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 to museums, boycotts and the only stop in Florida on the National Blues Trail, the capitol city 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 capital city has a wealth of African American heritage sites, offering a glimpse into the people, places and events that shaped our society.
Black Archives Research Center & 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. This collection is the most extensive in the Southeast. It is one of 10 black archives in the country and contains more than 500,000 archival records and 5,000 artifacts in its collection.
Bradfordville Blues Club
Florida’s only site on the National Blues Trail, this historic, one-room cinder block “juke joint” is the site of performances by an impressive list of nationally renowned Blues acts. The BBC features a different artist every Friday and Saturday evening. The club’s history includes performances by Bobby Blue Bland, Duke Robillard, Big Daddy Kinsey, Lavelle White and many others.
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.
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. This is the only Tallahassee church remaining from territorial days.
Florida A&M University
Established in 1887, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) remains the only historically black university 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. FAMU offers 97 degree programs and has an enrollment of more than 12,000 students.
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.
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.
John G. Riley House and Museum
Built in 1890 by John G. Riley, local educator and civic leader, the home is the last visible evidence of Smokey Hollow, an African-American community that once thrived in downtown Tallahassee. Exhibits feature historical artwork and photographs. The museum was rated No. 8 on the Black Entertainment Television’s list of “Must See African American Places in the U.S.”
Knott House Museum
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.
Museum of Florida History
Opened in 1977 as the state’s history museum, it houses exhibits and artifacts covering Florida’s history and prehistory. More than 40,000 artifacts and permanent exhibits span periods from the prehistoric mastodon to the Space Age.
Natural Bridge Battlefield Historic State Park
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.
Old City Cemetery
Tallahassee’s first public cemetery served as the burial place for both African Americans and whites as early as 1829, but laws at the time required African Americans be buried in the western half of the cemetery. Thomas Van Renssaler Gibbs (Reconstruction legislator and educator), James Page (founder of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church) and John G. Riley (noted educator) are buried here. After 1937 most African Americans were buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
The museum boasts 52 acres which include: native wildlife habitats, Tree-to-Tree Adventures an outdoor zip line and adventure course, historic buildings and educational exhibits. The Tallahassee Museum features the restored Bellevue mansion with an attached kitchen and slave cabin as well as a one-room schoolhouse used by former slaves. It is also one of the few museums in the nation that combines a natural habitat zoo of indigenous wildlife, a collection of more than 14 historic buildings and artifacts, and an environmental center on a 52 acre lakeside setting.
Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Walk
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.
Taylor House Museum of Historic Frenchtown
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. Open Wednesday– Saturday 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Free
Union Bank Museum
Once the National Freedman’s Bank for newly emancipated slaves, the building today it acts as an annex to the Carrie Meek/James Eaton Sr. Black Archives Research Center.
For a complete list of African American heritage sites click HERE.