Obit of the Day: One of Florida’s Civil Rights Heroes
When we imagine Florida we think of Disney World, retirees, and Miami Beach. What we forget is that Florida had a long history segregation and racial hatred, like every other Southern state. Patricia Stephen Due knew, though, and as a college student at Florida A&M University (FAMU) she did something about it.
Outspoken even in childhood - she and her sister circulated a petition in elementary school to have their principal removed - she became excited about the possibilities of ending segregation at a Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) meeting she attended when she was 20. CORE’s belief in nonviolent protest with an integrated group of individuals was just what Due was looking for.
Due founded up the Tallahassee chapter of CORE and staged their first sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter on February 20, 1960. She, her sister, and several others were arrested. But rather than pay the $300 fine, the sisters spent 49 days in jail. It was called the first “jail-in” as they two women refused to “pay for segregation.” They received public support for Harry Belafonte, Eleanor Roosevelt, and even a telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Before her trial Due led a march from FAMU to downtown Tallahassee. The police responded by hurling tear gas. One canister caught her in the face and damaged her eyes. From then on you could identify Mrs. Due by her dark sunglasses which prevented further damage to her eyesight.
Due married John Due in January 1963. He had traveled to FAMU to get his law degree specifically to find Patricia after reading about her jail-in in Jet magazine.
Patricia Stephen Due never stopped fighting for racial and class equality. She died at the age of 71 from thyroid cancer.
Experience has taught me a great secret that I have spent most of my life trying to share with my children and anyone who will listen: History happens one person at a time. - Patricia Stephens Due
(Image is courtesy of the Museum of Florida History)
Check out OOTD’s post on another forgotten civil rights pioneer: Clara Luper