part of an annual celebration each May 20.
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.
The Grove Museum
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.
Other notable African American heritage sites include:
- Battle of Natural Bridge Historic State Park, where two regiments of U.S. Colored Troops among Union forces fought against the Confederates
- First Presbyterian Church, 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.
- Old City Cemetery, Tallahassee’s first public cemetery served as the burial place for both African Americans and whites as early as 1829. Laws at the time required African Americans be buried in the western half of the cemetery. After 1937 most African Americans were buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
- Tallahassee Museum, offers various historic structures including the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, the state’s first organized black church.
- Taylor House Museum, historic home of Lewis W. Taylor and a museum of African American history, culture and civil rights.