Taking Her Stand: The Betty Jean Owens Story

This interactive timeline was created by the students of Dr. Robin Mitchell as part of a semester-long project for our class The History of Women's Movements in North America at California State University, Channel Islands. Betty Jean Owens' story highlights the importance of bodily autonomy for women in North America, especially women of color, and shows how one woman taking a stand for her rights can lead to change for women all over the world.;xNLx;;xNLx;*NOTE: Please click 'Continue' and then the '3d' icon at the bottom-left of the timeline to learn about Betty Jean Owens' story.

1855-06-25 22:23:11

Celia and the Historical Importance of Her Case

1861-01-01 01:55:52

Harriet Jacobs Publishes Autobiography

1863-04-24 23:35:40

Lincoln's Lieber Code

1925-02-26 00:00:00

Robert F. Williams

Robert F. Williams was a controversial figure in the history of civil rights. A militant of the Monroe, North Carolina, chapter of the NAACP, Williams suggested African Americans stand their ground and defend themselves. Growing exasperated with the unceasing disparity in justice between whites and blacks in the United States, Williams decided a more active self-defense was required in the wake of assaults such as the ones that took place upon Betty Jean Owens. At the behest of Roy Wilkins, he was ousted as Brach leader of the North Carolina branch of the NAACP and finally at the 1959 annual meeting of the organization expelled from the NAACP. He would later pen the seminal track “Negro’s with Guns” that would be a major influence on a later generation of activists, including the founding of the Black Panther Party. He would later decamp to Cuba and host the gorilla radio station Radio Free Dixie.

1940-04-01 00:00:00

Who is Betty Jean Owens?

Florida native Betty Jean Owens was born February 29, 1940, and raised in Frenchtown, Tallahassee, Florida.

1950-01-01 18:16:42

Living in Frenchtown

During her middle school and high school years, Owens recalls white college students from Florida State University (FSU) driving down Macomb Street and throwing rocks at them. One day, one of her siblings retaliated by throwing rocks back at the FSU students. The FSU students stopped coming.

1956-05-26 00:00:00

Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson: Initiators of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott

Jakes (Education, 26) and Patterson (English, 20) — Jakes felt "real upset that they were treating us like criminals..., like we weren't human beings."

1956-05-28 00:00:00

Inter-Civic Council (ICC)

Organized by Florida A & M University students to organize the bus boycott. A response to the arrests of Jakes and Patterson.

1956-05-31 02:13:07

Bus Boycotts Begin in Tallahassee

"...the boycott was sustained without the considerable outside financial and moral support that poured into the more famous boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. To civil rights supporters throughout the nation, Tallahassee was proof that Montgomery was not an aberration and that black demands for full participation in American society would spread across the South, even into its small cities." Source: Rabby, Glenda Alice. The Pain and The Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999.

1957-01-01 20:23:36

Aerial view of Florida A&M University (FAMU), 1957

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University was founded as the State Normal College for Colored Students, and on October 3, 1887, it began classes with fifteen students and two instructors. Today, FAMU, as it has become affectionately known, is the premiere school among historically black colleges and universities. Prominently located on the highest hill in Florida’s capital city of Tallahassee, Florida A&M University remains the only historically black university in the eleven member State University System of Florida. From FAMU.edu

1959-05-02 13:07:05

Students of FAMU Attend Annual Orange and Green Ball

In 1959, 19 year old Betty Jean Owens attended the college of Florida A&M University (FAMU) in Tallahassee Florida. A historical all black college, Owens lived what appeared to be the typical college life; she attended classes and participated in student events. May 2nd, Owens attended the Orange and Green Ball, where R&B singer Roy Hamilton serenaded the students of FAMU. On her way home from the ball, Owens and her friends were stopped by a group of 4 white men. They forced her into their car and proceeded to drive off.

1959-05-02 20:23:37


Image of the scene of the attack on Betty Jean Owens at Jake Gaither Park, Tallahassee, Florida. Image by Grey Villet/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images.

1959-05-02 22:51:46

Deputy Sheriff Intern Joe D. Cooke, Jr.

A student of criminology at Florida State University, Cooke, Jr. was on duty the night of the attack and, to the surprise of Betty Jean's friends, immediately began to search Tallahassee for the perpetrators. "He apprehended single-handed the armed youths early May 2, after a 95-mile-an hour auto chase. It was his first arrest."

1959-05-03 00:00:00

Tallahassee Court House

Exterior representation of the Tallahassee court house until it was remolded in the 1980's.

1959-05-03 01:15:50

"4 Whites Seized in Rape of Negro"

1959-05-03 08:00:00

FAMU Hospital

Stock photo dated September 13, 1953, Dr. R.L. Anderson and nurse Lottie Mae Chauis examine an expectant mother at the FAMU Hospital in Tallahassee, Florida — (NOT Betty Jean Owens)

1959-05-03 11:16:28

Four Assailants

Patrick Scarborough (20), David Beagles (18), Ollie Stoutamire (16) and William Ted Collinsworth (23)

1959-05-03 20:13:24

Chief of Police Frank Stoutamire

Cousin of the accused Ollie Stoutamire, the Tallahassee Chief of Police and his regular Deputies were off duty the night of the attack.

1959-05-04 00:00:00

"Negroes Ask Justice for Co-Ed Rapists"

This article notes the ground spring of support for Betty Jean Owens and the call across the African-American community to see justice done.

1959-05-04 22:25:40

"We Love Our Women Too" Supporters of Betty Jean Owens

1959-05-05 11:31:24

Letter from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Clifford C. Taylor

1959-05-05 22:49:08

"Grand Jury Called In Co-Ed Rape Case"

A New York Times article highlighting the announcement of a Court Case being held in the Rape of Betty Jean Owens.

1959-05-06 00:00:00

"NAACP Leader Urges Violence"

The times recording the inflammatory remarks of Robert F Williams and Roy Wilkins response to these remarks.

1959-05-08 11:56:10

"Crowd Moans as Plan is Told"

A Sarasota news story notes the disappointment of the crowd with the 'Not-Guilty' plea given by the rapists.

1959-05-09 11:22:22

"4 Arraigned in Rape"

The four rapists would give a not guilty plea in court despite admitting to the sheriffs that they had done it on the way to the police station on the night of the attack

1959-05-12 00:00:00

Robert F. Williams Press Conference

This conference is were Williams first broached the idea of a more vigorous form of self-defense in response to a continues disregard of African American rights. These statements would escalate to a conflict that would end with Williams expution from the NAACP

1959-05-13 04:03:09

FAMU Student Protests

1959-05-13 20:23:35

Discarded Protest Posters from FAMU Students

"Most of the 2,800 Negro students at Florida A&M University stayed away from their classes today as part of a 'passive resistance' move designated to focus national attention to the mass rape of a Negro coed by four white men."

1959-05-13 23:23:41

On Campus Student Protests for Betty Jean

"Most of the 2,800 Negro students at Florida A&M University stayed away from their classes today as part of a 'passive resistance' move designated to focus national attention to the mass rape of a Negro coed by four white men."

1959-05-15 00:00:00

Statement Adopted at Spring Session of SCLC in Tallahassee, Florida

The statement penned by King and Ella Baker for the 1959 SCLC meeting, amended to include the assault on Betty Jean Owens.

1959-05-16 00:00:00

"Mr. Muhammad Speaks"

In a regular column in the Pittsburgh Courier titled "Mr. Muhammad Speaks," Elijah Muhammad considers the recent lynching of Mack Charles Parker and the attack on Betty Jean Owens and asks "What good is our lives to us to allow our enemies to come into our families and rape our wives and daughters and lynch our men at will?"

1959-05-16 00:00:00

"What Will Florida Do?"

The Pittsburgh Courier in a seemingly "open-and-shut" case, this article questions whether or not justice can be realized in Florida

1959-05-16 00:00:00

"Sobbing Coed Bares Ordeal"

A copy of the May 16th issue of the Afro-American, which includes several articles by Civil Rights leaders on the Betty Jean Owens case.

1959-05-23 00:00:00

"Report From Europe"

A collection of articles from the Afro-American including "King ask's Ike to come to Mississippi" and "Report from Europe" that discusses Betty Jean Owens.

1959-05-23 00:00:00

Afro-American Cartoon

A cartoon from the Afro-American weighing the Betty Jean Owens case.

1959-05-30 00:00:00

"Will Justice Be Done In Rape of Fla. Co-ed?"

In an Pittsburgh Courier article announcing the postponement of the trial from May 27th to June 10th, "local civic and professional leaders" Dr. M.C. Williams and Charles J. Smith propose that Judge T. May Walker may have been partially influenced by the fact that Florida A&M University classes would no longer be in session on the new trial date, reducing the likelihood of additional student protests.

1959-05-31 02:47:09

"Victim is Tallahassean" FAMUAN Article

Article on page 3 of monthly student publication at Florida A&M University (FAMU), The FAMUAN, recounts details of the attack on Betty Jean Owens.

1959-06-05 00:00:00

"Negro’s Say They Will Use Tallahassee Case As Precedent"

Article from the Tampa Tribune The NAACP announces plans to use the precedent set in the Betty Jean Owens case to further the cause of Civil Liberties through the American justice system.

1959-06-05 00:00:00

"Precedent Set in Rape Trial"

The Tampa Tribune: Precedent Seen Set in Rape Trial A jubilant and introspective response to the conviction of four white men in the rape of Betty Jean Owens. Though there is some equivocation on the process and hopes for the future, the precedent of the conviction of white men in the South for the rape of a black women is a victory, nonetheless.

1959-06-10 10:11:52

"Judge Pledges Color-Blindness as Tallahassee Rape Case Opens"

Judge Pledges Color-Blind Justice as Tallahassee Rape Case Opens

1959-06-11 01:13:21

"4 Whites On Trial in Rape of Negro."

Enter story info here

1959-06-11 23:57:40

"Did Not Consent"

A Tallahassee Democrat article that discusses the testimony of Betty Jean Owens as she talks about the night of the rape.

1959-06-12 05:55:21

Crowd Awaits Verdict Outside Leon County Courthouse

A packed crowd awaits to hear the verdict of guilty or not on the case of Betty Jean Owens.

1959-06-12 06:37:33

The 4 defense attorneys (John Rudd, Howard Williams, Harry Michaels, and J. Worth Owens.)

1959-06-12 07:42:13

Florida State Prosecutor William Hopkins

1959-06-12 19:36:01

"Negro Girl Tells Jury of Rape by 4"

New York Times article on the testimony from Betty Jean Owens.

1959-06-12 23:50:27

"Negro Coed Testifies in Rape Trial"

San Francisco Chronicle story on the case.

1959-06-13 00:00:00

"4 Begin Defense in Trial On Rape"

In this New York Times article, the 4 rapists claim that the girl consented while the defense attorneys try to find ways to get their client's off the hook for their actions.

1959-06-14 00:00:00

"Pent Up Critique on the Rape Case"

This wide-ranging Tallahassee Democrat article covers the Betty Jean Owens case from several interconnected perspectives, from whites shocked by the repulsive act to black national leaders who to at last saw the conviction of a white man in the South for the rape and assault of a black women.

1959-06-15 00:00:00

New York Times "Negroes See Gain in Rape Conviction"

The Times recording the subdued and equvicol reactions after the verdict of the trial. Florida and the American government saw the conviction as a vindication of the American justice system, African-American leaders were still dispirited by the unequal verdict handed down to the perpetrators.

Taking Her Stand: The Betty Jean Owens Story

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