Blended Lives Program Brings Diverse Local History To Life

Jan 29, 2013

Fourth-graders listen to a presentation outside the John G. Riley House. The tour is part of the 13th annual Blended Lives program.
Credit Jessica Palombo / WFSU-FM

A program that aims to teach school children about Tallahassee’s multicultural history kicked off its 13th year on Tuesday. This year’s Blended Lives program is showing Leon County students a snapshot of Florida as it was 500 years ago.

Fourth-graders from Ruediger Elementary School snake their way through the downstairs hallway of the historic John G. Riley House Museum in Downtown Tallahassee on Tuesday. At the turn of last century, the home belonged to Riley, a longtime teacher and school principal who was one of the first African Americans to own land in Tallahassee.

A small group of kids is in Riley’s old office, where a life-size, animatronic version of him is sitting and reading.  The kids get his attention and he wakes up with, “Hello! Thanks for coming by.”

He tells them a story of how, in 1889, there was a parade down Monroe Street to celebrate the anniversary of that Emancipation Proclamation.

Tours like this and at Tallahassee’s Goodwood Museum and Gardens are going on the whole week as part of the countywide Blended Lives program. Riley House Executive Director Althemese Barnes said, before the students come here, they learn the Blended Lives curriculum in their classrooms.

“This year’s theme is ‘Viva Florida.’ We’re celebrating the 500-year history, and we’re looking at the Underground Railroad, the Black Seminoles and the Gulla/Geechee culture over here and then they’re picking up with the Spanish influence, French over at Goodwood.”

All of it is meant to foster racial understanding today by reminding people of our shared history.  

Riley House Education Director Levitticus Roberts leads one of the fourth-grade groups.

She said, “It was illegal to educate African Americans,” as the kids scribble the answer on a worksheet.

The student tours will continue until Friday, which marks the beginning of national Black History Month.