In the 1960s, African Americans (organized in large part by CORE) picketed the two major down town Tallahassee, Florida, theaters, the bus station and numerous lunch counters because these facilities were segregated. I was out of town when this protest occurred in May 1963 at the Florida Theater. Most of the time, I was in town but stayed away from the protesters even though I supported their cause. I still regret this.
Why wasn’t I there?
- Fear of the white hecklers who openly hobnobbed with police.
- Fear of the KKK.
- Fear of losing friends and becoming an outcast.
- Worry that my father would lose his government job.
- Worry that my mother would lose her church volunteer work positions.
At the time, these concerns were very real. Unfortunately, they are in somewhat different ways, still real today.
The late Patrician Stephens Due, a Tallahassee CORE volunteer and a student at Tallahassee’s Black college (FAMU) was at the center of many of the Tallahassee protests. She would write later in the book she co-authored with her daughter that when it came down to it, a very small minority of African Americans actively took part in sit-ins or picketing. Fewer Whites took part even though many of us always rode in the backs of city buses when there was space. That wasn’t enough.
Looking back, I’m sorry that I didn’t do more.
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two novels about racism in Florida, “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”