Segregation and Civil Rights: Civic Ventures into Place Making in Tallahassee, Florida

Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:50 PM
Centennial Ballroom A (Hyatt Regency Denver)
Jennifer Koslow, Florida State University
In the past five years, the city and county of Leon County, Florida have actively pursued activities of commemoration to tell stories in prominent civic spaces of the lived experience of segregation and actions of civil rights protest. In doing so, the city and county have reimagined how to tell Tallahassee’s official history, one that aims at inclusivity and does not shy away from uncomfortable truths. The first project, the Civil Rights Memorial Sidewalk, commemorates the lunch-counter sit-ins that occurred in the Spring of 1960 along the section of sidewalk that protestors paced. Because the protest was in the heart of downtown, this memorial is situated in a conspicuous civic space: it sits in close proximity to city hall, the county court house, and the state capitol. The second project, the Smokey Hollow Commemoration sits within the city/county’s new twenty-four acre downtown Cascades Park. It tells the story of the working and middle-class African American neighborhood that previously existed on this spot from the 1890s to the 1960s, when Florida’s state government removed houses, stores, and churches to make-way for post-World War II urban renewal projects. Both of these commemorative projects used citizen committees composed of historians, museum professionals, and citizens who participated in the protests and/or lived in the community to craft their interpretations. Through their choice of commemoration location, these projects successfully challenged a previously exclusive past by including the story of segregation and the story of civil rights protests within an official narrative of the city’s past.