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Tallahassee Commissioners Approve Name Changes, City Declares 'Black Lives Matter' In Mural

A large, black and yellow sign on the street reads Black Lives Matter
A large, black and yellow sign on the street reads Black Lives Matter

A mural stating “Black Lives Matter” is painted in bold black and yellow at the intersection of Gaines and Railroad.

The words are meant to signal solidary with the movement, says City Commissioner Diane Williams-Cox. She views it not as the end of the conversation, but the continuation of one that started during the Civil Rights movement.

“Now, what we see overwhelmingly, this generation has been able to bring a lot of cultures to the table. White people, Asian People, Hispanic People, Straight People, Gay people, Young people and Old people, which is the progress that’s been made," she said.

Williams-Cox believes the city will come out on the right side of history. She says the diversity of the people involved in the current movement signals widespread agreement on issues that transcend race—such as poverty, income inequality, and what it means to be human.

The City of Tallahassee is building on the moment.

Chapman Pond in Myers park is getting a new name. And the city will allow the placement of a lynching memorial at Cascades Park. The memorial, called the Community Remembrance Project, is part of years-long effort to acknowledge the four known people who were taken from the Leon County Jail and hung between the late 1890s and 1930s.

“The four men we look to honor and acknowledge are: Pierece Taylor, 1897, Mick Morris in 1909, Richard Hawkins in 1937, and Ernest Ponder, also in 1937," said Byron Greene, part of the leadership team for the project. It’s an outgrowth of the Lynching Memorial in Alabama.

As the city commission struck down old names and praised new ones Wednesday, City Commissioner Williams-Cox warned against getting comfortable.

"Slaves were not freed on June 19th. There were still slaves. They were still held. It was the 13th amendment that freed slaves, IF they were not criminals. So don’t forget that little piece, because it’s that little piece that has us with mass incarceration and so many Blacks being in jail right now,” she said.

The city is planning to rename it’s problematic “Southern Strategy.” It’s part of the city’s long-range growth plan, and it focuses on investment in infrastructure and development in the southern part of the city. However, the name itself hearkens back to the political realignment of Southern Democrats to the Republican party which occurred after the Civil Rights era. It’s widely acknowledged to have been built on racist backlash, and Commissioner Curtis Richardson says the city doesn’t want the affiliation.

“With the renaming of Chapman Park, or Dr. Charles Evans Park now, and the community remembrance project… I think it’s time for us to rename this strategy if we all are aware of what the original strategy was, and was meant to do.”

While the commission is making moves, others are urging it not to get congratulatory, yet. Calling into the meeting, Satcha Stark Baynor said commissioners, and residents, shouldn't be satisfied with "painting streets and renaming buildings."

"We also need changes to how policing happens in our community. The way policing is incentivized to penalize low income and black and brown communities.”

Also moving forward: plans to redevelop several key parts of the Southside, including a revamp of the Orange Avenue Apartments, and the possibility of making big changes to the Leon County Fairgrounds.

Copyright 2020 WFSU

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.