Social Security, minimum wage, and the National Institutes of Health. These are just a few of the ways that Claude Denson Pepper left his mark on American politics. He was born in rural Alabama, the eldest of four children to Joseph and Lena Pepper, on September 8, 1900. From these humble beginnings, Pepper would come to serve the people of Florida as a U.S. Senator (1936-1950) and Representative (1963-1989). In his later years as a U.S. Representative, he was a champion of the elderly; crafting and supporting legislation that was geared toward ensuring elder Americans were allowed to age and finish their lives with care and dignity.
This Saturday, May 30, marks the 31st anniversary of Senator Pepper’s passing. When he died on May 30, 1989, Pepper was the eldest sitting member of Congress. He was honored by laying in state under the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for three days before making his way to Tallahassee to be laid to rest next to his wife Mildred. Special Collections & Archives honors the Senator and encourages you to visit our online resources on Pepper, including diaries, photographs and manuscript material, to better acquaint yourself with one of the most active figures of 20th Century American politics.
Today marks the 64th anniversary of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott. In the spring of 1956, Florida A&M students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson boarded a Tallahassee bus and took seats of their own choosing. Because these seats were in the “whites only” section of the bus, Jakes and Patterson were arrested by the Tallahassee Police Department, prompting fellow students, citizens and city leaders to take action. The two students were arrested on a Saturday. On Sunday, May 29, the area Ku Klux Klan burned a cross outside of the residence hall where Jakes and Patterson lived. By Monday the 30th, the student body of Florida A&M University convened and voted to boycott the city buses. That evening, a meeting was called by Reverend C.K. Steele to discuss the boycott and seek support from the community, thereby creating the Inter-Civic Council (ICC).
Over the course of the next seven months, the African American community of Tallahassee worked together to support themselves in making their way to work, school and religious services through a carpool service, which was eventually suspended after growing violence over the boycott. On January 1, 1957, Governor LeRoy Collins, himself a Tallahassee native, officially suspended the bus service until segregated seating was removed. However, due to poorly disguised rephrasing of the policy that included seating based on “tranquility and good order”, the bus system in Tallahassee would not truly be desegregated for another year. Those who joined Wilhelmina Jakes, Carrie Patterson and the students of Florida A&M University including Rev. Steele, Daniel Speed, and many others from the then 10,600 African-American residents of Tallahassee, were met with resistance from most white members of the Tallahassee community who felt racial segregation should remain in place.
The voices of many of the participants of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956 can be accessed through the transcripts available through the FSU Special Collections & Archives department. The Tallahassee Civil Rights Oral History Collection and the Reichelt Oral History Collection provide glimpses into this important moment in Florida, and national history, with researchers being able to read the words of Rev. Speed, King Solomon Dupont, LeRoy Collins, Daniel Speed and others. Though 64 years may feel like a long time, we are not that far removed from the events of the Bus Boycott. With racial tensions still ever present, immersing ourselves in and understanding our history can better help us plan for the future.
On March 22, 1972, the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by the US Senate and sent to the states for ratification. The central idea behind the amendment is simple: all American citizens, regardless of gender, have equal rights before the law. Almost fifty years later, the amendment has still not passed, as only 35 of the 38 states necessary ratified the amendment. In 1923, the initial version of the Equal Rights Amendment was brought before the United States Congress by Alice Paul and Crystal Eastman. On January 21, 1943, Senator Claude Pepper spoke before the 78th Congress on behalf of the E.R.A:
“…I feel, therefore, that the trend toward women enjoying equal rights has progressed until today they are entitled to enjoy all rights equally with all human beings, and that sex is not a sufficient line of demarcation for different rights. There may be instances where there would be a difference in duties, but that will depend upon the ability of the person or persons affected to perform the obligation required, not to their rights equally to share and to enjoy the benefits which are derived from citizenship and equality due to all.
When the Declaration of Independence was written, and those moving words that “all men are created equal” were incorporated therein, to lift the hopes and the hearts of the oppressed everywhere in the world. I do not believe that Thomas Jefferson was thinking only of mankind which happened to be masculine in sex. I think he spoke about human beings, and therefore that it is in accordance with the principles of the Declaration of Independence to say that women are born equal with men in the rights of citizenship and civil prerogatives.
I hope, therefore, that this may be the last hurdle which it will be necessary to surmount; that the race to bring equality, complete freedom, independence, and liberty for women shall at long last be won.” – Claude Pepper Papers MSS 1979-01 S. 303A B. 2 F. 8
The hurdles unfortunately continue. Since the introduction of the E.R.A, Senator Pepper’s speech, and the passage of the amendment in the Senate in March of 1972, individuals, and civic action groups such as the National Organization for Women, and the League of Women Voters, and many others have continued to champion the E.R.A.
Letter writing campaigns, marches and public awareness raising activities for the E.R.A. are well documented in the Tallahassee N.O.W. and Tallahassee League of Women Voters chapter records. The digitized newsletters of each organization provide week to week updates on the key developments with the E.R.A during the 1970s and 1980s. On January 15, 2020, Virginia’s General Assembly ratified the amendment, moving the conversation forward once more. While the future remains deeply uncertain, researchers can look to the past for inspiration.
This Tuesday, April 7, was World Health Day, and to celebrate, we’re shining a spotlight on the work of Senator Claude Pepper and his role in expanding the National Institutes of Health. Established in 1887, the primary location of the National Institute of Health is based in Bethesda, Maryland. Originally known as the Hygienic Laboratory, it was re-designated in 1930 to the NIH. Claude Pepper was elected to the United States Senate seven years later. At that time, apart from the National Institute of Health, only the National Cancer Institute functioned as national research institutions for combating infectious disease.
In 1943, the United States was in the midst of a global war against the Axis Powers. In the States, advances in medicine were needed both at home and on the battlefield. That year, the Senate Subcommittee on Wartime Health and Education was formed to address the health and education challenges then facing the United States. Having a keen interest in securing healthcare for all Americans, Pepper would be appointed chair of the Health and Education Subcommittee, and he made it his mission to secure greater funding for and expand the scope of the Institute. Within the year, the National Cancer Institute would become a division of the National Institute, and in 1948, the name was changed once more to the National Institutes of Health.
By 1950, Senator Pepper would serve as the chief sponsor for 5 additional Institutes including the National Institutes of:
Heart, Lungs and Blood
Allergy and Infectious Disease
Neurological and Communicative Disorders
Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive & Kidney Diseases
With his political career ended for a time in late 1950, Pepper would be out of politics until he ran for and won a US House seat in 1962. This brief period outside of national politics did nothing to slow him down, however. Between 1961 and 1974, there were five more institutes established:
Child Health & Human Development
General Medical Sciences
Environmental Health Services
National Eye Institute
the National Institute on Aging
In 1967, Pepper was presented with the Albert and Mary Laskin Award. Presented to those individuals who have made major contributions to the field or medical science or to those performing great public service on behalf of medicine, Pepper was awarded for serving as the principal sponsor for all but one National Institute of Health (Dental Research) from 1950 to 1967.
The National Institutes of Health are currently made up of 27 member institutions across the United States, each with a specific research agenda, though all with the same goal of improving the lives of Americans through medical advancement. Currently NIH researchers are engaged in efforts to combat the COVID-19 virus, and their website provides up to date information and helpful tips for keeping safe.
The Apollo 11 mission, commissioned by President Kennedy in 1961, sought to “perform a crewed lunar landing and return to earth” (nasa.gov). It was the first mission of its kind and dramatically changed the landscape of the Space Race in the 1960s and 1970s. The Space Race was an ongoing contest between the United States and the Soviet Union, where each country sought to outshine the other. With the Apollo 11 mission, however, the Space Race reached its apex, for on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon and planted the United States Flag on the lunar surface.
To commemorate and memorialize this momentous occasion, the Claude Pepper Library will be hosting an exhibit on the Apollo 11 mission from July 16 to December 16, 2019. We will have on display numerous photographs, correspondence, and other materials related to the mission including a large photograph of Astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing next to the American flag planted on the moon’s surface. The exhibit will consist of three thematic parts: earlier space programs in Florida, materials relating to the Apollo 11 landing, and FSU’s reaction to the landing. Sample materials selected include photos of the crew with Florida governors and legislators, the poster for the mission, and additional correspondence about the impact of the mission on Florida’s cultural memory.
More importantly, the Apollo 11 mission strikes near to the hearts of many Floridians. Launched from Cape Kennedy in Cape Canaveral, the mission has become a major part of our cultural identity as Floridians and as Americans. Throughout the country this year, festivities and celebrations are occurring to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch. According to nasa.gov, almost 650 million people heard Armstrong utter those famous words “…one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” And these words have stayed with us, are woven into our cultural fabric. We should be proud of this achievement; on the 50th anniversary of the launch, let us celebrate this momentous occasion in American history.
The images in this post come from the Spessard Holland Collection. To learn more about this collection, please see its finding aid.
The exhibit is available in the Claude Pepper Library which is open Monday-Friday, 9am to 5pm.
In the spring of 1956, after students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson from Florida A&M University, were arrested and jailed for refusing to leave the “whites only” section of a Tallahassee bus, the African-American community of the city rallied together to boycott the city bus service and take a stand for their civil rights and the belief that the color of their skin should not leave them subject to discrimination and fear. Those who participated in the boycott, including Rev. C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed, Jakes and Patterson and many others from the then 10,600 African-American residents of Tallahassee, were met with resistance from bigoted members of the Tallahassee community that felt racial segregation should remain the law of the land. What factors contributed to a mindset that would allow for one group to so poorly treat another?
A new exhibit now open at the Claude Pepper Library seeks to illustrate the kind of resistance that the Bus Boycott participants faced in their endeavors to secure fair and impartial treatment in a city that they too, called home. Guests are invited to visit the Claude Pepper Library and explore the exhibit on the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956 which is open to the public now, through the early fall of 2018. Using primary source documents, ephemera and photographs that provide a deeper context for the events that began to take place in May of 1956, Special Collections & Archives provides a look into the social and political climate in the State of Florida leading during the time of the Bus Boycott. Guests are also able to listen to audio recordings of boycott participants and witnesses, including the Reverend C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed and Governor LeRoy Collins. The Claude Pepper Library and Museum are open Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, call (850) 644-9217 or email Political Papers Archivist Robert Rubero (email@example.com) with any questions.
Often, it is the memorabilia and ephemera of a politician or public figure that offers the most insight into that individual’s life and work. Recently, the staff of the Claude Pepper Library and Museum completed the physical processing of former Governor Reubin Askew’s personal and professional memorabilia, adding a variable trove of new material to the finding aid of the State of Florida’s 33rd governor. From his U.S. Air Force issue belt and garrison cap(he served from 1951-53), to one of his blue collared shirts which he dutifully wore during his many press conferences as governor, these items add an invaluable layer of context to Askew’s already existing collection of manuscript materials that chronicle his time as governor, U.S. Foreign Trade Representative and runs for president in 1984 and U.S. Senate in 1987. Please visit the Claude Pepper Library and Museum website for further information on our collections and potential opportunities for learning and exploring our political collections!
In 1966, a group of women, frustrated at the failure of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to recognize sex discrimination in the workplace and the failure of the conference they were attending to demand the EEOC do so, started what became the National Organization for Women (NOW). In 1971, Tallahassee gained its own NOW chapter, chartered through the national organization. Two years later in 1973, the Florida NOW state chapter was chartered to help coordinate the local chapters’ activities as well as to organize new chapters into formation. The state chapter’s records reside at the University of Florida.
As March is Women’s History Month, this week the Pepper Library is highlighting the National Organization for Women, Tallahassee Chapter records. The Tallahassee NOW papers contain official NOW correspondence, meeting minutes and agendas, reports, budgets, newsletters, and other records which chronicle the development and activities of Tallahassee NOW from its founding in 1971 until 1997. An excellent resource for studying the history of the Equal Rights Amendment in the state of Florida, the NOW material offers a firsthand glimpse into the organization’s efforts to empower and inform. This is particularly on point right now as last Wednesday, the Nevada State Legislature ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, which guarantees that “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” NPR stated in an article on the ratification that the ERA “was first passed by Congress in 1972 and last approved by a state (Indiana) in 1977.” Florida has yet to ratify the ERA. The NOW records provide a look at the fight to do so in the 1970s.
Last fall,the staff of the FSU Digital Library digitized and made available online for researchers the Florida NOW Times (1974-1997). Within this statewide NOW publication, the history of the ERA and the activities of NOW chapters throughout the state can be followed over a twenty year period. Providing digital access to the newsletters was a challenge. Each newsletter needed to be reviewed to provide useful description for users to be able to browse and search these objects successfully. The DLC enlisted help from our Cataloging & Description colleagues to catalog the 211 newsletters that range from 1974 to 1997. These items cover the state chapter’s ERA fight, its yearly conferences, legislative and lobbying actions, and the many events sponsored to fight for the rights of women in Florida. You can see all the newsletters in the FSU Digital Library.
“…I could hardly believe Japan had actually attacked us first in such a remote place, yet the whole country has been first stunned then calmly resolved that now we are going to accept the challenge and get it over. They bombed barracks killing 350 soldiers [the total casualties were 2,403 killed & 1,178 wounded] and some ships apparently from an airplane carrier…The President and cabinet met at 8:00PM. Congressional leaders in later. All but Senator Nye of isolationists’ crowd have come around now. I gave out statement, not a question of who has been right but of unity henceforth. Joint session at 12:30PM tomorrow. Well here it is – war – war – God strengthen us all.”
When bombs fell on Pearl Harbor in the early morning of December 7, 1941, the picture of America, as has often happened, was changed. Having only begun to shake off the burden that was the Great Depression, the country was largely isolationist and determined to right its own ship, letting the world without handle its second great conflagration within twenty years. As was reflected in the above excerpt from Senator Pepper’s diary however, the country as a whole came to a realization very quickly: the war is upon us and we must fight. The outpouring of support and the subsequent rush to military recruitment offices by millions of Americans was unprecedented, with the nation rapidly mobilizing to prepare for the next 4 years of global conflict. Not every action taken in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor was warranted however, as Japanese American citizens of the United States, were taken from their homes and interned in camps throughout the American Midwest and Arkansas.
As we remember the 75th anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor, let us reflect on the lives lost that day and in the years that would follow, let us contemplate the day’s significance in the history of not only our country, but the world, and finally let us remind ourselves of ways in which we can honor the sacrifices of those who came before.
On March 10, 1909 Thomas LeRoy Collins was born in Tallahassee, Florida. In 1955, he was elected 33rd Governor of Florida and held that position until 1961. Collins attended Leon High School in Tallahassee, and earned his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1932, he married Mary Call Darby a great-granddaughter of two time territorial governor of Florida, Richard Kieth Call. Today LeRoy Collins is remembered as a voice for civil rights and on March 20, 1960 he delivered a speech wherein he declared that, as governor, he represented all Floridians “whether that person is black or white, whether that person is rich or poor, or whether that person is influential or not influential.”
The Thomas LeRoy Collins papers are housed at the Claude Pepper Library and are available to researchers Monday through Friday 9AM-5PM.