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.

Tallahassee CORE Flier (July 1963)

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

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) formed in 1942 with the purpose of challenging segregation laws in the United States through non-violent protest and civil disobedience.

CORE played a central role in several of the largest peaceful integration campaigns during the Civil Rights Movement, including Freedom Rides from the 1940s to the 1960s, the March on Washington in August 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, and numerous sit-in demonstrations throughout the United States in the 1960s.

CORE leadership in Tallahassee created this flier in July 1963 (click thumbnails below for larger images). It summarizes the accomplishments of the movement in Tallahassee and the ongoing efforts by activists to defeat segregation in Florida’s capital city.

Tallahassee CORE pamphlet page 1

Reproduced in the flier is a telegram written by local CORE chairperson Patricia Stephens Due to President John F. Kennedy. Due asked the president to stop federal grants from funding St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary celebration.

Due wrote that government support for these events would amount to a “celebration of 400 years of slavery and segregation.” Other prominent civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., raised similar concerns that the celebrations planned for St. Augustine in 1964 would marginalize the African-American role in Florida’s colonial history.

Tallahassee CORE pamphlet page 2

Two months before this flier appeared, over 200 student demonstrators, mostly from Florida A&M University, were arrested for picketing in front of segregated theaters in downtown Tallahassee. The flier also notes the latest campaign against pool segregation, and that Priscilla Stephens, sister of Patricia Stephens Due, had been arrested for attempting to integrate a city pool.

The Stephens sisters organized the first Tallahassee chapter of CORE in 1959. Throughout the early 1960s they played a prominent role as organizers, participants, and spokespeople for the movement.

Tallahassee CORE pamphlet page 3

Tallahassee CORE pamphlet page 4

To learn more see, Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (New York: Ballatine, 2003) and Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (Athens: University of Georgia, 1999).

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).

Civil Rights Photo Exhibit

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

Floridians played a prominent role in the long struggle for civil rights. Visit our online photo exhibit to learn more about important events and individuals in the Civil Rights Movement in Florida.

NAACP march on the Capitol, Tallahassee, early 1960s

NAACP march on the Capitol, Tallahassee, early 1960s

 

Civil Rights Exhibit at the State Archives

Stop by the lobby of the R.A. Gray Building (500 South Bronough Street) in Tallahassee during the month of February to see our photographic exhibit: “Images of the Civil Rights Movement in Tallahassee, 1956-1963.”

Presented in recognition of Black History Month, and in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the images featured in the exhibit honor only a few of the many events and individuals critical to the Civil Rights Movement in Tallahassee.

Sit-In at Woolworth’s lunch counter (February 13, 1960)

Sit-In at Woolworth’s lunch counter (February 13, 1960)

The above photograph shows the first of several sit-ins held at department stores in downtown Tallahassee. Seated and wearing dark glasses is prominent activist and local Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organizer Patricia Stephens (later Due).

Patricia Stephens (later Due) being arrested by Tallahassee Police (May 30, 1963)

Patricia Stephens (later Due) being arrested by Tallahassee Police (May 30, 1963)

The above photograph was taken on the day Tallahassee Police arrested 260 FAMU students for protesting in front of the segregated Florida Theater.

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.

Tallahassee-Leon County Civil Rights Heritage Walk

Earlier this week, the City of Tallahassee unveiled a commemorative sidewalk that recognizes the pivotal role played by Tallahassee and Leon County residents in the Civil Rights Movement.

The artistic sidewalk, located at the intersection of Monroe and Jefferson Streets in downtown Tallahassee, is appropriately placed near the site of many dramatic moments during the struggle for civil rights in Florida’s capital city.

The photographs below captured some of those events and the daring individuals who challenged segregation and changed history.

Reverend C. K. Steele (left) and Reverend Daniel Speed protesting segregated seating on city buses, December 24, 1956

Reverend C. K. Steele (left) and Reverend Daniel Speed protesting segregated seating on city buses, December 24, 1956

 

Northeast corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets during the McCrory's and Woolworth's sit-ins, March 12, 1960

Northeast corner of Adams and Jefferson Streets during the McCrory’s and Woolworth’s sit-ins, March 12, 1960

 

FAMU students protesting the arrest of sit-in participants, March 12, 1960

FAMU students protesting the arrest of sit-in participants, March 12, 1960

 

Sit-in at Woolworth's lunch counter, March 13, 1960

Sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter, March 13, 1960

 

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

 

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

Demonstrators outside of a segregated theater, 1962

 

Demonstration in front of a segregated theater, 1963

Demonstration in front of a segregated theater, 1963

 

FAMU students arrested for protesting at segregated theaters, March 31, 1963

FAMU students arrested for protesting at segregated theaters, March 31, 1963

These eight photographs tell only a small part of the story. To learn more, see The Civil Rights Movement in Florida (online learning unit); Tananarive Due and Patricia Stephens Due, Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights (New York: Ballantine Books, 2003); Glenda Alice Rabby, The Pain and the Promise, The Struggle for Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Florida (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999).

A. Philip Randolph and the March on Washington

Florida native A. Philip Randolph helped initiate and direct the March on Washington in August 1963.

A. Philip Randolph, ca. 1940

A. Philip Randolph, ca. 1940

Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979), the first president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was born in Crescent City, Florida, and grew up in Jacksonville. The son of a Methodist minister, he attended the City College of New York and later published The Messenger, a radical black magazine. As a result of his efforts, the 1937 contract between the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Pullman Company cut working hours, increased pay, and improved working conditions. Randolph was also a major factor in ending discrimination in defense plants and segregation in the U.S. military.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters convention in Washington, D.C., 1950s. Membership included African-American porters and maids who worked on the railway trains.

Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters convention in Washington, D.C., 1950s. Membership included African-American porters and maids who worked on the railway trains.

Fifty years ago this summer, Randolph helped initiate and direct the March on Washington – the largest civil rights demonstration in American history. Randolph first called for a demonstration at the U.S. Capitol in 1941 to protest employment discrimination. He played an instrumental role in the months leading up to the 1963 demonstration as the elder statesman of the “Big Six,” which included Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders from the largest civil rights organizations in the U.S. Randolph helped unite the various groups behind the common message of jobs and freedom.

Connect with the ‘Let Freedom Ring’ commemoration on Facebook at http://officialmlkdream50.com/ or on Twitter @DCMARCHMLK50.

Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement in Florida.

Fort Lauderdale Wade-In Demonstrations

Civil rights activists in Fort Lauderdale challenged de facto segregation with a series of “wade-in” demonstrations in the summer of 1961.

Segregation impacted all aspects of daily life for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. From movie theaters and lunch counters to swimming pools and beaches, state and local governments across the United States enforced laws predicated on the “separate but equal” clause established by the Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Civil rights activists challenged legal and de facto segregation using non-violent strategies championed by organizations such as the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). One particularly Floridian method used by demonstrators was the “wade-in.”

Wade-in demonstration at a Fort Lauderdale beach, July 24, 1961

The photograph above shows activists participating in a wade-in demonstration at a Fort Lauderdale beach on July 24, 1961. The wade-ins, which lasted six weeks, helped end de facto segregation at all Broward County’s beaches. A state court judge refused to enter an injunction against the NAACP stopping the wade-ins a year after they began.

To learn more, see William G. Crawford Jr., “The Long Hard Fight for Equal Rights: A History of Broward County’s Colored Beach and the Fort Lauderdale Beach ‘Wade-ins’ of the Summer of 1961,” Tequesta 67 (2007): 19-51.

St. Augustine Wade-In Demonstrations (June 25, 1964)

The city of St. Augustine became a battleground in the Civil Rights Movement during the summer of 1964.

Demonstrators held several nonviolent “wade-ins” at segregated hotel pools and beaches. This film shows footage taken by the Florida Highway Patrol of one of the largest demonstrations, a wade-in held at St. Augustine Beach on June 25, 1964 (see full-length version).

Civil rights leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., came to northeast Florida to show their support for the Movement. King is said to have remarked that St. Augustine was “the most segregated city in America” at the time. He pledged to defeat segregation using nonviolence, even “if it takes all summer.”

To learn more, see Dan R. Warren, If It Takes All Summer: Martin Luther King, the KKK, and States’ Rights in St. Augustine, 1964 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2008).