Zoe Wright, Public Relations Intern
The Courageous Twelve were a group of Black police officers from the St. Petersburg Police Department who took a stance against racism and injustice in the 1960s. For them, becoming police officers allowed them to make a difference in St. Petersburg, Florida. Leon Jackson, member of the Courageous Twelve, visited The Florida Holocaust Museum in mid-July in anticipation of the upcoming exhibition, Beaches, Benches, and Boycotts: The Civil Rights Movement in Tampa Bay.
The Courageous Twelve was made up of officers Leon Jackson, Adam Baker, Freddie Crawford, Raymond DeLoach, Charles Hollands, Robert Keys, Primus Killen, James king, Johnnie B. Lewis, Horace Nero, Jerry Styles and Nathanial Wooten.
As Black officers, they were not able to work in White neighborhoods and could only arrest Black citizens. In addition, Black police officers had to use separate water fountains, lockers and cars from other police officers. They were not allowed to work behind the front desk of the police station. Leon Jackson said, “Basically what they were telling us is ‘We don’t want you here, and the only reason we got you here is to keep the colored people in line.’”
Because of these restrictions, the officers filed a lawsuit, putting everything on the line. Jackson said, “Remember, we had families to take care of. We had children in school. We had homes to pay for. We felt so deeply that we should go ahead and file this lawsuit to pave the way – not only for us, but other black police officers in the entire nation. That’s why we sacrificed so much.” They wanted to be able to be fully integrated into the police department. The Courageous Twelve was supported by two lawyers James B. Sanderlin and Frank Peterman Sr. Even though the lawsuit took three years, the police officers won their case!
On August 1, 1968, the officers won their case however, but it did take time for them to be fully integrated. Jackson was the first officer to be assigned to a White neighborhood after the ruling. A couple other officers got desk jobs that were previously held by White officers.
To learn more about Leon Jackson and the other Courageous Twelve members, be sure to visit The Florida Holocaust Museum this fall. Beaches, Benches, and Boycotts: The Civil Rights Movement in Tampa Bay will be open from September 7, 2019 to March 1, 2020 at The Florida Holocaust Museum.