Mary C. May: Breathing life into Leon County’s Black political history

Mary C. May


By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook

Mary Cathrin May is a sixth generation Floridian, born in Vernon, Florida in Washington County. She has been a resident of Tallahassee since 1967. She received both a BS degree in Social Studies Education (1969) and a MS degree in Social Science (1974) from Florida State University. She taught Social Studies and History at Rickards High School (1970-78) and at the Florida State University K-12 School (Florida High) from 1978-2000. She was known as a teacher who breathed life into America’s history and gave relevance to Social Studies through current events and issues.

It was after her retirement that she was able to devote time to another love, researching and writing about the history of Tallahassee/ Leon County and the North Florida region during slavery, Reconstruction, and the emergence of Black political leaders after the Emancipation Proclamation. She has written four  books since her retirement. They are The Steadfast Line: the Story of the 27th Bomb Group in World War II (2005);  Vernon: the Heart of OLD Washington County, Florida (2006); From Freedmen to Free Men: Black Political Leaders in Tallahassee and Leon County, 1865-1971 (2009); and Little City on the Hilltops: Tallahassee in the Gilded Age (2014).

Because of her books, she is much in demand as a speaker for historical, senior citizens, local educational and civic organizations. Presentations on her third book on the local history of Black political leaders up to 1971, with an index briefly summarizing the history of Black political leaders through the early 1990s, have been the most popular. Her riveting presentations on that book are the reason she is the perfect choice for Person of the Week during the first week of Black History Month. The book provides a view into the politics of the late 1800s and Black residents’ ascent to political leadership in spite of enormous obstacles and ongoing challenges. Because of her research and extensive knowledge of local Black political history, she will be a speaker at an Awards Dinner on February 22 celebrating Tallahassee’s Black History Firsts in Government at the Capital City Country Club.

In addition to her writing and speaking schedule, she has been a devoted community volunteer. Her service has included President and Vice President of the Democratic Club of North Florida, Vice President of the Tallahassee Historical Society, the Tallahassee Senior Center, the Historic Florida Capitol, the Museum of Florida History, and the historic Knott House where the Emancipation Proclamation was read alerting North Florida slaves that they had been freed.

The Capital Outlook is, therefore, pleased to recognize Mary Cathrin May, an outstanding teacher and historian, as Person of the Week for breathing life into the Black political history of Tallahassee/ Leon County as we begin Black History Month.

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