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.
In the spring of 1956, after students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson from Florida A&M University, were arrested and jailed for refusing to leave the “whites only” section of a Tallahassee bus, the African-American community of the city rallied together to boycott the city bus service and take a stand for their civil rights and the belief that the color of their skin should not leave them subject to discrimination and fear. Those who participated in the boycott, including Rev. C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed, Jakes and Patterson and many others from the then 10,600 African-American residents of Tallahassee, were met with resistance from bigoted members of the Tallahassee community that felt racial segregation should remain the law of the land. What factors contributed to a mindset that would allow for one group to so poorly treat another?
A new exhibit now open at the Claude Pepper Library seeks to illustrate the kind of resistance that the Bus Boycott participants faced in their endeavors to secure fair and impartial treatment in a city that they too, called home. Guests are invited to visit the Claude Pepper Library and explore the exhibit on the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956 which is open to the public now, through the early fall of 2018. Using primary source documents, ephemera and photographs that provide a deeper context for the events that began to take place in May of 1956, Special Collections & Archives provides a look into the social and political climate in the State of Florida leading during the time of the Bus Boycott. Guests are also able to listen to audio recordings of boycott participants and witnesses, including the Reverend C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed and Governor LeRoy Collins. The Claude Pepper Library and Museum are open Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, call (850) 644-9217 or email Political Papers Archivist Robert Rubero (email@example.com) with any questions.
Virgil Hawkins, J. Raymond Henderson, and C.K. Steele, circa 1955. From 00/MSS 2006-013.
Reverend Charles Kenzie (C.K.) Steele Sr. arrived in Tallahassee during a significant time in its history. After graduating from the School of Religion at Morehouse College in 1938, and serving congregations in Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, Steele came to Tallahassee in 1952 as the newly-appointed pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend Steele later rose to local and national prominence as a civil rights activist during the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956. Continue reading Charles Kenzie Steele and the Tallahassee Bus Boycott→