Historic markers honor Frenchtown’s rich history

The community crowds around the first historical marker. Photo by Tracey Belizaire

City officials, Tallahassee residents and local media outlets braved dreary skies Friday to witness the unveiling of the Soul Voices: Frenchtown Historical Markers and walking trail at the Renaissance Center.

Frenchtown is one of the oldest African-American communities in the state of Florida. The Frenchtown Soul Voices Historical Markers highlight its history dating back to the mid-1870s when Frenchtown was a thriving community with businesses, families, schools and churches.

To kick off the event, a musical prelude was performed by Fred Lee Jr. The coordinator of the event, Althemese Barnes, was impressed by the turnout and looks forward to adding more markers around the city.

“I’m very impressed with the turnout given the weather. We just didn’t know what to expect,” said Barnes. “I hope when we leave here they’ll be so impressed and that we’ll be able to add more and more markers to tell our stories.”

City Commissioner, Dianne Williams-Cox said it is important for the older generations to share history with the younger ones. Williams-Cox and others also called on the Legislature to enforce African-American history in the state’s classrooms.

“We are asking the Florida Legislature to reinforce the law that is on the books to teach African American history in all 67 counties and to teach about the Holocaust,” said Williams-Cox. “We ask you to join us in that effort so that we can have more days like today.”

Alongside Commissioner Williams-Cox, Commissioners Curtis B. Richardson, Jeremy Matlow, Elaine Bryant, and other city leaders spoke to the Tallahassee community.

Event attendee Avis McGhee is the daughter of Florida A&M University’s first law college graduate, Alfonso McGhee. McGhee appreciates the community showcasing the rich history in Frenchtown and looks forward to her family coming to Tallahassee to see the many historical markers.

“I’m absolutely thrilled because I know my father would never have dreamt that his name would be on a marker in Frenchtown,” said McGhee. “I can’t wait for the rest of my family to come and see this.”

After presentations, residents were given maps to find the remaining markers on the walking trail. The first 50 to complete the trail received a “Fall in Historic Frenchtown” T-shirt.

The project was led by the Riley House Museum and funded by the James S. and John L. Knight Foundation, City of Tallahassee, Community Redevelopment Agency and others.

There are nine markers located on MLK Jr. Blvd. and along Macomb Street. Riley House Museum announced there will be four more markers and banners going up by February.