New grant assists Riley House project

The John G. Riley House & Museum in Tallahassee. Photo courtesy

The John Gilmore Riley House Museum has been awarded a $50,000 African American Civil Rights grant from the Historic Preservation Fund. Split over the next two years, the grant will support a publication that presents a chronological account of the history of African American educators in Leon County.

This comes in addition to the $246,250 grant the Riley House received in November 2021 to digitize the archival collection that is in partnership with Tallahassee Community College and Florida State University.

Founded in 1996 by Althemese Barnes, the Riley House became a historic staple and tourist attraction for the city of Tallahassee.

It holds a vast collection of history of African Americans and native Americans, and the local Black community. It also brings awareness to how much African Americans have contributed to the city and tri-state area, acknowledging the legacies that have been left behind. The museum continues to preserve its collection for the public.

Barnes, who is also the executive director of the Riley House, says not many people know the history of the area where they live.

“One of the publications we will emphasize on is the 52 one-room Negro school houses, and the descendants of enslaved people who attended those schools,” Barnes said. The Riley House will also provide publications of photos and transcripts of oral histories which will be kept at the Riley Museum Archive at Tallahassee Community College. The museum focuses on individuals in Leon County, and the tri-state areas.

The Riley House is also the headquarters for the Florida African American Heritage Preservation network, which consists of over 32 museums across the state of Florida that serve the same purpose as the Riley House. Barnes says the grant will help preserve the museum because of how much history is unknown, and people need to know how Tallahassee established itself as a city.

“One of the events we want the public to attend is the Emancipation Commemoration on May 20, which the city declared a paid holiday. Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Plant City, Gainesville, Vero Beach and others will also participate. This event will establish the lack of awareness in the Emancipation Proclamation, as some are very hype that Juneteenth exists — not knowing the paid holiday only applies to the state of Texas.”

Publications will also cover the periods of segregation and desegregation, and how African Americans challenged the system for change. It will feature citizens and educators who overcame  discriminatory laws.

The research project is in progress and is expected to be available to the public in summer 2023.