History and Heritage: Black History Month in Florida’s Capital Region
Throughout Florida’s history, the Capital Region has been impacted and shaped by the immense triumphs of Black Americans. Filled with struggle, perseverance, achievement, and a legacy that includes art, music, literature, architecture and more, Tallahassee/Leon County celebrate Black History all year long – but especially each February – when Leon County commemorates the history and heritage of those trailblazing individuals, movements and historical sites that shaped our society and honors their contribution to American history in Leon County.
From civil rights heroes like Rev. C.K. Steele, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson to historic black business leaders and entrepreneurs like George Proctor, a freed slave and builder responsible for some of Tallahassee’s most beloved homes, the impact of black leaders can be found throughout Leon County. The John G. Riley Center and Museum, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, elegantly stands in downtown Tallahassee and reminds us of the thriving African American neighborhood of Smokey Hollow, which once stretched across present-day Cascades Park.
John G. Riley Center and Museum
Taking its place among some of the most influential cities in the fight for freedom and equality, Tallahassee is home to movements that accelerated progress for African Americans across the nation. From the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in Florida on the steps of the Knott House on May 20, 1865, nearly a full month before finally reaching Texas on June 19 (Juneteenth), to the Tallahassee Bus Boycott led by Florida A&M students in 1956, Tallahassee has been the center of Black history for centuries. 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 on display is the pen that was used by Governor Collins to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ending segregation in Florida. 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 in Tallahassee’s civil rights history. Steps away from the Civil Rights Memorial is the Lynching Historical Marker at Cascades Park, remembering the 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.
Located in the heart of Tallahassee with a history and culture stretching back over a hundred years, Frenchtown is a living, breathing monument to the contributions of the African American community. The Soul Voices of Frenchtown guides visitors on the journey of Frenchtown’s history through the voices of former and current residents as they tell stories handed down through generations. Learn how Frenchtown was established in the Reconstruction era and how it became the thriving community we know today.
The Soul Voices of Frenchtown
For over 50 years, the Bradfordville Blues Club has been keeping the blues alive in Tallahassee/Leon County, legendarily hosting blues giants like Ray Charles, B.B. King and Chuck Berry. The club is celebrated as Florida’s first site listed on the historic Mississippi Blues Trail.
Black History in Leon County continues to unfold with new events celebrating black history and culture, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Celebration and Parade, the Harambee Festival, Frenchtown Rising, and Soul of the Southside, which has become annual traditions for the entire community. A new exhibit at LeMoyne Arts, Passionate Journey, is on view through February 25, 2023, and features the work of Eluster Richardson and others and showcases the African American experience and journey in North Florida. From southern eats to snowball treats, black-owned businesses and restaurants are tantalizing taste buds as an essential part of Tallahassee cuisine and culture.
The LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library System will offer events and resources recognizing Black History Month throughout February. On Saturday, February 11, starting at 11 a.m. at the downtown Main Library, enjoy a back-to-back showing of the documentary I Am Not Your Negro followed by the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight. Then, on Saturday, February 25, at 1 p.m. at the downtown Main Library, participate in the 2023 Leon County African American Read-In, which brings the community together to enjoy children’s stories by African American authors read aloud by local speakers. Audience members will also be invited to read from a selection of books provided by the library. See all the events and resources the library has to offer at LeonCountyFL.gov/BlackHistoryMonth.
Throughout Black History Month and beyond, Tallahassee/Leon County invites visitors and residents to explore the people and places whose courage and vision have made significant contributions to our region. To find more information and a complete list of Black heritage sites as well as trails and itineraries dedicated to Black culture and heritage, visit VisitTallahassee.com. For a mobile-friendly version of the itineraries, download the Visit Tallahassee app, available for iPhone and Android devices.
About the Leon County Division of Tourism/Visit Tallahassee: The Leon County Division of Tourism (Visit Tallahassee) is the official destination marketing organization charged with marketing Tallahassee-Leon County as a premier leisure, business and sports destination through direct sales, advertising, public relations, sports and visitor services. As the Capital of Cross Country, Tallahassee-Leon County is home to the internationally recognized cross-country course at Apalachee Regional Park, which will serve as the host for the 2026 World Athletics Cross Country Championships. In 2022, Tallahassee-Leon County welcomed 2.3 million visitors who contributed $1.2 billion in economic impact and accounted for more than 14,708 people employed in our community in the tourism and hospitality industry. For more information, go to VisitTallahassee.com or call toll-free (800) 628-2866. Engage with Visit Tallahassee on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using #iHeartTally and #Trailahassee.