This weekend the capital city will mark the 50th anniversary of the Tallahassee bus boycott. It was a boycott started by two FAMU students who, like Rosa Parks just months earlier, refused to give up their seats.
May 1956, Wilhemina Jakes and Carrie Patterson boarded a city bus after a day of shopping downtown. All the "colored" seats were full, so they sat in the whites only section and refused the bus driver's orders to move.
Dr. Charles U. Smith, a bus boycott participant, said, "When they refused to move to the back if 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."
The coeds were arrested and accused of inciting a riot. What they incited was a lengthy bus boycott initiated by students at FAMU and soon guided by the Reverend CK Steele. It was so effective that by July the city's buses stopped running.
Dr. Charles Smith added, "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, said, "We said just told 'em, ‘don't ride the bus,’ and we would pick 'em up, so they'd come by."
Parker Hollis was one of many arrested for giving people rides to work. The boycott went on for more than a year and ended only when Tallahassee city buses were fully integrated in 1957.
Pam Bryant, FAMU spokesperson, said, "This Tallahassee bus boycott was the fist student led boycott in the nation and the second civil rights movement in the nation."
This weekend FAMU will recognize the courage of Wilhemina Jakes, Carrie Patterson and other alums whose sacrifices ensured Tallahasseeans would forever be able to board the bus and take the seat of their choice.
This weekend there are a host of commemorative events starting with a freedom march Friday morning at 9 a.m. It starts at the old jail at the corner of Gadsden and Bloxham and winds about a mile to campus.
The grand opening of the Southeastern Regional Black Archives will follow that, and at 7:30 Friday night a presentation of FAMU's first ever freedom awards to Jakes, Patterson, then student body president Brodus Hartley and others who spearheaded the bus boycott 50 years ago.
Keep in mind, this was no "polite, just get a permit protest." In those days there were cross burnings, harassment and many arrests, especially among those who would dare to give boycotters a ride to work. They were charged with operating a car for hire without a license.