Celebrating Southside

Festival organizers plan to tell the story of Black lives, culture

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

Try going back about 50 years or so and taking a tour of Tallahassee’s Southside. 

If that were possible, the picture would be much different. Neighborhoods were vibrant, mostly self-contained and community spirit was at an all-time high.

In part, that is the story that organizers of Soul of the Southside Arts and Humanities Festival want to share.  The event begins on May 20 and concludes two days later at Lake Anita, the hub venue near the intersection of FAMU Way and South Adams Street.

“The goal here was to say how can we combine this unique sense of neighborism that is characteristic of the Southside with its art, commerce and entrepreneurism to create what we call authentic vibrancy on the Southside,” said Christic Henry, Community Engagement and Integration Director for the South City Foundation.

Every event over the three days is tied in some way to how the Southside evolved after slavery. That will be highlighted during a conversation on the history of the Southside, featuring FAMU history professor Larry Rivers; Tamika Hobbs from Florida Memorial University; and Tiffany Packer, another FAMU professor.

The session is planned for the Hyatt House hotel at the intersection of Wahnish Way and FAMU Way, beginning 3 p.m. to 5:30. 

“What this Soul of the Southside is attempting to do is to bring back the importance of the African American presence in development of these communities,” Rivers said. “It’s important to keep these communities on the map in terms of history in order for people to know and appreciate these communities. 

“This is an effort in preservation as well as telling the significant contributions that these communities in Leon County made to making of not only Leon County, but Florida and the nation.”

The official two-hour kickoff ceremony for the festival begins at 6 p.m. at Lake Anita on May 20.

A day later, attendees will get an opportunity to tour the neighborhoods that they will hear about during the Friday evening conversation on history. Busses will make four trips – two in the morning and two in the afternoon, said Nicole Everett, co-chair of the event’s culture and history committee.

Guides will tell the stories behind each of the 10 communities that they will tour. The route includes Allen Sub-division, Mitchell, Stearn Street, Alberta Empire, Callen, Bond, Jake Gaither, South City, Apalachee Ridge and FAMU.

The close-up view of those communities is significant to the stories behind each of the neighborhoods, Everett said.

“The hope is that people will see the life—how people live, work and play in the Southside; see how these neighborhoods were established,” she said. “Some of the stories have blown me away; not only the stories I’ve been able to capture on video but by talking to people on the phone.”

Coming up with a name for the event wasn’t difficult after engaging residents on the Southside, said Henry. Every story was a chapter in the soul of the area, she said.

“We have to tap into what’s already there,” she said. “We have to celebrate neighborhoods that are still here and look like the history of us.

“The real point is for people to see the real Southside that we know and love.”

Music will be an integral part of the festival and the lineup will feature gospel, jazz and R&B performers. The plan is to “keep it entertaining, while still paying tribute to the original theme,” said Darius “Doc” Baker, who is producing the entertainment.

Performers will include Adrian Crutchfield, a jazz saxophonist who performed with Prince, and The Hamiltones. Baker’s production, Tallahassee Nights Live, will also perform.

“The heart of it is the humanities and heritage of the Southside,” said Baker, program director at Hallelujah 95.3 FM, “but the music aspect is the soundtrack of the festival.”

The event, which has been in the planning stages for more than a year was put on the calendar after the CRA invested a grant of $40,000, Henry said. Fund-raising is ongoing and the goal is to surpass the CRA grant, she said.

The event is free but organizers suggest obtaining tickets from their website (https://sosfesttlh.com/). A complete schedule of activities is also listed on the site.


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