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A MODERATE CALM? FLORIDA'S STRUGGLE OVER SCHOOL DESEGREGATION
AMY CAMILE MARTINELLI
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN EDUCATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
2007 Amy Camile Martinelli
To my Mom and Dad.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A B S T R A C T ................................................................................................................................... v i
1 INTRODUCTION ...................................... ........... ........ ............... 1
Historical Framework ..................................... .. ......... ............ ...............3
2 N A R R A T IV E .........................................................................................................................12
Part I: Florida R eacts to Brown, 1955-1957 ...................................................... ............... 12
Part II: Tw o Y ears of Change, 1957-1958......................................................... ................ 29
Part III: The Disintegration of M operation, 1958-1960 .............. .................................... 33
Part IV: Summary ..................... .................... .. ......... ............ ............... 48
3 CONCLUSION ........................................................................... 51
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S .............. ........................................................................59
Prim ary Sources .............................................................................................. 59
S e c o n d a ry S o u rc e s ..................................................................................................................5 9
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H .............. ...................................................................... 62
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in Education
A MODERATE CALM? FLORIDA'S STRUGGLE OVER SCHOOL DESEGREGATION
Amy Camile Martinelli
Chair: Sevan Terzian
Major: Foundations of Education
The purpose of this study was to examine the influences that various constituents in
Florida had on the decisions of a moderate southern governor, LeRoy Collins, from 1955-1961.
After the landmark Brown decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954 and 1955, most
historians tended to categorize Florida as distinct from other southern states because the state
produced little violence and attracted little media attention. This study sought to reevaluate that
claim and to consider how strict segregationists and avid integrationists, mostly African
Americans, influenced the moderate governor's decisions.
Between 1955 and 1957, the governor relied upon a bi-racial committee to advise him on
how to deal with segregation in the state. The group recommended a moderate plan that utilized
a Pupil Assignment Law used in many other southern states in response to Brown. During this
time, segregationist legislators generally supported the governor's plan, but some questioned its
ability to sustain segregation. Segregationist legislators and the moderate governor conflicted on
many issues, most importantly, reapportionment of the legislature. So, when the moderate
governor vetoed segregation laws other than his own and blocked Interposition, segregationists
began to lose faith in the moderate governor. Integrationists also questioned the governor's
plans. The NAACP brought lawsuits into court to test the Pupil Assignment law with little
success. Generally, the state favored the moderate stance in the first two years after Brown.
However, in 1958 two events changed the racial atmosphere in Florida. In Jacksonville,
a Jewish synagogue and an African American school were bombed by self-proclaimed members
of "the Confederate Underground." Further south, in Miami, the first school in Florida
desegregated peacefully. At once, the events heightened fears of violence and of desegregation.
Thus, in this fateful year, segregationists and integrationists lost faith in the governor and his
plans for segregation. Segregationists brought unprecedented numbers of segregation legislation
to the floor, and integrationists united to fight for desegregation more than ever before in Florida.
The inability for moderates, segregationists, and integrationists to unite in Florida in the
period immediately following the historical Brown decision prevented much of the racial furor
seen in most southern states, but did not avoid it completely. Racial segregation was hotly
contested in the historically named moderate state.
On Saturday, March 19, 1960, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins's driver (a highway patrol
officer) reported that a "busload of Negroes" had arrived at Florida A&M University with
baseball bats in hand. The driver reported that the young men came from Alabama to augment
local forces in Tallahassee lunch counter sit-ins and had planned a demonstration. Collins called
the president of the university who offered confirmation: "It is true, Governor, we've got a
busload...For a year now we have had a... baseball game, scheduled with the institution up there
in Alabama and the boys are here with their bats to play the game."1 The next night, Governor
Collins addressed the situation in a speech broadcasted statewide over television and radio.
Collins announced that if "some Alabama boys" came to promote violence, he would certainly
quell the situation through police control as he had a year earlier before a Ku Klux Klan
demonstration. But, the mere presence of African Americans from another state should not elicit
any kind of action. The Florida governor's response statement exemplified his abhorrence of
violence either in support of the preservation or elimination of segregation.
LeRoy Collins attempted to maintain peace and order in his state during a tumultuous
period in the South's history. Historians note that through Collins's efforts to maintain peace,
Florida fared better after the Supreme Court's historic Brown vs. Board decision of 1954 than
most southern states. Although the Sunshine State produced almost no desegregation
immediately after Brown, it also suffered relatively little violence. Some contend that Florida's
calm reaction to Brown resulted from its relatively small African American population and the
state's financial reliance on tourism. Others credit the governor and his moderate leadership for
1 Transcript of Statewide TV-Radio Talk by Governor LeRoy Collins, 20 March 1960, Series 226 Box 2 File 15,
Collins Papers, Florida State Archives.
Florida's seemingly harmonious response to the Supreme Court decision. Whatever the cause,
Florida did not receive widespread national attention for racial tension even though the state
remained entrenched in segregation well after Brown. Historians Joseph Tomberlin, Richard
Scher, David Colburn, Tom Wagy and Earl Black have interpreted Governor Collins's stance
toward segregation as moderate and have tended to downplay Florida's long history of racial
segregation. Instead, their moderate interpretations of Collins's perspective overshadowed and
oversimplified Florida's explosive atmosphere following the Brown decision.2
To provide new insight into Florida's own history and its place in southern history, this
thesis examines Florida's varied reactions to the Brown decision from 1955-1961. Historians
have tended either to overlook Florida's history of racial segregation, or focus solely on Collins's
moderation. This study seeks to reevaluate Florida's history of racial segregation as well as the
state's position in the south. The governor's moderate stance has dominated historical accounts
of Florida and is credited for the peaceful atmosphere in the state after Brown. Additionally, this
study adds to a larger perspective of southern history as a whole, and reveals that contrary to
many historians' interpretations, Florida's history was not distinct from other southern states.
Reexamining Florida's moderate stance and including constituents who influenced the
2 For discussion of Collins as a moderate see David C. Colburn and Richard K. Scher, "Race Relations and
Gubernatorial Politics Since the Brown Decision," The Florida Historical Quarterly (Autumn 1975): 154-170;
Joseph Tomberlin, "Florida and the Desegregation Issue, 1954-1959," The Journal oJ ., .-, Education (Autumn
1974):457-467. For a thorough biography of LeRoy Collins see Tom R. Wagy, Governor LeRoy Collins of Florida:
Spokesman of the New South (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980). For a definition of "moderate
segregationist" see Earl Black, "Southern Governors and Political Change: Campaign Stances on Racial Segregation
and Economic Development, 1950-1969," The Journal of Politics (Summer 1971): 703-734. This paper is informed
by Black's definition of a moderate segregationist candidate as one who 1) favors racial segregation, but these
preferences are usually qualified by other values and commitments, 2) does not make the defense of racial
segregation a leading campaign issue, 3) avoids appealing to racial prejudice to discredit his opponent. For
discussion of Florida's lack of violence see: R.W. Puryear, "Desegregation of Public Education in Florida-One
Year Afterward," The Journal oJ. ', .., Education (Summer 1955): 219-227; Joseph A. Tomberlin, "Florida Whites
and the Brown Decision of 1954," Florida Historical Quarterly (Autumn 1972): 22-36.
governor's decisions allows for the possibility to conclude that race relations in the state were no
better or worse than in other southern states, and were nothing short of explosive.
In order to contribute not only to Florida's history but to the history of the south, this
study focuses on the governor's response to the historic Brown case, and those of prominent
segregationists and integrationists as well. LeRoy Collins's correspondence suggest that he was
indeed concerned about segregation, but was more interested in the economic and social welfare
of his state. Articles and editorials from three mainstream newspapers, the Miami Herald
(Miami), the Florida Times Union (Jacksonville), and the Tallahassee Democrat (Tallahassee)
provided white (and often segregationist) perspectives from different parts of the state. African
American newspapers, the Miami Times (Miami), the Florida Sentinel (Tampa), and the Florida
Star (Jacksonville), revealed African American and integrationist perspectives both for and
against Collins. For additional information on integrationist groups in Florida, the Papers of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) reveal how the leaders
of this group responded to Collins and how he responded to them. These resources are
underutilized and add to a new perspective about Florida's racial history. They reveal that after
Brown, Florida's atmosphere was explosive and tense; it was not distinctive in its
implementation of the Supreme Court's historic decision.
Because my study focuses on legislation and education politics in Florida, it depends
primarily on Florida sources. However, the historical framework of the pre-Brown and post-
Brown years, in the Southern United States and Florida in particular, provides an important
background. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision did not occur in a vacuum. Accordingly,
Florida's story of segregation exists within the construct of the South and the entire nation.
Therefore it is important to begin by first accounting for the years before Brown, both within the
state and national contexts.
Before Thurgood Marshall and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People (NAACP) ever conceived their attack on segregation, the status of African Americans in
the South underwent tremendous changes. Before the Civil War, slaves and slave owners in
Florida generally coexisted. The plantation lifestyle was arranged in such a way that made it
necessary for blacks and whites to live close to one another; segregating races was "an
inconvenience." Jim Crow became the rule of the land in the southern United States only after
the Civil War and Reconstruction. In Northern cities like Boston, however, slaves freed well
before the Civil War were constantly reminded of their inferior position through racial
segregation laws. Racial segregation developed in the South after the Reconstruction period.3
In The Strange Career of Jim Crow, C. Vann Woodward explained that during
Reconstruction former slaves found freedoms previously denied to them. Woodward contended
that because the Federal government stepped in to protect freed slaves from discrimination
during Reconstruction, African American citizens did not need to fight for their rights.
Therefore, without a vigorous attitude, freed slaves eventually faced conditions similar to slavery
shortly after Reconstruction. Patricia L. Kenney's depiction of the African American community
in LaVilla, Florida near Jacksonville, provided an illustration of how whites maintained power
over freed slaves even after emancipation. LaVilla was separate from the mass conglomeration
of whites and was built to house freed slaves. However, the community was close enough to
Jacksonville for freed slaves to continue to work for whites-oftentimes their former masters.
3 David R. Colburn and Jane L. Landers, The African American Heritage of Florida (Gainesville: University Presses
of Florida, 1995); Ronald P. Formisano Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s.
(Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004); C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim
Crow. (New York: Oxford Press, 1974).
Already segregated from whites, small Reconstruction villages eventually fed into the
establishment of Jim Crow. While Reconstruction presented a period of opportunity for African
Americans, Woodward ultimately blames Jim Crow and the continuance of discrimination on
After Reconstruction, many African Americans found themselves in conditions not
unlike slavery for decades. According to recent historians, the status of southern African
Americans did not begin to change until the 1940s, when a period of new hope arrived. In
Florida's Megatrends: Critical Issues in Florida, David L. Colburn and Lance De-Haven Smith
reported that in the 1940s, the southeastern region of the United States was the poorest in the
nation. However, after World War II newfound wealth brought Northerners, and their money, to
the economically deprived region. Florida had experienced a population boom once before in
the 1920s, which quickly fizzled during the Great Depression. Native Floridians understood the
importance of encouraging economic growth. But as the political atmosphere became more
diverse, the locus of control remained solidly with the traditional "crackers" who resided in the
northernmost parts of Florida. Even with "deep south" roots, Florida's new population did
influence the traditional views of natives.
While population diversity changed in parts of the South, courts began to scrutinize the
equal part of the "separate but equal" doctrine established by Plessy vs. Ferguson. After World
War II, the unfairness of racial discrimination in the United States became more evident
4 C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New York, NY: Oxford Press, 1974): 71-78; Patricia L.
Kenney. "LaVilla, Florida, 1866-1887: Reconstruction Dreams and the Formation of a Black Community," in The
African American Heritage of Florida, Edited by David R. Colburn and Jane L. Landers, 185-206 (Gainesville:
University Presses of Florida, 1995).
5 David L. Colburn and Lance DeHaven Smith, Florida's Megatrends: Critical Issues in Florida (Gainesville,
University Press of Florida, 2002); David L. Colburn and Richard S. Scher, Florida's Gubernatorial Politics in the
Twentieth Century (Tallahassee, University Press of Florida, 1980), Numan V. Bartley, The New South, 1945-1980:
The Story of the South's Modernization (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1995).
throughout the world. African American men fought along with white soldiers in segregated
units-and their children attended segregated schools. American forces fought for freedom
overseas, but the nation failed to provide it for all of its soldiers and citizens at home.
Accordingly, many southern states attempted to comply with both the separate and equal parts of
the "separate but equal" doctrine. Florida legislators tried this through increasing standards for
African American schools, increasing salaries for African American teachers, and equalizing the
length of the school year for African American schools. But even with the eyes of the world
upon the United States, the tradition of racial discrimination permeated southern institutions.6
In Simple Justice: The History of Brown vs. Board of Education and Black America's
Strug/lefor Equality, Richard Kluger describes the road to Brown as calculated and time-
consuming. After the NAACP claimed victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, segregation remained
in the hands of white segregationists. The South was still predominantly run by white
segregationists. Instances like Alabama's "Scottsboro Boys" and Florida's "Groveland case"
highlighted the absolute power of white authorities in most southern towns. In the wake of
World War II and the economic boom that followed, most Americans enjoyed their reprieve
from the Great Depression, but for most Southern African Americans little had changed.7
However, C. Vann Woodward suggested in The Strange Career of Jim Crow that the
South is a tumultuous and ever-changing region. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown,
responses were therefore not predictable. In The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics
6 Bartley, The New South; Numan V. Bartley, The Rise of Massive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South
During the 1950s (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997); R.W. Puryear, "Desegregation of Public
Education in Florida-One Year After," The Journal oJ ., .,. Education (Summer 1955): 219-227; Joseph A.
Tomberlin, "Florida and the Desegregation Issue, 1954-1959: A Summary View," The Journal oJ .,., Education
(Autumn 1974): 457-467.
7 Richard Kluger, Simple Justice: The History of Brown vs. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for
Equality (New York: Vintage Books 2004); Stephen F. Lawson, David L. Colburn, and Darryl Paulson,
"Groveland: Florida's Little Scottsboro," in The African American Heritage of Florida, Edited by David L. Colburn
and Jane L. Landers (Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1995).
in the .Sn,,lh During the 1950s, Numan V. Bartley described the South's response to Brown as a
period of calm followed by massive resistance, which manifested itself in physical and symbolic
ways. Massive resistance to desegregation rested on the idea that the "Negro's place" in the
world was determined "by tradition, by nature, by law," at the bottom. Common massive
resistance tactics included propaganda and enacting a doctrine of interposition. Interposition is
an asserted right of a state to protect sovereignty. It was first used during the Civil War to
oppose the abolition of slavery. The fear of miscegenation even sparked battles in the textbook
industry. Essentially, massive resistance took many forms which included, but was not limited
Resistance also took the form of segregation legislation. As of 1956, most southern states
either had not responded to the Brown decrees or reported the use of "legal means" to maintain
segregation. According to a statistical summary of desegregation published by the Southern
Education Reporting Service, Florida was among seven of the eighteen states in the South that
passed "pupil assignment" laws. These provisions allowed local school boards to place students
in schools based on nebulous criteria; generally the laws promoted segregation over
desegregation. Furthermore, Florida was among six of the eighteen southern states that passed
Interposition resolutions that deemed the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown decisions null and void.
These examples indicate that, legislatively, Florida reacted to Brown in ways similar to "deep
8 Bartley, The Rise ofMassive Resistance; Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow; Jonathan Zimmerman,
"Brown-ing the American Textbook: History, Psychology, and the Origins of Modem Multiculturalism," History of
Education Quarterly (Spring 2004): 45-69.
9 William A Bender, "The Status of Educational Desegregation in Mississippi," The Journal oj .. .., Education
(Summer 1956):285-288; Lewis W. Jones, "Two Years of Desegregation in Alabama," The Journal oj .., ..-,
Education (Summer 1956): 205-211; W.E. Solomon, "The Problem of Desegregation in South Carolina," The
Journal oj .'... -, Education (Summer 1956): 315-323; Stephen A. Stephen, "The Status of Integration and
Segregation in Arkansas," The Journal oj. .. Education (Summer 1956): 212-220; Gilbert Porter, "The Status of
However, in Florida, segregation was not the only subject of contention. The U.S.
Supreme Court handed down the Brown decision in the midst of the state's own embittered battle
for reapportionment of its legislature. This period represents a time when a handful of legislators
from small districts scattered throughout the state controlled Florida's houses of congress even
though their constituents did not represent the growing population. Tom Wagy and David
Colburn and Lance deHaven-Smith, contend that Governor Collins wanted to focus most of his
energy toward altering the apportionment of the legislature so that the government would reflect
proportionately the growing population. Furthermore, the so-called "Pork Chop Gang," a faction
of small district legislators led by Senator Charley Johns, (Dem. Bradford), sought not only to
continue the misrepresentative apportionment, but also the traditions of the old south. Therefore,
these politicians not only opposed reapportionment but integration as well. Throughout his
tenure as governor, Collins attempted to pass reapportionment legislation, but the "Pork
Choppers" consistently blocked him. 10
Although historians' accounts of the aftermath of Brown tended to focus on negative
implications for whites, African Americans felt the brunt of the ruling as well. In "The
Displacement of Black Educators Post-Brown," Michael Fultz describes the firings of African
American teachers. He concludes that it was easier to integrate students than school staffs.
Tenure laws in six southern states, including Florida, changed to discriminate against African
American teachers. Some southern states revised contracts for African American teachers to an
Educational Desegregation in Florida," The Journal o ..;,.. E. ...M.* Siiiiticr 1956): 246-253; "Status of
Segregation-Desegregation in the Southern and Border States," Published by Southern Education Reporting Service,
Nashville, Tennessee 1960: 1-20.
1"Michael Maggioto, "The Impact of Reapportionment in Public Policy," American Politics Quarterly 13 (January
1985); Wagy, Governor LeRoy Collins of Florida: Spokesman of the New South, 46-58; Colburn and deHaven-
Smith, Florida 's Megatrends, 44-49; The "pork choppers" were broken up in 1962 as a result of the U.S. Supreme
Court case Baker vs. Carr.
annual basis. In Georgia, teachers who were members of the NAACP could have their licenses
revoked permanently. Threats of desegregation closed African American schools before white
schools, and as a result many teachers lost their jobs. According to Arthur 0. White in One
Hundred Years of State Leadership of Public Education in Florida, African American educators
feared similar consequences. In a survey which included 4,000 questionnaires and personal
interviews in nine counties, many respondents claimed that African American teachers would
have difficulty finding employment in a desegregated system.1
Marybeth Gasman explained in "Rhetoric vs. Reality: The Fundraising Messages of the
United Negro College Fund in the Immediate Aftermath of the Brown Decision," how Brown
threatened African American institutions of higher education. If schools desegregated, then
African American colleges could have been in jeopardy. The institutions suddenly needed to
justify their existence. The United Negro College Fund did this by encouraging white students to
enroll, arguing that financial constraints still limited many in the pursuit of education, and
attempting to enter into the mainstream of education. Desegregation was a high priority for
African Americans, but it did not come without a cost. Both Fultz and Gasman indicated that
even if Brown created new problems, African American educators were willing to accommodate
those problems. For the most part, African American educators continued to struggle for
professionalism and equality.12
Vanessa Siddle Walker presents African American teachers as highly motivated and
dedicated to professionalism in "African American Teaching in the South: 1940-1960." She
11 Michael Fultz, "The Displacement of Black Educators Post-Brown: An Overview and Analysis, History of
Education Quarterly (Spring 2004): 11-45; Arthur 0. White, One Hundred Years of State Leadership of Public
Education in Florida (Tallahassee: University Press of Florida, 1979), 135.
12 Marybeth Gasman, "Rhetoric Vs. Reality: The Fundraising Messages of the United Negro College Fund in the
Immediate Aftermath of the Brown Decision," History of Education Quarterly (Spring 2004): 70-92.
explains that although most historians characterize African American teachers as victims of
oppression or as caring role models, they were really professionals who used many tactics to
teach their students. African American teachers in Georgia generally received more formal
education than their white counterparts. These educators worked in dismal and unequal facilities
to white educators but did not become victims of their environment. Through African American
teachers' associations, they were able to maintain high standards for themselves, their
communities, and their students. Walker's article suggests that even under oppressive
conditions, African American educators prioritized education, and strove for their equality. 13
Historians have examined many aspects of southern educational history, but have largely
neglected Florida's role. To ascertain a new perspective of how Florida responded to Brown,
this thesis examines the priorities of key constituents. As historians have already indicated,
Governor Collins played an integral role in Florida's immediate response to Brown. Collins
represented the moderate position in Florida-opposed to segregation and violence. What, then,
constituted Governor Collins's legislative priorities? What did Collins say about school
desegregation? How did Collins respond to Brown? Did his stance change over time? Who in
the state agreed with Collins and who disagreed?
Missing from Florida's historical account of the period after Brown are the perspectives
of multiple constituents who influenced the governor. This thesis seeks to provide new insight
for Florida's history as well as history of the south, and to decipher why segregation lasted so
long after Brown in a state with a self-proclaimed moderate governor. Therefore, it is imperative
to ask questions about the key constituents in Florida. Historians have categorized Collins as a
moderate segregationist. Those historians have evaluated the state's reaction to Brown through
13 Vanessa Siddle Walker, "African American Teaching in the South: 1940-1960, American Educational Research
Journal (Winter 2001): 751-779.
his viewpoint but have neglected other actors that played a role in the state at the time. Their
attention to Collins has placed an inordinate emphasis on the absence of violence and has hidden
Florida's volatile legislative and social atmosphere. Collins was a moderate governor who placed
a high priority on reapportioning the state's legislature. He failed to preserve race relations and
his focus on reapportionment and peaceful order eventually led many Florida residents to distrust
his stance on segregation. 14
Historians credit Collins for maintaining peace in his state, but the governor's approach
displeased many powerful constituents. His goals differed from rural segregationists whose
absolute power was threatened by reapportionment. Integrationist leaders, meanwhile,
eventually lost faith that Collins's moderation supported their needs. In the end, he was too
integrationist for some and too segregationist for others. As Collins's terms as governor
diminished, so did support from both segregationist and integrationist groups because his single-
minded aspiration for peace discredited groups who wanted to fight for their beliefs. This thesis
therefore argues that Florida's segregation was typical of most southern states with respect to
education and race, but there are exceptions. The moderate governor and the economic climate
in Florida occasionally affected the state's segregation practices.
14 Wagy, Governor LeRoy Collins: Spokesman of the New South, 46-58; Colburn and deHaven-Smith: Florida's
Megatrends, 35-61; Tomberlin, "Florida and the Desegregation Issue, 1954-1959," 459; Black, "Southern
Governors and Political Change: Campaign Stances on Racial Segregation and Economic Development, 1950-
Part I: Florida Reacts to Brown, 1955-1957
After World War II and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Plessy vs. Ferguson
unconstitutional, Florida launched efforts to equalize African American and white schools.
Florida's schools lived up to the "separate" aspect "separate but equal" doctrine, but not the
"equal" part. Florida leaders realized inequities in schools existed and attempted to remedy the
situation, if not for philanthropic reasons, then to preserve segregation. Between 1940 and 1952,
expenditures on African American students and teacher salaries nearly tripled. In 1947, the
legislature passed the Minimum Foundation Act to improve, overall, the public education
system. LeRoy Collins, then a State Senator from Leon County, was a major proponent of the
Minimum Foundation Program.'
With the Minimum Foundation Program in place, Florida leaders believed they might
adhere to the "separate but equal doctrine" and thereby allow segregation to continue. But when
the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its first ruling on Brown vs. Board of Education, Topeka
Kansas on May 17, 1954, leaders in Florida had to respond somehow. Under Governor Daniel
McCarty, the Florida legislature enacted Senate Bill 124, known as the Pupil Placement Law.
This law allowed local school boards to admit or deny pupils from public schools for virtually
any reason. Segregationist-dominated districts could sustain segregation. The Pupil Placement
Law did not explicitly prohibit desegregation; thus, it allowed local communities to control
1 In 1940, the state expended $23.67 per African American student. By 1952, the state expended $153.24 per
African American Student. African American teachers earned $583 per year in 1940, but by 1953 they earned
$2,922. The state also equalized the school year so that every child attended school during the 180 day cycle.
Joseph Tomberlin, "Florida and the Desegregation Issue, 1954-1959," The Journal oJ ._ .;., Education (Autumn
1974):457-467; R.W. Puryear, "Desegregation of Public Education in Florida-One Year Afterward," The Journal
of ._,.,., Education (Summer 1955): 219-227.
segregation policies. Furthermore, local groups held responsibility for conflicts that arose due to
In 1955, Governor McCarty died while in office. Senator LeRoy Collins, (Dem., Leon) a
friend of the governor's ran to take McCarty's place and carry out his predecessor's plan to
reapportion Florida's legislature. Reapportionment of the legislature was Collins's main focus
while in office. According to Tom Wagy's biographical account of the governor's life, the
historical Brown decision altered Collins's priorities. The moderate governor gained most of his
voter support from constituents who would attain more political power through reapportionment.
On the other hand, the small "Pork Chop Gang" presented a dominant voice of opposition toward
the governor and his initiatives. William C. Harvard and Loren P. Beth explained, however, that
reapportionment would only succeed if forced from the outside. The current legislative body
would not approve the change because it would strip it of power. Furthermore, in the 1955
legislative session, Collins first introduced reapportionment as a key issue of contention and
continued to do so in every session as governor. Harvard and Beth indicated that his strong
stance on reapportionment isolated some legislators, who "resolved to fight every measure the
governor backed."3 When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Brown for the second time, racial
segregation threatened to overshadow Collins's goal for reapportionment.4
A Tallahassee native, Collins served as a Democratic Representative for Leon County
from 1934 to 1940. He then acted as a state Senator until 1941 when he served in the U.S. Navy
2 General Acts and Resolutions Adopted by the Legislature of Florida at its Thirty-fifth Regular Session, Volume 1
Part One, 1955: 302-305; Tomberlin, "Florida and the Desegregation Issue," 457.
3 William C. Harvard and Loren P. Beth, The Politics of Mis-Representation: Rural Urban Conflict in the Florida
Legislature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1962), 58.
4 Tom R. Wagy, Governor LeRoy Collins of Florida: Spokesman of the New South (Tuscaloosa: University of
Alabama Press, 1980), 53; Harvard and Beth, The Politics of Mis-Representation, 21.
during World War II. Upon his return Collins was elected to the Senate for eight years and was
hailed a champion of progressive educational legislation. Segregation, however, was not high on
Collins's to-do list. In his campaign speeches, Collins promised the citizens of Florida that he
would preserve segregation. Mostly, he focused on enhancing state economic and industrial
growth. Collins emphasized his opposition to the court's ruling but understood that any
legislative plan for desegregation needed careful crafting. The new governor faced Brown, and
all the problems associated with it, by advocating a moderate approach to preserve segregation.5
Florida's First Legislation: The Pupil Assignment Law, 1955-1957
The Pupil Placement Law was a provisionary action taken to fend off desegregation and
endured the year between the two Brown rulings. In fact, in 1955 Florida's news writers
essentially ignored Brown. The editor of the Tallahassee Democrat cautioned the legislature not
to produce sweeping segregation measures until the U.S. Supreme Court released its second
Brown ruling. The court revealed its Brown II directive to desegregate "with all deliberate
speed," and Governor LeRoy Collins told the Tallahassee Democrat that the state could move
calmly. The vagueness of the condition allowed time to consider a proper course of action.6
Collins may have cared little for segregation politics, but he understood the necessity of a
plan for segregation. Brown could generate a potentially virulent atmosphere, so he sought
assistance. In 1956, Governor Collins and General Richard Ervin formed a committee of legal
experts to devise segregation legislation. This group, known as the Fabisinski Committee,
attempted to solve the conundrum of legally maintaining segregation. If the governor ascertained
5 David L. Colburn and Lance DeHaven Smith, Florida's Megatrends: Critical Issues in Florida (Gainesville,
University Presses of Florida, 2002), 127.
6 John Tapers, "What's Being Done About Segregation?" The Tallahassee Democrat, 22 April 1955, 2; John
Tapers, "The Governor's Program" The Tallahassee Democrat, 6 April 1955, 6; John Tapers, "End of Segregation"
The Tallahassee Democrat, 14 May 1955, 2; "Floridians Relieved: Collins Says State Can Move Calmly," The
Florida Times Union, 1 June 1955, 6.
some "lawful and practical proposal" to handle integration from the committee's report, he
would call a special session of legislature to act upon it.7
On July 16, 1956 the Fabisinski Committee released its report. It concluded that in the
days after the Brown decision, Florida and the nation were bound to experience difficult times.
The report cautioned legislators against acting on emotion. To determine segregation policies
based on tradition and emotion alone could amplify unnecessary tension. The committee shared
similar goals with the governor. They wanted to preserve the public school system in Florida so
that every child had the opportunity to succeed through education. Educated children produced
educated workers. They wanted to prevent "hostile feelings" between different classes and
groups to maintain harmony. Finally, they wanted to maintain segregation but also comply with
the United States Constitution.
The committee suggested a plan that strengthened the existing Pupil Placement Law to
attain these goals. This new Pupil Assignment Law, allowed districts to determine student
school assignments on psychological and socio-economic factors. Implementation of pupil
assignment relied on tests to account for socio-cultural and psychological considerations to
determine a student's welfare in a school. Essentially, the tests utilized vague justifications for
school placement decisions. However, pupil assignment did not demand segregation. Collins
hoped the Pupil Assignment Law would retain segregation without suffering immediate judicial
peril. So, on July 20, 1956, he sent a proclamation to the Florida State Legislature calling for a
7The members of the committee included Judge L.L. Fabisinski, chairman, Judge Rivers Buford, vice chairman,
Judge Millard Smith, Cody Fowler, Luther Mershon, J. Lewis Hall and John T. Wigginton (only one of these men
was African American: Lewis Hall.); Herbert Cameron, "Collins to Curb Session Agenda,"The Florida Times
Union, 3 July 1956, 12; Night Press- Collect, 10 May 1956, file 1, box 33, series 776, Correspondence 1955-1961,
Collins Collection, Florida State Archives.
special session of legislature to consider the Fabisinski Committee's four-point segregation
Legislators reacted favorably and decidedly approved the measure with only one
dissenting vote. Newspapers sanctioned pupil assignment as well. For instance, the editor of the
Miami Herald called the program "the opinion of a competent committee" who studied the
matter thoroughly. The segregation plan equally pleased the editor of the Tallahassee Democrat.
He reminded his readers that the U.S. Supreme Court did not mandate integration, but declared
racial segregation unconstitutional. So, if pupil assignment did not intentionally segregate
schools then the law was constitutional. Also, pupil assignment provided time to plan for
desegregation. Supporters believed the committee found temperate and sound efforts to maintain
segregation in Florida. Others in the state did not agree.9
Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey believed the Pupil Assignment
Law would suffice to avoid segregation problems in public schools; he did not advise any further
legislation. However, Bailey did have some reservations because only one member of the
Fabisinski Committee approached him and no legislators had consulted him about this law.
Bailey believed pupil assignment presented "Herculean and puzzling" planning for
8 Acts and Regulations Adopted by the Legislature of Florida at its Extraordinary Sessions: June 6, 1955 to June 11,
1956 and July 23, 1956 to August 1, 1956, Published by Authority of Law, 1956: 30-35. The Fabisinski Committee
based its recommendations on laws that succeeded in the State courts of North Carolina. Report of the Special
Committee, 2-3. "A Proclamation by the Governor, State of Florida," Executive Department, Tallahassee, 20 July
1956, file unmarked, box 25, series 776 A, Proclamations, Collins Collection, Florida State Archives.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas D. Bailey opposed the use of tests so broadly. The four-point program
included the Pupil Assignment Law, regulating assignments of teachers, vesting power in the governor to use
necessary means to protect peace and tranquility, and allow the governor to call forth all law enforcement agencies
in the state in case of an emergency. This paper focuses on the Pupil Assignment Law because it is the major piece
of legislation utilized in Florida after Brown to avoid desegregation.
\\ liw others Think," Tallahassee Democrat, 17 July 1956, 6. The one dissenting vote was cast by House
Representative John D. Orr from Dade County who felt that the bill was an attempt to circumvent the decisions of
the U.S. Supreme Court and that it would be deemed ineffective. "Student Assignment Bill Voted By House and
Sent to Collins," The Florida Times Union, 25 July 1956, 8; John S. Knight, "Will Special Session Set a New
Pattern?" The Miami Herald, 25 July 1956, 6A; John Tapers, "An Effective Measure," The Tallahassee Democrat,
27 July 1956, 4; John Tapers, "Odd Man in the Legislature," The Tallahassee Democrat, 2 August 1956, 4.
implementation. The law did not consider Florida's geography and demographics. In large
urban areas, school attendance zones would maintain segregation. In rural or small districts
where high schools drew students from all parts of the county, school attendance zones would
actually facilitate desegregation. 10
Additionally, Bailey believed the law relied too much upon the creation of standardized
tests to determine a student's school eligibility; pupil assignment presented a major headache for
county boards. Every child entering a school for the first time needed testing, including six-year-
old first grade students. School districts could not deny pupil assignments because of race, so
local boards needed to establish sound reasons for their admissions and denials. The committee
considered segregation from a legal standpoint, but neglected the administrative level. Local
school districts were responsible for maintaining segregation, so legislators and executives
needed to reflect on what impact pupil assignment would make.11
The Fabisinski Committee's proposals also drew negative reactions from segregationist
leaders because pupil assignment allowed segregation or desegregation. Segregationists feared
the law could not sustain Florida's "custom and law." Attorney General Richard Ervin told the
Miami Herald: "I don't believe it [the Pupil Assignment Law] goes far enough to satisfy the
people of Florida."12 Strict segregationists would not bear gradual desegregation any more than
immediate desegregation. The Attorney General believed that the people of Florida were not
represented adequately under the Pupil Assignment Law.
'"Speech to Special Session, 18 May 1956, series 1127, file 2, box 15, Speeches and Press Releases Superintendent
Thomas D. Bailey Subject Files, Florida State Archives.
1 "School Head Pledges Help in Administering New Law," The Florida Times Union, 3 August 1956, 12.
12 "Florida's Segregation Efforts Doomed to Failure, Says Ervin," The Miami Herald, 11 August 1956, 12.
Former National Guardsman and prominent businessman from Tampa Sumter Lowry
(Dem., Tampa) agreed. Lowry, a strict segregationist candidate in the 1957 gubernatorial
election who forced segregation rhetoric into campaign strategies, believed that "gradual
integration is race suicide."13 Because the four-point plan recommended by the governor's
committee stalled integration, but would not prevent it completely, strict segregationists like
Lowry desired more extreme measures. Lowry criticized the governor for not doing enough to
preserve segregation and violating his campaign promise to do so. Lowry found Collins's
behavior in the special session of legislature abhorrent. According to Lowry, the governor's call
for the session limited legislators to do only one thing: approve his four-point program. Collins
requested legislators not consider any other segregation laws, and this left the people and their
representatives little power. Legislators, who feared the governor's stance on a restrictive policy
of reapportionment, may have feared that the group's plan was another ploy to eliminate rural
Opposition to the Fabisinski Committee was not limited to strict segregationists.
Integrationists found problems with pupil assignment and the committee, alike. First, the one
state representative who voted against the laws proposed by the Fabisinski Committee, Rep. John
D. Orr (Dem., Dade), believed pupil assignment subverted the U.S. Supreme Court's decision.
Orr, a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP),
delivered a ten minute speech in defense of his decision, denouncing any practices that would
defy Supreme Court rulings. He favored gradual integration because Florida did not provide
13 Sumter L. Lowry to Governor LeRoy Collins, 23 July 1956, file 1, box 33, series 776, Correspondence 1955-
1961, Collins Collection, Florida State Archives. Lowry ran, unsuccessfully for governor once against Collins in
1957 and then against Farris Bryant in 1960. In 1960, Lowry, the man who brought segregation into the political
arena as a campaign issue, lost to Bryant, but gained a large percentage of the vote.
14 Lowry to Collins, 23 July 1956, Collins Collection.
separate and equal schools for African American and white students. Therefore, gradual
desegregation could solve inequity in Florida's public schools. Orr's fellow legislators did not
agree and essentially "froze" him out of the legislature until the next legislative session.
Legislators kept Orr out of committees, and no one would consider his legislative proposals. 15
Representative Orr's experience in the legislature exemplified a common fear held by
integrationists in Florida: those who openly opposed segregation were not welcome. A 1956
special report of state activities in Florida regarding branch work of the NAACP, extolled
concerns about the growing opposition to the fight against segregation. The report claimed that a
"conspiracy" existed to support the fear that if desegregation occurred, there would be significant
"strife." Segregationists groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, white Citizens Councils, and the
National Association for the Advancement of White People (NAAWP) formed in Florida with
the intent to preserve segregation. Those who expressed their hopes for integration might feel
frightened to do so because these groups posed a legitimate threat. 16
Integrationists also questioned the governor's use of a bi-racial committee to sustain
segregation. Robert W. Saunders, Field Secretary for the NAACP, asserted that the one African
American in the committee, Lewis Hall, had been hoodwinked. After all, Saunders argued, the
purpose of the committee was to preserve segregation. Hall's seat existed to prove that some
African Americans were content with the status quo, not because the committee was inclusive.
15 "Rep. Orr Defends Integration Stand" The Miami Times, 28 July 1956, 1; "Gov. Collins Halts Freeze on Rep.
Orr" The Florida Sentinel, 26 January, 1957, 1; "Commend Rep. Orr's Stand in Legislature," The Miami Times, 11
Aug 1956, 1; "Congratulations Rep. Orr" The Miami Times, 28 July 1956, 4. Representative Orr was not completely
hated by all in the state; the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs and the editor of The Miami Times
congratulated the congressman on his courageous stand in the legislature. However, none of his colleagues shared
this opinion, and he lost a lot of his effectiveness in his work for almost an entire year.
16 Special Report of Activities in Florida Regarding Branch Work, etc., 11 June 1956, reel 4, frame 164, Part 27:
Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
Hall's position on the committee also drew negative attention from African American
newspapers. The editor of the Miami Times viewed the committee as a useful tool in improving
race relations in the state because it advocated peace. However, the editor reminded his readers
that the committee included merely one African American and therefore could not serve the best
interests of African Americans.17
The Pupil Assignment Law and the Fabisinski Committee drew both negative and
positive attention from groups of all ideologies. In spite of any misgivings, pupil assignment was
the cornerstone of Florida's segregation policy. Most politicians supported the law, but wanted
more segregation laws to augment it. Leaders in the African American and integrationist
communities felt the law was a subversion of the Supreme Court's ruling. While integrationist
leaders abhorred pupil assignment and the Fabisinski Committee, members of the African
American community were hesitant to blame the governor because he seemed more tolerant of
desegregation than other southern politicians. So, satisfied with pupil assignment, Collins asked
legislators not to offer any other proposals for segregation.
Florida Needs Protection: The Local Option Plan, 1956-1957
When he called for a special session of the legislature in 1956, Governor Collins asked
members not to produce any other bills regarding segregation. Controversy came from Attorney
General Richard Ervin who helped Governor Collins create the Fabisinski Committee. Ervin
honored Collins's request not to propose any new legislation during the special session of 1956.
However, Ervin indicated that a private school system might be a necessary precaution to
preserve segregation. He was not alone. In 1956, House Representative Prentice Pruitt (Dem.,
Monticello) introduced two segregation bills known as the Local Option Plan. The first allowed
1 Robert Saunders, "Sound Off NAACP Secretary Raps Lee Appointment" The Florida Sentinel, 15 September
1956, 4; Eric 0. Simpson, "Gov. Collins Bi-Racial Committee," 15 September 1956, 4.
for emergency suspension of public schools, and the second allowed students from suspended
schools either to attend another public institution or receive a subsidy for a private school.
Governor Collins did not favor either because they allowed for the possibility to close public
schools. As promised, Collins vetoed the 'Local Option Plan.' This use of veto is an example of
the exceptions in Florida's status as a typical southern state. A typical southern governor would
welcome a plan to close schools in order to avoid desegregation. 18
Even after Collins's first veto of the Local Option Plan, the attorney general still believed
in private school subsidies. Pupil assignment simply did not go far enough to preserve
segregation. But before the 1957 session of legislature, Collins again vowed to utilize veto
power, this time only on bills that threatened to close public schools. Despite Collins's decree,
Ervin sponsored House Bill 671, a local option plan known as the "last resort." The plan called
for closings of integrated schools and providing state-funded private school subsidies for
students displaced by closed schools. Because the bill came from the attorney general, the
governor needed support against the bill from another legitimate source in the state. A member
of the Fabisinski committee convinced Thomas D. Bailey, Superintendent of Public Instruction,
to take a stand against "last resort" from an educator's perspective. 19
Nc\ s From the Legislature," The Florida Times Union, 23 July 1956. Florida Legislative Service: Summary of
House Bills, 27, July, 1956, file 14, box, 25, series 776, Correspondence 1955-1961, Collins Collection, Florida
State Archives. The attorney general did not submit any bills into legislative committee during the 1956 special
session, Pruitt asserted that he had borrowed his idea from Attorney General Ervin. Furthermore, Ervin admitted
that he had drafted a bill and would be willing to show it to any legislator who would be interested, but because the
general consensus as the time favored the Fabisinski Committee's legislation, he would not push the proposal at that
time. The bill did not survive in the special session, but Attorney General Ervin's admission that he had had plans to
propose laws that would stray from the Pupil Assignment Law foreshadowed what would become a legislative battle
that permeated into the Executive Branch of Florida. "As Segregation Barrier: Solon to Offer Measure to Halt
School System," The Florida Times Union, 20 July 1956, 6.
19John L. Boyles, "Collins to Veto Segregation Bill to Shut Down Schools," The Miami Herald, 21 April 1957;
Confidential Memorandum from Joe Grotegut to Judge Fabisinski, 4 March 1957, file 1, box 117, series 776,
Correspondence 1955-1961, Collins Collection, Florida State Archives. An important note to consider is that Bailey
did not oppose the principle behind "last resort" but its implementation. Bailey believed that private school
On April 26, 1957, Thomas D. Bailey made a statement before the House Committee on
Education against "last resort." Bailey discussed each section of the bill and its invalidity.
Bailey indicated that while dedicated to a segregated school system, he disagreed with Ervin on
the means. He reacted to the bill from an educational point of view. The aspects that Bailey
opposed most regarded closing integrated schools, placing displaced students into open schools,
and providing state subsidies for private schools.20
Section two of House Bill 671 dictated that an area might petition to hold a special
election to determine whether its schools should close. Bailey argued that elections like this
could start a propaganda campaign that would unnecessarily cause racial tension and disorder.
Bailey deemed that the "most diabolical of all sanctions" mandated school boards to provide
education for students in closed schools in one of two ways. First, the students could be
transferred to another school in the county. According to Bailey, transfers were administratively
undesirable because schools were already overcrowded and could lead to a chain reaction of
school closings. Second, students could be sent to schools in other counties or in another state.
Bailey viewed both of these options as impractical and impossible; hence, the plan would thrust
the third option onto school boards: funding private schools.21
"Last resort" stated that counties could assist displaced students by giving parents
financial assistance to attend an accredited private school. This provision concerned Bailey the
most because "[it] could place the county boards.. .in a position of finding it necessary not only
subsidies could be a good solution for the maintenance of segregation, but it could not rely on methods that
subverted the Constitution of the United States.
20 Judge Fabisinski did denounce Attorney General Ervin in a statement he made to the Pensacola Journal, which
prompted Ervin to write him a surprised letter that stated his opinion that Fabisinski had used the issue to attack his
character and not the bill that he proposed.
21 Bailey Addresses the Legislature, 26 April 1957, series 1127, file 2, box 15, Speeches and Press Releases
Superintendent Thomas D. Bailey Subject Files, Florida State Archives.
to condone but actually promote the establishment and operation of private schools in order for
children to attend school."22 First, it required tax funds to pay for parochial schools and
therefore infringed upon separation of church and state. Second, the amount of money allotted to
each parent did not provide enough funds to ensure that every student would have a sound
education. The program would only benefit students whose parents could afford the difference.
Therefore, Bailey asked that the education committee not allow "last resort" to go into either
house of legislation.23
The Superintendent of Public Instruction did not oppose "last resort" because it preserved
segregation but because of its impractical and unconstitutional implementation. African
American integrationists, however, cited another reason to oppose "last resort:" taxation without
representation. There were no African American legislators in Florida post-Brown thus African
Americans had little political representation. "Last resort" used tax money from all citizens,
regardless of race, to support racial segregation that would not benefit African Americans in any
way. Asserting the principle of "taxation without representation" in the name of desegregation
represented a bold move for integrationists. It illustrated the importance of economic
considerations in Florida. 24
However, not all African Americans considered the legislation a serious threat. The
Miami Times suggested that African Americans took segregationist politicians' promises "with a
grain of salt" acknowledging that the "nasty game" of politics required them to appear strong
22Bailey Addresses the Legislature, 26 April 1957, Superintendent Thomas D. Bailey Subject Files.
23Ibid. The amount of money that parents would receive to send their child to a private school if there were no other
options would equal the amount that the county would spend on a child in public school. The state average per
student in 1955-56 was $242.69. This amount was not enough to cover tuition for an entire year at most private
24Eric 0. Simpson, "Has Independence Day Lost its Significance" The Florida Star, 6 July 1956, 4
against desegregation for white constituents. Governor Collins previously praised the legislature
and the citizens of Florida for avoiding "race furor." Also, he promised to veto extreme
segregation bills. If integrationists trusted the governor, then there was no reason to fear. The
editor of the Miami Times suggested that its readers not succumb to hysteria, but encouraged that
desegregation would come faster and without disorder if it were not forced upon anyone.25
Leaders from all ideological backgrounds held various opinions about "last resort."
Collins wanted to avoid "last resort" and other legislation that could close schools because he
believed the South should not "wrap itself in the confederate flag and consume itself with racial
furor."26 Instead, it should find fair means to protect segregation where necessary. Thomas D.
Bailey certainly favored maintaining segregation in Florida but not laws that could invalidate the
state's constitution. Integrationists found the plan morally wrong but believed that it did not pose
an immediate threat to desegregation. After all the argumentation, the bill was debated and
passed in both houses, but as promised, Governor Collins utilized his veto power. 27
According to a host of historians, Interposition was an integral aspect of massive
resistance to segregation. As in most southern states, Florida legislators adopted an Interposition
resolution. Arthur S. Miller, professor of law from Emory University, explained that
Interposition had no legal standing but represented a "deep south" political opinion against
desegregation. Governor Collins believed that Interposition served to not only undermine efforts
25 H.E. Sigmund Reeves, "Supreme Court Ruling Upsets State Politicians," The Miami Times, 17 March 1956, 1;
"Collins Says He's Proud: No Race 'Furor' in Florida," The Florida Sentinel, 4 February 1956, 12; "Desegregation
Would Come Faster and Work Better if Not Forced, Forum Hears," The Miami Times, 11 February 1956, 3.
26 Wagy, LeRoy Collins: Spokesman of the New South, 63.
27Ibid., 67: Gary R. Mormino, Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida (Gainesville:
University Press of Florida, 2005), 315.
to maintain legal aversion of segregation but would implant false hope: "Not only is Interposition
ineffective as a legal defense against integration, but...it would be a mean, wicked, cruel and
inhumane attempt to deceive the people." Thus, Collins asserted his opposition to Interposition
and distinguished himself from other southern governors.28
Collins's opinion of Interposition mattered little to legislators; Interposition was a
resolution-the governor could not use his veto power against it. Attorney General Richard
Ervin drew up the Interposition resolution and spoke on its behalf during the 1956 special
legislative session. Support for Interposition garnered momentum quickly. But before the
debate concluded, Governor Collins used his power to end the special session early, declaring the
legislature in a "deadlock." By closing the session early, Collins avoided Interposition during
the first year of response to Brown.
Most legislators were unaware that the governor possessed authority to end a session
early. This action drew more opposition from Sumter Lowry, who believed Collins used his
power unnecessarily to serve his own interests and not the best interest of the state. He cited the
1955 Legislative session when for days on end Collins allowed the legislature to debate
reapportionment issues and did not end the session prematurely. This action, Lowry believed,
was an example of how Collins set out to avoid Interposition and not to protect the wishes of the
people in the state. As a political hopeful for governor, Lowry presented significant opposition
to Collins. That the governor avoided debate on Interposition and encouraged it on
reapportionment indicated Collins's priorities.29
2For more information on Interposition see: Bartley, The New South; Bartley, The Rise ofMassive Resistance:
Kluger, Simple Justice; Colburn and Sanders, The African American Heritage of Florida; John Temple Graves,
"This Morning: The Naked Will Against the Naked Usurption," The Florida Times Union, 27 July 1956, 6.
29 LeRoy Collins to Sumter Lowry, 25 July 1956, file 1, box 33, series 776, Correspondence 1955-1961, Collins
Collection, Florida State Archives.
But the editor of the Miami Herald indicated otherwise: "People are glad Governor
Collins invoked the power. He cut short the special session before it degenerated into the
squabble which had been developing almost from the start." This action, approved by "the
people," indicated that Governor Collins was not willing to go so far as some of the legislators to
preserve segregation, but he would preserve calm in his own state. Interposition sent a message
of defiance toward the Supreme Court but would also provoke integrationists. It would serve
only to accelerate racial tensions rather than eliminate them.30
Integrationists React: Taking it to the Courts
The Pupil Assignment Law effectively prevented desegregation in Florida after Brown.
Thurgood Marshall, the chief lawyer for the NAACP, listed Florida among eight states that had
done nothing at all to move toward integration since Brown. In 1956, Marshall declared the city
of Miami ready to integrate through legal action. But legal action took more than courage
because court cases were expensive.31
With an understanding that all the "white man" respected were "dollar bills, lead bullets,
and ballots," members of the NAACP knew they needed money to begin desegregation. Most
individuals did not have the resources to pay for lawsuits, but together their money could amass
to quite a lot. Reverend C. Kenzie Steele, president of the Tallahassee branch of the NAACP,
explained to integrationist supporters: "We must put our money together and...use it to the
advancement of our race...by doing so, [we will] become the most powerful force within all the
confines of our government." Therefore, in 1957, the Florida branches of the NAACP initiated
30 John S. Knight, "Collins Averts Pointless Fuss," The Miami Herald, 3 August 1956, 6A. Lowry accused Collins
of serving only his own interests and not those of the people in Florida.
31 Dom Bonafede, "Miami is Ready for Integration, Says Marshall" Miami Daily News, 17 June 1956, School
Integration Dade County 1955-1972, box 14, Education in Florida Subject Files, Special and Area Studies
Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.
the "Fighting Fund for Freedom" campaign. It sought to raise $50,000 in Florida for court cases
to contest segregation. Membership drives throughout the state helped to raise funds.32
The "Fighting Fund for Freedom" campaign was not simply an attempt to raise money to
bring integration cases into the courts. It also symbolized a change within the integrationist
mindset in Florida. Integrationist rhetoric previously focused on gradual steps, whereas this
campaign encouraged immediate desegregation. Along with the announcement of the campaign
came a new slogan for the NAACP: "Free by 63." The NAACP wanted all public schools in
Florida to be integrated by 1963. In order to achieve this, it needed to strengthen its approach by
treating segregation laws as unconstitutional and attacking them in court.
With the "Fighting Fund For Freedom" in place to raise money, the NAACP began its
venture into the courts. In 1956, two 'test cases' went to local courts in Palm Beach and Dade
Counties. The first suit for African American admission into a white elementary school was
filed in Miami. The local head of the NAACP in Dade County, Theodore Gibson, filed Gibson
et al vs. Dade County Board of Public Instruction. The NAACP based its claim on a petition
filed on behalf of six African American parents that claimed that the Board of Public Instruction
refused to desegregate "as soon as was practicable." Three months later, the case was thrown out
by Judge Emmet C. Choate because there was not enough evidence for him to take any action.
32 The Tallahassee Bus Protest Story, Papers of the NAACP, 201; "Bishop Nichols and Dr. Steele to Head NAACP
$50,000 Drive in Florida," The Miami Times, 23 March1957, 1; "Rev. Byrd, Mrs. Muldrow Head NAACP Drive,"
The Miami Times, 13 April 1957, 1; "NAACP Drive for 5000 Members," 11 May 1957, 2; Bob Saunders to Gloster
B. Currant, Papers of the NAACP, 226. The "Fighting Fund for Freedom" campaign was not an easy task to
manage. In Miami, the goal for the campaign was for five thousand new members. Marion Muldrow, a leader in
the Miami branch of the NAACP campaign, told her workers that the drive for new members would not be easy
because it was difficult to convince people that the sacrifice of money in exchange for a fair fight for freedom was
worthwhile, especially if those people did not have much to begin with. In Miami, the NAACP said that money
must be given in exchange for freedom. Despite the difficulty, in 1957, Miami NAACP membership was reported at
an "all-time high," and for the first time, the NAACP had nearly one hundred percent backing from the African
Americans in Miami.
Judge Choate allowed the plaintiffs ten days to file an amended complaint. G.E. Graves, the
attorney for the NAACP working on the case, filed the amendment. Graves also encouraged
African American children in Dade County to apply for admission to white primary and
secondary schools. The case was thrown out of the court once again in 1957, this time on the
grounds that it failed to establish that African American students were prohibited from attending
As a result of the Fabisinski Committee's recommended laws, a second test case came
before the courts in 1956. Holland, et al vs. Palm Beach County Board of Instruction, contended
that the Holland child, son of a local attorney, was denied admittance to a white school even
though he lived in a predominantly white neighborhood. Instead he had to attend a racially
segregated and substandard school outside of his district. This lawsuit directly challenged the
Pupil Assignment Law. The case was dismissed because it failed to prove that Pupil assignment
directly prevented the Holland child from attending a white school. Then the NAACP adopted
the case and appealed. Judge Choate again dismissed the case because it argued constitutionality
and therefore required a three judge bench. However, the court of appeals ruled that the U.S.
Supreme Court had already ruled on the Brown case, and therefore, constitutionality was already
decided. Finally, Judge Choate decided to hear testimony in June of 1957. In the Holland case,
the appellate court reversed the federal court's ruling and required that Palm Beach County
School Board to proceed with "good faith compliance" and desegregate schools. To this, the
3 "School Suit Hits New Delays," Miami Herald, 17 November 1956, School Integration Dade County 1955-1972,
box 14, Education in Florida Subject Files, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries,
University of Florida; Dom Bonafede, "Attorney Says Negroes To Try at White School: Tells Plan as Racial Suite
Fizzles," School Integration Dade County 1955-1972, box 14, Education in Florida Subject Files, Special and Area
Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida; "School Segregation Suit Dismissed
Here," Miami Times, 25 August 1956, 1.
school board replied that the court's mandate did not set a time limit on compliance. Even with
success in courts, the local district chose to delay desegregation legally.34
In 1956, Governor Collins boasted that there were no integrated schools and no court
cases dealing with desegregation or segregation laws in Florida. However, Collins failed to
mention the two dismissed court cases filed against segregation. Collins insisted that Florida
was free from racial strife after Brown. Successful court cases that fought segregation would
threaten segregationists. Because the cases were not settled by 1957, the NAACP knew that it
needed to continue to attack pupil assignment in order to desegregate the state's schools.
Part II: Two Years of Change, 1957-1958
During the first two years after Brown, Florida reacted similarly to most states in the
south. Numan V. Bartley contended that when the first Brown decision was handed down it was
met with calm, and not the massive resistance that would come later. Florida's governor and
legislature met the problem of segregation with moderation at the outset. They passed no laws to
close schools, and they prevented violence and fury from taking over in the state. Soon after the
second Brown ruling, some moderate governors like Orval Faubus of Arkansas quickly altered
from moderate to strictly segregationist in order to win over the people in his state. However,
Collins did not stray from moderation, and as the fight to maintain segregation gained
momentum in other southern states he struggled to maintain peace and order. Other, more
34 "Second School Integration Suit Dismissed," The Miami Times, 1; "School Desegregation Test Case Challenged"
The Miami Times, 29 September 1956, 1; "Holland to Appeal Judge Choate's School Ruling," The Miami Times, 20
July 1957, 7; Richard Foster, "A Brief Historical Outline of Desegregation in Florida Public Schools and
Universities According to the U.S. Supreme Court Decision of May, 1954" (Paper presented to Professor Arthur 0.
White as partial fulfillment of EDF 600, History of Education, University of Florida, 1971), 21. Much of my
understanding of these cases was aided by this document. However, the document was used merely for data, and
not for analysis.
notorious states engaged in violence. Between 1957 and 1958 Florida experienced the first signs
that violence and mayhem could defeat moderation.35
First, in the 1957 legislative session, Interposition again appeared on the agenda. Collins
had previously blocked the resolution by closing the special session early. But regular sessions
had strict time limits, so he could not utilize the same tactic to block Interposition again. So the
resolution passed through both houses. When Collins received the resolution he could not veto
it, but he reaffirmed his disappointment in the legislature:
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. 36
Collins's opinion on Interposition conflicted with the majority of the legislature. Their approval
of this tool of massive resistance struck fear in the governor that his state might be caught in the
violence that had afflicted other southern states. Collins held a meeting with school
superintendents from several counties, and relayed that some token integration would strengthen
the Pupil Assignment Law, but no one was willing to allow it in their district. He gave up on the
belief that some voluntary integration would occur anywhere in the state. Collins feared that
racial tensions would only grow worse.37
35 Bartley, The New South; Bartley, The Rise ofMassive Resistanc; Colburn and DeHaven-Smith, Florida's
36 Memorandum Re: Interposition, 2 May 1957, file 1, box 117, series 776, Correspondence 1955-1961, Collins
Collection, Florida State Archives.
3 "Governor Gloomy on Racial Issue," Tallahassee Democrat, 19 December 1958, 7; Guest Editorial from the St.
Petersburg Times, School Integration, Hillsborough County 1955-1972, box 16, Education in Florida Subject Files,
Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida. Governor Collins met
with Superintendents from Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Palm Beach County.
Also during the 1957 legislative session, reapportionment remained a major issue in the
legislature that implicated a new solidarity against Collins. The governor's Legislative Council
submitted a proposition to reapportion the legislature by the 1959 legislative session. The
legislature responded with a proposal that William C. Harvard and Loren P. Beth described as
"sharply different" to the governor's. The so-called "Pork Chop Gang" seemed strengthened by
its victory in 1955, and they continued to solidly oppose Collins's plan for segregation and
In 1957, nine African American students' enrollment into Little Rock, Arkansas's Central
High School and sparked violent racial tension that gained nationwide attention. The conflict
precipitated Arkansas's Governor Orval Faubus's decision to close public schools in Little Rock
for the 1958-59 school year. The Little Rock conflict exemplified the problems Collins sought to
avoid in Florida. But Florida could not avert violence forever. On April 27, 1958 just after
midnight, a reporter from the Florida Times Union received a phone call from a segregationist
who defined himself as a member of the "Confederate Underground." The caller proclaimed that
he had bombed James Weldon Johnson Junior High School (an African American school) and a
Jewish synagogue, both in Jacksonville. He warned the reporter that the bombings could
continue until segregation was restored to the south. The "stick bombs" reportedly warped the
doors of the synagogue and broke all the windows of the schools. The bombs went off in the
middle of the night, so no on was harmed.39 The bombers were not caught, but Floridians held a
widespread belief that the Ku Klux Klan was responsible. In response, the Interdenominational
Ministerial Alliance and NAACP conjoined to express their belief that Florida could not afford
38 Harvard and Beth, The Politics of Mis-Representation, 60.
39 "The Outrage of Decent Men," Time, 12 May 1958, 14.
such violence. Collins issued a statement denouncing the crimes, something that most southern
governors would not do. But leaders of the NAACP also viewed the bombings as an outlet to
strengthen their struggling presence in Florida.40
Roy Wilkins, a national leader in the NAACP, released a statement to the Jacksonville
branch and blamed the bombings on segregation: "The continued separation of citizens on the
basis of race and the separate and unequal education of their children form the basis of
misunderstanding and tension.",41 In July of 1958, the NAACP began a statewide campaign for
membership. In an editorial, Eric 0. Simpson of the Florida Star, a weekly African American
newspaper in Jacksonville, explained that although the bombing incidents were tragic, they
served a purpose for integrationists: "Those dynamiters should be a rude awakening to those
principals and teachers who have frowned on aiding or cooperating with the NAACP which has
stood on the forefront of the fight for equal rights all these years."42 According to Simpson, the
bombings united the African American population of Florida and increased NAACP
Collins attempted to appease the NAACP and said that desegregation would come but
Florida still needed "time for a climate of racial tolerance to develop."44 G.E. Graves, attorney
for the NAACP in Miami, stated that Collins was "whistling in the cemetery." There was no
chance for racial tolerance in a state where segregationists bombed African American schools.
40 Annual Report of the Florida Branches of the NAACP, 1958, Part 27: Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series
A: The South, Reel 4, Frame 541, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
41 Telegram from Roy Wilkins, 2 May 1958, Part 27: Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Reel
4, Frame 303, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
42 Eric 0. Simpson, "Politics as Usual," The Florida Star, 10 May 1958, 2.
43 "NAACP Begins Statewide Campaign," The Florida Star, 12 July 1958, 2.
44 "NAACP Attorney Says Collins "Whistling in the Cemetery," The Florida Star, 17 May 1958, 1.
Additionally, the legislature passed a resolution of Interposition, ensuring Florida's place in the
Deep South. Integrationists grew impatient with Collins's plea for more time.45
The events of 1957-1958 sparked new energy in Florida's fight against and for
desegregation. Segregationists asserted defiance toward the U.S. Supreme Court by passing a
concurrent resolution of Interposition and asserted their dissatisfaction for Collins by again
blocking reapportionment. Bombings in Jacksonville enhanced Collins's fear of violence as a
means of resistance to segregation. At the same time, the bombings served as a wakeup call to
integrationists. If integrationists wanted real change, they had to do the work for themselves.
So, in his last years as governor, LeRoy Collins faced growing opposition from both
integrationists and segregationists towards his moderate plan for segregation.
Part III: The Disintegration of Moderation, 1958-1960
After a period waiting to act on segregation, integrationists and segregationists emerged
poised to take new, stronger stands to fight for their sides. Integrationists continued to rely on
the courts as their main source of change. In 1956, integrationists filed two lawsuits in contention
with pupil assignment, one in Dade County the other in West Palm Beach. In 1957, both were
dismissed and appealed. But a new case eventually brought some semblance of desegregation.
45 "NAACP Attorney Says Collins "Whistling in the Cemetery," The Florida Star, 1; Annual Report 1958, Papers of
the NAACP. Graves was also the attorney in charge of the desegregation cases in Dade County. Additionally, more
African American parents began to test the Pupil Assignment Law on their own during 1958 and 1959. According
to The Miami Times on September 7, 1959, a white school rejected the daughter of the Reverend Ivory W. Mizell
who attempted to place his daughter in the school. Though he said he did not wish to make a court test of his case
his action shows that African Americans were less fearful of testing the laws even without the assistance of the
NAACP. In Tampa, a suit filed in the U.S. District Court by Fransisco Roderiguez was the first suit in Hillsborough
County to bring about desegregation. Although the attorney came from the NAACP, the suit was not started by the
NAACP, rather local families seeking to enter their children into white schools. Then, as reported by The Florida
Star on September 19, 1959, a group of African American mothers in Tampa picketed outside a shaIbb school
provided by Hillsborough County for weeks. Only a handful of parents allowed their children to attend the school.
The NAACP brought old cases back to court and found new ways to engage the African
American community to participate in the struggle for desegregation.46
Segregationists continued to use legislative power to fend off desegregation, and listened
to Collins less. Attorney General Richard Ervin tinkered with "last resort" and presented a new
version that was easier for legislators and his former adversary Thomas Bailey to accept.
Finally, Collins, with no vocal advocates for moderation, tried another tactic to avoid racial
conflict and maintain most of segregation. At the end of his governorship, Collins asserted a
new form of moderation that implied the inevitability of desegregation. Each group found new
methods to assert its power.
Integrationists Head Back to the Courts, 1958
After two years of waiting, courts retried Gibson et al vs. Dade County Board of
Instruction on August 18, 1958. The Dade County Board of Instruction claimed it did not
operate under the segregation provisions of the State Constitution, but the Pupil Assignment
Law. The NAACP had not proved that the constitution prevented African American admittance
to white schools, so the case failed. Then, a Dade County school denied two African American
boys admittance to a white school, and the lawsuit came back.47
This case brought the "state's eyes on Miami," as the fate of desegregation in all of
Florida. Integrationists viewed the case as an opportunity to invalidate pupil assignment.
African American citizens in Miami attended the court hearings, and were "keenly interested" in
46 The case of Holland vs. The Palm Beach County Board of Public Instruction went to court again in 1958, and
seemed hopeful, because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals accused the school board of fostering segregation in the
county. However, in 1959, the suit was finally dismissed, and the court ruled that a violation of the Pupil
Assignment Law was never proved.
47 "Assignment of Pupils Law Faces Attack," The Florida Star, 20 June 1959, 1; "School Board is Rebuffed:
School Integration Suit Set for April," The Miami Times, 20 March 1958, 6. The case was originally set for April of
1958, but was delayed until August to give both sides time to adjust to the change in the case, since it had not
included the two boys who were not admitted to the white school previously.
their proceedings. The NAACP planned to call in all African American principals as witnesses,
and most importantly, Joe Hall, Superintendent of Dade County Schools. Then, an interruption
cut the trial short in September of 1958. A new case developed and set a new tone for
On September 29, 1958, the Dade County Board of Instruction denied fourteen African
American students admittance to the all-white Orchard Villa Elementary School. African
American families increasingly populated the school's surrounding neighborhood, yet no African
American children attended the school. The population misrepresentation provoked the NAACP
to bring forth a "massive frontal attack" to break down segregation in that school. Fourteen
families blamed the Pupil Assignment Law for discrimination in Orchard Villa.49
Concomitantly, Rep. John D. Orr (Dem., Dade), an advocate for gradual desegregation,
proposed a plan to desegregate Dade County schools through a student legislative board. The
students on this board would decide which schools should desegregate and when. If the school
board endorsed Orr's plan, the NAACP agreed to drop all pending lawsuits regarding admissions
to white schools. The school board also endorsed a plan to make Orchard Villa Elementary
School a "pilot" school for desegregation. Integrationists, who wanted to desegregate some
school somewhere, and Governor Collins, who believed a study of integration in one community
would serve to strengthen the Pupil Assignment Law, supported the plan. African Americans
48 Garth C. Reeves, "School Battle Monday in Dade County to Determine Fate of Segregation," The Miami Times,
16 August 1958, 1; Elliot J. Pieze, "School Integration Decision Delayed Here," The Miami Times, 23 August 1958,
49"Fourteen Miami Students Denied Transfer to White School: Showdown Set on Pupil Assignment Law," The
Miami Times, 20 September 1958, 1; Louise Blanchard, "Attack Launched on School Laws by NAACP Here,"
Miami Daily News, 19 September 1958, 1.
however, were not sure a "pilot school" solved segregation problems in the state, but viewed it as
a good first step.50
Still, skeptics feared white flight would prevent actual desegregation at Orchard Villa.
African Americans would dominate the school's population. A writer for the Miami Times noted
that as African Americans moved into the neighborhood, white families sold their homes near
Orchard Villa quickly, and African American parents "hungrily" eyed the well-built school. If
the school board adopted a plan to desegregate the school the following year, white parents
would leave before the next term. The Dade County School Board adopted the "pilot school"
plan and both Governor Collins and the editor of the Miami Times deemed it "a wise decision."51
After the Dade County School Board desegregated Orchard Villa Elementary School,
more school boards granted African American requests to attend white schools. However,
integrationists viewed the admissions as "token" and not the widespread desegregation they
wanted. During the 1960 State Conference of the NAACP, the president of Florida's branches,
Reverend Leon Lowry declared spurts of token integration in Ft. Lauderdale and Daytona proof
that for too long school administrators used the Pupil Assignment Law to discriminate against
African Americans: "In each instance, school officials hurriedly admitted a few Negroes after
court suits had been filed."52 Desegregation in Florida was still a myth and not a way of life.
Members of the NAACP recognized that pupil assignment successfully prevented African
50 "Orr's Integration Plan Gets Backing: NAACP Would Drop All Suits," The Miami Times, 20 September 1958, 1;
H.E. Sigmund Reeves, "Integrate Dade Schools?" The Miami Times, 27 September 1958, 2.
51 "Orchard Villa May Be Negro School In February," The Miami Times, 15 October 1958, 1; H.E. Sigmund
Reeves, "A Wise Decision," The Miami Times, 21 February 1959, 4. These predictions were essentially correct. In
September of 1959, a total of twelve students entered Orchard Villa Elementary, four of whom were African
American. An October 13, 1959 edition of The Miami Times reported that the School Board of Dade County
assigned 379 African American students to attend Orchard Villa, essentially segregating the school once again, and
soon drawing heat from the NAACP.
52 Conference Statement, 1960, 13 May 1960, Part 27: Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Reel
4, Frame 639-641, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
American children from attending white schools. According to Robert Saunders, a Florida
NAACP leader, African American parents needed more information about the Pupil Assignment
Law, and needed to change their attitude toward defeating it. The NAACP encouraged African
American parents to ignore the assignment law, because it was unconstitutional.53
Public Money for Private Institutions, 1959
Integrationists deemed pupil assignment a failure because it did not yield widespread
desegregation. But segregationist legislators disdained the law because some desegregation
occurred while it was in place. Governor Collins's Pupil Assignment Law was not enough to
avoid desegregation, and even a little bit of integration was unacceptable. Desegregation in
Dade County spread to other districts, so pupil assignment could not maintain segregation.
Segregationists questioned pupil assignment as the only means to preserve segregation. In the
1959 legislative session, reapportionment and segregation again dominated the floor discussion.
According to Harvard and Beth, the "Pork Chop Gang," was not as powerful as it had once
appeared. The attacking forces against reapportionment seemed to have "exhausted themselves
in the long struggle," and came to an initial agreement.54 This change indicated the beginning of
53 In a statement by Robert Saunders on October 23, 1960, the NAACP advised parents of African American
children not to bypass requests for school placement because of race. They provided three rules: 1. Do not bypass a
school in asking your choice of reassignment of a children because you think that school is "all white" and that your
race is a barrier in his attendance. 2. Choose the school at which your child is to attend on the basis of skills that are
being taught and which are deemed by modem industry. 3. By asking to have a child reassigned to a school that is
considered adequate, the Negro parent is not breaking the law, as is the implication. Conference Statement 1959, 23
October 1959, Part 27:Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Reel 4, Frame 603-606, Papers of
the NAACP, Library of Congress. Statement by Leon Lowry Re: Desegregation in Florida, 1959, Part 27:Selected
Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Reel 4, Frame 757, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
54 Harvard and Beth, The Politics of Mis-Representation, 62-64. This was not the end of the reapportionment issue.
Reapportionment was not completely settled until 1962 by the U.S. Supreme Court case, Baker vs. Carr.
the end of the small district control over Florida's legislature. Those who opposed
reapportionment asserted their power in the only other way they could: segregation legislation.55
During the 1959 legislative session, lawmakers debated a record thirty-seven segregation
bills. In previous years, Collins's warnings motivated legislators to avoid many segregationist
bills. In the special session of 1956, the legislature debated only five segregation bills, four of
which were part of the Fabisinski Committee's plan. In the 1957 session, the legislature debated
only nine, including both House and Senate Bills. Between 1956 and 1959, segregationist
legislators became less willing to trust in pupil assignment, and appeared stronger in their efforts
to maintain segregation at any cost. This change may have come about because of small district
legislators' perceived loss of power in Florida's legislative future. The most contested bill came
from the Attorney General and the Superintendent of Public instruction: the Parent Option
In 1957, Superintendent of Public Instruction Thomas Bailey had publicly denounced
Attorney General Ervin's "last resort." However, Bailey wanted to keep segregation alive in
Florida's public schools, and private school subsidies provided a viable option to preserve
education and segregation. Upon admittance of African Americans into two state funded
learning institutions in 1958, Bailey and Ervin released a statement unveiling their proposal to
the state legislature. They emphasized their dedication to segregation and maintenance of free
public schools. But Florida had no preparation for the possibility of widespread desegregation.
55 Hendrix Chandler and Chris MacGill, "Harsh Race Bills Killed; Taxes Up," Tallahassee Democrat, 5 June 1959,
56 White, One Hundred Years of State Leadership of Public Education in Florida, 135; Harvard and Beth, The
Politics ofMis-Representation, 18-19.
The Parent Option Plan augmented pupil assignment but did not replace it. Parent option was a
safety valve, used once integrationist lawsuits exhausted pupil assignment. 7
Bailey and Ervin explained that Parent Option would not allow parents to withdraw their
children from public schools on a whim, but because of their own personal objection to
integration. Furthermore, Bailey asserted parents' right for protection from segregation: "If the
Federal government recognizes conscientious objections to serving in war, it should recognize
some parents conscientious objections to sending [their children] to [segregated] schools."58 The
law would provide parents the personal option to take their children out of public schools and
place them into non-sectarian or non-parochial schools with some financial assistance. To Bailey
and Ervin, parent option was the best possible choice. The Miami Herald reported in favor of
this bill because it gave citizens more preference in their children's education. 59
On February 11, 1959, only days after Ervin and Bailey released their statement,
Governor Collins stated that he had "still not determined" whether he would support the Parent
Option Plan. He saw some problems with the plan, but did not necessarily deem it as open
defiance of federal law or the courts. However, when the 1959 legislative session began in April,
Collins changed his stance. In an hour and fifteen-minute speech delivered to the House of
Representatives of Florida, Collins pleaded with legislators not to consider any new racial
legislation because it would only serve to weaken their chances of maintaining segregation at all.
57 Statement by Thomas D. Bailey, State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Richard W. Ervin, Attorney
General, 2 February, 1959, file 2, box 14, series 1127, Speeches and Press Releases Superintendent Thomas D.
Bailey Subject Files, Florida State Archives.
58 Associated Press, "Tuition Program Backed," The Florida Times Union, 17 April 1959, 8.
59 John L. Boyles., "School Mingling Up to Voters?" Miami Herald, 3 February 1959,1. Bailey and Ervin also
supported a local option bill, also known as the "Moody act." This bill would allow individual parents to remove
their child from an integrated school without penalty. Collins was not as opposed to this provision, because it did
not involve an entire community.
After the speech was over, it was evident that many legislators did not agree and neither did
some Florida newspaper editors.60
Caleb J. King Jr., editor of the Florida Times Union, expressed that Collins's plan to
maintain the status quo would only survive if legislators could convince themselves that it would
not lead to "just a little bit of integration." If not, then King believed that they would be right to
fight for their "great Southern heritage." Integrationists already proved that token integration
could occur and King doubted Collins's dedication to segregation. The governor's rejection of
parent option surprised the editor of the St. Petersburg Times because he considered it a
moderate proposal. The governor was too "soft" on segregation and was no longer serving the
people of Florida. These newspaper editors were shocked and alarmed that Collins did not
support the Parent Option Plan. This move made them skeptical of his commitment to
Legislators were not all certain that parent option presented the best route to maintain
segregation. To ensure that the Parent Option Plan could not be construed as unconstitutional,
the House committee in charge of race bills created a subcommittee of three lawyers. The
lawyers studied parent option and recommended that the general committee forward the
provision. On April 17, 1959, the parent option bill was sent from the subcommittee to the
Committee hearings, hailed as the mildest of all integration plans proposed. Despite its mild
reputation, the Parent Option Plan eventually died because lawmakers could not condone the use
60 "Most Solons Support Tougher Racial Laws," Tampa Tribune, Tampa, 8 April 1959, 6.
61 Caleb King Jr., "Calmness and Coolness Become a Watchword," Florida Times Union, 8 April 1959, 6; "Collins
Takes Low Road on Integration Legislation," St. Petersburg Times editorial, 8 April 1959, George A. Smathers
Libraries, University of Florida.
of state funds to finance private institutions. Segregationists feared the integrationist use of the
court system to undermine segregation laws.62
In 1959, the Florida Legislature introduced so many anti-integration bills in both
chambers of the House, that integrationists could not ignore them. The NAACP monitored the
session before it began and held an emergency session of its state Conference in order to
determine what to do in the event that one or all of the drastic bills were passed. In the
meantime, the NAACP considered drafting a report on what Florida was doing to defy the
Constitution and sending the report to the "appropriate Congressional Committees." Thus, the
NAACP viewed the 1959 legislative session as an opportunity for protest.63
African American newspapers expressed their distrust and disappointment in the Florida
Legislature for fostering an atmosphere of "segregation hysteria" during the historic session.
The editor of the Miami Times discussed his distaste toward strong anti-integration bills, but
maintained hope that the legislature would not vote to close the schools in the case of any
integration. Viewing extreme segregationist legislation as a way for legislators to appease the
"folks back home," this editor hoped officials could use the session to prove that they fought for
segregation. In Miami, the road to desegregation was closer in view than in many other
communities, because of local court cases.64
62 "Calm Rules on Racial Bills so Far," Tampa Tribune, 12 April 1950, 7; "Last Resort School Bill is Introduced,"
Tampa Tribune, 18 April 1959,4; "House Approval Given First Bill on Racial Issue," Tallahassee Democrat,
Tallahassee, May 12 1959, 6.
63 From Leon Lowry and Robert Saunders to All Officers and Executive 8 Members, 30 March 1959, Part 27:
Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Reel 4, Frame 581, Papers of the NAACP, Library of
64 Eric 0. Simpson, "Segregation Hysteria," The Florida Star, 13 June 1959, 2; H.E. Sigmund Reeves, "Opening of
the Legislature," The Miami Times, 11 April 1959, 4; H.E. Sigmund Reeves, "Our Schools," The Miami Times, 25
April, 1959, 4; H.E. Sigmund Reeves, "1959 Legislature is History," The Miami Times, 20 June 1959, 4.
If the attitude toward the 1959 session of the legislature was cool in Miami, in
Jacksonville it was burning hot. Jacksonville bore the brunt of segregationist violence in the
1958 bombings. Its African American newspaper the Florida Star condemned the legislature's
actions during two-month long session. Eric 0. Simpson, the newspaper's editor, called the race
bills offered "drastic" and unconstitutional. Moreover, the editor of the Star vehemently
opposed all of the anti-integration bills, and pegged the legislature the "Pro-Segregation
Factory." Simpson wondered if Florida legislators believed the African American population
was stupid, foolish, or without hope or leadership. Proposals like Parent Option imposed taxation
upon African Americans ultimately to assist in their demise, and only foolish people would
support that. Finally, Simpson called for "new blood" in the legislature. It was time for African
Americans to take positions of power in their communities and in the state. They could not trust
white representation to work on their behalf.65
A Bold New Approach: The Collins Plan, 1960
On March 20, 1960, Collins delivered an impromptu, statewide TV-Radio speech to the
people of Florida. It illustrated his disdain for the sit-ins and other demonstrations that had taken
place in Tallahassee during the month. If the state of Florida was to overcome these racial
tensions, it needed to act morally. According to Collins, segregationists did not act morally or
democratically when they hindered any citizens who struggled for freedom. This speech
indicated a drastic change from the rhetoric Collins had previously employed. He addressed the
65 "Drastic Race Bills Offered," The Florida Star, 25 April 1959, 1; Eric 0. Simpson, "School Segregation Bills Are
Seen as Unconstitutional," The Florida Star, 23 May 1959, 1; Eric 0. Simpson, "Bailey-Ervin Plan An
Unconstitutional Tax Trap," The Florida Star, 30 May 1959, 2. The editorials also placed Florida in the ranks of
seven other states that proposed and passed bills to allocate money to start a campaign to sell segregation to the
North. These states could not be trusted by the integrationist community. This belief was shared by the leaders in
the NAACP. However, the Governor of Florida vetoed the bill. Eric 0. Simpson, "Politics as Usual," The Florida
Star, 16 August 1958, 2; Eric. 0 Simpson, "Politics as Usual: New Blood Needed in the House of Representatives,"
The Florida Star, 3 May 1958, 2.
people directly through mass media. The governor declared that something new must be done in
order to combat what could become a very hazardous situation for all of the residents. Instead of
relying on extremist positions, Floridians ought to take a stand for the middle, and work in a
moderate fashion to desegregate slowly. 66
Collins then announced his plan to appoint a bi-racial group to succeed the Fabisinski
Committee: to spawn local bi-racial committees to solve local problems that arose due to race.
The committee's goals included, but were not limited to, desegregating schools. The goal of the
Fabisinski Committee had been to preserve segregation by legal means, whereas the goal of the
new bi-racial committee was to assess local situations and determine where and when
desegregation should occur. The committee did not advocate total integration at one time, but
believed that desegregation would inevitably occur naturally through cooperation. 67
Collins's bi-racial committee, known historically as the Fowler Commission,
subsequently released a statement to Florida newspapers. Chairman Cody Fowler, former
president of the Florida Bar Association, recognized that neither segregationists nor
integrationists wholeheartedly embraced the group. Fowler explained that whites who joined the
committee's work were labeled as integrationists by other whites and that African Americans
who supported the group were labeled 'Uncle Toms' by avid integrationists. In the statement,
Fowler reminded the citizens of Florida that the committee's purpose was not to segregate or
desegregate, but to enhance understanding and cooperation throughout the state's local
66 Transcript of Statewide TV-Radio Talk to the People of Florida on Race Relations by Governor LeRoy Collins,
20, March, 1960, file 15, box 2, series 226, Governor's Advisory Commission on Race Relations, Records, 1957-
1961, Florida State Archives.
communities. The committee focused on two issues that held deep interest in the minds and
hearts of most in the state: morality and business.68
Those who viewed racial tensions as merely political doubted the Fowler Commission's
preoccupation with morality. The commission considered the number of African Americans
who served in American wars, and that a duty existed to maintain a peaceful, ethical, and cultural
growth for children, the leaders of the future. Morally, the African American community needed
inclusion in discussions regarding race; they were an integral part of the solution. The Fowler
Commission called upon religious leaders from around the entire state who confirmed the moral
basis of race issues anywhere, not just in Florida. Those members of the clergy committed
themselves to the undertakings of the committee. 69
But business concerns proved to be the main focus for efforts to bring about cooperation
in the state. Florida was part of the Deep South based on its legislative and desegregation record,
but not in its up and coming economic status. The Fowler Commission indicated that this was
changing, and so Floridians needed to reevaluate their positions on open policies against
desegregation. If the policies continued, violence and demonstrations would increase. Florida,
distinct from other southern states because overt racial conflicts the state's industrial
development, reliance upon tourism, and expanding population. All of these were more extreme
and pressing, the commission contended, than in any other state in the south.70
In order to keep up with the "industrial revolution" taking place in Florida, the Fowler
Commission believed that the lines of differences between the North and South needed to
68 Statement by Cody Fowler, 27 May 1960, series 776, Correspondence 1955-1961, Collins Collection, Florida
70 Ibid. The Fowler Commission on Race Relations Reports to the People of Florida, 2 July 1960, box 117, file 1,
series 776, Correspondence 1955-1961, Collins Collection, Florida State Archives.
steadily disappear. Most of the difference, Fowler contended, lay between rural and urban
economies. He argued that tourism placed a burden on Florida to mend its segregationist ways
because visitors condemned segregation practices: "Florida then has a kind of economic
vulnerability that is incomprehensible to Mississippi." 71 The rapidly changing atmosphere in
Florida indicated that some parts of the state prized segregation, but in many others, segregation
no longer worked due to desegregated neighborhoods. Thus, Florida was in a unique position as
opposed to its southern neighbors, and it should not resort to the same tactics. The booming
economy could only last if the state stayed out of southern racial problems.
According to Fowler, members of both races had met the aims of the commission with
"quiet respect." Underneath their respect, however, was more of the "wait-and-see" attitude that
had permeated the previous five years. The group found that many agreed with the principles of
the committee, but few were willing to take any action toward creating good relations between
the races in Florida. Ultimately, the commission discovered that resistance to integration existed
throughout Florida. However, the growing industrial force was a mitigating factor to
segregationists. The future would fare better, if those needs were considered before large-scale
Integrationists found resonance in one of the Fowler Commission's arguments: the need
to preserve industry and tourism. Florida in the 1950s was in a financially promising but
precarious position. After World War II, tourism and industry that abandoned union strongholds
in the north migrated to the state. Consequently, the population not only grew in numbers, but in
diversity. However, Florida had already experienced a deafening blow to its economy once
before, when the land boom in the 1920s and 1930s ended in a bust. There was substantial fear
that racial problems could upset the harmonious atmosphere so appealing to tourists and
newcomers to the state. Therefore, even in the midst of a bitter fight for desegregation, leaders
of the NAACP asked members to abstain from hurting tourism in Dade County. They would not
protest or boycott during peak tourist season.73
There was an inherent understanding that a blow to the tourism industry would hurt
segregationists and integrationists alike. But integrationists used tourists' Northern ideals for
their own best interests. An unidentified African American leader from Miami told the Wall
Street Journal that when tourists arrived, racial tension eased, naturally: "We've got them
(segregationists) over a barrel and don't think they don't know it. They don't dare get uppity
when all those Northern visitors are here."74 The tourism industry, therefore, gave
integrationists and African Americans a bit of protection. While African Americans were asked
to bear in mind the presence of tourists in their protests, they also realized that whites would act
differently around tourists.
However, the Fowler Commission did not entirely satisfy integrationists. The NAACP
and African American newspapers admired Collins for his bravery and applauded him for his
support of democracy. They commended him for his effort to set up a state bi-racial committee.
They supported all of his great efforts towards bringing racial harmony to the state. But despite
their acclamations, integrationists still believed that they needed to fight if they were to get what
they desired. In a written statement to Collins, Rev. Leon Lowry, president of the Florida
3 David L. Colburn and Lance DeHaven-Smith, Florida's Megatrends; Bob Saunders to Gloster B. Currant, 19
January 1957, Part 27: Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965, Series A: The South, Papers of the NAACP, Library of
74 School Integration Dade County 1955-1972, file 6, box 14, Education in Florida Subject Files, Special Collections
and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida.
NAACP stated: "We will work with bi-racial committees to relieve the state of racial
segregation, but do not expect us to sit idly by while other groups seek to solve our problems for
us." 75 Integrationists in Florida were not willing to give up their power to a state mandated
group. They had fought, and would continue to fight for the creation of racial equality in
Florida. This reaction highlighted integrationists' distrust of the state government who yielded
little to no desegregation after Brown.
More than anything, the Fowler Commission produced a stark contrast between state
constituents. To segregationists, the commission represented the governor's ever increasing
integrationist tendencies. On the other hand, integrationists distrusted the commission as a
means for integration. Thus, the commission fostered distrust in Collins's moderate approach to
segregation among both segregationists and integrationists.76
It is no wonder, then, that segregation was a key issue in the 1960 gubernatorial race.
All Democratic candidates claimed segregation as a top priority in their platforms, and no
African Americans entered the race. However, Floridians did not choose the strictest of the
segregationist candidates, and instead elected Farris Bryant as their next governor. Bryant
vowed to keep Florida segregated and although he announced his intention to reappoint the
committee's chairman and reinstate the committee, Cody Fowler refused to work for a strict
segregationist. Bryant claimed he had chosen a successor, but never named him. Thus, by 1961
the state-wide bi-racial advisory committee dissolved along with Collins's hope for "the people
75 Statement from Leon Lowry to Governor Collins, 21 March 1960, Part 27: Selected Branch Files, 1956-1965,
Series A: The South, Reel 4, Frame 626-627, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
76 Robert Saunders to State Conference Officials Re: Fowler Commission, 1960, Part 27:Selected Branch Files,
1956-1965, Series A: The South, Reel 4, Frame 628-630, Papers of the NAACP, Library of Congress.
in the middle." Collins's push toward gradual desegregation was lost on the new leaders in
Part IV: Summary
During the half decade following Brown, the governor of Florida distinguished himself as
one of the only southern governors who refused to resort to violence or disorder to maintain
segregation. In fact, as Governor LeRoy Collins's tenure progressed, his commitment toward
segregation waned and he eventually favored gradual desegregation. Throughout his time as
governor, Collins remained more committed to issues such as increased industry and
reapportionment of the legislature, than efforts to maintain segregation. But a state's governor is
not its sole representative. Many groups impacted Florida's social and political atmosphere, and
influenced the state's reception of Brown. Within Florida, segregationists sought to preserve
their heritage, while integrationists attempted to claim their court mandated freedom.
Between 1955 and 1957, Collins asserted his preference to maintain segregation legally
through the Fabisinski Committee's proposals. While the governor placed his faith in the Pupil
Assignment Law, segregationist legislators and the attorney general doubted their ability to
preserve their southern heritage. Segregationist leaders, threatened by plans for reapportionment
that would thwart their power within the legislature, continuously opposed Collins's plans for
segregation. To ensure zero desegregation, segregationists preferred to augment pupil
assignment with two provisions: private school subsidies and Interposition. Governor Collins
used his power to combat these provisions in these first years.
At the same time, integrationists, most of whom were African Americans, struggled to
accept pupil assignment and the Fabisinski Committee as well. African Americans understood
7 David L.Colburn and Richard K. Scher, "Race Relations and Gubernatorial Politics Since the Brown Decision,"
Florida Historical Quarterly 55 (October 1977), 154-170.
that legislators and even the governor needed to express commitment to segregation to please
white segregationist voters. Therefore, some African Americans received the first legislative
responses to Brown calmly. However, integrationists expressed skepticism over the Fabisinski
Committee's ability to serve them well when the committee set out to preserve segregation. By
1956, African Americans began to bring their grievances into courts. But despite their best
efforts, two years after Brown, segregation in Florida thrived.
Between 1957 and 1958, Florida's atmosphere changed. In 1957, the governor of
Arkansas closed schools rather than integrate, and Florida legislators proposed and passed an
Interposition Resolution. Then, in 1958 hate groups bombed an African American school and
Jewish Synagogue. Tension mounted in the state and Governor Collins's fear of "deep south"
politics and violence surfaced. The bombings spurned a sense of urgency to desegregate among
African American integrationists. In 1958, formerly dismissed court cases went back to court
and eventually resulted in the first instance of voluntary desegregation.
Minimal desegregation caused segregationist legislators to fight for more segregation
protection. In the 1959 session of legislature, lawmakers proposed more than twenty segregation
bills. The Attorney General and the Superintendent of Public Instruction joined and created a
new provision for private school subsidies. The Jacksonville bombings actually emboldened
integrationist leaders who believed the threat of violence indicated a need for unity among
African Americans. But Collins altered his approach to segregation. The governor then
appointed a Bi-Racial Advisory Commission (the Fowler Commission) to replace the Fabisinski
Committee. The group set out to create bi-racial committees throughout the state who could
work through racial tension. The Fowler Commission drew criticism from both segregationists
and integrationists. To segregationists, the approach favored desegregation. Integrationists
simply lacked faith that the government represented African American citizens' best interests.
Thus, the potential for advancement toward desegregation fizzled after Collins's governorship.
Farris Bryant replaced Collins as governor in 1961 and almost immediately discharged the
Fowler Commission, and diminished hope for cooperative desegregation.
From 1955-1961, Florida's atmosphere was tumultuous and explosive. But unlike other
southern states, Florida had concerns in addition to segregation. The governor prioritized state
issues concerning reapportionment and industrial ties for the state, and attempted to gloss over
segregation policy. However, the governor's agenda did not correspond with Florida's
prominent segregationist or integrationist leaders. Segregationist "pork choppers," fearing
reapportionment, united in opposition against Collins's moderate propositions. Once the "Pork
Chop Gang" sensed its impending loss of power within the legislature, its members exerted last
efforts to preserve their southern heritage. Thus, in their last gasps of life, the anti-
reapportionment group attempted to defeat Collins's moderation with overt segregationist policy
Integrationists also reached a turning point during Collins's years as governor. Initially,
African American newspaper editors appeared in favor of the governor and his reactions to
Brown. Integrationists subsequently found flaws with Collins's plans, because laws that
preserved segregation inherently negated their goal to desegregate public schools. Some
challenged the laws and groups that the governor created. However, when segregationists
pressed for segregation at all costs in the legislature, African Americans questioned Collins's
ability to provide for their needs. When the Florida legislature adopted a resolution of
Interposition in 1957, and after 1958 segregationists bombed two buildings in Jacksonville in
1958, integrationists gained more support from the African American community. As a result,
integrationists brought cases of discrimination into the courts and through their own actions
produced some desegregation.
As in most southern states, Florida's response to the historic Brown case was highly
contested. Integrationist and segregationist leaders challenged Collins's moderate tactics to
maintain segregation in Florida's public schools. As a result, Florida did not enjoy a smooth
transition into desegregation, but suffered through the tense atmosphere that desegregation
brought to its neighboring states. Additionally, the state's desegregation was minimal at best.
Although historians credit the governor for maintaining peace and averting the massive
resistance of "deep south" states, he could not prevent strife over segregation in his state. As his
years in the governor's mansion dwindled, Collins lost support from his segregationist and
Collins enjoyed two terms as governor of Florida. Though he won both elections with a
clear majority, Florida residents did not fully support the moderate governor's policies. To
understand this discrepancy, it is important to revisit the criteria for moderate governors.
Historian Earl Black categorized Collins as a moderate segregationist, which placed him
alongside Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas. As time progressed, historians no longer
linked these two governors because of their seemingly contrasting reaction to the people of their
states. However, the governors distinguished themselves through the constituents they chose to
support. In the years following the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decisions of 1954 and 1955,
Faubus altered his stance from moderate to segregationist to maintain his seat as governor.
Collins, however, did not become more segregationist over time. Instead, he continued a
moderate course until his last year in office, when his actions seemed to advocate some
1 David C. Colburn and Richard K. Scher, "Race Relations and Gubernatorial Politics Since the Brown Decision,"
The Florida Historical Quarterly(Autumn 1975): 154-170; Joseph A. Tomberlin, "Florida and the Desegregation
Issue," The Journal oJ ,. Education (Autumn 1974): 457-467; Tom R. Wagy, Governor LeRoy Collins of
Florida: Spokesman of the New South (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1980).
desegregation. Collins placed the new, industrial businessmen in Florida in higher esteem than
the segregationists who controlled the legislature.2
Both Collins and Faubus chose to support the constituents they deemed important, and
their decisions resulted in vastly different outcomes. Because of Florida's rapidly changing
economics and demographics, Collins viewed his major constituents as new leaders in industry
and tourism. Collins planned to reapportion the legislature, which would ultimately change the
legislative body in favor of the larger, more affluent counties in the state. Collins did not appear
to lose faith in his goal of reapportionment, even in the face of a legislature that blocked his
every measure. The governor's actions indicated that he valued the newly arrived population of
industrial leaders instead of small district segregationists or integrationists.
Even though Collins's actions distinguished him from other southern governors of the
time, his state's overall actions did not. Florida's reaction to Brown mirrors Numan V. Bartley's
notion that southern states' initial reaction to Brown calmly, and then moved toward massive
resistance. Collins's moderate plans for segregation ultimately passed through the legislature
over more segregationist policies. In many cases, this resulted from Collins's own use of his
veto power. However, Florida's history of racial segregation was highly contested. Members of
the "Pork Chop Gang" and other leading segregationists like Attorney General Richard Ervin,
found Collins's approach too moderate and restrictive. The policies did not satisfy segregationist
hopes for absolute protection from desegregation. At the same time, "pork choppers" perceived
Collins's crusade for reapportionment as an outright confrontation toward their ability to control
the state. According to William C. Harvard and Loren P. Beth, Collins's overt tactics toward
2 Earl Black, "Southern Governors and Political Change: Campaign Stances on Racial Segregation and Economic
Development, 1950-1969," The Journal of Politics (Summer 1971): 703-734.
reapportionment brought the governor and the "pork choppers" into a "sort of trench warfare."3
As a result, Florida legislators proposed strict segregationist bills and even passed a resolution of
Interposition. Even if the governor did not agree with these efforts, Florida's legislators
attempted to use common tools of massive resistance.4
David Colburn and Lance deHaven-Smith proposed that the changing demographics in
Florida influenced the traditional views of native Floridians. Through this study, it is apparent
that Collins believed Florida's general trend toward modernization hinged on its ability to
distinguish itself from other southern states in the region. For Collins, prioritizing segregation
was a foolish task because economic growth in Florida depended on the ability of the state to
extricate itself from southern neighbors. However, segregationists from small rural districts did
not alter their traditional stance toward segregation or reapportionment. In fact, Collins could
not afford to lose segregationist legislators completely. Because the legislation was
misrepresentative of the population, segregationists dominated Florida's congress, and Collins
was bound to the ill-apportioned legislature. He could not hope to achieve his ultimate goal of
reapportionment if he attacked segregationist legislators outright. Segregationists asserted their
control through the use of anti-integration bills and blocking apportionment reform movements.
Though bound to a segregationist legislature, Collins was not totally isolated from the
African American population in his state. For example, he was the first governor to address the
Florida State Teachers Association, (FSTA), the African American teachers' union. The
governor supported pupil assignment legislation because it placed the burden of desegregation or
3 Harvard and Beth, The Politics ofMis-Representation, 54-58.
4 Numan V. Bartley, The Rise ofMassive Resistance: Race and Politics in the South During the 1950s. (Baton
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997), 123.
5 David L. Colburn and Lance De-Haven Smith, Florida's Megatrends: Critical Issues in Florida
(Gainesville:University Presses of Florida, 2002), 56.
segregation on local communities. Under this system, Collins attempted to satisfy
segregationists and integrationists. Perhaps because his policies seemed the least reprehensible,
African American newspapers in Florida generally tended to support Collins.6
However, to assume that all of Florida's integrationists, mostly African Americans,
supported Collins is incorrect. Vanessa Siddle Walker, Michael Fultz, and Marybeth Gasman
concluded that African Americans reacted to Brown proactively in much of the south. This
thesis indicates how African Americans in Florida acted under oppressive conditions in the
struggle toward equality. Florida members of the NAACP criticized Collins's leadership as early
as 1956. When the governor created a bi-racial group to determine a proper course of action
after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Brown, Florida members of the NAACP viewed the
measure as a trick. The Fabisinski Committee's goal was explicit: to create methods of
preserving segregation without legal recourse. Therefore, the group's purpose inherently
conflicted with integrationists'.
Although the governor created the tools to preserve some manifestations of segregation,
and no African Americans held positions in the state's government, Florida integrationists still
managed to have some effect. African American integrationists challenged pupil assignment by
bringing cases of discrimination to the courts by way of the NAACP. The cases struggled
toward resolution, but integrationists continued to fight persistently for desegregation. Collins
certainly paid attention to the cases, because in 1958, when two court cases threatened to
6 Arthur 0. White, One Hundred Years of State Leadership of Public Education in Florida (Gainesville: University
Press of Florida, 1979), 127.
7 Vanessa Siddle Walker, "African American Teaching in the South: 1940-1960, American Educational Research
Journal (Winter 2001): 751-779; Michael Fultz, "The Displacement of Black Educators Post-Brown: An Overview
and Analysis, History of Education Quarterly (Spring 2004): 11-45; Marybeth Gasman, "Rhetoric Vs. Reality: The
Fundraising Messages of the United Negro College Fund in the Immediate Aftermath of the Brown Decision,"
History of Education Quarterly (Spring 2004): 70-92.
jeopardize the validity of pupil assignment, he quickly advocated a program of voluntary,
"token" integration in Dade County. The governor's segregation law survived even after some
desegregation began, but the efforts of the NAACP questioned the effectiveness of pupil
assignment. Integrationists in Florida used their own measures to combat segregation and did
not rely on others to fight their battle.
The evidence found in the Florida State Archives, the University of Florida Smathers
Library Education in Florida Subject Files, the Florida Branch Papers of the NAACP, and
editorials from mainstream and African American newspapers depicts Florida's segregation
history as disputed. This understanding breaks from the dominant perspective that Florida's
reaction to Brown was distinct from most other southern states. Florida did not benefit from a
smooth and peaceful transition into desegregation. Rather, the process involved many distinct
groups who prioritized contrasting objectives. Powerful segregationist constituents fought the
governor's attempts toward a moderate approach to racial segregation, and hardworking
integrationists challenged the governor to advocate equality in Florida. This discovery leads to
several important conclusions for southern history and Florida scholars.
This study calls for a reevaluation of what massive resistance actually constitutes.
Historians who study southern history have neglected Florida's reaction to Brown because
relatively little violence occurred as a result of efforts to maintain or thwart desegregation.
Southern states such as Alabama and Arkansas stand out sites of as massive resistance because
their reactions resulted in violence and mayhem which attracted national media attention. When
describing qualities of massive resistance, Numan V. Bartley included indicators such as
adopting an Interposition Resolution, employing racist propaganda, and violence. All were
present in Florida to some extent, yet historians have characterized the state as moderate, which
has inaccurately portrayed the state as distinct from others in the south. Southern historians must
broaden their criteria to ascertain fuller depictions of southern reactions to Brown. Calm
resistance is still resistance. 8
Additionally, this study implies that a governor's attitude and response toward Brown does
not produce an accurate historical account of a state's overall reaction to the U.S. Supreme
Court's ruling. In Florida, the governor was moderate throughout his tenure, and in his later
years worked as a civil rights activist. However, most Florida public schools remained
segregated until the U.S. Supreme Court mandate ordered desegregation in 1969. In fact,
remnants of resistance to segregation still exist in Florida's public schools in its International
Baccalaureate and magnet school programs. If the state's response mirrored the governor's, it
should have voluntarily desegregated much sooner. Instead, the state continued to struggle
against forced desegregation. Historians can only judge a governor, or any leader, for his or her
actions, but not as the spokesperson for an entire group, and especially not an entire state. Doing
so unduly diminishes the experiences and efforts of all the remaining constituents.9
Finally, this study informs aspects of Florida and southern history because it recognizes
African American actors in the period after Brown. Historians must recognize the actions of
African Americans after Reconstruction and through the period after Brown. Otherwise, African
Americans will not receive credit for the work they did during this volatile time. Richard Kluger
presented the road to Brown as calculated and time consuming. But after the U.S. Supreme
Court rendered its decisions, African Americans and integrationists still faced the arduous task of
desegregating schools. These activists worked toward compliance with that historic decision.
8 Bartley, The Rise of Massive Resistance.
9 Alexander v. Holmes County Bd. Of Educ., 396 U.S. 19, 20 (1969). Regan Garner, "A School Without a Name:
Desegregation of Eastside High School, 1970-1987." University ofFlorida Journal of Law and Public Policy
(August 2005): 233-266.
In Florida, African Americans faced difficulties that limited their power within mainstream
politics. After Reconstruction, no African Americans held public office until several years after
U.S. Supreme Court's historic decisions in 1954 and 1955. This study contends that African
American integrationists struggled in Florida, and because of their efforts, the governor actually
considered their voices. Through persistence, they ultimately assisted in shaping Florida's
winding path toward racial desegregation in the public schools. If the NAACP had not fought
against pupil assignment, segregation may have lasted even longer. This thesis represents only a
small indication of how African Americans struggled for equality in public schools. Historians
have yet to explore fully African American stories in Florida and elsewhere in the southeast
portion of the United States. In Florida, desegregation came about because of integrationist
actions. Scholars cannot overlook their important role in shaping southern history.
Finally, this thesis includes two implications for educators. First, Florida educators,
especially in the fields of history and social studies, could reconsider how the history of the state
is taught. In Florida schools, teachers gloss over the history of segregation just as historians
have, so the myth that Florida has escaped racial disturbances has promulgated. Also, this thesis
reveals that even in the midst of an embittered battle over racial segregation, executives and state
legislators still prioritized the maintenance of a free public system of education. Though
debated, no provisions were made to give subsidies to private education in Florida. However,
more than fifty years later, Florida utilizes state-funded vouchers for students to attend private
school. Has the state of Florida given up on a free system of public education? This discovery
prompts current parents, educators and lawmakers to discern what value public education has,
and why Florida seems to have lost interest in it.
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Amy Martinelli received a Master of Arts in Education, in social foundations, from the
University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. She received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the
University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida. She worked as a Graduate Assistant in the William
and Grace Center for Written and Oral Communication, where she coached the speech and
debate team and taught various courses, featuring Introduction to Public Speaking.