Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

In the summer of 1959, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized the Miami Interracial Action Institute and taught attendees principles of non-violent direct action to combat inequality in the South. Two attendees, sisters Patricia and Priscilla Stephens, took these principles with them when they returned to Tallahassee for school and formed the Tallahassee chapter of CORE. Using tactics they learned at the CORE workshop, the Stephens sisters held their first sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Tallahassee on February 13, 1960, and a second sit-in at the same lunch counter a week later, which led to the arrest of the sisters and a group of other students. Rather than pay their fines, eight students opted for jail time, effectively launching the first jail-in of the civil rights movement.

The eight jailed students and CORE were suddenly thrown into the national spotlight. CORE used the opportunity to draw attention to their organization. What were CORE’s principles, and how could people join the growing civil rights movement through CORE? Using records from the Patricia Stephens Due Papers (N2015-1), we take a look at the materials CORE published and how young activists in Florida, including the Stephens sisters, used CORE as the foundation for fighting racial discrimination.

Participants in the CORE Miami Interracial Action Institute in 1959 at the Sir John Hotel. Seated, left to right: Mrs. Shirley Zoloth, Patricia Stephens (later Due), person unknown, Vera Williams and Priscilla Stephens (later Kruize). Standing, left to right: Jim Dewar, Zev Aelony, person unknown, James T. McCain and Gordon Carey.

CORE formed its Miami chapter in 1959 and the Tallahassee chapter emerged soon after. By the time the organization made its way to Florida, CORE had been active in the United States for nearly two decades. Started in 1942 by pacifist students at the University of Chicago, CORE’s members wanted to use Gandhian techniques of non-violent direct action to improve race relations in the United States. CORE grew out of another pacifist organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), which was started during World War II with a focus on non-violent direct action for social justice. The first course of action for CORE was to counter the discriminatory housing market in the Chicago area, but their activism quickly grew to a national scale when CORE members decided to target bus segregation in the South.

A pamphlet about CORE’s principles of non-violent direct action which includes 13 rules for action, ca. 1957.

In April 1947, 16 male CORE and FOR members began a project called the “Journey of Reconciliation” through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky to test integration on interstate buses. The eight black and eight white activists were responding to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Irene Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946), which ruled segregation in interstate bus travel unconstitutional. With the law on their side, the 16 men rode buses and trains across these Southern states. Some were arrested, but others were able to ride public transportation without any attention. When a rider was confronted, he would use the non-violent tactics he had learned and cite the Supreme Court decision. Although this protest against bus segregation received little national press coverage at the time and resulted in almost no changes to discriminatory policies, it paved the way for the Freedom Rides in 1961.

A CORE flier encouraging people to boycott Shell’s City in Miami for refusing to serve African-Americans at its lunch counter, ca. 1960.

In the mid-1950s, CORE slowly began to establish chapters throughout the country. After the first all-white school in Miami was integrated in 1959, CORE headed to this southern city and started a chapter. CORE then decided to host the Interracial Action Institute, which the Stephens sisters and 10 others from all over the U.S. attended. One of the purposes of the institute was to train participants to use non-violent direct action “as a weapon to advance integration.” Since CORE couldn’t be everywhere at once, their goal was to train people locally so they could then use CORE tactics in their communities. At the institute, participants went through intensive training by role-playing different scenarios they might encounter while holding their demonstrations and were taught how to respond. Participants then put theory into practice, leading a voter registration drive by going door to door in black communities and holding lunch counters sit-ins to challenge discriminatory policies under the guidance of CORE leaders. When the workshop was over, participants went back to their homes to carry on the fight for equality.

Leaflet with guidelines for how to carry out CORE pickets, February 26, 1960.

The Stephens sisters returned to Tallahassee for the fall semester at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) ready to challenge discrimination in the capital city. They quickly formed a CORE chapter in Tallahassee and began documenting instances of discriminatory policies. The February 1, 1960, lunch counter demonstration at the Woolworth store in Greensboro, North Carolina, laid the groundwork for sit-ins across the South. Inspired by the non-violent direct action demonstration of the four students in Greensboro, national CORE asked local chapters to hold sympathy demonstrations in their communities. Ten students, including the Stephens sisters, participated in a sympathy sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter in Tallahassee on February 13. The students ordered slices of cake and were refused service. During their two hours at the lunch counter, the students were derided by onlookers, but they remained faithful to their CORE training and didn’t engage with the crowd. When Woolworth’s management closed the counter, the students went home.

CORE members holding a sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter on February 13, 1960. Patricia Stephens is wearing dark glasses and Henry Steele Jr. sits closest to the camera.

After this first sit-in, Tallahassee CORE planned another for the following Saturday. On February 20, a group of 17 demonstrators made their way to the Woolworth’s lunch counter and ordered food. Most of the group was composed of FAMU students, but there were also high school students participating. A large group surrounded the demonstrators and told them to move from their seats. Seven of them did leave, but the 11 remaining demonstrators were arrested by police. At their trial, they were charged with disturbing the peace. All of them were found guilty and given the option to pay a $300 fine or spend 60 days in jail. Eight students, including the Stephens sisters, refused to pay the fine. Rather than pay, they chose to hold the first jail-in of the civil rights movement. As a result, CORE and its principles of non-violent direct action were placed in the national spotlight, and people from all over the country wrote to the jailed students to offer support for their demonstrations. When the students were released from jail after serving 49 days, they persistently pursued racial equality in the United States.

A booklet published by CORE consisting of six stories written by young people involved with sit-ins and other non-violent demonstrations across the United States, May 1960. Patricia Stephens  tells her story from jail where she was serving her 60-day sentence with seven other activists, including her sister, Priscilla. Patricia writes about the events leading up to being jailed and the conditions at the Leon County Jail in Tallahassee. The other five stories were written by Edward Rodman (Portsmouth, Virginia), Paul Laprad (Nashville, Tennessee), Thomas Gaither (Orangeburg, South Carolina), Major Johns (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) and Martin Smolin (activities in the North).

Activists continued to use the principles of CORE throughout the civil rights movement. Financial problems and internal disputes, which plagued CORE from the beginning, led to the collapse of many local chapters by the mid-1960s. Now CORE is remembered as one of the leading organizations during the fight for civil rights and as the catalyst for civil rights activities in Florida.

You can learn more about the Tallahassee jail-in in our online collection, Stephens Sisters Jail-In Papers, 1960.

Resources

Catsam, Derek Charles. Freedom’s Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2009.

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.

Gates, Jr., Henry Louis. Life Upon These Shores: Looking at African American History 1513-2008. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement 1942-1968. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Mohl, Raymond A. South of the South: Jewish Activists and the Civil Rights Movement in Miami, 1945-1960. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2004.

Ernest “Boots” Thomas: Florida’s Unsung Hero

On the morning of February 23, 1945, a group of brave Marines, surrounded by enemy fire, made their way to the top of Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima, Japan, in the midst of a battle for the island. After nearly four days of fighting, six Marines planted a flag atop the 550-foot summit as a symbol of hope and endurance to encourage their brothers in arms to keep fighting. This event preceded a second flag raising four hours later in the same spot that was immortalized in a photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal.

A sculpture of the second flag raising on Iwo Jima inspired by Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph. The sculpture was located at Cape Coral Gardens in Cape Coral, Florida, until it was moved to Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve.

Staff Sergeant Louis R. Lowery photographed the first flag raising on the morning of February 23. These six infantrymen were from the 3rd Platoon, Company E, Second Battalion, 28th Marines, Fifth Marine Division. One of the men on the summit was Platoon Sergeant Ernest Ivy “Boots” Thomas Jr. who grew up in the small city of Monticello in the Florida Panhandle. Just shy of his 21st birthday, this young platoon sergeant bravely led his men up the summit that morning to help plant the flag and was then immediately whisked away to report the event to the press. A second flag was raised because it was decided that the first flag wasn’t large enough for all American forces to see.

Photograph taken by Louis Lowery of the first flag raising on Iwo Jima, February 23, 1945. Platoon Sergeant Thomas stands on the mound with his rifle and faces the camera. Corporal Charles W. Lindberg, Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley, Sergeant Henry Hansen, 1st Lieutenant Harold G. Schrier and Private Philip L. Ward are also in the photograph.

Born in Tampa to Ernest and Martha Thomas, “Boots,” as some of his friends called him, graduated from Monticello High School and attended Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana, for one year. He enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. After basic training, Thomas stayed to work as a drill instructor but continued to request combat duty. In 1944, he was sent overseas, and his first and only combat experience was on Iwo Jima. On February 21, two days after landing on Iwo Jima, Thomas’s platoon commander was wounded in action. Under enemy fire, Thomas assumed command and continued the assault. His men were successful in defeating the enemy in this sector and Thomas’s valiant efforts earned him the Navy Cross for heroism. Two days later, Thomas was on the summit with five of his men raising the American flag. As the Battle of Iwo Jima continued, thousands of men on both sides lost their lives, including Thomas, who was killed by enemy gun fire on March 3. He was buried at Iwo Jima, but his body was returned to Monticello after the war and laid to rest at Roseland Cemetery. The Navy Cross was awarded posthumously to Platoon Sergeant Thomas and presented to his mother in June 1946.

Platoon Sergeant Thomas’s mother, Martha, viewing a display of World War II flags at the Historic Capitol in Tallahassee with Governor Millard F. Caldwell, 1945.

In 1978, there was a push to honor the fallen soldier from Florida with a memorial in Monticello. State Senator Pat Thomas addressed the Senate on May 17, 1978, with Senate Concurrent Resolution 1024, to honor the bravery and heroism of Platoon Sergeant Thomas and endorse building a memorial in his honor. In his speech to the Florida Senate, Senator Thomas explained the need for the memorial saying, “We sometimes take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, which other men fought and died to preserve. So I think it is appropriate for us to occasionally take time to reflect on those great men and their great deeds.” Platoon Sergeant Thomas’s sister and brother-in-law, Jean and Billy Bishop, were on hand to receive a copy of the resolution. Senator Thomas’s speech from series 1238, box 42, tape 12 can be heard below.


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Copy of SCR 1024 recognizing the heroism of Sergeant Thomas and endorsing a memorial dedicated to him, May 17, 1978. It was also endorsed by the Florida House of Representatives with HB 1914. State Archives of Florida, Series 18, Box 636, Folder SRC 1024 by Sen. P. Thomas.

Three years later, on February 22, 1981, the memorial to Thomas was unveiled at a ceremony in Monticello. The monument is eight feet tall and five feet wide and depicts the first flag raising. Thomas’s brother, Jack Thomas, and sister, Jean, were present at the unveiling, as were some of the men who served with Thomas at Iwo Jima. Today, visitors to the memorial can take a moment to remember the sacrifice Platoon Sergeant Thomas and many other service members made for their country during World War II.

The monument to the first flag raisers on Iwo Jima located in Monticello, Florida, 1981. In a 2016 investigation by the Marine Corps, it was discovered that Private First Class James Michels and Private First Class Louis Charlo were not on the summit that day. The official record now states that Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 2nd Class John Bradley and Private Philip L. Ward were there that day.

A plaque describing Sergeant Thomas’s heroism stands by his grave at Roseland Cemetery in Monticello, Florida, 2018.

The monument in Monticello is located near 935 West Washington (US-90). Thomas’s grave is located at Roseland Cemetery in Monticello and includes a plaque dedicated to his heroism.

Resources

Bacon, Lance M. “Marines Say Men in First Iwo Jima Flag-Raising Photo Were Also Misidentified.” Marine Corps Times, August 24, 2016. https://www.marinecorpstimes.com/2016/08/24/marines-say-men-in-first-iwo-jima-flag-raising-photo-were-also-misidentified/.

Dailey, Ryan. “‘Boots Thomas: a Marine, a Hero and a Friend.” Tallahassee Democrat, October 29, 2015. http://www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2015/10/29/boots-thomas-marine-hero-and-friend/74805402/.

Goldstein, Richard. “Joe Rosenthal, Photographer at Iwo Jima, Dies.” New York Times, August 21, 2006. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/21/business/media/22rosenthalcnd.html.

Hayes, Paula. “Brave Local Man Hero On Iwo Jima.” Monticello News, February 23, 1978. State Library of Florida, Vertical File, Thomas-Thomason.

Journal of the Senate, Number 29, May 17, 1978, pages 388-389.  http://archive.flsenate.gov/data/Historical/Senate%20Journals/1970s/1978/35-379TO40305_17_78.PDF.

“Thomas Memorial To Be Dedicated.” Monticello News, February 19, 1981. State Library of Florida, Vertical File, Thomas-Thomason.

Judge James Dean of Key West

In 1888, James Dean was elected to be the county judge in Key West, Monroe County. A graduate of Howard University College of Law, he is said to be the first black judge elected in the post-Reconstruction South.

Judge James Dean - Monroe County, Florida. 18--? https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/13060

A photograph of Judge James Dean in Monroe County, Florida. Florida Photographic Collection, image number PR14947.

Dean was born on February 14, 1858, in Ocala, Florida, and attended Cookman Institute and Howard University. He became a Master at Law at Howard in 1884, graduating as the class valedictorian, and was admitted to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court that same year.

Biography of Judge James Dean, Key West Daily Equator, 1884

Biography of Judge James Dean, Key West Daily Equator, 1884.

He was elected County Judge on November 6, 1888, and took office in January of 1889.

Letter from Judge Dean to Governor Fleming refusing to resign, August 22nd, 1889. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

Judge Dean’s record of his commission as the elected County Judge of Monroe County. Record of Commission dated December 18, 1888. Office of Secretary of State, Record of Commissions, S1285, Volume 37.

Less than eight months after Dean began serving as judge, Governor Francis Fleming ordered him to resign. He was accused of issuing a marriage license to an allegedly interracial couple, Antonio Gonzalez and Annie Maloney; both were actually of black Cuban descent, meaning the marriage was lawful at the time. Judge Dean protested his innocence in a series of letters to the governor.

Letter from Judge Dean to Governor Fleming refusing to resign, August 22nd, 1889. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

Letter from Judge Dean to Governor Fleming protesting his innocence of the charge against him and refusing to resign, July 20, 1889. Governor Fleming Correspondence, S580, Box 9.

Letter from Judge Dean to Governor Fleming refusing to resign, August 22nd, 1889. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

Letter from Judge Dean to Governor Fleming refusing to resign, August 22, 1889. Governor Fleming Correspondence, S580, Box 9.

 

His supporters in Key West sent a resolution of protest to the governor with five pages of signatures, to no avail.

A resolution of protest by citizens of Key West in support of Judge Dean. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

A resolution of protest by citizens of Key West in support of Judge Dean. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

A resolution of protest by citizens of Key West in support of Judge Dean. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

A resolution of protest by citizens of Key West in support of Judge Dean. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

A resolution of protest by citizens of Key West in support of Judge Dean. [Governor Fleming correspondence, S580, box 9]

A resolution of protest by citizens of Key West in support of Judge Dean. Governor Fleming Correspondence, S580, Box 9.

Governor Fleming issued an executive order suspending Judge Dean which stated that the suspension would remain in effect until the next adjournment of the Senate, unless the Senate decided to remove him.

Executive order suspending Judge James Dean [Governor’s letterbooks, S32, volume 25, part 6]

Executive order suspending Judge James Dean. Governor’s Letterbooks, S32, Volume 25, Part 6.

The Senate adjourned in 1891 without removing Judge Dean, which meant that his suspension would have expired, but Governor Fleming had already appointed a successor.

Dean fought his removal but was unsuccessful. He eventually moved to Jacksonville, where he died in 1914. His law books were auctioned off after his death to pay the debts of his estate.

Governor Bush signs a proclamation reinstating James Dean as a judge. [S2112, Governor (1999-2007, Bush) Speech and remark files and recordings, 02-26-02]

Governor Bush signs a proclamation reinstating James Dean as a judge, February 26, 2002. Governor (1999-2007, Bush) Speech and Remark Files and Recordings, S2112.

On February 26, 2002, Governor Jeb Bush issued a proclamation reinstating Dean’s judgeship. From the event outline, Governor Bush noted the facts of the case:

“That the executive order stated that Dean’s suspension would remain in effect until the next ADJOURNMENT of the Senate, unless the Senate decided to remove Judge Dean completely.

“The senate adjourned on June 5, 1891, without removing Judge Dean, therefore, his suspension expired upon the Senate’s adjournment on June 6, 1891. Legal research has shown that the marriage was lawful. Dean received a sworn statement from the husband saying that he was of black ancestry. Thus, the issuing of the marriage license was legal – no grounds for suspension.”

Excerpt from speech given February 26, 2002. Governor (1999-2007, Bush) Speech and Remark Files and Recordings, S2112.

In the closing remarks shown above, Governor Bush expressed the greater importance of understanding and acknowledging historical injustices in order to pave the way for a more equitable future.

For more information about Judge James Dean, please see the following series in the holdings of the State Archives of Florida: http://bit.ly/2losUsS, http://bit.ly/2lowgfg, http://bit.ly/2knaXuv and http://bit.ly/2k46gow.

Postmarked Christmas, Florida

Each year, people from miles around bring their holiday greeting cards to the post office in Christmas, Florida. Located 25 miles east of Orlando, this small community offers a unique opportunity for those sending holidays greeting cards to relatives and friends around the world: a postmark from Christmas.

The history of this community’s relationship with the Christmas holiday dates back to its founding. The Second Seminole War brought soldiers and settlers to the area, and they built a log fort on the outskirts to protect themselves from the Seminoles. The fort was constructed on December 25, 1837, and was appropriately named Fort Christmas.

When the first post office was established there in 1892, “Fort” was dropped and the community became known simply as Christmas. The Christmas postmark didn’t gain widespread attention until World War II, when servicemen stationed nearby would travel to the Christmas Post Office to have their letters sent home. The popularity of this postmark steadily increased following World War II, and people from all around the world now wish to have their holiday cards postmarked from Christmas, Florida.

Front of a postcard showing the U.S. Post Office building in Christmas, Florida.

Back of the postcard showing the Christmas, Fla. postmark. The postcard is postmarked March 17, 1950.

Juanita S. Tucker served as postmistress at the Christmas Post Office for 42 years, from 1932-1974. She was appointed to the position by President Herbert Hoover and succeeded her mother-in-law, Mrs. L.O. Tucker, who had served since 1914. As postmistress, Juanita Tucker saw the amount of holiday mail increase from year to year. People who couldn’t come in person to the post office could send packages filled with letters to have them stamped with the Christmas postmark. Holiday greeting cards and letters to Santa came from as far away as Scotland, England and the Philippines to be stamped. Many patrons, though, were locals who came back every year to partake in this newly minted Florida tradition.

Juanita Tucker at the post office window in Christmas, Florida, 1947.

To spread the word about her little community, Tucker wrote a booklet titled Perpetual Christmas (1934), in which she outlines the history of Christmas, Florida, including the post office’s history. She writes that the Christmas season at the post office “is a festive and merry occasion as well as a busy one.”

Perpetual Christmas (1934) was written by Juanita S. Tucker, who served as postmistress at the Christmas post office for 42 years. Click to read the entire booklet.

Around the holiday season, Tucker would add personal touches to the letters that came to the post office. While the postmark had to be stamped in black ink, she would personalize cards with an additional Christmas tree stamp in green ink for festive flair.

The post office became so inundated by holiday mail by the 1960s that Tucker had an addition built onto the existing post office and hired seasonal employees to lighten the load. Her husband, Cecil, was often around to assist during the holidays too. A cancellation machine also helped with the influx of mail, but Tucker still preferred to hand stamp the postmark because the stamp came out clearer. By the time she retired in 1974, the post office was mailing roughly 300,000 greeting cards from around the world and she had personally postmarked millions of cards.

Marion Stockton is Santa’s little helper at the post office in Christmas, Florida, 1947.

While the post office has changed a lot since Tucker’s retirement, the tradition of sending festive holiday greeting cards with the Christmas postmark remains. Floridians and residents nearby make the annual trip to the post office around Christmastime and can now decorate their envelopes with stamps and colorful ink provided by the post office.

What are your Christmas traditions? Have you had your holiday greeting cards stamped in Christmas, Florida? Share with us by posting a comment below or on our Facebook page!

Roxcy Bolton: Advocate for Women in Crisis

It wasn’t long ago that the United States did not have centers for women in crisis. In 1971, feminist Roxcy Bolton declared that the creation of crisis centers was long overdue. She shed light upon this issue amidst rising rates of crimes against women and outcries from women throughout the state of Florida. The creation of a treatment center for victims of sexual assault would not come easily or quickly. However, when it was established, it was the first of its kind in the nation and it set a precedent for those that followed.

Portrait of Roxcy Bolton, 1988.

Bolton was a pioneer of the feminist movement within Florida and nationwide, and “firsts” were something she excelled at. She founded the first National Organization for Women (NOW) chapter in the state of Florida. She initiated a neighborhood crime watch in the city of Coral Gables, where she resided throughout most of her activism. The watch was the first of its kind in Florida, and through it Bolton empowered community members to watch after each other to prevent violent crime. She also founded Women in Distress in 1972, the first women’s rescue shelter in Florida. Women in Distress provided housing, rescue services and assistance to women in situations of personal crisis. It should be unsurprising then that two of Bolton’s many passions were women’s health and community safety. Her dedication to these initiatives is evident throughout the Roxcy O’Neal Bolton Papers, collection M94-1 at the State Archives.

Bolton’s drive for women’s health and safety pushed her to petition for change in sexual assault treatment and legislation. Bolton saw problems with how these issues were handled in Dade County. Victims, from Bolton’s perspective, were being treated inadequately by law enforcement. She also noted a stigma that followed victims throughout their everyday life. The stigma was apparent in the way victims were spoken about or to, as well as within the literature surrounding assault prevention. These factors, Bolton argued, were discouraging women from coming forward for help and from pursuing prosecution.

In a 1973 letter from Bolton to Sheriff and Director of Public Safety of Miami E. Wilson Purdy, Bolton declared that police officers must re-evaluate their approach toward sexual assault, arguing that 50% of allegations  were disqualified, which discouraged victims from coming forward. Bolton pushed for allegations to be more critically examined before they were disqualified.

Resources for prevention or for victims of sexual assault were hard to find. Pamphlets on how to prevent sexual assault offered common-sense tips: “Lock your house and car doors” and “Avoid walking alone.” Though sound advice for anyone, this would not aid in true prevention or help victims. It was pamphlets such as these that inspired Bolton to act. Women, she argued, “are tired of hearing that the way to prevent rape is to keep their car doors locked….” In her letter to Sheriff Purdy, Bolton wrote: “the issue is the same as if you, Sheriff Purdy, were beaten in your home by an intruder because you forgot to lock the door—you wouldn’t be grilled as to why you didn’t lock your door.”

Frustrated with the state of help available for victims, Roxcy organized the Protest March Against Crimes of Rape held on October 4, 1971.

Permit from the City of Miami for the Protest March Against Crimes of Rape, October 4, 1971.

Bolton led protesters in making demands to Chief Garmire of the Miami Police Department (MPD). The first demand Bolton and her marchers made was that the MPD promptly devise and implement ways to provide necessary protection for women against sexual assault. Bolton also called for more foot and scooter patrols on Miami streets, sodium lights to create a safer environment, more police call-in boxes and a hotline number to report all serious crime. If a crime related to sexual assault, it had to immediately be switched to a female officer, and female officers must also be present at any interrogations of victims. And finally, Bolton’s last demand: the police department must immediately investigate and rapidly process complaints.

Demands made to Chief Garmire from the leadership of the March Against Rape, October 2, 1971.

Some of these demands did end up being implemented. But it was not enough for Bolton. In her letter to Sheriff Purdy written on October 10, 1973, Bolton said she was proposing the establishment of a treatment center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. Police were instructed to take victims directly to the center, rather than questioning the victims. Bolton felt that silence among victims jeopardized their physical and emotional wellbeing, and a center dedicated to their specific needs would help encourage them to come forward and seek help.

Letter from R. Ray Goode to Roxcy Bolton regarding the implementation of a center for sexual assault victims, November 15, 1973.

Roxcy Bolton at the opening of the Rape Treatment Center in Miami, 1974.

In January 1974, Bolton’s dream came to fruition. Open 24 hours a day, the Miami Rape Treatment Center offered their services for those who needed help. Within six months, the center had given aid to over 300 victims ages eight through 74. The center was run entirely by professionals under medical director Dr. Dorothy Hicks at its time of opening. And not all personnel were women; it was said by staff that “by isolating the victims from males, you are giving the message that all males are bad.”

Patients who came to the center received the entire spectrum of care. They were given a physical examination by a gynecologist, a psychiatric counselling session, necessary lab work and a police interview. All of these services were provided in one location, something that was not available before, providing stability and ease of access for patients. The center was in a separate location from the rest of the hospital services, allowing for truly specialized care—a request made by Bolton and the Women’s Task Force. The center was innovative in its approach to care and rehabilitation and inspired the creation of other centers like it throughout the country.

Letter from the Lola B. Walker Homeowners Association to Mayor Steven Clark regarding renaming the Dade County Rape Treatment Center after Roxcy Bolton, February 1, 1991.

It was a while in the making, but with Bolton’s determination, the center was created and is still open in Miami. After numerous letters from citizens pushing the issue, the center was renamed the Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center in 1993. Long after her Protest March Against Crimes of Rape, Bolton’s legacy as an advocate for victims continues on in the center for which she fought.

Roxcy Bolton Rape Treatment Center dedication, May 7, 1993.

For more on Roxcy Bolton, see our photo exhibit and collections.

What Day is Thanksgiving?

On the fourth Thursday in November, folks across Florida and the nation will observe the Thanksgiving holiday. For many people, Thanksgiving inspires nostalgia for turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, desserts, autumn colors and gearing up for the holidays. Yet, as many know, the Thanksgiving table can at times host disputes, such as whose football team is better or the various merits of sweet potato versus pumpkin pie. But, as revealed in Series S368, Governor Fred Cone Correspondence, Florida was part of a national dispute over which day to observe Thanksgiving in 1939 and 1940.

Before the 19th century, Thanksgiving was celebrated with regional variations. Local governments or organizations proclaimed days of thanksgiving at various points throughout the year. In 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation for a day of public thanksgiving to take place on Thursday, November 26. Many subsequent presidents and governors proclaimed days of thanksgiving but dates varied until the 1860s. In 1850, Florida Governor Thomas Brown proclaimed Thanksgiving as November 28, the last Thursday of the month.

In 1850, Florida Governor Thomas Brown proclaimed Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November. State Archives of Florida, Series S13, Volume 1, Page 127.

Brown’s successor, Governor James E. Broome, changed the observed Thanksgiving date throughout his time in office. Broome selected the fourth Thursday in November in 1855. In 1856, citing a desire to be in unison with other states, Broome declared Thanksgiving on the third Thursday in November.

Clipping from The (Tampa) Florida Peninsular, November 10, 1855, with Governor Broome’s proclamation of the fourth Thursday (November 22) as Thanksgiving.

Governor Broome’s Proclamation declaring Thanksgiving on November 20th, 1856. State Archives of Florida, Series S13, Volume 1, Page 273.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November as national Thanksgiving Day. Over the next seven decades, presidents followed suit and the last Thursday in November became the traditional observation of the holiday. State governors also issued their own proclamations, but they usually lined up with the national observance. The Florida Legislature officially established Thanksgiving as a public holiday in 1905 (1905 Laws of Florida, Chapter 5392).

As is the case today, Thanksgiving in the early to mid-20th century was associated with Christmas shopping preparations. Retailers at the state and national level looked forward to a sales boost after Thanksgiving. In 1939, November’s last Thursday happened to be the last day of the month: November 30. Fearing a shortened holiday shopping season and still reeling from the Great Depression, retailers petitioned state and national governments to move Thanksgiving up a week, to November 23, to give an earlier boost to holiday sales (for more on Florida in the Great Depression, see our other photo exhibits, collections, and New Deal Research Guide).

J.A. Waterman, president of Maas Brothers, requesting that the governor select an earlier date for the Thanksgiving holiday in 1939.

President Franklin Roosevelt agreed with the change and indicated that he would issue his proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday in November: November 23, 1939 and November 21, 1940. On October 31, 1939, Roosevelt issued Proclamation 2373, officially setting the shifted holiday.

P.M. Birmingham, secretary of the Sarasota Retail Merchants Association, relays to the governor that the association will be celebrating Thanksgiving on November 23, 1939, as proclaimed by President Roosevelt.

While many welcomed the move, others were not so easily swayed. Many did not wish to alter long-held traditions, with Florida Governor Fred P. Cone among them. When asked about his intentions regarding the state proclamation for Thanksgiving in 1939, Cone indicated that he would err on the side of tradition and set the date as November 30.

https://www.floridamemory.com/fmp/selected_documents/medium/s368_b091_f05_x10_01.jpg

A poem sent to Governor Fred P. Cone criticizing Roosevelt’s changing the date of Thanksgiving.

Governor Fred P. Cone’s 1939 Proclamation, declaring Thursday November 30 as Thanksgiving in Florida. State Archives of Florida, Series S13, Volume 13, Page 229.

Cones’ traditional stance on Thanksgiving was welcomed by many throughout the state, as evidenced by these letters.

Mrs. Harriet Pratt Bodifield of Cocoa, Florida, thanks the governor for keeping with tradition and not changing the date of Thanksgiving to accommodate holiday shopping.

James M. Phillips of Phillips Hardware Company expressing support for the governor’s proclamation that Thanksgiving be November 30, 1939, rather than November 23, 1939. This letter shows that not all retailers desired the shifted date.

Twenty-two other states fell in line with Florida and observed Thanksgiving on November 30.

However, the shifted date was a source of consternation among several industries. Calendar manufacturers, for example, printed calendars two years out, making both the 1939 and 1940 calendars obsolete. The following exchange between the Stanwood-Hillson Corporation, a printing company, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt illustrates tensions over the Thanksgiving date change.

Letter from Eleanor Roosevelt to S. Hillson concerning the calendar printing industry’s objections to the shifted dates of Thanksgiving.

S. Hillson’s reply to Eleanor Roosevelt explaining the potential losses faced by calendar printers.

In 1940, the publication Hardware Age, printed a calendar addendum to list which states celebrated what date in order to address obsolete calendars created by the shifted date.

Other industries were also affected by the change of date. The editors of Turkey World Magazine, noting “confusion in the turkey industry,” wrote to the governor asking for clarification so the magazine could properly inform their readers.

M.C. Small, managing editor of Turkey World magazine, requests that the governor reply with information about when Thanksgiving 1939 will be held in Florida and the governor’s opinion about the future observance of the holiday.

The National Council for Teachers of English noted that their annual conference was customarily held on the weekend after Thanksgiving. When New York, one of the states in favor of an early Thanksgiving, hosted the 1939 conference, the council wrote to Governor Cone asking that he encourage local school boards to allow English teachers leave time on November 23 and 24 in order to attend the conference.

Alice Colvin Wright, president of the New York City Association of English Teachers, requests that the governor urge local school boards in Florida to let teachers attend the annual convention in New York over the Thanksgiving holiday break. Since Florida did not change the date of Thanksgiving to match the national calendar, New York and Florida had different official Thanksgiving holidays.

The Florida Bankers Association decided to observe both November 23 and November 30 as holidays to minimize confusion among their employees.

The bulletin states that banks of Florida will observe both November 23 and November 30 as Thanksgiving holidays so that there is uniformity across the state.

Florida Attorney General George Couper Gibbs also sought clarification. Under the attorney general’s reading of the law, Governor Cone’s intention on the traditional observance presented ambiguities.

Attorney General George Couper Gibbs advising the governor as to which day of the year Thanksgiving should fall on.

By proclamation, however, Governor Cone insisted on the traditional date as the state’s official observance. In the end, many towns followed the Florida Bankers Association in observing both days as holidays.

During the following year, the same controversy gripped Florida. Residents tried to plan accordingly to avoid the confusion from 1939. In January 1940, representatives from high schools across Florida contacted Governor Cone asking him for clarification for the date of Thanksgiving so they could properly schedule their traditional football rivalry games for the appropriate weekend. Florida and 15 other states once again broke with the federal date and held Thanksgiving on the traditional day, the last Thursday in November.

Letter from S.R. Troydon, athletic director at Landon Junior-Senior High School, asking the governor to confirm the date of the Thanksgiving holiday in 1940.

The controversy surrounding Thanksgiving’s date continued even into 1941. President Roosevelt finally admitted that the changes were not worth the hassle or confusion. The earlier date alienated many Americans, and they refused to go shopping until after they observed the traditional holiday. So, on October 6, through U.S. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 41, Congress attempted to set the date for future Thanksgiving observances as the last Thursday in November. Then, on December 9, the Senate amended HJR 41 to account for November months with five Thursdays by setting the fourth Thursday in the month as Thanksgiving Day. Every Thanksgiving since 1942 has been celebrated on this day.

https://www.archives.gov/legislative/features/thanksgiving

Senate Amendments to HJR 41, making the fourth Thursday in November a legal holiday, December 9, 1941. RG 233, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Center for Legislative Archives, National Archives and Records Administration.

No matter your Thanksgiving plans, the State Archives wishes you an enjoyable holiday!

Migrant Education Programs in Florida

The years spent in elementary school are formative ones in a child’s upbringing. But what if a child must move several times per year due to their parents’ work demands? In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Florida’s educators initiated compensatory education programming to benefit the children of migrant workers, whose frequent moves due to shifting employment circumstances posed difficulties for their social and educational gains.

In an August 1971 issue of Young Children (the journal of the National Association for the Education of Young Children), Eloyce Combs, early childhood education consultant for the Florida Department of Education, outlined the problem of education for migratory children: “Because of the mobility of migrant families,” Combs wrote, “the young children often suffer from… lack of medical and dental services, limited educational experiences… [and] must struggle with the major crises of development[,] such as the requirement to tolerate separation from the mother, [and] to find new friends when the family has to move.”

Mobile instruction units arrive at migrant labor camp in Broward County, ca. 1970. Found in series S 944, box 14, folder 30.

In supplying access to low-cost produce, the labor of migrant farm workers has sustained Floridians’ nutritional and financial needs for much of the state’s history. However, not until the late 1960s, in the wake of President Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty legislation, did federal and state governments began to address the specialized educational and social development needs of migratory children.

Records from Series S 944, Florida Migratory Child Compensatory Program Files, 1967-1974, illustrate initiatives on the part of educators, politicians and activists to improve access to healthcare and higher quality education for migratory children.

Lyndon Johnson Signs the ESEA

During the Great Depression, a young Lyndon Johnson taught the children of migrant workers in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. The child poverty that he witnessed during his time as a schoolteacher would influence his later directives as president. Following the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Johnson began to prioritize poverty as a domestic policy issue. In 1965, Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, granting federal funding to programs designed to close the skills gap in math, reading and writing for schoolchildren from low-income urban and rural households.

Early Childhood Learning Programs for Migrant Children in Florida

One program to receive federal funding under the ESEA was the Florida Migratory Child Compensatory Program, administered by the Florida Department of Education. At its inception in 1967, the program offered special education programming to provide for the needs of migratory farm workers in 20 Florida counties. Beginning in 1967, county school boards applied for ESEA grants on an annual basis to provide migratory students with textbooks, remedial math and language arts coursework, field trips, home visitation programs, summer school programs and in-service training for their teachers and other school staff.

Remedial language arts class administered through the Migratory Child Compensatory Program, ca. 1970. Found in series S 944, box 14, folder 57.

County grant applications often also requested supplemental funding to address migratory students’ health care needs, such as testing for hearing and visual impairment and psychological testing to identify special education needs, and for the provision of essentials such as food, clothing and glasses.

Child receives health services provided through Migrant Education Center in Broward County, 1971. Image excerpted from 1971 issue of The Traveler, the newsletter of the Broward County Migrant Education Center. Found in series S 944, box 14, folder 61.

County school boards designed their programs to correct “deficiencies in language development and social development with priorities on enhancing the child’s self-concept” and to “provide experiences and activities for the development of self-confidence and positive self-image” of their students.

Excerpt from Broward County Migrant Education Program Year End Report, 1972-1973 school year. Found in series S 944, box 7, binder 3.

Such enrichment activities included field trips to petting zoos and meetings with Santa Claus.

Migratory school children meet with Santa Claus, St. John’s County. Found in series S 944, box 14, folder 47.

The efficacy of these migratory education initiatives in Broward County was evaluated by the Broward County Board of Public Instruction through standardized testing of students to measure gains in areas such as reading comprehension and vocabulary. Program effectiveness was also gauged by the number of instances of health and supportive services provided to students, as well as number of staff members receiving in-service training.

Three years after the program’s initiation, the results of the Migratory Child Compensatory Program were mixed. In an April 5, 1970, article from the Miami Herald, Mary Dorsey, an education specialist at the Migrant Education Center in Broward County, identified a need for more in-service teacher training and attributed low student test scores to lack of individualized help due to overcrowding and lack of materials. While Dorsey reported individual gains in reading ability among students, test scores in 1970 charted Broward County student achievement levels as remaining below the national average for the seventh consecutive year.

Excerpt from Broward County Migrant Education Program Year End Report (1972-1973) describing in-service teaching programs. Found in series S 944, box 7, binder 3.

Another critique of the program, and one possible explanation for its low impact on standardized test scores at the time, was a lack of bilingual programming.

In January of 1971, the Polk County school system held a forum to allow groups representing local educators, agricultural companies, ministries and migrant laborers to publicly discuss issues surrounding the county’s migrant education program–the largest in the nation at the time, instructing 6,500 migratory students that year. Those representing migrant laborers, such as the Florida Farmworkers’ Association, Polk County Christian Migrant Ministry and the Organized Migrants in Community Action criticized the government’s efforts in education for failing to tackle the barriers standing between monolingual English speaking teachers and their multilingual pupils. Though compensatory programs in Florida provided for teachers’ in-service training in areas ranging from remedial math courses to first aid to auto harp instruction, bilingual lesson instruction was not a standard feature of the programs.

The ESEA has been reauthorized by presidential authority once every five years since its inception. In 2001, the Act was reauthorized under President George W. Bush as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” and in 2015, President Barack Obama reauthorized the Act as the “Every Student Succeeds Act,” known as ESSA. The Migrant Education Program stills exists today in Florida under Title I, Part C of ESEA. In accordance with revisions to the ESEA, the program is assessed once every five years and modified to conform to regulations at the federal level. It continues to allocate funding to schools with migratory student populations to support and advocate for migratory families and provide school placement assistance for migratory children.

Entrance to South Dade Farm Labor Camp, Homestead, ca. 1970. Found in series S 944, box 14, folder 56.

Behind every meal comprised of fresh Florida fruits and vegetables, there is a story of the difficult work that brought that meal to the consumer’s table. For researchers examining the intersections of labor trends and the economy, public health, education or social welfare, the experience of migrant worker offers an interesting lens.

Researchers with an interest in migrant labor in Florida will find the following series of use in their studies:

Series S 555 Florida. Governor’s Coordinating Task Force on Migrant and Rural Poor Records, 1971-1972

Series S 401 Migrant Labor Program Reading Files, 1970-1978

Series S 568 Migrant Labor Program Subject Files, 1970-1978

Series S 1172 Migrant Labor Program Administrative Files, 1973-1991

Series S 579 Migrant Health Program Administrative Files, 1972-1978

Sources:

Brucken, G. “Low Rank in Reading May Stay.” The Miami Herald, April 5, 1970.

Combs, E. “Florida’s Early Childhood Learning Program for Migrant Children.” National Association for the Education of Young Children, (XXVI, 1971): 359-363.

McKee, G. A. “Lyndon B. Johnson and the War On Poverty.” Accessed October 24, 2017. http://prde.upress.virginia.edu/content/WarOnPoverty

Riley, N. Floridas farmworkers in the twenty-first century. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.

Roderus, F. “Many Groups Study Migrant Problem In Polk.” The Tampa Tribune, January 15, 1971.

Gatorland

So you’re vacationing in Central Florida, and you’ve seen the big parks already. You’ve got one day left on your trip: What are you going to do?

Small tourist attractions fight hard for that “last-day dollar.” Many regional attractions around Florida have closed over time, but Gatorland has operated in Central Florida for almost 70 years.

Entrance to Gatorland, 196-

Gatorland was founded in 1949 by Owen Godwin, a colorful character known for his habit of dressing in full safari gear. He saw an opportunity for a wildlife-based, Old Florida roadside attraction, so he and his family established Gatorland along the Orange Blossom Trail (US 441). The property they purchased even had ready-made pits, perfect for alligators! Alligator pits, also called alligator holes, retain water during the dry season and attract prey for the alligator.

Owen Godwin wrangling a python

 

Alligator at Gatorland, 19–

Godwin’s over-the-top approach to marketing was well suited for the new attraction. He visited the northern states each summer to woo new customers, complete with his live alligator, Cannibal Jake, in tow. Meanwhile, visitors to Gatorland could walk above alligator pits on elevated boardwalks and observe other Florida wildlife, all for free!

Sightseers on footbridge, 1979

Gatorland’s donation-based business model was never particularly effective, but the park got by when it was just one of many roadside attractions in Central Florida. However, two things changed in the 1970s. First, Interstate 4 and Florida’s Turnpike, which began operating in the 1960s, bypassed Gatorland. Consequently, the Godwins had to find a way to draw tourists to the park. Second, once Disney World and other mega-parks arrived on the scene, they provided entertainment to tourists over multiple days rather than just for a few hours.

Tourists on train, 1979

How did Gatorland respond? By charging admission, of course! While this did lead to a drop in attendance for a while, it got them membership in the Florida Attractions Association (FAA) and thus listed in the FAA brochures found at every hotel.

Gatorland brochure, ca. 1971

In addition to more aggressive advertising, new CEO Frank Godwin (son of Owen) added attractions such as alligator wrestling and “Gator Jumparoo,” where gators jumped out of the water and snatched store-bought chicken from a trainer’s hands. Gatorland even became a major alligator farming and husbandry operation over the years.

“Gator Jumparoo,” 19–

Alligator wrestling, 19–

Responding to Florida’s tourism boom in the 1970s, Gatorland successfully made the transition over time from a family-owned roadside attraction to a small theme park run as a major corporation. You can find the park’s full history in Dorothy Mays’ 2009 article in the Florida Historical Quarterly, “Gatorland: Survival of the Fittest among Florida’s Mid-Tier Tourist Attractions.” If you’re ever in the Orlando area, it’s worth a visit!

Do you have memories of visiting Gatorland? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Trick-or-Treat for Disaster Relief

Are you thinking about how you can donate to the continued relief of the thousands of people affected by the recent scourge of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires? This Halloween, you might consider doing what a group of Tallahassee third graders did in 1989 and transform the anticipated custom of trick-or-treating into a grassroots pledge drive. Florida’s news media was there to capture this sweet story and the State Library and Archives of Florida has since preserved newspaper and television coverage of the students’ activism.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo ripped through Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Georgia and South Carolina, leaving 27 dead and countless others displaced. A few weeks later, Hurricane Jerry slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas, killing three, including Tallahassee native and Coast Guard Seaman Dan Lindley and his two-year-old daughter Selina. Then, on October 17, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay to its core, claiming the lives of 200, injuring over 400 and causing millions in property damage. With natural disasters affecting people across the United States and the Caribbean, charitable organizations mobilized to raise money and donations for relief.

Clipping from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat, dating back to the early twentieth century. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Headline clipped from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat and its previous iterations dating from the early twentieth century to present. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Memory has digitized and made searchable online 50,000 photographs from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection, ranging in date from the 1950s to the 1970s.

At Sealey Elementary in Tallahassee, third-grader Kelly Collette had a creative idea for how they could turn Halloween into a fundraiser for natural disaster victims. Two weeks before the October 31st holiday, Collette stood up in front of her classmates in teacher Sharon Hartman’s language arts class and suggested that they trick-or-treat for money instead of candy and donate the proceeds to the American Red Cross. The proposal went to a vote on the classroom floor. While it was not unanimously affirmed, with one sweet-toothed youngster commenting that “A lot of people would rather have the candy,” the majority of students agreed to forego their candy for a cause. “We want to help those people instead of getting candies and cavities and toothaches,” said eight-year-old Meg Wood to Tallahassee Democrat reporter Kathleen Laufenberg.

The organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson. Photograph by Phil Cole, Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

The youthful organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson, October 26, 1989. Photograph by Phil Coale/Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Nineteen third-graders strong, the trick-or-treating for disaster relief campaign got underway. After registering with the Red Cross, the kids in Miss Hartman’s class made collections bags, drew posters and wrote letters to other students, asking them to join in on the Halloween fundraiser. Impressed by her students’ initiative, Hartman said that organizing the natural disaster relief drive was a “great learning experience,” exposing budding minds to the ins and outs of social action.

Although it is unclear just how much money the students raised for the Red Cross, they did not go hungry after all.

On Halloween morning, a gaggle of costume-clad kids arrived in their classroom to prepare for a big night of fundraising. The story had already attracted the attention of a few local media outlets and the now-defunct Florida News Service came by the school to interview the students about their initiative. After the Florida News Service folded in 1991, the State Archives of Florida acquired a collection of 222 master story tapes, including colorful coverage of this harrowing Halloween story. In the middle of the segment, surprise visitor Raleigh Mackoul, president of the state tobacco and candy association, walked through the door with several pounds of sweet treats.

Mackoul said that after hearing about the plan from a Tallahassee lobbyist, he “thought that it was pretty good that the kids would give up going around to collect their Halloween treats to go collect money for the disaster victims….I didn’t think they ought to go through Halloween without candy.”

Want to help with this year’s natural disaster relief efforts?

Visit Volunteer Florida’s website for a comprehensive list of agencies in need of donations. Volunteer Florida, in partnership with the Division of Emergency Management, is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.

Naturally Spooky

How might a nature-loving Floridian celebrate Halloween?  With a naturally spooky visit to Dead Lakes Recreation Area, of course!

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/44455

Dead Lakes, 1955.

Located slightly northwest of Wewahitchka and straddling the Calhoun-Gulf County line is Dead Lakes–a 6,700-acre body of water composed of swampland, lakes, the Chipola River and pristine wilderness. This unique environment was formed long ago when the Apalachicola River shaped a sandbar that partially impeded flow from the mouth of the Chipola River and flooded 12,000 acres of river swamp. The overflow killed thousands of trees and left behind an eerie stretch of cypress stumps amidst serene tannic waters, giving the area its creepy character and name. But don’t let the name fool you. Dead Lakes is quite biodiverse and has hosted a variety of Florida’s commercial industries over the years. The area was once utilized as a fish hatchery by the Game Commission; a harvest zone for turpentine, cedar shake and moss; and an apiary for tupelo honey–which is still a big business throughout the river valley.

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/67091

Fishermen at Dead Lakes, 1947.

In addition to its commercial appeal, Dead Lakes holds a long tradition of catering to nature lovers and pleasure seekers alike. In the late 1890s, vacationers traveled by steamer down the Apalachicola River then disembarked at the now unincorporated ghost town of Iola to journey by carriage to Dead Lakes.

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/323210

Detail of Iola and Dead Lakes from Rand McNally’s Florida, 1892.

The State Library’s Florida Collection holds a pamphlet called In Paradise which promotes all the amenities for steamer trips to Dead Lakes accompanied by lodging at the Lake View Hotel.

https://fslt.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/statelibrary/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Cover of the pamphlet In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

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Page one of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Travelers could begin their voyage in Columbus, Georgia, and journey down the Chattahoochee River while stopping in various towns in Georgia and Alabama. As the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers converged, steamers would continue down the Apalachicola River into Florida. Notable Florida destinations along the route included Neal’s Landing, Chattahoochee, Ochesee, Blountstown, Bristol and Rico’s Bluff. In addition to bountiful fishing, pine forests and orange groves, visitors were enticed by area attractions such as Florida syrup making, a duo of oaks that presided over several acres of land and the state asylum.

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Pages two and three of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

In Iola, passengers would disembark and proceed one and half miles on horseback to the hotel. Once at the Lake View, all needs were furnished–including ammunition and tobacco–at the lowest market prices. A two-week stay at the modest resort also included a trip to Apalachicola Bay. From the bay, tourists could view international ships, oyster and fish packing houses, and great lumber mills. One could relax, enjoy a variety of natural diversions and still investigate future investments in Florida’s resources.


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Pages four and five of In Paradise by J.T. Gilbert, 1892. State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/59185

Dock and lake, Wewahitchka.

In addition to providing an eloquently quaint description of the trip agenda and locales, In Paradise also offers the testimonies of satisfied vacationers from previous excursions. Accounts from a doctor, a Civil War veteran and other ailing tourists afford a glimpse into the turn-of-the-century “cure-all” reputation of Old Florida. Dr. E. D. Pitman of LaGrange noted the cleanliness of the resort and recommended a Dead Lakes vacation to all the invalids he knew:


https://fslt.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/statelibrary/search/detailnonmodal/ent:$002f$002fSD_ILS$002f0$002fSD_ILS:178609/ada?qu=%221892%22&qu=TITLE%3Din+paradise

Testimony of Dr. E. D. Pitman regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 7, 1891. In Paradise, pages 5-6, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/147158

Chipola River from porch, 1880s.

Satisfied sojourner and possible patient of Dr. Pitman, farmer George W. Truitt, remarked that he first journeyed to Dead Lakes for his health but returned for pleasure:

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Testimony of George W. Truitt regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 7, 1891. In Paradise, page 6, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Civil War veteran W. W. Turner traveled to the Dead Lakes for relief from lung illnesses he had suffered since his time in the service:

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Testimony of W. W. Turner regarding his stay at Lake Chipola, December 12, 1891. In Paradise, page 8, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/78214

Bass fishing at Dead Lakes, 1960.

Furthermore, tourist A. P. Jones praised the climate and people of Florida in his testimony:

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Testimony of A. P. Jones regarding his stay at the Lake View Hotel, December 18, 1891. In Paradise, page 9, State Library of Florida, Florida Collection.

Like Truitt, Jones and Turner, folks still traverse the Dead Lakes for rejuvenation and merriment.  Whether you enjoy fishing, kayaking or just imagining the steam punk mystique of Florida’s past, their ghostly beauty holds both outdoor adventure and creepy curiosity for any daring explorer. This Halloween, if haunted houses and costume parties aren’t your thing, perhaps a trip to the mysterious Dead Lakes will quell both your nature-loving side and your desire for some uncanny fun.