Tallahassee Natives Recall Local Civil Rights Movement

By Julie Montanaro
August 28, 2013

Tallahassee, FL - A Tallahassee teen and his brother slipped under the ropes and took a seat in the "reserved section" that day in 1963.

They were the sons of Tallahassee Civil Rights leader C.K. Steele, a man who pushed for change at bus stops and lunch counters.

Henry Steele: "It was thrilling, it was exhilirating, it was exciting..."

Henry Steele was not quite 20 then. He and his brother got to the Lincoln Memorial early that day. They found themselves right near the front as the crowd grew and Dr. Martin Luther King began to speak.

"I have a dream..."

Steele: "I had no idea his speech would have the kind of impact that it has had on America."

Steele is the son of Tallahassee Civil Rights leader C.K. Steele by the time he, his brother, and his father joined the March on Washington.

He had already been arrested in Tallahassee twice for participating in sit-ins at McCrory's and Woolworths and his family had endured repeated attacks on their home.

Reporter: "They shot at your home?"
Steele: (nods in affirmation) "Mhmm"

Reporter: They threw rocks at your home?
Steele: (nods in affirmation) "Mhmm"

Reporter: They lit crosses on your lawn?
Steele: (nods in affirmation) "Uh-huh"

Reverend Steele led the Tallahassee bus boycott in 1956. Just months after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery.

FAMU students Wilhemina Jakes and Carrie Patterson refused to give up their seats in Tallahassee. It sparked a city-wide boycott in May. The buses stopped running by July, and it wasn't until January of the following year that Tallahassee voted to abandoned segregation on buses.

Steele: "Tallahassee's movement was so significant and I often heard my dad say that the boycott here in Tallahassee was more effective than Montgomery."

Steele remembers the night Dr. Martin Luther King slept at their home, the day he spoke at his father's church and of course the day Dr. King urged America to let freedom ring.

Steele says as America reflects on the dream today and the Civil Rights movement, it probably doesn't think about Tallahassee... But perhaps it should.

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