Richard Ervin and the Gradualist Approach to Desegregation

On May 12, 1955, Florida Attorney General Richard Ervin submitted an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court proposing a gradual approach to school integration. The court had just recently ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in May 1954 that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional.

Headline in the Tallahassee Democrat, the day the U.S. Supreme court issued its opinion that separate schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional (17 May 1954). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

Headline in the Tallahassee Democrat, the day the U.S. Supreme court issued its opinion that separate schools were inherently unequal and therefore unconstitutional (17 May 1954). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The court chose to shelve the case for a year, citing a need for further study on how best to implement the decision. Sensing an opportunity to preserve segregation, acting Florida Governor Charley Johns enlisted the expertise of Attorney General Ervin, State Superintendent of Education Thomas D. Bailey, and Florida State University sociologist Lewis Killian to compile a report outlining the “practical problems involved [with desegregation] and recommendations” for implementation.  The Florida Cabinet approved a $10, 000 budget for the study, which began in the summer of 1954.  Killian began by seeking the opinions of elected officials, journalists, educators, and police chiefs on the subject. Approximately 8,000 surveys reached a biracial sample of community leaders, with a total response rate of fifty one percent.

Atty. Gen. Richard Ervin (left), with Rep. Ben Hill Griffin of Polk County (right). Griffin was chairman of a committee devising legislation allowing parents to withdraw their children from integrated schools  (1959). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Atty. Gen. Richard Ervin (left), with Rep. Ben Hill Griffin of Polk County (right). Griffin was chairman of a committee devising legislation allowing parents to withdraw their children from integrated schools (1959). State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The responses from African-Americans revealed several prevalent fears associated with desegregating Florida’s public schools, including “withdrawal of white children from the public schools, the maintenance of discipline in mixed classes by Negro [sic.] teachers, refusal to employ Negro teachers for mixed schools, and difficulty in obtaining white teachers” as the “outstanding potential problems found to be expected.” White responses emphasized similar concerns over such matters as maintaining discipline in mixed classrooms, questionable cooperation of white parents, and violent outbreaks.  In a telling statistic, seventy-five percent of African-American participants supported the Brown ruling and believe the majority of whites did also.  In contrast, a similar percentage of whites thought blacks largely supported segregation. Armed with Killian’s results, Attorney General Ervin made a strong case for gradualism. After a year of delay, the United States Supreme Court reconvened in spring 1955 to clarify the federal enforcement of desegregation in a session aptly nicknamed Brown II.  The court considered the research of ten states regarding school desegregation, lauding Attorney General Ervin’s brief as a particularly strong resource. On May 31, 1955, after much deliberation, the justices handed down their decision.  The court mandated that compliance with the Brown decision should occur with “a prompt and reasonable start,” carried out with “all deliberate speed.”  The vague language coupled with Ervin’s push for gradualism foreshadowed the long battle for school desegregation in post-Brown Florida.

The slow pace of social change in Florida prompted many African-Americans to take action. In the above picture, dated 1962, young men and women stand outside the Florida Theatre in Tallahassee, calling on white America to reevaluate racial segregation. Eight years after the Brown decree only a handful of school districts in Florida were desegregated. Miami-Dade was the first in 1959. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

The slow pace of social change in Florida prompted many African-Americans to take action. In the above picture, dated 1962, young men and women stand outside the Florida Theatre in Tallahassee, calling on white America to reevaluate racial segregation. Eight years after the Brown decree only a handful of school districts in Florida were desegregated. Miami-Dade was the first in 1959. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory.

 

 

It’s National Barbecue Month!

Aside from a few showers here and there, the weather has been awfully pleasant lately, and that has us thinking about all sorts of outdoor activities, especially picnics and barbecues. May is National Barbecue Month, and we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate than to review the role of these delicious social occasions in Florida’s past.

Barbecue at the home of J.D. Hysler in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

Barbecue at the home of J.D. Hysler in Jacksonville (circa 1950s).

Barbecue is a treat for Floridians of all ages. Pictured here is 8-month-old Mary Odum enjoying a plate of food during a dedication ceremony for several new tobacco warehouses in Jasper (July 1947).

Barbecue is a treat for Floridians of all ages. Pictured here is a group of people enjoying plates of food during a dedication ceremony for new tobacco warehouses in Jasper (July 1947).

The concept of getting a large group of folks together for a good meal outdoors is timeless, and some of our earliest photographs in the Florida Photographic Collection are of Floridians enjoying picnics and barbecues with friends, family, churches, and communities.

Barbecuing meat at a picnic for the Masons in Kissimmee (June 24, 1886).

Barbecuing meat at a picnic for the Masons in Kissimmee (June 24, 1886).

A barbecue picnic, complete with oysters (circa 1870s).

A barbecue picnic, complete with oysters (circa 1870s).

Group portrait at a barbecue in Eustis. Seated in front to the right is Herbert John Webber, a horticulturist whose pioneering field work at a Eustis field lab helped stimulate the citrus industry in that area (October 12, 1903).

Group portrait at a barbecue in Eustis. Seated in front to the right is Herbert John Webber, a horticulturist whose pioneering field work at a Eustis field lab helped stimulate the citrus industry in that area (October 12, 1903).

A mid-winter barbecue at Oldsmar (circa 1920s).

A mid-winter barbecue at Oldsmar (circa 1920s).

Anytime can be the right time for a barbecue, but special occasions make a particularly good excuse to fire up the grill. Florida communities have often celebrated groundbreaking ceremonies, anniversaries of momentous events, and dedications of new buildings and structures with large barbecues and picnics.

Barbecue is ready to serve at this Tin Can Tourist convention at Arcadia in DeSoto County (circa 1920s).

Barbecue is ready to serve at this Tin Can Tourist convention at Arcadia in DeSoto County (circa 1920s).

Harold Colee, longtime vice-president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, accepting a plate of barbecue at a Tree Farm event in Taylor County (April 3, 1947).

Harold Colee, longtime vice-president of the Florida State Chamber of Commerce, accepting a plate of barbecue at a Tree Farm event in Taylor County (April 3, 1947).

Men cutting ribs in preparation for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. In the center is Lou Bono, founder of the original Bono's Barbecue in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Men cutting ribs in preparation for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville. In the center is Lou Bono, founder of the original Bono’s Barbecue in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Preparing racks of ribs for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville (March 1953).

Preparing racks of ribs for a barbecue celebrating the opening of the John E. Mathews Bridge over the St. Johns River in Jacksonville (March 1953).

 

Preparations for a barbecue celebrating the dedication of the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee (1957).

Preparations for a barbecue celebrating the dedication of the Jim Woodruff Dam at Chattahoochee (1957).

Barbecues have also had a close connection with Florida politics. Candidates have long used them as a way to rub shoulders with their constituents during campaigns, to celebrate victories, and sometimes even to celebrate Election Day itself. Politics being what they are, these occasions were at times marked with a little roughhousing between the partisans for each candidate. Ellen Call Long described one such Election Day incident in her book Florida Breezes:

“Around the square, people gathered in knots; candidates or their friends made speeches, and all was good humor and sociability, but these culminated with the barbecue, and as whiskey circulated, many a proud-stepping sovereign of the morning yielded his sceptre to King Barleycorn; and there were uproarious haranguers of what American citizens can’t and won’t submit to; and there were fist fights, and consequent bruised heads, with blacked eyes; and oh, those “sons of the soil” that were so gallant, so solemn in that early day – we must spare them, for I dare say there was at home many a ‘sullen dame, gathering her brows like gathering storm, nursing her wrath to keep it warm.’”

Thankfully, in more recent times the barbecues associated with Florida politics have been much tamer, as these photos demonstrate.

Governor Fuller Warren checking a slab of meat as it roasts on a barbecue pit during the festivities celebrating his inauguration as Florida's 30th governor (January 4, 1949).

Governor Fuller Warren checking a slab of meat as it roasts on a barbecue pit during the festivities celebrating his inauguration as Florida’s 30th governor (January 4, 1949).

A crowd of 35,000-40,000 people in line for barbecue at festivities celebrating the inauguration of Florida's 30th governor, Fuller Warren (January 4, 1949).

A crowd of 35,000-40,000 people in line for barbecue at festivities celebrating the inauguration of Florida’s 30th governor, Fuller Warren (January 4, 1949).

Governor Charley E. Johns (center, in dark coat and hat) shakes hands during a campaign barbecue event. Johns had become governor upon the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but the state Supreme Court ruled he would have to win a special election to continue in the office. LeRoy Collins would eventually win this election (1954).

Governor Charley E. Johns (center, in dark coat and hat) shakes hands during a campaign barbecue event. Johns had become governor upon the death of Governor Dan McCarty, but the state Supreme Court ruled he would have to win a special election to continue in the office. LeRoy Collins would eventually win this election (1954).

So what are you waiting for? Celebrate National Barbecue Month by planning your own barbecue with friends or family. If you’re looking for a great place to do it, check out the Florida State Parks website to find out more about the 161 park facilities operated by the State of Florida.

Also, have a look at the Florida Park Service photograph collection.

WTVJ Miami Airs First Broadcast (March 1949)

In March 1949, WTVJ, Florida’s first television station, began broadcasting from the humble confines of the Capitol Theater in Miami. In its first year, the station covered everything from hurricanes to the annual Orange Bowl football game.

Left to right: George Thurston, Keith Leslie and Bill Tucker, WTVJ news crew

Left to right: George Thurston, Keith Leslie and Bill Tucker, WTVJ news crew

WTVJ accomplished many firsts in Florida’s television history, including the first female sportscaster, Jane Chastain, and the first African-American broadcast journalist in South Florida, C.T. Taylor.

The film clip below features the first televised political debate in Florida, between Governor Charley Johns and his opponent in the 1955 gubernatorial election, LeRoy Collins.