Civil Rights Activists Memorialized on East Jefferson Street
September 16, 2013
“What we ask is simple… impartial service for all.” These words were displayed on signs worn by protesters in front of retail stores located along Jefferson and Monroe streets in Tallahassee nearly 60 years ago. Thanks to a landmark project, these same words are now engrained into an innovative and artistic commemorative sidewalk that will allow citizens the opportunity to take a walk back in time to a period that significantly altered Tallahassee and the entire country.
On Monday, Sept. 30, the Tallahassee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the City of Tallahassee and Leon County Government will host a special program called Footsteps to Freedom. The event will start at 6 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers, located on the second floor of City Hall at 300 S. Adams St. Following the program, citizens will be able to stroll by life-size photos along Jefferson Street of civil rights protesters; become the first citizens to see and experience the commemorative sidewalk, called the Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Walk; and record their own accounts of civil rights history in Tallahassee. The event is free, and refreshments will be provided.
The Heritage Walk honors more than 50 civil rights activists, also known as foot soldiers, who took part in Tallahassee’s 1960s lunch counter sit-ins and the 1956 bus boycott, which was considered the second major bus boycott in the United States.
Over the last month, City staff has worked to locate the foot soldiers and/or their descendants. While they now live across the country and beyond, many have indicated they will return to Tallahassee for the event.
“We’re excited to finally share with the community the wonderful results of many hours of hard work put in by the Heritage Walk Committee, which selected the foot soldiers and content of the memorial, as well as the artisans at Florida State University’s Master Craftsman Studio, who actually built the memorial,” said Roxanne Manning, executive director of the CRA, which funded the project. “The committee that chose the foot soldiers believes the sidewalk will be a valuable tool to teach the next generation about the civil rights activists in our community who opened so many doors for them.”
Manning called the selection of the foot soldiers and the crafting of the sidewalk panels a “personal and emotional process,” a sentiment that is shared by members of the citizen-led Heritage Walk Committee, several of whom were foot soldiers themselves.
FSU’s Master Craftsman Studio designed and completed the terrazzo sidewalk, which is constructed with 16 panels that weigh between 440 and 2,200 pounds each.
Each panel beautifully illustrates the story of Tallahassee’s 1956 bus boycott or the lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s. Iconic images displayed on the sidewalk include slogans and signs once worn by protesters, brass footsteps with the names of foot soldiers and a bus that prominently displays A&M College, which was the name of Florida A&M University at the time.
“I am humbled and honored that the CRA chose to immortalize the efforts of those of us who wanted to make a positive impact on our country,” said civil rights activist John Due, who served on the committee and will be in attendance at the event.
Due and his wife, Patricia Stephens Due, are just two of the individuals whose names are featured on brass footsteps on the Heritage Walk. The other foot soldiers honored are Dr. R.L. Anderson, Malachi Andrews, Dr. Wilmoth Baker, Eddie Barrington, Judith Benninger, Calvin Bess, John Boardman, Father David Brooks, Barbara Broxton, John Broxton, Clement Carney, Benjamin Cowins, Rev. Dr. Milton Cox, Laurie Dixie, Samuel Dixie, Howard Dixon, Rev. Dr. Kong Solomon Dupont, Willie Mae Fisher, Mary Ola Gaines, Rev. R.N. Gooden, Grattan Graves, Richard Haley, Dan Harmeling, Rev. H. McNeil Harris, Johnny Herndon, Horace Hill, Rev. J.H. Hobbs, Bishop Holifield, Millicent Holifield, Rev. Dr. James L. Hudson, Wilhelmenia Jakes, Stephen Jones, Reuben Kenon, Priscilla Stephens Kruize, William Larkins, Clifton Van Brunt Lewis, George Lewis, Rev. T. Lofton, James Mobley, Sybil Mobley, Angela Nance, Edwin Norwood Sr., Carrie Patterson, Willie K. Perkins, Rev. Dr. J. Metz Rollins, James Shaw, Lillian Shaw, Tobias Simon, Rev. Daniel B. Speed, Leonard Speed, Rev. Dr. Charles Kenzie (C.K.) Steele, Lois B. Steele, Rev. Dr. Henry M. Steele, Morris Thomas, Dr. M.C. Williams and Daisy Young.
Leading up to the event, stories of these foot soldiers and what they did in support of civil rights in Tallahassee will be shared at Facebook.com/COTNews, Twitter.com/COTNews, Talgov.com and www.LeonCountyFL.gov.