Patricia Stephens Due
February 28, 2012 by staff
Patricia Stephens Due, Patricia Stephens Due, whose belief that, as she put it, “ordinary people can do extraordinary things” propelled her to leadership in the civil rights movement — but at a price, including 49 days in a stark Florida jail — died on Tuesday in Smyrna, Ga. She was 72. The cause was thyroid cancer, her daughter Johnita Due said. She had moved to Smyrna, an Atlanta suburb, to be near her family after living in Miami.
At 13, Patricia Stephens challenged Jim Crow orthodoxy by trying to use the “whites only” window at a Dairy Queen. As a college student, she led demonstrations to integrate lunch counters, theaters and swimming pools and was repeatedly arrested.
As a young mother, she pushed two children in a stroller while campaigning for the rights of poor people. As a veteran of integration and voting rights battles, she went on to fight for economic rights, once obstructing a garbage truck in support of striking workers. As an elder stateswoman of the movement, she wrote a memoir to honor “unsung foot soldiers.”
She fought beside John D. Due Jr., a civil rights lawyer, whom she married in 1963. For their honeymoon, they rode the Freedom Train to Washington to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Mrs. Due paid a price for this devotion. She wore large, dark glasses day and night because her eyes were damaged when a hissing tear gas canister hit her in the face. She took a decade to graduate from Florida A&M University because of suspensions for her activism.
Her F.B.I. file ran more than 400 pages. Her stepfather urged her to give up civil rights, to protect her and his own job. She was kicked and threatened with dogs, including a German shepherd whose police handlers gave it a racial slur for a name.
Mrs. Due’s greatest prominence came after she and 10 other students were arrested for sitting at the “whites only” lunch counter at a Woolworth’s store in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 20, 1960. It was 19 days after four black students in Greensboro, N.C., had made civil rights history by doing the same thing.
Mrs. Due and seven others refused to pay $300 fines for violating laws they abhorred. Five served the full 49-day sentence.
As leader of the sit-in, Mrs. Due became a national figure. Jackie Robinson sent her a diary for her jail-time thoughts. James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte and Eleanor Roosevelt endorsed her efforts. Dr. King sent a telegram saying, “Going to jail for a righteous cause is a badge of honor and a symbol of dignity.”
It was not easy behind bars. She and her sister, Priscilla Stephens Kruize, her compatriot in many battles, had to share a narrow bed. They suspected that a mentally disturbed woman was placed in the cell to unnerve them. Food was awful; nights were cold.
Thurgood Marshall, head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, questioned whether it was all worth it, given the deplorable state of Southern jails. But the drama of righteous incarceration seized the nation’s attention, a freed Mrs. Due went on a national fund-raising tour and the “jail-in” became a movement standard.
Please feel free to send if you have any questions regarding this post , you can contact on
Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are that of the authors and not necessarily that of U.S.S.POST.