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.
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.
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.
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
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 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 (1960).