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Preservation Of African American History Talks in Tallahassee

Cascades Park
City of Tallahassee

The John Gilmore Riley Center Museum is hosting a historic preservation conference in Tallahassee. It’s part of the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network the museum created in 2001.

Cascades Park sits where the lost African American neighborhood of Smokey Hollow used to be. Smokey Hollow was created in the late 1890’s and survived until an urban renewal project in the 1960’s started dismantling it.

Cicero Hartsfield gave input into the design process. His family lived in the neighborhood in the 1960’s. He talked about his memories when Cascades Park opened in 2015.

“The people were tight knit," he said. "Part of that was just as a means of survival considering segregation was still very strong during those times. But, things where people shared food, help when somebody needed some assistance and just the fellowship.”

John Franklin with the Smithsonian said homes and businesses in black communities weren’t protected before Congress passed the historic preservation act in 1966. He spent more than a decade working on the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“So, there’s always a tension between development and preservation," he said. "And we have to raise the awareness of our citizenry, our government officials - whether they’re local or state officials, as well as architects. I think it’s as important to educate architects as it is to educate our citizenry because architects are often enticed by ‘Let’s build this new whatever it is.’”

Some residents of Frenchtown worry the area will meet the same fate as Smoky Hollow. They’re concerned that the student housing development planned on Macomb Street will gentrify the historically black area.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.