Historical Sites in Tallahassee: 21 Historical Places to Visit in Tallahassee
By Florida Division of Historic Resources Staff
There are many historical sites in Tallahassee and points of interest for those researching African American history.
Florida has a rich and diverse history, and there are many Tallahassee historical sites to explore. African American landmarks and legacies exist in various locations throughout the state. The following historical sites can be found in Leon County. While some of these Tallahassee historical sites can be visited, other listings are marked "private" and are not open to the public.
Bethel Missionary Baptist Church
224 North Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
The late Rev. C. K. Steele, former pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, was one of Tallahassee’s most notable civil rights activists. Many meetings associated with the Tallahassee bus boycott were held in this church, which made it a target of Ku Klux Klan activity. (850) 222-8440.
Carnegie Library, The Carrie Meek/James Eaton Sr., Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center & Museum
FAMU campus, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Gamble Street
The Carnegie Library was completed in 1907 and is the oldest standing building on the Florida A&M University campus. As a specialty museum and research center, the Archive houses historical papers and artifacts. The Black Archives and Carnegie Library have been expanded into a regional research facility. (850) 599-3020, www.famu.edu/acad/archives/.
Florida State Archives, Florida Department of State
500 South Bronough Street
In addition to on site research, the Florida State Archives offers web-based access to an extensive collection of original documents, photographs, and other materials for historical research on state history through the Florida Memory Project at www.floridamemory.com. (850) 245-6700.
First Presbyterian Church
110 North Adams Street
Organized in 1832, congregation members completed this sanctuary in 1838. The only Tallahassee church still standing from territorial days, the Classic Revival style building with Gothic doors and windows is prominent in downtown. The north gallery was set aside for slaves who were allowed membership, but sat apart from their masters. (850) 222-4504, www.oldfirstchurch.org.
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU)
Martin Luther King Boulevard
Established in 1887 as the Florida State Normal College for Colored Students, FAMU is the oldest historically black public university in Florida. The first president, Thomas DeSaille Tucker, and his assistant, Thomas Van Rennasaler Gibbs, the university's co-founder and vice president, guided the school’s beginning including its move from Copeland Street to its present location, as the Florida State Normal and Industrial College for Colored Students. Today this multiracial university is comprised of several schools and colleges. (850) 599-3000, www.famu.edu
Fred Douglas Lee Statue
Corner of Macomb and Georgia Streets
Fred Douglas Lee was the first black police officer in Tallahassee assigned to a regular beat. He was recruited by civil rights activist Rev. C. K. Steele, Sr., and others, to break the color barrier that existed in law enforcement prior to Lee’s appointment in the late 1950s. This statue to his legacy was erected in 2004.
Frenchtown Historic Community
Tennessee Street to Brevard Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Copeland Street
In 1831, Tallahassee historical sites, plantations, churches, homesteads, educational institutions, businesses and residences filled this area. The community has long been occupied by free people of color and other persons of African descent. Following the Civil War many freed slaves migrated into the area. Frenchtown developed into a thriving middle-class African American community, with Macomb Street as the hub of activity. Frenchtown declined in the 1960s and only a few original structures remain, but the area is currently undergoing revitalization.
South Adams Street (Private)
Gibbs Cottage, constructed in 1894 and moved here from its original site, was the home of Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs. Gibbs was a member of the Florida Legislature who in 1887 introduced legislation that resulted in the founding of the Florida State Normal College for Colored Students.
Bainbridge Road and Tharpe Street
When a 1936 ordinance prevented the sale of burial plots to blacks in the Old City Cemetery, those already owning spaces were permitted to continue burials, although they were not encouraged. In protest, seven African Americans, led by J.R.D. Laster, Tallahassee’s first black funeral director, purchased 16 acres on Old Bainbridge Road and established Greenwood in 1937. The City of Tallahassee assumed ownership and responsibility for perpetual care of the historic cemetery in 1987.
At the dead end of Woodward Street, headed south
This statue recognizes three of the first African American students to enroll and graduate from Florida State University in the 1960s. Represented are: Maxwell Courtney, who was one of three African-Americans to become the school's first full-time enrollees and he was the first African-American to graduate; Doby Lee Flowers, who enrolled, graduated, and was the first Black Miss Florida State University; and Fred Flowers, the first black to wear a varsity athletic uniform. (850) 644-2450.
FAMU Campus, Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard
On May 26, 1956, Florida A&M University students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson were arrested in Tallahassee because they were asked to locate to the standing-only area of the bus in order to give up their seats to white passengers. They insisted that they would prefer to just leave the bus upon return of their bus fare. The driver refused and had them arrested. The students were harassed and a cross was burned in their front yard. This act of passive resistance rallied Tallahassee NAACP leaders Robert Saunders and the Reverend C.K. Steele, and FAMU students to initiate a boycott that ended segregation on the city buses.
John G. Riley House
419 East Jefferson Street
The John G. Riley house represents the thriving black neighborhood that once existed in what is now the downtown area of Tallahassee. John Gilmore Riley was a black educator and civic leader in Tallahassee in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was the principal of Lincoln Academy, the first black high school in Leon County. The frame vernacular house which Riley had built for his family in the 1890s was the family home until his death in 1954. Today, the home is restored and open to the public as a museum and research center dedicated to African American history and culture. (850) 681-7881, www.rileymuseum.org.
Knott House Museum
301 East Park Avenue
The Knott House was first occupied in 1843 by Attorney Thomas Hagner and his wife Catherine Gamble. The house is thought to have been built by free black builder George Proctor. When Union General Edward M. McCook entered Tallahassee on May 10, 1865, with orders to accept the surrender of Florida’s capital, he set up Union headquarters at the house. Ten days later, on the steps of the house, McCook issued President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. In 1928 the house was acquired by William and Luella Knott. The house museum is open to the public. (850) 922-2459, museumoffloridahistory.com/about/sites/.
The McKinney House
438 West Georgia Street
Built in 1945 by Nathaniel and Lucille McKinney, the present owner was the second female African American assistant principal of Leon County Schools. (850) 224-1775.
Museum of Florida History, Florida Department of State
500 South Bronough Street
Permanent exhibits include information about Florida’s African American history. “Florida in the Civil War” presents the story of African American troops who served in the Union Army and fought in the Battle of Olustee near Lake City in 1864, and at the Battle of Natural Bridge south of Tallahassee in 1865. “Florida Remembers World War II” recalls the more than 50,000 black Floridians who entered the military during World War II, and displays memorabilia of Lt. James Polkinghorne, a Tuskegee Airman from Pensacola who lost his life in Italy serving as a fighter pilot. (850) 245-6400, www.museumoffloridahistory.com.
Old City Cemetery
Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Park Avenue
Tallahassee’s first public cemetery served as the burial place for blacks and whites as early as 1829. Laws required that blacks be buried in the western half of the cemetery, so segregation continued after death. Prominent African Americans buried here include Thomas Van Renssalaer Gibbs, Reconstruction legislator and educator; William Gunn, one of the first black physicians in Florida; John G. Riley, noted educator; and James Page, founder of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. A 1936 city ordinance further prevented the sale of burial plots to blacks, and after 1937 most African Americans were buried in the Greenwood Cemetery and later at Southside Cemetery. (850) 545-5842.
Florida Historic Capitol Museum and Florida Legislative Research Center
400 South Monroe Street
Highlighting the history of Florida politics and encouraging citizen involvement in the political process, exhibits examine the struggle for civil rights in Florida with displays about Martin Luther King, Jr., the Tallahassee bus boycott and civil rights activist Harry T. Moore. Topics also include racial violence, slavery, reconstruction, integration and the Jim Crow period. (850) 487-1902.
Old Lincoln High School
438 West Brevard Street
The academic body that became Lincoln Academy was first organized in 1869. When the first building at Lafayette and Copeland burned, a new structure was built at Copeland and Park Avenue. In 1906, Lincoln Academy moved into a frame building on Brevard Street in Frenchtown, and in 1926 the wooden structure was replaced by a brick building that also served as a gathering place. This Lincoln High school site was closed in 1967. The building now serves as a community center. (850) 891- 4180.
3945 Museum Drive
This museum features several structures of historical significance related to black heritage. Bellevue, an 1840s plantation house and reconstructed slave cabin, addresses a period in Florida history when cotton planters built fortunes through slave labor. The 1890s Concord Schoolhouse provided classrooms for the children of former slaves, and is a reminder of the struggles and strides made in black education. The B.O. Wood Turpentine Commissary, a “company store” of the early 1900s, sold provisions to black workers returning from long days in the pine forest. The Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church, built in 1937 by a rural black congregation, traces its founding to slave preacher James Page, ordained in the 1850s. (850) 576- 1636 or 575-8684, www.tallahasseemuseum.org.
The Tookes Hotel
412 Virginia Street (Private)
Mrs. Dorothy Nash Tookes, a founder of the Bond Street School for African American children in the 1930s, modified her home to accommodate African American travelers who could not stay in white hotels during segregation.
Union Bank Building
219 Apalachee Parkway
The Union Bank, chartered in 1833, was a planters’ bank in the territorial period of Florida history. Constructed in 1841 and displaying elements of Federal and Greek Revival architecture, the building has housed a variety of business and cultural interests including the National Freedman’s Bank for newly emancipated slaves during Reconstruction. The Union Bank now serves as an extension of the Southeastern Regional Black History Archives Research Center & Museum of Florida A&M University. Artifacts and documents reflecting black history and culture are on display. (850) 599-3020 or 561-2603, www.famu.edu/.