Guests are invited to explore the life works of Clifton Van Brunt Lewis, a local activist in the Tallahassee civil rights movement who championed for equality, pushed for historic preservation and founded many of Tallahassee’s beloved cultural institutions, including LeMoyne Center for the Arts, Tallahassee Museum, and the Spring House Institute.
Clifton and her husband George Lewis II supported student protestors during the lunch counter sit-ins and theatre demonstrations, as well as worked on interracial committees such as the Tallahassee Association for Good Government and the Tallahassee Council on Human Relations. Clifton established “The Little Gallery” in the lobby of the Lewis State Bank, showcasing both white and black artists in a rotating display. She stayed active until the very end, pushing for equal rights, environmental protection, and art and beauty for everyone.
Their family home, the Lewis Spring House, is the only residence designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Florida during his lifetime. It is operated by the Spring House Institute. Visit them at PreserveSpringHouse.net.
The opening reception is Thursday, April 12 from 5-7PM in the Mary Lou Norwood Reading Room, second floor Strozier Library. Exhibit curator Lydia Nabors will give a short talk at 6:15PM.
The exhibit will be open 10AM-6PM Monday through Friday in the Norwood throughout Summer 2018.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FSU was fraught with student protest, and Westcott was the primary site for demonstrations and sit-ins. FSU earned its moniker “Berkley of the South” during this time as students became more concerned with equal rights for women and minorities, free speech, and the anti-war movement. While some of the protests were accompanied by increased police presence and arrests (most famously The Night of Bayonets in 1968), some protests were peaceful. One such event was a “talk-in” organized by black students at FSU.
On April 23, 1971, a group of nearly 200 black students descended on President Stanley Marshall’s office, demanding a moment of his time. Fed up with discrimination on campus and disillusionment about FSU possibly being merged with FAMU, the students approached President Marshall at his office at Westcott to ask him to use his administrative powers to intervene in two situations on campus. The first demand was for President Marshall to re-appoint Gayle Andrews, FSU’s first black cheerleader, to the cheerleading squad. The second request was for President Marshall to grant amnesty to Enoch Saunders and Skip Young, two black students accused of assaulting a white student.
Gayle Andrews previously participated on the FSU cheerleading squad for two years before she wasn’t elected onto the following year’s team. Claiming discrimination by the squad, the Black Student Union officially demanded on Gayle Andrews’ behalf that she be placed back on the squad. In an interview for the Florida Flambeau, Andrews stated “[when] they overlooked me, they overlooked all blacks at school.” Neither the squad nor President Marshall would reinstate Andrews, but two other black cheerleaders, Shirley Preston and Jim Wilson, were chosen to join the next year’s squad at tryouts.
In 1971, FSU students Enoch Saunders and Skip Young were accused of assaulting a white student. Both men cited self-defense and felt they were unjustly arrested. Speaking about his arrest experience at a rally at Moore Auditorium, Saunders stated “We are the victims of selective law enforcement,” and that he “was told by [his] arresting police officers that they were going to kill [him].” Young, a basketball player who would eventually go on to lead the FAMU Lady Rattlers to their first state championship in 2004, also spoke about his experience at the rally. “My actions were provoked by the slurs of the white cheerleader whom I attacked, and I feel the charges brought against me are false.” President Marshall, not having the authority to grant amnesty in legal matters, declined to do anything about Enoch Saunders and Skip Young’s charges.
Even though not much was accomplished by the talk-in at Westcott, student leaders applauded administration for handling it without the intervention of police force. After the talk-in at Westcott, relations between the student body and began to improve.
Virgil Hawkins, J. Raymond Henderson, and C.K. Steele, circa 1955. From 00/MSS 2006-013.
Reverend Charles Kenzie (C.K.) Steele Sr. arrived in Tallahassee during a significant time in its history. After graduating from the School of Religion at Morehouse College in 1938, and serving congregations in Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia, Steele came to Tallahassee in 1952 as the newly-appointed pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church. Reverend Steele later rose to local and national prominence as a civil rights activist during the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956. Continue reading Charles Kenzie Steele and the Tallahassee Bus Boycott→
Last week, on July 2nd, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 celebrated its 51st anniversary. Originally pioneered by President John F. Kennedy and called for just a year earlier on June 11, 1963 in his Civil Rights Address, delivered from the oval office. In the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination in late November of 1963, his successor, Lyndon Johnson put his full support behind the passing of the act as not only the needed legislation that it was but also as a eulogy to President Kennedy. President Johnson was aware that the Civil Rights Bill would face resistance in the solidly Democratic South, however, there was one Democrat in the State of Florida with a long history of supporting progressive legislation; Claude Pepper.
Early in his career while a member of the Florida House of Representatives in 1929, Pepper alone, voted against a Florida State Legislature resolution condemning First Lady Lou Henry Hoover’s White House invitation for tea to Mrs. DePriest, the wife of the first black congressman since Reconstruction. 35 years later, Claude would again take a stand that many in his state deemed unpopular, and given that his constituency was well aware of his record, the old statesman was inundated with mail correspondence urging him both toward and away from a vote for the Civil Rights Bill.
These letter excerpts, both for and against the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are great examples of the political currents that flowed through the country during the 1960’s as the initial large scale push for Civil Rights in the United States was reaching its height. The correspondence below is dated mostly from February of 1964, when the voting for the act took place.
A firm believer in voting with one’s conscience, Pepper knew that the choice was clear. When the final votes were tallied, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 received zero votes from members from the Deep South and very few from those states on the periphery. The only vote in favor of final passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from Florida was by Claude Pepper. The following year saw the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and ‘yes’ votes from six of Pepper’s colleagues who had voted ‘no’ the previous year. Pepper realized the significance of extending civil rights to all Americans, and consistently supported such legislation throughout his years in the U.S. House of Representatives.
For researchers interested in taking a closer look at Claude Pepper and his record on Civil Rights in the United States, please visit the Claude Pepper Library and Museum, Monday through Friday 9AM-5PM.
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.
FSU Special Collections and Archives are pleased to announce the launch of a new online exhibit, Integration at Florida State University. Created in honor of the 50th anniversary of integration at FSU, the Florida State University Libraries have combed Special Collections and University Archives to bring headlines, stories and images from the era to you.
The exhibit includes newspaper articles from the FSU student newspaper, The Florida Flambeau, that document the activities of students, not only on campus towards integration, but student activism in the civil rights movement in greater Tallahassee. Photographs and documents share many firsts for minorities on campus, as well as sharing their struggles to earn equality in the eyes of faculty, staff, and their fellow students.
Our goal is to present original materials from the time as a tool for research, exploration, and discussion so it is offered with little contextual information.