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Rev. C.K. Steele, Gov. LeRoy Collins, and the 1956 Bus Boycott

From: Governor (1955-1961: Collins), Correspondence, 1955-1961, Series S 776

Rev. C.K. Steele, Gov. LeRoy Collins, and the 1956 Bus Boycott

About This Document

A native of Bluefield, West Virginia, the Reverend C.K. Steele (1914-1980) came to Tallahassee in the early 1950s to serve as pastor for the Bethel Baptist Church. Steele became the most recognizable figure in the Tallahassee civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. After the success of the 1955-1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott, African American leaders moved to integrate public transportation in other southern cities, including Tallahassee. Steele led a boycott of the city-run bus system that lasted primarily from May to December of 1956, but did not officially end until May 1958. Steele and other leaders were the targets of violence from white supremacists, and Florida Governor LeRoy Collins would suspend bus operations for a time during the winter of 1957. According to Tallahassee historians Mary Louise Ellis and William Warren Rogers, "City commissioners and protesting blacks never achieved a formal settlement, but gradually the sight of blacks riding at the front of the bus became more common, and the battle moved to another front."(1) Steele, meanwhile, was a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, marched with Martin Luther King, and was a progressive voice in the Tallahassee community until his death in 1980. The city's new bus terminal was named in his honor. The documents reproduced here are an exchange of telegrams between Steele and Governor Collins in the midst of the 1956 boycott.

(1) Mary Louise Ellis and William Warren Rogers, Tallahassee: Favored Land (Norfolk: The Donning Company, 1988), 173.

Transcript

TH53 LONG PD=TALLAHASSEE FLO28 1028AME
HON LEROY COLLINS, GOVERNOR

DEAR GOVERNOR COLLINS: AS YOU MAY KNOW A NUMBER OF NEGRO CITIZENS IN TALLAHASSEE, THE CAPITOL CITY OF FLORIDA, ARE BEING SUBJECTED TO VARIOUS TYPES OF PROSECUTIONS BY THE CITY.

WE HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO DISCOVER ANY WHITE CITIZENS, WHO HAVE BEEN SUBJECTED TO SUCH PROSECTIONS [SIC]. WE ARE THUS LED TO THE CONCLUSION THAT THESE PROSECUTIONS STEM MAINLY FROM THE REFUSAL OF NEGRO CITIZENS TO CONTINUE TO RIDE THE PRIVATELY OWNED BUS SYSTEM UNDER THE PRESENT INTOLERABLE CONDITIONS. NO MATTER WHAT GUISE THESE PROSECUTIONS GO UNDER THEY STILL AMOUNT TO A VIOLATION OF THE CIVIL AND CONSTITUTIONAL RIHTS [SIC] OF TALLAHASSEE'S NEGRO CITIZENS.

WE RESPECTFULLY URGE THAT YOU USE THE FULL POWER OF YOUR OFFICE TO INVESTIGATE THIS SITUATION IN TALLAHASSEE, TO PREVENT FURTHER INJUSTICE BEING DONE TO A LARGE PORTION OF THE POPULATION, WHICH ALSO HAS A VITAL INTEREST IN THE GROWTH AND WELL BEING OF THE CITY OF TALLAHASSEE, AND THE WHOLE STATE OF FLORIDA.

VERY TRULY YOURS

REV C K STEELE, PRESIDENT THE INTER CIVIC COUNCIL OF TALLAHASSEE