|ACLD Home Page | Research Center | Catalog Search | About the Collection|
African Americans > Josiah
In this photograph of Josiah Walls we see a man who, in spite of little formal education, served his people and his country as a U.S. Congressman, a State Senator, and the mayor of Gainesville. We know that Josiah Walls was born in Virginia in 1842, but we do not know if he was born free or into slavery. As a young man during the Civil War, he fought for the Union in the Third Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops; he later was transferred to the Thirty-Fifth Regiment and was sent to North Florida where he married a young woman named Helen Fergueson. The couple settled around Newnansville when his regiment was disbanded in 1865, and he worked first as a lumberman along the Suwannee River, later as a schoolteacher in Archer. But in 1867 he became involved with the awakening black interest in voting and politics, joining the Republican party. He was a delegate to the 1868 State Constitutional Convention in Tallahassee, and he served one term in the Florida Legislature and two terms in the Florida Senate. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1870, 1872, and 1874; the 1874 voting results were challenged, and he was replaced by a former Confederate General, Jesse J. Finley. Walls had served as the mayor of Gainesville during the summer of 1873, and in 1876 he was appointed to the Alachua County Commission. In 1877 he returned to Tallahassee for one more term in the Florida Senate. While in public service, he fought for mandatory schooling for all children and a national educational system.
He owned a large farm on the northern and western edges of Alachua Lake (now Paynes Prairie), and he published a newspaper in Gainesville, "New Era," through which he promised to give "...special attention [to] the wants and interests of people [of] color." His fortunes fell in the 1890s with the return to power of the white community and the Democratic party; in addition, an 1895 freeze killed his orange trees and wiped him out financially. He moved his family to Tallahassee where he lived the rest of his life as director of the farm at what is now Florida A&M University. Walls died in 1905, leaving no descendants.
An excellent biography of Walls was written by Peter D. Klingman and published in 1976, "Josiah Walls: Florida's Black Congressman of Reconstruction." There is an historical plaque commemorating Mr. Wall's life on the site of his Gainesville home, on the northeast corner of West University Avenue and Northwest 1st Street.
(click image to view larger size)