Original Lincoln High School receives historical marker

One of the first schools created by the Freedmen’s Bureau, Lincoln High School, received a historical marker.

(Move the middle bar in the center of the photo to compare the current Lincoln High to its original structure.)

Michael Hart, State Historical Marker Coordinator who presented the marker, said the school was significant because it was one of two black schools in Florida at the time. The foundation the school was built on was also important.

“The building that the marker was placed in front of was built in 1929,” Hart said. “It was constructed with funds from the Rosenwald Foundation established by Julius Rosenwald, president of Sears, Roebuck, & Co. The foundation helped establish schools for African Americans all over the south, particularly in rural areas. Lincoln High School was a major educational center for African Americans not just in Tallahassee but throughout Leon County.”

Lincoln Academy, named after President Abraham Lincoln, was first organized on Lafayette and Copeland Streets in 1869, and many students took advantage of receiving a high school education.​

Gwen Lucas, supervisor of the Lincoln Center and an instrumental part in the wording of the marker, said it was important to include how African Americans from many cities came to Leon County seeking an education.

“There were people that came outside of Leon County to go to school here,” Lucas said. “They were high school students or going into high school students and their families sent them to live with people here in Tallahassee so they can finish high school. They got shipped here. People came from 40 miles away and when those kids wanted to go on to high school they got sent to Lincoln. So, that history needed to be on the marker.”

After the school burned down in 1906, Lincoln Academy was relocated until it was taken over by the Florida State College for Women. Lincoln Academy then moved to Brevard Street in Frenchtown, where they became known as the Lincoln High School Tigers.

In the late 60s, Leon County schools began integration which prompted officials to look towards closing the building. Many alumni speculate that the school closed because whites near the area would be forced to send their children to Lincoln High School due to zoning. In 1967, Lincoln High students were moved to Griffin Middle School and the last class to graduate was in 1969.

Althemese Barnes, Lincoln High class of 1961, said she can remember receiving the news of the school's closing on the last day of school.

“We were told, by the people in power that a beam had broken and that the school was in danger of collapsing,” Barnes said.  “So on the last day of school they told us that we would not be coming back to that structure. We would be going to Griffin Middle School, but to this day that beam hasn’t broken yet and the building is still standing.”

The Lincoln Neighborhood Service Center does still stand and provides the community with educational, medical, and social services.

The historical marker ceremony took place at the Lincoln Center and welcomed more than 400 guests who took pictures with the marker. Alumni were also able to reflect on high school days in the small museum that includes items from the school.  Lucas said a significant moment from the ceremony was to see the classes interact with each other.

“I found here the students who graduated still consider this to be their school,” Lucas said. “The city had ownership of the building since 1974, but still reference it as ‘our school.’ It’s the bond that they have that is so amazing to watch. It truly was a family. I listened to some of the stories of how when you [past classes] were raised everyone in the neighborhood raised you.”

Cynthia Gardner Williams, class of 1960, attended the event and said she was happy to see the school get the recognition it deserved. Williams remembered her experience at Lincoln and said although they were not given the best resources, the teachers made it their goal to make best of what they had.

“I never saw a new book,” Williams said. “We got the books that schools discarded. So the books that Leon was discarding [because they were getting new editions] we were getting their old books. They were not in the best condition but that’s all we had. The teachers really worked hard to try to give us a strong educational foundation. They were very committed to their jobs.”

Williams said she is thankful for the education she received at the original Lincoln High School and the opportunity to attend one of the first schools for blacks.

“That is the foundation of the education in Tallahassee,” Williams said. “Without Lincoln I don’t know what Tallahassee would’ve been like.”

Lucas said getting the historic marker is one of proudest moments of working at the center, and her goal is to continue to provide aid for all ages.

“We are all public servants. I look at having kids in the building from infancy to adulthood. From the adulthood perspective, they’re getting healthcare services. We’re still trying to meet the needs, especially the social service needs for seniors. Because you’re getting them out of the house, it’s meeting their social service needs and keeping them pretty active as they start to mature.”