Tallahassee: Ambitious from the beginning | Jay Revell

The very idea of Tallahassee was ambitious from the beginning. Two hundred years ago, on March 4, 1824, Gov. William Pope Duval issued a declaration announcing the area known as Tallahassee would become the territorial capital of Florida. He gave the legislature a date to meet here, and plans began to be made for how to build a city in the middle of nowhere.

The belief that a capital city could be created among the old fields and forgotten gathering places of natives, missionaries, and explorers was a wild one. We all know the story of how the fledgling legislature desired a better place to meet in the middle of the territory but none of those founders and settlers could have ever imagined what we would become.

There have always been big dreams here, though. I think of Governor Duval, who laid out the broad streets and grand squares that we now know as downtown. He envisioned that Floridians would someday come here to plot the course of what is now the third-largest state in the union. Then there were the visionaries who saw Tallahassee’s other calling, paving the way for a university city where Floridians could come to seek the knowledge required to create a better way of life.

Despite a long history, filled with the brutal realities of slavery and discrimination, Black residents have embodied that ambition to excel, too. There was George Proctor, a freed slave and builder who constructed many of the city’s most important early buildings. John G. Riley was born into slavery and spent his life educating his family, friends, and neighbors while building businesses. Patricia Stephens Due and dozens of other civil rights activists pursued equality through peaceful protests and resistance to the laws of Jim Crow. Wally Amos, raised in Smokey Hollow, shared his famous cookies with the world.

Our ambitious spirit has been embodied by the likes of Hall of Fame football coaches, Jake Gaither and Bobby Bowden. It has emerged through the artistic endeavors of Academy Award winner, Faye Dunnaway, Grammy Award winner, T-Pain, Emmy Award winner, Tony Hale, and of course, the world-renowned jazz of the Adderley brothers. Paul Dirac’s theories changed our understanding of quantum physics and earned him a Nobel Prize. Gov. LeRoy Collins led Florida into modernity. The list of ambitious minds who were shaped by Tallahassee and managed to reshape the world, goes on and on.

Now, as Tallahassee celebrates its bicentennial, we are given an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we have come from and where we might still go. Before us, lies the chance to declare new ambitions for our future and that of our descendants. Like so many who have called Tallahassee home, each of us can embody the ambition to excel.

Tallahassee has plenty of challenges today, but that’s nothing new. Thankfully, we’ve never lacked the ambition required to keep improving this place we love. It’s evident in everything from the land we preserve, to the art we create, teams we field, research we inspire, and businesses we build. Our ambitions have driven us for two centuries and given us much to be proud of. The more we stop to think about that truth, the more we’ll find the courage to be ambitious in the future.

What a wonderful thing to celebrate.

Jay Revell is President and Chief Storyteller at Revell Media. He serves on the bicentennial marketing task force and has provided services for the celebration.