Remembering the Historic William S. Stevens School

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

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

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

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

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School class portrait, ca. 1928.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

Dunbar High School football team, ca. 1910.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

Stevens High School faculty, ca. 1940.

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

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

 

Florida and the Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment

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

ERA supporters rally outside the Florida Capitol Complex, 1981.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roxcy and David Bolton in Miami, 1961.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

Portrait of Senator Dempsey Barron, 1982.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

ERA supporters in the capitol rotunda, 1982.

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

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

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

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

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

Selected Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When LeRoy Collins Went to Selma

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

Portrait of Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, ca. 1955

Portrait of Florida Governor LeRoy Collins, ca. 1955.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

John Boardman: A Civil Rights Activist

In December 1956, John Boardman, a white PhD student in theoretical physics at Florida State University, invited three black international Florida A&M University students to an FSU International Students Club Christmas party on the FSU campus. The invitation came amidst bitter racial tensions in Tallahassee and the South. That same month, a federal judge had ruled segregated transportation unconstitutional, ending both the Montgomery bus boycott and the Tallahassee bus boycott. Further, the Florida Board of Control, the governing body of the State University System of Florida, was ensnared in the national, and unrelenting, controversy surrounding the higher education integration suit filed by prospective black law student Virgil Hawkins in 1950.

From left to right: Reverend C.K. Steele, John Boardman, and Reverend J. Raymond Henderson of California at the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, 1956 or 1957.

On January 26, 1957, FSU announced that Boardman would not be allowed to re-enroll at the University because he “violated the regulation of the University which provides that meetings may not be held on the campus in which the races are mixed. This regulation is in accordance with the Board’s long time policy . . . [Boardman] stated that he had no intention of abiding by any regulation of the Board of Control regarding racial tensions.” Not only had Boardman violated this rule, but he had also been actively participating in civil rights demonstrations around the city and continued to do so despite a January 22nd Board of Control statement warning that “Participation by students in demonstrations or other activities calculated to, or having the effect of, inflaming the public, or inciting strife or violence will be considered as endangering the welfare of our universities.”

Statement from the State Board of Control discouraging student participation in civil rights demonstrations, January 22, 1957.

Statement to the press regarding the disciplinary action against Boardman, January 26, 1957.

Letter from FSU President Doak Campbell to Boardman sustaining the decision to expel Boardman from the university, February 8, 1957.

After the decision was announced, Boardman appealed to FSU President Doak Campbell, who sustained the decision of the disciplinary committee based on Boardman’s expressed refusal to follow regulations. Boardman and his supporters maintained his expulsion was reprisal for his active opposition to segregation.

Letters to FSU President Campbell during this time expressed either impassioned support for or opposition to disciplinary action against student civil rights activists. The Association of Citizens Councils of Florida urged that “All of the students at [FSU and FAMU] who have been involved in these incidents must be suspended or expelled from school and they must not be allowed to re-enter any State-supported institution of higher learning ever.” One opponent described Boardman’s expulsion as “more like that taking place in Iron Curtain countries than in free America.”

Letter from Homer T. Barrs of the Association of Citizens Councils of Florida to the Board of Control at Florida State University encouraging the board to take action against students of state-supported institutions of higher learning participating in civil rights activities in Tallahassee, page 1, January 24, 1957.

Letter from Homer T. Barrs of the Association of Citizens Councils of Florida, page 2, January 24, 1957.

 

Letter from Nathan Cohen to President Campbell protesting his decision to uphold the suspension of Boardman, January 27, 1957.

Boardman went on to earn his PhD in physics from Syracuse University in 1962 and was a long-time physics professor at Brooklyn College.

The records regarding Boardman’s expulsion from FSU are from series S1360, Florida State University President Doak S. Campbell Administrative Files, 1941-1957, Box 20, Folder 41. The documents below represent a fraction of letters available regarding Boardman’s expulsion that were sent to President Campbell. Click the images below to see the documents enlarged.

Teacher Mrs. Roy A. Patton supporting FSU President Doak Campbell’s decision to uphold the suspension of Boardman.

Letter from Dean Boggs of the Duval County Federation for Constitutional Government praising the president’s decision to expel Boardman, January 28, 1957.

Letter from “An Unhappy Student” expressing opposition to the president’s decision to expel Boardman.

Letter from “A Foreigner” warning President Campbell about “foreign students.”

Letter from the Morehouse College Students Association encouraging President Campbell to reconsider his decision to expel Boardman.

Letter from Hector Fuente, vice president of the Dade County Property Owners Association, praising President Campbell’s decision to expel Boardman.

Letter from E. Clyde Vining, attorney, commending President Campbell’s decision to expel Boardman, January 29, 1957.

Letter from Victor G. Backus, director of the news bureau at Fisk University, expressing his indignation over the president’s decision to expel Boardman, February 5, 1957.

Letter to President Campbell expressing opposition to the president’s decision to expel Boardman, page 1, January 27, 1957.

Letter to President Campbell expressing opposition to the president’s decision to expel Boardman, page 2, January 27, 1957.

Harry Wesson and J.B. Brown: Justice in Early Twentieth Century Florida

When white railroad engineer Harry E. Wesson was discovered murdered on the morning of October 17, 1901, in the Palatka railyard, Sheriff R.C. Howell faced a public outcry for swift vengeance. The Palatka News & Advertiser described the murder as “the most revoltingly diabolical crime ever committed in Palatka.” Wesson had been ambushed and shot in the back of the head while walking to his home. His pockets had been emptied and his unused pistol lay beside his body.

Sheriff Howell quickly rounded up several black railroad employees who had been working the night of the murder and placed them in the Putnam County jail as suspects. Later that day, a man came to a gap in the jail’s outer fence and asked one of the prisoners to pass a message on to another prisoner. The message was to “Keep your mouth shut and say nothing.” This conversation was overheard by the jailor, and he and the prisoner both identified the messenger as J.B. Brown, a black railroad brakeman. Sheriff Howell was informed of the development and Brown was arrested.

An investigation revealed that Brown had been fired from the railroad after an altercation with a white conductor and that Wesson had intervened on the conductor’s behalf in the conflict. A porter on another train claimed that Brown had threatened to shoot Wesson, and a railroad employee claimed Brown and his friend J.J. Johnson had discussed getting revenge on Wesson prior to the murder. Finally, two prisoners in the jail, Alonzo Mitchel and Henry Davis, came forward and claimed that Brown had confessed to the murder. With a clear motive established and a jailhouse confession, a grand jury was convened and Brown and Johnson were indicted on a charge of murder in the first degree.

The first page of the trial transcript showing the indictment against J.B. Brown and J.J. Johnson on the charge of murder in the first degree (Full trial transcript available in Series 12, Death Warrants, Box 4, Folder 25, State Archives of Florida).

Brown was tried in the circuit court on November 19, 1901, with Judge William S. Bullock presiding. The prosecuting attorneys constructed a compelling circumstantial case against Brown. They argued that Brown had been completely broke on the day before the murder, but had money to gamble hours after the murder. Multiple witnesses testified to the fight with the conductor and Brown’s anger at Wesson for intervening. Most importantly, Mitchel and Davis testified to Brown’s jailhouse confession, even describing details of the crime that they could not have known.

Brown testified on his own behalf. He claimed that while he did have a fight with the conductor, he bore no ill will for Wesson. He claimed to have won the money gambling the night before the murder and to have slept at a friend’s home until after sunrise. The friend testified in support of Brown’s alibi but admitted under cross-examination that he had been asleep when Brown left in the morning. Brown’s defense attorney, John S. Marshall, tried unsuccessfully to show that Mitchel and Davis had been put in his jail cell to extract a confession in exchange for leniency for themselves. The jury retired to consider the evidence and after a short period of deliberation returned a verdict of guilty with no recommendation for mercy. Judge Bullock had no choice but to sentence Brown to death by hanging.

A photograph of J.B. Brown taken in the Putnam County jail for the Palatka News & Advertiser after his conviction for murder (Image credit: University of Florida Digital Collections, Palatka News & Advertiser, January 16, 1902, page 3. http://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00023798/00005/3j).

Today, a Florida death row inmate can expect to spend over a decade on death row before being executed, but in the decades prior to the introduction of the electric chair in 1924, hangings were often conducted within days or weeks of the sentencing. Preparations for Brown’s execution were made quickly and a specially built gallows was constructed on the steps of the county courthouse. Governor William S. Jennings signed Brown’s death warrant and sent it to Sheriff Howell. Notices of the pending execution were published in newspapers around the state. There was only one problem: the death warrant called for the execution of the wrong man!

The erroneous death warrant with the name of Noah J. Tilghman crossed out and replaced with J.B. Brown’s name (Series 12, Death Warrants, Box 46, Volume 1: 1896-1923, State Archives of Florida).

Who was Noah J. Tilghman? The Palatka News & Advertiser described him as “one of the most respected of Palatka’s elder citizens.” He was the owner of a local shingle manufacturing company and a Methodist Episcopal preacher. He was also identified on the first page of the trial transcript sent to the governor as the foreman of the grand jury that indicted J.B. Brown. Newspapers around the state published articles asking the governor to make an apology for the inexcusable blunder. This unfortunate clerical error ignited a heated feud between Tilghman and Governor Jennings.

Tilghman wrote to the governor to express his willingness to forgive the blunder if he received an apology for the embarrassment he had experienced. He wrote of discovering the error when a close friend had remarked to him: “I see that you are to be hanged in January.” After that time, he had been the butt of constant jokes and received many concerned letters from distant relatives.

The first of many letters sent by Noah J. Tilghman to Governor William S. Jennings (Letters found in Governor Jennings Correspondence 1901-1904, Series 596, Box 9, Folder 3, Florida State Archives).

Jennings, however, would not apologize and even denied that the faulty warrant existed despite multiple witnesses having seen it. This led Tilghman to question the governor’s competence by asking “do you as a high official sign important documents without reading them? [I]f so are you worthy of the office you hold?” In fact, his initial response to Tilghman’s letter was so offensive that Tilghman angrily threatened to publish it in the newspapers. The two exchanged hostile letters over the next months, but Jennings never apologized for his blunder.

Noah J. Tilghman’s letter in response to Governor William S. Jennings’ offensive reply to his first letter (Series 596, Box 9, Folder 3, State Archives of Florida).

Meanwhile, the erroneous death warrant was corrected and plans for J.B. Brown’s execution resumed. However, days before the scheduled execution, Governor Jennings annulled the death warrant to allow Brown’s Florida Supreme Court appeal to be heard, angering many. Reflecting the sentiment in Palatka at the time, the Palatka News & Advertiser stated that “Brown is a worthless negro. Guilty or not the town would be better off rid of him and his ilk.”

Marshall argued to the Supreme Court that the alleged jailhouse confession was fraudulent and without it Brown’s guilt could not be established. In its decision, the Supreme Court wrote that “There is very little testimony to connect the defendant with the crime aside from his extra judicial confession” but upheld the jury’s decision. Brown once again faced the gallows.

Brown’s only hope was for a reprieve from the state board of pardons. Judge Bullock wrote to the governor that he believed there was enough evidence to convict Brown, but that he also had misgivings about the alleged confession. Benjamin P. Calhoun, one of the prosecutors, had no such misgivings. He wrote that “the entire white population, except republicans, are absolutely convinced of the guilt of the accused,” and that “Brown is guilty beyond question, and should suffer the death penalty.” The board of pardons, citing the concerns over the legitimacy of the confession, commuted Brown’s sentence to life in prison on July 22, 1902.

J.B. Brown’s commutation of sentence decree from the state board of pardons (Series 158, Pardon, Commutation, and Remission Decrees, 1869-1909, Volume 2, State Archives of Florida).

While J.B. Brown was spared execution, he still faced life imprisonment in Florida’s notoriously brutal convict-lease prison system. In the early twentieth century, nearly all state prisoners were leased to private companies for hard labor in often deplorable conditions. Prisoners were expected to labor from sunup to sundown mining phosphate or turpentine, clearing swamps, harvesting timber, or building roads. Guards subjected them to brutal punishments including whipping, solitary confinement in sweat boxes, and even torture. Deaths were not uncommon.

Brown appeared destined to spend the rest of his life in prison until J.J. Johnson, who had not been tried for the murder, confessed to the crime on his deathbed and exonerated Brown in early 1913. By then, J.B. Brown had served nearly twelve years at hard labor for a crime he did not commit. This new confession convinced the board of pardons to grant Brown a conditional pardon releasing him from prison effective October 10, 1913. When he was released, he suffered from physical disabilities caused by his years at hard labor, and it wasn’t until 1929 that the “aged, infirm, and destitute” Brown received a pension of $2,492 from the Legislature as compensation for this miscarriage of justice.

J.B. Brown’s story was discovered in Series 500, Prisoner Registers, 1875-1972, an ongoing digitization project at the State Archives of Florida for Florida Memory. Stay tuned for updates regarding the online release of these digitized records. Information was also obtained from the University of Florida Digital Collections holdings of the Palatka News & Advertiser found here. Of particular interest in writing this blog were the issues from January 16, 1902 and February 6, 1902.

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 33rd 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, opened in 1868 as the first and only public secondary school for African-Americans in Reconstruction Florida. There were approximately 62,000 newly emancipated slaves living 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 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 99-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 16 to 25 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, black educators made up the entirety of Stanton faculty by the 1880s; they worked to upgrade the curriculum to meet new state standards. Even in its infancy, reviewers touted Stanton as the “best school for blacks in the state.” 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 73 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 42 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 95 black teachers in the county holding at least a bachelor’s degree, 91 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 vs. 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 67 counties in the Sunshine State adopted plans for integration, including Duval. Later Supreme Court rulings in Green vs. 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.

Thirty-five years later, however, 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.

Florida’s Inaugurations

The inauguration of the president of the United States dates back to 1789, when George Washington was sworn into office. Although traditions associated with the inauguration have changed over time, the purpose has remained the same. During the event, the president takes the oath of office and shares a vision for the future of the country.  The inauguration is also a time for celebration. Balls, concerts and parades are held in the new president’s honor. As the United States prepares for the inauguration of its 45th president, we’re taking a look at the inaugural celebrations of Florida’s governors.

Like the president, Florida’s governors take an oath of office during their inauguration, in which they swear (or affirm) “to support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and of the State of Florida.” On January 3, 1905, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Florida’s 19th governor, was inaugurated in Tallahassee. In the photograph below, Governor Broward is shown taking the oath from Justice J. P. Whitfield without any microphones or loudspeakers. Broward’s inaugural address highlighted the different platforms he intended to focus on during his term, but also commended the successes of outgoing governor, William Jennings, stating, “So faithfully and wisely has the administration of the various departments been affected, that the people are on the whole happy, contented, prosperous and law-abiding.”

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (right) taking oath from Justice J.B. Whitfield.

Napoleon Bonaparte Broward (right) taking the oath of office from Justice J.B. Whitfield, January 3, 1905.

The inauguration of Sidney J. Catts, Florida’s 22nd governor, was a day of “firsts.” Not only was his inauguration parade the first to include automobiles, it was also the first to be filmed with a motion picture camera. The footage from his inauguration is held by the State Archives and is available in its entirety below. Filmed on January 2, 1917, Catts rides through the inaugural parade in his Model-T Ford with a sign that reads “This Is The Ford That Got Me There.” During his campaign, Catts traveled around the state seven times in his Ford and brought attention to himself by installing a loudspeaker in his automobile, another first in Florida history.



The inauguration video of Sidney J. Catts, January 2, 1917.

While it may seem like inaugurations are all about the incoming governor, inaugural celebrations are also a time for honoring the governor’s family and engaging the public. The inaugural program of Reubin Askew, Florida’s 37th governor, includes photographs of the first lady and first family, as well as biographies of the governor and lieutenant governor.

Governor Askew’s wife and children appeared in his inaugural program. He was inaugurated for his first term in office on January 5, 1971.

LeRoy Collins had his family by his side throughout the day. Collins was sworn in for his second term on January 8, 1957. His children attended the inauguration and celebrated at the inaugural ball that evening. His parents, Marvin and Mattie Collins, even joined the festivities.

33rd Governor of Florida LeRoy Collins greets his youngest daughter, Darby, at his inauguration. His daughter Mary Call is also shown. January 8, 1957.

Governor LeRoy Collins with his parents, Marvin and Mattie, at the inaugural ball, January 8, 1957.

For the public, the parade is a time to participate in inaugural festivities and celebrate what the Sunshine State has to offer. Florida’s counties, universities and other organizations design floats to march through the streets of Tallahassee along the parade route.

The Sarasota County float from the inaugural parade of Fuller Warren, Florida’s 30th governor, 1949.

Children watch the inaugural parade of Claude Kirk, Florida’s 36th governor, on Monroe Street in Tallahassee, January 4, 1967.

Have you participated in Florida’s inaugural celebrations? Share your memories with us in the comments below. View more photographs, videos and documents online of past gubernatorial inaugurations from the collections of the State Archives of Florida.

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.