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‘Urban Buffalo Soldiers’ Tells Story of St. Petersburg’s ‘Courageous 12’

Urban Buffalo Soldiers | Leon Jackson | Courageous 12

The Courageous 12 were black officers who sued the city of St. Petersburg to gain equality in the police department. Leon Jackson, the last surviving member of the Courageous 12, has written a book describing their experiences.

ST. PETERSBURG – – The year was 1965, and in St. Petersburg, strict segregation handcuffed black police officers.

They could not patrol white neighborhoods. They couldn’t arrest white people. They had to dress and shower in a cramped police station corner separate from white officers. They could drive only second-hand patrol cars. Even drinking fountains were off limits.

Twelve black officers decided enough was enough.

They decided to do the unthinkable: They sued their employer, the city of St. Petersburg, so they could be treated the same as their white counterparts.

Leon Jackson, the last survivor of a band of brothers nicknamed the Courageous 12, tells the story in Urban Buffalo Soldiers. Jackson’s book, newly published, discusses the reality that led to the suit and profiles the officers who put their jobs on the line.

“It’s a must read,” said Goliath Davis, the former St. Petersburg police chief and ex-deputy mayor.

The officers’ suit, thought to be the first of its kind in the nation, became a civil rights milestone and opened doors for other black police officers, both in St. Petersburg and elsewhere.

After losing in a district court, the officers won their appeal in federal court.

“They deserve only what they seek – equality,” wrote the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in its 1967 ruling.

James B. Sanderlin, a civil rights crusader who became Pinellas County’s first black

judge, served as the officers’ attorney.

“Our legal action was considered a stunning, unheard-of action,” said Jackson.

Jackson, 79, speaks frequently to civic clubs, at schools, and at other venues. The book is expected to be available soon in bookstores. For now, they are available through Jackson for $10. Jackson can be reached at or (727) 327-9583.

For more about the Courageous 12, click here and here.

Editor’s Note: Urban Buffalo Soldiers is published by the Ragnarok Group, which owns Tampa Bay Reporter.

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