John Due remembers his wife’s strong spirit and her refusal to submit. “She was as assertive with me as she was with the rest of the world,” said Due.
From an early age, Patricia Stephens began to champion for integration in Florida. She was just 13 years old when she attempted to order from the “whites only” window at a Dairy Queen in Quincy, Fla.
Just seven years later, Stephens led the Woolworth sit-in in Tallahassee in February 1960. When she and several other students sat at the Woolworth “whites only” lunch counter to order food, they were arrested.
Instead of paying the $300 fine, Stephens and four other Florida A&M students, including her sister, chose to spend 49 days in the Leon County Jail.
“My first impression was before we met in February 1960, she was arrested in Tallahassee,” said her husband of 49 years John Due, civil rights attorney. Stephens’ unwillingness to pay the fine to be released from jail impressed Due very much.
While in jail, support came from national leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
King then sent a telegram, praising them for their work.
It read: “Going to jail for a righteous cause is a badge of honor and a symbol of dignity.”
“In 1960, her refusal to pay bail ignited the freedom movement because no one ever saw that happen before where a person who refused bail got out of jail,” said Due. “That became, later, a style of resistance in the freedom movement.”
At 20, Stephens began a national speaking campaign informing others about the state of the Civil Rights movement.
Stephens and Due were married in 1963 and were popularly known as Mr. and Mrs. Civil Rights.
In a time when Tallahassee was a powder keg of racial tension, Stephens made it her duty to fight the discrimination being inflicted by the police and white citizens.
Her eyesight was damaged when a tear gas canister was shot at her face while peacefully demonstrating. From then on, Stephens always wore her iconic dark glasses.
“It was the work of Mrs. Due that inspired generations of Rattlers to stand up and fight for their beliefs,” said President James H. Ammons in an official statement. “We will never forget her contributions to this city, state and nation, which spurred a national movement. She was a courageous woman and we are proud to call her a FAMUan.”
Stephens Due worried for the next generation of African-Americans and Rattlers alike.
“She is concerned that the young people should adopt her old lifestyle of not being submissive, not to except, unconditionally, what is proposed as truth,” said Due. “She would be very concerned about the hazing that seems to be the culture of a lot of our children where they demean themselves to be submissive, that was not her. To the moment she died, she struggled to live.”
In 2003, she and daughter, Tananarive Due, co-wrote the novel “Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights.” The novel touches on issues like the emotional state of the children of activists as well as the early struggles in civil rights.
“My wife should not be celebrated for helping provide changes in Florida,” said Due. “I think what she wanted to be celebrated for in her history is her example of struggle that all of us must carry out. She doesn’t want to be made into a myth to be celebrated on Black History Month but as a model as to how all of us should live in order to save this world.”
Patricia Stephens, daughter to Lottie Mae Powell Stephens and Horace Walter Stephens, was born on Dec. 9, 1939 in Quincy Fla. and raised in Belle Glade, Fla. She is survived by her husband and daughters, Tananarive Due, novelist, Johnita Due, attorney for CNN, and Lydia Due Greisz, retired attorney. She is also survived by her siblings, Walter Stephens and Priscilla Stephens Kruize and five grandchildren.