My Contribution: Over the course of my lifetime, I moved from slaver in Virginia to mayor and congressman in the state of Florida. I served my country by serving in the 3rd regiment of the USCT and then pursued numerous occupations areas over a long career, ranging from politics and law, to publication and farming. My accomplishments and vocations demonstrate the power of perseverance and resilience in the midst of adversity.
My Legacy: Florida A&M College still exists, and the work I did in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives was instrumental in helping to improve education for underrepresented people. I helped to promote Florida nationally and provided aid from the federal government as well. I helped draw the path for underrepresented groups to serve in Congress.
About Me: “Walls spent much of the 42nd and 43rd Congresses advancing the political and economic interests of his Florida constituents. Even Jacksonville’s Democratic Florida Union praised Walls’ efforts on behalf of the state, declaring ‘Mr. Walls adds his mite to what has gone before and does it well.’ He affectionately referred to Florida as “my own sunny state,” in an attempt to promote the potential of his new home for tourism and farming. Walls presented resolutions for statewide internal improvements including the construction of telegraph lines, customhouses, courthouses, and post offices. He sought funding to improve Florida’s harbors and rivers and to create a land-grant state agricultural college. In an 1872 tariff bill, Walls also fought to protect Florida’s orchards from foreign competition.” US House of Representatives: History, Art, and Archives, Biography on Josiah Walls.
Full Name: Josiah Thomas Walls
Birth Date: December 30, 1842
Death Date: May 15, 1905
Place of Birth: Winchester, Winchester City, Virginia
Race: Black (1900 Federal Census), “Mulatto” (1863 Enlistment Records)
Places of Residence: Winchester, Virginia (1842-1861); various, forced to work with Confederate Army (1861-1862); Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (1862-1863); military service with Union Army (1863-1865); Gainesville, Florida (1865-1894); Tallahassee, Florida (1894-1905).
Connection to the Old Eighth Ward: Resident of Harrisburg in 1863; likely knew community in the ward.
Family Members: Wife: M1: Helen “Ella” Fergueson Walls, m. ca. 1864-1885. Wife: M2: Angeline “Angie” Gass Walls (1863-1930), m. 1885-May 15, 1905. Daughter: Nettie H. Walls (1879-unknown).
Education: Attended school in Harrisburg.
Occupations: Enslaved at birth in 1842. Forced to aid the Confederate Army in 1861. Emancipated by Union forces in Yorktown in 1862. First sergeant and later artillery instructor for Union Army (1863-1865). Mayor of Gainesville, Florida (1865-1870). Congressman (1870-1874: removed twice by white opponent). Lawyer (1873-1884); Newspaper Owner, Gainesville Independent (1870s-Unknown). Florida State Senator (1876-1882). Farm Owner (1871-1894). Florida A&M College Farm Director (1894-Unknown).
Church Membership: Unknown
Activism: Republican Party, Gainesville Independent, Board of Alachua County Commissioners, and Florida A&M College, among others.