This Day in History

May 26, 1956: Tallahassee Bus Boycott Sparked by Students’ Protest

Time Periods: Cold War: 1945 - 1960
Themes: African American, Civil Rights Movements

Carrie Patterson and Wilhelmina Jakes (dates unknown). Source: The Tallahassee Democrat

On May 26, 1956, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, both students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), sat down in the whites-only section of a segregated bus in Tallahassee. When they refused to move, the bus driver pulled into a local service station and called the police. The Tallahassee police arrested both students, charging them with “placing themselves in a position to incite a riot.”

A Florida Heritage Landmark waysign.

In response, students at FAMU organized a campus-wide boycott of the city buses that attracted the support of local community members. One local community leader, Reverend C. K. Steele, helped establish the Inter-Civic Council (ICC) to coordinate the boycott.

Like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the organization created a carpool system to provide alternative transportation for local residents and students. Even with much harassment from local police, students and the local community sustained the boycott through December 1956, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in a case that originated from the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Shortly thereafter, Steele and other local leaders boarded the segregated buses and sat in seats reserved for whites without being ordered to leave. A month later, the city repealed the segregated seating ordinance.

Learn more about the boycott at Florida Memory. Read about many more Transportation Protests: 1841 to 1992.