Patricia Stephens Due, American civil rights activist, died from cancer she was 72
Patricia Stephens Due  was one of the leading African-American civil rights
activists in the United States, especially in her home state of
Florida died from cancer she was 72. Along with her sister Priscilla and others trained in
nonviolent protest by CORE, Due spent 49 days in one of the nation’s first jail-in, refusing to pay a fine for sitting in a Woolworth’s “White only” lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida in 1960.
Her eyes were damaged by tear gas used by police on students marching
to protest such arrests, and she wore dark glasses for the rest of her
life. She served in many leadership roles in CORE and the NAACP,
fighting against segregated stores, buses, theaters, schools,
restaurants, and hotels, protesting unjust laws, and leading one of the
most dangerous voter registration efforts in the country in northern
Florida in the 1960s.
With her daughter, Tananarive, Due wrote Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights, documenting the struggle she participated in, initially as a student at Florida A&M University,
and later working for civil rights organizations and Florida
communities, sometimes in partnership with her husband, civil rights
attorney John D. Due, Jr.
Patricia Stephens was born on December 9, 1939 in Quincy, Florida
to Lottie Mae (née Powell) and Horace Walter Stephens. She was the
second of three children. In 1963, she married Florida A&M
University (FAMU) law student John D. Due, Jr., who went on to become a
prominent civil rights attorney. The couple had three daughters.
Due’s university studies were repeatedly interrupted by protests and
arrests that sometimes got her suspended, as well as speaking and
fund-raising tours. Though she entered Florida A&M University in
1957, she did not receive her degree until 1967.
Civil rights activism
During the summer of 1959, the sisters attended a nonviolent resistance workshop organized by the Congress of Racial Equality
(CORE). On February 20, 1960, eleven FAMU students, including Patricia
and Priscilla, were arrested for ordering food at a “white only”
Woolworth lunch counter. On March 12, dozens of FAMU and Florida State
University students who participated in sit-ins at McCrory’s and
Woolworth’s were arrested. A thousand students began marching from the
FAMU campus toward downtown Tallahassee, but were stopped by Police
officers with teargas. At the head of the march, Due was teargassed
right in the face, and suffered permanent eye damage.
Due and the other sit-in participants were tried and found guilty on
March 17, 1960. Eight refused to pay the $300 fine, deciding instead to
go to jail. Eight students served 49 days at the Leon County Jail: FAMU
students Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, John Broxton, Barbara Broxton
and William Larkins, and three other students—Clement Carney, Angelina
Nance, and 16-year-old high school student Henry Marion Steele (son of
activist pastor Rev. C.K. Steele).
The “jail-in” gained nationwide attention, and the students received a supportive telegram from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.. Due sent a letter to baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson,
who published it in a column he wrote. Robinson later sent the jailed
students diaries so they could write down their experiences. After the
jail-in, Due and the others traveled the country in speaking tours to
publicize the civil rights movement. She met with such luminaries as Eleanor Roosevelt and author James Baldwin, and would be jailed on numerous occasions as a leader in the movement.
Patricia Stephens Due died in 2012, aged 72, following a battle with cancer.[where?]
- Freedom in the Family: a Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights with Tananarive Due (Ballantine, 2003)
Due received the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Outstanding Leadership,
the Gandhi Award for Outstanding Work in Human Relations, and the
Florida Freedom Award from the NAACP. She was also awarded an honorary
doctorate from her alma mater, Florida A&M University.
In 2008, the National Hook-Up of Black Women Inc. honored Due at its national convention.
- In February 2010, Florida A&M University (FAMU) students
gathered on campus to re-enact the sit-ins, jail-in, and protest march
that had occurred 50 years previously in Tallahassee.
- The John Due and Patricia Stephens Due Freedom Endowed Scholarship
provides $1000 annually to a FAMU student who plans to use the legacy
of the civil rights movement to do his or her part to make a better
- Patricia Due was honored by Tallahassee Mayor John R. Marks, who issued a proclamation declaring May 11, 2011 as Patricia Stephens Due Day.
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