HBCU Students Staged A Powerful Protest in 1959 to Demand Justice for This Black Woman's Safety

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Leslie Grover-Taylor
January 26, 2024

In 1959, four white men hunted for a Black girl to sexually violate. They found Florida A&M student Betty Jean Owens. After the attack, the men were arrested, but instead of being remorseful, they joked about what they’d done in the back of the police car.

Meanwhile, word spread across Florida A&M’s campus, and so did outrage. While it wasn’t uncommon for white men to sexually violate Black women’s bodies, it was nearly unheard of for them to actually face consequences from all-white police, jurors, and judges. However, Florida A&M students decided that this time was going to be different.

Many students had already participated in a local boycott in Tallahassee of buses and were ready to “protect Black womanhood.” Though there was sweeping support for carrying guns to prove a point, the group decided to protest unarmed. Over a thousand students demonstrated with signs, hymns, and their own stories of feeling unsafe and violated. But resistance didn’t end there.

At each step of the case, Black people showed up and packed the streets and the courtroom. Miraculously, the all-white jury found the men guilty and sentenced all of them to life in prison.

Today, Black women are often not supported, even by our own, but when we stand in solidarity with one another, we can create justice against all odds. It’s time for history to repeat itself with our unity.

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