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Tue, 02.17.1914

Charles K. Steele, Minister, and Activist born

Charles K. Steele

*Charles K. Steele was born on this date in 1914. He was a Black preacher and a civil rights activist.

Charles Kenzie Steele was the son of a coal miner, an only child from McDowell County, West Virginia. At a young age, he knew he wanted to be a preacher, and he started preaching when he was 15 years old. Steele graduated from Morehouse College in 1938. He began preaching in Toccoa and Augusta, Georgia, then in Montgomery, Alabama, at the Holt Street Baptist Church.

In 1952 Steele moved to Tallahassee, where he started preaching at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Steele met Martin Luther King Jr. on his way to Tallahassee. The Tallahassee bus boycott began in May 1956 during the Montgomery bus boycott. Steele and other protesters boycotted the system by starting carpools, and the bus system stopped for the first time in 17 years on July 1. Steele was arrested many times during this period. The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of Steele's church, marched in front of his house, and threw bottles through his windows.

The city commissioners were firmly opposed to the integration of the buses. The bus system was integrated two years later. He was also the lead plaintiff in the school desegregation suit, which led to the desegregation of public schools in Leon County.

Steele helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in 1957, and he participated in the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. Steele died from bone marrow cancer on August 19, 1980, at 66 in Tallahassee. When the city created a new bus terminal in 1983, it was named after Steele, and a statue of him was placed on the NE corner of the terminal. Florida State University conferred on Steele the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1980, the first to an African American and the first to be bestowed in fifty-six years from that school.

The Bethel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, where Steele was a pastor for twenty-eight years, has established a charter school that is named in his and former Governor Leroy Collins' honor: the Steele-Collins Charter School. In 2012 Steele was inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. On March 23, 2018, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed CS/SB 382 into law, designating portions of Florida State Road 371 and Florida State Road 373 along Orange Avenue in Tallahassee as C.K. Steele Memorial Highway.

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