First Tallahassee Sit-In (February 13, 1960)

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

On February 13, 1960, Patricia Stephens (later Due), and other local CORE members held the first of several sit-ins at department store lunch counters in downtown Tallahassee.

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

First Tallahassee civil rights sit-in, February 13, 1960

On February 20, students from Florida A&M University (FAMU) and Florida State University (FSU) held another, larger sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Tallahassee. When they refused to leave, 11 were arrested and charged with “disturbing the peace by engaging in riotous conduct and assembly to the disturbance of the public tranquility.” Several of the students chose “jail over bail” and remained in police custody while their story circulated around the country and garnered additional support for the movement.

In the months and years that followed, additional demonstrations and picketing took place at downtown stores and theaters in Tallahassee and elsewhere in Florida. The participants in these events were the “Foot Soldiers for Change” who worked tirelessly to defeat segregation in the United States.

To learn more, see Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (University of Georgia Press, 1999).

General Daniel “Chappie” James

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

Long before they shed their blood on the battlefields of Europe and Asia during World War II, African-Americans fought for freedom in conflicts throughout North America. Prior to Executive Order 9981 by President Harry S. Truman in 1948, African-Americans served in segregated units and, with a few notable exceptions, performed largely undesirable work and received little commendation for their service.

General Daniel James Jr., ca. 1975

General Daniel James Jr., ca. 1975

Florida native Daniel “Chappie” James (1920-1978) was one of the pioneers that paved the way for the advancement of black soldiers in the U.S. military. In 1975, he became the first African-American 4-star General in the Air Force.

James, born in Pensacola on February 11, 1920, graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1942. The following year he completed flight training at Tuskegee and was commissioned as an Army Air Force pilot in an all-black squadron. During the Korean War, he flew 101 combat missions in P-51 and F-80 aircraft. After the war, in 1957, James graduated from the Air Command and Staff College. He also flew 78 combat missions during the Vietnam War.

General Daniel James Jr. with Florida Governor Reubin Askew, Tallahassee, 1976

General Daniel James Jr. with Florida Governor Reubin Askew, Tallahassee, 1976

James earned numerous honors and awards during his distinguished career, both for military achievement and civic engagement. He died from a heart attack in 1978, just weeks after retiring from the military, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Resources for Black History Month

Looking for Black History Month resources? Find them on Florida Memory.

African American history in Florida dates back to the first explorers of the early 16th century. Our Black History Month resources page provides links to resources for students and teachers, or anyone who wants to learn more about the prominent role of African Americans in Florida history.

Mary McLeod Bethune, Daytona Beach, ca. 1904

Mary McLeod Bethune, Daytona Beach, ca. 1904

Alvan S. Harper Photographic Collection

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

Nellie Franklin, ca. 1900

Nellie Franklin, ca. 1900

Photographer Alvan S. Harper captured scenes of middle class African Americans in Tallahassee from the 1880s to the 1910s. Portraits such as those taken by Harper provide a small window into Tallahassee’s black community during the indignity of the Jim Crow era.

Many of the photographs in the collection remain unidentified, including two featured in this post. If you have any additional information about images in the Harper Collection, please contact the State Archives of Florida:

Woman wearing dress with roses on bodice and holding a fan, Tallahassee, ca. 1900

Some of Harper’s best negatives were lost when his studio was torn down in the 1920s. The negatives had been given to a Tallahassee historian who, because they were dirty, left them on a porch where they were mistaken for trash and taken to the dump.

Man in striped tie and pants, holding newspaper, Tallahassee, ca. 1900

About 2,000 more Harper negatives were found in 1946 in the attic of the house he had owned. A Tallahassee photographer printed 250 negatives and circulated the prints in the community for identification. The negatives were turned over to the State Library, and later transferred to the Florida Photographic Collection after it was founded in 1952.

Contact the Museum of Florida History for more information about the Alvan S. Harper traveling exhibit, part of the museum’s TREX Program.

Martin Luther King and St. Augustine, 1964

People in the United States and around the world celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

King played a prominent role in organizing the Civil Rights Movement in the South. His most important contributions to the struggle in Florida occurred in St. Augustine in the summer of 1964.

On June 11, 1964, Dr. King and several other activists were arrested for attempting to integrate the Monson Motor Lodge. When interviewed during his brief incarceration, King pledged to challenge segregation in St. Augustine “even if it takes all summer.”

Martin Luther King in St. Augustine, X, 1964

Martin Luther King in St. Augustine, June 12, 1964

Dan R. Warren, State Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit, convened a Grand Jury to hear King’s perspective on the situation in the Ancient City. The photograph above shows Dr. King in the backseat of a highway patrol car with a police dog moments after he testified before the Grand Jury about segregation in St. Augustine, a city he referred to as the “most segregated” in America.

Quotes attributed to King appear in Dan R. Warren, If It Takes All Summer: Martin Luther King, the KKK, and States’ Rights in St. Augustine, 1964 (University of Alabama, 2008), 95.

Gangster in the Neighborhood

Al “Scarface” Capone was born on January 17, 1899. Both before and after he served hard time for tax evasion, the Chicago gangster resided in an estate on Palm Island in Biscayne Bay.

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

J. Fritz Gordon, Al Capone, and Julio Morales in Havana, Cuba, 1930

Capone first took up residence in Miami Beach in 1928, when he purchased an estate on Palm Island for $20,000. Ostensibly acquired as a winter health retreat, the gangster invested between $40,000 and $70,000 into the home. Palm Island residents, and the city of Miami Beach in general, opposed the presence of the mobster in their midst and wrote numerous letters to the governor of Florida pleading for Capone’s ouster from the state.

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

Aerial view of the Capone compound on Palm Island, 1930

The letter below is one such citizen complaint regarding Capone living on Palm Island (click on thumbnails for a larger image). The letter was sent to Governor Doyle Carlton by Anheuser Busch magnate Clarence M. Busch in March 1929. Busch lived immediately across the street from Capone and, like other property owners on Palm Island, wanted the gangster booted from the neighborhood.



Governor Carlton shared Busch’s dislike for Capone. Beginning in March 1930, Carlton, who ran for office on an anti-gambling platform, undertook an effort to ban the gangster from the state. Capone and his legal team avoided banishment from Florida, but the mobster faced near constant harassment from Miami Beach police. He was arrested several times on various charges and the local city council even pursued special resolutions aimed at limiting his tenure in the area.

Palm Island residents expressed a sigh of relief in 1931 when Capone was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. The gangster served several years behind bars on Alcatraz Island before returning to Florida in 1939. He lived the remainder of his days on Palm Island, and died in 1947.

To learn more about Al Capone and his legal troubles in Dade County, see William G. Crawford Jr., “Judge Vincent Giblin: The Life and Times of a South Florida Attorney and Judge,” Tequesta 70 (2010): 59-119.

Stephen Foster Memorial Day

Stephen C. Foster, “America’s Troubadour,” was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1826. He died on January 13, 1864.

Stephen C. Foster, 1859

Stephen C. Foster, 1859

President Harry S. Truman established Stephen Foster Memorial Day by proclamation in October, 1951. The first official observance of the day occurred on January 13, 1952. Today, 150 years after his death, we continue to recognize the life and works of “America’s Troubadour.”

Foster is remembered for composing songs that captured the spirit of the United States in the 19th century. He wrote over 200 songs in his career. Some of his most popular include: “Oh! Susanna,” “Laura Lee,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “Old Folks at Home (aka “Swanee River”),” “Camptown Races,” “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair,” and “Old Black Joe.”

Carillon tower at the Stephen Foster State Memorial Center State Park, White Springs, 1957

Carillon tower at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, White Springs, 1957

White Springs, Florida, is home to the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. The park, on the banks of the Suwanee River, opened in 1950 to honor Foster and his song, “Old Folks at Home.” Every year since 1954 the park has hosted the annual Florida Folk Festival.

Tenor James Melton singing during the first National Stephen Foster Memorial Day, White Springs, 1952

Tenor James Melvin performing during the inaugural Stephen Foster Memorial Day, White Springs, 1952

Florida Governor Fuller Warren hosted the inaugural Stephen Foster Memorial Day at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. Singer James Melvin performed songs from the Foster catalog, accompanied by Frank Black on the piano.

Listen to recordings from the 1952 event. Enjoy!

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More Information: Catalog Record

Secession (January 10, 1861)

On January 10, 1861, Florida seceded from the Union.

In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency on November 6, 1860, Governor Madison Starke Perry called for Florida to prepare for secession and to join with other southern states in organizing an independent confederacy.

The state legislature voted to hold a statewide election on December 22 for the selection of delegates to a convention that would meet in Tallahassee beginning on January 3, 1861, to decide whether Florida should secede. Of the sixty-nine delegates eligible to vote on January 10, 1861 for the adoption of an ordinance of secession, sixty-two voted yea and seven nay.

Florida Ordinance of Secession, signed January 10, 1861

Florida Ordinance of Secession, signed January 10, 1861

The State Archives of Florida holds the only known copy of the Florida Ordinance of Secession.

New on Florida Memory: The Patriot Constitution of 1812

In March 1812, a group of Georgia settlers known as the Patriot Army, with de facto support from the United States government, invaded Spanish East Florida. The Patriots hoped to convince the inhabitants of the province to join their cause and proclaim independence from Spain. Once independence was achieved, the Patriots planned to transfer control of the territory to the United States.

The Patriots seized Fernandina without firing a shot, but could not convince the government at St. Augustine to surrender. By July 1812, the “invasion” had reached a stalemate, with the Patriots encamped at Fort Mose, and the Spanish government firmly in control of St. Augustine and Castillo de San Marcos. Over the ensuing several months, the Patriots fought a series of skirmishes against the Spanish and their Seminole and black allies. The most significant fighting took place when the Patriots attempted to penetrate the strongholds of the Seminoles and their African-American allies near the Alachua Prairie.

page one of the Patriot Constitution of 1812

The Patriots eventually lost their tenuous support from the U.S. government and abandoned the Florida project in early 1813. During their time in control of Fernandina, the Patriots formed a temporary government and drafted a constitution to govern their territory. That document is transcribed and available on the Florida Memory website, along with other miscellaneous items related to the short-lived Republic of East Florida.

The original Patriot Constitution and associated documents reside in the collections of the Florida Historical Society (FHS) in Cocoa. The FHS lent the original documents to the State Archives in 2013 for digitization.

Florida and the Civil War (December 1863)

A Stickney Situation

The war in Florida changed little in 1863. Despite a third, brief Union occupation of Jacksonville in March most military activity in the state consisted of Federal raids on the coastal salt making industry and the continuing Union blockade of Florida ports, many of which had been occupied by Federal troops since 1862.

Illustration of Federal troops marching down Second Street, Fernandina, 1862

Illustration of Federal troops marching down Second Street, Fernandina, 1862

By December 1863, while the military situation remained calm, politics in Union occupied areas of Florida were anything but peaceful. As 1864 approached, so too did the Union presidential election. Although Florida was far from being a Union military priority, for the first couple months of 1864 it would briefly be the focus of high power politics.

President Abraham Lincoln and his most prominent potential presidential rival within the Republican Party, Salmon P. Chase, considered the possibility of bringing a portion of the state back into the Union in time for its Republican delegates to support their respective candidacies. During this political drama, the most important player on the ground in Florida was Lyman D. Stickney, a Florida Unionist whose politics began and ended with self-interest.

Stickney’s prospects in Florida began in 1860, when he arrived in the state promoting a colonization scheme to bring agricultural development to largely untamed south Florida. After Florida’s secession and the failure of his colonial venture, Stickney, a Vermont native, made his way to the Federal enclave of Key West, where he quickly proclaimed his loyalty to the Union. Leaving Key West with “an unpaid hotel bill of $144.00” in June 1861, Stickney moved to Washington, D.C., and insinuated himself into government circles as an “expert” on all things Florida.

A talented lobbyist, whose cause was his own fortune, Stickney acquired a potentially powerful and lucrative position in July 1862, when President Lincoln, on the recommendation of Secretary of the Treasury Salon P. Chase, appointed him one of three direct tax commissioners for Florida.

The federal Direct Tax Law was a weapon of economic warfare. Passed in June 1862, the law called for the confiscation of any real property in Rebel held territory whose owners failed to pay the tax. The Direct Tax Law created three tax commissioners for each Rebel state where Union forces occupied a portion of the state. The commissioners would access the value of the real property within Federal control and impose a tax. Given that pro-Confederate citizens within these areas had usually fled or were unwilling to pay the tax, the tax commissioners ended up seizing their property and either selling or leasing it to Unionist Floridians or recently arrived Northern immigrants.

After his appointment, Commissioner Stickney wrote a number of letters to President Lincoln supporting the appointment of various men to federal positions in Union held areas of Florida and proclaiming his loyalty and “deep interest in the future destiny of Florida, of which I am a citizen…” Stickney was an enthusiastic supporter of the Union expedition to Jacksonville in March 1863 (see “Detour to Liberty: Black Troops in Florida during the Civil War” and “Florida and the Civil War: March 1863”).

Shipping rosin, cotton, and turpentine from Fernandina to New York, 1862

Shipping rosin, cotton, and turpentine from Fernandina to New York, 1862

By the time the expedition set sail, he had established himself as a silent partner in a general store in Fernandina and shipped goods to the store at government expense under the cover of the Direct Tax Commission. He hoped the expedition would lead to the permanent Union occupation of Jacksonville and northeast Florida. In such an eventuality, he saw endless opportunities for profit, including trade in cotton and turpentine. Even though the expedition proved short-lived, Stickney did not relent.

On December 2, 1863, as he was about to board a ship for another trip to Fernandina, Stickney urged Lincoln “to authorize the loyal people of Florida to organize a state government in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” He guaranteed that “the work of restoration will be speedy and permanent” if the president would allow “every person of lawful age, and not disqualified by crime, whose fidelity to your administration and your proclamation of freedom is unquestioned be a voter…”

If feasible, the early restoration of Florida to the Union, even if it was only a small portion of the state, could serve the Union cause as a magnet for discontented and Unionist Southerners living in Florida and Georgia as well as for escaped slaves, many of whom were now filling the ranks of the Union’s increasingly numerous black regiments.

Front page of The Peninsula, March 3, 1864, list indicates property sold for failing to pay the Federal direct tax

Front page of The Peninsula, March 3, 1864, list indicates property sold for failing to pay the Federal direct tax

At the same time, a restored Florida could make a difference in the 1864 presidential election by throwing its Republican Party delegates to either Lincoln or Stickney’s benefactor, Secretary of the Treasury Chase, whose presidential ambition was one of the worst kept secrets in Washington. Finally, and most importantly for Stickney, a Florida returned to the Union held endless possibilities for his own advancement, either financially or politically, as he would doubtless be one of the key leaders in a new, loyal Florida.

The pursuit of a reconstructed Florida was one of the motivating factors in the Union decision to mount yet another expedition to Jacksonville in February 1864. This expedition resulted in the Federal defeat at Olustee on February 20th. The Battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond as it was known in the North, ended Stickney’s dream of a Florida restored to the Union. Florida would not play a role in the presidential election of 1864, which saw Lincoln’s easy capture of the Republican nomination over Chase.

Stickney’s summer of 1864 was considerably less fortunate than Lincoln’s. In July, a treasury department report criticized Stickney for being almost constantly absent from his duties in Florida and implicated him in financial and political corruption schemes. Indicted in 1865, Stickney, slippery as ever, managed to escape punishment and restart his professional life in the postwar economy.

The quote about Stickney’s Key West hotel bill comes from David J. Coles, “Far from Fields of Glory: Military Operations in Florida, 1864-1865,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1996). The Stickney quotes are found in two of his letters to Lincoln dated October 27, 1863 and December 2, 1863; the original letters are located in the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress.

For Sitckney’s role during Union military operations in Florida see Stephen V. Ash, Firebrand of Liberty: the Story of Two Black Regiments that Changed the Course of the Civil War (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008). A copy of the Florida Direct Tax Commission records are located in Record Group 101, Series 161, United States Direct Tax Refund Records, 1891-1901, State Archives of Florida.