Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

In the summer of 1959, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the Miami Interracial Action Institute and taught attendees principles of non-violent direct action to combat inequality in the South. Two attendees, sisters Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, took these principles with them when they returned to Tallahassee for school and formed the Tallahassee chapter of CORE. Using tactics they learned at the CORE workshop, the Stephens sisters held their first sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Tallahassee on February 13, 1960, and a second sit-in at the same lunch counter a week later, which led to the arrest of the sisters and a group of other students. Rather than pay their fines, eight students opted for jail time, effectively launching the first jail-in of the civil rights movement.

The eight jailed students and CORE were suddenly thrown into the national spotlight. CORE used the opportunity to draw attention to their organization. What were CORE’s principles, and how could people join the growing civil rights movement through CORE? Using records from the Patricia Stephens Due Papers (N2015-1), we take a look at the materials CORE published and how young activists in Florida, including the Stephens sisters, used CORE as the foundation for fighting racial discrimination.

Participants in the CORE Miami Interracial Action Institute in 1959 at the Sir John Hotel. Seated, left to right: Mrs. Shirley Zoloth, Patricia Stephens (later Due), person unknown, Vera Williams and Priscilla Stephens (later Kruize). Standing, left to right: Jim Dewar, Zev Aelony, person unknown, James T. McCain and Gordon Carey.

CORE formed its Miami chapter in 1959 and the Tallahassee chapter emerged soon after. By the time the organization made its way to Florida, CORE had been active in the United States for nearly two decades. Started in 1942 by pacifist students at the University of Chicago, CORE’s members wanted to use Gandhian techniques of non-violent direct action to improve race relations in the United States. CORE grew out of another pacifist organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), which was started during World War II with a focus on non-violent direct action for social justice. The first course of action for CORE was to counter the discriminatory housing market in the Chicago area, but their activism quickly grew to a national scale when CORE members decided to target bus segregation in the South.

A pamphlet about CORE’s principles of non-violent direct action which includes 13 rules for action, ca. 1957.

In April 1947, 16 male CORE and FOR members began a project called the “Journey of Reconciliation” through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky to test integration on interstate buses. The eight black and eight white activists were responding to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), which ruled segregation in interstate bus travel unconstitutional. With the law on their side, the 16 men rode buses and trains across these Southern states. Some were arrested, but others were able to ride public transportation without any attention. When a rider was confronted, he would use the non-violent tactics he had learned and cite the Supreme Court decision. Although this protest against bus segregation received little national press coverage at the time and resulted in almost no changes to discriminatory policies, it paved the way for the Freedom Rides in 1961.

A CORE flier encouraging people to boycott Shell’s City in Miami for refusing to serve African-Americans at its lunch counter, ca. 1960.

In the mid-1950s, CORE slowly began to establish chapters throughout the country. After the first all-white school in Miami was integrated in 1959, CORE headed to this southern city and started a chapter. CORE then decided to host the Interracial Action Institute, which the Stephens sisters and 10 others from all over the U.S. attended. One of the purposes of the institute was to train participants to use non-violent direct action “as a weapon to advance integration.” Since CORE couldn’t be everywhere at once, their goal was to train people locally so they could then use CORE tactics in their communities. At the institute, participants went through intensive training by role-playing different scenarios they might encounter while holding their demonstrations and were taught how to respond. Participants then put theory into practice, leading a voter registration drive by going door to door in black communities and holding lunch counters sit-ins to challenge discriminatory policies under the guidance of CORE leaders. When the workshop was over, participants went back to their homes to carry on the fight for equality.

Leaflet with guidelines for how to carry out CORE pickets, February 26, 1960.

The Stephens sisters returned to Tallahassee for the fall semester at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) ready to challenge discrimination in the capital city. They quickly formed a CORE chapter in Tallahassee and began documenting instances of discriminatory policies. The February 1, 1960, lunch counter demonstration at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, laid the groundwork for sit-ins across the South. Inspired by the non-violent direct action demonstration of the four students in Greensboro, national CORE asked local chapters to hold sympathy demonstrations in their communities. Ten students, including the Stephens sisters, participated in a sympathy sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Tallahassee on February 13. The students ordered slices of cake and were refused service. During their two hours at the lunch counter, the students were derided by onlookers, but they remained faithful to their CORE training and didn’t engage with the crowd. When Woolworth’s management closed the counter, the students went home.

CORE members holding a sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter on February 13, 1960. Patricia Stephens is wearing dark glasses and Henry Steele Jr. sits closest to the camera.

After this first sit-in, Tallahassee CORE planned another for the following Saturday. On February 20, a group of 17 demonstrators made their way to the Woolworth’s lunch counter and ordered food. Most of the group was composed of FAMU students, but there were also high school students participating. A large group surrounded the demonstrators and told them to move from their seats. Seven of them did leave, but the 11 remaining demonstrators were arrested by police. At their trial, they were charged with disturbing the peace. All of them were found guilty and given the option to pay a $300 fine or spend 60 days in jail. Eight students, including the Stephens sisters, refused to pay the fine. Rather than pay, they chose to hold the first jail-in of the civil rights movement. As a result, CORE and its principles of non-violent direct action were placed in the national spotlight, and people from all over the country wrote to the jailed students to offer support for their demonstrations. When the students were released from jail after serving 49 days, they persistently pursued racial equality in the United States.

A booklet published by CORE consisting of six stories written by young people involved with sit-ins and other non-violent demonstrations across the United States, May 1960. Patricia Stephens  tells her story from jail where she was serving her 60-day sentence with seven other activists, including her sister, Priscilla. Patricia writes about the events leading up to being jailed and the conditions at the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. The other five stories were written by Edward Rodman (Portsmouth, Virginia), Paul Laprad (Nashville, Tennessee), Thomas Gaither (Orangeburg, South Carolina), Major Johns (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) and Martin Smolin (activities in the North).

Activists continued to use the principles of CORE throughout the civil rights movement. Financial problems and internal disputes, which plagued CORE from the beginning, led to the collapse of many local chapters by the mid-1960s. Now CORE is remembered as one of the leading organizations during the fight for civil rights and as the catalyst for civil rights activities in Florida.

You can learn more about the Tallahassee jail-in in our online collection, Stephens Sisters Jail-In Papers, 1960.


Catsam, Derek Charles. Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

Due, Tananarive, and Patricia Stephens Due. Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History 1513-2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement 1942-1968. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Mohl, Raymond A. South of the South: Jewish Activists and the Civil Rights Movement in Miami, 1945-1960. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Siblings in Florida

April 10 is National Siblings Day and we’re celebrating with stories about well-known brothers and sisters in Florida.

The Bryan Brothers Come to Florida

In 1913, William Jennings Bryan and his wife, Mary, built their winter home in Miami, Florida, and called it “Villa Serena.” Bryan was at the height of his political career during that year as he had recently been appointed Secretary of State by President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan had served as congressman of Nebraska from 1891-1895, and was the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908, losing each time.

Charles Wayland Bryan helped his older brother, William, with his presidential campaigns before beginning his own career in politics. William relied on Charles to organize his speaking engagements and other campaign activities. The stress of the campaign trail helped the brothers grow closer, and they remained close throughout their lives. Charles was elected as mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, and governor of Nebraska, both for multiple non-consecutive terms. He served as mayor from 1915-1917 and 1935-1937, and as governor from 1923-1925 and 1931-1935. He was selected as the Democratic party’s nominee for vice president in 1924 but lost the election.

Charles Wayland and William Jennings Bryan at Villa Serena in Miami, Florida, 1925.

The two-story home of William and Mary was built along Brickell Avenue and was one of many mansions in the area known as “Millionaire’s Row.” But Villa Serena wasn’t the only connection the brothers had to Florida; their cousin William Sherman Jennings served as Florida’s 18th governor. After resigning as secretary of state in 1915 due to disagreements with President Wilson’s foreign policies that led to U.S. involvement in World War I, William and Mary made Villa Serena their permanent residence. As Charles began his political career, he would rely on William for advice. In the photo above, the brothers are seen smiling for the camera at Villa Serena shortly before William’s death. The home still stands and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The Stephens Sisters Fight for Civil Rights

Priscilla Stephens (later Kruize) and Patricia Stephens (later Due) were civil rights activists who fought for equality, especially in Florida. Both sisters were born in Quincy, Florida, and began attending Florida A & M University (FAMU) at the same time in the late 1950s, even sharing a room in the freshman dorm. The sisters grew closer during the summer before their sophomore year when they were introduced to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during a visit with their father in Miami. There they attended their first CORE workshop, learning the skills needed to organize a CORE chapter in Tallahassee. The Tallahassee chapter included students from both FAMU and Florida State University, as well as other people from the community.

Priscilla Stephens being arrested at the Tallahassee Regional Airport, June 16, 1961.

Tallahassee CORE began holding nonviolent sit-ins at lunch counters around the city in 1960, and the Stephens sisters became strong leaders in the fight for equality. A sit-in held on Saturday, February 20 at the Woolworth lunch counter included the Stephens sisters and 15 other Tallahassee residents. Priscilla was designated spokesperson for their cause. The activists garnered so much attention for their actions that the mayor came to the counter and asked them to leave. The Stephens sisters and nine other protesters were arrested when they refused. This would be one of many times that the sisters would be arrested in their fight for civil rights. In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The hard work of the Stephens sisters and others activists eventually led to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For decades after the sit-ins, both Priscilla and Patricia continued to speak out against racial inequality.

Patricia Stephens Due, foreground in black dress, picketing with others at the State Theatre in Tallahassee, May 29, 1963.

The Goodson Sisters Make Music

Raised in Pensacola, Florida, all six of the Goodson daughters pursued careers as blues and jazz pianists. The strict Goodson household encouraged the girls, Mabel, Della, Sadie, Edna, Wilhelmina and Ida, to learn music from an early age for the purpose of performing at church. As teenagers, the young women expanded their musical interests and began performing jazz and blues throughout the South with famous musicians.

Wilhelmina, known professionally as Billie Pierce, began playing piano professionally as a teenager. In the early 1920s, she accompanied famous blues singer Bessie Smith and performed in the bands of George Lewis and Alphonse Picou. During the 1930s in New Orleans, Pierce met trumpeter De De Pierce. They married in 1935 and continued to play together for the rest of their lives. It was at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter in 1961 that the Pierce’s gained international attention and solidified their place in music history.

Portrait of De De and Billie Pierce.

Ida Goodson performing at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in Pensacola during the 1980s.

Ida Goodson was the youngest of the sisters and a 1987 Florida Folk Heritage Award recipient. In the late 1920s, Ida was the accompanist at the Belmont Theater in Pensacola, the city’s main black music hall, and followed in the footsteps of Wilhelmina as accompanist for Bessie Smith. In the early 1980s, the Florida Folklife Program began the Ida Goodson Recording Project, which includes a collection of recordings and photographs of Goodson in her senior years. The second interview of that project is digitized and available below:

Do you have any favorite memories of your siblings in Florida? Share them with us in the comments below.

Selected bibliography:

“Billie Pierce.” Music Rising at Tulane.

Due, Tananarive and Patricia Stephens Due. Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

“Ida Goodson.” Florida Division of Historical Resources.

“National Register of Historic Places Program, Weekly Highlight: William Jennings Bryan House, Miami-Dade County, Florida.” National Park Service.

Osnes, Larry. “Charles W Bryan: ‘His Brother’s Keeper.’” Nebraska History 48 (1967): 45-67.

Tallahassee CORE Flier (July 1963)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series highlights African-American history in Florida.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) formed in 1942 with the purpose of challenging segregation laws in the United States through non-violent protest and civil disobedience.

CORE played a central role in several of the largest peaceful integration campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement, including Freedom Rides from the 1940s to the 1960s, the March on Washington in August 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, and numerous sit-in demonstrations throughout the United States in the 1960s.

CORE leadership in Tallahassee created this flier in July 1963 (click thumbnails below for larger images). It summarizes the accomplishments of the movement in Tallahassee and the ongoing efforts by activists to defeat segregation in Florida’s capital city.

Tallahassee CORE pamphlet page 1

Reproduced in the flier is a telegram written by local CORE chairperson Patricia Stephens Due to President John F. Kennedy. Due asked the president to stop federal grants from funding St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary celebration.

Due wrote that government support for these events would amount to a “celebration of 400 years of slavery and segregation.” Other prominent civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., raised similar concerns that the celebrations planned for St. Augustine in 1964 would marginalize the African-American role in Florida’s colonial history.

Tallahassee CORE pamphlet page 2

Two months before this flier appeared, over 200 student demonstrators, mostly from Florida A&M University, were arrested for picketing in front of segregated theaters in downtown Tallahassee. The flier also notes the latest campaign against pool segregation, and that Priscilla Stephens, sister of Patricia Stephens Due, had been arrested for attempting to integrate a city pool.

The Stephens sisters organized the first Tallahassee chapter of CORE in 1959. Throughout the early 1960s they played a prominent role as organizers, participants, and spokespeople for the movement.

Read more »

First Tallahassee Sit-In (February 13, 1960)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

On February 13, 1960, Patricia Stephens (later Due) and other local CORE members held the first of several sit-ins at department store lunch counters in downtown Tallahassee.

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960.

On February 20, students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) and Florida State University (FSU) held another, larger sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Tallahassee. When they refused to leave, 11 were arrested and charged with “disturbing the peace by engaging in riotous conduct and assembly to the disturbance of the public tranquility.” Several of the students chose “jail over bail” and remained in police custody while their story circulated around the country and garnered additional support for the movement.

In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The participants in these events were the “Foot Soldiers for Change” who worked tirelessly to defeat segregation in the United States.

To learn more, see Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (University of Georgia Press, 1999).

Patricia Stephens Due (December 9, 1939 – February 7, 2012)

Patricia Stephens Due at Civil rights demonstration in front of segregated theater: Tallahassee, Florida (1963)

Patricia Stephens Due at a civil rights demonstration in front of a segregated theater in Tallahassee (1963).

Civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due passed away on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 at the age of 72.

Due, a native of Quincy, Florida, led demonstrations and voter-registration drives in Tallahassee during the height of the Civil Rights movement. She was among a group of students from Florida A&M University jailed for attempting to integrate a segregated lunch counter at a Woolworth’s department store in downtown Tallahassee on February 20, 1960.

Due and eight of her companions from the Woolworth’s sit-in refused to pay a $300 fine, opting instead to serve jail time. Martin Luther King Jr. recognized their determination in the struggle for civil rights and sent letters to the jail. Other civil rights leaders including Jackie Robinson also contacted the group of eight in the Leon County Jail.

Due penned a letter while in the Leon County Jail, detailing her commitment to civil rights and recounting the Woolworth’s sit-in. She participated in many other demonstrations in Tallahassee in the 1960s, joined several civil rights organizations, and served as the field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality in Tallahassee.

Tallahassee Mayor John Marks proclaimed May 11, 2011 “Patricia Stephens Due Day,” recognizing her critical role in and contributions to the Civil Rights movement in Tallahassee and beyond.

Sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter - Tallahassee, Florida

Sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter, Tallahassee (1960).