Timeline

1956

October 20th, 1956

Bus Boycott Supporters in Tallahassee, Florida, Are Jailed

Modeled after the Montgomery bus boycott, the Tallahassee bus boycott began after a May 17, 1956, incident in which two Florida A&M students were arrested for sitting in the white section of a city bus. Because the city’s buses were primarily patronized by African American residents, the boycott left the vehicles nearly empty. In July 1956, city officials were forced to suspend bus service due to lost revenue. The bus company resumed services in August following an initiative led by the Junior Chamber of Commerce to get more white residents to ride the buses but the boycott continued. The Tallahassee Inter-Civic Council (ICC) led the boycott and organized a carpool to serve as alternative transportation.

In October 1956, 21 carpool drivers, including nine people who comprised the ICC's executive committee, were arrested for not having “for hire” tags on their vehicles. On October 20, 1956, following a three-and-a-half-day trial, all 21 drivers were convicted. City Judge John Rudd sentenced them to pay a $500 fine or spend 60 days in jail, in addition to a suspended 60-day jail term and one year on probation.

Faced with this legal harassment, the ICC voted to end the carpool two days later. The boycott continued until December, however, ending only after federal courts ruled bus segregation unconstitutional. On January 7, 1957, the Tallahassee City Commission repealed the city’s bus segregation law.

1669

October 20th, 1669

Colonial Virginia Enacts Law Permitting “Owners” to Kill Rebellious Slaves

On October 20, 1669, the Virginia Assembly enacted a law that removed criminal penalties for enslavers who killed enslaved people who resisted authority. In the preamble to the law, the assembly justified it on the grounds that “the obstinacy of many of them cannot be suppressed by other than violent means.” The law provided that an enslaver’s killing of an enslaved person could not constitute murder because the “premeditated malice” element of murder could not be formed against one’s own property.

In subsequent years, Virginia continued to reduce protections for enslaved people against killing by their enslavers. In 1723, the assembly removed all penalties for the killing of enslaved people during “correction,” meaning that an enslaved person could be killed for an “offense” as minor as picking bad tobacco. The willful or malicious killing of an enslaved person could constitute murder but the law excused the killing of an enslaved person if the killing was in any way provoked. In effect, enslavers could kill enslaved people with impunity in colonial-era Virginia. Laws in the other colonies were similarly weak when it came to protecting the lives of enslaved people.

Following the American Revolution, many states created penalties for killing enslaved people. But the loophole permitting the killing of an enslaved person during “correction” or to prevent “resistance” remained. As a result, enslavers were rarely punished for killing enslaved people throughout the history of slavery in America.