Inspirational Stories Memorialized in Heritage Walk
Civil rights activists commemorated on East Jefferson Street
September 25, 2013
Two women's refusals to do as they were told led to their arrests, a 10-month community-wide boycott and life-long repercussions. Those women were Wilhelmenia Jakes and Carrie Patterson - two students who refused to go to the back of a bus nearly 60 years ago leading to the second major bus boycott in the United States. Their life-altering decision to reject the status quo is memorialized in an innovative and artistic sidewalk that allows citizens to take a walk back in time to a period that significantly altered not only Tallahassee but the entire country. The sidewalk specifically commemorates the 1956 bus boycott and the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s in Tallahassee and honors more than 50 civil rights activists, also known as foot soldiers.
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, 300 S. Adams St. The event program features representatives from the City of Tallahassee, Leon County Government, Florida A&M University and Florida State University.
Following the program, citizens will be able to stroll by life-size photos of civil rights protesters along Jefferson Street; 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. Parking in Kleman Plaza will also be free for event attendees.
In addition to the unveiling of the landmark sidewalk, the John G. Riley House & Museum is hosting an "Intimate Moments" reception for civil rights activists and their descendants on Saturday, Sept. 28, from 5-6 p.m. at the new Riley House Visitor Center, 419 E. Jefferson St. This event is free and open to the public. The reception will follow a private screening of award-winning film maker Lee Daniel's box-office smash movie "The Butler" from 2-4 p.m. at AMC Theaters - Tallahassee Mall. Anyone interested in attending the private screening should contact the John G. Riley House & Museum at (850) 681-7881 or rileymuseum.org for ticket information.
"We are excited to team up with the CRA, City of Tallahassee and Leon County governments to celebrate the lives and legacies of the local civil rights activists who have enriched our community," said Althemese Barnes, executive director of the John G. Riley House & Museum.
The Heritage Walk is located along East Jefferson Street, which will be closed starting at 3 p.m. on Monday in preparation for the event.
Over the last month, City staff has worked to locate 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. Those who are unable to travel for the event will have access to a live stream of the event via WCOT on Talgov.com.
"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 shared by many 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.
Jakes died in 2010. Her family, however, is sending a representative to Monday's ceremony. In addition to her name being memorialized on the Heritage Walk, local media outlets have shared her story and how her life was radically changed by her decision to refuse to go to the back of the bus.
"I must have been a pretty strong-willed young lady, because I wasn't frightened," Jakes said to the Tallahassee Democrat in 2006.*
Jakes and Patterson are just two of the individuals whose names are featured on brass footsteps on the Heritage Walk. A complete list of honorees, including brief biographic synopses is online.
This week, stories of these foot soldiers and what they did in support of civil rights in Tallahassee will be shared on Facebook.com/COTNews, Twitter.com/COTNews, Talgov.com and www.LeonCountyFL.gov.
*Pecquet, Julian. "Wilhelmina Jakes: 'a pretty strong-willed young lady'." Tallahassee Democrat; 21 May 2006. Web. 25 September 2013.
Civil Rights Heritage Walk Promotional Video
Roxanne Manning, Community Redevelopment Agency, (850) 891-6436; Angeline Taylor, City Communications Department, (850) 891-7188; or Jon D. Brown, Leon County Community and Media Relations, (850) 606-5300