Charles Kenzie Steele

For other people named Charles Steele, see Charles Steele (disambiguation).

Charles Kenzie Steele (born February 17, 1914 in Bluefield, West Virginia; died 1980 in Tallahassee) was a preacher and a civil rights activist. He was one of the main organizers of the Tallahassee bus boycott, and a prominent member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.


Steele was the son of a coal miner, and at a young age he knew that he wanted to be a preacher and he first started preaching when he was 15 years old. Steele graduated from Morehouse College in 1938. He then began preaching in Toccoa and Augusta, Georgia and also in Montgomery, Alabama. In 1952 Steele moved to Tallahassee when he was 38 years old, where he started preaching at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Steele met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he was on his way to Tallahassee. He was the only child in the small family he grew up in.

Tallahassee bus boycott

The Tallahassee bus boycott began in May, 1956, during the Montgomery bus boycott. Like other bus boycotts during the Civil Rights Movement in America, it started because black people were forced to ride in the back of the bus, and when two students refused to give up their seat to a white woman, they were arrested. An organization was formed to protest and boycott against the city bus system. The organization was called Inter-civic Council and Steele was elected president. Steele and other protesters boycotted the system by starting car pools and the bus system had stopped for the first time in 17 years on July 1. Steele was arrested many times during this period. The people in Tallahassee thought that the protesters' demands were outrageous. Steele and the other protesters met a lot of rich and influential opposition. The City commissioners were determined in opposition to make the buses integrated. 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 was also a part of many other protest, marches, and boycotts, where he helped to accomplish integration in many public places. Steele helped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957.

He was made the First Vice President under Dr. King at the time of the formation of SCLC.

Steele died from bone marrow cancer in 1980 at the age of 66 in Tallahassee.


When the city created a new bus terminal in 1983, it was named after Steele and a statue of him (by sculptor David Lowe) was placed on the NE corner of the terminal. At the time it was the only statue of a person in Tallahassee, the state capital.

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 pastor for twenty-eight years, has established a charter school which is named in his and former Governor Leroy Collins' honor: The Steele-Collins Charter School.



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