February 16, 2011

Pioneers of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement John Due and Patricia Stephens Due spoke at Pugh Hall on their experiences fighting for social justice and on what needs to be done for the future.

The following is an article by the Gainesville Sun's Nate Crabbe.

Florida civil rights pioneers speak at Pugh Hall

More than 40 years ago, Patricia Stephens Due was arrested for refusing to leave a whites-only lunch counter in Tallahassee.

She and other protesters were the first to chose jail time instead of paying a fine, spending 49 days behind bars. Due spoke Wednesday at the University of Florida about that experience, as well as subsequent arrests, being tear-gassed by police and other battles in the civil rights movement.

"I know we've been through a lot, but we can't let up, because the struggle continues," she said.

Stephens Due and her husband, civil rights attorney John Due, spoke to more than 220 people at UF's Pugh Hall about their role as civil rights pioneers. The event was organized by the UF Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program.

Stephens Due was a Florida A&M University student in February 1960 when she was arrested during a sit-in at a Tallahassee Woolworth's. She remembered joining thousands of Florida A&M students who protested the arrests, only to be blinded by tear gas from police.

"I couldn't see, but I could hear the screams of the students," she said.

During her appearance at UF on Wednesday, she proudly listed subsequent arrests in civil rights protests in Miami, Ocala and St. Petersburg — as well as at the World's Fair in New York, protesting an exhibit portraying Florida as paradise.

"We went there to let them know that it wasn't," she said.

John Due was also a trailblazer in the civil rights movement. He said he was living in the North when he saw that students at Florida A&M and other historically black colleges in the South were leading the way through sit-ins at lunch counters.

"I said I wanted to be part of that process," he said.

He became a Florida A&M law student and participated in freedom rides that pushed for integration in interstate transportation. He was a co-defendant in a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that no state could interfere with non-violent protesters exercising their freedom of speech. He would later pass the bar and argue civil rights cases himself.

The Dues married in 1963 and have three daughters. Stephens Due and one of her daughters, Tananarive, co-wrote the book "Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights."

In his talk Wednesday night at UF, John Due disputed the idea that the U.S. is now a post-racial society. Students today don't need to follow the same path as those in the civil rights movement, he said, but they need to work similarly hard in continuing its work.

"You have to do the same for your grandchildren," he said. "It's not over."

Speaker One
John Due and Patricia Stephens Due

In 1960 Patricia Stephens Due and five other students from Florida A&M University made history when they chose a jail cell rather than paying a fine for sitting at a "Whites Only" lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida. The 49 days Due served in jail represented the first "Jail-In" of the Civil Rights Movement, and the beginning of her lifelong fight for human and civil rights in America.
John D. Due, Jr. is a prominent civil rig...hts attorney who was selected by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to serve as Field Secretary for the organization's first voter education and registration project in North Florida. Due's work in Florida registered more African Americans to vote than another region in the South.