Rosa and Wilhelmina and Carrie
A tense, inter-racial public demonstration becomes heated when white youth form a counter-demonstration on Dec. 27, 1956.
(Florida Photographic Collection)
This week, the pearly gates are held open for Rosa Parks, and St. Peter announces that the front row has been reserved since 1955. That's when she used her NAACP training to stage a public protest. It worked, and worldwide attention was focussed on Montgomery and the gothic Deep South, cradle of the Confederacy — swarming with racial antipathy.
But in Florida, FAMU students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Paterson did not have formalized NAACP training. They had not steeled themselves in the art of public demonstration, and they were not — in the white parlance of the day — "put up to it." Jakes and Paterson were just students on their way across Tallahassee using public transportation.
Let us remember Parks, but let us not forget Jakes and Paterson.
These two college students transformed black life in Tallahassee, and their simple act of defiance radicalized a generation of leaders. The business community, the professors at FAMU and the religious community were led by the Rev. C.K. Steele. He and King were old Morehouse men, and their paths would cross again upon the creation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
In 1956, the thought of daughters suddenly on a bus next to a black man was too much. It created a hysteria in the Mind of the South, prompting a worried City Commission to create a plan of attack — outlawing the carpools used to transport boycotters. This was, of course, because of national security and promoting capitalism and keeping order. Law and order, folks.
And, sad to say, the plan that City Hall put together worked. They arrested Steele and the boycott ended. But after this simple act of defiance on the bus that day, the protest in Montgomery was grounded in the warm embrace of public sentiment. A movement was initiated. The Old World, in a sense, was left behind.
And so let us praise famous women, Rosa and Wilhelmina and Carrie.