Florida History Fair 2016

Each year, middle and high school students from across the state participate in the Florida History Fair program, coordinated at the state level by the Museum of Florida History. The students create performances, websites, display boards, documentaries, and essays to present their research on a wide variety of historical topics.
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Florida History Fair: You Have the Right to an Attorney

Every year, staff at the State Archives of Florida gets ready for the Florida History Fair by searching out primary source documents and compiling a list of resources for students and teachers. This year’s theme is “Rights and Responsibilities in History.”

Gideon v. Wainwright: The Right to an Attorney

U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy described  Gideon v. Wainwright as having changed the course of American legal history.

The decision confirmed the right of the individual to legal counsel, even in cases not involving capital offenses.

Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus submitted by Clarence Earl Gideon

The case began when an obscure inmate in a Florida prison, Clarence Earl Gideon, picked up a pencil and began writing his own lawsuit against the Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections.

Before the case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, the Florida Supreme Court heard the appeal of the original conviction.

Clarence Earl Gideon was convicted of robbery after the judge in a circuit court refused his request for counsel and he was forced to defend himself. He was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The Florida Supreme Court confirmed the circuit court ruling, denying Gideon’s appeal for a writ of habeas corpus, which would have freed him on the grounds that he had been imprisoned illegally.

View Gideon’s historic petition for writ of habeas corpus on Florida Memory.

Portrait of Clarence Earl Gideon (ca. 1961)

Portrait of Clarence Earl Gideon (ca. 1961)

For more resources related to this year’s History Fair theme, see Resources for the 2014 Florida History Fair.

Links to resources related to Gideon include the transcript of State of Florida v. Gideon from the Fourteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and oral histories collected by the Georgetown Law Library.

[UPDATE: Known since its inception in 1980 as the “Florida History Fair,” the program name is changing to “Florida History Day” (FHD) in keeping with the style of other National History Day (NHD) affiliates.]

Florida Net Maker: The Strangest Catch

Every year, staff at the State Archives of Florida gets ready for the Florida History Fair by searching out primary source documents and compiling a list of resources for students and teachers. One of this year’s suggested Florida-related topics is “Commercial Fishing Net Ban: Economics, Ecology, and Responsibility.” That topic led us to this story.

In 1980, folklorist Peggy Bulger interviewed net maker Billy Burbank III as part of her research on the fishing industry in Florida. Burbank told Bulger the tale of a fishing boat that accidentally caught something very strange in its trawl nets.

Burbank family at Burbank Trawl Makers, Inc., Fernandina Beach, 1986

Burbank family at Burbank Trawl Makers, Inc., Fernandina Beach, 1986

Billy Burbank and the Strangest Catch

B: My name is Billy Burbank, III. I was born in Fernandina Beach, Florida, October 2, 1951.

P: Now tell me something about your grandfather, William Burbank.

B: Well, my grandfather was born on Cumberland Island which is in Georgia. He started shrimping oh back in his early years when he was 15-16 years old. He got into the shrimp business, oh just starting shrimping and started making his own nets.

And when oh his nets seemed to out produce everybody else’s nets. Then everybody decided to get him to make their nets and then that’s when we got started in the net business in about 1915 and been in it ever since.

P: […] Oh, what is the strangest catch you’ve ever heard anybody catching around here?

B: Strangest catch?

P: Yeah.

B: […] Probably be oh, submarines. An actual submarine in someone’s net started towing the boat backwards almost sinking the boat didn’t even realize they had the shrimp boat caught. It was the— not a Navy submarine. It was a German, I mean a Russian submarine.

P: Here?

B: Well, it was off this coast, yeah. They didn’t even realize that they had the submarine in the net at first. They were towed one way and all of a sudden started going backwards of the cable popped. And just a little while later they saw the submarine surface with the shrimp net on top of ’em. I guess I’d have to say that is the weirdest catch.

Learn More About Net Making

Burbank nets have been used by people in the U.S. from North Carolina down to Florida and up the Gulf Coast through the Texas Panhandle area. Their nets have also been exported to Central and South America and Africa. At the time of the interview, Burbank Trawl Makers was the largest producer of fishing nets in the United States.

In the interview, Burbank also describes the different net types and uses – including flat nets, four seam balloon nets, two seam balloon nets, and a modification that Billy Burbank III developed called the Mongoose, which is actually two nets in one.

Read the full interview in Netmaking and Net Fishing in Florida.

Close-up view of net made by Billy Burbank III, Fernandina Beach, 1980

Close-up view of net made by Billy Burbank III, Fernandina Beach, 1980

[UPDATE: Known since its inception in 1980 as the “Florida History Fair,” the program name is changing to “Florida History Day” (FHD) in keeping with the style of other National History Day (NHD) affiliates.]