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Throughout the 1950s-1970s, large-scale, nonviolent demonstrations by audacious students attending Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), Florida State University, and the University of Florida, as well as local high school students and Leon County residents, played important roles in the dangerous fight for racial equality. Hundreds of students were arrested in 1960 for participating in sit-in demonstrations at the Woolworth's and McCrory's lunch counters in Tallahassee. Priscilla and Patricia Stephens, FAMU students and founding members of Tallahassee's Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); siblings John and Barbara Broxton; William Larkins; Angela Nance; Merritt Spaulding; Clement Carney; and high schooler Henry Steele chose to serve a 60-day jail sentence instead of posting bail, staging America's first student-led jail-in protest. Three years of constant protest ensued. From September 14-16, 1963, over 350 demonstrators, mostly FAMU students, were arrested for mass picketing, trespassing, and disturbing the peace. On September 14th, 200 students picketed the segregated Florida Theatre. Police arrested 157. Later that evening, about 100 protesters gathered at the county jail and 91 were arrested.
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jail overflowed as arrest numbers swelled to 248. Covered quarters at the Leon County Fairgrounds, normally used for cattle and other animals, were converted to temporary jails. On September 15th, 250 FAMU students, led by ministers C.K. Steele, David Brooks, and E.G. Evans, resumed protesting at the county jail downtown. No arrests were made. On September 16th, some 250 students protested at the jail again, and 100 were arrested. Besides imprisonment, Civil Rights foot soldiers and student leaders such as Reuben Kenon, Calvin Bess, Roosevelt Holloman, John Due, Julius Hamilton, FAMU Student Government Association President Prince McIntosh, and many others suffered arrest records, threats, physical attacks, school suspensions, and delayed graduations. Most students remained in the crowded, unsanitary fairground facilities for many days, and slept on floors with blankets provided by jail officials. Black and white citizens, FAMU employees, CORE, NAACP, and the Inter-Civic Council raised money for bails, fines, and attorney fees. The Leon County Fairgrounds is a historic site of the Civil Rights Movement because of its significance in one of Florida's and the nation's largest student-led, jail-in demonstrations.