Remembering the Tallahassee Bus Boycott at 64

Today marks the 64th anniversary of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott. In the spring of 1956, Florida A&M students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson boarded a Tallahassee bus and took seats of their own choosing. Because these seats were in the “whites only” section of the bus, Jakes and Patterson were arrested by the Tallahassee Police Department, prompting fellow students, citizens and city leaders to take action. The two students were arrested on a Saturday. On Sunday, May 29, the area Ku Klux Klan burned a cross outside of the residence hall where Jakes and Patterson lived. By Monday the 30th, the student body of Florida A&M University convened and voted to boycott the city buses. That evening, a meeting was called by Reverend C.K. Steele to discuss the boycott and seek support from the community, thereby creating the Inter-Civic Council (ICC).

Over the course of the next seven months, the African American community of Tallahassee worked together to support themselves in making their way to work, school and religious services through a carpool service, which was eventually suspended after growing violence over the boycott. On January 1, 1957, Governor LeRoy Collins, himself a Tallahassee native, officially suspended the bus service until segregated seating was removed. However, due to poorly disguised rephrasing of the policy that included seating based on “tranquility and good order”, the bus system in Tallahassee would not truly be desegregated for another year. Those who joined Wilhelmina Jakes, Carrie Patterson and the students of Florida A&M University including Rev. Steele, Daniel Speed, and many others from the then 10,600 African-American residents of Tallahassee, were met with resistance from most white members of the Tallahassee community who felt racial segregation should remain in place.

The voices of many of the participants of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956 can be accessed through the transcripts available through the FSU Special Collections & Archives department. The Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History Collection and the Reichelt Oral History Collection provide glimpses into this important moment in Florida, and national history, with researchers being able to read the words of Rev. Speed, King Solomon Dupont, LeRoy Collins, Daniel Speed and others. Though 64 years may feel like a long time, we are not that far removed from the events of the Bus Boycott. With racial tensions still ever present, immersing ourselves in and understanding our history can better help us plan for the future.

An unfortunate reminder of the past. A letter from Edgar S. Anderson urging FSU President Doak S. Campbell to expel any FSU Students involved with the Bus Boycott, 01/21/1957. Office of the President Papers HUA 2018-062 [see original digital object]

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