The photographs included here illustrate a few of the important events in Florida during the Civil Rights Movement.
In early February 1960, four African-American students from North Carolina A&T College sat down and ordered coffee at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro. Within months, similar displays of civil disobedience were repeated throughout the country. The nonviolent methods of the protestors garnered support for the Civil Rights Movement, but also resulted in sometimes violent reactions from segregationists.
Tallahassee, site of a successful bus boycott in 1956-57, witnessed several sit-ins in the early 1960s at prominent businesses that maintained “whites only” lunch counters. The first sit-in in Florida’s capital city took place on February 13, 1960. Then, on February 20, 17 students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) and Florida State University (FSU) held a 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.” In the weeks that followed, additional demonstrations took place at the same Woolworth’s and also at McCrory’s department store.
Eight of the 11 students opted for “jail over bail” and chose to serve time behind bars as a symbol of the struggle for equality. Among those jailed were Patricia Stephens, the leader of the sit-in, and her sister Priscilla.
While imprisoned, Patricia wrote a letter about her experience and her thoughts on civil rights, which reached leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson. King wrote back to Stephens: “…you are suffering to make men free.” Almost three years later, King authored his own letter from jail inspired by the courageous students from Tallahassee.
Patricia Stephens Due married fellow civil rights activist John Due in 1963 and continued to be a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in Florida.
In June 1961, Interfaith Freedom Riders challenged segregated interstate buses by traveling from Washington, D.C. to Tallahassee, Florida. After successfully completing the Freedom Ride they planned to fly home but first decided to test whether or not the group would be served in the segregated airport restaurant.
As a result, 10 Freedom Riders, later known as the Tallahassee Ten, were arrested for unlawful assembly. They were released on bond following their conviction and sentence later that same month, which was followed by about three years of legal appeals. The 10 original riders returned to Tallahassee to serve brief jail terms in August 1964 and were released after serving four days of their 60-day sentences.
The sleepy town of St. Augustine became a major battleground in the Civil Rights Movement during the summer of 1964. Integrationists staged several nonviolent "wade-ins," such as in the event photographed above, at segregated hotel pools and beaches in the St. Augustine area.
National civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., came to the Ancient City to support the integrationists. For his role in the St. Augustine demonstrations, King was called before a grand jury to testify on civil rights. The nonviolent tactics of the protestors gradually led to the integration of public recreational facilities in St. Augustine.
The events in Tallahassee and St. Augustine as well as many others throughout the United States in the early 1960s were important steps in the ultimate triumph of the Civil Rights Movement.