So, where were you when you learned that Patricia Stephens Due had died?
Probably not many people can remember, mostly because not many people outside of her generation can even begin to grasp the significance of Mrs. Due’s contribution to society and, in particular, to the black cause.
Mrs. Due died Feb. 7 at age 72 after a tough two-year battle with cancer, ending an important chapter in the annals of the civil rights movement not only in Florida but also the whole nation.
When only 20 and a student at Florida A&M University, Mrs. Due and her sister, Ms. Priscilla Stephens Kruize, of Miami, and three other FAMU students staged a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter, for which they spent 49 days in jail rather than paying a fine. That was the start of the sit-in protests across America.
Her sight was damaged on one occasion when police fired teargas into a planning meeting and she had to wear dark glasses the rest of her life. Along with her husband, attorney John Due Jr., a renowned civil rights activist himself, she went on to devote her life to the advancement of civil rights. After living in Quincy, the couple and their three daughters spent many years in southern Miami-Dade County, promoting the civil rights cause.
When Mrs. Due’s health condition became known last year, officials in Tallahassee and in Leon County paid tribute to her but very little has been said in the tri-county area. That oversight should be rectified and local governments should honor her in a manner befitting her worth.
Even more, her passing gives cause for reflection on the men and women of a generation now dwindling who laid the foundation for many of the rights that we take for granted but who have been relegated to the backburner of our consciousness.
Young people, in particular, do not seem to have a sense, much less solid knowledge, of who these pioneers are and how much they have contributed to making our communities and our country a better place and bringing us all closer to the American ideal of “one nation under God.”
There is still a far way to go but we have come a far way, as well, thanks to men and women such as Patricia Stephens Due.