Trick-or-Treat for Disaster Relief

Are you thinking about how you can donate to the continued relief of the thousands of people affected by the recent scourge of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires? This Halloween, you might consider doing what a group of Tallahassee third graders did in 1989 and transform the anticipated custom of trick-or-treating into a grassroots pledge drive. Florida’s news media was there to capture this sweet story and the State Library and Archives of Florida has since preserved newspaper and television coverage of the students’ activism.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo ripped through Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Georgia and South Carolina, leaving 27 dead and countless others displaced. A few weeks later, Hurricane Jerry slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas, killing three, including Tallahassee native and Coast Guard Seaman Dan Lindley and his two-year-old daughter Selina. Then, on October 17, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay to its core, claiming the lives of 200, injuring over 400 and causing millions in property damage. With natural disasters affecting people across the United States and the Caribbean, charitable organizations mobilized to raise money and donations for relief.

Clipping from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat, dating back to the early twentieth century. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Headline clipped from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat and its previous iterations dating from the early twentieth century to present. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Memory has digitized and made searchable online 50,000 photographs from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection, ranging in date from the 1950s to the 1970s.

At Sealey Elementary in Tallahassee, third-grader Kelly Collette had a creative idea for how they could turn Halloween into a fundraiser for natural disaster victims. Two weeks before the October 31st holiday, Collette stood up in front of her classmates in teacher Sharon Hartman’s language arts class and suggested that they trick-or-treat for money instead of candy and donate the proceeds to the American Red Cross. The proposal went to a vote on the classroom floor. While it was not unanimously affirmed, with one sweet-toothed youngster commenting that “A lot of people would rather have the candy,” the majority of students agreed to forego their candy for a cause. “We want to help those people instead of getting candies and cavities and toothaches,” said eight-year-old Meg Wood to Tallahassee Democrat reporter Kathleen Laufenberg.

The organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson. Photograph by Phil Cole, Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

The youthful organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson, October 26, 1989. Photograph by Phil Coale/Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Nineteen third-graders strong, the trick-or-treating for disaster relief campaign got underway. After registering with the Red Cross, the kids in Miss Hartman’s class made collections bags, drew posters and wrote letters to other students, asking them to join in on the Halloween fundraiser. Impressed by her students’ initiative, Hartman said that organizing the natural disaster relief drive was a “great learning experience,” exposing budding minds to the ins and outs of social action.

Although it is unclear just how much money the students raised for the Red Cross, they did not go hungry after all.

On Halloween morning, a gaggle of costume-clad kids arrived in their classroom to prepare for a big night of fundraising. The story had already attracted the attention of a few local media outlets and the now-defunct Florida News Service came by the school to interview the students about their initiative. After the Florida News Service folded in 1991, the State Archives of Florida acquired a collection of 222 master story tapes, including colorful coverage of this harrowing Halloween story. In the middle of the segment, surprise visitor Raleigh Mackoul, president of the state tobacco and candy association, walked through the door with several pounds of sweet treats.

Mackoul said that after hearing about the plan from a Tallahassee lobbyist, he “thought that it was pretty good that the kids would give up going around to collect their Halloween treats to go collect money for the disaster victims….I didn’t think they ought to go through Halloween without candy.”

Want to help with this year’s natural disaster relief efforts?

Visit Volunteer Florida’s website for a comprehensive list of agencies in need of donations. Volunteer Florida, in partnership with the Division of Emergency Management, is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.

The Mariel Boatlift of 1980

Between April and October of 1980, approximately 125,000 Cubans seeking refuge from Fidel Castro’s regime packed into a total of 1,700 boats in Mariel Harbor, Cuba, and journeyed to southern Florida. Twenty-five thousand more Haitians escaping the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier also arrived during this period. The mass exodus opened a new chapter in America’s long immigration history and permanently altered Florida’s cultural identity.

As the Mariel Boatlift got underway, the media converged on the south Florida points of entry, eager to record history in the making; local Key West photographer Dale McDonald was among them and later donated his images of the boatlift to the State Archives of Florida. McDonald’s photographs illustrate how the Mariel Boatlift unfolded on Florida’s southern shores.

Cuban refugee breaks down after arriving in Key West during the Mariel Boatlift. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Cuban refugee breaks down after arriving in Key West during the Mariel Boatlift. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Cuba, Florida and Cold War Immigration Policies

Though the sudden influx of Cubans definitively reshaped Florida’s demographic makeup, the exodus of 1980 was preceded by 20 years of steady Cuban immigration to Miami. In 1959, Fidel Castro had led the Cuban Revolution, overthrowing the American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and installing a new communist government.

Castro restricted American influence on the island and by the early 1960s had seized American-owned property in Cuba. Two incidents in the early 1960s, the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, further strained tensions between the two nations. Many Cubans, especially the well-heeled and those with ties to Batista, feared they would be targeted by Castro. Thousands fled to the United States. In light of this Cold War reality, President John F. Kennedy approved the Cuban Refugee Assistance Program (CRA) in 1961 to provide health, employment and educational services to Cuban refugees. The Florida Department of Public Welfare oversaw the program until 1974. 

This document was intended for distribution to Cuban refugees to help them understand the assistance available through the CRA, 1963. Click to enlarge and view full record. Click here to view additional resources on the Cuban experience in Florida.

This document was intended for distribution to Cuban refugees to help them understand the assistance available through the CRA, 1963. Click to enlarge and view full record. Click here to view additional resources on the Cuban experience in Florida.

By the late 1970s, over 700,000 refugees had fled Cuba for the United States. Considered political asylum seekers, the majority settled in Dade County, where a distinct Cuban-American enclave emerged in Miami. In 1978, tensions between the United States and Cuba thawed and a series of conferences, known as Dialogos (dialogues), took place between Cuban officials and prominent members of the exile community. The Dialogos resulted in the creation of a travel policy that allowed approximately 100,000 exiles living in the United States to visit Cuba. The relaxation of Cuban-U.S. relations in the late 1970s inadvertently increased pleas from Cubans wishing to leave the island 

The 1980 Cuban Exodus

In March 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the 1980 Refugee Act which established standardized guidelines for refugee resettlement in the United States. Though the law capped the number of refugees permitted to enter the country through 1982 to 50,000, it did grant the president authority to increase the refugee limit for “humanitarian purposes.” Political unrest brewing in Cuba would soon test that caveat.

In early April 1980, a group of 10,000 Cubans, frustrated with the depressed economic climate of the communist regime, stormed the Peruvian Embassy in Havana and demanded political asylum.

Days later, on April 20, President Castro responded to the outbreak of social dissent. He announced that all Cubans wanting to leave the island could do so, as long as they left from Mariel Harbor, a port 25 miles west of the capital of Havana, and had someone waiting to retrieve them.

Parked cars line N. Roosevelt Street in Key West, Florida, as hundreds of Cuban exiles walk to nearby Garrison Bight Marina with the intention of retrieving family members in Mariel, Cuba. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Parked cars line N. Roosevelt Street in Key West as hundreds of Cuban exiles walk to nearby Garrison Bight Marina with the intention of retrieving family members in Mariel, Cuba. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Boats sit docked at the Garrison Bight Marina before embarking on the 125 mile journey from Key West, Florida, to Mariel, Cuba. Some private boat owners took financial advantage of the Cuban exile community’s desperation to meet their relatives at Mariel, selling at upwards of $10,000, and charters for not much less. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Boats sit docked at the Garrison Bight Marina before embarking on the 125-mile journey from Key West to Mariel, Cuba. Some private boat owners took financial advantage of the Cuban exile community’s desperation to meet their relatives at Mariel, selling rides for upwards of $10,000 and charters for not much less. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Within hours of Castro’s decree, the freedom flotilla began. Cuban exiles living in south Florida began making arrangements, such as buying or chartering boats from local private owners, to pick up relatives still living on the island. On April 21, the first boat from Mariel docked in Key West with 48 Marielitos, as this wave of Cuban refugees became known.

By April 25, a reported 300 boats were waiting in Mariel Harbor. While some refugees boarded boats supplied by family members, Cuban officials packed thousands more into old fishing vessels.

Shrimp boat, “El Dorado” arrives in Key West, packed with Cuban refugees from Mariel. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

The shrimp boat “El Dorado” arrives in Key West packed with Cuban refugees from Mariel. Overcrowded boats were at risk of capsizing and a total of 27 refugees died en route to Florida during the Mariel Boatlift. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Haitian “Boat People”

At the same time that the Marielitos began arriving in Florida en masse, thousands of Haitian “boat people” did, too. Beginning in the late 1950s, soon after the totalitarian Duvalier regime took hold, Haiti’s exiled politically-connected and middle-class professionals first began immigrating to south Florida, often by way of airplane. Then, in the 1970s, Haiti’s rural and urban poor also started fleeing the country for Florida via boat, for which they became known as Haitian “boat people.” By 1979, an estimated 10,000-23,000 Haitians resided in south Florida. When Castro announced the opening of the port at Mariel the next year, droves of Haitians would take the opportunity to join the Cuban exodus and immigrate to the United States.     

Florida and the Mariel Boatlift

Already mired in foreign policy controversy with the ongoing Iranian Hostage Crisis, President Carter waited three weeks before authorizing the direct involvement of federal government officials to help with the intake of Marielitos

Private vessels “Foxy Lady” and “Matilde” filled with Cuban refugees from Mariel docked at Pier “B” in Key West. After disembarkation, passengers walked from the pier to the makeshift immigration processing center at the Key West Latin Chamber of Commerce. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Private vessels “Foxy Lady” and “Matilde” filled with Cuban refugees from Mariel docked at Pier “B” in Key West. After disembarking, passengers walked from the pier to the makeshift immigration processing center at the Key West Latin Chamber of Commerce. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Thus, during the first month of the Cuban exodus, as the federal government weighed the risks of federal involvement in the Cold War controversies surrounding the boatlift, much of the responsibility associated with the unexpected processing, relocating and absorption of Marielitos became the primary charge of Florida’s state and local officials, the extant Cuban-American community and volunteers.

Ports in Key West, Opa-Locka and Miami opened makeshift immigration processing centers to accommodate the flood of Marielitos. As the southernmost point in Florida and shortest distance from Mariel, the small island town of Key West was especially overwhelmed by the wave of nearly 3,000 immigrants that arrived within the first 20 days of the exodus.

Family and friends of Cuban refugees arriving from Mariel wait outside of the Key West Latin Chamber of Commerce of the Lower Keys, located in the old United Services Organization (USO) building at the intersection of Southard and Whitehead Streets. In Key West, approximately 150 local volunteers and medical staff--including physicians from the medical branch of the Cuban Confederation of Professionals in Exile and several nurses from a Cuban nursing home in Hialeah--worked in shifts to operate a 24-hour infirmary and processing center for incoming Marielitos, which provided medical care, food, and clothing. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Family and friends of Cuban refugees arriving from Mariel wait outside of the Key West Latin Chamber of Commerce of the Lower Keys, located in the old United Services Organization (USO) building at the intersection of Southard and Whitehead streets. In Key West, approximately 150 local volunteers and medical staff – including physicians from the medical branch of the Cuban Confederation of Professionals in Exile and several nurses from a Cuban nursing home in Hialeah – worked in shifts to operate a 24-hour infirmary and processing center for incoming Marielitos which provided medical care, food and clothing. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Bracing for the arrival of thousands more refugees, with no word on aid from the federal government, Florida Governor Bob Graham declared a state of emergency in Monroe and Dade counties on April 28.

According to a U.S. Coast Guard report, 15,761 refugees had arrived in south Florida for processing by early May. These staggering figures made clear to President Carter that the flood of immigrants could not be stemmed, prompting him to take action.

Cuban refugees wait to be processed by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents in a temporary housing center located at an old Naval seaplane hangar at Trumbo Point in Key West. About half of the total Cuban entrants of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift were registered at makeshift immigration processing centers in the south Florida cities of Key West, Opa Locka and Miami.

Refugees wait to be processed by U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents in a temporary housing center located at an old naval seaplane hangar at Trumbo Point in Key West. The centers became so clogged with refugees in need of processing that many were forced to live for weeks, and sometimes months, in nearby tent camps while awaiting approval. About half of the total Cuban entrants of the 1980 Mariel Boatlift were registered at makeshift immigration processing centers in the south Florida cities of Key West, Opa-Locka and Miami. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Monroe County school bus filled with Marielitos passes Trumbo Point as it heads to Naval Air Station Boca Chica, also in Key West, to await final transfer to at a processing center in Miami.

A Monroe County school bus filled with Marielitos passes Trumbo Point as it heads to Naval Air Station Boca Chica, also in Key West, to await final transfer at a processing center in Miami.

Mariel-era Immigration Policy

On May 6, Carter officially declared a state of emergency in the areas of Florida most “severely affected” by the influx of Cubans and Haitians. He also announced an open-arms policy in response to the boatlift which would “provide an open heart and open arms to refugees seeking freedom from Communist domination.” The next month, on June 20, the Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program was established, whereby Haitians that arrived during the Mariel-era (ending on October 10, 1980) would receive the same temporary status as Cubans and both groups would have access to the same rights as refugees.

Flier circulated on behalf of President Jimmy Carter to Cuban refugees arriving in the United States during the Mariel Boatlift. Translation:

Flier circulated on behalf of President Carter to Cuban refugees arriving in the United States during the Mariel Boatlift. Translation: “To the Cuban refugees: …President Jimmy Carter has opened the arms of our nation, respect the laws and obey the authorities.” Click to enlarge and read full translation.

In light of the open-arms policy, Castro called for the forced deportation of convicted criminals, the mentally ill, homosexuals and prostitutes. In an effort to halt the entry of such individuals, Carter called for a blockade of the flotilla and deployed members of the U.S. Coast Guard to seize incoming boats.

Aerial view of impounded vessels seized by the U.S. Coast Guard during the Mariel Boatlift Blockade. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

Aerial view of impounded vessels seized by the U.S. Coast Guard during the Mariel Boatlift Blockade. Photograph by Dale McDonald, 1980.

While guards did take possession of at least 1,400 boats, numerous others slipped by and a stream of 100,000 more Cuban and Haitian refugees continued to pour into Florida over the next five months.

Florida Marine Patrol officer monitors the Florida Straits as boats arrive with refugees from the Port of Mariel. After the U.S. Customs Office announced its intention to arrest any private boaters attempting to charge Marielitos for their travel, Florida Marine Patrol officers were sent to ensure that all refugees disembarked at designated locations, not simply dropped ashore.

Florida Marine Patrol officer monitors the Florida Straits as boats arrive with refugees. After the U.S. Customs Office announced its intention to arrest any private boaters attempting to charge Marielitos for their travel, Florida Marine Patrol officers were sent to ensure that all refugees disembarked at designated locations and were not simply dropped ashore.

After the high volume of entrants had inundated the immigration processing centers already set up in south Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) opened refugee resettlement camps at Eglin Air Force Base in northern Florida; Ft. McCoy in Wisconsin; Ft. Chaffee in Arkansas; and Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. These alternative centers ultimately processed and resettled 62,000 new immigrants, but the time-intensive vetting process required refugees to wait at the camps for weeks, sometimes months. 

In Ft. Chaffee, after a group of entrants grew frustrated with their uncertain status in the resettlement camp, a riot broke out in June 1980. Riots also occurred at the Eglin facility and at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. These incidences bolstered existing rumors that Castro had unleashed Cuba’s criminal and mentally ill populations on the United States. Popular films such as Scarface (1983) helped perpetuate this stereotype. However, academic studies of Marielitos proved these rumors to be exaggerated. In fact, only 4 percent of Marielitos had criminal records, and of these, many had been imprisoned for political reasons. Over 2,000 entrants were jailed or detained upon arriving in Florida during the exodus. Some were deported back to Cuba, but many remained imprisoned for several years after the boatlift ended.

The Mariel Boatlift ended by mutual agreement between the United States and Cuba in October 1980.

In 1984, the Mariel refugees from Cuba obtained permanent legal status under a revision to the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966. However, this law did not classify Haitian entrants as political refugees;  Haitians were instead considered economic refugees, making them ineligible for the same residency status as Cubans and subject to immediate deportation.

Two years later, under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, all Cuban-Haitian entrants that had immigrated during 1980 were eligible to apply for permanent residency.

The Legacy of the Mariel Boatlift

Between 60,000 and 80,000 “Mariel” Cubans resettled in south Florida. Seventy-one percent of those entrants arriving in 1980 were working-class and black or mixed-race, a departure from the disproportionately white, wealthy and educated wave of Cubans that had immigrated in the prior two decades. Though they faced initial economic and social limitations, one report found that within six years of coming to the United States, most of the 1980 Cuban entrants had found jobs, improved their income levels and carved out a niche in Miami.

The same report, however, found that Haitians who had arrived in south Florida in 1980 had diminished levels of education, English literacy and employment compared with those that had immigrated in the 1960s and 70s. They were further stigmatized as carriers of HIV and generally experienced a harder time finding work and social acceptance. As of 1986, 33 percent of Haitian males and 80 percent of Haitian females living in the Florida were unemployed, though those numbers saw steady improvement in the 1990s.

The massive influx of Cubans in 1980 forever changed Miami’s Cuban community and, in turn, Florida’s, by creating an ethnic immigrant enclave much more representative of the social, economic and racial demographics in Cuba.

Selected Sources:

Briggs, Vernon M., Jr. Mass Immigration and the National Interest: Policy Directions for the New Century. Armonnk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2003.
Engstrom, David Wells. Presidential Decision Making Adrift: the Carter Administration and the Mariel Boatlift. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1997.
Florida Department of Children and Families. “Cuban, Haitian, and Bosnian Refugees in Florida: Problems and Obstacles in Resettlement,” 1999.
Hawk, Kate Dupes. Florida and the Mariel Boatlift of 1980: the First Twenty Day. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2014.
Larzelere, Alex. The 1980 Cuban Boatlift: Castro’s Ploy — America’s Dilemma. Washington D.C.: National Defense University Press, 1988.
McCoy, Clyde and Diana H. Gonzalez. “Cuban Immigration and Immigrants in Florida and the United States: Implications for Immigration Policy.” Bureau of Economic and Business Research, University of Florida, 1985.

Designing Florida

Sunshine. Swampland. Mouse ears. What images come to mind when you think Florida?

In 1985, Governor Bob Graham, in a quest to redesign the state’s license plate, posed this exact question to Floridians. Earlier that year, the Legislature had enlisted professional graphic designers to create a a new tag, but Graham rejected the proposal. Instead, the governor initiated the Florida license plate drawing contest, calling on his constituency to share their ideas for how to best capture the Sunshine State aesthetic.

Florida license plate drawing competition entries ready for evaluation, September 25, 1985. Photograph by Deborah Thomas.

Florida license plate drawing competition entries ready for evaluation, September 25, 1985. Photograph by Deborah Thomas. Since 1905, Florida law has required all registered vehicles to display a license plate.

In an overwhelming display of public participation, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles received over 3,500 entries from people of every age, location and talent level. From the environment to tourism, the contest revealed the broad range of interests represented in the state, and especially highlighted the many factors that changed Florida after WWII. The competition also proved the auto tag’s dual purpose as both a vehicle identifier and a powerful marketing tool. As one contestant quipped, the plates acted as “a silent servant” used to “advertise Florida free of charge.”

The State Archives of Florida has since preserved this collection (S1046) of citizen artwork and Florida Memory has recently digitized a small selection. Over 30 years later, the license plate drawings are now a mosaic of how individual Floridians of 1985 visualized their state.

License plate contest entry submitted by Pat Bridges of Pensacola.

License plate contest entry by Pat Bridges of Pensacola. “My family and I have lived in many different places…and Florida is my favorite of all,” Bridges attested in an attached letter. Click to enlarge.

Contest participants tapped into a wide spectrum of Florida-related imagery, but one of the most popular themes was space exploration.

NASA’s opening of Kennedy Space Center on Brevard County’s Merritt Island in 1962 ignited economic and population growth in the surrounding Space Coast. By 1985, NASA officials had launched numerous successful missions from the central Florida cape, including the moon-landing Apollo 11 in 1969 and Columbia, the first shuttle to orbit in space, in 1981. The space program continued to expand into the 1980s. And many Floridians, like Bela Gajdoes of Winter Haven, a community about an hour and half west of the Kennedy Space Center, saw their home state as the epicenter of outer space innovation.

License plate contest entry by Bela Gajdos of Winter Haven, Fl. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Bela Gajdos of Winter Haven. Click to enlarge.

Whereas some contestants looked to technology for inspiration, many others focused on illustrating Florida’s abundance of plant and animal species.

Perhaps no fruit better represents Florida than a bright waxy orange. Since the 19th century, the citrus industry has remained central to the state’s agricultural economy. The orange has become a common symbol used to market Florida and appeared on several of the plate designs.

License plate contest entry by 11-year-old Kim Frimowtiz. Lawmakers did not officially designate the orange as Florida’s state fruit until 2005. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by 13-year-old Kim Frimowtiz of Pembroke Pines. Lawmakers did not officially designate the orange as Florida’s state fruit until 2005. Click to enlarge.

The sabal palm, Florida’s state tree, also made its way onto hundreds of the tag drawings. “[It is] what I think … best depicts our state to the world,” explained Palm Beach resident W. Stuart Gates, who placed a palm tree silhouette on the center of his tag mock-up.

License plate contest entry submitted by W. Stuart Gates. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by W. Stuart Gates. Click to enlarge.

Though tourists might think only of beaches and palm trees when they imagine Florida’s landscape, natives know all about the dangers lurking just beneath the surface of Florida’s swampland. In a design perhaps too graphic for the interstate, Loman O. Parent of Auburndale, a town near the central Florida Everglades, illustrated this tragic scene of a friend’s encounter with a Florida alligator.

License plate contest entry submitted by Loman O. Parent. It is unclear if Fred made it out of the gator’s belly alive. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Loman O. Parent. It is unclear if Fred made it out of the gator’s belly alive. Click to enlarge.

The Everglades are critical to Florida’s ecology, and environmentalists of the 1980s were concerned about the negative impact of unchecked draining and pollution on the fragile natural resource. The Florida Audubon Society saw the license tag as an effective means of promoting land conservation. They enlisted a professional graphic artist to design this plate emblazoned with a call to “Save the Everglades.”

License plate contest entry submitted by Florida Audubon Society. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Florida Audubon Society. Click to enlarge.

But those same development techniques that environmentalists opposed, incidentally helped to shape Florida into a desirable place for out-of-staters to move after WWII. Moreover, a sizeable wave of Caribbean immigrants (majority Cuban) fleeing political instability arrived in Florida between 1960 and 1980, further diversifying the populace. In fact, as of 1980 a reported 69 percent of Floridians had been born outside the state, up from 49 percent in pre-WWII 1930.

These demographic shifts likely inspired contestant Harry Gates of Lake City to scrawl  “U-MEET-SOMEONE FROM SOMEWHERE,” on the bottom of his plate entry.   

License plate contest entry submitted by Harry Gates. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Harry Gates. Click to enlarge.

Retirees made up a large portion of Florida’s rapidly expanding transplant population in 1985. 75-year-old Richard Allen, who had relocated from New Jersey to Bradenton in the late 1970s, submitted a proposal to change Florida’s nickname to the “Senior State.”

License plate contest entry by Richard Allen. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Richard Allen. Click to enlarge.

Along with the big increase in new permanent residents after WWII, the opening of Walt Disney World near Orlando in 1971 amplified Florida’s longstanding identity as a major tourist destination. Several proposed license plate designs paid homage to the beloved Mickey Mouse.

License plate contest entry by Frank Ambrose of Cross City, Fl. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry by Frank Ambrose of Cross City, Fl. Click to enlarge.

After reviewing thousands of entries, state officials narrowed it down to six possible picks and published pictures of them in the newspapers, soliciting public input on selecting the winner.

The Florida Cabinet initially named this stylized drawing of a blazing Florida sun but rescinded their decision after it sparked backlash for its resemblance to the Japanese flag,  still a contested symbol 40 years after WWII. “It has a white background with a rising sun in the middle of it. All we need now are Japanese characters on the tag and we can send it to Tokyo,” snarked one Orlando resident.

License plate contest entry finalist by art teacher Marion F. Lenon of Ocala. Click to enlarge.

License plate contest entry finalist. Click to enlarge. Note: A note on the back of this plate credits Ocala art teacher Marion F. Lenon as the designer of this plate, but newspaper articles printed this design and credited Hollywood’s Chuck Ax as the artist. It is unclear what the relationship between Lenon and Ax was.

When it came down to choosing a winner of the license plate contest, the Cabinet ultimately chose not to accept any of the contest drawings. In an anticlimactic turn of events, they decided to simply invert the colors of the existing plate and add two orange blossoms. That same tag design is still used today.

However, the Florida Legislature remains aware of Floridians’ many interests and has approved over 100 specialty plates since 1999. 

Rep. Fran Carlton (D-Orlando) lobbying Rep. Dale Patchett (R-Vero Beach) to pass the Space Shuttle Challenger license plate bill. The bill did not pass until 1999, when it became the first of Florida's specialty plates.

Rep. Fran Carlton (D-Orlando) lobbying Rep. Dale Patchett (R-Vero Beach) to pass the Space Shuttle Challenger license plate bill, 1986. The bill did not pass until 1999, when it became the first of Florida’s specialty plates.

Did you participate in the 1985 Florida license plate drawing contest? Share your story in the comments section below.

Selected Sources:

(S1046) 1985 Florida license plate drawings collection. State Archives of Florida.

Baker, Tiffany M. “Discover our Sunshine State. Rediscover Yours.”: The Public’s Participation in Florida Mythmaking in the 20th Century. M.A. thesis: Florida State University, 2008.

Step Aboard for the Gospel of Good Health!

From livestock and citrus to passengers and freight, Florida’s intricate railroad network has served the commercial interests of the state since the mid-19th century.

But, between 1915 and 1917 the railroads also helped meet the public health needs of the state.

In those years, Florida State Board of Health officials kept the rail lines hot as they traveled aboard Florida’s Educational Health Exhibit Train, or exhibit cars equipped with the latest techniques for preventing disease and preserving good health. The health train stopped at nearly every juncture in the state, ready to share the “gospel of good health” with any Floridian who would listen.

The abbreviated history of the Florida health train illuminates how the private-public partnership between southern rail lines and the state health board worked to educate people on how to maintain good health.

View of Florida's health exhibit train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, p. 416, State Library of Florida.

View of Florida’s health exhibit train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 416, State Library of Florida.

Florida’s Expanding Railroads

Map of Florida's railroads, 1915. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida.

Map of Florida’s railroads, 1915. Florida Map Collection, State Library of Florida. (Click to enlarge and view full record.)

Beginning in the 1880s, Florida’s railroad infrastructure underwent rapid expansion. Powerful railroad investors like Henry Flagler, Sir Edward James Reed and Henry Plant oversaw the creation of expansive statewide rail systems with the hopes of attracting more tourists, permanent residents and industry to Florida. By 1900, over 3,000 miles of track weaved through the Sunshine State, and by 1912 Henry Flagler’s Florida East Coast Railway stretched from Jacksonville to Key West.  The spread of the rails succeeded in bringing more people to the once sparsely populated state, expanding Florida’s population from 269,000 people in 1880 to 752,000 in 1910.

Disease by Rail

However, the spread of infectious disease began to emerge as an unintended, and deadly, consequence of the increased human interaction brought on by the the expansion of Florida’s mighty railroad empires. Mobs of southerners affected by Florida’s deadly yellow fever outbreaks of the 1870s, 80s and 90s frequently directed their anger and sense of helplessness toward the railroad companies, who, they believed were responsible for the spread of the disease.

Cartoon from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, depicting how during the yellow fever epidemic in Florida,

Illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, depicting how during the yellow fever epidemic in Florida, “refugees were not allowed to leave the trains for fear of spreading the disease,” 1888.

For instance, in the summer of 1888, armed residents living in the tiny, but critical railroad junction of Callahan, Florida, threatened to destroy the local tracks if the Savannah, Florida and Western Railroad Company did not cease operations. But, the company refused to halt travel through the afflicted town and the disease spread. Thousands continued to perish of yellow fever until 1900, when scientists recognized it as a mosquito borne illness.

In the next few decades, the state reacted by passing several pieces of legislation aimed at mitigating future public health crises. Mandatory screens on windows, improved sewage infrastructure and potable water requirements were among the solutions. However, healthcare professionals warned that without proper education on these new techniques, lasting public health improvements would not occur. Indeed, smallpox, typhoid fever, malaria, hookworm and bad hygiene practices continued to claim countless lives well into the 1900s.

Flyer for an upcoming mosquito-eradication talk, 1910. Florida's incessant mosquito problem was proven as the cause of many diseases and health concerns. Prior to the health trains, state health officials traveled the state lecturing on mosquito-borne illness prevention techniques. Florida Bureau of Health Printed Matter (.S 908), Box 1, Folder 7, State Archives of Florida.

Flyer for an upcoming mosquito-eradication talk, 1910. Florida’s incessant mosquito problem was proven as the cause of many diseases and health concerns. Prior to the health trains, state health officials traveled the state lecturing on mosquito-borne illness prevention techniques. Florida Bureau of Health Printed Matter (.S 908), Box 1, Folder 7, State Archives of Florida.

Even though state health officials had a new understanding of how these deadly diseases spread by the early 20th century, a lack of access to education on proper health habits, especially in Florida’s many rural communities, stalled public health progress.

Florida’s Educational Health Exhibit Train

Determined to educate all Floridians on how to stay healthy, State Health Office Joseph Y. Porter first created a large traveling exhibit intended for display in hotels, conference centers and other public spaces. Though the program was well-received, there were so many panels and displays that it proved too difficult to transport it throughout Florida as originally intended.

Florida's health exhibit on display in an auditorium, January 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 4. State Library of Florida.

Florida’s health exhibit on display in an auditorium, January 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 4, State Library of Florida.

Porter thought about how he could condense his message and reach more people. The health director looked to the innovative health train programs already chugging through Louisiana, North Dakota and Michigan for his answer. Doctors, nurses and attendants staffed these health trains and disseminated important health information to the public in a variety of formats.

Porter and his team sought to bring the traveling health exhibits to Florida. They were met with full support from the Railroad Commission, but the program required legislative consent.

Cartoon depicting the Florida State Board of Health

Cartoon depicting the Florida State Board of Health “shutting out disease,” 1915. Note the allegorical brick with the label ‘exhibit train law’ on the top of the wall. Florida Health Notes, June 1915, page 204, State Library of Florida.

In 1915, the legislature approved the operation of the Educational Health Exhibit Train (Chapter 6894, Laws of Florida, 1915) among several other public health measures. The law “authoriz[ed] the purchase of cars for [use in the exhibits], and [permitted] the free transportation of them by any railroad compan[y].” The Pullman Company sold the board three wooden cars, equipped for exhibit features, for the reduced price of $500.00 each. The cars typically sold for no less than $15,000 apiece.

When the health train first pulled away from a Jacksonville depot in late 1915, officials expressed high hopes for its impact on public health:

“The entire state will be covered, stops being made at practically every railroad station thus bringing to every section of Florida, no matter how remote, the gospel of good health and disease prevention,” suggested a report published in the January 1916 volume of Florida Health Notes, the official bulletin of the State Board of Health.

The Exhibits

The traveling educational health exhibit consisted of three Pullman cars used to promote new sanitary living conditions and preventative health measures. One car was used exclusively for staff living quarters, while the other two housed educational film presentations, slideshows, public health demonstrations, models, electric devices, panel texts and numerous other instructional devices.

Interior view of car number one, which served as living quarters for Florida health train staff, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 415. State Library of Florida.

Interior view of car number one, which served as living quarters for Florida health train staff, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 415, State Library of Florida.

Interior view of the first exhibit car of the Florida health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 416, State Library of Florida.

Interior view of the first exhibit car of the Florida health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 416, State Library of Florida.

The March 1916 volume of Florida Health Notes described the two exhibit cars in further detail:

The larger part of the car is devoted to the installation of various models, as that illustrating the Imhoff sewage disposal system, another showing how water in driven or open wells is contaminated by drainage from stable, outhouse and polluted surface water. A miniature model shows a dipping vat for ridding cattle of the ticks, A model dairy is illustrated in the same manner; the proper feeding and clothing of babies and the open-air treatment of tuberculosis and many other practical questions of sanitation and disease prevention are similarly illustrated. … Car number three is divided through most of its length by a partition on which are displayed 36 panels. They carry… warnings and advice on sanitary subjects and disease prevention. Numerous electrically operated models and a large steremotograph (automated slide machine)… are also arranged[.]

State public health officials, including doctors and nurses, kept a tight schedule as they traveled all over Florida spreading the word about public health advancements. The program made regular stops in towns and cities along existing railroad routes, pulling in for a day or two at each location.

When the health train rolled into town, it typically attracted hundreds of visitors. School officials often planned a field trip around the train’s visit, sending their students to soak up the valuable hygiene lessons. Some teachers even awarded prizes to the student with the best essay describing what they had learned.

Interior view of the first exhibit car on the health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 147, State Library of Florida.

Interior view of the first exhibit car on the health train, 1916. Florida Health Notes, January 1916, page 147, State Library of Florida.

Gladys Brown, a seventh grade student from Green Cove Springs, a community near Jacksonville, published her observations in the April 1916 volume of Florida Health Notes.

Brown wrote about how when she first walked into the exhibit there was a model of an unsanitary kitchen. In it there were no screens and food had been left out on the dinner table, leaving it open to flies and possible contamination.

On the opposite side from this was shown a house… barn and other out houses. There was a large pile of fertilizer near by and the flies flew from this into the home, where of course, they [sit] on food, etc. There were chickens in the barnyard. One was dead, maybe of cholera. … Through the kitchen window I saw a kettle streaming on the stove. There were no screens to this window either–everything open to flies.

As Brown moved through the health train, she described informational panels about proper dental hygiene and slides with instructions on how to care for snake bites, dizziness and broken bones. Another display emphasized infant mortality, highlighting insufficient prenatal care, tuberculosis, diphtheria, whooping cough and scarlet fever as causes of death.

Brown documented that the exhibit concluded with a model of a sanitary home, replete with screened-in windows to keep flies and other bugs out and proper sewage.

“The last was a little bell which I had been hearing ring. It tapped every minute to remind you that someone died from a preventable disease.”

Closeup view of one the health education displays likely seen by patrons of the health train, 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 5, State Library of Florida.

Closeup view of one the health education displays likely seen by patrons of the health train, 1915. Florida Health Notes, January 1915, page 5, State Library of Florida.

Although the trains ceased operation during the stifling summer months, the traveling health exhibit reached about 25 to 30 locations per month. Some of the stops included Cocoanut Grove, West Palm Beach, Titusville, New Smyrna, Walton, Maytown, Daytona, Palatka, Lake City and Jacksonville.

No community was too big or too small to receive the so-called gospel of good health, and by the close of 1916 the health train had visited a total of 126 towns in Florida.

Dr. Porter took great pride in the innovation, writing in his 1916 Annual Report to the State Board of Health:

It can be said without any undue boast or immoderate brag, that the Educational Health Exhibit Train has been the crowning feature of the health administration of the past four years…The Train affords the means of bringing the subjects which the State Board of Health believes to be of prime importance to the welfare of the people in Florida in their health and happiness…along the lines of rail communication. (This) moving school of instruction… represents a striking effort toward the sole object of improving the human health…and the State…hopes through this means to impress the people…with useful lessons of not only how to live healthily and therefore happily, but also how to live long and monetarily profitably. The…fruitful benefit resulting from the visit of these cars equipped with an exhibit is purely educational in character of a sanitary and hygienic nature…is clearly shown by request from the people…for literature giving additional information on disease prevention and improved manner of keeping in the health.

In 1917, the program reached another 78 towns, but the successes of the Educational Health Exhibit Train were short-lived. When Dr. Porter resigned later that year, interest in the program faded. With that, the state sold the exhibit to a carnival and the health trains became history.

Selected Sources:

Huffard, Scott R., Jr. “Infected Rails: Yellow Fever and Southern Railroads.” Journal of Southern History. 79.1 (Feb. 2013): p. 80.

Turner, Gregg M. A Journey into Florida’s Railroad History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008.

Florida Health Notes, 1915-1917. State Library of Florida.

Annual Report of the Florida State Board of Health, 1916. State Library of Florida.

(.S 900) Florida State Board of Health Subject Files. State Archives of Florida.

Dispatches from the Florida Capital

Spot a politician in the Florida state Capitol building and expect to find a gaggle of reporters nearby, vying to scoop the latest story. While some of today’s bylines carry more weight than others, from 1944 to 1982 United Press International (UPI) reporter Barbara Landstreet Frye dominated Florida’s state politics beat. Dubbed the dean of Tallahassee’s correspondents, Frye’s no-frills, objective style journalism is credited with changing the direction of Florida government. The veteran reporter covered the administrations of 11 Florida governors, dozens of legislative sessions, state courts and a stream of other political events that have since made Florida history.

But Frye broke more than news during her 38-year tenure. As the first female reporter to cover Florida’s capital politics, she broke barriers for future generations of women journalists. “She was a liberated woman long before anyone used that term… She competed against all-male competition in the early days, and she beat them,” remembered former Tallahassee Democrat editor Bill Mansfield. Once declared “an institution” by clerk of the Florida House and founder of the Florida Photographic Collection Allen Morris, Frye’s unmatched work ethic and passion for Florida politics cemented her legacy as a pioneering woman in journalism.

Portrait of UPI Tallahassee Bureau Chief Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1960.

Portrait of UPI Tallahassee Bureau Chief Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1960.

When Barbara Frye was born Barbara Landstreet in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 1922, only a handful of women worked in the male-dominated news business. But this prevailing reality did not stop Landstreet from pursuing a journalism degree at the University of Georgia. Upon graduating in 1943, the United Press Association (UPI’s predecessor) offered Landstreet a reporting position in Atlanta.

But there was just one minor problem: she was already engaged to marry her college boyfriend. In those days, married middle-class women didn’t work if they could help it. Moreover, Landstreet recognized the fleeting pretext of the job offer–with so many American men fighting in WWII, employers sought female talent to fill in the temporary wartime gaps. In a career-defining moment, the aspiring reporter bucked societal expectations, broke off the engagement and boarded a train for the Georgia capital. “I just couldn’t resist an offer from a big wire service.”

After a nine month stint in Atlanta, UPI promoted the fresh-faced 22-year-old co-ed to head up the new Tallahassee Bureau–a job she hesitated to accept at first: “My family was in Atlanta and I had never been out on my own before. I was nearly in tears, I had never even heard of Tallahassee.” Despite these initial reservations, Landstreet made the move.

Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1945.

Portrait of Barbara Landstreet Frye, ca. 1945. Photo by Harvey Slade.

On the train ride down to Florida’s capital city, she happened to sit next to a hospitable woman focused on easing the young reporter’s fears. The woman turned out to be Florida’s First Lady Mary Groover Holland and she extended a dinner invitation to the newcomer. The UPI bureau chief ate her inaugural Tallahassee meal at the Florida Governor’s Mansion in the company of Governor Spessard Holland and family. On her first night in town, Landstreet was already gathering political sources, a skill that would help earn her an impeccable reputation as one of Florida’s top political reporters.

Soon after arriving in Tallahassee, Landstreet met and married former director of the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission Dr. Earl O. Frye. From then on, her byline read simply Barbara Frye (UPI). “I never planned a career when I started work. I always envisioned myself as working a few years, getting married and becoming a housewife.”

But the grip of Florida’s evolving twentieth century political landscape held Frye in the press gallery at the Capitol for almost four decades. In that time, she sat through countless dull government meetings and traveled all over the state to interview sources, all the while remaining dedicated to informing the public on the latest developments in Florida politics.

Barbara Frye enjoying eating at Governor Millard Caldwell's press conference in Orlando, 1946.

Barbara Landstreet Frye eating at Governor Millard Caldwell’s press conference in Orlando, 1946.

Capitol Press Corps interviewing Governor Fuller Warren at the Silver Slipper restaurant , 1949. Frye is pictured second from left.

Capitol Press Corps interviewing Governor Fuller Warren at the Silver Slipper restaurant in Tallahassee, 1949. Frye is pictured second from left.

“She came here almost as a bobby-soxer. I can remember when she first came she was such a spry, attractive person,” remembered Governor LeRoy Collins. When she first started writing about Florida politics, only a handful of reporters covered the state Capitol and Frye was the only woman in the group. “At first no one took me very seriously because they simply were not used to women covering the news here.” In an era when editors often assigned “fluff” pieces to female reporters, Frye fought hard to cover meatier topics. Described by a friend as a “mix of old south and modern feminist,” her disarming southern lilt fit right in with Florida’s “good old boy” political climate of the 1940s and 50s–and helped bridge some  initial gender barriers.

Program from the fifth annual Capital Press Club Skits, ca. 1955. Since the 1940s, Tallahassee's legislative correspondents have put on the press skits at the start of each legislative session, satirizing lawmakers. As a member of the press corps, Barbara Frye participated in a number of skits over the years.

Program from the fifth annual Capital [sic.] Press Club Skits, ca. 1955. William T. Cash Collection (N2004-5, Box 04, Folder 13), State Archives of Florida. Since the 1940s, Tallahassee’s legislative correspondents have put on the press skits at the start of each legislative session, satirizing lawmakers. As a member of the press club, Barbara Frye participated in a number of skits over the years.

By the 1950s, every reporter, politico and pundit in the state not only knew Barbara Frye’s byline but implicitly trusted the accuracy of her reporting. Veteran Florida political writer Martin Dyckman remembered one telling anecdote from the Governor Reubin Askew era: Frye had mistakenly filed a story with the lede “Gov. LeRoy Collins today…” and it almost went unnoticed.

Barbara Frye sits with other members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the Bay County High School awards ceremonies for March of Dimes, 1962. Jim Stokes|State Archives of Florida.

Barbara Frye sits with other members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the Bay County High School awards ceremonies for March of Dimes, 1962. Photo by Jim Stokes.

 Barbara Frye with Governor Reubin Askew, Congressman Bill Young and Florida Secretary of State Richard Stone, 1976. Don Dughi/State Archives of Florida.

Barbara Frye with Governor Reubin Askew, Congressman Bill Young and Florida Secretary of State Richard Stone, 1976. Photo by Don Dughi.

Frye cultivated close relationships with her political subjects, winning high praise from several of Florida’s governors. “I think the way she helped me more than any other way was in her expectation that my conduct would measure up,” said Governor Collins. “She expected the most of me and I felt if I didn’t measure up, she would be disappointed,” he continued. Echoing Collins, Governor Askew characterized Frye as “a woman who, in her own way, constantly challenged those who held positions of public trust to realize their potential as public servant.” Her own public service work extended beyond the press corps, as she was also an active member of the Tiger Bay Club, Junior League and the Statewide Citizens Council on Drug Abuse.

At the height of her dynamic journalism career, while other reporters scrambled to track down sources, tipsters frequently sought the ear of the UPI bureau chief. Sources offered Frye exclusive information because they trusted her news judgement.

Members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the 1968 special legislative session. Note that Barbara Frye, pictured top left, is the only woman in the corps.

Members of the Capitol Press Corps covering the 1968 special legislative session. Note that Barbara Frye, pictured top left, is the only woman in the corps.

From special elections to legislative reapportionment, Frye meticulously drafted an almost half-century’s worth of Florida history with speed, precision and her own personal flair.

UPI article by Barbara Frye regarding the 1967 Special Legislative Session on reapportionment. Barbara Frye Press Files Collection (M90-18), Box 5, Folder 17, State Archives of Florida. Frye wrote most of her articles on a teletype machine, unable to see the words she was typing. Her work was then transmitted over the UPI wire service and printed.

UPI article by Barbara Frye regarding the 1967 Special Legislative Session on reapportionment. Barbara Frye Press Files Collection (M90-18), Box 5, Folder 17, State Archives of Florida. Frye wrote most of her articles on a teletype machine, unable to see the words she was typing. Her work was then transmitted over the UPI wire service and printed.

Before reaching middle age, Frye had become a living legend at the Florida Capitol. Frye set the standard for good journalism in Tallahassee and mentored many up-and-coming Tallahassee reporters over the years, especially young women.

Former statehouse reporter turned Leon County Commissioner Mary Ann Lindley, longtime Tallahassee Democrat journalist Bill Cotterell and retired editor of the St.Petersburg Times Martin Dyckman all learned the ropes from Frye. “Barbara could, and would, teach anybody – including competitors – about state government,” remembered Cotterell. “She was never too big to lend a hand to green frightened reporters covering the big beat for the first time. She never forgot the tears and apprehension she had on the night train from Atlanta so long ago,” reminisced Dyckman.

Barbara Frye interviewing Governor Bob Graham at the Governor's Mansion in Tallahassee, ca. 1979. Graham's was the last administration Frye reported on before her death in 1982.

Barbara Frye interviewing Governor Bob Graham at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, ca. 1979. Graham’s was the last administration Frye reported on before her death in 1982.

Though her editor at UPI offered Frye a string of different jobs in Washington, she turned them all down, citing her unbridled enthusiasm for writing about Florida’s steamy politics.

Frye never missed a day of work, until she was diagnosed with cancer in 1981. Even still, she continued reporting on select happenings downtown throughout most of her illness. “I thought I was immortal…. I thought I’d be the last person left. I never thought cancer,” Frye reconciled in an interview during the last year of her life. The Florida Capitol mourned when 60-year-old Barbara Landstreet Frye died at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital on May 22, 1982.

Poster of 1984 Florida Women's Hall of Fame inductees. Barbara Frye is pictures on the top left.

Poster of 1984 Florida Women’s Hall of Fame inductees, State Library of Florida. Barbara Frye is pictured on the top left.

Once known as a living legend, Frye has continued to maintain a legendary status some 35 years after her death. Immediately following her passing, the Capitol Press Club of Florida created the Barbara L. Frye Scholarship which awards annual prizes to aspiring young journalists. Additionally, in 1984, the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women posthumously elected Frye to the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame; the Florida Press Association Hall of Fame also honored her in 1990. That same year, the State Archives of Florida acquired the esteemed journalist’s press files, where the story of her legendary career as one of the nation’s trailblazing female political reporters lives on.

 

Miss Nancy’s Story

This is the second installment of our two-part blog series highlighting the Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1) available at the State Archives of Florida. Benda was one of the first mermaids to perform at Weeki Wachee Springs when it opened in 1947. She later went on to star in WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show “Miss Nancy’s Store”  from 1966-1967 before working for the Florida Department of Education.

After splashing onto the scene in the 1940s as one of the first-ever Weeki Wachee mermaids, Nancy Tribble Benda briefly stepped out of the limelight to pursue a degree in elementary education at Florida State University (FSU). But by the 1960s she was making waves again. This time as the star of her own educational television show: The hit children’s series “Miss Nancy’s Store” aired on WFSU-TV from 1966-1967. During an illustrious 40-year public education career, Benda worked both on and off-screen to expand educational access in Florida.

Nancy Tribble Benda on the set of WFSU-TV's educational children's television show,

Nancy Tribble Benda on the set of WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show, “Miss Nancy’s Store,” ca. 1966.

Nancy Tribble was born in 1930. Back then, radio was king and television was still a new-fangled experiment. But by the time a teen-aged Ms. Tribble landed her role as an underwater entertainer at the new Weeki Wachee Springs amusement park in Brooksville, Florida, in 1947, home television sets had debuted in American markets. Over the next decade, as television began to redefine national media consumption, it would also redirect Benda’s career path.

Shortly after appearing in the 1948 motion picture Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, Benda hung up her mermaid fin and moved back to her hometown of Tallahassee, where she enrolled at Florida State University. She married architect Charles Benda in 1950. After graduation, Mrs. Nancy Tribble Benda took her first job at Havana Elementary School in Gadsden County, teaching fifth grade. A few years later, she transferred to Sealey Memorial Elementary in Leon County. But Benda wouldn’t stay in a traditional classroom for long. Her combined performance and teaching talents would soon thrust her into the emerging educational television industry.

Nancy Tribble Benda with her sorority sisters at Florida State University, ca. 1949.

Benda (second row, right) at the Alpha Xi Delta Sorority rush party at Florida State University, ca. 1949.

Ed. Television Comes to Florida

By 1955, half of American households owned a television. Big networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC captivated audiences with the comedic cheese of family sit-coms like The Goldbergs, Leave it to Beaver, and I Love Lucy. However, heavy product placement, gimmicky ads and implausible story lines left some parents and professionals concerned that the first generation of American youngsters to grow up in front of the television were starved for intellectual stimulation.

The answer to the call for more educational television programming first arrived in 1952 with the creation of the Educational Television and Radio Center (later renamed National Educational Television and replaced by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1970). The network aimed to educate the nation’s growing number of television viewers with an entertaining yet enriching lineup. Proponents saw potential in the new technology’s unprecedented ability to provide underserved populations with quality educational programming.

Individual states soon caught on to the idea of “teleducation,” developing the first statewide educational television networks in the 1950s. Florida’s population increased enormously after World War II, ballooning from just under 2 million in 1940 to 3.7 million by 1955. The dramatic influx of new residents overburdened the state’s traditional public education infrastructure. Consequently, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, who was elected in 1954 on a progressive education platform, looked to the remote access afforded by educational television programming as a possible solution.

In 1957, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Educational Television Commission (Ch. 57-312, Laws) “to provide through educational television a means of extending the powers of teaching in public education and of raising living and educational standards of the citizens and residents of the state.”

The commission joined with state universities and the independent Florida Institute for Continuing University Studies (FICUS) to create the Florida Television Network. The entity produced both closed-circuit and public access educational programming to enhance learning in all levels of public education, from kindergarten to adult learning.

Illustration showing the radial reach of the Florida Television Network's six stations, ca. 1966.

Illustration showing the radial reach of the Florida Television Network’s six stations, ca. 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and view full record.

Some channels also collaborated with local school boards. WTHS-TV in Miami opened the first school board-run station in the country in 1957, serving students enrolled in district by day and the general public by night. In 1960 WFSU-TV, whose production studios were located on FSU’s campus, went live in Tallahassee.

By 1965, six non-commercial broadcast stations were in operation throughout Florida: Tallahassee, Gainesville, Miami, Tampa, Jacksonville and Orlando.

Tallahassee’s T.V. Teacher

Benda’s role in the rising educational television movement started in 1960, when she took a continuing education summer school class on the “techniques” of educational television. The following year, she and several other local Leon County elementary school teachers formulated a curriculum for a televised fifth grade social studies course for students in the district.

Once the Leon County School Board approved the new social studies course, the school board held auditions for an on-air teaching position and Benda won the part. On February 1, 1962, the first episode of the live history-themed puppet show, “Our Nation’s Story,” premiered on WFSU-TV’s Channel 11. During the course, which aired every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:00 p.m. in fifth grade social studies classrooms throughout Leon County, Benda taught lessons on the history of the United States from “the westward movement in the late 1840s … to [the] beginnings] [of] space travel.”

WFSU-TV program guide featuring an advertisement for "Our Nation's Story," 1963. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and view full record.

WFSU-TV program guide featuring an advertisement for “Our Nation’s Story,” 1963. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and view full record.

WFSU-TV’s reach expanded quickly to the rural counties surrounding Leon County, including Calhoun, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Wakulla counties. The program supplemented traditional classroom material and helped break down educational access barriers, serving an estimated 6,000 viewers in the Big Bend area.

“We want to be sure we’re fulfilling a need and we want to put TV to best use,” Benda said. The school board eventually approved Benda’s transfer from Sealey Elementary to full-time status as a television teacher. Only responsible for teaching one course, the state’s handful of TV teachers were able to devote more time to enhancing their lessons and making them more engaging for students. Additionally, TV teachers could fill in if a school did not have a teacher qualified to teach a particular course.

Before long, Benda was appearing on Florida’s other five regional public television stations as part of the network’s statewide educational programming initiative, “Through the TV Tube,” which offered for-credit elementary, secondary and college telecourses. Benda taught televised elementary level American history and science classes. The network also offered Spanish, physical education,reading, literature, art, writing and speech courses. Additionally, many Florida high schoolers tuned in to watch a televised version of the legislatively mandated six-week high school course, Americanism vs. Communism. The Cold War-era content remained a public school curriculum requirement until 1983 when lawmakers replaced it with an essential economics class.

Tube

Letter from the Florida Institute for Continuing University Studies to Nancy Benda thanking the teacher for her work on “Through the TV Tube” with a “small honorarium,” August 3, 1964. Nancy Benda Collection N2016-1, Box 05, Folder 1, State Archives of Florida.

Florida’s innovative educational television programming garnered high praise from national critics. Nancy Benda won the 1965 Freedoms Foundation Award for her work on “Our Nation’s Story.”

Additionally, Television Digest touted the Florida networks’ expansive coverage, writing in 1964 that “Despite much talk by other states about elaborate, proposed ETV systems, Florida is still the only state to achieve anything like a real statewide network with programs available to significant numbers of major population areas.”

Benda’s interest in educational television stemmed from her deeper passion for educational equality. After participating in Operation Headstart, a federal program launched in 1965 aimed at providing early childhood education for low-income children, she saw a greater need for high-quality kindergarten instruction.

“In many poverty[-stricken] homes children haven’t even seen books or heard good music. But even in middle or upper class homes, children of working parents often lack opportunities… the parents just don’t have time,” the television teacher elaborated to the St. Petersburg Times.

Determined to help bridge the gaps, Nancy Benda pitched a new children’s television show to WFSU-TV.

 “Miss Nancy’s Store”

In 1965, the Florida Department of Education partnered with WFSU-TV to create, “Miss Nancy’s Store,” an enchanting new after school puppet show geared toward boosting childhood literacy. The series starred Benda in the title role and premiered in January 1966.

Nancy Benda working on the set of

Nancy Benda working on the set of “Miss Nancy’s Store,” ca. 1966.

At the height of its run, “Miss Nancy’s Store” aired on all six public television stations in Florida five nights per week at 5:00 p.m, with a potential viewing audience of six million people.

“It’s really a cooperative venture. Parents in the community have felt a need for a children’s show in the area at this time–something they could be sure wouldn’t have to be supervised, something educational, sound, well-done and enjoyable,” she explained.

While filming the show, Benda also earned her master’s in elementary education supervision via correspondence graduate courses at FSU. She brought her expertise to the set and hit all the right marks with viewers.

Miss Nancy stands next to a magical pot-bellied stove in her store, ca. 1966. The stove's smoke transported children into an alternative world filled with music and moving pictures. Other props included a

Miss Nancy stands next to a magical pot-bellied stove in her store, ca. 1966. On the show, the stove’s smoke transported children into an alternative world filled with music and moving pictures. Other props included a “no-cracker cracker barrel” filled with toys, a gramophone, and a secret door in the brick wall where puppets appeared.

Upon turning on the tube, children were transported in the magical world of Miss Nancy’s Store. To get youngsters excited about learning, Nancy employed creative tactics not feasible in a regular classroom. Miss Nancy played dress up and taught language lessons with the help of the show’s colorful puppet characters. “We want children to watch because [they are] interested, not because mama or teacher says it’s good to learn,” she emphasized to a reporter.

Booklet detailing the premise of

Booklet detailing the different characters and quirks of “Miss Nancy’s Store,” as well as the information about the show’s current and future budget, 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 9, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge and flip through the full record.

“Miss Nancy’s Store” ranked number one on WFSU-TV’s Channel 11, receiving 11,000 pieces of fan mail in its first year. To make the show more interactive, she spent the last few minutes of each episode acknowledging viewers’ birthdays and reading  fan letters. Florida Commissioner of Education Floyd T. Christian praised the show for its top-notch instructional content.

“I watch your show every day, and I like it very very much…. My mother likes your show too, and thinks you are very pretty and charming. She also thanks you for keeping me out of her hair while she fixes dinner. [We] both send you a big kiss,” gushed one young viewer.

Fan letter to Nancy Benda from five-year-old Timmy Wilson of Hialeah, ca. 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 10, State Archives of Florida. Click to enlarge.

Fan letter to Nancy Benda from five-year-old Timmy Wilson of Hialeah, ca. 1966. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 10, State Archives of Florida.

Despite such favorable ratings and reviews, the show billed high production costs. And a lack of funding forced the network to cancel “Miss Nancy’s Store” in August 1967. Fans, from kindergartners to grandparents, wrote futile pleas to the show’s producers, begging them to keep it on the air.

“I watch Miss Nancy’s Store, everyday. I like her program. Would you please keep her on the air, so children of my age and yonger [sic.] can continue to be educated and intertained [sic.]?”

Letter from

Letter from “Miss Nancy’s Store” fan Wanda Coles in reaction to series cancellation, August 2, 1967. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 12, State Archives of Florida.

One adult viewer pleaded with producers to keep the show on the air, asking if “For once, couldn’t the viewer be considered and some other program be dropped and put the money into this feature that holds so many children’s attention?”  She attached an article referring to children’s TV as a “mini-wasteland” to support her case.

Letter to WFSU-TV producers from Mrs. George Brant on the cancellation of

Letter to WFSU-TV producers from Mrs. George Brant on the cancellation of “Miss Nancy’s Store,” August 13, 1967. Nancy Benda Collection (N2016-1), Box 05, Folder 12, State Archives of Florida. Click to view full record.

Lifelong Educator

Once “Miss Nancy’s Store” stopped filming, Benda accepted a job with the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) as the director of equal opportunity programs. Until her retirement in 2003, the former television star took up the charge of enforcing Title IX–a 1972 federal law barring sex discrimination in scholastic and athletic programs at educational institutions receiving federal funds–in Florida’s public schools. She traveled the state investigating the disparities in athletic offerings for male and female students. Sports teach discipline and competition, she said. Benda intimated that “those are skills that have served our males very well,” and would benefit women as well.

In 1993 she traveled to Washington D.C., testifying as a witness in a congressional hearing on alleged sex discrimination in secondary and collegiate level sports. Toward the end of her tenure with FDOE, Benda expressed tempered views on the progress of educational opportunity in Florida: “Schools have made some enormous strides, [but] there’s a lot of work to be done.”

Nancy Tribble Benda died of cancer in 2015 at the age of 85. After the former educator’s passing, her family donated her career files to the State Archives of Florida for preservation. The collection documents the television teacher’s historic contributions to expanding educational access in Florida. A sampling of items from the collection is now available online.

Florida now boasts a total of 13 public access channels, their success owed in part to the educational television framework built by innovative teachers like Nancy Benda.

Selected Sources:

Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1). State Archives of Florida.

Educational Television Commission Minutes (.S 1913). State Archives of Florida.

200,000 Photographs

Today, the State Archives of Florida reached a major milestone: Resident cataloger Tony Conigliaro officially cataloged the 200,000th digitized photograph from the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory. In commemoration, we are digging into the Archives for a look back at the colorful history of the Florida Photographic Collection. We also interviewed Tony, and he explained more about his role in expanding digital public access to one of the most-used photographic collections in the country.

200,000 Copyright-free Images Online

All photographs available on Florida Memory are now offered under the Public Domain Mark Creative Commons license. Members of the public are encouraged to download and share the digitized archival images, provided they credit the State Archives of Florida. Higher resolution scans or prints of images can be ordered online using the shopping cart feature or by contacting staff at the Florida Photographic Archives via email FloridaMemoryStore@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at 850-245-6718.

About the 200,000th Photograph

For the symbolic 200,000th image, Archives staff selected this print of Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol on April 10th, 1874. Though a copy negative of this photograph has been repeatedly used in publications, the original image was only recently discovered in the State Library. Stowe was an author and abolitionist who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. After the Civil War, Stowe purchased a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, now a neighborhood of Jacksonville.

Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the stairs at Florida’s Old Capitol to greet Governor Marcellus L. Stearns. Governor Stearns is center front and Stowe is the woman in black to the right on the 6th step, April 10, 1874. Photographer A.G. Grant.

In April 1874, Stowe traveled with a group of Northern businessmen to the capital city of Tallahassee to encourage development and investment in Florida. Floridians graciously welcomed Stowe to the capital despite their general disagreement with her political opinions. This meeting on the Capitol steps was meant as a gesture of the South receiving the North. The photograph of the occasion was taken by Irish photographer A. G. Grant, who was hired by a Boston publishing company to capture images of interest for an upcoming publication about Florida.

A closer look at the photograph shows Governor Stearns (left) on the stairs and Stowe (bottom right) walking towards him. Governor Stearns lost his right arm in the Battle of Winchester while fighting for the Union army during the Civil War.

The Florida Photographic Collection

Florida State University, 1952-1982

The Florida Photographic Collection dates back to 1947, when Allen C. Morris, the self-taught historian and well-known Associated Press political columnist and reporter, started writing the Florida Handbook as a reference for the Florida Legislature. The biennial publication, which is still published in a digital format today, contains current information on the history and government of Florida. Tasked with compiling an inviting and educational manual, Morris found himself on a constant quest to illustrate the book with corresponding pictures.

He sought out new images of all types whenever and wherever he could, often using his vast network in journalism, state politics, and industry to make new acquisitions. Within a few years, the collection had exceeded 50,000 photographs.

“The helpfulness of people, both in Florida and elsewhere, has been extremely gratifying,” Morris told the Miami Herald‘s Jeanne Bellamy in 1972. “[Donors] have cooperated to an unusual degree, placing their facilities at our disposal because of the rather general recognition that we are racing against the erosion of time to preserve scenes of lasting human value.”

In an effort to better preserve and organize the many priceless photographs, Morris established the Florida Photographic Collection at the Florida State University Library in 1952. There, Morris, along with other faculty and graduate students, began cataloging the photographs. He soon became known among the press, academic publishers, and the general public as the go-to-resource for printed images of Florida history. The video clip below documents officials from the Florida Development Commission donating promotional films to the archive at FSU in 1964.

Morris continued his oversight of the Florida Photographic Collection throughout the 1960s. In the middle of the decade, his first wife, Dorothy, who was dying of cancer, urged her husband to take a job with the Legislature. She reasoned that a change in careers would ease the longtime journalist’s transition after her death.

In 1966, Allen Morris became clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. That year, he also met graduate student Joan Perry while working in the photographic collection. The couple wed shortly thereafter. Wanting to focus more of his attention on his responsibilities at the Capitol, Morris eventually stepped down from his role at the archives. In 1970, archivist Joan Perry Morris became the director of the Florida Photographic Collection.

Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom of the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.

Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom at the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.

State Archives of Florida, 1982-Present

During Joan’s tenure, the collection grew to include over one million images of Florida-related people, places, flora, fauna and other items of interest. As the collection continued to grow, Morris sought a new space for the photographs. In 1982, the State Archives of Florida acquired the entirety of the Florida Photographic Collection.

At the state repository, Joan Morris, her photographic assistant Jody Norman and many other archivists on staff continued the work of building and preserving the photographic record of Florida’s history and culture.

The Florida Memory Program, 1994-Present

By the early 1990s, the photo collection had become so popular that requests for copies and scans of photographs accounted for over half of all reference requests at the State Archives. The solution? The internet and its unprecedented ability to provide remote access to information.

In 1993, Joan and her team applied for federal grant funding from the Library Services and Construction Act (now known as the Library Services and Technology Act) and launched the Florida Photographic Collection Electronic Imaging Project in 1994. They developed a plan for digitizing the Florida Photographic Collection and making the photos searchable online. During the digitization project’s first year, over 5,000 images from the Florida Photographic Collection were scanned and put online.

In 2000, the project was renamed the Florida Memory Program, and it has been hailed as one of the state’s best resources for connecting Floridians with their history.

Florida Memory has received several awards in recognition of its public value, including the Society of American Archivists’ 2015 Archival Innovator Award.

As the speed and precision of technology improves, Florida Memory continues to increase access to the historically significant holdings of the State Library and Archives of Florida.

Today, the program keeps an impressive pace, digitizing 100 new photographs each week. And in addition to featuring 200,000 searchable Florida photographs, the website has also expanded to include over 300,000 documents, 250 videos and 2,900 audio recordings, as well as online educational units. Because of Florida Memory’s wide reach, the Florida Photographic Collection receives daily requests from newswires, magazines, interior designers and average citizens from all every corner of the country. They even have a large international customer base.

Our Cataloger Tony on the Ins and Outs of Florida Memory’s Photographs

The ability to quickly search through our online catalog of images is a huge time saver, especially compared to the tedium of thumbing through a traditional card catalog. But, real-life archivists like Tony Conigliaro are usually sitting on the other side of the screen, researching, fact-checking, and cataloging images to optimize your search results on Florida Memory. Here’s what he has to say about how it all happens:

  1.   How long have you been working as a cataloger for the State Archives?

[About twenty years.] I started work as a part-time scanner in 1997 until I became a cataloger in 1999.

  1. What is your academic background? How and why did you first become interested in cataloging work?

I have a master’s in library and information science from Florida State University. I think my interest in archives [grew] over time. I’ve always liked libraries since my youth (they’re so quiet and clean!) and I enjoyed scanning images and learning Photoshop.

But when I began cataloging I thought of myself as kind of an information conduit/provider and more data-entry librarian than archivist. I’ve never done any collection/preservation work but appreciate the fact that these historical items are being made more readily available for researchers and the general public.

I suppose [that as my] appreciation grew, my interest in archival work and the great efforts of archives staff also grew. I’ve heard a few times of patrons who have come across an image, of an ancestor, they never knew existed which just makes my appreciation and interest grow all the more!

Tony Conigliaro in the process of cataloging Florida Memory’s 200,000th photograph, April 24, 2017.

  1. What steps are involved in cataloging a photo on Florida Memory?

It’s really just a matter of filling in each field with appropriate data and adding additional fields when needed or subtracting fields if there are too many. For instance, every record should have data in the fields for “Title” & “Date”, and they do, but each record ought to have data in the “Subject” field to describe what the photo is about and provide keywords, based on a controlled vocabulary list provided by the Library of Congress (or other authorized source), for users to retrieve the digitized image.

  1. How do you identify people and places in photographs?

Fortunately the overwhelming majority are identified by donors. [O]thers are just from familiarity — once Jody [my former boss] was weeding through some political images and held one up to ask me who it was, I looked over and said “Dewey Macon Johnson,” who was State Senate President in 1959.

Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.

Florida Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.

[Sometimes]  I’ll also grab the loupe (a small magnification device) to look for clues, like road signs, store signs, or any other identifying information. Then I scour the internet, check out the city directories, newspaper microfilm or other library resources. The loupe also helps [to determine] the date of the image as well, especially if it shows an automobile as I can find out the date it was first manufactured. I also make extensive use of the expertise of the smart people around me!

  1.       How many photographs do you think you’ve cataloged for Florida Memory?

I think I have scanned about 88,000 photos. I’ve never done less than 5,000 per year since 2001.

  1.       What is the biggest challenge of your job? What do you like most about your job?

The most challenging aspect is researching images with a lack of accompanying identifications or cryptic/incomplete info. These sometimes also happen to be the most fun.

I suppose I find getting answers to be the most satisfying. Fitting in pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes just tracking down the make and model of a car to pinpoint the earliest start date of an image, other times locating a store’s sign in the city directory to pinpoint the street location. I like getting the answers most and being able to provide that information to interested users.

  1.      What is your favorite photograph in the collection, and why?

[That’s]  like asking me to pick my favorite kid – no way! I have a bit of fondness for Political, specifically 1950s, as that’s where I began and was trained. They’re real concrete with bios and dates and over the years some of the faces have become somewhat familiar. Some of the humorous/odd photographs are interesting: C660217Rc04621 (diner title), C003016 (not where I’d want to find myself!) The Tampa skyline and aerial shots I think are attractive. Appears to be a good looking city. The Dale McDonald collection – it’s the first collection that I’ve been the sole cataloger of so it’s kind of special to me and he was a great photographer. Festivalsparades come to mind as they seem to be held just about everywhere in the state so they kind of include something for everyone which I find to be rather special.

  1.       Why do you think the photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are so significant? In your opinion, what are the benefits of digitizing so many of them on a website like Florida Memory?

They are unique, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind treasures documenting historical facts! I don’t think I can even fathom all the ways they may be able to touch or affect users if given a chance.

I believe digitization improves accessibility immensely and each image can present a new perspective and provide additional information for users. I don’t think there can ever be enough digitized photographs.

For more information about Stowe’s visit to Tallahassee see Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Stowe’s Visit to Planter Florida,” in Calling Yankees to Florida: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Forgotten Tourist Articles, ed. John T. Foster Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster (Cocoa, Florida: The Florida Historical Society Press, 2011), 85-91.

Remembering the Historic William S. Stevens School

In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 26, 2017, Florida lost a piece of its tangible history after the historic Stevens School in Quincy caught fire and burned. Join us as we delve into the Archives for a brief look back at the history of this community fixture which stood near Live Oak and Cooper streets for nearly 90 years.

Stevens High School building in Quincy, Florida, built 1929.

Stevens High School building in Quincy, Florida, built 1929.

Originally known as the Dunbar School, the school first opened to grades 1-12 in the early twentieth century. With funding for black education scarce in the Jim Crow South, the African-American community in Quincy received a contribution from the Rosenwald Fund to build the school. Illinois-based philanthropist and part-owner of Sears, Roebuck and Company, Julius Rosenwald, headed the organization. His concentrated largess helped build schools for African-Americans all over the segregated South, including dozens in Florida.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar soon caught the attention of the ambitious Dr. William Spencer Stevens, who saw potential in expanding the school. Born in Tallahassee in 1882, Stevens attended Florida State Normal and Industrial College before graduating from Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. After medical school, Stevens moved to Quincy where he made history as the first African-American doctor to open his own medical practice in the area. Stevens also operated a community hospital for blacks as well as a drug store.

However, Stevens’ success did not make him immune to the rampant racism pulsing through Quincy. According to civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, who grew up in Quincy in the 1940s, whites tied Stevens to a tree after he attempted to register black voters.

Portrait of Dr. William Spencer Stevens, ca. 1906.

Portrait of Dr. William Spencer Stevens, ca. 1906. Stevens served as city school supervisor from 1914 until his death in 1949.

Wedding portrait of Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Stevens. Order unknown, included in the photograph are Mrs. W.S. Stevens, Dr. William Spencer Stevens, Mrs. Maggie Stevens, and Mrs. Maggie Proctor.

Wedding portrait of Dr. and Mrs. W.S. Stevens on February 8, 1910. Order unknown, included in the photograph are Mrs. W.S. Stevens, Dr. William Spencer Stevens, Mrs. Maggie Stevens, and Mrs. Maggie Proctor.

In 1914, the doctor’s good standing in the community earned him the title of Supervisor of the Quincy City Schools. In this role, he sought to enlarge the reach of Dunbar High School and oversaw a four-year improvement project in the late 1920s.  Locals were so pleased with Stevens’ work to install new classrooms and an auditorium in the building, that they voted to change the school’s name in his honor. According to an article printed in the September 19, 1929 edition of the Gadsden County newspaper, the new William Stevens High School building opened with a reported enrollment of 450 students.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School continued to serve Quincy’s black students until 1955, when the school board replaced it and moved the students and faculty into the new  Carter-Parramore High School building. In 1970, during a push to integrate segregated schools, the school board shut Carter-Parramore as a secondary school and repurposed it as a middle school.

The original Stevens High School plant most recently housed an African Artifact and Cultural Museum. It was operated by Quincy native and civil rights activist, Priscilla Stephens Kruize. WCTV’s Lanetra Bennett reported that over one million dollars worth of historic material was lost in the blaze. Recently, the Florida Division of Historical Resources had recommended that the historic building receive grant funding for restorations during the upcoming year.

 

Florida and the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

Florida’s diverse and heavily populated electorate has written its longstanding reputation as a political battleground state — in the 1970s, one of the biggest battle facing state lawmakers was the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The amendment proposed that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex,” and stirred ongoing controversy between leaders of the women’s liberation movement and anti-feminist activists. Though it ultimately never passed, Floridians’ response to the ERA mirrored the sharp national divide over the amendment’s message on gender equality.

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex, 1981.

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex to kick off ERA Awareness Week, November 1981. Their efforts were aimed at pressuring lawmakers to ratify the amendment during the 1982 Legislative Session.

In 1923, three years after American women won the right to vote, National Woman’s Party President Alice Paul wrote and introduced the ERA to U.S. Congress. Only three short sentences long, its intent to eliminate all sex-based legal distinctions was clear, but  it failed to gain unanimous political support from the outset. Some feminists viewed the ERA as the surest avenue for eliminating gender discrimination, but opponents countered that it would undermine hard-fought legal protections for women such as maternity leave and revised labor laws (Muller v. Oregon, 1908). As was the trend in many states in the years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, the vigilant political activism that had won women the right to vote died down in Florida. Though there had been a suffrage movement in Florida in the 1910s, the state constitution did not officially adopt provisions for women’s voting rights until 1969.

League of Women Voters recreating scenes of suffrage activism on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, 1963.

League of Women Voters recreating scenes of suffrage activism on the steps of the old Florida Capitol, 1963.

For over four decades after Alice Paul drafted the ERA, it languished unaddressed in a congressional committee, until the 1960s when the women’s liberation movement strengthened renewed interest in the measure. Both the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed gender discrimination. Both the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 addressed gender discrimination on the federal level. At the state level, population increases and legislative reapportionment in 1960s diversified legislative representation and sparked the passage of more progressive legislation–lawmakers barred sex-based discrimination in divorce, custody and child support cases in Florida. In 1966, Betty Friedan, Pauli Murray and many other feminists co-founded the National Organization of Women (NOW) to enforce these new laws and further advocate for women’s equality. Despite marked gains in addressing some of the specific issues, NOW stressed that the new laws contained insidious loopholes, and insisted that the ratification of the ERA was the best solution for achieving true gender equality. “Existing laws are not doing the job,” said Florida State Senator Betty Castor, echoing the sentiment of ERA proponents across the nation.

A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974. Governor's Commission on the Status of Women (S.79), Box 1, Folder 37, State Archives of Florida.

A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974. Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79), Box 1, Folder 37, State Archives of Florida.

One of the most outspoken members of NOW was pioneering feminist Roxcy O’Neal Bolton from Miami. Bolton launched the Miami Chapter of NOW in 1966 and was elected national vice-president of NOW in 1969, in which capacity she became one of the ERA’s chief advocates. Her husband, Commander David Bolton U.S.N., later presided over the organization Men for ERA.

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961.

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961. Learn more about Roxcy Bolton’s fight for women’s equality in our online exhibit.

With the ERA gaining traction, Roxcy Bolton personally, and successfully, lobbied Indiana Senator Birch Bayh for sponsorship while he was visiting Miami in January 1970. The next month, members of NOW picketed a congressional committee hearing, demanding action on the ERA. On August 10, 1970, U.S. Representative Martha Griffiths of Michigan submitted a petition to finally bring the ERA to the House floor for a debate and vote. It passed and headed to the Senate for approval. On March 22, 1972, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of the ERA.

But the real battle began when the ERA went to the states for ratification, where it would need a three-fourths majority approval to become law. “Our work has just begun,” squared Bolton. “We’ve got to get ratification. We must start in each state and see what we can do.”

Within one year, 30 state legislatures had ratified it. But Florida’s had not.  Nonetheless, in 1974, the ERA seemed unstoppable. But eight more states still needed to ratify it by the 1979 deadline and it soon met fierce obstruction.

Roxcy Bolton (center) and Representative Gwen Cherry (to Bolton's left) leading an ERA march, ca. 1972. Re. Cherry was the first black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature and the first person to introduce the ERA to the House Judiciary Committee in 1972.

Roxcy Bolton (center) and Representative Gwendolyn Cherry (to Bolton’s left) leading an ERA march, ca. 1972. Rep. Cherry was the first black woman to serve in the Florida Legislature and the first person to introduce the ERA to the House Judiciary Committee in 1972.

In Florida, the amendment was introduced or voted on in every legislative session from 1972 until 1982. Though it passed the Florida House of Representatives on several occasions, it never passed the Senate. Thirty women served in the Florida legislature between 1920 and 1978, but when the ERA was first introduced into the Florida Senate in 1974, the only woman in the legislative body was Senator Lori Wilson. She became the original sponsor and solitary female voice of the ERA in the senate, and she faced an uphill battle with convincing many of her reluctant colleagues to ratify it. In 1977, she took her stand on the senate floor:

… the good old boys in the southern legislatures traditionally do not consider people issues like ERA on their merit. They consider only what it might do to their manliness or their money-ness or their manpower…. [They]refused to give up their slaves … [or] approve the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote … fought the 1964 Civil Rights Act … until the rest of this nation fought them in the courtrooms, and on the streets, and at the polls … with legal power, and … PEOPLE POWER.

League of Women Voters of Florida pamphlet explaining the group's pro-ERA position, the statewide ratification campaign, and the amendment's legislative history, 1977.

League of Women Voters of Florida pamphlet explaining the group’s pro-ERA position, the statewide ratification campaign, and the amendment’s legislative history, 1977. Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79), Box 1, Folder 37, State Archives of Florida.

Since its initial submission to the legislature, every Florida governor had expressed support for the ERA.

Governor Reubin Askew addresses an ERA rally on the capitol steps, 1978.

Governor Reubin Askew addresses an ERA rally on the capitol steps, 1978. Beginning in 1972, Askew also oversaw the first functional Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women, charged with  identifying and increasing public awareness of the needs and concerns of Florida women. Among other things, the commission was active in ERA ratification efforts.

But as political scientist Joan S. Carver has observed, the legislature’s unpredictable mix of strong personalities and political interests proved far less agreeable. One of the ERA’s biggest foes was Senator Dempsey Barron of Panama City, who served as Senate President from 1975-76 and in the Senate until 1988. A powerful force in the Florida Senate, Barron emphasized a belief that voting for the ERA would accelerate moral decay and give undue power to the federal government. He asked his senate colleagues, “How many of you want to transfer those remaining powers we have under the present Constitution into the hands of the federal government and the federal courts?” His political sway effectively won several “no” votes during the ERA years.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Representative Gene Hodges with STOP ERA sign draped from his desk in the House chamber, ca. 1972. Photograph by Donn Dughi, State Archives of Florida.

Representative Gene Hodges with lace STOP ERA apron draped from his desk in the House Chamber, 1974. ERA opponents reportedly sported red aprons like this one as they made the rounds at the Capitol, offering baked goods, “from the bread makers to the breadwinners” to legislators. Proponents also began offering up homemade treats. Donn Dughi/State Archives of Florida.

By the mid-1970s, a vocal faction of anti-feminist activists led by lawyer and politician, Phyllis Schlafly, had begun organizing the Stop-ERA campaign. Their strategy was to thwart ratification in the states. “[The ERA] is a giant takeaway of the rights women now have,” Schlafly told a Miami Herald reporter in 1974. “It will not give any advantages to women in the employment area, the one area where women are discriminated against,” she concluded. In Florida, former beauty-queen and anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, along with anti-feminist Miami radio host Shirley Spellerberg, spearheaded Schlafly’s cause. In 1979, Spellerberg explained her belief that women were meant to be homemakers to the Boca-Raton News: “Little girls in the formative years should view women as mothers and homemakers, this is their ideal role in the traditional family structure.” Whereas Florida’s feminists found their political support in the state’s increasingly urban voting base, the Stop-ERA campaign wedged itself into the state’s many conservative, rural and elderly pockets.

STOP ERA pamphlet describing the positions of the movement, ca. 1972. Florida Governor's Commission on the Status of Women (S.79), Box 1, Folder 36, State Archives of Florida.

STOP ERA pamphlet describing the positions of the movement, ca. 1972. Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (S.79), Box 1, Folder 36, State Archives of Florida.

In the 1970s, sizable groups of feminist and anti-feminist activists made regular trips to Tallahassee to lobby the legislature for and against the ERA. Moreover, women from both sides organized rallies, marches, workshops and fundraisers all over the state.

Anti-ERA lobbyists speaking with lawmakers in the Florida Capitol rotunda, 1975

Anti-ERA lobbyists speaking with lawmakers in the Capitol Rotunda, 1975.

When the original ratification deadline came in 1979, 35 state legislatures had approved the amendment, Florida not included. The ERA was still three states shy of the three-fourths majority needed to amend gender equality to the U.S. Constitution.

ERA demonstration between the Florida Capitol and Supreme Court building, 1979.

ERA demonstration between the Florida Capitol and Supreme Court building, 1979.

Anti-ERA activists line the wall of the Florida Senate chamber, 1979.

Anti-ERA activists line the wall of the Florida Senate Chamber, 1979. State Archives of Florida/Dughi.

In 1978 NOW organized a 100,000 person march in Washington D.C. demanding an extension on the ratification deadline. President Jimmy Carter approved a three year extension. In 1982, four of the remaining 15 undecided states, including Florida, declared special legislative sessions to cast their final vote on the ERA. The state capitol saw tremendous turnout as both pro and anti-ERA activists threw their remaining energy into the last battle over the ERA. The media drew heightened awareness to Florida’s position as a “swing state,” suggesting that the Legislature’s decision on the ERA would be a toss-up.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

Constituents from all over the state and nation wrote letters to Governor Bob Graham and their representatives about the matter.

Though it was once poised for quick ratification, the ERA met its final snag with the unpredictable mix of personalities in the Senate, failing in a final vote of 22-16.

Political cartoon showing the final results of the Florida Senate vote on the ERA, 1982. Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel.

Political cartoon showing the final results of the Florida Senate vote on the ERA, 1982. Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel.

None of the other three legislatures passed it either, and with that, ratification was off the table. Over thirty-five years later, representatives from both the Florida House and Senate have continued to introduce the ERA into committees to no avail. For now, the wildly controversial amendment effectively remains dormant in Florida.

Selected Sources:

Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Papers (M94-1). State Archives of Florida.

Florida Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (.S 79). State Archives of Florida.

Governor Bob Graham Correspondence Files (.S 850). State Archives of Florida.

***The State Archives of Florida has digitized additional pamphlets and correspondence related to the ratification of the ERA in Florida.

Brock, Laura E. “Religion, Sex, and Politics: The Story of the ERA in Florida.” Florida State University: M.A. Thesis, 2013.

Carver, Joan S. “The Equal Rights Amendment and the Florida Legislature,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 60:4 (April 1982):455-481.

Wilmot Voss, Kimberly. “The Florida Fight for Equality: The Equal Rights Amendment, Senator Lori Wilson and Mediated Catfights in the 1970s,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 88:2(Fall, 2009):173-208.

When LeRoy Collins Went to Selma

Though he entered office in 1955 as a segregationist, Florida’s 33rd Governor Thomas LeRoy Collins left office in 1961 as an integrationist and never looked back. In 1964, Collins became director of the newly created Community Relations Service (CRS), a federal agency committed to mediating local racial disputes. He traveled to over 100 communities in the mid-1960s, but it was in Selma, Alabama, where the saga of LeRoy Collins, segregationist turned civil rights supporter, peaked. This is his story:

Portrait of Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, ca. 1955

Portrait of Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, ca. 1955.

In March 1965, the nation confronted its troubled history of race relations on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Reporters flocked to the small town, their cameras capturing the violent tactics inflicted upon peaceful marchers by local police. The press also managed to snap a seemingly less sensational photo of former Florida Governor LeRoy Collins walking alongside known civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and John Lewis.

Photograph of LeRoy Collins talking with civil rights marchers (L-R) John Lewis, Andrew Young, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy at Selma in March 1965.

Photograph of LeRoy Collins talking with civil rights marchers (L-R) John Lewis, Andrew Young, Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King and Ralph Abernathy at Selma in March 1965.

Demanding equal voting rights, King and hundreds of supporters were marching the 50 miles from Selma to the capitol in Montgomery, when Collins briefly joined to confirm the route. However, once the image circulated throughout the country, LeRoy Collins’ legacy became forever linked with the modern civil rights movement. But it also crippled his immediate future as a southern politician. A decade before Selma, Collins, as governor of Florida, defended “separate but equal” as Florida’s “custom and law.” However, as civil rights demonstrations intensified in the late 1950s, Collins’ moderate temperament and commitment to non-violence pushed him to deeply question the morality of segregation.

Born in Tallahassee in 1909, racial segregation was the only way of life young LeRoy Collins knew. “I was raised in the southern tradition of segregation. And like most people in the South I felt that this was all right,” he later reflected. During his first campaign for governor in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the case of Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregated public schools unconstitutional. In contrast to the massive resistance mounted by neighboring southern states, Collins made no immediate comment on the matter and resolved to wait for further instruction from the high court. Instead, his administration remained focused on its original goal of developing Florida’s economy. When he finally spoke on the matter, the governor cited the law, not radical defiance, as the best tool for circumventing desegregation.

Pro-segregation statement issued by Governor LeRoy Collins pledging to maintain segregation in Florida, February 2, 1956. Governor LeRoy Collins Papers, box 33, folder 6, State Archives of Florida

Pro-segregation statement issued by Governor LeRoy Collins pledging to maintain segregation in Florida, February 2, 1956. Governor LeRoy Collins Papers (S. 776), box 33, folder 6, State Archives of Florida.

During his second term as governor, Collins began to reconsider his position on segregation. He viewed segregation as more than a simple legal issue, but rather a heavy weight on the southern conscience. Furthermore, while economic advancement had been the cornerstone of his campaign, the statesman soon recognized the correlation between the progress of his home state and the expansion of civil rights.

In 1957, the Florida Legislature opposed the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education which required the integration of public schools. The Legislature drafted an “interposition resolution” to declare the Court’s decision as null and void. After the Legislature passed the resolution, Collins had no power to veto it, because it was not a law but only a resolution expressing the opinion of the Legislature on the matter of racial integration.

Collins firmly believed in upholding the foundational institutions of American democracy. Never afraid to speak out against extremism, he openly criticized the 1957 Florida Legislature’s “interposition resolution.” The governor opposed interposition precisely because he felt that defying the Supreme Court amounted to “…anarchy and rebellion against the nation… an evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria.” He concluded his impassioned, hand-written remarks with unwavering dedication to his principles:

“If history judges me right this day, I want it known that I did my best to avert this blot. If I am judged wrong, then here in my own handwriting and over my signature is the proof of guilt to support my conviction.”

LeRoy Collins' handwritten dissent of the Interposition Resolution, signed May 2, 1957. S. 222, Acts of the Florida Legislature, State Archives of Florida.

LeRoy Collins’ handwritten dissent of the Interposition Resolution, signed May 2, 1957. S. 222, Acts of the Florida Legislature, State Archives of Florida.

Collins’ reaction put him at odds with many white Floridians who sought to protect the status quo, despite strengthened federal civil rights legislation. After denouncing interposition, Collins further revised his position on segregation. The governor’s public response to Tallahassee’s sit-in demonstrations in 1960 revealed the depth of his changed outlook. Amid an atmosphere of heightened racial tensions in Florida’s capital city, the governor appeared before a state-wide audience to address recent events. Collins directly confronted the issue of discrimination at department store lunch counters, a practice he considered “morally wrong” and, although legally permissible, something he could not “square with moral, simple justice.”  “We are foolish if we just think about resolving this thing on a legal basis,” he cautioned viewers. As the governor’s remarks continued, he situated the African-American struggle for civil rights within the broader sweep of American history:

“[W]e can never stop Americans from struggling to be free. We can never stop Americans from hoping and praying that someday in some way this ideal that is embedded in our Declaration of Independence is one of these truths that are inevitable that all men are created equal… that somehow will be a reality and not just an illusory distant goal.”

As Florida’s governor, he recognized the rights of opposing sides to demonstrate peacefully but consistently warned against extremism. He called for the creation of bi-racial committees, composed of moderate-minded citizens, who would work to forge solutions at the community level. Above all, he called for a stronger dialogue from southern moderates: “Where are the people in the middle?” he pleaded. “Why aren’t they talking?”

The clarity of conviction voiced by Collins resonated with National Democratic Party leadership, who selected the Tallahassee native as permanent chairman of the convention held in Los Angeles in 1960. Collins masterfully presided over the proceedings which vaulted John F. Kennedy to the presidency. In his opening address captured in the video below, he implored audience members to promptly address the problems afflicting society, saying “ours is a generation in which great decisions can no longer be passed to the next.”

After the convention, the fifty-one-year-old former governor took a job with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB). Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Collins sought specifically to harness the power of television to further the public interest. Again, he used his position as a seat of moral responsibility, advocating to curb both violence on television and youth-oriented tobacco ads. When President Kennedy was assassinated, Collins again called moderate southerners to action. “It is time the decent people of the south told the bloody shirt wavers to climb down off the buckboards of bigotry,” he told a crowd of white politicians during a 1963 speech in South Carolina. His remarks increasingly distanced the former governor from his native Florida voting base, where many whites still opposed integration. After three years in Washington, the segregationist Governor Collins of 1955 was fading into a memory. By the early 1960s, his views were aligned more closely with Capitol Hill’s than the state Legislature’s.

LeRoy Collins with President Lyndon B. Johnson during the ceremonial signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964

LeRoy Collins with President Lyndon B. Johnson during the ceremonial signing of the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964

After the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Collins as Director of the CRS. In this role, Collins was to aid in the enforcement of civil rights legislation in communities across the country in an effort to mediate racial disputes and avoid violent confrontations. Despite the significance of the 1964 law, southern blacks continued to face widespread voter discrimination via literacy tests, voter intimidation and poll taxes. Determined to bring national attention to this reality, Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) selected rural Selma, Alabama as their demonstration site. “Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was written in Birmingham, we hope that the new federal voting legislation will be written here in Selma,” explained King. When Dr. King was jailed early on in the Selma campaign, he stressed the specific need for Collins to come down from Washington and speak with local authorities about voting policies. Though he waited for federal direction, it was in his role as CRS director that LeRoy Collins arrived in Selma, Alabama on March 9, 1965. The video below contains footage of the racial climate in Selma during the voting rights demonstrations.

On Sunday, March 7, Alabama state police attacked non-violent protestors who attempted to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As federal judges weighed the constitutionality of Alabama Governor George Wallace’s injunction against the march, Collins arrived to represent President Johnson and prevent a repeat of the events of “Bloody Sunday.” In the hours leading up to the second planned march, Collins raced back and forth between SCLC officers and Alabama law enforcement determined to halt marchers’ progress towards Montgomery.

At first, Collins urged Dr. King to call off the march. Dr. King told Collins that he “would rather die on the highway in Alabama than make a butchery of my conscience by compromising with evil.” The civil rights leader added that he could not stop the people from marching, even if he himself did not lead them. According to Dr. King, Collins then presented an alternative plan. The marchers would cross the bridge, face the state police but not attempt to pass their barricade, hold a prayer session near the location of the earlier violence, and then return to their church. Collins then presented his plan to the Alabama troopers. After conferring with Governor Wallace, Sheriff Jim Clark agreed to restrain his forces. Having laid out a scenario acceptable to both sides, Collins assumed a position that would place him directly in between the marchers and the state police. With the march already underway, Collins reassured Dr. King of his intentions:

“I’m going to be standing right there with those troops. It’s not that I’m on their side, but I want to be there so that if some of them moves into you I’ll grab him. I’ll sure personally grab him. I don’t know what I’ll do with him after I get him, but I’ll sure try.”

Dr. King halted the march before the line of state police. They prayed, the troopers parted, and the group, led by Dr. King, returned to the church. Both sides could claim apparent victory. The marchers crossed the bridge and returned unharmed to the scene of Bloody Sunday, and the state police upheld Governor Wallace’s injunction banning the march. President Johnson later told Collins that, if not for his presence in Selma on March 9, “blood would [have] be[en] running knee deep in the ditches.”

Several days later, a federal judge lifted Wallace’s injunction, and the marchers made their way to Montgomery. Along the way to the state capitol, Collins and the CRS stood by to ensure their protection. The third march proceeded in peace, but a photograph taken of Collins next to Dr. King and other members of SCLC immortalized the memory of Collins as a federal representative who supported equal rights.

Collins’ political aspirations suffered greatly as a result of his very public role as mediator during the Selma-Montgomery march. When he ran for U.S. Senate in 1968, his opponents used the photograph of “Liberal LeRoy” walking alongside SCLC leadership as evidence of his pro-civil rights agenda. Many supporters of Collins believe this photograph and the criticism he received as CRS director greatly contributed to his defeat at the polls. In the election, Collins garnered only 48% in his home district of Leon County. Twenty-four years earlier, he was elected governor with 99% of the vote in Leon County, and 80% state-wide.

Below is a clip from a promotional film released during Collins’ 1968 U.S. Senate campaign, highlighting the courage of his actions at Selma:

Many years later, Governor Collins reflected on his decision to stand up for what he believed: “…if I had to do it over again, I would do the same thing… And I would do this even if I knew it would materially influence my defeat for the United States Senate.” The legacy of Governor LeRoy Collins is revealed not only in his commitment to his ideals, but also as an example of an individual who evolved his beliefs in reaction to the changing world around him. After leaving politics, Collins reflected on the consequences of his involvement with the CRS. “Looking back,” he said “I would still accept that job that the President called on me to do and I would have still gone to Selma.”

Portrait of LeRoy Collins in front of The Grove, 1985. In 1985, the former governor and his wife, Mary Call Darby Collins, deeded the property to the state, with the express purpose of transforming it into a public museum after both their deaths. LeRoy Collins passed away in 1991 and Mary Call in 2009. In 2010, the state began its restoration of The Grove.

Portrait of LeRoy Collins in front of The Grove, 1985. In 1985, the former governor and his wife, Mary Call Darby Collins, deeded the property to the state, with the express purpose of transforming it into a public museum after both their deaths. LeRoy Collins passed away in 1991 and Mary Call in 2009. Shortly thereafter, the state began its restoration of The Grove.

In March 2017, the Florida Department of State opened The Grove Museum, Governor Collins’ family home in Tallahassee. Built in the 1830s, The Grove was home to two-time territorial governor of Florida, Richard Keith Call, and his descendants. From slavery to civil rights, the exhibits at The Grove Museum cover 200 years of Florida history.