Tallahassee Historical Society Shares Black History
By Navael Fontus
On Feb. 11, Big Bend residents were offered a trip to the Tallahassee of the 1800s back to the the Civil Rights Movement that has been labeled “forgotten.”
The one-hour event presented by the Tallahassee Historical Society took place at the Governor Martin House located on Lafayette Rd., and gave residents information about the very first Civil Rights Movement that received little light here in Tallahassee.
Featured speaker, historian Mary Cathrin May, spoke in honor of Black History Month. May discussed Tallahassee and Leon County’s first Civil Rights Movement, the first black elected officials of Leon County government and the reason why the movement did not succeed.
May, a Tallahassee historian and former history teacher at Rickards High School, is a veteran speaker who enjoys speaking about the lesser known facts of Tallahassee history.
“Until I did this research, it had not occurred to me all these Black leaders before the recently elected ones,” said May. “And when I found all these people who nobody remembers, I said, ‘oh gosh, I must put this in writing.’ ”
May began her speech at the end of the Civil War in the country’s era of Reconstruction when African Americans were eager about starting life as freed people. She spoke about the difficulty the 9,000 newly freed Blacks faced living in Leon and the surrounding counties. Newly freedmen did not have any land. Many didn’t have jobs. And several weren’t skilled and were uneducated. May spoke about how Blacks had no experience taking care of themselves much less taking care of a family.
She went on to speak about the progression Blacks made in gaining positions in local offices, from legislator to City Councilman. She spoke about how that movement began with slaves who turned to church leaders in Tallahassee. Pastors of churches urged parishioners to start a movement to gain equality.
“Their primary mission was to tend to the general welfare of the recently freed slaves,” said May. “However, along with their sermons, they preached Republican ideas and political and economic equality for all colored people.”
May offered visuals of maps and historic figures to accompany her speech. Listeners ranging from students to older adults took notes and listened intently. Her listeners seemed appreciative of the knowledge they received from May and applauded at the end of her speech. Following her speech refreshments were served and guests had a chance to converse with May and ask any question of their own.
Dave Lang president of the Tallahassee Historical Society spoke about the event.
“We usually have a Black History program in February, so Mary was pleased to do it this year,” said Lang.
“To me being an old school teacher, these speeches are about education,” said May. “When I speak about anything I have done that has to do with my research, I am trying very hard to educate whoever I’m speaking to about facts that they wouldn’t know.”