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 that 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. Demanding equal voting rights, King and hundreds of supporters were marching the fifty 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 rural 1909 Tallahassee, 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.

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.

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.

***Executive Director of The Grove Museum Johnathan Grandage also contributed to the research and writing of this post.

 

The History of Stanton High School

Once heralded by the Florida Times-Union as the “crown jewel of Jacksonville’s public schools,” Stanton College Preparatory School’s nationally recognized academic magnet program has attracted widespread publicity since the Duval County School Board first implemented the curriculum in the early 1980s. In 2016, U.S. News and World Report ranked Stanton fifth out of Florida’s 889 public high schools and thirty-third out of all public schools in the nation. But Stanton’s roots as an exceptional scholastic institution stretch back much further than the inception of the magnet program. For nearly a century, from Reconstruction until school desegregation orders came in the 1950s, Stanton High School operated one of the most well-regarded secondary schools for African-American students in Florida. 

View of Stanton Institute, 1870.

View of Stanton Institute, 1870.

Named after Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, Stanton Institute, which later became known as Stanton High School, began as the first and only public secondary school for African-Americans in Reconstruction Florida. There were approximately 62,000 newly emancipated slaves in Florida, and many of them flocked to Jacksonville looking for job opportunities and cheap land in the port city. Eager to start their own communities after emancipation, local blacks built churches, schools, social organizations, and businesses. The Colored Education Society of Jacksonville formed out of these grassroots efforts. At the same time, both the American Missionary Association (AMA), a northern benevolent aid society, and the federally funded Freedmen’s Bureau established a presence in northeast Florida. The three entities worked together to support the establishment and staffing of schools for blacks.   

Pamphlet advertising land for sale in Jacksonville and the services offered by the Freedman's Savings Bank, 1867. During Reconstruction, both the Freedman's Savings Bank and the American Missionary Association set up their state headquarters in Jacksonville. State Library of Florida.

Pamphlet advertising land for sale in Jacksonville and the services offered by the Freedman’s Savings Bank, 1867. During Reconstruction, both the Freedman’s Savings Bank and the American Missionary Association set up headquarters offices in Jacksonville. State Library of Florida.

In 1866, the Florida Legislature sought to abate white anxieties over educated blacks and passed a law requiring the establishment of separate schools for blacks and whites. At that time, three schools for Jacksonville’s freedmen and women existed, but they employed only a total of four teachers responsible for the instruction of a total of 530 pupils. In response to the shortage of qualified black teachers, the Colored Education Society of Jacksonville and local black freeholders raised 850 dollars to purchase a large plot of land on Beaver Street, from white unionist and future Florida governor, Ossian B. Hart, and his wife, Catherine. The Harts endowed the black community with a ninety-nine year lease, specifying the plot be used for the express purpose of educating blacks and training them as teachers. Unfortunately, no additional capital was available for the immediate construction of a training school. The Freedman’s Bureau donated $16,000 to build Stanton Institute with the purpose of training African-American women from the ages of sixteen to twenty-five as educators. The Freedmen’s Bureau erected the Stanton Institute on the corner of Ashley and Bridge (later Broad) streets in December 1868, and officially opened it for use on April 10, 1869.  In addition to operating a teacher training program, the new building also facilitated a grammar school. The first class at Stanton was comprised of 348 black students, six white teachers and a number of black staff.

Excerpt from 1876 Birdseye view map of Jacksonville.

Excerpt from an 1876 bird’s-eye view map of Jacksonville, with Stanton highlighted in gold on the corner of Ashley and Bridge streets. State Library of Florida map collection. Note: Archives staff highlighted the location for emphasis, the original map is monochromatic.

When Reconstruction ended in 1877, the presence of northern aid societies quickly diminished in Florida, and the financing of public education for African-Americans came under control of local school boards. The Duval County School Board first listed Stanton as a public school in 1882. Once staffed by a majority of white teachers, by the 1880s black educators made up the entirety of Stanton faculty, and they worked to upgrade the curriculum to meet new state standards. Even in its infancy, Stanton was touted as the “best school for blacks in the state” by reviewers. The news about the black educational marvel in Jacksonville extended across state lines, as the site developed into a popular destination for late nineteenth century tourists.

Print of Stanton Institute, ca. 1880.

Stereo print of Stanton Institute, ca. 1880. This print is one half of a stereograph, produced by photographer Charles Seaver in the late 19th century as part of a series he did on southern attractions. When viewed through a stereo viewer, the image appears three-dimensional. Stereography was a popular method for sharing images of notable scenes and sites. It is likely that people living outside of Florida saw this image of Stanton as an example of a school for African-Americans in the South.

Principal James Weldon Johnson, a Stanton alumnus and the first African-American to serve as Executive Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, elevated Stanton to a high school level in the 1890s. For a number of years Stanton was the only secondary school for African-Americans in Jacksonville, and one of the few in the state. By 1900, a reported seventy-three percent of local blacks could read and write. Other notable Stanton alumni include journalist T. Thomas Fortune, Olympic long-jumper Edward “Ned” Orval Gourdin, and Jacksonville philanthropist Eartha M.M. White.

Portrait of Principal James Weldon Johnson, ca. 1900. Johnson served as principal of Stanton from 1894 until 1902. After school board officials denied James Weldon Johnson a $75 per month pay increase, he resigned and relocated to New York City.

Portrait of Principal James Weldon Johnson, ca. 1900. Johnson served as principal of Stanton from 1894 until 1902. Johnson’s mother, Helen Dillet Johnson, was one of the first black teachers in the state and taught at Stanton for two decades. Both of her sons, James Weldon and John Rosamond, completed eight grade educations at Stanton in the 1880s. After furthering his education at Atlanta University, James Weldon Johnson returned to Jacksonville and took the job as principal of Stanton. During this time, he established the Daily American, a short-lived newspaper dedicated to covering black life. Additionally, he became the first African-American admitted to the Florida Bar since Reconstruction. After school board officials denied  Johnson’s request for a pay increase comparable to white salaries, he resigned and relocated to New York City.

 

The rebuilt Stanton Institute, 1897. A fire destroyed the original wooden building in 1882.

The second Stanton Institute building, 1897. A fire twice destroyed the school, once in 1882 and again in 1901. Property insurance paid to rebuild the school after both incidents.

A consistent  lack of maintenance funding from the county school board plunged Stanton into physical disrepair by the early 20th century. Stanton’s trustees filed suit against the Duval County Schools (Floyd v. Board of Public Instruction, 1915), alleging the unacceptable conditions of the school. Officials agreed to construct a new brick building in its place, but again refused to allocate proper funds for building maintenance. By the 1920s, the new Stanton building was already deteriorating.

The new brick Stanton School building, ca. 1917.

The new brick Stanton School building, ca. 1917.

This negligence reflected general trends afflicting black education in Florida during Jim Crow. As of 1942, Duval County operated a total of forty-two schools for African-Americans, but only one of those, Stanton, offered courses at the high school level. Beginning in 1938, Stanton stopped offering all grade levels and taught secondary education students only. Nearly every black school in the district suffered from a disparate level of resources. For example, in 1946, the annual per capita expenditure of $70.24 at black high schools in Duval County could not compete with the $104.50 spent on each white student pursuing a secondary education. Out of the ninety-five black teachers in the county holding at least a bachelor’s degree, ninety-one received a monthly salary of $189, while whites with the same credentials received an average $233 per month in 1946.

 

Portrait of Stanton High School French teacher, Cora Ross, ca. 1930.

Portrait of Stanton French teacher, Cora Ross, ca. 1930.

Photograph of the Stanton High School track team, 1925.

Photograph of the Stanton track team, 1925.

Graduation portrait of Stanton alumna Eva Cobb Rosier, 1933

Graduation portrait of Stanton alumna Eva Cobb Rosier, 1933.

1935 Graduation portrait of Stanton students Pearlie Cobb Scarborough and Thomas Morris

1935 graduation portrait of Stanton students Pearlie Cobb Scarborough and Thomas Morris.

Portrait of the 1933 graduating class of Stanton High School.

Portrait of the 1933 graduating class of Stanton.

After two decades of petitioning the Duval County School Board for an updated African-American high school plant, officials finally obliged. On November 24, 1953, student, faculty, and interested locals dedicated the new $1.5 million Stanton High School. The previous structure on Broad and Ashley became known as Old Stanton, and the new high school, New Stanton. The new school was equipped to educate a maximum of 1,500 pupils on a 24-acre plot located at 1149 W. 13th Street. After the high school’s student body relocated, the school board converted the old Stanton building first into a middle school, and then into the designated black vocational school, until 1971, when officials condemned the dilapidated structure. In the 1990s, the structure reopened as a private school called the Academy of Excellence.

Aerial view of the new Stanton High School building, ca. 1953.

Aerial view of the New Stanton High School building, ca. 1953.

A year after the new Stanton building opened, rumblings on the national level began to steer the school in a new direction. In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregated schools unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education). The judicial body later ordered segregated school districts to desegregate “with all deliberate speed.” The vague implementation language allowed southern school boards to delay integration for over a decade. In the video clip below, Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas Bailey discuss some of the tactics used to circumvent the order.

During this time, life at Stanton carried on much as it had before the landmark legal ruling. Overcrowding forced students to attend classes in shifts and a lack of resources handicapped instruction. Despite these shortcomings, Stanton students and faculty took great pride in their school. In 1959, Jacksonville’s black newspaper, The Florida Star named Stanton “the best landscaped school in the city.” In 1961, New Stanton’s yearbook and newspaper staff won multiple awards at the 11th Annual Intercollegiate Press Workshop held at Florida A&M University. Faculty also made certain to instill strong character in their students. Alumnus Rudolph Daniels recalled Principal Brooks’ infamously stern demeanor: “If it was time to be in class, they’d better be in class.  It if it was time for sports or activities, they should be involved in those. He wanted students to be equally involved in different things to make them well rounded people.” During Brooks’ tenure the school flourished as an asset and centerpiece of Jacksonville’s middle-class black community. “Almost every Black [sic] who is in business in this city finished under me,” concluded the retired educator.

Students from the new Stanton High School performing at the Florida Folklife Festival in White Springs, 1956.

Students from New Stanton High School performing at the Florida Folklife Festival in White Springs, 1956.

Though Jacksonville’s black parents sued Duval County School Board for refusal to integrate local schools (Braxton v. Duval County, 1960), meaningful racial integration did not commence until the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VI of the federal legislation empowered the Department of Health Education and Welfare to withhold funding from those districts non-compliant with integration orders. Florida lawmakers responded. The following school year, all sixty-seven counties in the Sunshine State adopted plans for integration, including Duval. Later Supreme Court rulings in Green v. New Kent County(1968) and Alexander v. Holmes County (1969) placed additional pressure on local school boards to integrate immediately and dismantle segregated school systems “root and branch.” A federal judge ordered all student, faculty, and staff fully integrated by Feb 1, 1970.  

Mrs. Pearson picks up her youngest daughter from the newly integrated Fulford Elementary School in Miami, September 6, 1960. in 1959, Dade County became the first Florida school district to integrate black and whites students. Other districts, such as Duval, opposed such action until the late 1960s.

Mrs. Pearson picks up her youngest daughter from the newly integrated Fulford Elementary School in Miami, September 6, 1960. In 1959 Dade County became the first Florida school district to integrate black and whites students. Other districts, such as Duval, opposed such action until the mid to late 1960s.

While Jacksonville schools officially achieved a unified school district by federal standards in the early 1970s, the majority of schools, including Stanton, remained racially divided. In the post-desegregation era, Stanton’s identity as an outstanding community school began to change. The school board converted it into a vocational school in 1971. Principal Charles D. Brooks left the school in 1968, but went on to characterize Stanton after 1971 in telling detail: “It seemed that one objective of the school board was to keep white students out of Stanton. We integrated with them, but they didn’t integrate with us.” Just as before Brown, African-American pupils at Stanton still suffered from the legacy of Jim Crow. Throughout the 1970s, New Stanton’s student body faced a new battle with poor performance. A 1977 report of standardized test scores ranked Stanton with the lowest pass rates in Duval County for both math and reading. Further, the school reported the highest dropout rate in the district.  

Though fortunate to survive the consolidation process of school desegregation in the 1960s–school boards routinely closed black high schools to meet integration standards–Stanton’s reputation as the best school for blacks in Florida waned in the 1970s. Once plagued by overcrowding, by 1980 the one hundred percent black school filled only one third of its capacity; the school board had anticipated the matriculation of hundreds of white students after integration, but none chose to enroll at Stanton. Board officials even considered closing the plant, just as they had done with the Old Stanton building ten years earlier. Desperate to preserve Stanton as a piece of Jacksonville’s history, the black community rallied to save the school. The school board appointed Stanton graduate and University of North Florida professor, Dr. Andrew Robinson to find a solution for revitalizing and integrating the school. Duval County ultimately chose to tap resources from the Emergency School Aid Act (ESAA), the federal government’s primary source for funding school desegregation efforts. In an effort to attract a more diverse mix of students, the school reopened as Stanton College Preparatory School in 1981 and began offering a magnet program with a focus on academic excellence. However, thirty-five years later, the effectiveness of the magnet program in achieving racial integration remains questionable. According to the most recent data compiled by the Florida Department of Education, Stanton’s student body is 48 percent white and only 17.7 percent black, but blacks comprise 44 percent of Duval County’s total student population. Moreover, only 13.2 percent of Stanton students are economically disadvantaged, whereas 43.8 percent of pupils living in the district come from low-income households.

From 2000-2003 Newsweek rated Stanton as the number one public school in the United States, and it continues to enjoy an outstanding reputation. For all of Stanton’s modern achievements, though, current students and faculty are careful to remember the school’s important place in the history of African-American education in Florida.

Selected Sources:

Stanton High School Collection. Jacksonville: Jacksonville Public Library Special Collections.

Eartha M.M. White Papers. Jacksonville: University of North Florida Special Collections.

Bartley, Abel A. Keeping the Faith: Race, Politics, and Social Development in Jacksonville,  Florida, 1940-1970. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2000.

Florida Times-Union

Florida Star

Florida Department of Education

 

Quincy Goes Better with a Coke

Today, Americans remain sharply divided on their soda pop preferences, but in the tiny town of Quincy, Florida, the refreshing bite of Coca-Cola reigns supreme. The so-called “Coca-Cola millionaires,” and their many descendants still living in the community of just around 8,000 people, would not have it any other way.  In the early 20th century, banker,  Mark “Pat” Munroe, secured his fate as a local legend when he bought several shares of Coca-Cola stock soon after the soft drink company went public in 1919. He encouraged others to invest in Coke as well. What might have seemed like a gamble then ultimately paid dividends for Quincy’s original 25 Coca-Cola millionaires. In fact, just before World War II, the town of Quincy boasted the highest per-capita income of any municipality in the country, owed in large part to America’s love affair with Coca-Cola.

The original Coca-Cola millionaire, Pat Munroe (right) with local shade tobacco producer and businessman, E.B. Shelfer, Sr. outside of the Quincy State Bank, ca. 1920.

The original Coca-Cola millionaire, Pat Munroe (right) standing next to local shade tobacco producer, businessman,  and fellow cola investor, E.B. Shelfer, Sr. (left)  outside of the Quincy State Bank, ca. 1920.

Named after John Quincy Adams, white settlers established Quincy as the county seat of Gadsden County, Florida in 1828. Located about twenty miles west of Tallahassee, atop some of Florida’s most fertile soil, Quincy’s economic history is rooted in agricultural production. Shade tobacco, used to wrap cigars, grew exceptionally well in the region’s humid climate and would eventually become the county’s most profitable industry. Prior to the Civil War, plantation owners in the area relied on enslaved labor to cultivate large quantities of not only tobacco, but also cotton, sugarcane, and corn. In the uncertain post-war economy, shade tobacco emerged as Quincy’s staple crop and the town soon became known as the “shade-grown leaf-tobacco capital.”

Tobacco growers stand with newly planted crop under slat-shade house in Quincy, ca. 1900

Tobacco growers stand with newly planted crop under slat-shade house in Quincy, ca. 1900

Tobacco farmers tying up shade tobacco crop in Quincy, Florida, ca. 1960.

Tobacco farmers tying up shade tobacco crop in Quincy, Florida, ca. 1960.

Though the shade tobacco crop certainly had potential to yield high returns, natural factors, like fluctuating soil fertility and capricious weather patterns, posed an investment risk. Enter the sweet stability of Coca-Cola, the best-selling saccharine treat whose production calls for little more than sugar and carbonated water. When Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton first introduced Coke in the 1880s, the brand suffered from lackluster advertising and public skepticism–many consumers thought the product held addictive properties. But fresh marketing techniques turned the company around, and by 1909 Coca-Cola owned an estimated 379 bottling plants in the United States, including one in Quincy.

The first load of bottled Coca-cola in Quincy, ca. 1909.

The first load of bottled Coca-Cola product being hauled away for sale in Quincy, ca. 1909.

Atlanta-based company stakeholder W.C. Bradley sought to expand Coke’s operation, convincing his out-of-state colleague and President of the Quincy State Bank Pat Munroe to invest. In the 1920s, Munroe bought numerous shares of Coke stock for about $40 each and soon watched the values balloon.  He strongly encouraged his friends and customers at the bank to do the same. Munroe’s son-in-law and former State Representative Bob Woodward, Jr. often retold the story of how his father went into the bank for a $2,000 farm loan. Munroe insisted on writing Woodward a $4,000 loan, if he promised to invest half in Coke stock. It paid. “Coca-Cola helped my family survive the depression…. It was like gold to the Quincy State Bank.”  Quincy folklore recalls Munroe as a kind of coke evangelist. “Anyone who went in the door of the Quincy State Bank to borrow a quarter had his arm twisted to buy a nickel’s worth of Coca-Cola stock,” rumored one old-time resident. Those who ignored Munroe’s financial advice sorely regretted it later. After one patron refused the bank president’s suggestion to purchase $5,000 worth of the soda stock in the 1920s, his son lamented to a Florida Times Union  reporter fifty years later that the shares would have hovered around $500,000 in value by 1975.  By one estimate, a single share of Coca-Cola stock purchased  in 1920 would be worth $6.4 million today, all dividends reinvested. Pat Munroe died in 1940, but the impact of his original decision to invest in the soft drink company lived on for decades in Quincy.

View of the Quincy State Bank building on the corner of Washington and Tennessee Avenue in Quincy, ca. 1920. Munroe served as president of the bank until his death in 1940.

View of the Quincy State Bank building, nicknamed “the Coke bank” by locals, on the corner of Washington and Tennessee Avenue in Quincy, ca. 1920. Munroe served as president of the bank from 1892 until his death in 1940.

The philanthropy of some of the Coke millionaires helped to soften the harsh economic impact of the Great Depression and later episodes of economic downturn. In the 1970s, Quincy’s tobacco market dried up after Central and South American countries commandeered the market. As a result, the area suffered from high unemployment and low incomes. Although the Coke millionaires could not single-handedly reboot Quincy’s economy or eliminate systemic poverty, some of them have helped spruce up the city’s appearance over the years. Munroe’s daughter, Julia Woodward, along with other Coke millionaire heirs, Florence Brooks and Marcus and Betty Shelfer, donated a substantial portion of the $150,000 used to restore the Leaf Theater on Washington Street in 1983. Their largess also assisted in the renovations of the Centenary Methodist Church, the addition of the Robert F. Munroe school library, and the partial funding of the Girl Scout Camp on Lake Talquin. Though these cosmetic changes have certainly beautified Quincy, the town lost its claim as the richest small town in America long ago, after all of the original Coke investors passed on and many of their relatives moved away. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent calculations, Gadsden County’s level of per-capita income now ranks 59th out of Florida’s 67 counties. Moreover, Quincy’s poverty rate hovered around 27 percent in 2015, significantly higher than the state average of 15 percent. Despite these sobering economic trends, it is as safe a bet as any that Coca-Cola is still Quincy’s drink of choice.

Remembering Astronaut John Glenn

Today the State Archives of Florida remembers John Glenn. Glenn passed away on December 8th, 2016 at the age of 95.

John Glenn in Tallahassee (February 15, 1984).

John Glenn in Tallahassee (February 15, 1984).

Glenn led a remarkable life full of accomplishment. After serving as a highly decorated Marine Corps pilot in WWII and Korea, he set the transcontinental flight speed record in 1957. Glenn set further records after joining the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a test pilot in 1959. During his time at NASA, Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962 and the oldest person to travel to space when he returned with the Space Shuttle program in 1998, at the age of 77. Glenn also served from 1977 to 1999 as United States Senator for his home state of Ohio.

A parade welcoming astronaut John Glenn at Cocoa Beach after he became the first American to orbit the Earth (February 23, 1962).

A parade welcoming astronaut John Glenn at Cocoa Beach after he became the first American to orbit the Earth (February 23, 1962).

Glenn and his fellow Project Mercury astronauts, the “Original Seven,” were the United States’ best hope against the Soviet Union in the space race. The group of test pilots accomplished many firsts from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, including the first American in space (Alan Shepard) and John Glenn’s monumental trip around the Earth.

The Original Seven Mercury astronauts with a U.S. Air Force F-106B jet aircraft. Glenn is third from the left.

The Original Seven Project Mercury astronauts with a U.S. Air Force F-106B jet aircraft. Glenn is third from the left.

The achievements of Glenn and his fellow pioneers bolstered American interest in NASA and space exploration. Their work propelled NASA through the Apollo program, the Moon landing, and the Space Shuttle program, cementing the place of space exploration in the minds of young Americans for years to come.

Remembering Former Florida University Chancellor Charlie Reed

Charles Bass Reed, who served as Chancellor of Florida’s university system from 1985-1998, died Tuesday, December 6. He was 75 years old.

Chancellor of the Florida Board of Regents Charles B. Reed, ca. 1985.

Chancellor of the Florida Board of Regents Charles B. Reed, ca. 1985.

Known to most as Charlie, Reed was born in 1941 and grew up in the working-class coal mining town of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. As one of  eight children, Reed’s father told him early on that he either “needed to get a scholarship and go to college,” or get a local job.  The high school football star chose the former after George Washington University offered him a football scholarship. Many years later, the top education official reminisced with Tampa Tribune columnist Tim McEwan about his glory days on the college football field: “I played against the Gators in Ray Graves’ first coaching job at Jacksonville. We played them good, and lost 12-6. I can still remember how it was…. And I played against Bill Peterson’s Florida State Seminoles and we got beat.”

Despite a demanding football schedule, Reed graduated on time with a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education. “I understand athletics. I know what they can do for the individual, for the student body and the school,” Reed explained. He would later apply his experiences with college-level athletics to his job as university chancellor, imposing stricter academic standards for college athletes to maintain their scholarships—much to the chagrin of some football coaches. He defended the introduction of these policies, telling the Miami Herald in 1989,  “I know what it means to be offered an opportunity, and I know what it takes to earn it.”

After completing his undergraduate studies, the ambitious young Reed went on to receive both a master’s and doctorate in education from George Washington University, where he served as a faculty member from 1963 to 1970. He then worked for the National Association of Colleges for Teacher Education before moving to Florida in the early 1970s. From 1971 to 1979, Dr. Reed was employed by the Florida Department of Education, where he served as the Director of the Office of Educational Planning, Budgeting, and Evaluation. After Governor Bob Graham took office in 1979, he appointed Reed as his Deputy Chief of Staff. The Pennsylvania native served in that position from 1981 until 1984.

Education Commissioner Betty Castor (left), and Chancellor Charles Reed (center), listen to the comments of former House Speaker Lee Moffitt (right) outside of the Florida Capitol Complex, 1987.

Education Commissioner Betty Castor (left) and Chancellor Charles Reed (center), listen to the comments of former House Speaker Lee Moffitt (right) outside of the Florida Capitol Complex during University of South Florida Day, 1987.

In August 1985, Reed became the chancellor of the Board of Regents, which at the time oversaw the operations of Florida’s nine universities. A tenth university campus, Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, opened during Reed’s tenure. At the helm of higher education policy in Florida, Reed was known for his strong work ethic and effective lobbying skills. “He has contacts, he has leadership…. He’s just a hell of a worker,” praised DuBose Ausley, longtime chair of the Board of Regents.

Reed’s leadership skills helped to significantly expand enrollment numbers, reputation, and budget of Florida’s universities. He introduced Florida’s prepaid college program and routinely advocated to expand equal access to higher education. Before leaving Florida in 1998 to take a position as Chancellor of the California State University System, Charlie Reed sat down with reporters to discuss the accomplishments and failures of higher education in Florida during his 13 years as chancellor. “Probably the single biggest accomplishment was the National Science Foundation decision to move the mag lab from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)” to Florida State University in Tallahassee.

View of the High Magnetic Lab at Florida State University in Tallahassee, 1995. The facility opened in 1994.

View of the High Magnetic Lab at Florida State University in Tallahassee, 1995. The facility opened in 1994.

As for any failures, Reed lamented his inability to get raises for university faculty, citing the realities of legislative budget constraints. Overall, when it came to disappointment, Reed took a page out of his old college football playbook. “[On failure] I don’t think that way. If you participate in athletics you might lose today, but you play a new game tomorrow,” he reconciled. Reed retired from his post in California in 2012.  He is survived by his wife, two children, and five grandchildren.

 

Florida Remembers Janet Reno

Florida native Janet Wood Reno made history when President Bill Clinton appointed her to serve as the first female U.S. Attorney General in 1993. Prior to her work in Washington, Reno had already made waves in Florida after becoming the first woman elected as state attorney in 1978. Janet Reno died at her home early Monday morning. She was 78 years old.

Portrait of Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, 1978.

Portrait of Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, 1978.

Born in Miami on July 21, 1938 to journalists Jane Wood and Henry Reno, Janet Reno grew up surrounded by intellectual stimuli.  When thirteen-year-old Janet announced to her mother, an investigative reporter for the now defunct Miami News, that she aspired to attend law school, her mother encouraged her to realize her dreams. “You can do anything, be anything you really want to be, regardless of whether you’re a woman….You want to be a lawyer? You can be a lawyer,” remembered Reno of her mother who died of cancer in 1992.  After graduating from Coral Gables High School in 1956 and Cornell University in 1960, she applied to Harvard Law School.  Upon learning of her daughter’s acceptance to the program, Reno’s mother “whoop[ed] with joy,” explaining that she had always wanted to become a lawyer, too.

Portrait of Janet Reno's father, Miami Herald crime reporter, Henry Olaf Reno, ca.1930. Attorney General Reno greatly admired who father, who immigrated to the United State at age 12 in the 1910s. He became editor of his high school yearbook and went on to enjoy a 42 year career as a journalist in Miami.

Portrait of Janet Reno’s father, Miami Herald crime reporter Henry Olaf Reno, ca.1930. Attorney General Reno greatly admired her father, who immigrated to the United States at age 12 in the 1910s. He became editor of his high school yearbook and went on to enjoy a 42-year career as a journalist in Miami.

In 1963, Janet Reno was one of just 15 women–in a graduating class of 500–to earn a law degree from Harvard. As a young lawyer in the 1960s, Reno overcame several hurdles before rising to political prominence in the 1980s and 90s. She applied for a clerkship with a law firm the summer after graduation, but the firm rejected her application because of her gender. “I felt mad,” admitted Reno. “[I] went and got a job at another law firm. I never let it bother me after that,” said the future U.S. Attorney General, who, fourteen years later, would make partner at the very same law firm that had originally rejected her on account of being female. She briefly served as staff director to the Florida House Judiciary Committee before mounting a failed campaign for a seat in the Legislature in 1972. “The loss was painful,”  according to Reno. But she wasted no time wallowing in defeat, and moved to Tallahassee where she quickly made inroads with the Governor’s Office, serving as assistant state attorney for the Eleventh Judiciary Circuit from 1973-1976. She then went to work in private practice, until Governor Reubin Askew appointed Reno to serve as Dade County State Attorney in 1978, the first woman in Florida to hold that position. In November 1978, Janet Reno won election to the post by a 74-point margin.

Janet Reno taking her oath as Florida's first female state attorney, 1978.

Janet Reno taking her oath as Florida’s first female state attorney, 1978.

As Miami’s senior prosecutor from 1978 to 1993, Reno faced repeated criticisms for her handling of several high-profile racially sensitive cases. Nonetheless, she remained steadfast in her intent to uphold the integrity of the judicial process. “I don’t ever want to be accused of pleasing one group at the expense of justice,” she maintained. Governor Lawton Chiles commended her for showing “great character and courage” as state attorney, and another colleague qualified the heated critiques of Reno noting that “some of the cases were not winnable. She had the courage to go forward with the prosecutions and maybe other prosecutors would not have. I can’t fault her for that.” During her fifteen years representing the Florida metropolis, Janet Reno was never one to stay holed up in her office. She kept her home phone number listed in the city directory, mentored wayward teenagers, and visited schools and women’s shelters with messages of hope and perseverance. On her approach with victims of domestic violence she said: “Despite what these women have been through, you have to show them how not to feel like victims. You try to work with them in every way you possibly can–serve as an example for them, show them they can be somebody, show them what they can do, what their daughters can do.”

Dade County State Attorney, Janet Reno, seated next to Director of Metro Public Safety, Bobby L. Jones during forum entitled

Dade County State Attorney, Janet Reno, seated next to Director of Metro Public Safety, Bobby L. Jones during forum entitled “Perspectives on Race, Crime, and the Criminal Justice System” held at Miami-Dade Community College, 1981. As state attorney, Reno unsuccessfully prosecuted four white police officers in the 1980 beating death of black insurance agent, Arthur McDuffie. The acquittal sparked outrage among Miami’s black community. Reno responded to this and other racial tensions by meeting with the community, speaking at schools, and opening her office to speak with blacks and Latinos.

Her grassroots approach in Miami caught the attention of the incoming presidential administration of Bill Clinton, who nominated Reno for appointment as the first female U.S. Attorney General in 1993. “Janet Reno is far and away the best candidate for this job that President Clinton could have nominated,” remarked Florida Senator Bob Graham.  After recounting the story of how her late mother built their family home brick by brick, Reno translated the family story into a folksy testimony of how she planned to approach the impending office. “… [T]hat house stands as a symbol to me, that you can do anything you really want to, if it’s the right thing to do and you put your mind to it,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee confirmed her appointment as U.S. Attorney General in March 1993.

Portrait of U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, 1993. Reno was inducted into the Florida Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.

Portrait of U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, 1993. Reno was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

The newly-appointed attorney general attracted heavy media buzz during her first month in office, a phenomenon many referred to as “Reno-mania.” However, the six-foot one-inch tall,  U.S. Attorney General, who described herself as a “54 year old awkward maid [with] a messy house,” rejected the fanfare of high-profile political life. She remained focused instead on the great responsibility of being “the people’s lawyer.” Reno refused to engage the suggestion that she only got the job because she was a woman, looking forward instead: “I don’t know whether that’s the case or not, but having been offered it [U.S. Attorney General] I’m going to do the best I can.” Early on in her tenure, Reno envisioned a legacy  tied to creating “equal opportunity for all the children of America” and doing everything she could to “put the families first.” Her platform included a sensible stance on crime, working with health and education officials to reduce juvenile crime, protecting the environment by enforcing anti-pollution laws, and upholding civil rights. Despite an ambitious, reform-minded agenda, the attorney general inevitably found herself at the center of numerous federal controversies. But Reno’s unprecedented willingness to assume responsibility for her decisions, whether perceived rights or wrongs, endeared her to many constituents. “I made the decision. I’m accountable. The buck stops with me,” she famously remarked after her regrettable decision to allow federal intervention of the Branch Davidian Complex in Waco, Texas in 1993 led to the deaths of dozens of people. “That was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I will live with it for the rest of my life,” conceded Reno. Though Janet Reno’s time in federal office was certainly not without indiscretion, many Americans found her honesty and candid delivery refreshing.  Reno served as U.S. Attorney General until 2001, earning the additional honorarium of longest serving attorney general of the twentieth century.

Janet Reno (left) poses for picture with first female president of the Florida Bar Patricia A. Seitz (center) and first female Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court,Rosemary Barkett in commemoration of Seitz's historic installation, 1993.

Janet Reno (left) poses for picture with first female president of the Florida Bar Patricia A. Seitz (center) and first female Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court,Rosemary Barkett in commemoration of Seitz’s historic installation, 1993.

Upon returning to Florida, she put in a bid for the 2002 Florida gubernatorial race, but lost the primary to Democratic opponent Bill McBride, and subsequently retired from political life. During the last decade of her life, Janet Reno enjoyed a quiet life in the Florida Everglades. “I don’t think I’m a gregarious person, in the sense of having a lot of casual friends. I have a few people I am very close to,” she explained to a reporter soon after winning the state attorney race in 1978. On November 7, 2016, Janet Reno, the trailblazing lawyer with the impeccable integrity, died in her home, surrounded by her closest family and friends.

The Underground History of Florida Caverns State Park

For the past 74 years, the interpretive cave tours available at the Florida Caverns State Park have made the site one of the Sunshine State’s most unique attractions. Situated about one hour west of Tallahassee in Marianna near the Chipola River, the shimmering limestone caverns of northwest Florida regularly dazzle visitors. Aside from their obvious physical allure, the history of the Florida Caverns further illuminates the evolving social, economic, and environmental landscape of the state. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) first developed the caves into a public tourist destination in the late 1930s, but humans have interacted with some of the caverns for much longer. Since officially opening to the public in 1942, the Florida Park Service has dutifully maintained the caverns. As a result of these conservation efforts, generations of spelunkers, hikers, and sightseers have relished the opportunity to explore the curiosities of Florida’s underground world.

Colored lights give added dimension to the cave formations at Florida Caverns State Park, 2016.

Colored lights give added dimension to the cave formations in the “Cathedral Room” at Florida Caverns State Park, 2016.

The splendid mineral silhouettes inside the Florida Caverns did not form over a matter of years, decades, or even centuries. Rather, they are the result of 38 million years of falling sea-levels, which left previously submerged shells, coral, and sediment in the open air to harden into limestone. For the next several hundred thousand years, droplets of acidic rainwater passed through the ceiling of the porous limestone cave, and over time minerals bunched into icicle-like formations called stalactites. As the stalactites hung from the cavern’s top, water slowly trickled down to create mineral spires, known as stalagmites, on the cavern floor. In many rooms and hallways, the stalactites and stalagmites have joined to form full columns. Glistening draperies, soda straws, and ribbons complement the proliferation of stalactites and stalagmites, creating a distinct living environment for the cave-dwelling flora and fauna.

View of stalactites and stalagmites inside the Florida Caverns. The lowest point in the caverns is 65 feet below sea level, while the highest point is 125 feet above sea level. The temperature in the caverns hovers around 65 degrees at all times, regardless of seasonal fluctuations. Blind salamanders, crayfish, and gray bats live among the underground limestone formations.

View of stalactites and stalagmites inside the Florida Caverns. The lowest point in the caverns is 65 feet below sea level, while the highest point is 125 feet above sea level. The temperature in the caverns hovers around 65 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, regardless of seasonal fluctuations. Blind salamanders, crayfish, and gray bats live among the underground limestone formations.

Archaeological discoveries of pottery sherds and mammoth footprints in several of the caverns predate European settlement in North America. But the site factors into Florida’s more recent history, too. In 1674, for example, Spanish missionary Friar Barreda allegedly delivered a Christian sermon amid the backdrop of the underground wonderland. Prevailing folklore also suggests a group of Seminoles trying to escape Andrew Jackson’s Indian removal expeditions of the early 19th century took refuge in the caverns. Further, the secluded underground openings have reportedly sheltered outlaws, runaways, and mischievous teenagers for centuries.

Program from services commemorating the 274th anniversary of the first Christian services held at the Florida Caverns in Marianna. Florida Park Service Public Relations Files (S. 1951), Folder 62, State Archives of Florida.

Program from services commemorating the 274th anniversary of the first Christian services held at the Florida Caverns in Marianna, 1947. Florida Park Service public relations and historical files (S. 1951), Box 1, State Archives of Florida.

The Florida Caverns remained one of the state’s best kept secrets until the 1930s, when the economic downturn of the Great Depression precipitated the expansion and creation of state and national parks. After President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office in 1933, his administration proposed a “new deal” for United States economy, enacting a series of sweeping measures intended to relieve the financial strain of some 12 million jobless Americans, or nearly a quarter of the workforce. One of those programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Nicknamed “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” the CCC, which fell under the operation of the Florida Board of Forestry, was designed to conduct conservation work, including state park construction, while simultaneously providing employment, education, and training to enrollees. State forest officials spied commercial potential in expanding the state park system, and would ultimately utilize federally funded CCC labor to realize that vision. “They [tourists] soon tire of the races, nightclubs, and man-made recreation. They sit in the lobbies of our hotels wondering what to do with themselves. If a park system were shown on the highway maps and their wonders described in the literature of a state department, the tourists would flock to parks by the thousands,” wrote forester Harry Lee Baker to the Florida State Planning Board in 1934. One year later, the Florida Legislature created the Florida Park Service (FPS), an agency overseen by the Florida Board of Forestry. The FPS would operate in tandem with both the National Park Service and the Internal Improvement Fund. By the close of 1935, seven of Florida’s original state parks came under the control of the FPS, including the Florida Caverns.

CCC workers construct mess hall at the Oleno forestry training camp in Columbia County, Florida, 1935. With the establishment of the Florida Park Service, thousands of unemployed Floridians were put to work by the CCC to develop state parks for public use.

CCC workers construct mess hall at the Oleno forestry training camp in Columbia County, Florida, 1935. With the establishment of the Florida Park Service, the CCC put thousands  of unemployed Floridians to work developing state parks for public use.

In order to make the newly discovered series of caves accessible to tourists, CCC enrollees were paid approximately one dollar per day to work on the project from 1938 to 1942.  Underground, the “gopher gang” removed hundreds of tons of soil and rock to create usable pathways and clearings large enough for people to walk through, while also installing a light and trail system to guide visitors through the caves. Above ground, CCC workers helped construct a visitor center, fish hatchery, and nine-hole golf course. With the onset of America’s involvement in World War II, the federal government discontinued the CCC, and work on the caverns project abruptly stopped. In 1942, the 1,300 acre Florida Caverns State Park officially debuted to the public, charging 72 cents for general admission.

Golfers in play on the Florida Caverns Golf Course, 1947.

Golfers play on the Florida Caverns Golf Course, 1947.

Thousands of visitors descended into the bowels of the “underground wonderland” during its first years of operation. The caves soon emerged as a popular Sunshine State tourist destination during and after WWII. As Florida’s total population more than doubled between 1940 to 1960, the FPS proposed several improvements and expansions to the state park to accommodate more visitors. No expansion issue was more sensitive, however, than the subject of segregated park restrooms for blacks and whites. A reflection of the separate and unequal Jim Crow South, the FPS designed the state parks system in the 1930s with only whites in mind–admission fares necessarily excluded African-Americans.  However, the booming wartime economy of the early 1940s opened more economic opportunity to black Floridians, and in turn, lined their pockets with more disposable income to spend on recreation. Florida Caverns Superintendent Clarence Simpson observed the changing demographic of visitors and agreed that “they [African-Americans] should be given the same service that we accord to anyone else,” but warned that it would be “a grave mistake [to] allow them to use the same rest room.” Segregated bathroom facilities were eventually built for black patrons, and segregation persisted at all of Florida’s state parks until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 effectively outlawed the practice.

Letter dated May 25, 1943 from Superintendent of Florida Caverns, J. Clarence Simpson to FPS Director Lewis Scoggin regarding segregated bathroom facilities. Florida State Parks project files (S. 1270), Box 1, State Archives of Florida.

Letter dated May 25, 1943 from Superintendent of Florida Caverns J. Clarence Simpson to FPS Director Lewis Scoggin regarding segregated bathroom facilities. Florida State Parks project files (S. 1270), Box 1, State Archives of Florida.

In addition to offering integrated bathrooms and impressive guided cave tours, by the mid-1960s, Florida Caverns State Park also boasted new campgrounds, a swimming hole, expanded hiking and biking trails, and a bath house.

Florida Caverns State Park promotion brochure, ca. 1950. State Library of Florida vertical file collection.

A young visitor is pictured standing inside the “Cathedral Room” on the cover of a Florida Caverns State Park promotional brochure, ca. 1950. State Library of Florida vertical file collection.

While perhaps not as well-known as Virginia’s Lurary Caverns or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave, the eerie calm of the luminescent mineral contours at Florida Caverns State Park consistently draws droves of new and returning visitors each year. The next time you find yourself driving on the historic Highway 90 corridor in northwestern Florida, follow the signs for the caverns at Marianna, and uncover some of Florida’s underground history.

Entrance to Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, c. 1950.

Entrance to Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, ca. 1950.

Interested in planning a trip to Florida Caverns State Park? Visit the Florida State Parks website for more information.

 

 

 

 

Archives Month 2016

Happy American Archives Month! Every October, the State Archives of Florida joins with archives throughout the country to participate in a month-long dialogue about what an archive is, who archivists are, and why it matters to the average American citizen. Archivists are a passionate group of professionals dedicated to the faithful preservation of the historical documents that make up state, local, and national histories. Some of the stories living within these records can have far-reaching impacts on the modern people looking at them, and an archivist’s work is driven by the responsibility to provide public access to these potentially life-changing materials. Throughout Archives Month we will be sharing some of our best life-changing stories from the State Archives of Florida vault. But, in order for archived records to change lives they, too, must have a physical repository to call home. With that in mind, we’re starting off Archives Month 2016 with a brief history of how the State Archives of Florida came into existence and why it matters.

History of the State Archives of Florida

The State Archives of Florida as it exists now did not open until 1969, but several Floridians with a passion for preserving state history were at work for much longer. Early on in Florida’s statehood, the Secretary of State was charged with maintaining Florida’s historical records. However, not until the State Library of Florida opened in 1925 did any meaningful preservation begin. Prior to this, original state documents had no official home, and lived in moldy basements, hot attics, and other scattered locations inhospitable to long term preservation.

In the early 20th century, Caroline Mays Brevard, Florida historian and educator, emerged as one of the earliest advocates for the establishment of a “hall of history” for the state documents. In an era before women could vote, Brevard appealed to Florida’s lawmakers for an official state repository to collect and maintain Florida’s historical records.

Caroline Brevard's written appeal for a state repository of Florida's historical documents. Ca. 1900.

Caroline Brevard’s written appeal for a state repository of Florida’s historical documents, ca. 1900.

“We should no longer delay to make provision for the care and preservation of our archives…. Such a hall would be the headquarters for all historical activities in the state, and here thousands of our people would find information. State pride would be strengthened, for patriotism would know its reason for being,” urged Brevard.

Though Caroline Brevard died in 1920, five years before the establishment of a functional state library, her advocacy certainly contributed to the appointment of the first State Librarian, W.T. Cash , in 1927 and the first State Archivist, Dr. Dorothy Dodd, in 1941. After Cash’s death in 1951, Dodd succeeded him as State Librarian.

Portrait of the first State Archivist and the second State Librarian, Dr. Dorothy Dodd. Dodd graduated from Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee before earning her PhD in history from the the University of Chicago.

Portrait of the first State Archivist and the second State Librarian, Dr. Dorothy Dodd. Dodd graduated from Florida State College for Women in Tallahassee before earning her PhD in history from the University of Chicago.

Until the State Archives opened as its own entity in 1969, the State Library assumed archival functions, and was responsible for collecting and storing archival materials. During her tenure as State Archivist, Dorothy Dodd traveled the state in search of significant Florida-related historical records and manuscripts. She later recounting how she “started [the State Library’s Florida Collection] with the idea that anything that had to do with Florida had a place in th[e] collection.” By the time she retired in 1965, Dr. Dodd had collected 260 linear feet of territorial and state papers, and it is these items that formed the original core of the State Archives of Florida’s holdings.

A view of the State Library’s storage area in the basement of the Old Capitol in 1947. Before the Department of State built a designated repository in the 1970s, the library’s collections were kept on different floors and wings of the capitol. Though archival best practices were not well-established at the time of this photograph, modern professional archivists follow a strict set of guidelines to ensure the longevity of their collections. Because of moisture’s deteriorative impact on paper, damp basements are not considered acceptable library and archive storage spaces. Modern archival best practices recommend a climate controlled setting for the preservation of historical records.

A view of the State Library’s storage area in the basement of the Old Capitol in 1947. Before the Department of State built a designated repository in the 1970s, the library’s collections were kept on different floors and wings of the capitol. Though archival best practices were not well-established at the time of this photograph, modern professional archivists follow a strict set of guidelines to ensure the longevity of their collections. Because of moisture’s destructive impact on paper, damp basements are not considered acceptable library and archive storage spaces. Modern archival best practices recommend a climate controlled setting for the preservation of historical records.

When the State Archives of Florida first opened in 1969, it was located at the old Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. In 1976, the state constructed the R.A. Gray Building on 500 S. Bronough Street in the heart of Florida’s capital city. Since then, the R.A. Gray building has been the site of the State Archives as well as the Museum of Florida History and the State Library.

When the State Archives of Florida first opened in 1969, it was located at the old Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. In 1976, the state constructed the R.A. Gray Building at 500 S. Bronough Street in the heart of Florida’s capital city. Since then, the R.A. Gray Building has been the site of the State Archives as well as the Museum of Florida History and the State Library.

Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio’s original engraved, hand-colored map of Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 siege of St.Augustine is the oldest collection item currently held by the State Archives of Florida, and is the earliest known visual depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1982 the State Archives acquired Boazio’s map of St. Augustine from the private collection of longtime Florida judge and historian, James R. Knott. Aware of the map’s historical significance, Knott wanted to transfer the map to the people of Florida and trusted the Archives to carry out that vision. Without a functional State Archives, though, the Boazio map, along with many other priceless records of Florida’s history, might still be sitting in private collections only available to a handful of people.

Italian cartographer Baptista Boazio’s original engraved, hand-colored map of Sir Francis Drake’s 1586 attack on St. Augustine is the oldest single item currently held by the State Archives of Florida. Additionally, it is the earliest known visual depiction of a European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1982 the State Archives acquired Boazio’s map of St. Augustine from the private collection of longtime Florida judge and historian, James R. Knott. Aware of the map’s historical significance, Knott wanted to transfer the map to the people of Florida and trusted the Archives to carry out that vision. Without a functional State Archives, though, the Boazio map, along with many other priceless records of Florida’s history, might still be sitting in private collections only available to a handful of people.

Why Celebrate Archives?

For over four decades, the State Archives of Florida has served Floridians with access to the records of their state.  Specifically, the State Archives is statutorily mandated to “collect, preserve, and maintain the significant official records of state government and to inform the public about the existence and location of these records.” Additionally, the Archives is also permitted to collect, preserve, and maintain historic local government records, manuscripts, photographs, maps, plans, and other evidence of past activities in Florida.

View of the climate-controlled stacks at the State Archives of Florida.

View of the climate-controlled stacks at the State Archives of Florida.

The State Archives of Florida now holds approximately 50,000 cubic feet of archival records.  A staff of professional archivists is responsible for the continued acquisition and processing of archival records,the maintenance of existing records, and making them available for public access.

Collections Management Archvist, Tyeler McLean. Before a patron can make use of an archival collection, an archivist must arrange and describe the materials first.

Collections Management Archivist, Tyeler McLean, processes a newly acquired collection. Often when the Archives acquires a new collection, it arrives in a disorganized condition.  Before researchers can make use of a collection’s contents, an archivist must arrange and describe the materials first.

In reflecting on why archives should be celebrated, seasoned archivist Elisabeth Golding opined:

Why celebrate? Because American archives, and Florida archives, preserve and protect the foundations of our freedoms. Archives collect the records that make transparent government possible and preserve evidence of civil and property rights. We can cite a state or federal Constitution in defending our rights as citizens because archives preserve the integrity and authenticity of those original documents. We can hold government agencies accountable because archives preserve the original laws that set forth those agencies’ responsibilities and limitations and the budgets that show how those agencies spent taxpayer dollars.

But that’s not all we celebrate. Archives serve as the recorded memory of a community, a state, a nation, a society. Every day, students, teachers, historians, journalists, attorneys, and members of the public use records from the State Archives and other archival repositories to search their family history, study the development of communities and transportation networks, analyze legislative intent, trace land ownership and use, find resources for History Day projects, and find information about the actions and decisions of elected and appointed government officials.

If you live in the Tallahassee area, celebrate Archives Month with us at our special after-hours Archives Month events throughout the month of October.

What’s in a Hurricane’s Name?

Does a hurricane’s name really matter?  In the 1970s, Vice-President of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Roxcy Bolton certainly thought so. At that time the National Weather Service (NWS) selected exclusively feminine names to identify hurricanes. To the leading Florida feminist, who preferred the term “him-icane,” the established hurricane naming practice constituted a “slur on women,” with no place in the emerging women’s liberation movement. Ever a woman of action, Roxcy Bolton weathered stormy opposition for the better part of the 1970s, working to revise the gendered naming of hurricanes and challenge social perceptions of women.

Satirical cartoon of Roxcy Bolton and the NOW campaign to stop only using female names to identify hurricanes. Cartoonist Dave Cross drew this rendition of Bolton, and it appeared in the local news section of the Miami Herald on March 28, 1970.

Satirical cartoon of Roxcy Bolton and the NOW campaign against the exclusive use of female names to identify hurricanes. Cartoonist Dave Cross drew this rendition of Bolton, which appeared in the local news section of the Miami Herald on March 28, 1970.

More hurricanes have hit Florida than any other state in the Union. While the National Hurricane Center dates the first recorded tempest to hit Florida to 1523, the trend of naming them after women did not start until 1953. The first, Hurricane Barbara, swept through the Outer Banks of North Carolina in August of that year. For the next twenty-five hurricane seasons, memorable “female” hurricanes like Donna (1960), Carla (1961), Inez (1966), and Gladys (1968) would claim responsibility for numerous Floridians’ deaths and the physical destruction of countless Florida communities. Roxcy Bolton, Coral Gables resident and founding member of the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW, took stock of the all-female cast of the mid-twentieth century’s deadliest storms: “I’m sick and tired of hearing that ‘Cheryl was no lady and she devastated such and such town’ or ‘Betsy annihilated this or that,’ ” she told the press.

Remains of a Coral Cove home after Hurricane Donna swept through Florida in September 1960.

Remains of a Coral Cove home after Hurricane Donna swept through Florida in September 1960.

Bolton took her initial stand after the NWS released the predetermined list of names for the 1970 hurricane season. Alma was at the top, followed by Becky, Celia, Dorothy, Ella, and a number of other traditional feminine names all the way through to Wilna. Determined to dismantle the naming pattern, Bolton made a personal trip down to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami and demanded immediate name-changes. “Women are not disasters, destroying life and communities and leaving a lasting devastating effect,” she argued. Assistant Director of the NHC Arnold Sugg refused to alter the list, claiming “[n]o more can it [hurricane names of 1970] be changed than people can stop the Vietnam War…. [I]t’s practically impossible to make a change this late in the year.” Sugg further minimized her request, noting that the National Hurricane Center received few complaints and instead explained that “mail from women runs about 8 or 9 to one in favor of feminine names.  A lot of women even ask us to name hurricanes for them.” Unmoved by the NHC’s rationalizations, Bolton suggested those women to be “too conditioned” and unaware of the social consequences of their requests, making the case that “[a]s long as people can name [hurricanes] after us it’s just another way of putting women down…. In 1970 it is time to take women seriously as human beings.”

Letter from NOW to the National Hurricane Center demanding an end to the gendered naming of tropical cyclones. March 1970.

Letter from NOW to the National Hurricane Center demanding an end to the gendered naming of tropical cyclones. March 1970.

As she mounted her hurricane campaign, Bolton and other members of NOW repeatedly wrote the NWS with suggestions for alternative, less derogatory formulae for hurricane-naming. First, she publicized her distaste for the term “hurricane,” which she asserted sounded too much like “her-icane,” referring to them as “him-icanes” instead. From there, she advocated for the idea of naming hurricanes (or him-icanes) solely after U.S. senators. Associate Director of the NWS, Karl Johanssen scoffed at the idea, asking the forty-six-year-old NOW vice-president if it was her intention to “cast a slur on U.S. Senators.” “No, it’s just that senators delight in having things named after them,” she quipped. In an attempt at compromise, Johanssen suggested an alternating system in which men’s names be used one year, and women’s in the next.  Bolton didn’t budge, retorting “we’ve already been blessed for 18 years, enough is enough.” She also proposed the idea of naming hurricanes after birds, but this, too, was rejected by the NWS on the grounds that it might offend the Audubon Society. Though critics accused Bolton of fabricating a gender inequality issue over the allegedly innocent naming of tropical tempests after women, she later recalled that the hurricane campaign reflected the broader goals of feminism in the early 1970s. Bolton assessed that at that time feminism was “as much about changing the role and attitudes toward [women] as putting money in their pockets.”

Letter from Roxcy Bolton to Director of the National Hurricane Center Robert H. Simpson, suggesting alternatives for identifying tropical cyclones. January 2, 1972.

Letter from Roxcy Bolton to Director of the National Hurricane Center, Robert H. Simpson, suggesting alternatives for identifying tropical cyclones. January 2, 1972.

Finally, in 1978 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency overseeing the NWS and the NHC, heeded Roxcy Bolton’s requests. “Some women suggested that the naming procedure was sexist. I believe that to be true,” admitted NOAA administrator Richard Frank. NOAA ultimately agreed to a new system of generating an alternating male-female list of names every six years — a system that still remains in place today. However, Bolton maintained that she was not exactly “enthusiastic” about naming tropical cyclones after men or women because of “the negative image it projects.”  1979 would be the first hurricane season to include both male and female names. On this innovation, which garnered both national and international attention, the Christian Science Monitor concluded: “While [it] may not go down in the annals of women’s liberation as a milestone, it nevertheless is lauded by some feminists as a small victory for womankind and, they would hasten to add, mankind.” The first “male” hurricane, Bob, made landfall in Louisiana on July 11 1979. Hurricanes David, Frederic, Gloria, and Henri rounded out the 1979 season. Since then, infamous Florida hurricanes like Andrew (1992) and Ivan (2004) have joined Jeanne (2004) and Wilma (2005) in the recent memory of Florida’s most destructive natural disasters.

Roxcy Bolton speaking with Director of the National Hurricane Center Robert Simpson about the hurricane-naming issue in January 1972.

Roxcy Bolton speaking with Director of the National Hurricane Center, Robert Simpson about the hurricane-naming issue in January 1972.

Pressuring weather officials to forego the tradition of using exclusively feminine sobriquets for hurricanes is just one of many of Roxcy Bolton’s contributions to gender equality in Florida. For additional resources on Roxcy Bolton’s involvement in the women’s liberation movement be sure to check out some of the highlights from the State Archives of Florida’s Roxcy Bolton Collection (M94-1) in our online exhibit “Roxcy Bolton: A Force for Equality.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Ruth Bryan Owen during congressional campaign, c. 1928.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Representative Carrie Meek, 1984.

Portrait of Representative Carrie Meek, 1984.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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