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Monday, October 02, 2023

County renames building after former slave, Gainesville mayor

Born into shackles and later elected Gainesville’s mayor, Josiah T. Walls was celebrated Sunday as Alachua County renamed a building in his honor.

About 100 Gainesville residents and state officials attended the rededication ceremony outside of the Alachua County Property Appraiser and Supervisor of Elections Building, located at 515 N. Main St., which now bears the name of the former slave in silver letters.

During his life, Walls became the only person in history to serve as Gainesville’s mayor, a county commissioner, a school board member, a state senator and a U.S. congressman collectively.

Among the six speakers at the ceremony, including County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson and Florida District 3 Representative Ted Yoho, many touched on Walls’ ability to succeed in spite of oppression and his devotion to helping the community around him.

Aubroncee Martin, the president of the Josiah T. Walls Bar Association, said he wanted the audience to be inspired by the dedication Walls showed to breaking barriers for the African-American community. And although progress has been made, he said a racial divide still exists in the county and, more widely, across the country.

“For all the leaps and bounds that we as a society have taken, there’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.

When Louis Kalivoda, a 67-year-old retired Santa Fe College administrator and UF alumnus, first heard of Walls’ accomplishments in the 1980s, he said he couldn’t believe he hadn’t heard sooner.

For him, the dedication was long overdue.

“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “I said, ‘Who is this guy, and why don’t I know about him?’”

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