By Chambria Gordon
Annie S. Harris is not your average neighbor. An icon in her community, many residents of Frenchtown respect the determination and persistence that Harris constantly brings to improving her community.
Although her hometown is Linwood, Alabama, Harris is deeply connected to the Tallahassee community. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida A&M University, and after returning to Tallahassee, she became the second Black woman superintendent for the Leon County Schools Office of Teaching and Learning.
She has been retired for over 30 years and still strives to educate, mentor and give back to her community. “Annie is one of the most caring and hardworking people that I know,” said James Boyette, a Frenchtown volunteer.
Hard work is nothing new for Harris. Her parents were share croppers and instilled a fierce worth ethic in her as a child. “My parents always taught me to give back to my roots and Tallahassee is a part of that, I came back because I just knew I could make an impact,” said Harris, the youngest of eight children.
The 400 block of Georgia in Tallahassee is where it all began for Harris. “When I came back here after so many years I decided to move into Frenchtown, and I was just saddened by what I saw,” said Harris.
The sight of empty beer cans piled alongside the road that led to shotgun houses devastated Harris. This wasn’t the Frenchtown she had left after college. The scenery was heart wrecking.
“Everything was demolished and torn down. It was local drunks sitting in the grass passed out,” she said.
Trash to Art
Determined to make the best out of a bad situation, Harris found a way to turn the local trash into a beautiful display for her art exhibits. “I just take the bottles and turn them into things that you could use in your home for accessories. Sometimes I paint them or use them for candle holders,” said Harris.
Preservation and restoration come easy to Harris. That is why she purchased several properties in Frenchtown. A proud business and home owner, she built her home alongside her gallery named ASH Gallery and Shop. “A lot of people tried to tell me I was crazy for wanting to move to Frenchtown, it was crime ridden and there were a lot of homeless people,” she said.
But Harris didn’t see it that way. She saw a chance for a new beginning, just like repairing the broken beer bottles. “I was just taught that you give back, and if you can do something to make a difference, then you should get out there and do it,” she said.
Her friends’ pleas were useless. She already had her mind set on revitalization, which is why she invested in the community. Not once has she ever regretted her decision.
“I’ve dedicated a lot of time to Frenchtown because history is so significant to me. It’s always been important to me that people try to maintain some sense of history. If we don’t then the young people in the next generation won’t know what you’re talking about.”
“This is a very historical community,” said Boyette. “After the civil war, Frenchtown developed its history, but in recent years, new developments have pushed home owners and business owners out to accommodate the college kids.”
Now Harris owns three properties on Georgia street located in the heart of Frenchtown. Each one of her properties are considered historical structures for the community and cannot be torn down. “I just feel accomplished for what I have done so far for the community,” said Harris.
Now that the city of Tallahassee has finally began construction for the new downtown area, it leaves Frenchtown residents like Harris worried about the preservation of the history in their community.
“Every Saturday we try to have the Frenchtown farmer’s market right here in our front yards as a community, to show everyone that we are strong and we can’t be pushed out,” she said. “I love the college kids; I even invite them to my house at times, but the city has to consider the community and homeowners.”
Hopeful for the future, Harris continues to clean up the streets everyday as she goes for her daily walks. Keeping Frenchtown remaining beautiful and revitalized is still her top mission.
“I love my home, and I have no problems with any crime. I’m not leaving, and neither will the history of this community,” she said.