Tallahasseans Remember Bus Boycott

Thursday will mark the 50th anniversary of the day a tired seamstress refused to give up her seat to a white man and changed the course of history.

Two young women refused to give up their seats in Tallahassee six months later, and sparked a lengthy bus boycott here too.

It's not in all the history books, but those who lived it were harassed and arrested, and some even found crosses burning on their lawns.

Cynthia Williams, who grew up in Tallahassee, said, "I did grow up with that sense of fear, of something happening to my family."

Cynthia Williams was just a teenager in the 50's. Her cousin was one of dozens of young black people arrested and sent to jail for bucking the rules during the Tallahassee bus boycott. He was arrested in his best suit.

Cynthia Williams adds, "That's when he did the 14 days clearing the weeds away, he said, but one of the things that was most humiliating was they made him wear that suit until it was nothing but rags."

The Tallahassee bus boycott started six months after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in Montgomery. On May 27, 1956 two FAMU students, Wilhemina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, followed her lead and remained seated.

Dr. Charles U. Smith, a bus boycott participant, says, "When they refused to move to the back of the bus they said if you give us our money back, we'll get off the bus, but he (the driver) wouldn't do that, and you know what the bus fare was? Ten cents. So, I like to say the boycott started for 20 cents."

Charles U. Smith, a young FAMU professor at the time, remembers a cross burning on the women's lawn that night, a mass meeting of FAMU students the next day, and the swift creation of the Inter Civic Council with C.K. Steele at the helm.

By July 1 there were so few people riding the buses they had to stop running.

Dr. Charles U. Smith says, "It became sort of a thing among blacks, don't ride the bus, walk if you have to, but don't ride the bus."

Parker Hollis, a bus boycott participant, adds, "We said just told 'em don't ride the bus and we would pick 'em up so they'd come by.”

Parker Hollis was a barber then. He got behind the wheel of his own car to make sure blacks still had a ride to work, and he and many others got arrested for it. Police called it operating a car for hire without a license.

Friend and fellow barber Eddie Barrington drove too. He was a U.S. Army veteran by then.

Eddie Barrington says, "I say if I can fight for the country, now I can fight the country for my rights, for my people's rights."

The struggle went on for more than a year. Despite efforts by the city commission and bus line to stymie it at every turn, the boycott ended only when the buses were fully integrated in 1957.

Tallahassee is planning a 50th anniversary celebration of its bus boycott in the spring, but Thursday the day belongs to Rosa Parks. All bus rides in Tallahassee are free to commemorate her act of courage and defiance 50 years ago.