Surrounded by her family, who sang songs of the civil rights era at her bedside, former South Dade resident and community activist Patricia Stephens Due died Tuesday at an Atlanta hospice. She was 72.
“We were all there literally around her bed singing freedom songs and spirituals,” said Due’s eldest daughter, Tananarive Due. “We were singing Go Tell it on the Mountain when her breathing quietly stopped.”
Due, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2009, was known nationally for her lifetime commitment to activism in civil rights. Beginning in the 1960s at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University in Tallahassee, where she was a student, Due led and organized boycotts through the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) campus chapter against that city’s segregated public facilities.
She suffered for her activism. During a planning meeting at a church near the FAMU campus, police fired tear gas into the sanctuary. Following that incident, Due remained sensitive to light for the rest of her life and always wore prescription sunglasses.
She and her husband, attorney John D. Due Jr., later championed civil rights causes in South Florida, where they lived for 40 years before moving in 2005 to Patricia Due’s hometown in Quincy.
“People would call Pat and John all the time on many issues – jobs, the criminal justice system,” said longtime friend Anna Price, a minister and director of the South Miami Empowerment Center, a satellite of the Universal Truth Center. “The Dues were always there and always responding. They were about promoting the rights of African Americans in this community and calling out any injustice when they became aware of it.”
Literary agent Janell Agyeman said she heard about Patricia Due’s strong advocacy in civil rights and education even before she met her.
“I knew she was a well-respected freedom fighter, she and her husband. She demanded that you listen and respond,” said Agyeman, who worked with Tananarive Due, a writer, on two novels.
“Her voice was enough to make you pay close attention by itself; it was so deep and melodious,” said Agyeman, who now lives in Atlanta.
South Floridians mourning her passing include members of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. The Dues held several leadership roles in local NAACP branches and with other organizations throughout the four decades they lived in the region.
Bradford Brown, first vice president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, paid tribute to Due’s ability to be supportive of her husband while pursuing her own causes. More important, he said, she devoted herself to her family.
“She was able to carve her own efforts that she led but at the same time she was able to be supportive and instrumental with all of the many things that John was involved with over the years,” Brown said. “It’s a tremendous achievement. She excelled at those two things without diminishing her sense of being her own individual in her own right.”
Doris Hart met Due at FAMU and worked with her on the boycotts and jail sit-ins that the students waged. When they were jailed for their activities, they refused to be bailed out, preferring to serve out their sentences to make a point. The action was called a “jail-in.”
“We didn’t want to pay money to get out of jail for fighting for social justice,” Hart said. She continued to work with Due in Miami, including with the NAACP’s ACT-SO program, a national competition that encourages and rewards African-American students who excel in academic areas.
“She’s given so much to the community with her activities and all of the programs she worked with and for,” Hart said.
As Due’s thyroid cancer progressed, the couple bought a home in the Atlanta area so that they could tap into the resources of specialists, said Tananarive Due, who co-authored a book with her mother, Freedom In The Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of The Fight for Civil Rights.
The initial cancer diagnosis was overwhelming for the entire family, Tananarive Due said. Then her mother got busy attacking it.
“She approached her illness the way she did all of her life, with meticulous attention to detail and determination,” Tananarive Due said.
Due is survived by her husband, John; children, Tananarive Due, a Spelman College professor, novelist, journalist and screenwriter in Atlanta; Johnita Patricia Due, a media lawyer and chief diversity advisor for CNN in Atlanta; and Lydia Due Greisz, an attorney in Dallas; five grandchildren; sister Priscilla Stephens Kruize of Miami; and brother, Walter Stephens of Atlanta.
Memorial services are being planned for FAMU but details are not yet confirmed, Tananarive Due said. For more information, call the Miami-Dade NAACP branch office at 305-685- 8694.
Photo: COURTESY OF DUE FAMILY COLLECTION
AN ORIGINAL ACTIVIST: Patricia Stephens Due