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.
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.
LeRoy Collins was born March 10, 1909, in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1934, Leon County elected Collins to the Florida House of Representatives. Collins later served in the Florida Senate, until successfully running for Governor in a special election in 1955. He won the gubernatorial election again in 1956, becoming the first Florida Governor to serve two consecutive terms in office.
As governor of Florida, Collins clashed with members of the Florida legislature who wanted to halt integration following the historic Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education ruling in 1954. Governor Collins wrote that efforts by the legislature to uphold segregation constituted an “evil thing, whipped up by the demagogues and carried on the hot and erratic winds of passion, prejudice, and hysteria.” (See the document below for more information.)
Collins remained in public service after his second term as governor ended, until losing a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1968. When his career in politics ended, Collins and his wife Mary Call Darby Collins retired to their family home, known as The Grove, located in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1981, Secretary of State George Firestone designated LeRoy Collins as the first “Great Floridian,” in recognition of his achievements and significant contributions to the progress and welfare of the state.
LeRoy Collins died in 1991, followed by his wife Mary in 2009. Before LeRoy’s death, the Collins family sold The Grove to the State of Florida. The agreement allowed the couple to remain in the home until both passed away. In 2009, the State of Florida began efforts to restore The Grove for use as a multipurpose historic house museum.
Governor LeRoy Collins and Mary Call Darby Collins are remembered for their legacy of public service and for promoting equality for all Floridians.