Jakes and Patterson: ‘Foot Soldiers for Change’

On May 26,1956, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, two Florida A&M students, boarded a congested, but public Tallahassee bus. They sat next to a white woman in a three-passenger seat behind the bus driver.

After being condemned by the bus driver and the local police for refusing to give up their seats, they were arrested.

Shortly after word reached FAMU’s campus and a cross was burned in front of the ladies’ apartment on Jennings Street,

Jakes, then 26, and Patterson, then 20, were charged with “placing themselves in a position to incite a riot.” Students then began a 10-month boycott of Tallahassee’s public bus system.

In celebration of Black History Month, the Black Archives has a display featuring the two women credited with pioneering the bus boycott in Tallahassee.

The display is part of an exhibit dedicated to women who have made a major impact on the African-American community.

Rudi McFarlane, a 20-year-old psychology student and black archive tour-guide, helped set up the exhibit.

“I learned about the initiatives of Jakes and Patterson about a year ago when I first started working at the archives,” McFarlane said.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the bus boycott in 2006, the university hosted a two-day celebration recognizing both women. City Commissioner Bill Proctor served as the coordinator of the Tallahassee Christian Leadership Council.

“Depending on your age and what all you remember, the celebration gave a sense of relief to the deeply personal issue that many had endured,” said Proctor.

He described the event as the community embracing “the actions of those affected by segregation.” He also said that it was “a noble event instead of an act of infamy and it gave people a sense of self-esteem.”

Students and faculty who took part in the boycott were arrested and fined for conducting “illegal carpools.” Eventually, charges were dropped but the arrests did not stop.

In 2009, Tallahassee residents marched to Jennings Street and demanded that the street be renamed Jakes & Patterson to commemorate the “foot soldiers for change.” The Leon County Board of County Commissioners voted on changing the street’s name where the women shared an apartment.

FAMU has placed a land marker on the “Set” which sits in front of the Office of Student Activities with a quick memoir of Jakes’ and Patterson’s outstanding act of bravery.