One of our goals in the digital collections area is to extend our expertise in digitization to community partners to help those organizations that don’t know how or don’t have the time and resources, to digitize and get their materials online. This year we did pilot community projects with two local organizations and they were a great success. We hope to take what we’ve learned from these projects and continue to partner with local partners to bring Tallahassee’s rich history online.
The latest community project to come online is the first of many sets of materials from the First Baptist Church of Tallahassee. The First Baptist Church has been a cornerstone in Tallahassee for many years. Founded in 1849, its collection not only reflects the history of the church but also of Tallahassee. Due to the church’s close proximity to FSU, it also holds the stories of many of our students over the years who participated in the Church while calling Tallahassee home.
We’ve started our project with the church bulletins. The collection begins in the 1930s and we are working our way up to the present day. These materials will be uploaded into DigiNole: FSU’s digital repository in batches as digitization is completed.
The St. John’s Episcopal Church Records includes administrative records; member registries; meeting minutes of the Vestry and church circles; Bibles, Books of Common Prayer, hymnals, and other liturgical works; documentation of the history of St. John’s Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Florida; service bulletins and other periodicals; sermon transcripts; photographs; and motion pictures. We recently completed digitization and making available some of the registers from the collection. These materials give you a look into parish life from 1832 to 1953. In particular, these registers track baptisms, burials and marriages in the Church over that time period.
St. John’s is the mother church of the Diocese of Florida. It was founded as a mission parish in 1829, and the church’s first building was erected in 1837. The Diocese was organized at St. John’s in 1838 and Francis Huger Rutledge, who became rector of St. John’s in 1845, was consecrated the first Bishop of Florida in 1851. The original church burned in 1879; a new church was built on the same site and consecrated in 1888, and it is still the parish’s principal place of worship.
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
On January 21, 1801, Charles Louis Napoleon Achille Murat was born to Joachim and Caroline Bonaparte Murat, Napoleon Bonaparte’s youngest sister. Through the family’s connections with the Emperor, Joachim was eventually made King of Naples, hence the Prince Murat title. Upon the Emperor’s second defeat in 1815, Achille’s father was executed and his mother fled with her children to Vienna.
Achille would emigrate to America upon his 21st birthday in 1821 and became a naturalized citizen fairly soon after, renouncing all his titles. After roaming the country, he settled in Washington DC where he happened to become friends with Richard Keith Call, Florida’s territorial delegate to Congress who told the young man of the many opportunities in the newly acquired territory.
Murat settled first in St. Augustine but later purchased his Lipona Plantation outside Tallahassee after much prodding from the Marquis de Lafayette. It was in Tallahassee that Murat met his future wife, Catherine Daingerfield Willis Gray, great grandniece of George Washington. Murat was also a part of Florida’s militia and would hold the rank of colonel for the rest of his life following the Seminole Wars.
A man of many interests, Murat was a writer. He, along with his fellow countryman Alexis de Tocqueville, wrote much on American culture and lifestyle during his lifetime though Murat’s writing never became as popular as Tocqueville. He also had a close friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson whom he met in St. Augustine in 1826.
After an attempt to regain some of his family’s fortune in the July Revolution of 1830 and several unsuccessful years in New Orleans, Murat and his wife moved back in Tallahassee in the mid 1830s and Murat would remain here the rest of his life. Murat died in 1847 and is buried in the St. John’s Episcopal Church cemetery in Tallahassee.
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.