This is the first installment of our two-part blog series highlighting the Nancy Tribble Benda Collection (N2016-1) available at the State Archives of Florida. Benda was one of the first mermaids to perform at Weeki Wachee Springs when it opened in 1947. She later went on to star in WFSU-TV’s educational children’s television show “Miss Nancy’s Store” from 1966-1967 before working for the Florida Department of Education.
Many young children play dress up and fantasize about becoming a mermaid, a movie star, or a queen. But what if you really could be a mermaid, act in a movie, and be treated like Hollywood royalty? In 1947, teenager Nancy Tribble would become one of the first “mermaids” to work at Weeki Wachee Springs, landing a role on the big screen in Universal Pictures’ Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid.
Nancy with her mermaid tail, photographed during promotion for Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, 1948.
Nancy Tribble was born in DeLand, Florida, in 1930 to Lewis and Hillis Tribble. The family moved to Tallahassee in 1940, where she would go on to attend Leon High School and Florida State University. As a young woman, her hobbies included swimming in the local rivers and springs, spending time with friends, and competing in local beauty pageants, such as the Miss Underwater contest.
Nancy as Miss Killearn Gardens, with Miss Wakulla Springs during the Miss Underwater contest, 1946.
In 1947, Nancy would accept an unusual position as one of the first underwater performers at nascent tourist attraction Weeki Wachee Springs, situated along US 19 near the small and remote town of Brooksville. A year prior, park founder and former U.S. Navy swim coach, Newton Perry, had recognized Weeki Wachee as a good location for his new underwater theater business. In preparing the site for tourism, Perry first cleared the spring of the abandoned cars and rusted home appliances that had been sunk there by area residents. He then experimented with underwater breathing hoses, eventually creating a method of breathing underwater via a hose supplying oxygen from an air compressor. Taking occasional breaths from this hose, the “mermaids” could perform 20 feet underwater for extended periods of time, rather than being encumbered by wearing an oxygen tank.
Six feet below the water’s surface, Perry built an 18-seat theater so that visitors could view performances and experience the beauty of the blue spring. Perry recruited young women from all over Florida and trained them to perform synchronized ballet moves and host underwater picnics while breathing through air hoses hidden throughout the scenery.
Nancy posed with underwater sign at Weekiwachee Spring, 1947.
On October 13, 1947, the first underwater show at the Weeki Wachee Springs theater opened. In a few short years, Weeki Wachee would become one of America’s most popular tourist attractions. Movies began to be filmed at the spring–notably, Universal Pictures’ Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid in 1948. Nancy tried out for the role of the lead actress in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, but that part was given to Ann Blyth. Instead, Nancy was cast as Blyth’s underwater body double and performed the swimming parts for the film. Journal entries left in Nancy’s scrapbook detail her experience of flying to Hollywood to meet the cast and crew.
Upon arriving in Hollywood, Nancy was immediately fitted for her mermaid costume by having a plaster mold made from her body. The tail in question, originally budgeted at $500, ultimately cost $18,000 to fabricate. In her first journal entry documenting her trip, Nancy comically illustrates the plastering process as if describing a scene from a horror film:
Journal entry by Nancy written December 9, 1947, describing her first day in Hollywood (Series N2016-1, Box 4.)
In the center of the room was a white, pillow-covered operating table with fluorescent lights lowered over it. That was for me! Golly. I turned to run but the door was barred…one of the big fellows grabbed me, while the women, who [were] by no means tiny, greased me from head to foot. Then I was thrown face down on the torture table and “plastered.” The stuff was cold and damp but with no sympathy whatsoever, the tyrants covered me from my neck down to my toes with plaster.
Following this plaster incident, Nancy was fitted for her mermaid wig by two makeup artists, who she described as “beautiful witches with long fingernails”:
Journal entry written by Nancy on December 11, 1947, describing the process of being fitted for a wig (Series N2016-1, Box 4.)
What pain, what agony, why, it was awful! Have you ever had anyone drive nails straight into your head? That’s what they did to me, or at least, it felt like it…jabbing in a hairpin here, driving home a bobbypin there…when at last their fiendish thirst was quenched, I was told to go swimming.
Hollywood wasn’t a complete terror, however. Nancy also wrote of the luxuries afforded to movie stars:
Journal entry written by Nancy on December 10, 1947, describing the luxuries afforded to actors and actresses in Hollywood (Series N2016-1, Box 4.)
Have you ever felt like a queen or wanted to feel like one? Well, I have pinched myself until I am black and blue and my dream still doesn’t fade; I feel like a queen. I live in a hotel room with my mother and what a room it is. We have everything from a radio and Kleenex to clean sheets every night. When I wake up, a merry voice says, “Good morning and what would you like for breakfast this morning?”…After eating, free of charge…I go out the front door to a waiting Cadillac or Lincoln…everyplace I go there is always a happy, cheerful voice greeting me or asking if there is anything he can do to make me more comfortable.
Nancy returned to Weeki Wachee to film the swimming sequences of Mr. Peabody and Mermaid. To promote the film, she toured across Florida in full mermaid garb, ushered around inside of a large aquarium.
“Mermaid” Nancy Tribble receives a key to the city of Tampa in 1948.
As shooting for the film wrapped up, and Nancy’s stint as a mermaid winded down, her adventure was actually just beginning. She would soon enter Florida State University, beginning a long and significant career in education and communications. Stay tuned for next week’s blog in our two-part series profiling the life of Nancy Tribble Benda.
Nancy Tribble Benda’s Obituary on Tallahassee Democrat. Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/tallahassee/obituary.aspx?pid=175400455
Weeki Wachee’s History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 11, 2017, from http://weekiwachee.com/about-us/history/
In the 1890s, the City of Tallahassee had a dedicated health officer, a merchant and contractor named Mathew F. Papy (1834-1904), who sent meticulous reports of the condition of the city during his tenure. He was responsible for sanitation as well as health issues, so his reports reflect activities such as clearing sewers, garbage removal, closing open privies, the quality of fish and meat offered at market, and disposing of dead livestock.
In one of these reports is the details of a problem that greatly concerned him: the use of the alley between the Ball Brothers Bar Room and Mr. Levy’s store as a privy. In his report of November 30, 1891, he wrote:
“Your Honor’s attention is called to the Alley between Ball Brothers Bar Room and Mr. Levy’s store, some action should be taken at once by the Council to stop the Alley from being used as a urine Deposit for the public, by either having the same closed up, or positive instruction given to Ball Brothers to stop using the same for a Urine Deposit, I have much trouble in Keeping that place in good condition, and have to watch it very closely, the disagreeable odor which comes from that place at times, is positively Horrible, and I therefore hope the Council will take some action to abate the nuisance.”
Mathew F. Papy’s report about the alley between Ball Brothers Bar Room and Mr. Levy’s store being used as a privy, dated November 30, 1891. City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1891 Folder 1.
An unhealthy nuisance indeed! There is no mention of the alley in reports for several years, but then in December of 1896, the problem either returned or had not been resolved:
“It again becomes my Duty to Report the Ally between Mr. Julius Ball’s Bar Room and Mr. Lively’s Warehouse in a Bad condition, and it is impossible for me to have it kept in a Sanitary condition, Mr. Ball has a Barrell in the Ally for the public to deposit their Urine in, and most of them use the ground instead of the Barrell, when the Bll is full, I cannot get it taken away. It is a Nuisance, and I beg that you bring the matter before the Council as I have reported him several times to the Mayor. He has promised to do better, but has not done so.”
Papy’s report about the alley between Mr. Julius Ball’s Bar Room and Mr. Lively’s Warehouse and the issue of public urination in that alleyway, dated November 30, 1891.City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1896.
The Council took note of the issue, as seen in the memo to the mayor. The problem was possibly resolved as the alley behind Ball Brothers is not mentioned again.
“That the Mayor be notified that the City Health Officer reports that certain sections of the Sanitary Ordinances are being constantly violated and that he is powerless to correct nuisances without his Cooperation and that it is the sense of the City Council that he investigate & act promptly upon all…
…complaints made by the City Health Officer”
Memo sent to the mayor regarding the unsanitary alleyway. City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1896.
Memo sent to the mayor regarding the unsanitary alleyway. City of Tallahassee records 1885 – 1965, Series L 9, Box 36, 1896.
At the time, Levy’s store was located on Monroe Street, and the Ball Brothers’ saloon was very likely located on Jefferson Street a few doors down in downtown Tallahassee. While the original buildings have been replaced, there is still an alley running through the middle of that block called Gallie Alley. Mr. Papy might well be satisfied by its sanitary condition today.
Photograph of Gallie Alley taken by the author on February 16, 2017.
Gallie Alley runs through the middle of the block between College Avenue and South Adams Street in downtown Tallahassee, much as it has for over one hundred years.
Today, the State Archives of Florida reached a major milestone: Resident cataloger Tony Conigliaro officially cataloged the 200,000th digitized photograph from the Florida Photographic Collection on Florida Memory. In commemoration, we are digging into the Archives for a look back at the colorful history of the Florida Photographic Collection. We also interviewed Tony, and he explained more about his role in expanding digital public access to one of the most-used photographic collections in the country.
200,000 Copyright-free Images Online
All photographs available on Florida Memory are now offered under the Public Domain Mark Creative Commons license. Members of the public are encouraged to download and share the digitized archival images, provided they credit the State Archives of Florida. Higher resolution scans or prints of images can be ordered online using the shopping cart feature or by contacting staff at the Florida Photographic Archives via email FloridaMemoryStore@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at 850-245-6718.
About the 200,000th Photograph
For the symbolic 200,000th image, Archives staff selected this print of Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the steps of Florida’s Old Capitol on April 10th, 1874. Though a copy negative of this photograph has been repeatedly used in publications, the original image was only recently discovered in the State Library. Stowe was an author and abolitionist who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1851. After the Civil War, Stowe purchased a winter home in Mandarin, Florida, on the east bank of the St. Johns River, now a neighborhood of Jacksonville.
Harriet Beecher Stowe walking up the stairs at Florida’s Old Capitol to greet Governor Marcellus L. Stearns. Governor Stearns is center front and Stowe is the woman in black to the right on the 6th step, April 10, 1874. Photographer A.G. Grant.
In April 1874, Stowe traveled with a group of Northern businessmen to the capital city of Tallahassee to encourage development and investment in Florida. Floridians graciously welcomed Stowe to the capital despite their general disagreement with her political opinions. This meeting on the Capitol steps was meant as a gesture of the South receiving the North. The photograph of the occasion was taken by Irish photographer A. G. Grant, who was hired by a Boston publishing company to capture images of interest for an upcoming publication about Florida.
A closer look at the photograph shows Governor Stearns (left) on the stairs and Stowe (bottom right) walking towards him. Governor Stearns lost his right arm in the Battle of Winchester while fighting for the Union army during the Civil War.
The Florida Photographic Collection
Florida State University, 1952-1982
The Florida Photographic Collection dates back to 1947, when Allen C. Morris, the self-taught historian and well-known Associated Press political columnist and reporter, started writing the Florida Handbook as a reference for the Florida Legislature. The biennial publication, which is still published in a digital format today, contains current information on the history and government of Florida. Tasked with compiling an inviting and educational manual, Morris found himself on a constant quest to illustrate the book with corresponding pictures.
He sought out new images of all types whenever and wherever he could, often using his vast network in journalism, state politics, and industry to make new acquisitions. Within a few years, the collection had exceeded 50,000 photographs.
“The helpfulness of people, both in Florida and elsewhere, has been extremely gratifying,” Morris told the Miami Herald‘s Jeanne Bellamy in 1972. “[Donors] have cooperated to an unusual degree, placing their facilities at our disposal because of the rather general recognition that we are racing against the erosion of time to preserve scenes of lasting human value.”
In an effort to better preserve and organize the many priceless photographs, Morris established the Florida Photographic Collection at the Florida State University Library in 1952. There, Morris, along with other faculty and graduate students, began cataloging the photographs. He soon became known among the press, academic publishers, and the general public as the go-to-resource for printed images of Florida history. The video clip below documents officials from the Florida Development Commission donating promotional films to the archive at FSU in 1964.
Morris continued his oversight of the Florida Photographic Collection throughout the 1960s. In the middle of the decade, his first wife, Dorothy, who was dying of cancer, urged her husband to take a job with the Legislature. She reasoned that a change in careers would ease the longtime journalist’s transition after her death.
In 1966, Allen Morris became clerk of the Florida House of Representatives. That year, he also met graduate student Joan Perry while working in the photographic collection. The couple wed shortly thereafter. Wanting to focus more of his attention on his responsibilities at the Capitol, Morris eventually stepped down from his role at the archives. In 1970, archivist Joan Perry Morris became the director of the Florida Photographic Collection.
Joan and Allen Morris working in the darkroom at the Florida State University Photographic Archives, ca. 1972.
State Archives of Florida, 1982-Present
During Joan’s tenure, the collection grew to include over one million images of Florida-related people, places, flora, fauna and other items of interest. As the collection continued to grow, Morris sought a new space for the photographs. In 1982, the State Archives of Florida acquired the entirety of the Florida Photographic Collection.
At the state repository, Joan Morris, her photographic assistant Jody Norman and many other archivists on staff continued the work of building and preserving the photographic record of Florida’s history and culture.
The Florida Memory Program, 1994-Present
By the early 1990s, the photo collection had become so popular that requests for copies and scans of photographs accounted for over half of all reference requests at the State Archives. The solution? The internet and its unprecedented ability to provide remote access to information.
In 1993, Joan and her team applied for federal grant funding from the Library Services and Construction Act (now known as the Library Services and Technology Act) and launched the Florida Photographic Collection Electronic Imaging Project in 1994. They developed a plan for digitizing the Florida Photographic Collection and making the photos searchable online. During the digitization project’s first year, over 5,000 images from the Florida Photographic Collection were scanned and put online.
In 2000, the project was renamed the Florida Memory Program, and it has been hailed as one of the state’s best resources for connecting Floridians with their history.
Florida Memory has received several awards in recognition of its public value, including the Society of American Archivists’ 2015 Archival Innovator Award.
As the speed and precision of technology improves, Florida Memory continues to increase access to the historically significant holdings of the State Library and Archives of Florida.
Today, the program keeps an impressive pace, digitizing 100 new photographs each week. And in addition to featuring 200,000 searchable Florida photographs, the website has also expanded to include over 300,000 documents, 250 videos and 2,900 audio recordings, as well as online educational units. Because of Florida Memory’s wide reach, the Florida Photographic Collection receives daily requests from newswires, magazines, interior designers and average citizens from all every corner of the country. They even have a large international customer base.
Our Cataloger Tony on the Ins and Outs of Florida Memory’s Photographs
The ability to quickly search through our online catalog of images is a huge time saver, especially compared to the tedium of thumbing through a traditional card catalog. But, real-life archivists like Tony Conigliaro are usually sitting on the other side of the screen, researching, fact-checking, and cataloging images to optimize your search results on Florida Memory. Here’s what he has to say about how it all happens:
How long have you been working as a cataloger for the State Archives?
[About twenty years.] I started work as a part-time scanner in 1997 until I became a cataloger in 1999.
What is your academic background? How and why did you first become interested in cataloging work?
I have a master’s in library and information science from Florida State University.I think my interest in archives [grew] over time. I’ve always liked libraries since my youth (they’re so quiet and clean!) and I enjoyed scanning images and learning Photoshop.
But when I began cataloging I thought of myself as kind of an information conduit/provider and more data-entry librarian than archivist. I’ve never done any collection/preservation work but appreciate the fact that these historical items are being made more readily available for researchers and the general public.
I suppose [that as my] appreciation grew, my interest in archival work and the great efforts of archives staff also grew. I’ve heard a few times of patrons who have come across an image, of an ancestor, they never knew existed which just makes my appreciation and interest grow all the more!
Tony Conigliaro in the process of cataloging Florida Memory’s 200,000th photograph, April 24, 2017.
What steps are involved in cataloging a photo on Florida Memory?
It’s really just a matter of filling in each field with appropriate data and adding additional fields when needed or subtracting fields if there are too many. For instance, every record should have data in the fields for “Title” & “Date”, and they do, but each record ought to have data in the “Subject” field to describe what the photo is about and provide keywords, based on a controlled vocabulary list provided by the Library of Congress (or other authorized source), for users to retrieve the digitized image.
How do you identify people and places in photographs?
Fortunately the overwhelming majority are identified by donors. [O]thers are just from familiarity — once Jody [my former boss] was weeding through some political images and held one up to ask me who it was, I looked over and said “Dewey Macon Johnson,” who was State Senate President in 1959.
Florida Senate President Dewey Macon Johnson, ca. 1959.
[Sometimes] I’ll also grab the loupe (a small magnification device) to look for clues, like road signs, store signs, or any other identifying information. Then I scour the internet, check out the city directories, newspaper microfilm or other library resources. The loupe also helps [to determine] the date of the image as well, especially if it shows an automobile as I can find out the date it was first manufactured. I also make extensive use of the expertise of the smart people around me!
How many photographs do you think you’ve cataloged for Florida Memory?
I think I have scanned about 88,000 photos. I’ve never done less than 5,000 per year since 2001.
What is the biggest challenge of your job? What do you like most about your job?
The most challenging aspect is researching images with a lack of accompanying identifications or cryptic/incomplete info. These sometimes also happen to be the most fun.
I suppose I find getting answers to be the most satisfying. Fitting in pieces of information like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes just tracking down the make and model of a car to pinpoint the earliest start date of an image, other times locating a store’s sign in the city directory to pinpoint the street location. I like getting the answers most and being able to provide that information to interested users.
What is your favorite photograph in the collection, and why?
[That’s] like asking me to pick my favorite kid – no way! I have a bit of fondness for Political, specifically 1950s, as that’s where I began and was trained. They’re real concrete with bios and dates and over the years some of the faces have become somewhat familiar. Some of the humorous/odd photographs are interesting: C660217, Rc04621 (diner title), C003016 (not where I’d want to find myself!) The Tampa skyline and aerial shots I think are attractive. Appears to be a good looking city. The Dale McDonald collection – it’s the first collection that I’ve been the sole cataloger of so it’s kind of special to me and he was a great photographer. Festivals & parades come to mind as they seem to be held just about everywhere in the state so they kind of include something for everyone which I find to be rather special.
Why do you think the photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are so significant? In your opinion, what are the benefits of digitizing so many of them on a website like Florida Memory?
They are unique, irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind treasures documenting historical facts! I don’t think I can even fathom all the ways they may be able to touch or affect users if given a chance.
I believe digitization improves accessibility immensely and each image can present a new perspective and provide additional information for users. I don’t think there can ever be enough digitized photographs.
For more information about Stowe’s visit to Tallahassee see Harriet Beecher Stowe, “Stowe’s Visit to Planter Florida,” in Calling Yankees to Florida: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Forgotten Tourist Articles, ed. John T. Foster Jr. and Sarah Whitmer Foster (Cocoa, Florida: The Florida Historical Society Press, 2011), 85-91.
Long renowned for its natural beauty, Florida remains a popular destination for tourists and nature lovers seeking pristine beaches, lush forests, winding rivers and an abundance of flora and fauna. Brought up in this environment, young Marjorie Harris (later Carr), was to become a relentless defender of Florida’s natural resources through her groundbreaking scientific research and activism. Carr is best known for her initiative to preserve Paynes Prairie and for her opposition to the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal Project. Dr. Peggy Macdonald has written extensively about Carr’s life and career, and what follows draws heavily from her 2010 doctoral dissertation, “Our Lady of the Rivers”: Marjorie Harris Carr, Science, Gender, and Environmental Activism (later published as Marjorie Harris Carr: Defender of Florida’s Environment, University Press of Florida, 2014).
Portrait of Marjorie Harris Carr.
Marjorie Harris was born in 1915 to Clara Louise (Haynes) Harris and Charles Ellesworth Harris in Boston, Massachusetts. The family moved to Bonita Springs, Florida, in 1918, where they resided on a plot of land with an orange grove near the Imperial River. Raised by two naturalists, Harris gained an early appreciation and knowledge of Florida’s plant and animal life. In 1932, she entered the Florida State College for Women (FSCW; now Florida State University). During summer breaks, Harris worked for the National Youth Administration (a New Deal agency). She designed and implemented a naturalist education program for Lee County youth in exchange for financial assistance with tuition, room and board at FSCW.
View of the Welaka National Fish Hatchery, Welaka, Florida, 1960.
Though a passionate and excellent student, Harris would face many obstacles in the professional sphere due to gender bias against female scientists. Harris graduated from FSCW with a B.S. in zoology in 1936. Despite membership in various honor societies and the Florida Academy of Sciences, her applications to graduate programs in ornithology at both Cornell University and the University of South Carolina were rejected on the basis of her gender. Undeterred, Harris found work as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery, near the St. Johns River in North Central Florida, becoming the first female federal wildlife technician. It was in this position that she developed an intimate understanding of the ecosystems of the Ocklawaha River, a tributary of the St. Johns River that would become a main focus of her environmental activism decades later.
Scenic view of boat on the Ocklawaha River, Ocala, Florida, 1965.
Through her work at the hatchery, Harris met her future husband, herpetologist Archie Fairly Carr, Jr. During their courtship, the couple had some concern that marriage would destroy Harris’ professional career as a scientist. Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932 enacted workforce reductions of married persons (typically wives)—undermining married women’s tenure in the workplace. After the pair married in 1937, she began a new position as a laboratory technician and field collector at the Bass Zoological Research Laboratory in Englewood, Florida—during which time she concealed her marriage in order to continue her work.
In the fall of 1937, Marjorie Harris Carr entered the graduate biology program at the then all-male University of Florida (UF). She graduated from UF in 1942 and published her master’s thesis, “The Breeding Habits, Embryology and Larval Development of the Large-Mouthed Black Bass of Florida,” in the Proceedings of the New England Zoology Club. In 1945, following the birth of their first two children, the Carr family moved to Honduras. While Archie Carr taught biology at the Escuela Agricola Panamericana, Marjorie took daily excursions into the rainforest to conduct research on local bird life.
During the years that the Carr family spent in Honduras, Marjorie Harris Carr published several notable ornithological studies. Upon the Carr family’s return to Florida in 1949, Marjorie Carr entrenched herself in community involvement, volunteering as a girl scout leader in Gainesville, then joining the Board of Associates of the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF. While serving on the Board, Carr donated thousands of the specimen skins she had collected in Honduras, greatly enriching the museum’s tropical ornithology collection. Carr’s community involvement served as an entry point into conservation work—first as an officer and board member of the Gainesville Garden Club, and later as a co-founder of the Alachua County Chapter of the Florida Audubon Society in 1960. Within these civil societies, her scientific training and knowledge made her well-positioned to collaborate with University of Florida faculty and government officials on a variety of conservation projects.
View of water hyacinths at Paynes Prairie, Alachua County, Florida, 1970.
Sign for Paynes Prairie wildlife sanctuary, Alachua County, Florida, 1969.
In 1957, as her first major project with Gainesville Garden Club, Carr spearheaded the preservation of Paynes Prairie, a 20,000-acre prairie made famous through the writings of naturalist William Bartram in the late 1700s. As the land was being rented by private owners to cattle ranchers as grazing lands, and having been drained in the 1930s for development purposes, Carr perceived a need to protect the sensitive prairie ecosystem from further damage. Capitalizing on the Department of Transportation’s program to set aside roadsides as preserves, Carr and the Gainesville Garden Club set aside roadside of U.S. 441 through the prairie as a preserve. In 1970, the Florida Department of the Environment bought the rest of the Prairie, establishing it as Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Using Bartram’s writings as a guide, the State proceeded with restoration efforts to revive the prairie’s native species, including the reintroduction of bison to the area by 1975.
Buffalo gathered around a windmill at Paynes Prairie near Gainesville, Alachua County, Florida, 1976.
By far, the longest fought battle of Marjorie Harris Carr’s career was her campaign to stop the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A project designed to connect the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean through mainland Florida for barge traffic, the idea of such a canal had been proposed and rejected repeatedly throughout the years—in the 1930s, as part of an economic recovery program and again in 1942, as a national defense project. The project was finally granted funding in 1963 as a project under John F. Kennedy and was to be completed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Construction of the barge was planned along a section of the Ocklawaha River—near where Carr had cut her teeth as a biologist at the Welaka Fish Hatchery. Concerned about the potential environment impacts of the canal, Carr penned “The Ocklawaha Wilderness,” an essay published in a 1965 issue of Florida Naturalist, articulating the damage that the Canal would cause to the Ocklawaha ecosystem.
Forest debris from the construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, 1969.
In 1969, Carr and members of the Alachua Audobon Society formed Florida Defenders of the Environment (FDE). The organization, composed of hydrologists, geologists, economists, zoologists and activists wrote a scientific report entitled “The Environmental Impact of the Cross Florida Barge Canal With Special Emphasis on the Ocklawaha River System.” The environmental impact statement of the report was influential in the creation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970. The NEPA required all federal public works projects to evaluate potential environmental impacts before initiating such projects. Finding that the construction of the canal would threaten Florida’s water quality, FDE entered a suit with the Environmental Defense Fund against the Army Corps of Engineers, with the aim of ending construction of the Cross Florida Barge Canal. A federal judge issued an injunction halting construction on the project, and on January 19, 1971, President Richard Nixon issued a statement against the construction of the canal, citing potential serious environmental damage.
Governor Claude Kirk presenting award to Marjorie Carr for her environmental efforts as head of Florida Defenders of the Environment, 1970. Her husband, prominent herpetologist Archie Carr at right.
In 1976, Carr and her colleagues spoke before Governor Askew and his cabinet. Following two days of testimony, Askew and his cabinet voted to ask Congress to completely deauthorize the canal. The canal was not fully deauthorized until George H. W. Bush signed SB2740 into law, officiating the demise of the canal project and repurposing the lands comprising the canal’s route to conservation and recreation.
Governor Askew accepting jawbone during club meeting at the Silver Slipper restaurant in Tallahassee, 1971. The gift is for Lt. Governor Tom Adams as part of the S.T.A.B. movement (Send Tom A Bone) by a conservationist who reacted to Adams comment that stopping the Cross Florida Barge Canal was just “throwing a bone to the conservationists.”
Marjorie Harris Carr passed away in 1997 at the age of 82. A year after her death, the Cross Florida Greenway was renamed the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. A 110-mile corridor encompassing lands formerly occupied by the Cross Florida Barge Canal project, the Greenway provides sanctuary for diverse plant and animal life, and offers a myriad of bicycle and hiking trails to Floridians. Carr’s 27-year battle against the Cross Florida Barge Canal project illustrates individuals’ power to safeguard natural beauty and maintain clean and balanced ecosystems. Through hard work and dedication, Paynes Prairies and the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway stand for future generations to enjoy not simply on Earth Day, but every day of the year.
As the 1982 deadline for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) approached, pro- and anti-ERA activists sent letters to Florida’s Governor Bob Graham expressing their opinions about the amendment. Letters from all over the state and country arrived at the governor’s office. A selection of these letters have been digitized recently, and they demonstrate the passionate feelings U.S. residents had regarding the ERA.
Senator Bob Graham speaking at an ERA rally in Tallahassee (1978). After becoming governor in 1979, Graham led marches and gave speeches offering his support for the ERA.
A supporter from Sarasota encouraged the governor to speak up for the amendment to persuade legislators to vote in favor of it. “We are so close,” she wrote. “I am trying not to give up hope.”
A letter from Kelly Smith asking Governor Graham to speak often of the ERA to persuade the Florida Senate to ratify the amendment, February 14, 1982. Click to enlarge.
Governor Graham supported the amendment, but a pro-ERA activist criticized the governor for his “lukewarm” support of it. “I am confident that this Legislature will ratify [the] ERA, and send a state ERA to the people for ratification,” the supporter wrote.
A letter from Richard H. Samples, Jr. telling Governor Graham that his support for the ERA needs to be more vigorous, April 2, 1980. Click to enlarge.
Activists also employed creative methods to communicate their message with the governor. This Valentine’s Day poem requests “a more meaningful gift” for the holiday — the ratification of the ERA.
A Valentine’s Day card from Anita Andres urging the governor to support to the ERA, February 14, 1982. Click to enlarge.
Anti-ERA activists wrote letters equally as impassioned as the pro-ERA activists. A resident of Penney Farms in Clay County believed the amendment would have negative effects on American society: “If all of [the] ERA’s ramifications were fully enforced American society would soon become confused, frustrated and hardly recognizable.”
A letter from Helen Springer requesting the governor consider her opposition to the ERA, February 16, 1982. Click to enlarge.
Another opponent asserted that supporters were mistaken about the benefits of the amendment, saying that “If all Americans would be capable of studying it and visualizing possible consequences and damages ERA would cause, they would have to reject it.”
A letter from O.R. Havelka requesting that Governor Graham oppose the ratification of the ERA, March 1, 1980. Click to enlarge.
The governor’s position on the ERA remained unchanged. In the final days before the June 30 deadline, Governor Graham called the Legislature into a special session hoping to pass the amendment. On June 21, the amendment narrowly passed through the Florida House with a vote of 60 to 58. A few hours later, the amendment was defeated in the Florida Senate by a vote of 22 to 16.
April 10 is National Siblings Day and we’re celebrating with stories about well-known brothers and sisters in Florida.
The Bryan Brothers Come to Florida
In 1913, William Jennings Bryan and his wife, Mary, built their winter home in Miami, Florida, and called it “Villa Serena.” Bryan was at the height of his political career during that year as he had recently been appointed Secretary of State by President Woodrow Wilson. Bryan had served as congressman of Nebraska from 1891-1895, and was the Democratic party’s presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908, losing each time.
Charles Wayland Bryan helped his older brother, William, with his presidential campaigns before beginning his own career in politics. William relied on Charles to organize his speaking engagements and other campaign activities. The stress of the campaign trail helped the brothers grow closer, and they remained close throughout their lives. Charles was elected as mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska, and governor of Nebraska, both for multiple non-consecutive terms. He served as mayor from 1915-1917 and 1935-1937, and as governor from 1923-1925 and 1931-1935. He was selected as the Democratic party’s nominee for vice president in 1924 but lost the election.
Charles Wayland and William Jennings Bryan at Villa Serena in Miami, Florida, 1925.
The two-story home of William and Mary was built along Brickell Avenue and was one of many mansions in the area known as “Millionaire’s Row.” But Villa Serena wasn’t the only connection the brothers had to Florida; their cousin William Sherman Jennings served as Florida’s 18th governor. After resigning as secretary of state in 1915 due to disagreements with President Wilson’s foreign policies that led to U.S. involvement in World War I, William and Mary made Villa Serena their permanent residence. As Charles began his political career, he would rely on William for advice. In the photo above, the brothers are seen smiling for the camera at Villa Serena shortly before William’s death. The home still stands and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
The Stephens Sisters Fight for Civil Rights
Priscilla Stephens (later Kruize) and Patricia Stephens (later Due) were civil rights activists who fought for equality, especially in Florida. Both sisters were born in Quincy, Florida, and began attending Florida A & M University (FAMU) at the same time in the late 1950s, even sharing a room in the freshman dorm. The sisters grew closer during the summer before their sophomore year when they were introduced to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during a visit with their father in Miami. There they attended their first CORE workshop, learning the skills needed to organize a CORE chapter in Tallahassee. The Tallahassee chapter included students from both FAMU and Florida State University, as well as other people from the community.
Priscilla Stephens being arrested at the Tallahassee Regional Airport, June 16, 1961.
Tallahassee CORE began holding nonviolent sit-ins at lunch counters around the city in 1960, and the Stephens sisters became strong leaders in the fight for equality. A sit-in held on Saturday, February 20 at the Woolworth lunch counter included the Stephens sisters and 15 other Tallahassee residents. Priscilla was designated spokesperson for their cause. The activists garnered so much attention for their actions that the mayor came to the counter and asked them to leave. The Stephens sisters and nine other protesters were arrested when they refused. This would be one of many times that the sisters would be arrested in their fight for civil rights. In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The hard work of the Stephens sisters and others activists eventually led to the passage of landmark civil rights legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. For decades after the sit-ins, both Priscilla and Patricia continued to speak out against racial inequality.
Patricia Stephens Due, foreground in black dress, picketing with others at the State Theatre in Tallahassee, May 29, 1963.
The Goodson Sisters Make Music
Raised in Pensacola, Florida, all six of the Goodson daughters pursued careers as blues and jazz pianists. The strict Goodson household encouraged the girls, Mabel, Della, Sadie, Edna, Wilhelmina and Ida, to learn music from an early age for the purpose of performing at church. As teenagers, the young women expanded their musical interests and began performing jazz and blues throughout the South with famous musicians.
Wilhelmina, known professionally as Billie Pierce, began playing piano professionally as a teenager. In the early 1920s, she accompanied famous blues singer Bessie Smith and performed in the bands of George Lewis and Alphonse Picou. During the 1930s in New Orleans, Pierce met trumpeter De De Pierce. They married in 1935 and continued to play together for the rest of their lives. It was at Preservation Hall in the French Quarter in 1961 that the Pierce’s gained international attention and solidified their place in music history.
Portrait of De De and Billie Pierce.
Ida Goodson performing at the Great Gulf Coast Arts Festival in Pensacola during the 1980s.
Ida Goodson was the youngest of the sisters and a 1987 Florida Folk Heritage Award recipient. In the late 1920s, Ida was the accompanist at the Belmont Theater in Pensacola, the city’s main black music hall, and followed in the footsteps of Wilhelmina as accompanist for Bessie Smith. In the early 1980s, the Florida Folklife Program began the Ida Goodson Recording Project, which includes a collection of recordings and photographs of Goodson in her senior years. The second interview of that project is digitized and available below:
Do you have any favorite memories of your siblings in Florida? Share them with us in the comments below.
“Billie Pierce.” Music Rising at Tulane. http://musicrising.tulane.edu/discover/people/259
Due, Tananarive and Patricia Stephens Due. Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.
“Ida Goodson.” Florida Division of HistoricalResources. http://dos.myflorida.com/historical/preservation/florida-folklife-program/folk-heritage-awards/list-of-past-recipients/ida-goodson/
“National Register of Historic Places Program, Weekly Highlight: William Jennings Bryan House, Miami-Dade County, Florida.” National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/weekly_features/12_01_27_williamjenningsbryanhouse.htm
Osnes, Larry. “Charles W Bryan: ‘His Brother’s Keeper.’” Nebraska History 48 (1967): 45-67.
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.
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 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. Stevens served as city school supervisor from 1914 until his death in 1949.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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. 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 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.
A brochure produced by the American Association of University Women encouraging women to support the Equal Rights Amendment, ca. 1974.
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. 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 (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.
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
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. 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.
Preserving old family papers, books, newspapers, photographs or other items can seem like a daunting task. However, there are things we can all do at home to protect our valuable records. This is the second in a series of blogs providing tips on how you can help prolong the life of your valuable items for future generations. This week we are focusing our attention on preserving papers. View our blog about preserving books here.
Avoid fluctuation in temperature and humidity
Changes in temperature and humidity cause paper to swell and contract and can induce harmful condensation. Also, high temperature and relative humidity levels accelerate destructive chemical reactions in paper and encourage mold growth. The ideal temperature for paper is 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity of 40 percent. While it is very difficult to maintain these conditions in Florida, storing your important papers in cool, dry, stable conditions will help ensure their longevity.
Keep food and drink away from papers
Not only can food and drink attract pests, but they can also cause irreparable damage to papers.
Avoid direct light sources
While any type of light can harm paper, fluorescent light, and sunlight both emit harmful ultraviolet rays that will severely fade paper and ink. Store papers in boxes and out of bright lighting and sunlight. If your papers are on display, it is best to encase them behind UV-protective glass (do not let the item rest directly against the glass) and away from direct light sources.
Store papers properly
Store your papers in acid-free folders and boxes or in scrapbooks made from acid-free paper stock. Never store important papers in an attic or basement because these areas are most susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity.
Acid-free boxes help protect paper from light damage.
Flatten items carefully
Do not force open rolled, folded or creased papers. Brittle paper will break along fold lines. Papers can often be “relaxed” into opening by placing them on a towel or non-metal screen near a steam source for a limited amount of time, then drying the paper between layers of blotter paper weighted evenly all around. Never place papers in the direct path of the steam or allow condensation to accumulate on the paper.
Rolled documents should be handled with care so the paper doesn’t crack.
Avoid fasteners and tape
Paperclips, staples, rubber bands and other fasteners can damage paper. Plastic clips can substitute for metal fasteners but can still damage paper by causing creases where they are applied, so they should be used carefully.
Pressure sensitive tape, glue and other adhesives will damage papers. If taping is unavoidable, use an archival quality mending tape available from archival supply vendors.
Plastic paper clips come in a variety of sizes and are better than metal fasteners for safely securing documents.
Photocopy newspaper clippings
Newsprint is highly acidic and will quickly become brown and brittle. It transfers acid to adjacent papers and causes them to degrade more quickly, so it is important to keep newspapers from contacting other important documents. The best way to preserve newspaper clippings is to photocopy them onto acid-free paper. If you wish to keep your newspapers or clippings, you can interleave each page with acid-free paper or place newspapers in acid-free sleeves to avoid contacting other important papers. Archival supply vendors also sell full-size acid free newspaper boxes for storing whole newspapers.
Photocopying newspaper clippings will help preserve the information they contain.
Following these basic tips will help you ensure the longevity your important papers. If you have specific questions about preserving your papers, contact the State Archives at email@example.com for more information.
Florida Memory is funded under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Florida Department of State, Division of Library and Information Services.