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

 

The Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901

The morning of Friday, May 3, 1901 dawned like any other late spring day in Jacksonville. Men and women went to work, children went to school, and soon the city was humming with its usual bustle of activity. By one o’clock that afternoon, however, the lazy calm would erupt into the most destructive disaster of the city’s history. A fire strengthened by favorable winds, dry conditions, and a path laden with wooden buildings would rage through Jacksonville, destroying thousands of buildings and millions of dollars in property.

View of Jacksonville's riverfront before the Great Fire (1894).

View of Jacksonville’s riverfront before the Great Fire (1894).

It all started at the Cleaveland Fibre Factory near the corner of Beaver and Davis streets in the LaVilla neighborhood. Workers had been busily laying moss out to dry in the sun when the noon whistle sang out to announce lunch. They made their way to the shade of the trees to eat, leaving the moss unattended. Normally, a few men would stick around to make sure no ashes or embers from the surrounding neighborhood made their way to the drying fibers, but on this day the lack of wind made such precaution seem unnecessary.

Spanish moss drying on racks - similar to the situation that led to the Great Jacksonville Fire (photo 1946).

This Spanish moss drying operation is similar to the one that started the Great Jacksonville Fire (photo 1946).

Then one of the workers noticed a small glowing spot in the moss and went over to investigate. Finding that the moss had somehow caught fire in several places, he called for help, but a deadly chain of events was already in motion. The wind, which had stayed quiet all morning, suddenly came to life, sending burning bits of moss closer and closer to the shed where the company’s stock of dried fibers was stored. The building ignited and was quickly engulfed in flames, flinging burning embers into the surrounding area. More buildings caught fire, and before long Chief T.W. Haney of the Jacksonville Fire Department sounded a general alarm.

Flames consume one of Jacksonville's Methodist churches, likely the one at the corner of Duval and Newnan street (1901).

Flames consume one of Jacksonville’s Methodist churches, likely the one at the corner of Duval and Newnan street (1901).

 

By this time the whole of Jacksonville knew something was wrong. Even if they hadn’t heard the clanging of the fire engine bells, residents could already see a distant cloud of smoke billowing upward and working its way east over the neighborhoods. Families closer to the fire sprang into action, piling household goods into wagons and driving them away from the growing conflagration. Eager to help their neighbors, some people took their belongings only a few blocks away before unloading them and returning. Many of these possessions would later go up in flames before their owners could collect them.

Jacksonville’s fire department fought the blaze valiantly, but neither the wind nor technology was on their side. The fire marched steadily eastward, consuming block after block of wooden structures. Sidewalks, bricks, and concrete structures glowed red with heat and cracked or exploded. Columns of thick smoke rising from the burning city were reportedly seen from as far away as Raleigh, North Carolina.

Residents flee with their belongings as the fire progresses eastward (1901).

Residents flee with their belongings as the fire progresses eastward (1901).

Residents took shelter in the recently completed city armory, the Windsor Hotel, and the county courthouse, but eventually even those buildings had to be evacuated. Depending on their location, people hurried to get across either Hogan’s Creek or the St. Johns River to safety, the fire closing in behind them. At one point, the fire turned southward, trapping the massive crowd waiting at the Market Street Wharf to be transported across the St. Johns River. Desperate to get away from the approaching flames, many residents jumped into the water. This scene, which at the time was thought to have resulted in an enormous loss of life, was dubbed the “Market Street Horror.” Miraculously, despite widespread destruction of property, only seven persons are believed to have lost their lives in the blaze.

Map showing the path of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Reprinted in Carolina Rawls, The Jacksonville Story: A Pictorial Record of a Florida City (1950).

Map showing the path of the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901. Reprinted in Carolina Rawls, The Jacksonville Story: A Pictorial Record of a Florida City (1950). Click the map to enlarge it.

By nightfall, the wind had died down, and the fire was running out of fuel. A total of 2,368 buildings and 466 acres of city territory had been burned to the ground. Twenty-three churches, ten hotels, and every single public building except one federal office structure was destroyed. National Guard troops rallied to the scene to preserve law and order, but the city itself was practically deserted. Nearly 10,000 people had lost their homes, and were forced to take up temporary residence in tents sent to Florida by the United States government.

Looking southeast down Forsyth Street at the destruction from the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901.

Looking southeast down Forsyth Street at the destruction from the Great Jacksonville Fire of 1901.

Church Street after the Great Fire of 1901.

Church Street after the Great Fire of 1901.

Jacksonville recovered quickly from the Great Fire of 1901. Just six months after the disaster, the city played host to the Florida State Fair, and in 1903 residents marked their return to prosperity with an extravagant Gala Week and Trades Carnival. By 1913, 11,000 buildings had been erected to replace the ones consumed by the disaster. Residents and outside observers agreed — Jacksonville was back!

Part of the Jacksonville skyline in 1909, only eight years after the Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

Part of the Jacksonville skyline in 1909, only eight years after the Great Fire destroyed much of the downtown area.

 

The Dixie Highway Comes to Florida

Florida is one of several states where, once in a while, you’re subject to come across a road called “Old Dixie Highway.” Some of the roads with this name are prominent thoroughfares, while others have become mere side streets over the years, bypassed by larger highways built along the outskirts of town.  In the early twentieth century, all of these roadway segments were stitched together into what was briefly the largest interstate highway system in the United States.

Outline of the Dixie Highway, drawn up by R.J. Shutting for the Dixie Highway Association (ca. 1919).

Outline of the Dixie Highway, drawn up by R.J. Shutting for the Dixie Highway Association (ca. 1919). Click the map to enlarge it.

The Dixie Highway was the brainchild of Carl Graham Fisher, the same entrepreneur who helped develop Miami Beach in the early 1910s. Fisher believed northerners would pay top dollar for lots in South Florida, but he recognized the need for a reliable highway to funnel his customers southward. He had already been involved in promoting the Lincoln Highway, an east-west route across the northern United States. That project had run into trouble, however. Promoters had expected private funding to cover the cost of building the road, but they were never able to raise the necessary ten million dollars. Fisher realized that for a highway connecting Miami with the northern states to succeed, it would require both private and public backing.

Carl Graham Fisher with his Packard in Elkhart, Indiana (1915).

Carl Graham Fisher with his Packard in Elkhart, Indiana (1915).

In November 1915, Carl Fisher announced his intention to build the nation’s first true national automobile highway linking the North and South. He originally called it the “Cotton Belt Route,” but the press quickly latched onto the road’s symbolic value as a peace gesture binding the nation together. Keep in mind there were still a number of individuals living at this time who had lived through the Civil War and Reconstruction. The New York Times suggested the new highway ought to be called the “Dixie Peaceway.” Over time, however, the name settled into the familiar “Dixie Highway” we still see on road signs today.

Fisher originally intended for the highway to run between Chicago and Miami, but the route in between was up for debate. Virtually every community between these two endpoints wanted to be located along the profitable new road. Fisher and his backers decided to organize a conference of governors and other state representatives in Chattanooga in April 1915 to hammer out the details and form the Dixie Highway Association. Constructing and maintaining the roadway would remain the responsibility of the states and communities along the route, but the Association would help with marketing, surveying, and other coordinating tasks.

Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway in Dania (1915).

Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway in Dania (1915).

The Dixie Highway Association called on each governor whose state would be traversed by the new road to appoint two commissioners to decide on the best route and report back with their views. Governor Park Trammell appointed George W. Saxon, a banker from Tallahassee, and Samuel A. Belcher, a road construction magnate from Miami, as Florida’s commissioners. Carl Fisher and most of the road’s advocates had long assumed the Dixie Highway would enter the state north of Jacksonville and simply follow the Atlantic coast to Miami. Highway enthusiasts in the middle of the state and along the Gulf Coast, however, wanted to reap some of the highway’s benefits for themselves. The Central Florida Highway Association, a powerful lobbying organization with members from Naples to Tallahassee, argued for a western branch of the Dixie Highway that would offer travelers an alternate route between Macon, Georgia and Miami via a string of towns on the western side of the Florida peninsula.

Several counties established gateways like this one welcoming Dixie Highway travelers (circa 1920).

Several counties established gateways like this one welcoming Dixie Highway travelers (circa 1920).

Belcher and Saxon agreed a western route was needed, but they couldn’t agree on where it should be located. Saxon and the Central Florida Highway Association wanted to include towns near the Gulf coast north of Gainesville, including Trenton, Perry, and Tallahassee. South of Kissimmee, they wanted the Dixie Highway to proceed as far southwest as Arcadia before turning back east to rejoin the main route near Jupiter. Belcher thought this route was too long and winding to properly serve northern travelers. He envisioned a highway proceeding almost due north from Gainesville, passing through Live Oak or Lake City before entering Georgia near Valdosta. South of Kissimmee, he thought the road should head straight for the coast, hitting somewhere around Melbourne as U.S. 192 does today.

While Belcher’s route was more direct, Saxon argued that the Gulf coast communities had already pledged considerable support for the highway, with taxpayers even voting to bond themselves for the necessary funding. If their communities were bypassed, he warned, those communities might withdraw their support for the project altogether. Belcher ultimately relented, and the Dixie Highway was established with two routes through Florida, connected by cross-state roads at several points.

Map of the proposed Dixie Highway in Florida, showing both the originally contemplated eastern and western routes, along with the bonds pledged by each county and the amount of work completed. Originally printed in the Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1916.

Map of the proposed Dixie Highway in Florida, showing both the originally contemplated eastern and western routes, along with the bonds pledged by each county and the amount of work completed. Originally printed in the Atlanta Constitution, June 4, 1916. Click the image to enlarge it.

The Dixie Highway was as successful as its founders had hoped, but it survived only a short time under its original name. All of the commotion over funding the road and selecting its route had provoked questions about the federal government’s potential role in developing interstate highways. A coalition of local authorities, business owners, and auto industry leaders began calling for Washington to simplify the process of expanding the nation’s highway infrastructure by funding and supervising a network of federal roads.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Bankhead Act, which pumped $75 million of federal money into the idea. This was the beginning of the U.S. highway system we know today. As that system grew, older blazed trails like the Dixie and Lincoln highways were absorbed into it. Soon, the name “Dixie Highway” was only used locally on certain segments of the original route, usually with “Old” in front of it. The name “Dixie Highway” also lived on in the names of businesses like the “Dixie Highway Garage” or the “Dixie Highway Inn” that had sought to link themselves to the novelty of the new road.

A segment of the Dixie Highway in Perry (Taylor County) still carries its original name, as this sign at the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Jefferson Street indicates (2016). Photo courtesy of Susan Moody.

A segment of the Dixie Highway in Perry (Taylor County) still carries its original name, as this sign at the corner of Old Dixie Highway and Jefferson Street indicates (2016). Photo courtesy of Susan Moody.

Next time you’re driving through Florida and encounter a portion of the “Old Dixie Highway,” we encourage you to drive it and try to capture a bit of the excitement that must have filled northern travelers coming to the Sunshine State for the first time. You’ll not only be getting off the beaten path for a while – you’ll also be driving down a unique piece of Florida history!

Leander Shaw, Jr. Dies at 85

Leander Shaw, Jr., the first African-American Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, died Monday, December 14, 2015 following an extended illness. Shaw’s legal career in Florida spanned over 40 years, including stints as a public defender, prosecutor, appeals court judge, and law professor in addition to his time on the state’s highest bench.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (circa 1985)

Florida Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (circa 1985)

Justice Shaw was born in Salem, Virginia in 1930 and educated at West Virginia State College and Howard University in Washington, D.C. He received his law degree in 1957 and moved to Tallahassee to accept a position as professor of law at Florida A&M University. Shaw took the Florida Bar exam in the old DuPont Plaza Hotel in Miami in 1960, but because of his race was not permitted to stay there. According to Florida Supreme Court officials, when Shaw was admitted to the Bar that year he became one of only about 25 black attorneys practicing in the state at the time.

The DuPont Plaza Center and Hotel in Miami, where Justice Shaw took the Florida Bar Exam in 1960 but could not stay as a guest (photo 1962).

The DuPont Plaza Center and Hotel in Miami, where Justice Shaw took the Florida Bar Exam in 1960 but could not stay as a guest (photo 1962).

Shaw moved to Jacksonville and began practicing as a private attorney. His office was located in the old Masonic Lodge at the corner of Broad and West Duval streets downtown. As a young African-American attorney practicing when Jim Crow was only just beginning to loosen its grip on Southern society, “Lawyer Shaw” found himself dispensing lots of pro bono advice. One of Shaw’s friends, Ray Barney, noted that Shaw was one of very few black attorneys available in Jacksonville at the time, yet he was always willing to help everyday members of the community understand the legal system and their rights. In 1990, Barney told Florida Magazine that Shaw “probably would have made a lot more money if he’d paid less attention to regular folks. But I always thought he was more like a pastor in a church than a lawyer.”

An early postcard of the Masonic Temple in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Broad and Duval streets where Justice Shaw had his law offices during his earlier days as a young attorney in private practice (postcard circa 1915).

An early postcard of the Masonic Temple in downtown Jacksonville at the corner of Broad and Duval streets where Justice Shaw had his law offices during his earlier days as a young attorney in private practice (postcard circa 1915).

Shaw’s commitment to the public became more official when he was recruited as an assistant public defender for Duval County. In 1969 he became head of the Capital Crimes Division of the State Attorney’s staff and an adviser to the grand jury. In 1974, Governor Reubin Askew appointed Shaw to the Florida Industrial Relations Commission, where he served until Governor Bob Graham appointed him to the First District Court of Appeals in 1979.

Governor Graham appointed Leander Shaw as a Justice to the Florida Supreme Court in 1983, making him the second African-American to serve in that capacity. The first, Joseph Hatchett, had resigned his post a few years before to become a federal appeals court judge. Shaw served his term as Chief Justice from 1990 to 1992. He retired from the bench in 2003, but leaves behind a strong legacy of public service and dedication to the law.

Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (left) shaking hands with 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Joseph Hatchett at a ceremony in Tallahassee. Hatchett was Florida's first African-American Supreme Court justice prior to becoming a federal judge (photo 1990).

Justice Leander Shaw, Jr. (left) shaking hands with 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge Joseph Hatchett at a ceremony in Tallahassee. Hatchett was Florida’s first African-American Supreme Court justice prior to becoming a federal judge (photo 1990).

There Oughta Be a Law!

Whoever said law books are boring clearly hasn’t read many city and town ordinances from the 1800s or early 1900s. Local governments are closest to the people, so naturally the laws they create often regulate the most mundane, common behavior. You can learn a lot about a community and the challenges it faced in a particular time period by studying its local ordinances. In doing the reading, however, you’re likely to find a few that give you a chuckle. Here are a few gems from cities and towns around Florida:

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A Cloud of Suspicion

As the United States moved closer to breaking ties with Germany and its allies during the First World War, citizens across the country took steps to separate themselves from all things German. Foods with ties to German culture received new names. Hamburgers became “liberty sandwiches.” Sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage.” Teaching the German language, playing German music, and even speaking in German were banned in some areas. Violators of these restrictions often found their loyalty to the United States questioned.

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The Dreaded Yellow Jack

Yellow fever, also known as the “yellow plague” or the “yellow jack,” was one of the most dangerous and dreaded diseases prevalent in Florida during the 1800s. The disease is viral, spread primarily by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but this knowledge was not widely known until the 20th century. In the meantime, epidemics often broke out in Florida during the summer months, especially in cities. Read more »

Jacksonville’s "Treaty Oak"

“Big Oak is really big.”

Someone once wrote these profound words on the back of a photograph to describe what may be one of the oldest single living things in the entire city of Jacksonville. “Big Oak,” now known as “Treaty Oak,” is an enormous Southern live oak tree (Quercus virginiana) estimated to be well over two centuries old. It’s located in Jacksonville’s Jessie Ball duPont Park, parts of which were once known as the Dixieland Amusement Park. Read more »

The Beatles Are Back!

Fifty years ago, the Beatles played their second and last Florida show as a band at the old Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.  This was a particularly exciting and dramatic time for Floridians and for the Beatles.  The band’s movie, A Hard Day’s Night, had recently premiered in the United States. Record breaking crowds were screaming at their shows while millions of viewers were swooning and shaking their Beatle wigs in front of the television. “Beatlemania” had taken hold in Florida and across the country. Yet this particular show was nearly canceled due to Hurricane Dora, racial segregation and the illegal sales of live Beatles footage. Recently, the State Archives and Florida Memory was privileged to receive never before seen photos of this nearly doomed event along with an eyewitness account from beginning to end.  Read on as Annette Ramsey shares about the Beatles, her father’s dedication to getting her to the show despite the bad weather, and these incredible Fab Four photos.

Annette Ramsey:

I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show and loved them! Especially Paul! My dad found out that they were going to tour the U.S. and would be performing at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville. So he bought tickets from a radio station. Our tickets cost $4.00 each and we sat in the bleachers. For $5.00 you could sit in front of the stage!

Annette Ramsey at her Beatles-themed birthday party (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey at her Beatles-themed birthday party (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey's Uncle Bern dressed as Ringo Starr with a Beatle wig (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

Annette Ramsey’s Uncle Bern dressed as Ringo Starr with a Beatle wig (1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

So the day of the concert came. It was September 11, 1964. I was 9 years old at the time and my dad was 39. A hurricane was predicted to come through…Hurricane Dora… and it did come the day before the concert. Because of the destruction my dad and I could not drive to Jacksonville as we had originally planned. My dad said to my mom “We have to find a way to get Annette to the concert and once we get there, we can figure out how to get back.” So my dad found a friend of a friend who had a commuter plane and he happened to have two seats available. It was my first plane ride! The Beatles plane landed right before ours and ours was still in the air but you could see them walk down the steps. The women in our plane took their shoes off and started beating them against the windows of the plane! Daddy was scared to death! When our plane landed everyone tried to run after the Beatles! But they were long gone.

The Beatles having a hasty dinner and press conference at Jacksonville's George Washington Hotel (September 11, 1964). Photo courtesy of Annette Ramsey.

The Beatles having a hasty dinner and press conference at Jacksonville’s George Washington Hotel (September 11, 1964).

John Lennon at the George Washington Hotel press conference in Jacksonville. The Beatles did not sleep at the hotel and nearly canceled their show in opposition to racial segregation in the city (September 11, 1964).

John Lennon at the George Washington Hotel press conference in Jacksonville (September 11, 1964).

Since we had arrived several hours before the concert, my Dad decided we should go downtown and have dinner. He was in the mood for a nice steak! So we went to a restaurant that happened to be across the street from the George Washington Hotel. While we are waiting for our meal my dad saw a reporter with a badge that said “Tampa Times.” At the time we had two newspapers in Tampa, the Times and the Tribune. So Daddy asked him if he had seen the Beatles. He said yes that he had covered an interview with them across the street at the George Washington Hotel. He was a photographer and his name was Vernon Barchard. He said he would show us where they were going to come out. Of course I wanted to go right then but Daddy was going to have his steak! After we finished eating we went across the street with Vernon to the parking garage at the George Washington Hotel. After what seemed like hours to me (but really wasn’t) they got out from the elevator and they were literally pushed against the wall by all the screaming fans. Vernon positioned himself to take a picture and my dad held me on his shoulders. When Paul came out Daddy pointed at Vernon and said “Tell Paul to smile and take the picture.”
It was very hard for the Beatles to get into their car and leave. Female fans jumped on the car and beat the windows with their shoes like on the plane!

Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison leaving the George Washington Hotel for their show. Annette Ramsey is seen at top right (September 11, 1964).

Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison leaving the George Washington Hotel for their show. Annette Ramsey is seen at top right (September 11, 1964).

I don’t remember how we got from the parking garage to the concert. We may have taken a cab? And I don’t remember any of the opening acts. The Beatles portion of the concert was late because photographers had been traveling around taking unauthorized film footage of them. The band wouldn’t start until they left. We sat in the bleachers. Our tickets cost $4.00 each. The bleachers shook because the women stamped their feet and you could hardly hear the Beatles because of the screaming! I have read that their set only lasted 37 minutes. It seemed longer to me.

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at the Jacksonville Gator Bowl show. His drums had to be nailed to the stage due to the remaining high winds from Hurricane Dora (September 11, 1964).

Beatles drummer Ringo Starr at the Jacksonville Gator Bowl show. His drums had to be nailed to the stage due to the remaining high winds from Hurricane Dora (September 11, 1964).

The Beatles on the windswpt stage at the Gator Bowl, September 11, 1964. Concert-goer Annette Ramsey recalled that the cardboard letters spelling out "Beatles" were eventually ripped away from the side of the stage by the wind.

The Beatles on the windswept stage at the Gator Bowl, September 11, 1964. Concert-goer Annette Ramsey recalled that the cardboard letters spelling out “Beatles” were eventually ripped away from the side of the stage by the wind.

After the concert we met Vernon at a pre-arranged place and he drove us back to Tampa. A week later he mailed me these photos. I am happy to share the photos with other Beatles fans. I am planning to return to Jacksonville in October to see Paul McCartney. My dad said he’ll pass this time and let me go with my husband!!

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If you have photos, film footage or great memories of the Beatles in Florida please contact the State Archives.  We would love to share your memories with the rest of Beatle fandom and the world!

 

Not Our First Rodeo

Lots of people associate the idea of a rodeo with the American West – Texas, Oklahoma, someplace dusty, hot, and dotted with cacti. And while rodeo is most certainly a big hit out west, it has deep roots here in the Sunshine State as well. Florida, after all, has been home to a thriving cattle industry for centuries. Native Americans and the Spanish were raising cows as early as the 1500s, long before organized ranching arrived in what would become known as the American West. As new settlers arrived and the era of Spanish ownership came to an end, the herds remained, changed hands many times, and continued to serve as a valuable source of food and trade.

Drawing of the

Drawing of the “cow ford” that eventually became the site of Jacksonville. This particular section of the St. Johns River was used for the purpose of fording cattle as far back as the late 18th century (drawing circa 1800s).

Rodeo developed partly out of the practical needs of a farm or cattle ranch, and partly because the tasks involved naturally lend themselves to competition and spectacle. Roping, herding, and branding cattle, breaking wild horses, and overall dexterity in the saddle were all basic needs of even the earliest cattle ranch hands. The events of modern rodeos are closely related to these traditional skills.

A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).

A man prepares to lasso a calf at the rodeo in Lakeland. Capturing cattle to brand and sort them was a vital part of the industry (photo 1950).

A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).

A cowboy struggles to keep his balance as he rides atop a wild horse at the rodeo in Bonifay (1950).

Aside from serving as a demonstration of skill, rodeos have a strong social element that brings together communities like few other traditions can do. In cities and towns where the surrounding region is highly involved in the cattle industry, rodeos are held frequently, and are designed for the entire family to enjoy. Floridians as far south as Homestead and as far north as Bonifay have special annual rodeos with a lengthy past. The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, for example, originated in 1928 when the local American Legion post was looking for a fundraiser for a new building. Post officials invited all the local families, including the Seminoles located nearby, to attend a rodeo and parade to raise money for their cause. A band from Wauchula provided music, and even Governor Doyle Carlton rode in the procession. The first rodeo was a smashing success, and even with the arrival of the Great Depression, the people of Arcadia kept up the tradition of holding rodeo events each year. It still continues today.

Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).

Rodeo parade in Arcadia (1969).

Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).

Riders carry flags around the arena at Arcadia (1971).

One of rodeo’s most admirable aspects is its inclusiveness. While the crowd may roar at the spectacle of an adult rider using every ounce of strength to stay atop a bucking bull, there’s just as much enthusiasm for the large number of events held especially for the kids. From rodeo’s earliest days, children have been earnest competitors, demonstrating their horsemanship, roping skills, and overall athleticism in a variety of ways. Older kids with a little more size and experience may compete in junior versions of the same events as adults, while a few events are just for the small fry. At Arcadia, for example, youngsters can participate in the “calf scramble” and “mutton bustin'” challenges. In the calf scramble, an entire army of kids are unleashed on the arena where calves adorned with bandannas have been placed. Those participants who successfully chase down a calf and remove its bandanna are declared the winners. In the mutton scramble, young riders hold onto the backs of sheep as they scurry about the arena. Whoever stays on the longest wins.

Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).

Patty Blackmon and her horse Buck near Ocala (1948).

A young man participates in a

A young man participates in a “calf scramble” at a rodeo in Lakeland. This version of the calf scramble had an interesting twist. If a participant could catch the calf and get him over the finish line, he got to keep it (1947).

These are just a few of the hundreds of images in the Florida Photographic Collection pertaining to the rodeo. Is there a rodeo event near your community? Tell us about your favorite rodeo experiences by leaving a comment below. And don’t forget to share this post on Facebook!

Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).

Bob Cobb, a rancher and 30-year rodeo veteran, tries to talk Patrolman H.M. Whitworth out of a ticket for illegally parking his 3-year-old Brahman steer in Ocala (1948).