Students at FAMU have rich history of activism

Photo courtesy: FAMU’s Black Archives

This photo shows the anger and frustration that followed a generational tragedy. On May 2, 1959, Betty Jean Owens, a student at Florida A&M University was raped by four white men: William Collinsworth, Ollie Stoutamire, David Beagles and Patrick Scarbourough.

Unfamiliar with most cases of white men sexually assaulting Black women, the men were convicted of their crimes. On May 2, 1959, the four men approached the car Owens was in with her three friends, Richard Brown, Thomas Butterfield and Edna Richardson. The friends were at Jake Gaither Park in Tallahassee when they were approached by shotguns and switchblades. The friends were then forced to get out of the car. Brown and Butterfield were ordered to kneel, while Owens and Richardson were threatened with knives. The white men told the Black men to leave, while Richardson escaped running deeper into the park leaving Owens by herself.

Owens was repeatedly raped by the men, being treated as more of an object than a human being.

Later that night, Brown and Butterfield found Richardson and went to the police station to report the incident. With continuous searching, the police were able to find the men and Owens. Owens was found tied up in the back seat of a blue Chevrolet.

The police arrested Collinsworth, Stoutamire, Beagles and Scarborough.

Their arrests led to a protest by FAMU students, which is documented in the Meek-Eaton Black Archives on FAMU’s campus (

The students demanded justice for Owens and threatened to protest against Florida’s governor, Fuller Warren. The following day, the students formed a march. On May 6, 1959, a session was scheduled later indicting the four men. After the indictment, the men were then scheduled for trial to take place on June 12, 1959.

On the day of the trial, Owens told the fully packed courtroom the events that occurred on that horror-filled night. After hours of deliberation, the jury found the four men guilty and sentenced them to life in prison.

David Beagles was later granted parole in 1965. However, in 1969, Beagle attempted to murder Owens but killed Betty Jean Robinson by mistake. Beagle was then sentenced to life again. Betty Jean Owens later vanished from the public record without a trace.