Frenchtown Heritage Trail highlights local civil rights leaders

Photo of one Frenchtown Heritage Trail markers with audio. Photo courtesy: Visit Tallahassee

The stories of civil rights leaders who once called the City of Tallahassee their home are now carved in metal plaques. The Soul Voices: Frenchtown Heritage Trail is located along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to honor these Frenchtown heroes. 

According to Visit Tallahassee, Frenchtown is the oldest Tallahassee community; full of rich history of Black innovators, leaders, businesses, and families since many newly freed slaves settled in Florida after Emancipation. The historical markers feature generations of Black history and culture. 

Founding Executive Director of the John Gilmore Riley Center & Museum for African American History & Culture, Inc., Althemese Barnes, is responsible for bringing the historical markers to life and continuing preservation efforts of the neighborhood’s history. 

The local historian interviewed Black residents in Leon County and has over 70 audio recordings that can be heard through speakers on the plaques. The trail highlights the locations of these stories at Black businesses, generational homes, and schools in Frenchtown history. 

Reports from the Tallahassee Democrat stated that three new historical markers were added a week before Martin Luther King Jr. Day to recognize foot soldiers and how they contributed to ending segregation in the South on Jan. 13, 2022. City Commissioner Curtis Richardson was among the city leaders who have shown support to the heritage trail and its new additions. 

One of the newest Frenchtown Heritage Trail markers unveiled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Photo courtesy: Tallahassee Democrat

“The purpose of those markers was to capture the history and culture of the Tallahassee community through the years,” said Richardson. “So that not only African Americans, but all citizens of Tallahassee understand the important and significant role that African Americans played in the development of this city.”

Richardson stated that Tallahassee is one of the few cities in the nation with physical markers exhibited throughout the city that “captures history and culture for future generations.”

Larry Eugene Rivers, Ph.D., a distinguished Professor of history at Florida A&M University, says that this is only the beginning of recognition for the African American leaders of Frenchtown.

“So many times, the voices of people are left out of history,” said Rivers. “It is important to hear from the very people who improved a situation or made an event happen, and not from the voices of second and third parties.”

With over one hundred years of Black history on display in Frenchtown, the community located in the heart of Tallahassee has historical voices and stories on display. The historical trail will have ‘Soul Voices’ on display for a lifetime to show how the history of Frenchtown contributed to the city we know today—Tallahassee.