Preparing for D-Day: Camp Gordon Johnston near Carrabelle

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the 1944 D-Day invasion, in which over 100,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches along the coast of Normandy, France, making it the largest seaborne invasion in history. Some of the troops  arrived by parachute, but the vast majority waded ashore after being transported in specially constructed vehicles. The Army and Navy had been planning for amphibious invasions like the one at Normandy for some time, and Camp Gordon Johnston near Carrabelle, Florida was one of the sites selected for training troops to do the job.

Map of the Florida Panhandle showing Carrabelle and nearby cities.

Map of the Florida Panhandle showing Carrabelle and nearby cities.

Carrabelle, a small town southwest of Tallahassee in Franklin County, was little more than a small fishing village when military leaders decided to use the terrain around it as an amphibious training base. A small military installation called Camp Carrabelle was already located here, but it would require major expansion to suit the Army’s needs. Once the site was selected, the federal government quickly bought up 10,000 acres of land and leased an additional 155,000 acres, forming a base with nearly twenty miles of frontage on the Gulf coast between St. George Island and Alligator Point, including Dog Island and the beaches near Carrabelle. In a few weeks contractors were already at work on the thousands of buildings and other structures needed to complete the training center. The new installation was named for Gordon Johnston, an Alabama native who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I and received the Medal of Honor in 1910.

An aerial view of Camp Gordon Johnston, with the Gulf of Mexico on the south (left). Photo 1943.

An aerial view of Camp Gordon Johnston, with the Gulf of Mexico on the south (left). Photo 1943.

Camp Gordon Johnston quickly developed a reputation for its tough conditions. For many of the camp’s first inhabitants, few of whom were actually from Florida, the contrast between the Florida of postcards and travel literature and the Florida they experienced was incredible. Because they had been thrown together in such short order to accommodate the troops, the barracks lacked dependable heating and in most cases had no floors. At first, the camp had no mess halls, and soldiers were obliged to eat their meals outdoors using their mess kits.

Barracks at Camp Gordon Johnston. Notice that the walls are little more than tar paper on a wooden frame (circa 1943).

Barracks at Camp Gordon Johnston. Notice that the walls are little more than tar paper on a wooden frame (circa 1943).

A wash-up shed at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

A wash-up shed at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Soldiers wait in a chow line with mess kits in hand at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Soldiers wait in line with mess kits in hand at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Camp residents wash their mess kits in a pot of boiling water after a meal at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Camp residents wash their mess kits in a pot of boiling water after a meal at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

The challenges of the terrain were no cakewalk, either. Sure, there was a beach, but as residents of the camp explained, there were also insects, snakes, lizards, mud, drenching rain, and stifling heat. Sergeant Bill Roth captured the feelings of the men toward Camp Gordon Johnston’s steamy conditions in a poem that appeared in one of the first issues of the camp’s newspaper, The Amphibian.

The rattlesnake bites you, the horsefly stings,
The mosquito delights you with his buzzin wings.
Sand burrs cause you to jig and dance
And those who sit down get ants in their pants.

The heat in the summer is one hundred and ten
Too hot for the Devil, too hot for the men.
Come see for yourself and you can tell
It’s a helluva place, this Carrabelle.

Living conditions nothwithstanding, soldiers at Camp Gordon Johnston found plenty of ways to entertain themselves during their stay. Carrabelle itself might not have been the most active metropolis, but GI’s could have a pleasant time reading in the camp’s library, fishing from one of the nearby piers, attending a USO-sponsored dance, or catching the latest movie at the camp’s theater. By the end of the war, the post featured five theaters, three service clubs for enlisted men, clubs for both commissioned and non-commissioned officers, baseball, baketball, and boxing leagues, and six chapels to minister to the spiritual needs of the camp residents. Tallahassee was the nearest city of any size, but it was already crowded with GI’s stationed at Dale Mabry Field. Soldiers reported difficulties even finding a room at the local hotels, but that didn’t stop them from trying. The Lee Bus Line and later a special passenger railroad carried residents of Camp Gordon Johnston to and from Tallahassee regularly.

Soldiers and visitors dance to music from a live band at one of Camp Gordon Johnston's dance halls (circa 1944).

Soldiers and visitors dance to music from a live band at one of Camp Gordon Johnston’s dance halls (circa 1944).

Training for amphibious warfare was the initial purpose of Camp Gordon Johnston, but as the war continued the Army began shifting more responsibility for this kind of tactic to the Navy. In 1943 the base was re-purposed as an Army Service Force Training Center, where small companies could be trained to operate boats and amphibious trucks for the Army’s “island-hopping” campaign in the Pacific. Engineers charged with constructing, repairing, and maintaining ports also trained at the center, and starting in 1944 small numbers of German and Italian prisoners of war were sent there.

Soldiers jumping obstacles during training at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Soldiers jumping obstacles during training at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

Practicing maneuvers on the beach near Carrabelle (1943).

Practicing maneuvers on the beach near Carrabelle (1943).

A GM manufactured amphibious vehicle called a DUKW, located at Camp Gordon Johnston. DUKW was a code describing the specifications of the vehicle.

A GM manufactured amphibious vehicle called a DUKW, located at Camp Gordon Johnston. DUKW was a code describing the specifications of the vehicle. “D” stood for date (1942), “U” stood for amphibian, “K” indicated the vehicle was all-wheel drive, and “W” meant the vehicle had dual rear axles. Photo 1944.

Company photo of the 1057th Engineer Port Construction and Repair unit at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1944).

Company photo of the 1057th Engineer Port Construction and Repair unit at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1944).

A number of African-American troops resided at Camp Gordon Johnston during its tenure. For these men, many of whom were from the Northern U.S., entering the segregated world of the Florida Panhandle in the 1940s was a difficult transition. While white residents enjoyed the use of the camp’s guest house, library, and service clubs, black soldiers were not permitted to enter these facilities, nor was a segregated alternative provided until much later in the war. Moreover, Carrabelle and other nearby small towns were still in the grip of Jim Crow segregation laws, and tensions between the races at times broke out into violence.

African-American soldiers in front of barracks at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

African-American soldiers in front of barracks at Camp Gordon Johnston (circa 1943).

When news of the Japanese surrender reached Camp Gordon Johnston in 1945, the effect was said to have rivaled the power of the atomic bomb. Concerts and parades marked the occasion, and the demand for beer was so high that bartenders reportedly were forced to serve it before it had even had time to chill. With the war over, the camp’s life came to a close as well. The base officially shut down in early 1946, and by 1947 the federal government had disposed of its land in the region.

A barricade marked

A barricade marked “Government Property – Keep Off” blocks the driveway to the barracks of Camp Gordon Johnston after it closed in 1946.

Little remains of Camp Gordon Johnston, but local citizens and former camp residents still gather from time to time to reminisce about what it was like to train in the sun, sand, and heat around Carrabelle. The Camp Gordon Johnston Association organizes these reunions in cooperation with the American Legion Post at Lanark Village and other community partners.

Learn more about the World War II era in Florida by searching the Florida Photographic Collection. Teachers and students, you’ll find useful resources on the subject in our learning unit.

LeRoy Collins and the Brown Decision

Saturday, May 17th marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark decision of the United State Supreme Court in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The unanimous ruling overturned the Court’s 1896 decision in Plessy vs. Ferguson, which had served as the legal basis for Jim Crow segregation in public facilities across the South, especially in the public schools. The court argued that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and that African American children attending segregated schools were deprived of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Headline from the Tallahassee Democrat reporting the Supreme Court's decision in the Brown case (May 17, 1954).

Headline from the Tallahassee Democrat reporting the Supreme Court’s decision in the Brown case (May 17, 1954).

Most elected officials in Florida, as in other Southern states, recoiled from the Supreme Court’s decision and explored their options for keeping Jim Crow firmly in place. The state first responded by asking the Supreme Court to stay its ruling while it studied the potential effects of desegregation with the help of social scientists.

Governor LeRoy Collins in his library at "The Grove" in Tallahassee. "The Grove," built around 1840 by Florida's territorial governor Richard Keith Call, is currently being restored and repurposed as a museum by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources (1954).

Governor LeRoy Collins in his library at “The Grove” in Tallahassee. “The Grove,” built around 1840 by Florida’s territorial governor Richard Keith Call, is currently being restored and repurposed as a museum by the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources (1954).

Governor LeRoy Collins, who took office in January 1955, faced a difficult situation. On the one hand, he recognized that extremism on the segregation issue could cost Florida in terms of tourism and business growth. On the other hand, state legislators favoring complete retention of Jim Crow without compromise were powerful and vocal. Collins attempted to chart a middle course that would preserve school segregation while also retaining Florida’s image as a progressive state. In 1957, he asked the Legislature to approve a committee on race relations that would help maintain domestic order and improve living standards for African Americans. Florida lawmakers responded by passing a resolution alleging that the U.S. Supreme Court had overstepped its mandate in ruling school segregation illegal. The resolution called on the State (in essence, Collins) to “interpose its powers between its people and the effort of the said Court to assert an unlawful dominion over them.” The full text of the resolution is available as part of our Significant Documents exhibit.

First page of the Florida Legislature's

First page of the Florida Legislature’s “interposition” resolution (May 1957).

Collins was infuriated by the measure because it was exactly the kind of extreme reaction he feared would hurt Florida in the long run. Because the legislation was merely a resolution and not a bill designed to become law, the governor could not veto it. He did, however, have the opportunity to sign the resolution when it came to his office as a matter of procedure. In place of his signature, Collins filled the middle of the page with a lengthy and dramatic protest against the resolution, calling it an “evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria.”

The final page of the Florida Legislature's

The final page of the Florida Legislature’s “interposition” resolution, with Governor Collins’ protest written around the space for his signature (May 1957).

The full text of Governor Collins’ statement:

This concurrent resolution of ‘Interposition’ crosses the Governor’s desk as a matter of routine. I have no authority to veto it. I take this means however to advise the student of government, who may examine this document in the archives of the state in the years to come that the Governor of Florida expressed open and vigorous opposition thereto. I feel that the U. S. Supreme Court has improperly usurped powers reserved to the states under the constitution. I have joined in protesting such and in seeking legal means of avoidance. But if this resolution declaring the decisions of the court to be ‘null and void’ is to be taken seriously, it is anarchy and rebellion against the nation which must remain ‘indivisible under God’ if it is to survive. Not only will I not condone ‘interposition’ as so many have sought me to do, I decry it as an evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria. If history judges me right this day, I want it known that I did my best to avert this blot. If I am judged wrong, then here in my own handwriting and over my signature is the proof of guilt to support my conviction.

Although Collins’ statement captured a great deal of attention, the Legislature was unmoved. In the same session, it passed a law allowing schools to be closed in the event the federal government used force to desegregate them. Florida’s public schools remained almost completely segregated until after 1960.
Teachers, for information on how to use the resources of Florida Memory pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement in your classroom, visit our Black History Month resource page and the Civil Rights Movement in Florida learning unit.

 

World Health Day

World Health Day celebrates the anniversary of the founding of the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) in 1948. Early Florida settlers considered their health a primary concern and established the first hospital in North America in St. Augustine in the early 17th century.

This year, WHO has chosen vector-borne diseases as the topic for 2014. Florida is no stranger to vector-borne diseases. In the 19th century an outbreak of yellow fever, a viral disease that is transmitted to humans through infected mosquitoes, had a devastating impact on the people of Florida. In 1889, the State Board of Health was created in response to the yellow fever epidemic. Its creation helped to coordinate quarantine and disinfection efforts to protect the state’s citizens and visitors.

 

Print in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper about yellow fever

Print in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper about yellow fever (1888)

 

View showing people sitting together at a quarantined isolation camp.

View showing people sitting together at a quarantined isolation camp

 

View showing people gathered at a pavilion in a quarantined isolation camp.

View showing people gathered at a pavilion in a quarantined isolation camp.

 

Print showing fires on Bay street to kill yellow fever germs - Jacksonville, Florida

Print showing fires on Bay Street to kill yellow fever germs – Jacksonville, Florida (1888)

 

Life insurance policy with yellow fever exclusion clause

Life insurance policy with yellow fever exclusion clause (1882)

 

Learn more about yellow fever in Florida in our Early Florida Medicine exhibit: http://floridamemory.com/exhibits/medicine/disease/

Florida Reacts to the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1968)

Civil Rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated by gunshot on April 4, 1968 as he stood on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The reaction across the United States was a mixture of disbelief, grief, and at times violent anger. Tensions boiled over in scores of U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C. as young people took to the streets to vent their frustration at the untimely death of one of the era’s greatest forces for peaceful change.

Reactions to King’s death were just as passionate in Florida, where memorials, demonstrations, and rioting took place in several cities across the state. Police in Pensacola, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Fort Pierce, Pompano Beach, Tampa, and Jacksonville reported widespread rioting and the use of Molotov cocktails to firebomb businesses and residences owned by whites. At least one fatality resulted from these activities in Tallahassee, where one man aged 19 died when a firebomb was thrown into his family’s grocery store.

Local and state officials moved quickly to restore order. The city of Gainesville instituted a curfew shortly after news of the assassination broke out, requiring everyone except emergency personnel to remain off the streets between 11pm and 6am. In Gainesville and Tallahassee, law enforcement temporarily closed liquor stores, bars, and gas stations. Governor Claude Kirk met with state law enforcement officials to plan a statewide strategy for maintaining the peace, and kept in close contact with local sheriffs and police.

Organizations both inside and outside of the government encouraged the public to remain calm and avoid any further violence. Governor Kirk asked that all flags flown on public buildings in the state be flown at half mast for two days, and in a press release he called on Dr. King’s followers and admirers to live by King’s example and seek nonviolent solutions for their grievances. George Gore, president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, closed the campus for a weeklong “cooling off” period following the assassination. The Florida Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) released a statement calling for Floridians to observe the day of King’s funeral (April 9th) as a “time of sober reflection” rather than demonstration.

Although anguish and disillusionment over the death of one of the Civil Rights Movement’s foremost leaders would remain potent long after these events, the most dramatic reactions ended by the middle of April 1968. Rumors circulated that Governor Kirk would call a special session of the Legislature to discuss the crisis, but this proved unnecessary. The brief period of unrest in Florida that followed Dr. King’s untimely death has been captured in a number of documents and photographs, some of which are shown below.

Governor Claude Kirk meets with state law enforcement officials to discuss a response to the unrest following Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination.

Governor Claude Kirk meets with state law enforcement officials to discuss a response to the unrest following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination.

Crow's Grocery Store, located at 1902 Lake Bradford Road in Tallahassee, Florida, was damaged when a Molotov cocktail firebomb was thrown inside during the unrest following Dr. King's death. Travis Crow, age 19, died of suffocation before he could escape the building.

This photo from the Tallahassee Fire Department Collection depicts one of the casualties of the reaction that followed Dr. King’s assassination. Crow’s Grocery Store, located at 1902 Lake Bradford Road in Tallahassee, Florida, was damaged when a Molotov cocktail firebomb was thrown inside. Travis Crow, age 19, died of suffocation before he could escape the building.

This Associated Press news summary describes some of the typical stories emerging from the widespread reaction to Dr. King's assassination.

This Associated Press news summary describes some of the typical stories emerging from the aftermath of Dr. King’s assassination.

The Florida Photographic Collection contains more images depicting Dr. Martin Luther King, his activities in Florida over the years, and the efforts of Floridians across the state to honor his memory.

Teachers and students may also find the Black History Month resources of our Online Classroom helpful, as well as our learning unit entitled The Civil Rights Movement in Florida.

Creature from the Black Lagoon Released (March 5, 1954)

On March 5, 1954, Universal International Pictures released Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Still from Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

The creature emerges from Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

The film’s plot centered around an Amazonian expedition gone awry when a scientific team encountered the mysterious “Gill Man.” The creature became enamored with a member of the team, played by Julie Adams, and kidnapped her after escaping from the scientists’ grasp.

Film crew at Wakulla Springs, October 18, 1953

Film crew with 3-D camera at Wakulla Springs, October 18, 1953

The filmmakers visited Wakulla Springs, south of Tallahassee, while scouting locations for the film. They were introduced to a young FSU student and part-time lifeguard at the springs named Ricou Browning. Director Jack Arnold eventually cast Browning to play the part of the creature during underwater scenes. Browning parlayed this experience into a subsequent career in film and television.

Ricou Browning becoming the Creature, Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

Ricou Browning becoming the creature, Wakulla Springs, ca. 1953

The filmmakers used Florida’s natural beauty again as a backdrop while filming the sequel, Revenge of the Creature (1955). Revenge featured footage shot at Silver Springs, Marineland, and along the St. Johns River. Scenes from the third and final installment in the series, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), were also filmed in the Sunshine State.

Ginger Stanley in the grip of the creature, Silver Springs, ca. 1955

Ginger Stanley in the grip of the creature, Silver Springs, ca. 1955

Tallahassee Established as Territorial Capital (March 4, 1824)

On March 4, 1824, Governor William P. Duval designated Tallahassee as the capital of the Florida territory.

"View of the City of Tallahassee," by Norris, Wellge & Company (1885)

“View of the City of Tallahassee,” by Norris, Wellge & Company (1885)

The map above, published by Norris, Wellge & Company in 1885, provides a bird’s eye view of the city fifty years after its designation as capital of the Florida territory. According to a census taken in 1825, 996 peopled lived in Leon County. The city’s population at that time probably did not exceed 200.

By 1890, Leon County’s population reached nearly 18,000, while the city limits contained about 2,200 residents. Like many other communities in the late 19th century South, the majority of Tallahassee’s population lived in the rural areas surrounding the city.

Today, the City of Tallahassee is home to almost 182,000 people, with a metropolitan area population of about 375,000.

Battle of Olustee (February 20, 1864)

In commemoration of Black History Month, this series of blog posts highlights African-American history in Florida.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Olustee, also known as the Battle of Ocean Pond.

In February 1864, the Union launched what would be the war’s largest military campaign in Florida. Designed to interrupt the supply of cattle and goods from the state that were destined for Confederate armies outside of Florida, add more escaped and freed slaves to the ranks of the U.S. Army, and possibly bring Florida back into the Union as a reconstructed free state, the northeast Florida campaign of 1864 consisted of some 7,000 Union troops, including three black regiments: the 1st North Carolina Colored Infantry, the 8th U.S. Colored Infantry (USCT), and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.

The 54th had already distinguished itself on the ramparts of South Carolina’s Fort Wagner during the unit’s now famous assault on that Confederate bastion in July 1863. Unlike the 54th, however, the two other regiments had never been in combat, and the 8th USCT had not even completed its training when it arrived in Florida along with the rest of the Union troops on February 7, 1864.

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Soldiers of the 54th Regiment, Massachusetts Volunteers

Leaving about 1,500 men to secure Jacksonville and conduct other missions, the main Union force of 5,500 troops under the command of Brigadier General Truman Seymour began marching on February 20 west towards Lake City and the Suwannee River beyond. East of Lake City the Federals ran into advanced elements of a Confederate force of 5,000 men that established defensive positions outside of Lake City at Olustee, a station along the Florida, Atlantic & Gulf Railroad. The battle, which lasted through the afternoon of February 20, was a particularly bloody encounter that ended in a Confederate victory and a humiliating Union retreat back to Jacksonville.

The more experienced 54th Massachusetts as well as the 1st North Carolina played an important role in the battle by holding back the Confederate advance as the rest of Seymour’s regiments withdrew. One of those regiments, the 8th USCT, experienced some of the day’s heaviest fighting. Its untested ranks were ordered forward and ran into a storm of Confederate fire.

At the end of the battle, the 8th USCT lost more men than any other Union unit: 49 killed, 188 wounded, and 73 missing. Of these missing, several became prisoners and were eventually transferred to the infamous Confederate prisoner of war camp at Andersonville, Georgia. Others may have faced an even worse fate. Several postwar accounts, mostly from Confederate sources, recalled that individual Confederate soldiers killed some of the wounded and captured black soldiers.

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

Kurz and Allison lithographic print of the Battle at Olustee

After Olustee, black troops continued to play an important role in Union operations in Florida. In September 1864, they made up part of the force that attacked Marianna, Florida, and on March 6, 1865, black soldiers formed the mass of the Union troops that engaged the Confederates south of Tallahassee at Natural Bridge. The Union lost the battle and was denied the opportunity to capture Tallahassee during the war. A little over two months later, however, black troops marched into Florida’s capital as part of the Union occupying force that received the formal surrender of Confederate Florida on May 20, 1865.

Today, while the operations of black troops are better known in theaters of the war such as South Carolina (the assault on Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863) and Virginia (the Battle of the Crater on July 30, 1864), the actions of black troops in Florida, although less famous, were just as crucial to establishing the importance of black units in the Union war effort. Although the direct path to Union victory and black freedom pointed to Atlanta and Richmond, the route included many detours, like Florida, which ultimately led to emancipation.

The Beatles are Coming!

Fifty years ago this week the Beatles arrived in Florida for the first time in order to begin rehearsing for their second appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

The Beatles in Key West, 1964

The Beatles in Key West, 1964

Their performance was broadcast live from the Deauville Hotel’s Napoleon Ballroom in Miami Beach on February 16. About 3500 people saw it live, and approximately 70 million watched on television. The Beatles were the opening act, and dancer and singer Mitzi Gaynor was the headliner. Beatle mania was in full swing.

Postcard view of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach

Postcard view of the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach

After the show the Beatles enjoyed some much needed rest and relaxation in the balmy climes of South Florida. On February 18, they flew from Miami to London. As a band, the Beatles only visited the Sunshine State one more time, in the fall of 1964.