With the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech today, we revisited the collections we hold regarding the Civil Rights Movement right here in Tallahassee. Among our most popular and unique is The Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History Collection, which chronicles the experiences of nineteen individuals who were involved in the civil rights movement in Tallahassee during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The interviews were conducted and donated to Special Collections by Dr. Jackson Lee Ice, a professor of religion here at FSU. Ice arrived in Tallahassee in 1955, nine months before the Tallahassee bus boycott. He was a witness to and a participant in the civil rights activities and social changes that affected Tallahassee during those years.
Ice came under heavy criticism from local political figures for his statements supporting the rights of African-Americans to demonstrate and perform civil disobedience for their cause. He was almost fired from his FSU teaching position. It was because of his work with the Tallahassee Council on Human Relations that he became acquainted with many local African-American leaders and participants and familiar with the issues and problems they faced.
Through this experience, Ice became convinced of the importance of the activities of the Tallahassee Civil Rights Movement in our nation’s history. Primarily, he wanted to record these events, as told by individuals who witnessed them, before they faded from memory. He also wanted to enlighten his students about what took place during this era of racial tension, courage, and sacrifice and the role that Tallahassee played nationally in the civil rights struggle.
Working for the Florida State University Center for the Study of Southern Religion and Culture with funding supplied by a Rockefeller Foundation grant, Ice taped a series of interviews with people who were residents of Tallahassee during that era. He selected a representative sample of civil rights advocates and their opponents and interviewed them during the summer of 1978.
In 2003-4, the audiocassettes were transferred to CDs with help from a National Historical and Publications Records Commission grant. Three of the interviews are currently available online: Reverend C. K. Steele, Charles U. Smith and King Solomon Dupont. Detailed descriptions of the interviewees and summaries of the interviews can be read in the full finding aid for the collection here.
Through these interviews, we discover how Tallahassee was both being affected and contributing to the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, a volatile time in the south during which Dr. King delivered his famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Photo credits: Florida State University Office of Multicultural Affairs Records, Special Collections, Florida State University Libraries, Tallahassee, Florida.