Students and community members gathered at the Florida State University Claude Pepper Center Tuesday for an intimate dialogue about the past, present and future of civil rights activism in Tallahassee. Upon entering the library –which features artifacts from Florida’s rich political history – attendees were met by Carolyn Harris, co-chair of FSU’s Martin Luther King Week and Robert Rubero, political papers archivist for the Claude Pepper Center.
The focal point of the evening was the library’s exhibit on the Tallahassee Bus Boycott, which explained the connection that FSU and Florida A&M University have to the history-making demonstration.
Several of the event’s patrons shared personal ties to the historical bus boycotts. David Radcliffe, an FSU alum who lived in Tallahassee during the 1956 bus boycott, was a white civil rights activist in the 1970s.
“I was a student here at FSU when the university integrated. It was 1963 and it was the first time a black freshmen came to FSU,” Radcliffe said. “I was involved in the civil rights activities in the late 60s and early 70s in Gadsden County. I marched with C.K. Steele from Quincy to Tallahassee in 1972 to demand that the governor open up voter registration in Gadsden County to black citizens.”
The evening’s event began with attendees perusing through the exhibit, followed by the roundtable discussion that eventually segued into a bigger conversation about the American black experience. FSU typically holds a “dinner & dialogue” as part of its annual MLK week of events. However, due to budget cuts the event had to be re-imagined without the dinner portion. Keeping the importance of local history in mind, Harris was determined to host a version of this MLK week staple.
“The conversation about history and our future are important conversations to have specifically for creating a better world,” Harris said. “When you’re celebrating a figure like MLK, you have to talk about history.”
Rubero said that Harris came to the center toward the end of the previous semester to request that the exhibit stay open through the month of January. He agreed, saying the extension of the exhibit would be beneficial for students and members of the Tallahassee community.
“Apart from being able to interact with each other and share experiences, it’s great for the library to have people become aware of the bus boycott exhibit,” Rubero said. “Familiarizing themselves with this history and getting a glimpse of what Tallahassee was like 50 years ago is so important.”