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Patricia S. Due, leader of nation's first jail-in, dies at 72
Patricia Stephens Due, with her husband John D. Due Jr., is pictured at the University of Florida last year.
February 7th, 2012
09:45 PM ET

Patricia S. Due, leader of nation's first jail-in, dies at 72

By Alicia W. Stewart, CNN

(CNN) – The stories we tell often leave room for only one hero.

In America, our civil rights hero is Martin Luther King.

But even he recognized the sacrifice of heroines like Patricia Stephens Due.

"Going to jail for a righteous cause is a badge of honor and a symbol of dignity. I assure you that your valiant witness is one of the glowing epics of our time and you are bringing all of America [to] the threshold of the world's bright tomorrows,"  King said in a telegram to Due and fellow students.

Patricia Stephens Due stayed in jail for 49 days, refusing to pay bail after she was arrested for sitting at a Woolworth lunch counter in Tallahassee, Florida.

“We are all so very happy to do this so that we can help our city, state and nation. We strongly believe that Martin Luther King was right when he said, ‘We’ve got to fill the jails to win our equal right’,” she wrote in a letter to the Congress of Racial Equality’s James Robinson.

She, her sister, six other Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University students and one high school student were jailed after participating in the peaceful sit-ins, a defining symbol of America’s civil rights movement.

Due, a 20-year-old student then, led the first jail-in, and received global attention from leaders like King.

Today, Patricia Stephens Due died after a two-year battle with thyroid cancer, and more than 50 years of activism.

A Civil Rights Pioneer

She showed early signs of being a fighter.

At age 15, she was  stunned after a white postman made a lewd comment toward her, and she filed a formal report with the help of her mother.

Civil rights leader Patricia Stephens Due dies at 72

This was in the 1950s. In Florida.

A year later, prompted by other white women who had complained of the worker, an investigator came and asked questions, seeking to intimidate the young woman, she wrote in “Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights." Later, Due learned the worker had been fired.

“I didn’t know it then,” she wrote. “But refusing to back down would be a trademark in my life.”

Patricia S. Due, in a black dress, at a demonstration in Florida, in 1963.

By the age of 19, she helped found a local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality with her sister, Priscilla. Years later, Due was a field secretary for the organization, supervising voter drives and registration in northern Florida.

And the jail-in that brought her national attention? It prompted a speaking tour that took her around the country, drawing support from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte.

“She seemed like a giant”

The dark shades she wore, even indoors, provided a window to her past: she wore them to protect sensitive eyes, a result of being tear gassed in a 1960 march, her family said.

Due was small in stature, but stood tall in courage, her daughter, Tananarive, remembers in “Freedom in the Family” a book she and Due co-authored. “She might be short physically, but she seemed like a giant.”

Behind Mom’s dark glasses: A civil rights leader’s biggest fight 

Last year, Tallahassee’s mayor recognized her lifetime of achievement, and proclaimed May 11, 2011 Patricia Stephens Due Day.

Due spoke publicly for the last time at the University of Florida on February 16, 2011.

“I know we’ve been through a lot, but we can’t let up, because the struggle continues,” she said to a crowd of more than 200.

She is survived by her husband, civil rights attorney John D. Due; three children, Tananarive Due, a professor and writer, Johnita Patricia Due, CNN’s chief diversity chair and assistant general counsel, and Lydia Due Greisz, a Dallas attorney; her sister, Priscilla Stephens Kruize, a brother Walter Stephens, and five grandchildren.

“My parents were more than parents to me, they were living monuments,” Tananarive Due wrote in "Freedom in the Family". “As far as we were concerned, they had helped change the world.”

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Filed under: Black in America • History • Who we are
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. jeremyrmro

    Reblogged this on jeremyrmro and commented:
    At least she lived an extraordinary life!

    February 10, 2012 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. shanika

    All you haters needs to keeps you ignrense to you selfs.

    February 9, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
  3. BaptistLady

    She was not a very nice person.

    February 9, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ms. Griffin

    Ignorance, the same yesterday, today, and forevermore.

    February 9, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • VietVet

      Exactly. There's just no hope for the black community.

      February 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Joan

    Black people were so much classier back then. What happened??

    February 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eman

      Thanks for making the erofft to have a discussion about this issue.I feel passionately about it and I like learning about this subject.If possible, as you gain knowledge, please revise this blog with brand new information.I have found it extremely informative.

      November 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  6. peggy

    It is sad that people seem proud to come here to spout their bigoted, racist remarks. Mrs. Due was a pioneer in the Civil Rights struggle. People, show some respect. Would like people to make those kind of remarks about your mother or grandmother?

    February 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • VietVet

      Shut up!

      February 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Emma

    WOW! So many disrespectful people! No wonder we are at where we are at in this country.

    February 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • VietVet

      Shut the heLL up!

      February 9, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
      • TREY

        YOU SHUT VIETVET!!! YOU ARE AN IDIOT!!!

        February 9, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. VietVet

    Never heard of the wench.

    February 9, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • mickey

      And nobody has ever heard of you VietVet who

      February 9, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • peekandseek

      Why do you hate yourself? Poor creature! You need psychological help. Did you say VietVet.......o.k. I get it.

      February 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Muhammad

      I aint never heer ob her neither. What did she due.

      February 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Boes73

      If the name is accurate, looks like someone came back from Nam with a defective brain.

      February 13, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Irvin Daphnis, Esq.

    If We Must Die

    "If we must die, let it not be like hogs
    Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
    While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
    Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
    If we must die, O let us nobly die,
    So that our precious blood may not be shed
    In vain; then even the monsters we defy
    Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
    O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
    Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
    And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
    What though before us lies the open grave?
    Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
    Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back! –Claude McKay

    Patricia and John Due are civil rights pioneers, activists and my personal mentors. As the article noted, "Patricia Due, her sister, six other Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University students and one high school student were jailed after participating in the peaceful sit-ins, a defining symbol of America’s civil rights movement. Due, a 20-year-old student then, led the first jail-in, and received global attention from leaders like [Martin Luther] King."

    Besides my parents, they were great Black role models, leaders, civic and community leaders. Their example is a part of the reason why I and hundreds of other young people are successful today. They actively sponsored and participated in youth organizations and were advocates for ALL children, especially in Miami-Dade County, FL. There are literally thousands of young people that have benefitted from their sacrifices and their leadership. Today, I stand on their shoulders and know that my success is partially due to the Dues'! The Due family assisted in creating an atmosphere in Florida where the 'voice of the voiceless', children and especially Black children in South Miami-Dade County were able to have alternatives to crime and delinquency. I am a product of their struggle, sacrifice and their love! They fought tirelessly to ensure equal and fair treatment of Black children in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. I am personally indebted to them, they literally sacrificed their entire lives engaged in the beautiful struggle for Black people to be treated with dignity and respect. My deepest condolences to the entire family.

    February 9, 2012 at 9:45 am | Report abuse |
    • abtime

      Your post here gives testimony to her life's purpose and how she so gallantly acheived it. May she rest in peace.

      February 9, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Not Shocked, but Apalled

    It is very revealing, to say the least, that people choose to make such derogatory remarks in the wake of someone's passing. The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, as well as your local corporation publish Obituaries of notable figures that have passed on... They may not be notable to you, but you may not be notable either.

    The mere fact that so many would post their comments of "good riddance" and "a whole month for black history – what makes blacks so special" displays your common, base level of political intelligence, as well as your ignorance of the world around you. These comments, and everyday actions of said folks ho make such comments, are the very reason why black history is EVERYDAY – without which you would not even be able to make public your neanderthal ideals.

    Peace and blessings, Mrs. Due – we will see your works in the next level. Blessings to the family – your mother worked hard to prevent the day when there would still be blockhead caucasians without an iota of american culture in their bones – obviously, we still need to be working.

    American culture = black history KNOW THE FACTS.

    February 9, 2012 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  11. who cares

    I guess you can say Due finally got her due, hahahahahah

    February 9, 2012 at 8:47 am | Report abuse |
    • mickey

      another person with nothing to say

      February 9, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • abtime

      Though you intended this to be smart, funy and disrespectful you don't know how correct you are. No one can give human beings their "due" in life but the Creator. Being in His presence now, you are right, Mrs. Due will receive her Divine due.

      February 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    Why is it that anyone even remotely associated with the civil rights movement makes national news when they die? Your common WWII vet made every bit as much impact on the world, but you never see their names in the headlines when they pass. I'm sick and tired of this butt kissing of the blacks. I mean – an ENTIRE MONTH to celebrate black history?! Do we devote a month to any other ethnic group? Why are blacks so special? I guess the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

    February 9, 2012 at 5:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Mike F.

      You've missed the point of this woman's efforts to fight for racial equality in America. You should take some time during this Black History month and learn something about the African American's who have done so much to make this country what it is today. The slaves that your ancestors brought over to this country built the mighty industries you benefit from today on their backs with little to no monetary compensation (assuming you are white – I could be wrong). I invite you to take a moment to learn about Mrs. Due, Dr. King, W.E.B. DuBois, and Mr. John Hanson, because from the tone of your post, it seems as though you need a black history lesson. And to quickly address why there's a Black History Month – I'll only say this: we learn about white history everyday of the year. Even now steps are being taken by the major textbook publishers in Texas to re-write the majority of the history books used in public schools in this country in an effort to paint your ancestors in a more positive light instead of the slave driving butchers they actually were. So if you missed that lesson in white history during your time in elementary/high school, maybe you should go back and start over. And next time, put your post(s) about Black History month on Fox News' website.

      February 9, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Marty

      You do realize that Native Americans, Latin Americans and other causes have months that are dedicated to them, right! Or should we all think that you are as ignorant as your post? Plus, veterans have several days that we honor them...Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Arms Day, Flag Day.... Also, if you want a month, just ask for it. Declare it! I don't think anyone would argue about the contributions of veterans in this country. As for this article, we take time to honor this American at this time. Can you give this moment and time to this person? And stop looking for a recognition. I thought the their was honor in just serving your country; not in the recognition of serving!

      February 9, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
      • Frost

        Well Said Marty.

        February 9, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eleanor

      @Mike "I mean – an ENTIRE MONTH to celebrate black history?! Do we devote a month to any other ethnic group? "

      January is White History Month
      March is White History Month
      April is White History Month
      May is White History Month
      June is White History Month
      July is White History Month
      August is White History Month
      September is White History Month
      October is White History Month
      November is White History Month
      December is White History Month

      How is that not enough for you?

      February 9, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Timothy F. Albert

      How can you be so insenstive to the plight of people that have been oppressed for so many years. People that gave their life for fredom and equal rights for all people not just black! You are conerned about Black History Month? are you serious? the accomplishments of those that fought the good fight should not go unrecognized. You are truly a racisit that is lost in the clouds.

      One day hopefully your life will reflect that you left the world a better place than you found it. But based on your backward thinking, that will not happen.

      February 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • abtime

      The very second those ethnicities finish, spending 400 years in the worse form of slavery, known to man they will begin to qualify for a month of celebration for them. All they then have to do is take to the streets fight and be killed by bigots like you until they get it. There are a few other steps but this should begin to give you insight into the whole why of things. Blacks were also in WWII. They had to fight bigots like you to get into that too.

      February 9, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cedric

    RIP she paved they way for people like me to have a shot at success!

    February 9, 2012 at 12:03 am | Report abuse |
  14. Fan of Tananarive Due

    BTW, if it makes a difference to anyone. I am a White Southern Conservative so not all right wingers are racist. Dont' paint people with broad strokes, every person is unique.

    February 8, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • pmmarion

      While it may be true that you do not see yourself as racist the biggest problem is that republican politicians pander to the racists. The majority of Germans were not NAZI party members but they stood by while the evil was done.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:18 am | Report abuse |
      • Mike

        Some of the biggest racists I know are black pal. Clean up your own back yard and you might have some legitimacy.

        February 9, 2012 at 5:49 am | Report abuse |
    • J Rod

      Hey Mike, have you approached those "Black Racists" and told them that they are doing civil rights a diservice by acting/thinking in such a manner? Did you Mike? Or are you only a lion when youre hidden behind the comfort of your computer? Ya see Mike, I shut down racists of all colors and challenge them to grow up or get out of this wonderful country. Due fought for people to respect on another, not to do what you and the numerous Black racists you claim to know. grow a pair and set em straight (the racists that is.... because she did!)

      February 9, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Fan of Tananarive Due

    We should all stand up for justice and against bullying of all kinds in all areas of life. Kudos to her for being a strong woman and not letting injustice continue for those who don't fight against it surely keep it going. Rest In Peace Mrs. Due. In addition, I recently came across Tananarive Due's book, The Good House and she is one of the THE best writers I have come across in a VERY long time! Those who are mocking her don't know a thing about her or her writing. Try one of her books, you will be extremely impressed and entertained!

    February 8, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  16. God's Will

    72 years too late.

    February 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shamika Afrika

      You got that right.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Big freaking deal.

      February 9, 2012 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
  17. Donald in CA

    Even when good people die it brings out the haters and they all seem to be right wingers. If they get into heaven, so should O.J and charles manson.

    February 8, 2012 at 7:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      The haters are all right wingers? You sound like a complete simpleton.

      February 8, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  18. ma & pa

    We don't play poker, but we know enough not to tip our hand. So does our president. May Patricia Dues' spirit inspire us all.

    February 8, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I agree. He's a talented poker playing communist.

      February 9, 2012 at 5:52 am | Report abuse |
      • Slade

        Rightwingers just can't handle that we have a black president in office, who is one of the smartest presidents that we have had in a long time.....

        February 9, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
  19. Lulz

    “She seemed like a giant” – CNN

    Well she does look fairly robust.

    February 8, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shanaynay

      It was all that 'guberment' cheese

      February 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm | Report abuse |
  20. FU

    Just in time to see a black president do as bad a job as the whites before him...

    February 8, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • J Rod

      Man FU, note quite sure how to attack your response because of the bitter/respectful way you put it.... Nicely done.

      February 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  21. Rick

    Thank you SO very much for shedding light on this real life role model!! I'd love to see more positve articles like this one not only published on line, but also reported on CNN broadcasts. I'd certainly be inclined to watch more!! Bravo

    February 8, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Claudia Shields

    Tanarive Due is right, her parents DID change our world. Thank you Ms. Due for your life of service to us. The world is a better place for my daughter and for all of us, because of you.

    February 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  23. edsr of Dallas

    Goodbye and good luck!

    February 8, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  24. goodandevil

    i dont know what yall are talking about i just wanted to put something on her....so..............ya me........by peeps

    February 8, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Gloria

    I heard of the story of the lunch counter sit in before. I am glad Patricia initiated that event and hope that God will find a good resting place for his servant.

    Thank you, Patricia.

    February 8, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  26. who

    who?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Report abuse |
  27. BiG Gument

    this is news how?

    February 8, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shark Tank

      Her daughter is Senior Corporate Counsel for CNN. That's how its news.

      February 8, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Claxton

      She has another daughter, Tananarive Due, who is an award-winning speculative fiction writer and memoirist. Her husband, Steven Barnes, is an award-winning science fiction writer. That, and the fact that Mrs. Due made it possible for me and people like me to have the opportunities we have in this country. I thank God for them all every day.

      February 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
      • Mike

        To be an award winning author in certain communities you must be able to write a complete story using no words that contain more than two syllables and include lots of pictures....you know , so you don't lose your audience.

        February 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Report abuse |
  28. me

    Thank you!!! You have earned your rest!!

    February 8, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • edsr of Dallas

      Goodbye!

      February 8, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  29. SmartMan

    RIP My Sister may god keep you !

    February 8, 2012 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • edsr of Dallas

      Indefinitely!

      February 8, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |