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    Harriett Adderley went to bat 50 years ago in civil rights protest that resulted in landmark case

    September 25, 2013
    By: Michael Abrams

    The crowd was angry, taunting and spitting at the marchers. The city’s racial situation had been termed a “powder keg.”

    It was a fall semester in the year of the famous civil rights march on Washington, 1963, when Harriett Adderley and her fellow Florida A&M University students marched down Tallahassee’s Monroe Street into history - creating a landmark case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

    With segregated restaurants and theatres, and swimming pools closed to black residents during a hot summer, temperatures had reached the boiling point in Tallahassee. Many other cities across the U.S. had experienced racial unrest.

    Three days of protest and marches, Sept. 14 -16, resulted in arrests of hundreds of FAMU students. The first protest was at the segregated Florida Theater, where seven white students from other universities also were involved. Of more than 200 students, 157 were arrested.

    Protest over Birmingham

    The protest on Sept. 15 came after news of four black children dying in the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Ala.  Students dispersed peacefully after hearing from ministers and black leaders. However, on Monday, Sept. 16, students who were marching on the county jail refused to leave after being ordered by Leon County Sheriff Bill Joyce, and being urged to leave by the Rev. C.K. Steele.

    Steele “was greeted by boos” according to historian Gloria Rabby in her book “The Pain and the Promise” published in 1999 by the University of Georgia Press. 

    More than 100 were arrested, bringing the total to about 350 students in jail. Trials and sentencing took many weeks, with charges dismissed for many, and others fined or sentenced to jail. Thirty two of the students convicted for trespassing eventually were granted their day in court by the U.S. Supreme Court.

    The case, Adderley v. Florida, out of the cauldron of the civil rights movement,  is one of those studied by students at law and journalism schools across the country. It’s a precedent for the limits of civil protest in the modern age.

    Angry crowd threatened violence

    “You know at one point I really thought I would be killed,” Harriett Adderley recalled.  “The crowd was very angry at us. The crowd was trying to make us strike back. I was happy to be marched into the jail.”

    The first woman ever to play on a man’s baseball team at FAMU was about to break more new ground.

    “They were along the route we were walking – all standing on the side, yelling, screaming spitting at us.”

    The jail was crowded.

    “They had so many of us in jail. I can’t begin to tell you how tight we were. We were literally packed in there. It got to a point where they put up a tent outside.”

    Adderley, a Florida native who retired in 2004 after a 40 year career of teaching elementary school in New Jersey, took some time by phone recently to reminisce.

    She’s a 1965 graduate of Florida A&M who grew up in Boynton Beach, one of seven children. She has been quietly blazing trails a long time.

    First woman on the team

    She was a track athlete. A yearbook picture in a baseball uniform shows that she also was the first woman to play on the men’s baseball team.

    She says she had been mistaken for a boy when the coach first saw her practicing ball in the outfield. He was surprised to learn the opposite, and she was soon on the team.

    The former second baseman laughs as she recalls one game with Allen University in Columbia, S. C., when the other team forfeited the game rather than play a team with a woman on it.

    “They would not play against a girl,” she said. “They pulled their team off the field.”

    The FAMU coach took out the rulebook and showed that there was no rule barring women, but it still did not persuade the other team.

    She remembers that day when she and about 200 other students marched through that vicious crowd to the Leon County jail in protest of the arrests of other FAMU students, some of whom wanted to desegregate a movie theatre downtown.

    ‘Kept marching, kept going’

    What led up to the march were previous marches and arrests. The leader of the march was Alton White, a FAMU football player who lives now in Tampa.

    “Dr. King was supposed to come and he didn’t come. We were taught how to demonstrate.  You marched and kept going.”

    “We were marching and going down toward the theatre.  We were told if they hit us to keep walking. People spat at us but we would keep walking. It made it hard because it was non-violent –  you couldn’t do anything back.”

    She and more than 100 others spent a night in jail after they refused to move from the jail’s driveway after Leon Sheriff Bill Joyce gave an order to disperse.

    The case that bears her name, Adderley et al v. Florida, decided in 1966, set constitutional parameters for protest and is one of the hallmark decisions of that era of racial confrontation, splitting the U.S. Supreme court down the middle like a sharp grounder through the legal infield.

    Because her name was first on the list of those arrested, the case was listed under her name. It appeared in the magazines of the era, including Time Magazine.

    The students lost the case. The precedent established was that no matter how strong the political belief, no one has the right to trespass on public property to make a political statement.

    Justices were split

    The case split the liberal justices, with Hugo Black coming down on the side of the sheriff; William O. Douglas dissenting and defending the protestors.

    The decision stood in contrast to another one involving civil rights protestors in South Carolina whose use of the more public accessible capital grounds by students was seen as more appropriate a place of protest and grievance than Tallahassee’s jail driveway.

    During her teaching career she has taken the opportunity to tell students about her civil rights activities.  Many of her students are white or from different races.

    “It was part of my life I had to explain. I became a better person for going through it but wouldn’t have preferred it that way.”

    She spends some of her time in retirement working with the Salvation Army as a volunteer and she teaches exercise fitness at a community college.

    Adderley is not related to musicians Julian (Cannonball) Adderley or Nathaniel (Nat) Adderley. who also have connections to Florida A&M University. She is, however, related to a famous football player, Herb Adderley.