MAY 26, 1956

A bus boycott began in Tallahassee, Florida, after Florida A&M students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson refused to give up their seats to white passengers. Police charged them with “placing themselves in a position to incite a riot.” 

After their arrest, the student body president, Broadus Harley, called for a meeting of the 2,300 students. They voted to boycott the buses, leading to two temporary shutdowns of the bus company. The police arrested 26 people in the protests. 

The Rev. C.K. Steele helped form the Inter-Civic Council, which created a car pool system for African Americans that city leaders attacked as an “illegal” business, leading to the arrest of Steele and others. He shot back to their opponents, “I would rather walk in dignity than ride in humiliation.” 

Council leaders were arrested and charged with operating an “illegal car pool.” Steele, Jakes and Patterson had crosses burned outside their homes. On Jan. 3, 1957, a federal judge ruled bus segregation laws unconstitutional. Four days later, Tallahassee’s city commission repealed its segregation clause. 

The city’s Civil Rights Heritage Walk highlights the boycott and other civil rights activities.

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The stories of investigative reporter Jerry Mitchell have helped put four Klansmen and a serial killer behind bars. His stories have also helped free two people from death row, exposed injustices and corruption, prompting investigations and reforms as well as the firings of boards and officials. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist, a longtime member of Investigative Reporters & Editors, and a winner of more than 30 other national awards, including a $500,000 MacArthur “genius” grant. After working for three decades for the statewide Clarion-Ledger, Mitchell left in 2019 and founded the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting.

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