Spring is in the air, the sun is out and that usually means it’s time to find a body of water to sit by and enjoy since we live in Florida. One of those places you could visit this spring and summer (or anytime really) would be the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.
This Florida State Park is home to plenty of wildlife including alligators, deer, birds, and of course the majestic manatee. There are guided water boat tours and a spring for swimming where the water is always a nice, cool temperature. Find more information about this beautiful state park here.
The park is named Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, you might wonder, “who is Edward Ball?” According to the Florida State Parks website, he was a “financier” who “purchased the property in 1934 and developed it as an attraction focusing on wildlife preservation and the surrounding habitat.” The Lodge at Wakulla Springs was built in 1937 as a guest house on the 4,000 acres Ball purchased the same year. In the 1960s’ Ball donated land to Florida State University for a marine lab which is now the Edward Ball Marine Laboratory.
Now you could be wondering, “what does any of this have to do with Claude Pepper?” The former Florida Senator and Congressman Claude Pepper and Edward Ball were like the Cady Heron and Regina George of their time, publicly civil with one another, but deplored each other in reality. Pepper writes about his relationship with Ball in his autobiography, Pepper: Eyewitness To A Century.
Ed Ball was a financier who amassed a great amount of wealth and power due to his family connections. His brother-in-law Alfred I. duPont was one of the wealthiest men in the country in the early 20th century. After duPont’s death in 1935, Ball took over control of the duPont Trust and emerged as a wealthy political dominant force in Florida in the 1940s’. Ball never ran for political office himself, but backed and tried to defeat political candidates running for office. One of those candidates he tried to defeat in the 1944 Florida Senate election and eventually succeeded in defeating was Claude Pepper in the now infamous 1950 Florida Senate election.
The history of these two men is long and extensive and I encourage any reader of this blog entry to read more on the subject. A great place to start would be Tracy E. Danese’s book, Claude Pepper & Ed Ball: Politics, Purpose, and Power published by the University Press of Florida in 2000. These two men played a great role in shaping the political history and future of Florida. I hope this blog gave you a brief summary of their relationship and intrigued you to read more about it.
FSU Heritage Protocol & University Archives, a division of Special Collections & Archives received a donation from The Pride Student Union in June 2013. The donation included over five decades of history from this student organization. The history between FSU and Pride is a story of a brittle, sometimes broken relationship, but the passing of their records from Pride to Heritage Protocol & University Archives documents how much the relationship has massively improved.
Before the records were relocated to Heritage Protocol & University Archives, they were “sitting idle & unorganized in four file cabinets,” said former Pride Student Union Secretary Jason Miller. Now the fifty plus years of history is in its final stages of processing (archives jargon for arranging, organizing and sorting a collection) and is almost ready for public viewing.
As the processor of this collection, along with former Graduate Assistants Rebecca Bramlett (until July 2015) and Katherine Hoarn (until August 2015), I can tell you that not only has it been a complete joy to organize and arrange this history, but it has also been an educational and eye-opening experience.
This is the history of not only The Pride Student Union, which had undergone eight name changes since their formation in the late 1960s, but the history of FSU. As Jason Miller stated in a 2013 article with FSUNews news editor Blair Stokes,
“What it comes down to is making sure students at Florida State know that our history is part of Florida State’s history. Even though we aren’t the majority, we’ve always been here. Our history needs to be preserved and understood for future generations to appreciate.”
Appreciation, scholarship, stewardship and respect for the history of this student organization and their records is the way I’ve approached organizing and processing this collection. The Pride Student Union Collection contains administrative records, correspondence, events, legislation, activism, photographs, promotional materials, newspaper, journal and magazine clippings produced and collected by the student organization since the late 1960s. The collection is arranged chronologically and includes issues that affected the student organization, local LGBTQ+ organizations and the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and throughout the United States.
I cannot say enough how much of a joy and honor processing this collection has been and how much I’ve learned both professionally and personally from this experience.
October is LGBT History Month which gives us all the opportunity to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community and its history around the Tallahassee and right here at Florida State University. LGBT History Month began in 1994 when Rodney Wilson, a Missouri high school teacher who believed that a month should be dedicated to teaching the history of the gay and lesbian community. He organized teachers and community leaders where they picked the month of October because public schools were in session and existing traditions (such as National Coming Out Day on October 11th) already occurred during October.
Gay & Lesbian History Month was recognized and endorsed by a number of national organizations including: GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign, National Education Association and others. By 2006 the Equality Forum took over the responsibility for providing content, promotion, and resources for LGBT History Month.
FSU Special Collections is currently processing the records of FSU’s Pride Student Union. The collection is part of FSU Special Collections Heritage Protocol & University Archives. This collection shows the rich history of members of the LGBTQ+ community in Tallahassee and at FSU fighting for their civil rights as members of this community and as students fighting to be recognized as a student organization by the Student Government Association.
This year has been an effective year for positive change though there’s still so much more work and education that needs to be done. So far 2015 has brought increased awareness to transgender visibility (though #KeishaJenkins has become the 18th transgender woman of color killed in the United States this year). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of legalizing nationwide marriage equality earlier this year. For the second time ever (EVER!) the White House held a briefing on challenges facing bisexual people.
Research shows that incorporating LGBT history into our curriculum and conversations contributes to a safer environment for LGBTQ+ students.
There are a number of events you can attend this month right here at FSU to show your support!
On May 15th this year the Claude Pepper Library will turn 30! Throughout this month and the rest of the year, the team at the Claude Pepper Library will be providing some history and context about the library and its namesake.
“For more than six decades, Florida has been my home.[i]” That’s how Claude Pepper began the second chapter of his 1987 autobiography, Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century. Claude Denson Pepper loved the State of Florida and many of its lively cities, one of those cities he loved was Tallahassee.
Claude Pepper was born in Camp Hill, Alabama in 1900. Though Claude lived an adventurous life where he was constantly working and traveling, he and his wife, Mildred, chose to build a life in Tallahassee for a period of time. Claude graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1924 and began practicing law in 1925 after he was admitted to the Florida Bar. He practiced civil and criminal law at a law practice in Perry, Florida and from 1929 to 1930, Claude served as an elected member of the Florida House of Representatives, representing Taylor County. Claude spent a lot of time going back and forth between Perry and Tallahassee during this time in his life. He served as a chairman for the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and was a member on a number of committees. It was his stand against another Florida representative that led to his defeat for re-election in 1930. It was after Claude’s defeat in 1930 that propelled him to move to Tallahassee. Claude was urged to continue his political path after his 1930 Florida House of Representatives loss by Judge W.B. Davis who told Claude that he needed a, “more visible stage (in) either Tallahassee or Miami.[ii]” Claude was advised by others to move to Tallahassee as well.
“I was urged also to come to Tallahassee by Justice James B. Whitfield, the patriarch and former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, whom I had come to know during my legislative days. Often he told me: ‘Mr. Pepper, I want you to move to Tallahassee. Florida needs you and this is the capital of Florida. Tallahassee will offer you an opportunity to serve Florida.[iii]’”
Claude moved to Tallahassee in 1930 and by 1931 he was able to move his family, which included his parents, two brothers, and a sister as well. While living in Tallahassee Claude ran a successful
law office with law partner Curtis Waller. Claude also served on the State Board of Public Welfare. It was around this time he was introduced to Mildred Webster. Claude was stunned by a woman in a “bright yellow dress” leaving the governor’s office, “why that’s the prettiest girl I’ve ever seen[iv]” Claude said to himself before he was introduced to Irene Mildred Webster. She lived in St. Petersburg but was in Tallahassee at the time working for the state legislature. They dated on and off for a period of five years. Mildred helped Claude kicked off a primary senate campaign against then sitting U.S. Senator Park Trammell in 1934 while living in Tallahassee, but he lost the primary in a close election. Nearly two years later in 1936 both U.S. Senators representing Florida died, Park Trammell in early 1936 and then five weeks later Duncan Fletcher died. Claude filed to run for Senator Fletcher’s seat and no one filed to run against him.
Claude Pepper ran unopposed in the 1936 election and became U.S. Senator Pepper. It was also at the end of this year on December 29, 1936 that Claude and Mildred were married. Through his U.S. Senate service (1936-1950) Claude and Mildred kept residences in both Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
Claude lost his 1950 re-election campaign in one of the most brutal and slanderous elections in U.S. history to George Smathers. After his defeat in 1951 Claude opened up a law practice in
Tallahassee with his law partner and friend Jim Clements. Things were a bit shaky at this point, especially with the law offices in Tallahassee, but Claude stayed close to politics and regularly visited Florida State University to talk with loyal supporters, including the student body president at the time, Reubin Askew. On March 2, 1951 Claude’s law partner and longtime friend, Jim Clements died. Claude’s mother, Lena Pepper and other family members were still living in Tallahassee, but around the mid-1950s Claude and Mildred were going back and forth between all of the law offices between Florida and Washington, D.C.
Claude campaigned for the U.S. Senate again in 1958 for the Republican Senate seat that belonged to Spessard Holland, but Holland won his re-election. The good news that came out of that election for Claude would be that he carried Dade County by 25,000 votes and that weighed in on his decision to run for the U.S. House of Representatives representing a new district in Florida. Claude won that campaign and served his district and country as a U.S. Congressman for the rest of his life.
Claude and Mildred Pepper maintained their close friendships and relationships in Tallahassee during this time. In January 1979, Mildred and Claude attended the Inauguration of Governor Bob Graham. At this time plans were established to build a library dedicated to the life of Mildred and Claude Pepper at Florida State University.
Mildred Pepper died from cancer on March 3, 1979. Claude held two funerals for his beloved wife, one at the Coral Gables Methodist Church in Miami and the other at the First Baptist Church where she and Claude worshiped while living in Tallahassee.
Claude remained active and vigilante while serving in the U.S. Congress. The Mildred and Claude Pepper Library opened here at Florida State University on May 15, 1985. The original library was located in Dodd Hall and moved to Call Street in 1997. Claude Pepper lived an ambitious and productive life of 89 years where he worked hard and accomplished many great things. We’re honored that he chose to spend an exceptional amount of time carrying out that work in Tallahassee.
[i] C. Pepper, H. Gorey, Pepper: Eyewitness to a Century, Orlando, 1987, p.33
During the third week of the fall semester the History Department here at Florida State University threw a meet and greet for their students and professors. The Special Collections & Archives Department was asked go through some of their collections and make up some displays for this meet and greet. Here at the Claude Pepper Library we decided to put some items from the 1950 primary election in one of our displays. I was tasked with finding items for the 1950 election display and boy did I discover some interesting items in our collection!
A little back story…
The 1950 primary election was between the incumbent Florida Senator Claude Pepper and U.S. House of Representatives Congressman George Smathers. This primary election between the two Florida Democrats was one of the dirtiest political races in U.S. history. There were three major issues facing Sen. Pepper at the time of his re-election. The first issue was Sen. Pepper’s support for America maintaining a peaceful relationship with Russia at the end of WWII. The second issue was for Sen. Pepper’s legislation and support for the National Health Insurance Act of 1949. The third issue for the senator was his support for many of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legislation, including the controversial Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC). Sen. Pepper’s support for these three issues only hurt him in the 1950 primary election against George Smathers.
My interesting find
When the primary was over and all the ballots were counted, Rep. Smathers defeated Sen. Pepper to become Florida’s newest senator. Smathers ran one of the nastiest smear campaigns in Florida’s history against Claude Pepper. Pepper’s nickname from his opposition during the campaign was “Red Pepper” due to his visit to Russia and meeting with Communist Leader Joseph Stalin. Sen. Pepper advocated for America to keep our relationship with Russia open in order to prevent WWIII. Sen. Pepper also supported (though he denied this during his re-election campaign) the FEPC which was also used against him in the primary.
The interesting find I discovered while going through the wealth of information we have on the 1950 election was an article in the Richmond Times Dispatch after the election was over. Titled, “Smathers’ Defeat of Pepper – A Triumph for the Nation” is dated May 4, 1950; the article gives a brief summary of the election and the issues that affected the outcome of the election. The issues covered in the article are the FEPC, Sen. Pepper’s and Rep. Smathers’ voting record and the change the Richmond Times Dispatch believed was taking place in Washington, D.C. Rep. Smathers ran as the opposite of Sen. Pepper and his alarm over what was taking place in Washington, D.C.
The best find in the article is its closing sentence: “Now the victory of George Smathers over Claude Pepper has brought new and striking encouragement to those who are determined to save the United States from sliding over the socialistic precipice.”
Discovering the changes in American attitudes towards different topics that were relevant during Claude Pepper’s lifetime is always fun and interesting to us here at the Claude Pepper Library. To find out more information about the 1950 primary election or about Claude Pepper come visit us at the Claude Pepper Library.
Mallary Rawls is an archives assistant at the Claude Pepper Library.