“We cannot be contented with the conditions here in the south any longer. Our very souls are being taken from us by discrimination.” -Letter from Patricia and Priscilla Stephens to their parents, March 20, 1960, Leon County Jail.
This selection of correspondence from the Patricia Stephens Due Papers (N2015-1) documents the historic 49-day “jail-in” at the Leon County Jail in the spring of 1960 by eight students: sisters Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, Henry Steele, Angela Nance, William Larkins, Clement Carney and siblings Barbara and John Broxton. In addition to these letters, photographs from the Patricia Stephens Due Papers are also available online.
As founders and leaders of the Tallahassee chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Florida A&M University (FAMU) students Patricia and Priscilla led a series of nonviolent sit-in protests at segregated lunch counters in Tallahassee in early 1960. On February 20, 1960, during one of these sit-ins at Woolworth’s, police arrested the Stephens sisters, along with a group of other students, and charged them with civil disobedience. After refusing to pay the $300 fine, the Stephens sisters and six other students pioneered the nation's first “jail-in” in the student protest movement, spending 49 of their 60-day sentence in jail. The jail-in garnered intense media coverage and its success resonated with the aims of the larger national civil rights movement. Activists arrested for protesting segregation increasingly adopted “Jail! No Bail!” as their watchword, while the freedom song lyrics, “I ain’t scared of your jail … ‘cause I want my freedom now,” emerged as a popular rallying cry during the civil rights movement.
The items in this online collection are arranged chronologically and cataloged for optimal searchability. The correspondence illuminates both the strategic and personal challenges of waging an effective non-violent civil rights campaign in Jim Crow Florida. Of particular note are strongly worded letters of support and opposition from strangers to the jailed students; letters to and from concerned family members; information about civil rights fundraising, conferences, events and programs in which the jailed students participated; and a copy of a telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. praising the eight incarcerated students for their “willingness to suffer and sacrifice for the cause of freedom.” Soon after their release from jail, they embarked on a national speaking tour, which included an event hosted by Eleanor Roosevelt, where they continued to advocate for racial equality.
The complete Patricia Stephens Due Papers collection is available for in-person research at the State Archives of Florida.
Born in Quincy, Florida, Patricia Stephens Due (1939-2012) was a student at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee when she became involved with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1959, and opened a CORE chapter with her sister, Priscilla Stephens (1938-) in Tallahassee. Both Patricia and Priscilla participated in non-violent civil rights demonstrations in the early 1960s, most notably the Tallahassee jail-in in the spring of 1960. As a result of their absence from school, the students were asked to withdraw from Florida A&M and were placed on academic probation when they reapplied. That same spring while participating in a march on the Capitol in Tallahassee, Patricia sustained injuries to her eyes after she was hit in the face with tear gas at point blank range, leaving her with a permanent chronic sensitivity to light and requiring her to wear dark glasses for the remainder of her life. Although her education was continuously interrupted by protests, arrests and speaking tours, Stephens eventually received her degree in 1965.
In 1963 she married a fellow civil rights activist, John Dorsey Due Jr., who was studying law at FAMU and would later become a civil rights attorney. The Dues moved to Miami to raise their three daughters, Tananarive, Johnita and Lydia. In Miami, Patricia held various positions with education and social service organizations including the University of Miami. She and her oldest daughter, Tananarive, a journalist and novelist, co-wrote Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, published in 2003.
Throughout her life, Patricia remained active in the civil rights movement, making appearances, accepting awards, giving speeches and as a member and leader in many organizations including CORE, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Among her awards and honors were the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Outstanding Leadership, the Gandhi Award for Outstanding Work in Human Relations, the Florida Freedom Award from the NAACP and an honorary doctorate from FAMU.
Patricia Stephens Due died of thyroid cancer in 2012 at the age of 72.
In 2015, her family donated her personal papers to the State Archives of Florida. The Patricia Stephen Due Papers (N2015-1) contain 14 cubic feet of records documenting the personal life and public activities of Patricia Stephens Due, including correspondence, diaries, newsletters, promotional materials, and newspapers clippings detailing her role in CORE and her lifetime of civil rights activities.
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