Women’s Equality Day: The First Ladies of Florida Politics

In 1929 a journalist reported on Florida’s first U.S. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen’s unusual problem: no pockets! Unlike her male colleagues– whose suits were constructed with upwards of thirteen pockets– Owen’s feminine professional attire provided little room for storing the necessities men typically kept in their pockets. Insisting she needed her hands to orate and handle important bill files, Owen reportedly fashioned a makeshift knapsack with a long strap to wear across her shoulders. With her hands free, Owen helped represent the first generation of women in politics, advocating on behalf of her constituents in the 4th congressional district of Florida from 1929 to 1932. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen, like many of Florida’s pioneering female politicians, faced new and unexpected challenges after winning the right to vote in 1920.

Since 1971, Florida has joined in the nationwide observation of Women’s Equality Day on August 26th. Women’s Equality Day commemorates the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment (see our blog on Florida’s women suffragists), which granted women’s suffrage, and symbolizes “the continued fight for equal rights.” Today, in honor of 96 years of women participating in Florida politics, we have profiled the history and achievements of four of Florida’s most path-breaking female elected officials.

Portrait of U.S. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen, c. 1929.

Portrait of U.S. Congresswoman Ruth Bryan Owen, c. 1929.

 

Ruth Bryan Owen, Florida’s First U.S. Congresswoman (1929-1932)

The daughter of famed U.S. Congressman and three-time presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, Ruth Bryan Owen (1885-1954) became a ground-breaking politician in her own right after being elected to serve as Florida’s first female congresswoman in 1928. Having grown up in a well-connected, politically active family, government fascinated Owen. As a young girl in the 1890s, she delighted in watching her father debate in Congress, earning her the nickname “sweetheart of the house.” After living abroad with her husband during WWI, Owen settled in Coral Gables, Florida, and soon developed a reputation as a strong public speaker and political organizer. In the early 1920s she served as President of the Community Council of Civic Clubs, and represented Florida on the National Council on Child Welfare. Though she lost her first campaign for Congress in 1926, she tried again in 1928– touring her green Model T on an aggressive 500 stop speech-circuit from Jacksonville to Key West– and won.

Ruth Bryan Owen during congressional campaign, c. 1928.

Congressional candidate Ruth Bryan Owen poses with her secretary, driver and campaign car, “The Spirit of Florida.” Photo by G.W. Romer, c.1928.

As a congresswoman, she advocated for establishing the Everglades as a national park; expanded protections for children and families; and secured funding for a youth citizen program, which brought future leaders to Washington. “I like Congress. [I] always like work you feel you can do and I like to work for the people in Florida,” Owen said about her post. After a dry posture on alcohol prohibition caused her to lose reelection in 1932, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Ruth Bryan Owen U.S. Minister of Denmark and Iceland, and once again she broke new ground as the first woman to hold such a high profile diplomacy position.

Name tag worn by student delegates to the Second Ruth Bryan Owned Brigade, 1931.

Name tag worn by student delegates to the Second Ruth Bryan Owned Brigade, 1931. Congresswoman Owen enacted a youth civic engagement program, and invited a delegation of students from each of her district’s 18 counties to shadow her in Washington. Of this initiative she wrote: “I think there are two qualities all young people have. One is energy and the other is idealism. [If] it is just possible to translate government into the terms which appeal to that sense of idealism in youth we not only give to youth the most wonderful interest in the world by bringing a powerful aid to government.”

Beth Johnson, Florida’s First Female State Senator (1963-1967)

Advertisement for Beth Johnson's State Senate campaign, c. 1962.

Advertisement for Beth Johnson’s State Senate campaign, c. 1962.

Elizabeth “Beth” McCullough Johnson (1909-1973) took her place in Sunshine State history when she won the distinction of the first woman elected to serve in the state senate in 1962. After graduating with a B.A. from prestigious Vassar College in 1930, Johnson relocated with her husband to Orlando in 1934.  For the next two decades, the mother of three children assumed leadership positions in various local civic organizations like the Orlando Junior League, the League of Women Voters, and the Orlando Planning Board. In 1957, she became the second woman elected to the Florida House of Representatives, and subsequently won reelection until 1962 with her historic election as the first female state senator.

In the Florida Senate until 1967, Johnson championed educational access and mental health issues, taking on membership in the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, Constitutional Revision Commission, and the Legislative Council Committee on Mental Health. Specifically, she advocated for daytime access to adult education, lamenting that “too many feminine Phi Beta Kappa minds are in the kitchen. They should be going to college during the same hours their youngsters are attending school.”  Perhaps her greatest achievement as senator came in 1965 when she pushed for the passage of a $7.5 million bond program for the construction and establishment of the University of Central Florida in Orlando.  For her accomplishments, Senator Beth Johnson received the Susan B. Anthony Award as Democratic Woman of the Year in 1966 as “the woman who most nobly, ably and conscientiously exemplifies the entire spirit of the 19th Amendment.”

Carrie Meek, Florida’s First African-American Member of U.S. Congress since Reconstruction (1993-2002)

Portrait of Representative Carrie Meek, 1984.

Portrait of Representative Carrie Meek, 1984.

The 1992 election of Florida Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek (1927-present) signaled the start of a new era in Florida politics: Meek would be Florida’s first African-American representative in U.S. Congress since Reconstruction. Although the 19th amendment barred voter discrimination on the basis of sex, it did not address the longstanding tradition of racism at the polls.  Not until the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964, which outlawed poll taxes, and the Voting Rights Acts of 1965, which spurred the fair redrawing of congressional districts, could African-Americans in Florida legitimately participate in politics. Carrie Meek, the granddaughter of former slaves, would lead the way for a new generation of black politicians in Florida.

Born in 1926, Meek grew up as the daughter of sharecroppers in the “black bottom” neighborhood of Tallahassee, receiving her education at the segregated Lincoln High School and Florida A&M University before earning a graduate degree from the University of Michigan.  In 1961, the newly divorced mother of two accepted a teaching position at Miami-Dade Community College. In 1978, after two decades as an educator, administrator, and community activist, she successfully campaigned for a spot in the Florida House of Representatives.  A few years later in 1982, she became the first African-American woman elected to the Florida State Senate. During her tenure in the Florida Legislature, Meek advocated for gender, racial, and economic equality.

State Representative Carrie Meek seated in the Florida House Chamber, c. 1980.

Representative Carrie Meek seated in the Florida House Chamber, c. 1980.

From there, the 66-year-old grandmother set her sights on a federal ticket, capturing 83 percent of the vote in her historic 1992 run to represent Florida’s 17th congressional district on Capitol Hill. But, as Congresswoman Meek saw it, her responsibilities stretched beyond her Miami-based constituency, but to blacks throughout the state, who now, for the first time in over a century, had political representation in the federal lawmaking body: “[African-Americans in Florida will] have somebody they know will be attuned to their needs… Many [whites] are sensitive but they can’t really understand how hard we’ve had to struggle.”

During her first years in Washington, Meek fought hard for a spot on the powerful House Appropriations Committee– a position typically closed to freshmen representatives– and made federal funding to relieve the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Miami a top priority.  Among other initiatives in Washington, Meek sponsored bills related to immigration and welfare reform, as well as increased entrepreneurial opportunities for African-Americans.  In 2002, at the age of 76, Carrie P. Meek decided not to seek re-election due to her age.  Upon her departure, she expressed deep affection for the ten years she spent in Washington: “I wish I could say I was tired of Congress [but] I love it still.”

Paula Hawkins, Florida’s First Female U.S. Senator (1981-1986)

Portrait of U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins, 1980.

Portrait of U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins, 1980.

U.S. Senator Paula Hawkins (1927-2009) still holds the title of the only Florida woman elected to serve in the upper house of the Congress.  Hawkins also carries the distinction of being the first woman to win a full Senate term without a political family connection.  Before representing Floridians in Washington, Paula Hawkins lived in Winter Park and served on the Florida Public Service Commission from 1973-1979. She simultaneously ran two unsuccessful campaigns for U.S. Senate in 1974 and Lieutenant Governor in 1978. Then, in 1980, the “fighting Maitland housewife,” who stood on a platform of conservative family values, won the race for U.S. Senate by a landslide– making her just one of two women in the U.S. Senate at the time. Shortly after her victory, a male reporter sarcastically asked who would do the laundry while she was busy lawmaking. “I don’t really think you need to worry about my laundry,” snapped the first female senator to bring her husband with her to Washington.

In the U.S. Senate Hawkins emerged as a tireless advocate for children, families, and drug-free youth.  Among her major legislative achievements, Senator Hawkins sponsored the National Missing Children’s Act in 1982, which allowed for federal intervention in state kidnapping cases and created the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. On her crusade for children’s welfare, Paula Hawkins even spoke openly about how her own experiences as a child abuse victim inspired her fight for neglected and mistreated children in the Congress. “I can recall today how terrified I was…. I was embarrassed and humiliated…. Now, when children complain, I believe them,” she revealed to her constituents. Despite her advocacy for vulnerable youth, Hawkins ultimately lost a heated reelection race against Governor Bob Graham in 1986.  Nonetheless, her unmatched service as Florida’s first and only female U.S. Senator keeps her ranked high among the state’s most accomplished women in politics.

These are profiles of just four of the many Florida women who shaped state and national politics in the twentieth century.  For additional resources on the history and contributions of women in Florida, check out our Guide to Women’s History Collections.

The Forgotten History of Lincolnville

If you have ever visited St. Augustine, you might have noticed a large concentration of Victorian era homes just southwest of recognizable landmarks like the Bridge of Lions and the Cathedral Basilica. This is Lincolnville, a historically black neighborhood in America’s oldest city. Formed by St. Augustine’s freed slave population after the Civil War, Lincolnville was home to a thriving middle-class black community during the period of legalized segregation in early twentieth century Florida.

1885 Birdseye view of St. Augustine

A stylized map depicting a developed lot in Lincolnville (1885). Excerpt from 1885 birdseye view of St. Augustine, Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect and freed all enslaved peoples living in Union-occupied areas, which included St. Augustine– one of the few places in Florida to enforce emancipation during the Civil War. According Mary Anne Murray, an eye-witness who was interviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) some seventy years after emancipation: “All the slaveholders were ordered to release their slaves and allow them to gather in a large vacant lot west of St. Joseph’s Academy, where they were officially freed.” An estimated 672 slaves living in St. Augustine became freedmen at once, and the parcel became known as “liberation lot.” These liberated men and women would become the founders of Lincolnville. In the decades that followed, their descendants celebrated the anniversary of emancipation in jubilant fashion.

Emancipation Day Parade in Lincolnville (1920s).

Lincolnville photographer Richard A. Twine captured this image of Lincolnville residents commemorating Emancipation Day with an annual parade (1920).

The freedmen of St. Augustine wasted no time in settling a neighborhood of their own, leasing numerous city lots along the marshy banks of the Maria Sanchez Creek in the mid to late 1860s. Initially referred to as “Africa,” the rapidly developing corridor was soon renamed “Lincolnville,” after the slain Civil War president. By the 1880s, many Lincolnville residents were property owners who built their own homes, businesses, and churches. Several blacks from Lincolnville served in public office up until the turn of the century when restrictive voting laws like poll taxes and literacy tests effectively disenfranchised African-Americans. The definitive end to black political participation in Lincolnville came in 1902, when resident John Papino was shot after winning election to the city council. No black officials would be elected to city government again until 1973. Barred from the ballot box and routinely shut out from many of the economic opportunities available to whites, African-Americans living in Lincolnville focused on investing in their community’s development.

Dawson C.M.E. Chapel under construction on 225 Orange Street in Lincolnville (1920s).

Dawson C.M.E. Chapel under construction on 225 Orange Street in Lincolnville (1920s). There were at least 16 churches located in Lincolnville by the 1920s. Photo by Richard Twine.

Though intended to limit opportunity for African-Americans, the exclusionary conditions of segregation actually encouraged the growth of black enterprise initiatives. By the 1920s a lively commercial district of black-owned businesses had sprouted up around Washington St., making it the center of socialization in Lincolnville. “If you weren’t there on Saturday night, you hadn’t lived,” reminisced former civil rights activist and St. Augustine City Commissioner Henry Twine.

Lincolnville residents gathered together after a dance at the Old Fellows Lodge

Richard Twine photographed this group of Lincolnville residents gathered together after a dance at the Old Fellows Lodge on 92 Washington St (1920s). Now a condominium, Odd Fellows Lodge was once the community watering hole, hosting proms, dances, and even celebrity performances by Ray Charles and Little Richard.

One Lincolnville entrepreneur, Frank Butler, who owned the Palace Market grocery store on 54 Washington St. where he often sold his customers goods on credit, became a well-known real-estate investor during a time when property deeds typically barred land sales to blacks.  Having built up a rapport with city officials, Butler often received tips on tax sales and real-estate sales, advantages otherwise not extended to African-Americans. Longtime Lincolnville resident, Rosalie Gordon Mills, recalled that Butler “had a calling—a mission in life to succeed as a black man…. He knew how to deal with the race problem and took advantage of every opportunity.” Butler leased properties all over town to black-run businesses, allowed prospective homeowners to buy on credit, and even established “Butler Beach” (see our blog “Butler Beach and Jim Crow”), the only beach between Jacksonville and Daytona open to African-Americans during segregation.

Frank Butler in his College Park Realty Office in Lincolnville (1920s).

Frank Butler standing behind the front desk of his College Park Realty Office on 54 ½ Washington St. in Lincolnville (1920s). Photo by Richard Twine.

In addition to the numerous business ventures undertaken by Butler, the Washington St. district also boasted the Ice Berg, a legendary pharmacy and soda shop managed by Arthur C. Forward. “Everything was good,” recalled former Lincolnville resident Debbie McDade who insisted the Ice Berg sold the best ice creams sodas “in the world.” Three barber shops, six grocery stores in addition to Butler’s Palace Market, four cafes, and four dry cleaning shops filled out the rest of the commercial hub. Black professionals like dentist Rudolph Gordon; medical doctors Leon Reid, T.G. Freeland, S.J.E. Farmer; and pharmacists Otis J. Mills and Robert E. Smith provided trusted healthcare in a neighborhood historian Diana Edwards described as a place where “extended families looked out after everybody.”

Photograph Lincolnville residents Pauline Sanders and John Eckles’ wedding day (1920s).

Lincolnville residents Pauline Sanders and John Eckles on their wedding day (1920s). Photograph by Richard Twine.

Additionally, photographer Richard A. Twine’s studio on 62 Washington St. attracted regular customers interested in professional portraits.  When he was not working in his studio, Twine often took his camera to the streets of 1920s Lincolnville, documenting scenes of daily life at the height of the predominately black middle-class suburb’s business boom. Damaged by fire, Twine’s studio was slated for demolition in 1988 before the work crew discovered a collection of 103 glass negatives in the attic. Preserved by the St. Augustine Historical Society, and temporarily loaned to the State Archives of Florida for duplication, these rare slides illuminate the character of Lincolnville’s history.

Richa Lincolnville resident Mary “Mae” Martin standing outside the gate to her home (1920s).

As federal courts began striking down segregation laws as unconstitutional in the 1950s and 60s, Lincolnville became the site of civil rights organization in St. Augustine.  But, after integration came a decline in the number of black owned homes and businesses in Lincolnville. Although Lincolnville had never been entirely segregated– whites had always owned some shops and houses in the area– by the 1980s black residents of Lincolnville started selling and renting their properties in search of better opportunities elsewhere. The community became more commercialized and scattered, with much of the flavor and family-like atmosphere of 1920s Lincolnville living on only in Richard Twine’s photographs. However, longtime St. Augustine locals recognized the historic value of Lincolnville– in 1991, the Lincolnville Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Natural Bridge As Told by J.H. Frier, Part 2

Today (March 6, 2015) is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought just south of Tallahassee near present-day Woodville in the final months of the American Civil War. Yesterday, we posted an excerpt of a memoir by Joshua Hoyet Frier, a Confederate soldier from Florida who fought at Natural Bridge. In that segment (click here to read it), Frier described his unit’s sudden transfer from Madison County to the front lines near the St. Mark’s River, and preparations for battle.

Today we continue Frier’s account, covering the battle itself. In the following text, Frier describes several skirmishes between his Confederate comrades and their Union opponents. Readers should be advised that this section of Frier’s memoir includes several graphic references to the violence of the battle.

Map showing Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River and the surrounding area (1865).

Map showing Natural Bridge on the St. Marks River and the surrounding area (1865).

 

Illustrated excerpt of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s “Reminiscnese Of The War Between The States”

When the skirmishers was formed in line in front of the main line, it had became light enough to take a view of the surroundings. The clearing proved to be an old abandoned field of not more than twenty acres. The hummock growth of hicory, oak, live oak, sweet gum and cypress grew quite thick right up to the edge of the clearing and probably two hundred yards in front of us.

We was marched across the old field and deployed in the timber, and admonished to keep a sharp lookout and shoot any thing that looked blue. Some of the boys began shooting, directly after sun up, and in explanation said they was shooting birds. We beat around in the bush pretty much as we wished; I was investigating the effects of the fireing on the bushes and timber when I came upon a dead Negro in U.S. uniform. Some of the boys was more luckey, and picked up some live ones, some was sent to the rear but it was said some of them never was. There were some who had in their fright and darkness hid themselves after finding them selves separated from the body of their command. This then was an index to the couler of the foe we had to contend with and gave us great encouragement as we did not think there was much fight in Negro troops.

Reenactors at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (1992).

Reenactors at the Natural Bridge Battlefield (1992).

About eight o clock a blue jay pitched on a limb close by me, and I obeyed orders by shooting at him; before the smoke cleared away a single ball came by with that angry spiteful pang-g-g-g that only a rifle ball can make. This put me on my guard, for it was now plain that some one had shot either at the report or at the smoke of my gun; through an opening in the bushes some two hundred yards in front I saw a faint blue smoke slowly disapating itself right at the root of a large live oak, just such an one as anyone would naturaly seek for a screen under the circumstances.

I kept a sharp lookout for that live oak, as there was two or three small openings through the brush where I could get a pretty fair view of his neighborhood, and get shot at allso; but my antagnist was a verry poor shot, and went wide the mark every time. I called some of the boys who had less dread of minnies than I did who stood up boldly and let this blue coat practice on them. He must have got reinforcements allso or else he improved wonderfuly in markmanship and rapidity of fire; after one of the self constituted targats had a hole shot through his cap he left off the buisness in disgust.

It turns out getting your hat shot at in battle and living through it wasn't such an unusual occurrence at this time. Click on the image to read about a similar incident from Albert S. Chalker of Clay County (March 15, 1865).

It turns out getting your hat shot at in battle and living through it wasn’t such an unusual occurrence at this time. Click on the image to read about a similar incident from Albert S. Chalker of Clay County (March 15, 1865).

 

About this time a Mr. Ellis of our company came to take care of us as he said he had been there but a few minutes when when he was shot in the abdomen which proved a fatal wound; the shot was fired from a clump of bushes not fifty yards away; as the other two boys laid down their guns and went to his assistance I saw a Negro soldier begin to make his way back from the point, he droped and I thought I had hit him but I have since concluded that it would have been the most natural thing in the world for him to have droped to keep from being shot at again.

The fireing had became quite general all along the line while within a few hundred yards in front we could hear the rumbling of wagons, caisons, and etc. and could hear the neighing of horses, and various sounds that indicated unusual activity among the Federals upon the oposite side of the timber. About 11 a clock our line of skirmishers was releived by another and we went back to the line carrying Mr. Ellis with us. It seems strange untill yet that none of us should have been hurt, for we had nothing to dodge behind and the balls of the Union skirmish line came thick and fast knocking up the dirt at our feet whizing over our heads and to the right and left.

When we returned to the line, our company had been removed from the extreme left to the extreme right, so there was thirteen peices of artillery scattered along equidistant from each other, while the spaces between was filled with what I suppose you might call Infantry. Old grey bearded men, and boys allmost too small to attend school. It seemed that if it came to the worst that it would be a poor chance to hold the line with such a force as this.

The main line had not been idle during the morning and had thrown up earth works along the entire line, frail there were, but proved verry useful, not only in saveing life, but preventing those undrilled little boys from stamepeding like a herd of Texas cattle.

The general engagement began verry soon, after we reached our lines and lasted an hour or so during which they made several attempts to come to us but failed each time. When the 2nd Fla. cavalry dismounted came in and charged them in their works the route was complete. They had three lines of breastworks, and as each one was charged the shooting and shouting reminded me more of some kind of a frolic then the serious work of battle. But the timber in front of us was a sight to me. Many trees of considerable size was cut down at various heights, the limbs and trunks of most of them seemed to have the [bark] stript from them as by lightning.

In the near future, we’ll be posting the entire text of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s memoir of his Civil War experiences. Until then, we invite you to check out our other resources on Florida in the Civil War:

Natural Bridge As Told by J.H. Frier, Part I

Friday, March 6, 2015 will be the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought just south of Tallahassee near present-day Woodville in the final months of the American Civil War. Joshua Hoyet Frier was a Confederate soldier from Florida who wrote down his recollections about the war. The memoir was later transcribed by one of Frier’s descendants, and a copy of it now resides at the State Archives of Florida.

Map showing Natural Bridge and the surrounding area (1865).

Map showing Natural Bridge and the surrounding area (1865).

In the following excerpt from this memoir, Joshua Hoyet Frier describes his unit’s sudden transfer to the front lines at Natural Bridge ahead of the main battle. Tomorrow, we’ll be posting Frier’s description of the battle itself.

The entire memoir will soon be available as an exhibit on Florida Memory. In reading the following text, bear in mind that we have transcribed the text exactly as it appears in the original typescript that was donated to the State Archives. That includes spelling, punctuation and a number of other errors.

Illustrated excerpt of Joshua Hoyet Frier’s “Reminiscnese Of The War Between The States”

We are now at the fifth of March 1865 and the events I am about to speak of was so overshadowed, by more important and vital ones, untill they have never had a place in history. Yet when you follow me through the next week following the above date, you will agree with me that they deserve some mention.

Saturday the fourth day of March I dug on the stump all day, went to the theatre in town and as the boys say made a night of it as I was out out untill 2 o clock A M. On Sunday morning I rose early to prepare for a verry rigid inspection that we was to have and the old rifle (springfield pattern) they gave me the evening before was in verry bad shape for such an ordeal. By eight o clock it looked like every man in the regiment had his gun dissected, and was busily engaged in polishing, scouring, and wipeing. While thus employed we verry distincly heard the booming of cannon, this within its self was not so unusual, but in this instance it meant buisness, as was easily told by the regularity of the fireing. Many surmises was indulged in as to where the fireing was, and what might be the outcome of it.

In this he was correct, inside on an hour orders was issued to prepare three days rations at once; now the hard part of it was to prepare three days rations, out of one, as we had only drawn enough to last untill next morning. Still we never woried much about it as we was pretty well used to such marching prepararions as these, and soon had what little we had ready in haversack; then intoo lines and and to the depot. Great was our surprise when we arived at the depot in Madison to find arangements to issue us the other two days rations. One of the boys said he would bet they had some use for us, for he had never seen any rations issued when we started on a common march. This remark was intended to be witty and sarcastic, but was realy a near aproach to the truth.

Men reenacting the Battle of Natural Bridge (1992).

Men reenacting the Battle of Natural Bridge (1992).

We boarded the train and went to Tallahassee arriveing there late in the evening, where we met with quite a lot of troops. I mean for Florida. This was where the fireing was, and must have been at at least, seventy miles from us. Yet we heard the guns distincly. We never left Tallahassee untill after dark and then on a train so long untill three engines could scarcely haul it. Companies of old men, and boys even smaller than our selves came in and joined us during the evening; these we termed the “Melish” and as to our selves, why we became veterans of course, for the time at least.

We left in the direction of St. Marks and the train stoped at a place called the “oil still” where we unboarded and formed a line of march. The position of our company was on the extreme left, and as we marched by the left flank, threw us in front position we kept all night. Colonel Daniels and our guide walked just in front of us. The Colonel had a horse but he led him or let some of the boys ride him; when urged to ride he simply said he prefered to walk with his men.

I sufferd for sleep worse on this march than I ever did in my life for you you remember I slept but little the night before. While youth and fatigue conspired to punish me for my lark of the night before. But sleeping and marching did not go well together with me, and my experiance was shared by many others, we would strike a smoth bit of road, and five or six would probably be marching along asleep. Presently one would stumble and fall, not alone, mind you for he would bring the sleeping fellows ahead like ten pins. It was not an unfrequent occurence to see four five on the ground at once, which would wake us up a little only to enact the same over again.

All the satisfaction we could get out of the guide was “it is not much farther.” This sterotyped phrase was repeated every time. Col. Daniel when appealed to said he knew nothing; his orders was to follow the guide, and the guide was right in not talking.

At last just as we was about to enter a small clearing, I heard the guide tell Col. Daniel “this is the place.” A horse man halted us, when Col. Daniel advanced and had some talk with him which I could not understand. We then marched on, and as we entered the clearing we filed square off to the left when we filed off I saw by the light of the stars, a peice of artillery unlimbered and ready for action.

One example of the kind of artillery used by Floridian soldiers in the Civil War. This cannon was photographed at the Olustee Battlefield (circa 1900s).

One example of the kind of artillery used by Floridian soldiers in the Civil War. This cannon was photographed at the Olustee Battlefield (circa 1900s).

After geting us in the place they wished us we was halted and faced, then followed an order to stack arms and rest. I looked in the east but there was no sign of day and I made hastey preparations to enjoy a sound nap. Just as I lay down and closed my eyes, a single gun fired in front of us some half mile all was then silent again so long untill we began to think that there was no significance attached to the gun shot, and perhaps after all we would get a little sleep.

Probably a minute or maybe two had elapsed, when fireing began again, this time there was fifty or a hundred guns fired allmost simultaniously, and a dozen minie balls came whizing overhead, singing that sad plaintive tune which well spent balls allways do when not in too close proximity. The effect of this was magical, sleep was banished to the uttermost parts of the earth, and everyone was as wide awake as if we had not slept but little the last two nights.

A courier came dashing down the line in front of us when he saw he was at the end of the line he reined up and asked who commanded that company. Lieutenant Rouse steped foward and told him he did, our captain not yet being reinstated to his command he asked his name and rank and put him in command of the left wing, and gave him some instructions in an undertone we did not hear; the courier then left in a furious gallop.

Pretty soon we heard men coming toward us in double quick time, we could hear the rattle of cartridge boxes and canteens. In an another minute the courier was back again, and told our Lieutenant that all was clear in front but pay particular attention to orders, and not fire untill orders was given specialy to the left wing to do so.

This was his last visit and allmost imediateately we heard the rattle of canteens and cartridge boxes in front again, they was in the brush just outside the clearing, which being a small one brought us quite close together, when the clearing was reached in clear distinct tones the commander of the Federals gave the command “File left march” which was soon followed by equally distinct orders “By the right flank, double quick march.”

The answering command was equaly distinct “Right wing, ready, aim fire” then a sheet of flame, not solid, but rather more like lightning playing on the fringe of a cloud at night, ran fitfully up and down the cresent shaped line to our right for a few seconds, and then the artillery, eight or ten peices, belched forth in rapid succession, long sheets of angry looking flame; while the rattle of the small arms, and the roar of the cannon seemed enough to paralize.

Reenactors fire their guns during a recreation of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the original battle site (1992).

Reenactors fire their guns during a recreation of the Battle of Natural Bridge near the original battle site (1992).

The left wing held their fire, except one boy by the name of Roberts in our company, who could not let the opportunity pass of takeing a shot as he afterwards said, but the boys said he was so badly scared, that he did not know which wing he belonged to; and the boys was no doubt correct. When the confusion and noise of the first round died away, there seemed to be nothing left of the foe, as not a sound emanated from in front. It was in fact a wild retreat, precipitantly taken when they found so much larger force than they expected.

As soon as our wits returned, (I speak for myself) sufficiently to pay any attention to our surroundings, I noticed that day light had broken. Soon news came some of our men had been killed, two in one company, Capt. Barweaks; one of our boys had his canteeen ruined by being preforated with a minnie ball and another was contused on the hip, and had caught the ball which was terible battered in his pants pocket. But none of Co. B was hurt father this.

My impression was that the trouble was over, as we had made such an easy repulse, so when volunteers was called to go on skirmish duty, I went out hopeing my impressions was correct.

We’ll be posting Joshua Hoyet Frier’s recollections of the actual Battle of Natural Bridge tomorrow (March 6, 2015) on the Florida Memory Blog. Until then, leave us a comment to let us know what you think about Frier’s memories so far. Also, check out these Florida Memory resources for more information of Florida in the Civil War:

Richard Ervin and the Gradualist Approach to Desegregation

On May 12, 1955, Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin submitted an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court proposing a gradual approach to school integration. The court had just recently ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in May 1954 that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.

Headline in the Tallahassee Democrat, the day the U.S. Supreme court issued its opinion that separate schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional (17 May 1954). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Headline in the Tallahassee Democrat, the day the U.S. Supreme court issued its opinion that separate schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional (17 May 1954). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The court chose to shelve the case for a year, citing a need for further study on how best to implement the decision. Sensing an opportunity to preserve segregation, acting Florida Governor Charley Johns enlisted the expertise of Attorney General Ervin, State Superintendent of Education Thomas D. Bailey, and Florida State University sociologist Lewis Killian to compile a report outlining the “practical problems involved [with desegregation] and recommendations” for implementation.  The Florida Cabinet approved a $10, 000 budget for the study, which began in the summer of 1954.  Killian began by seeking the opinions of elected officials, journalists, educators, and police chiefs on the subject. Approximately 8,000 surveys reached a biracial sample of community leaders, with a total response rate of fifty one percent.

Atty. Gen. Richard Ervin (left), with Rep. Ben Hill Griffin of Polk County (right). Griffin was chairman of a committee devising legislation allowing parents to withdraw their children from integrated schools  (1959). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Atty. Gen. Richard Ervin (left), with Rep. Ben Hill Griffin of Polk County (right). Griffin was chairman of a committee devising legislation allowing parents to withdraw their children from integrated schools (1959). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The responses from African-Americans revealed several prevalent fears associated with desegregating Florida’s public schools, including “withdrawal of white children from the public schools, the maintenance of discipline in mixed classes by Negro [sic.] teachers, refusal to employ Negro teachers for mixed schools, and difficulty in obtaining white teachers” as the “outstanding potential problems found to be expected.” White responses emphasized similar concerns over such matters as maintaining discipline in mixed classrooms, questionable cooperation of white parents, and violent outbreaks.  In a telling statistic, seventy-five percent of African-American participants supported the Brown ruling and believe the majority of whites did also.  In contrast, a similar percentage of whites thought blacks largely supported segregation. Armed with Killian’s results, Attorney General Ervin made a strong case for gradualism. After a year of delay, the United States Supreme Court reconvened in spring 1955 to clarify the federal enforcement of desegregation in a session aptly nicknamed Brown II.  The court considered the research of ten states regarding school desegregation, lauding Attorney General Ervin’s brief as a particularly strong resource. On May 31, 1955, after much deliberation, the justices handed down their decision.  The court mandated that compliance with the Brown decision should occur with “a prompt and reasonable start,” carried out with “all deliberate speed.”  The vague language coupled with Ervin’s push for gradualism foreshadowed the long battle for school desegregation in post-Brown Florida.

The slow pace of social change in Florida prompted many African-Americans to take action. In the above picture, dated 1962, young men and women stand outside the Florida Theatre in Tallahassee, calling on white America to reevaluate racial segregation. Eight years after the Brown decree only a handful of school districts in Florida were desegregated. Miami-Dade was the first in 1959. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The slow pace of social change in Florida prompted many African-Americans to take action. In the above picture, dated 1962, young men and women stand outside the Florida Theatre in Tallahassee, calling on white America to reevaluate racial segregation. Eight years after the Brown decree only a handful of school districts in Florida were desegregated. Miami-Dade was the first in 1959. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

 

 

Virgil Hawkins and the Fight to Integrate the University of Florida Law School

On May 13, 1949, a forty-three year old man from Lake County named Virgil Darnell Hawkins received a letter from the University of Florida Law School rejecting his application because he was African-American.  Hawkins refused to accept the prejudiced decision without a fight, and promptly filed a lawsuit against the Florida Board of Control in 1950. His legal battle would carry on for nine years, laying the foundation for integrating graduate and professional schools in Florida.

Portrait of Virgil Darnell Hawkins (circa 1960s).

Portrait of Virgil Darnell Hawkins (circa 1960s).

Despite the larger civil rights victory, Hawkins emerged from the ordeal partially defeated as he never gained admission to the institution he considered “one of the finest law schools in the country.” The case of Virgil Hawkins v. Board of Control brought Florida into the national school desegregation conversation, serving as an antecedent to the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Furthermore, Hawkins’ ordeal underscores the tenacity with which segregation advocates fought the drive for an integrated university system, some even going so far as to suggest that such a change would incite “public mischief.”

College of Law buildings at the University of Florida (circa 1950s).

College of Law buildings at the University of Florida (circa 1950s).

Before Virgil Hawkins took his stand, there was no law school for African-Americans in Florida. Rather than fund a separate institution in Florida or permit African-Americans to attend an existing school with whites, the state instituted a law in 1945 to provide scholarships for select African-American students to study at segregated law schools outside the state. When Virgil Hawkins refused to accept that alternative, the Board of Control approved plans to open a segregated law school at Florida A&M College. By 1950, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on two related cases, Sweatt v. Painter and McLaurin v. Oklahoma, professing the inherent inequality of segregated graduate institutions. Despite these rulings, the Florida court still refused to admit Hawkins, and would continue to refuse even after the so-called Brown II decree issued by the Supreme Court in 1955 to clarify the original Brown decision. Hawkins persisted in his fight against the state’s segregationist position, but more challenges were on the way. In 1958, the Board of Control established a new minimum score on the law school entry exam for incoming students, setting the admission threshold fifty points above Hawkins’ 1956 score. As a result, Hawkins was officially denied not because of his race, but rather because he was disqualified by the new rules regarding test scores.  Later that summer, federal district judge Dozier DeVane mandated that all qualified applicants be admitted to graduate and professional schools in Florida regardless of race.

Judge Dozier DeVane, who ruled that qualified applicants had to be admitted to law and graduate programs regardless of race, stands at right in this photo, along with Harrold G. Carswell (center) and an unknown man at left (1953).

Judge Dozier DeVane, who ruled that qualified applicants had to be admitted to law and graduate programs regardless of race, stands at right in this photo, along with Harrold G. Carswell (center) and an unknown man at left (1953).

Nine years after the initial integration suit, African-American veteran George H. Starke, not Virgil Hawkins, enrolled at the University of Florida Law School in September 1958 without incident. As for Virgil Hawkins, he eventually received his law degree in New England, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1977. He resigned in 1985 following complaints about his practice.

Virgil D. Hawkins speaks with supporters while on recess during his disciplinary case before the Florida Supreme Court (1983).

Virgil D. Hawkins speaks with supporters while on recess during his disciplinary case before the Florida Supreme Court (1983).

Virgil Hawkins’ case is an excellent example of how the Civil Rights Movement played out in the courtrooms of Florida as much as it did at lunch counters, public beaches, and city buses. The legal battles fought by Hawkins and others laid the groundwork for an integrated education system for all of Florida.

Florida proudly joins the rest of the United States in celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. For more information about events commemorating the Civil Rights Movement, see our Events Calendar.

 

Save the Capitol!

With its candy-striped awnings and ornate art glass dome, Florida’s old capitol is an architectural reflection of a bygone era, as well as an excellent example of a grassroots historic preservation effort.  For over a century, the building served elements of all three branches of government. Over time, however, Florida outgrew its capitol, and in 1977 a new twenty-two story building was erected just behind it.  The old capitol building was first slated for demolition, but when Tallahassee locals discovered the state’s intent to raze one of the oldest landmarks in the city, the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board quickly mobilized a resistance, urging Floridians to preserve their history and “Save the Capitol!”

View of the east front of new Capitol with old capitol in front - Tallahassee, Florida

A mid to late 1970s view of the east front of new capitol with old capitol in front, just as those engaged in the preservation battle would have seen it (1975-1979).

Perhaps some 1970s legislators were blind to the important symbol of a democratic state government, but from 1839 until 1977, the old capitol bore witness to numerous important milestones in Florida’s history. Two years after establishing  Tallahassee as the capital of the sparsely populated Florida territory in 1824, three log cabins were built for conducting government business.  But by the following decade, the territory seemed destined for statehood, and  Governor Richard Keith Call asked the legislature for a larger space in 1839. The new brick and mortar statehouse proved a worthwhile investment when it was completed in 1845.  In that same year, Florida became the twenty-seventh state to join the Union and  first elected governor, William Dunn Moseley, was sworn into office beneath the new capitol’s east portico, commencing the state’s history.

Florida's Capitol before addition of dome - Tallahassee, Florida (circa 1870s).

Though taken sometime in the 1870s, the above photograph captures the old Capitol’s original 1845 appearance, before the addition of a small cupola in 1891 and then the familiar dome in 1902 (circa 1870s).

In an effort to accommodate a growing state government, Florida’s capitol underwent a series of structural changes. However,  its current appearance was restored to honor the 1902 work of Frank Pierce Milburn, who added a stately copper dome.

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after 1902 - Tallahassee, Florida

View of the west front of the Old Capitol after Milburn’s 1902 additions – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1902 and 1922).

Further renovations occurred in 1923, 1936, and 1947. Despite physical alterations, the capitol remained a firm symbol of democracy as Florida’s political landscape continued to evolve into the twentieth century.

Replica of Liberty Bell displayed during Savings Bond drive in June 1950.

A replica of the Liberty Bell displayed during a savings bond drive at the old capitol highlights the structure as a physical centerpiece of government action in Florida (June 1950).

However, by the early 1970s it was clear that Florida government had outgrown its Tallahassee headquarters.  Thus, the 1972 Legislature appropriated funds for a new, mammoth capitol complex, intending to destroy the old capitol after finishing the project. When it finally opened in 1977, a faction of politicians, including Governor Reubin Askew and House Speaker Donald Tucker, remained in favor of the original demolition plan, but an unexpected backlash would challenge the proposed action.

Representative Bill Nelson with a toy bulldozer - Tallahassee, Florida (18 May 1977)

Nelson to the rescue! Rep. Bill Nelson, D-Melbourne, throws his body in front of the “first” bulldozer to show up at the old capitol. Nelson made the statement earlier in the session that efforts to save the old capitol had so frustrated him that he felt like he would throw his body in front of the first bulldozer that showed up to begin to raze the historic structure. Nelson was true to his word as Reps. Hill and Haben wound up a toy and started it down the aisle of the house chamber (18 May 1977).

Nancy Dobson, a historian and Director of the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, spearheaded the opposition, enlisting the support of Secretary of State Bruce Smathers.  Soon, legislators, academics, and the interested public began expressing their indignation over the  idea of eliminating such a significant historical landmark.  “If the political powers within the state decide to destroy the building in which they themselves have a sentimental and historical involvement, what will be their attitude toward other preservation efforts in the state with which they may have little or no personal relationship?” Dobson questioned.

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson - Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Portrait of historian Nancy Dobson – Tallahassee, Florida (between 1962 and 1974).

Like many other historic preservation campaigns,  the race to save the Capitol was led primarily by female activists.  Their work culminated in an event orchestrated by Mrs. Bruce Smathers.  On March 30, 1978 “Save the Capitol Night,”  hosted guests at the site for music, tours, and an opportunity to sign a petition in favor of preservation.  Kicking off the festivities, a local folk  band performed on the steps, encouraging audiences to  “save that grand old southern lady on the hill.”  Ultimately, the campaign was a success, and the old capitol, restored to its 1902 appearance, opened as a public museum in 1982.

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).

A modern view of the old capitol as a museum with the new capitol complex in back (8 July 2008).