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Struggle in the sunshine city :
b the movement for racial equality in st. petersburg, florida, 1955-1968
h [electronic resource] /
by Peyton Jones.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains X pages.
Thesis (M.L.A.)--University of South Florida, 2010.
Includes bibliographical references.
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ABSTRACT: Recent decades have seen a shift in the focus of civil rights historiography. Building upon the exhaustive studies of national figures and events, and in search of new perspectives, many historians have concentrated on local movements often ignored or forgotten. Other than the work of a few local scholars, the civil rights movement as it occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida, has received little attention. Furthermore, the limited scholarship lacks the cohesion necessary to compare and contrast the movement with similar events throughout the state and across the nation. The story of St. Petersburg's active and significant struggle for social equality, placed within its proper context, adds another piece to a larger picture and continues to reveal the complex nature of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Advisor: Raymond O. Arsenault, Ph.D.
Keywords: civil rights
x Humanities/Cultural Studies/Amer Studies
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
Struggle In The Sunshine City: The Movement For Racial Equality In St. Petersburg Florida 1955 1968 by Peyton L. Jones A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Florida Studies College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Co Major Professor: Raymond Arsenault, Ph.D. Co Major Professor: Gary Mormino, Ph.D. Thomas W. Smith, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 15, 2010 Keywords: civil rights, race, organized demon strations, protest, riots Copyright 2010, Peyton L.Jones
i Table of Contents Abstract ii Chapter One: Introduction 1 Chapter Two : The Gathering Storm 6 Chapter Three : The Lawyer and the Loose Cannon 39 Chapter Four : The Great Refusal 67 Chap ter Five: Epilogue 88 Bibliography 92
ii Struggle in the Sunshine City: The Movement for Racial Equality in St. Petersburg Florida, 1955 1968 Peyton L. Jones ABSTRACT Recent decades have seen a shift in the focus of civil rights historiography. Building upon the exhaustive studies of national figures and events, and in search of new perspectives, many historians have concentrated on local movements often ignored or forgotten. Other than the work of a few local scholars, the civil rights movement as it occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida, has received little attention. Furthermore, the limited scholarship lacks the cohesion necessary to compare and contrast the movement with similar events throughout the state and across the nation. The story of S active and significant struggle for social equality, placed within its proper context, adds another piece to a larger picture and continues to reveal the complex nature of the American Civil Rights Movement.
1 Chapter O ne : Introduction Rece nt decades have seen a shift in the focus of civil rights historiography. Building upon the exhaustive studies of national figures and events, and in search of new perspectives, many historians have concentrated on local movements often ignored or forgotte n. Other than the work of a few local scholars, the civil rights movement as it occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida, has received little attention. Furthermore, the limited scholarship lacks the cohesion necessary to compare and contrast the movement with active and significant struggle for social equality, placed within its proper context, adds another piece to a larger picture and continues to reveal the complex natur e of the American Civil Rights Movement. In the years following the Second World War, St. Petersburg was a burgeoning increased eighty seven percent, reaching 181,348 in 1960. Those flocking to St. Petersburg arrived in a place that seemed to live up to the picture painted in promotional leaflets and booster pamphlets: a warm, inviting community, blessed with a subtropical climate, pristine beaches, cheap land, and endless suns 1 Absent from booster literature, however, were references to a substantial black tourism and a black labor force to service that industry. at the lowest civic stratum, confined by rigid Jim Crow laws. While the white seasonal to concerts in downtown Williams Park, or en joying friendly competition at the
2 Shuffleboard Club, an army of African Americans swarmed into their hotel rooms to make beds, or into their homes to cook meals, clean the dishes, and tend to the landscaping. To most visitors, however, these workers remai ned invisible and their 2 City leaders justified racial oppression by framing the need to perpetuate segregation in economic terms. Black workers allowed hotels, restaurants, attractio ns, and the municipal infrastructure to handle the seasonal influx of tourists, yet business and governmental leaders assumed that snowbirds and their wallets would flock elsewhere if black residents became too visible. For those Detroiters concerned about blacks entering their neighborhoods back home, city leaders in St. Petersburg wanted them to feel reassured that no similar integration would darken their experience in the Sunshine City. With occasional concessions to the black community, often with a he avy dose of real reform. Indeed, St. Petersburg remained one of the most residentially segregated cities in the nation at the dawn of the civil rights era. In the cit residents formed tight knit, insular enclaves that drew strength from the bonds forged under social oppression. By the 1950s, beyond the auspices of white St. Petersburg, existed a stratified and culturally diverse black c ommunity. Along the rippling, brick lined 5 th elite. With roots as old as the city itself, this small yet substantial black middle class, 1 St. Petersburg Times May 8, 1960. 2 Arsenault, St. Petersburg and the Florida Dream 124 125.
3 composed of physicians, clergymen, ent repreneurs, and educators, formed the backbone of the civil rights struggle. 3 The epicenter of black society arose on 22 nd Ave S., where the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington performed at the Manhattan Casino, where black doctors tended to pati ents at the segregated Mercy Hospital, and where residents went for food and sundries, to catch a movie, go dancing, or get their hair cut. Locals dubbed 22 nd Ave tr ace the heartbeat of black society back to this area. Yet the Manhattan Casino was not the Cotton Club in Harlem and for every black middle class dwelling one did not have to look far to find abject poverty. In areas such as Methodist Town where almost th irteen dilapidated shanties stood unpainted and teeming with termites. Many hom es had no indoor plumbing nor properly working electricity. Garbage piled high in front of sagging porches with rotten floorboards, lining dirt streets that turned to dust clouds on arid summer days and muddy streams during the evening thunderstorms. A handful of wealthy, politically connected white citizens owned down urban renewal legislation and thwart efforts to enforce minimum housing code requirements. The slumlords who regularly increased the rent rarely reinvested money back into the blighted neighborhood. With an average income of less than $3,000 a year, r esidents -in a relationship that resembled the landed gentry and the disfranchised sharecropper of earlier generations -had no other choice but to stay put. 4 3 Rosalie Peck and Jon Wilson, (Charleston, South Carolina: The History Press, 20 08), 33 34. 4 St. Petersburg Times May 5, 1960, March 25, 1962. Peck and Wilson, African American Neighborhoods 31 33.
4 Cracks in the paternalistic relationship between whites and blacks, and in the once entrenched, seemingly immutable social structure that defied life in St. Petersburg, began to appear in the 1950s. After the 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education, publi c facilities. In November 1955, shortly after several black residents were denied entrance to Spa Beach and Pool, a public recreational facility, six black citizens led by Dr. Fred Alsup filed suit against the city citing a violation of their constitutiona l rights. The legal battle lasted until April 1957, when the Supreme Court refused to hear the losing the pool any time blacks tried to use the facility. After a long standoff, Spa Beach and Pool eventually opened on an integrated basis in 1959. But the struggle had only begun. During the 1960s, homegrown civic organizations like the Civic Coordi nating Committee (CCC), the Council on Human Relations (COHR), along with local incarnations of nationally affiliated organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), continued the attack on racial segregation. By the mid 1960s, after the desegregation of lunch counters and movie theaters, the objectives of the struggle were no longer clear. In 1964, lawyer Jim Sanderli n, with the support of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, took on the cause of desegregating the school system. Organizations like the CCC and COHR fought discrimination in the work place and tried to secure
5 better job opportunities for black citizens. While ma ny saw these two areas as inextricably linked, others abandoned the notion of integration altogether. Disillusionment spread throughout the black community in the middle and late 1960s. Nonviolent forms of protest seemed inadequate at addressing the larg er socioeconomic goals of the civil rights movement. Race riots erupted across the country. No longer could Americans pigeonhole white racism and bigotry or black impoverishment as a distinctly Southern phenomenon. America was sick. The dissatisfaction wa s evident in St. Petersburg. A militant counter movement emerged that threatened to upend the advances of the local struggle and tear apart the sanitation workers most of whom were black went on strike. After a four month standoff Similar to the transformative events that rocked other communities across America, the demands for reform b y the sanitation workers in 1968 marked an important new era in the local struggle to trash the traditions of Jim Crow. This study traces a thirteen year struggle for racial justice between 1955 and 1968 -one that began many years earlier and continues to this day. But during these years, St. Petersburg, like the nation itself, came to terms with a reality it had for too long denied. How could this happen in a sleepy resort town? What sort of light can St. hts struggle in America? As historians confront the larger geographic and regional identity of the Sunshine State, a peek into its race relations history is a necessary piece in a much larger puzzle.
6 Chapter Two : The Gathering Storm In August 1955, bla ck civil rights activists in St. Petersburg, Florida, waded into controversial currents. Ten members of the Civic Coordinating Committee (CCC), a prominent black civic organization, approached the racially segregated Spa Beach and Pool municipal swimming f acility and attempted to gain entrance. After refusing to sell down the road at South Mole. The situation ended without incident shortly thereafter. Two months lat response, the CCC filed a federal lawsuit, citing a violation of equal protection guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment. Thus began a nearly four year struggle to integrate Spa -one that ultimately sparked a movement to end racial inequality throughout the city. 1 CCC president J.P. Moses. Indeed, controversy surrounding beach access for black residents stretched back nearly forty years. In 1916, when Mayor Al Lang granted blacks a strip of beach on the south side of the city that eventually became known as South Mole, white residents protested. The issue arose again during the Great Depression. As part of efforts to revive a moribund tourism industry, the city strengthened and officially codified its Jim Crow laws. Moreover, the parlous economic conditions intensified the racial divide. Whites lodged complaints about blacks traveling through white parts of town to get to South Mole. To ease the tensions, the city formed the Interracial Relations Committee (IRC). The IRC, according to historia n Raymond Arsena ult, focused
7 primarily on the black beach issue. Efforts continued in the 1940s to no avail, and b y 1955, South Mole, a dingy strip of beach with no life guards and no bathing facilities, five miles of coastline for blacks to swim legally. 2 Everything changed in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court o utlawed public school desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education for implementing Brown the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), with branches throughout the state, encouraged blacks to use their tax officials worked to forestall public school integration, blacks across Florida from Delray Beach and Daytona, to Miami and Sarasota, began testing the legality of segregated beaches. 3 In the wake of Brown, black leaders in St. Petersburg d CCC member, Fred ts anticipated rejection, 1 g Facilities in St. Tampa Bay History 4, no. 2 (1982): 8; St. Petersburg Times August 22, September 9, 1955, September 21, 1955, and December 1, 1955. 2 St. Petersburg Times August 22, 1955, October 14, 1916 ; Raymond Arsenault, St. P etersburg and the Florida Dream, 1888 1950 (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1996), 265 3 Richard Kluger, Struggle For Equality, 2nd e New York Times March 13, 1956.
8 4 The unexpected breech in racial etiquette elicited a streak of white hostility. In the of angry whites met at city hall and formed the St. sent letters to restaurants and opposition to integrating Spa came from City Manager Ross Windom, who co ndemned However, the rash assemblage of reactionary forces and the dismay emanating from city Alsup v. St. Pete rsburg, went to trial. 5 Lawyers for the city faced an arduous task. A month before the CCC filed suit, on November 7, the Supreme Court had banned segregation at public facilities in Maryland. The ruling affirmed a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decis ion regarding a case in Baltimore that determined the city had no right to bar any taxpaying citizens from public supported places. The decision augured well for Alsup and the other plaintiffs. Lawyers for the city contended that Spa Beach and Pool operate d on a proprietary basis and allowing blacks to use the facility would damage its ability to turn a profit, thus differentiating the situation in St. Petersburg from the one in Baltimore. The federal y operates its swimming pool and plaintiffs. On appeal, a three judge panel of the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans s no answer that the beach and pool cannot 4 Evening Independent, 1985; Enoch Davis, On the Bethel Trail (St. Petersburg: Valkyrie Press, Inc. 1979), 68 69; St. Petersburg Times April 25, 1947, and A ugust 22, 1955.
9 be operated at a profit on a nonsegregated basis, and that the city will be forced to close the pool. .Unfortunate as closing the pool may be, that furnishes no ground for abridging the rights of the appellees to its use without discrimination on the grounds of race so long The U.S Supreme Court refused to hear the case and in April 1957 the original ruling became official. 6 Despite the legal victory, blacks stayed away from Spa until 1958. Whi le members of the CCC may have been free from white reprisals, the average black citizen structure; even if they had won the right to use Spa in federal court. The CCC, m eanwhile, attempted to desegregate the seating on public buses. Just as Alsup v. St. Petersburg had gone to court in 1955, civil rights leaders in Alabama had begun the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Largely credited with kickstarting the modern American civil ri ghts movement, the boycott and an accompanying lawsuit eventually secured an injunction against segregated bus seating policies in Alabama. Months later, a bus boycott in Florida successfully ended the discriminatory practice in Tallahassee, the state capi tal. In a meeting with Ross Windom, CCC cofounder and long time social activist no lo cal ordinance ordered a separation of the races on public transit, Windom called their bluff and elected to preserve the tradition. Instead of a bus boycott, desegregation efforts returned to the beach and pool. 7 5 St. Petersburg Times 6 St. Petersburg Times 7 Glenda A. Rabby, The Pain and the Promise: The Struggle For Civil Rights in Tallahassee, Flo rida (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1999), 3; St. Petersburg Times April 27, 1956, June 13, 1956.
10 The dormant Spa controversy awakened in June 1958 when eight black teenagers and college students bought tickets to the beach and went for a swim. The incident turned into a spectacle when a half dozen reporters and photographers showed up. After only thirty minutes the swimmers came ashore, gave interviews, used the showers, and left. 8 What appeared not to bother white swimmers at the time eventually caused a local firestorm. When word of the incident reached city leaders, an outraged Windom shut down the facility. For three days police off icers kept people out. Windom reopened Spa on June 7, and the next day a young black man, David Isom, paid his way into the pool area and swam unabated for more than an hour. Again Windom closed it down. Following the incident the city council, adhering to summer 9 Ross Windom and the city council found themselves in a precarious position. Keeping Spa closed was bad for business. But according to their logic, so was an a search for a new segregated beach for blacks returned. To the dismay of Fred Alsup and Enoch Davis, the city council set aside $1 5,000 for the construction of an all black beach in the northernmost part of the city, along the Gandy causeway, an area inaccessible to most of its intended users. The standoff was becoming more contentious. Rather than risk a mingling of the races, city officials were fostering social and economic turmoil. 10 As the summer beach season came to a close and students returned to school, 8 New York Times June 6,1958; Deposition, Papers of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 9 Ibid; St. Petersburg Times 10 Ibid., 13.
11 Windom quietly reopened Spa in early September. A day passed without incident. But on September 4, a black teenage girl w ent for a swim at the beach. This time Windom took a long established custom prov fell upon deaf ears. Da ys later, another swim in led the city council to close Spa indefinitely. In addition, the council took punitive measures and decided to use the money set aside for the proposed Gandy beach (for blacks) to develop an all white beach in the North Shore area of the city. 11 At this point, the protracted controversy had already begun to draw the ire of influential factions throughout the city. Downtown, merchants and hotel proprietors worried about rising racial tensions and a closed beach that threaten ed the tourism industry. The major media outlets stepped up the pressure, but from different sides of the debate. While the St. Petersburg Times endorsed reopening Spa on an integrated basis and chastised city administrators for letting the situation deter iorate, the St. Petersburg Evening Independent stood by the city manager and the mayor, suggesting tourists would rather vacation elsewhere if the city desegregated its swimming facilities. Local clergy groups pleaded with the city manager to soften his st ance. But Windom, who once vowed 12 As the political pressure built and the din of public frustration intensified, 11 St. Petersburg Times September 5, 1958, September 16, 1958. 12 St. Petersburg Times 15.
12 Windom and Burroughs played their last card. Since 1953 the city had flirted with the idea of building a cultural center, and hiring an engineering analysis firm out of New York to survey the best the location for such a project. Twice, once in 1953 and again in 1957, the firm recommended that the city should build the pro posed cultural center at the present location of the Alfred Whitted airpark, on a patch of land along the waterfront. After sitting on the project for more than a year, Burroughs suddenly suggested razing Spa Pool and building the cultural center in its pl ace. Several downtown merchants immediately endorsed the idea, encouraging Burroughs, who a year earlier enthusiastically endorsed the Whitted airpark site, to Meanwhile, Windom flew around the country conferring with engineers involved with similar projects. 13 Of Neighborhood Associations (CONA), the St. Petersburg Planning Board, and the St. Petersburg Times all came out against the project CONA president G. Harris Graham lest the city act impetuously. For much of the opposition the concern was more fiscal than racial or political. When it became cl ear that a cultural center was too big and too costly, $450,000. Incensed, Graham threatened to circulate a petition to block construction, claiming most of the citizen -they want sewers and street 14 13 St. Petersburg Time s September 9, 1958, September 19, 1958. 14 St. Petersburg Times October 11, 1958, September 18, 1958...
13 unravel. First, the engineering firm Rader and Associates offered to build the auditorium for the elev ated figure of $1.2 million. For people like Graham, support now seemed utterly out of the question. Still, city council members decided to move forward with the auditorium. A few days later, Windom unexpectedly announced his resignation. St. longest serving City Manager gave no reason for his abrupt departure. The final nail in the coffin came when CONA issued a petition that bearing signatures from 7,767 registered voters, more than the ten percent needed to send the auditorium controversy be fore the electorate. 15 Before a referendum could be held the city council abandoned the plan. Subsequently the council voted to reopen Spa with the condition that acting City beach and pool remained open from that point on. A 160 Shore became the new site for the proposed auditorium, bringing a quiet end to the long fight over Spa And yet only the beginning of the struggle to desegregate t he public sphere. 16 By 1960 the hope of a rapid dismantling of the Jim Crow system in the South had faded. Desegregation efforts had met with massive white resistance and a rising tide of race baiting political demagoguery. While the American economy boo med, white flight in the North, disfranchisement in the South, and discrimination throughout the country, kept millions of black Americans economically impoverished. Although the dream of full racial equality was deferred, civil rights activists were conso led by the passage of two 15 St. Petersburg Times November 7, 1958, January 28, 1959. 16 Miami News January 6, 1959; St. Petersburg Times January 14, 1959.
14 federal troops in Arkansas during the Central High School desegregation crisis. Such the way for a more massive February 1960, when four black North Carolina A&T students conducted a sit in at a ins had spread to a number of cities, including St. Petersburg. 17 Black civil rights activists in St. Petersburg (hoping to encourage city leaders to form a biracial committee) condu cted two days of sit ins in early March. On the second, C. Bette Wimbish and Gibbs Jr. College student Theodore Floyd sat in at the William Henry lunch counter. J.P. Moses and Rev. Dr. H. McDonald did the same at the Maas Bros. department store. Two uniden tified black males sat in at the S.H. Kress lunch counter. In each case, the black activists were refused service, and the lunch counters immediately closed. operating public accommodations the right to serve anyone they pleased. Unlike the situation in the Deep South, local or state law existed that specifically prevented white establishments from serving blacks. 18 More sit ins occurred the next day. This time, Theodor Floyd and close to 17 Harvard Sitkoff, The Struggle For Black Equality (New York: Hi ll and Wang, 1981), 35 36. 18 St. Petersburg Times March 3, 1960.
15 demonstrators moved on to S.H. Kress. The story there was the same. Kress closed its counters and waited for the stu dents to leave. 19 desegregation barely registered on the social barometer. Everyone from activists to waitresses to white customers and police officers remained calm and civil. written statement that blamed the sit ins on outside agitators. Webb, who employed more than 100 blacks but in the lowliest positions, considered himself once again took a paternalistic posture that refused to acknowledge the necessity of change. 20 Desp ins appeared to work. Mayor need to appoint a committee for the purpose of alleviating a condition that does re from an interracial group of clergymen led acknowledged. The creation of such a committe e in Tampa had already led to a 19 St. Petersburg Times March 4, 1960. 20 St. Petersburg Times March 5, 1960.
16 moratorium on sit in demonstrations, and leaders in St. Petersburg hoped for a similar outcome. 21 As negotiations over lunch counter desegregation began, black leaders shifted their focus to education. Six years aft er the Brown decision students in St. Petersburg and throughout most of Pinellas County still attended racially separate Brown decision, individual school districts were given expansive powers to dicta te the pace of desegregation. Instead of complying the Pinellas County Board of Public Instruction acted as if, suffice. The county built new segregated schools and rejected bl ack applicants to all white institutions. 22 Brown did, however, resuscitate the local NAACP branch, which in its early years had had concentrated on voter registration. When Ralph Wimbish became branch president in 1959, the St. Petersburg NAACP took t he lead in local desegregation efforts. A graduate of Gibbs High School, Wimbish received Medical College. In 1952, Wimbish, along with his wife C. Bette, returned to St. Petersburg and the couple almost immediately dove into social activism. While fraternal society that listed the most prominent and wealthy members of the black community on its roster. After he lping initiate the CCC, Wimbish and a few 21 St. Petersburg Times April 15, 1960. 22 C. Bette Wimbish, int University of South Florida, 2002), 50.
17 fellow members challenged the segregation policies at the Pasadena Golf Course in 1954. Rather than integrate the course, local leaders sold it to private owners. 23 Six years later, though still smarting from the Pasadena episode, the Wimbishes developed an innovative political approach to school desegregation. If they could not force the school board to comply with Brown they would integrate the school board first. On March 5, 1960 C. Bette Wimbish announced her Instruction. Pinellas County. Never before had a black candidate run for a countywide political office. Operating out of the NAACP offices on 22nd St. S., Wimbish was well suited to challenging the white hegemony in county politics. Having earned a degree from Florida A&M University, before doing graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania, and having worked as a n teacher in the Hillsborough County School system, she had strong credentials as an educator. Moreover, she 24 establish a political beachhead and to disrupt traditional arrangements, If only by were not permitted 23 St. Petersburg Times December 18, 19 60, June 2, 1954 In Making Waves, ed. by Jack Davis and Kari Frederickson (Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2003): 298.
18 fight for her children and those 25 Despite receiving nearly 10,000 votes in the primary, Wimbish failed to unseat the incumbent, Dr. William Casler of Clearwater. While she fell far short rogressivism throughout the county. Blacks only composed 3,798 of the registered voters in the county which means more than 6,000 whites cast votes for Wimbish. With more than vi 26 The success sparked a greater concentration on voter registration within the local black community, as Wimbish and her supporters set out to register as many new vote rs as they could before the November elections. The Non partisan Voters League kicked off a house to house canvass to reach those whose jobs to determine any elections, the November return revealed the possibility of increasing the black electorate unprecedented levels. In 1960, a significant number of St. Petersburg blacks switched to the Republican Party to vote for a moderate gubernatorial candidate, George C. Petersen, who was challenging the Democrat Farris Bryant, an arch segregationist. In Pinellas 24 C. Bette Wimbish, interview by Barbara Mott, November 7, 1994; St. Petersburg Ti mes March 6, 1960, 25 Mott November 7, 1994; Since the 1949 school year black and white enrollment increased 106 and 184 percent, respectively, and predictions from University of Florida projected, would cost $27 million dollars. St. Petersburg Times April 12, 1960, April 26, 1960. 26 e Wimbish; St. Petersburg Times May 5. 1960, May 5, 1960.
19 precinct 61, home to 1,247 black voters and only 114 whites, Petersen nearly ection handily and soon set out to separate himself from the outgoing Governor Leroy Collins. reaffirmed his opposition to racial integration at every opportunity. 27 The preside ntial election was a different story. The black voters who backed Petersen at the state level preferred the Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy over Republican Richard M. Nixon. With blacks across the nation throwing their support behind Kenn edy, the Democrat eked out a narrow victory. By the winter of 1960 racial progress seemed at a standstill. The biracial that the committee act only as a mediating body render ed it almost powerless. In integration of their lunch counters in Bradenton, Largo, Sarasota, Tampa, and Fort Myers, which only crystallized ine hospital facilities. 28 Since January 1960, city officials had been exploring ways of improving local hospital facilities. City Manager George K. Armes organized a committee o f black Mercy Hospital and to recommend solutions. The hospital, built in 1926, routinely 27 St. Petersburg Times September 6, 1960, September 6, 1960, September 9, 1960, and November 11, 1960.
20 fell short of covering its monthly operating costs, because of inadequate health insurance i n the black community. On average, those admitted to Mercy carried policies paying anywhere between three and fifteen dollars a day, well below the $30/day the typical patient cost the hospital. Furthermore, Mercy lacked proper instruments, bed space, and adequate staffing. The x ray machines were unreliable, and doctors at Mercy often endured long waits to secure blood from the blood bank at the whites investigative committee recommended building a new, racially segreg ated Mercy hospital adjacent to Mound Park, the city council concurred, voting to spend $1.7 million for the construction of the new unit. 29 What initially seemed like a simple solution, and to city administrators, an admirable gesture towards the black community, soon became a source of contention and foot dragging. For nine months groups with competing interests Mound Park Advisory Board th a more official sounding name for the remodeling of Mercy on its present site. 30 When it looked as though the city was going to bend to the Advisory city council threatening to they will 28 St. Petersburg Times October 20, 1960; 29 St. Petersburg Times March 7, 1960, February 7, 1960.
21 back to the drawing board and eventually agreed to add an integrated wing to Mound Park while continuing to keep Mercy open. In response, the all white Mound Park Civic Association condemned the new plan and circulated a petition to block all hospital integration. Unsure how to proceed, the city council promised to come up with a new plan by the first of the year. Black doctors formulated a was preoccupied with other issues at the time. 31 In November 1960, the NAACP and the CCC planned a selective buying campaign to protest lunch counter segregat ion and the discriminatory policies at department stores. National NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins had variety stores throughout the spring, but the St. Petersburg branch did no t respond to his plea until November. With the Christmas shopping season already in full swing, the air was ripe for such a project. An executive committee composed of NAACP also pl anned to bolster the campaign with direct action demonstrations that would involve the formation of youth council involved. After getting a taste of the sit ins in March, local college and high school students had grown restless. During the summer, Gibbs h igh graduate David Isom, fed up with the 30 St. Petersburg Times March 11, 1960. 31 St. Petersburg Times November 15, 1960, November 15, 1960.
22 sporadic swim ins at Spa Beach and several lunch counter sit ins. Isom left for college in September and the youth council fell apart. In preparation for the Jonathon Rembert, Cox, a professor of political science, recruited volunteers from hi s classes. 32 When rumors leaked of the plans in St. Petersburg, the Congress of Racial meeting between C CC officials and CORE field secretary Richard Haley. Although a significant force in movements in Miami and Tallahassee, CORE struggled to gain traction in St. Petersburg. As much as the white establishment, black leaders resented encroachment from outside organizations. After its formation, CORE joined the selective buying campaign in a limited capacity, and, along with the youth council, supplied the bulk of the demonstrators for the direct action protests. 33 To spread the word and garner support for the upcoming campaign, the NAACP held rallies at churches and in vacant lots throughout the black community. On November 27, the patronage withdrawal from select stores began, followed days later by direct action protests. On the first day of demonstrations 32 St. Petersburg Times April 4, 1960, September 9, 1960, December 1, 1960; Report by Field Secretary Robert Saunders, November 30, 1960, Paper s of the NAACP; Ted Lockhart, interview by Author, November 20, 2009; NAACP state field representative Robert Saunders also took issue with the idea of student protesters, but for different reasons than Rembert. Saunders worried about the potential cost of bailing arrested youths out of jail. Robert Saunders, interview by Canter Brown, January 14 18, 2002. 33 St. Petersburg Times November 10, 1960, November 16, 1960; Report by Field Secretary Robert Saunders, November 30, 1960, Papers of the NAACP.
23 t signs and passed out han sipping coffee, black bus boys collecting dirty dishes from white patrons, Theodor Floyd of CORE and NAACP Youth Counc il president Ted Lockhart were denied service. That evening, picketers targeted white owned liquor stores in the black community, protesting discriminatory hiring policies. 34 For three days the demonstrations continued. Although picketers heard the occasio nal racial epithet, they received little in the way of physical affronts. Waitresses at the lunch counters refused to serve the black customers, but never asked them to leave and did not make a scene. At one point, the police got involved when several sign customers and threatened black employees with bodily harm. One man in the melee, Jack Morrison Jr. went to jail for blo letting customers pass. On another occasion, former Ku Klux Klan Wizard Bill n the side. Chief Purdy caught up with Hendrix before he reached downtown and asked him to turn 34 Ibid ; St. Petersburg Times 1960.
24 35 and his men played a large role in keeping the peace. Since becoming chief in 1958, Purdy had helped repair the historically troubled relationship between the black community and a mostly white police force. To handle the demonstrations, Purdy sent only bl ack officers to the scene, keeping white patrolmen on backup alert. The mild nature of the demonstrations required little police intervention, and the officers wisely refrained from provoking a confrontation. 36 Nevertheless, an enraged Doc Webb single han dily ended the protests. By noon injunction dealt the selective buying campaign a mortal blow. The demonstrations at Maas. Bros. ended the next day. NAACP lawyers Fred Minnis and Ike Williams immediately filed a motion to dissolve the injunction, and Williams wa rned that the picketing would resume if negotiations failed to reach a settlement. 37 Like Doc Webb, city leaders had seen enough. Biracial committee chair Dr. Earl Edington convened a series of negotiations between chain store proprietors and NAACP execu tives that finally led to a settlement. To avoid the perception that outsiders influenced the situation, both sides agreed to wait a few weeks, until January 3, to 35 Legal Briefs, Papers of the NAACP; Florida Sentinel Bulletin December 3, 1960; and Tampa Tribune December 4, 1960. 36 In addition to hiring more black black detective, Hosea Rogers. St. Petersburg Times October 22, 1960. 37 St. Petersburg Times December 8, 1960, December 9, 1960; Telegram from Fred Minnis to Robert L. Carter, Robe rt W. and Helen S. Saunders Papers, University of South Florida Tampa Library Special Collections.
25 announce the desegregation of the lunch counters. The NAACP ended all demonstrations but kep t the selective buying campaign active until the first of the year. Days later NAACP State conference president A. Leon Lowry almost ruined everything. In a press -exactly the ty proved harmless. 38 On January 3, 1961, fifteen stores in greater St. Petersburg, including Kress, y followed suit the same day. Fannye Ayer Ponder, Ruth McClellan, and Enoch received invitations NAACP to, in his denied the for an appeal. Minnis contacted the NAACP Legal Defense Fund for help. Upon s one $2,500 appeal fee and fly to St. Petersburg to assist. 39 As the racial tension seemed to ease, the hotels began to fill in anticipation of spring training baseball, presenting a glaring dilemma for Ralph Wimbish. For years he and other black leaders had helped find lodgings for black professional baseball players in town for spring training. As the most visible leader of the local struggle, Wimbish 38 Correspondence between Ike Williams and A. Leon Lowry, Papers of the NAACP.
26 almost as old as segregation itself, and few city leaders and hotel proprietors felt the need for change. 40 The first Major League Baseball teams arrived in St. Petersburg in 1914. By Tampa Bay area, including the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Petersburg. Long after the desegregation of Major League Baseball in 1947, writes historian Jack uthern social Vinoy Hotel or at the Soreno. Black players, on the other hand, rented rooms from dentist Robert Swain at the James Motel; others, including all star c atcher Elston Howard, stayed with the Wimbishes. And the segregated atmosphere did not stop there: the stadiums had segregated seating sections, restaurants and night clubs, social gatherings and recreational facilities banned black players, even those who were household names across the country. For white teammates, the several weeks in Florida were vacation time, but for black players, it was often a sort of penance. 41 State NAACP officials gave Wimbish full support and sent letters to teams training in all across the southern part of the state, everyone waited to see what the Yankees would 39 St. Petersburg Times January 4, 1961; Correspondence between Fred Minnis an d Robert L. Carter, Saunders Papers. 40 Challenge: Desegregating Major League Baseball Spring Training Sites, 1961 The Civil Rights Movement, edi ted by Jack E. Davis (Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing): 178 192; St. Petersburg Times February 1, 1961.
27 hospi Topping met with the St. Petersburg chamber of commerce and hotel management to refused to get inv olved, putting little pressure on the state to intervene, essentially leaving the policies intact White players stayed at the Vinoy and Soreno hotels anyway. 42 While most teams waited till the following season to address the problem, several bucked the t rend. When the White Sox, who trained in Sarasota, traveled to Miami to McAllister Hotel when it would not allow his black players. Soon after, the Braves integrated the seating at their stadium in Bradenton and removed racially discriminatory signs from the facility. The following year many teams, including the Cardinals and the integrat continued to ban black guests. 43 After the dissolution of the selective buying campaign movement leaders put the brakes on desegregation efforts to focus on securing more job opp ortunities for the black community. The election of Mayor Herman Goldner in 1961 represented a step in that direction. During his campaign, Goldner had promised to hire more blacks in civil jobs like meter biracial committee, which had atmosphere of St. Petersburg is one of positive action 41 New York Times St. Petersburg Times February 1, 1961; 42 New York Times February 19, 1961.
28 tends to try to negotiate civil rights movement heated up. Sit ins and other forms of direct action protests had revived massive resistance throughout the South, and t he racial tensions would only intensify over the next two years -even in cities like St. Petersburg where movement leader seemed to favor diplomatic solutions to their social qualms. Indeed, as the baseball players and snowbirds headed north, a new form of peaceful interregnum. 44 In May 1961, direct action forms of civil disobedience went on the road. After the Supreme Court extended a 1946 decision ( Morgan v. Virginia) banning segregation on interstate traveling buses to cover terminals ( Boynton v. Virginia ), CORE organized the Freedom Rides. Aboard Greyhound and Trailways buses, black and white civil rights activists trained in Gandhian nonviolence rode through the Deep South, testing the new ruling. After the first wave of rides ended were disrupted by Klansman and other white supremacist hoodlums in Anniston and Birmingham Alabama, student activists in Nashville, Tennessee, picked up where the CORE riders left off. The Nashville Riders, consisting mainly of students from Fisk and Tennessee State Universities, rode into the heart of darkness as far as Mississippi. Forced to respond to the violent beatings of defenseless Freedom Riders in Montgomery and Birmingham, the Kennedy administrati on made a deal with Mississippi Senator James Eastland that the Defense Department would allow law enforcement officials to arrest the riders as long as they were protected from mob violence. Kennedy had ridden into office 43 stayed at the Outrigger Inn and the Colonial Inn. St. Petersburg Times February 2, 1 962.
29 on a wave of black support, but h is preoccupation with Cold War foreign policy led him to neglect the black freedom struggle and to view the Freedom Rides as a diversion from Cold War imperatives. 45 Historians credit the Freedom Rides with reinvigorating the black civil rights movement and exposing the depth of racism in the Deep South, but at a cost. The emboldened white extremists and alienated black leaders. Moreover, the Freedom Riders, as his Brown era 46 By the time word of impending Freedom Rides to Florida reached Governor Bryant in June, the movement had peaked. Nevertheless, Bryant sent an aid to warn targeted cities, suggesting the Riders should be left alone. As in the past, the fear of ou tside agitators extended to black leaders, too. In St. Petersburg the bus terminals revealed no problems The Freedom Riders came anyway. Two buses r oad into St. Petersburg on June 15, the first about 1 p.m., carrying seven Freedom Riders, three whites and four blacks. More than two hundred spectators showed up at the .does not in itself 44 St. Petersburg Times June 4, 1961. 45 Sitkoff, The Struggle For Black Equality 88 89, 99. 46 Ibid., 101; Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 6.
30 terminal. As the Riders disembarked from the bus, local resident Robert Bierl unleashed a string of verbal taunts. After repeated warnings, officers eventua lly arrested him. The commented Francis Randall, a white Rider and history professor from Columbia I 47 Freedom Riders in Tallahassee and Ocala were not so lucky. Law enforcement officials in the state capital defied the governor, accusing the Riders an interracial group of Protestant ministers and two Jewish Rabbis of inciting a mob, and took them to jail. In Ocala, a fight led to several arrests. Stops in Gainesville and Tampa on the other hand, gained a greater respect and greater understanding for the South and recognize that what Second Bethel Baptist Church, where the Freedom Riders reactivated the local CORE chapter, the outside agitators hopped a flight home to New York. 48 Hoping to calm the storm wrought by the Freedom Riders, the Justice Department urged national civil rights leaders to focus their efforts on the franchise. The NAACP, CORE, SNCC, and SCLC all began voter registration p rojects throughout the South, including St. Petersburg, where leaders had already proclaimed a halt to direct action demonstrations. For the rest of the summer the revived CORE chapter and NAACP youth 47 Rabby, The Pain an d the Promise, 135; St. Petersburg Times June 4, 1961, June 13, 1961, June 16, 1961, June 13, 1961, June 18, 1961, and June 16, 1961. 48 St. Petersburg Times June 1961; Walter Barnes, interview by author, November 30, 2009; St. Petersburg Times, June 18 1961.
31 council concentrated on voter registration. 49 *** Not direct action protests. Since the end of the selective buying campaign, Leon Cox had envisioned the Youth Council picketing the segregated movie theaters downtown. When Cox replaced Wimbish as branch president, he got his opportunity. 50 one of the nicest theaters in town, Park Theater, with air conditioning and central heat, cushioned leather chairs, carpeted aisles, had integrated a year earlier. But three downtown theaters the Center, State, and Florida only allowed whites. 51 To prepare for the demonstrations, the youth council received training in nonviolent direct action. Cox appointed Gibbs Junio r College student Arnette Doctor Youth Council president, replacing Ted Lockhart, who had clashed with Cox over the direction the group would take in the aftermath of the selective buying campaign. Doctor housing community, Doctor developed a deep distrust for whites -one instilled in him by his mother. Philomena Doctor had fled from Ros ewood, Florida, in 1923 during one of indignities suffered at the hands of white people. Nevertheless, Doctor believed the 49 Sitkoff, The Struggle For Black Equality 106; St. Petersburg Times June 4, 1961. 50 51 St. Petersburg Times November, 1960.
32 52 On January 11, 1962 more than twenty youths, boys dressed in slacks and sport coats, girls in skirts and blouses, stood in line at the segregated theaters downtown, holding signs and attempting to purchase tickets. The harmless demonstrations did little more than irritate theater managers, though some Youth Council members reported verbal abuse and a few claimed to have been spit u pon. But most whites simply ignored them. On one occasion at the Florida Theater a few whites bought tickets for the demonstrators, but the theater would not honor them, offering a refund not admission. For nearly ten days Doctor and his band shook off the humiliation and resisted temptations to retaliate. But on January 19, the center would not hold. 53 of Christ, theater staff had erected an eight foot barrier to block the ent rance. Around 7:30 p.m., usher Cecil Fernandez Jr. removed a chain to allow a line of whites into the theatre. Seizing the opportunity, demonstrators barreled through the aperture and scaled the wrought iron barrier, knocking Fernandez into a fence and cut ting his hand. Another usher, William Fuerst, did his best to hold back the surging crowd, but several slipped by, plowing through the ticket line. 54 In the melee a white man in his sixties approached Doctor wielding a .45 caliber revolver and placed the 52 with Ted Lockhart, November 20, 2009; Arnette Doctor, interview by Melissa Cusack, June 2, 2004; Like Judgement Day: The Ruin and Redemption of a Town Called Rosewood (New York: Boulevard Books, 1996), 22 23. 53 St. Petersburg Times January 12, 1962; Cusack interview with Arnette Doctor, June 2, 2004; and Alvelita Donaldson, interview by Luis Regaldo, June 28, 2004.
33 From the corner of his eye Doctor saw police officers, but they just looked on. As he stared the m an, images of Rosewood running through his head, Doctor reached for a pistol tucked in his back pocket. But Doctor thought better of the potential deadly move assailan t disappeared into the night. Within a few minutes law enforcement had the situation under control. But before officers loaded him into a paddy wagon along with the rest of the male demonstrators, Doctor passed his weapon off to one of the female demonstra tors that the police had allowed to go home. Ten Youth Council members Arnette Doctor, Artis Livingston, Jimmy L. Swain, Harvey L. Hammonds, Earl Williams, Ruby L. Hollins, Vernon Kearns, Joseph W. Lampkins, Eli C. Williams, and Titus A. Robinson were rele ased on $500 bond with trials set for later that month. 55 Second Bethel Baptis t Church Saunders vowed to keep the demonstrations alive, urging others to j 56 At the trials, city prosecutor Allan Wei ss argued that the behavior attorneys Fred Minnis and Ike Williams, denied the charges. In his closing statement, 54 St. Petersburg Times, January 20, 1962; Letter from Robert Saunders to Gloster B. Cu rrent January 22, 1962, Papers of the NAACP. 55 Cusack interview with Arnette Doctor, June 2, 2004; Letter from Robert Saunders to Gloster B. Current, January 22, 1962, Papers of the NAACP.
34 not it is. . disorderly act for a Negro to seek to see King of Kings. . the only place it is 57 I nitially, Municipal Judge Henry Esteva fined the defendants $50 each, but he by the le gal fees, could not afford to continue the demonstrations. 58 The disastrous end to the picketing fractured the local movement. Pressured by school board Superintendent Floyd T. Christian, Gibbs Junior College President Jonathan Rembert fired Cox and strip ped Doctor of his scholarship. By September, Cox had left for a job at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. In his final months as NAACP president, Cox led a countywide voter registration drive and officially requested the city of St. Petersburg to ena One might ask, as Stokley Carmichael did, Unfortunately, Mayor is proper for the city to interfere with the operations of private business in this area. It is suggested this is a matter of community conscience and the problem can best be handled on a non 59 *** More than a year passed before the NAACP returned to the movie theaters. By 56 Ibid., January 22, 1962. 57 St. Petersburg Times February 9, 1 962. 58 Ibid. 59 Brown interview with Robert Saunders, January 14 18, 2002; Letter from Robert Saunders to A. Leon Lowry Saunders Papers; Arsenault, Freedom Riders 1; Cusack interview with Arnette Doctor, June 2, 2004.
35 materialized. And not only the movie theaters retained segregation. Restaurants throughout the city, including the 60 In the summer of 1963 the NAACP was still financially in the red, but the Youth Council was riding high. rs registered 1,041 new voters, the most conference in Chicago. The success also encouraged council members to take on larger projects. When NAACP field secretary Robert S aunders shifted his focus to desegregating the movie theaters in Tampa, the St. Petersburg youth council revived such efforts at home. However, since the departure of Cox, the insolvent NAACP had fallen under the control of the CCC. Rev. J.L. Fennell, form er branch president and then vice president of the CCC, had taken it upon himself to resuscitate the NAACP, and the organization was just getting back on its feet when the issue of picketing movie theaters nell preoccupied with his pastoral and CCC, the Youth Council received little support from the adults. 61 Fortunately, Elenora Adams stepped in to fill the leadership void. A member of the NAACP branch since 1962 and a volunteer participant during the 1961 efforts to 60 Letter From Robert Saunders to A Leon Lowrey, Saunders Papers; When Farris Bryant refused to reappoint the state biracial commission created under Leroy Collins, many local municipalities saw no reason to continue such a committee at the local level. St. Petersburg Times June 4, 1963, July 23, 1963.
36 integrate the lunch counters, Adams took unofficial control of the Youth Council when Leon Cox became branch president. After Cox left for Nashville and the NAACP essentially fell apart, Adams kept the council alive and ran it independently of t he CCC. registration campaign but it also soured her relationship with men like Fenn ell. When NAACP and CCC executives showed tepid support for the theater idea, Adams again took matters into her own hands. 62 Meanwhile, events in Tampa suggested a renewed theater picketing campaign was imminent. On June 20, after a meeting between Robert Saunders and representatives launched protest demonstrations. Hoping to avoid a similar situation, St. Petersburg business and political leaders took action. First, the board of governors of the St. members of the Ministerial Association and the Council of Human Relations met with Vice Mayor Nortney Cox to discuss the hiring of more blacks in city jobs and the warned a minister from the Council of Human Relations in a me eting with local theater proprietors. But the owners would not budge. 63 As the demonstrations began in Tampa, the St. Petersburg NAACP branch held a 61 St. Petersburg Times June 7, 1963; Evening Independent November 27, 1962; Robert Saunders letter to Gloster B. Current, August 20, 1963, Saunders Papers. 62 2004; Robert Saunders Letter to Gloster B. Current, August 20, 1963.
37 follow suit. While t he executive board debated the issue downstairs, steering committee chairpersons Elenora Adams and Howard Harris rehearsed nonviolent protest strategies with Youth Council members upstairs. The executives voted to authorize the demonstrations, and on June 21, 1968, a year and half after the last go around, picketers returned to the Center, Florida, and State theaters. 64 tone than those in 1962. She required all participants to s ign in each night before they could demonstrate, and all newcomers had to know someone else involved or they would not be permitted to join. Every night before picketing resumed, the Youth Council met at aged white men and women the demonstrations and diversity of part icipants, not to mention the earlier efforts of the 65 Behind the scenes, groups worked tirelessly to desegregate the theaters and end the need for protests. Consistently rebuf fed by theater owners, the Council of Human Relations formed its own interracial negotiating body. Not to be out done, Mayor Goldner organized his own biracial committee. But in the end, neither group proved capable of bringing the issue to a close. Quietl y, and under the radar, without the knowledge of NAACP executives, Adams and the Youth Council members met with the Chamber of Commerce and theater owners and ultimately reached a settlement. With 63 St. Petersburg Times June 1 9, 1963, June 7, 1963, June 21 1963. 64 Evening Independent June 18, 1968.
38 desegregation accomplished, Adams halted the demonstrations for good on July 26. 66 65 St. Pet ersburg Times June 22, 1963, June 23, 1963. 66 St. Petersburg Times June 19, 1963.
39 Chapter Three : The Lawyer and the Loose Cannon movement returned to the courtroom. In 1964, Jim Sanderlin, a young black attorney two years out of law school, sued the Pinellas County Board of Public Instruction for failing to comply with Brown v. Board of Education the 1954 Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregation. At the time, only two percent of the county with whites. For ten years the school board had managed to avoid such a lawsuit while thwarting all but the most token desegregation. In 1966, two years after Sanderlin filed suit, a young black activist in St. Petersburg, Joseph A. Waller, sat in court facing the possibility of five years in prison for an impetuous act of lawlessness. Penalized for his militancy, Waller had been subjected to a protracted legal battle symbolized the onset of white backlash in the late 1960s A study in contrast, Sanderlin and Waller were the black leadership. Waller, on the other hand, led a militant counter movement that reflected growing dissatisfaction and frustration within the black community. 1 The rise of both men to local prominence mirrored a larger cleave in the national civil rights narrative. Years of fed eral inaction and modest advances bread disillusionment and infighting amongst movement leaders. The nonviolent struggle peaked in 1963, when more than 200,000 people gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Three months after
40 the nation, President Kennedy died at the hands of an assassin. Over the next two years, President Lyndon B. Johnson completed the work his slain predecessor had begun, signing into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. More than one hundred years after emancipation, black Americans had finally achieved civic equality with whites, if only in the eyes of the la w. 2 For many disillusioned blacks, however, it was too late. Over the next five years a rising tide of black militancy converged with a flood of antiwar sentiment and social unrest. Riots erupted across the country, threatening the fabric of American ci vilization and endangering the myths that had for so long defined national identity. In St. Petersburg, Sanderlin and Waller represented the diverging expressions of the black struggle. Their parallel and oft intertwined sagas reveal not only their triumph s and failures as individuals, but also the shifting social and political...that framed the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. 3 *** he U.S. Supreme Court validated this provision in Plessy v. Ferguson, ruling separate facilities for blacks and whites did not f Southern legislators, who between 1880 and 1900 devised new state constitutions that effectively disfranchised blacks and poor 1 2002), 76 77; Omali Yeshitela, interview by author, June 23 2009. 2 Sitkoff, The Struggle For Black Equality ; 155. 3 Mark Kurlansky, 1968: The Year That Rocked the World (New York: Random House, 2005), 6.
41 whites, Plessy formed the legal foundation of Southern Jim Crowism for the next fifty eight years. 4 lack family, the Donaldsons, sent their children to school with whites in the mid 1880s, when the community was still a frontier settlement. But as all black school. In 1914, Davis Academy opened followed in 1925 by Jordan Elementary. Separate, however, was never equal. In her study of Tallahassee, Glenda disproportionately. Before the turn of the century the state spent $13.12 per black student as compared with $26.66 for whites. By 1910, the spending gap had increased. For every $9.95 spent on a black student, t he state allocated $36.05 for white pupils. St. funded black schools offered no more than a sixth grade education. Students as well as instructors felt the heavy financial burdens. Teachers often canvassed neighborhoods on foot for dona tions and sometimes went without paychecks in the final months of the school year. The institutional infrastructure of black education in Florida reached a nadir during the Great Depression. In 1932, according to a report released by the state superintende school diploma, and only two percent earned more than $1,000 a year. 5 The depression had a paradoxical affect on black education in St. Petersburg. As funding dried up, doors opened all white elementary school sat empty. Local blacks successfully lobbied for use of the 4 Florida Constitution (1885), Article XII, Sectio n 12.
42 facility, and in 1928, the first black high school, 34th St. School for Colored (renamed two years later to Jonat prominent black politician), began holding classes for grades 5 12. When it opened, the school had no electrical lighting and the restrooms were designed for younger people. The office of the sc old sewing machines a walk miles to Gibbs, passing white schools along the way. When the school board turned down a request to supply Gibbs with a bus in 1939, principle George W. Perkins somehow raised the money to purchase one. Despite chronic underfunding and neglect by the county school board, Gibbs became the pride of the black community. Students destined to become community like Olive B. McLin, Fannye Ayer Ponder, her adopted son Ernest A. Ponder, Ruby Wysinger, among others. By the beginning of World War II, a half dozen segregated black schools dotted the neighborhoo ds of South St. Petersburg, creating an expanding foundation for educational uplift. 6 Despite the parlous economic conditions, the New Deal provided blacks with a 5 Scott Taylor Hartzell, Remembering St. Petersburg, Florida vol. 2 (Charleston: History Press, 2006), 19, 21; Rabby, The Pain and the Promise 198. 6 Emmanuel Stewart, interview by Betty Jean Miller, September 6, 1993; Barbara C. Shorter, interview by Joan Sch w eickert, November 3, 1993; Paul J. Barco Sr., interview by Scott Morse, November 17, 1994.
43 7 One of the first blacks in St. Petersburg to take on the establishment was Noah principal of Gibbs high school, tried his hand at ending the salary disparities between white and black teachers. At the time, black teachers in Pinellas County earned half to one third the amount their white counterparts made. Prompted by NAACP attorney Griffin pressed the school board to change its policies. When the board ignored him, s decision, ruling that there was no legal basis with which to enforce pay scales upon school districts. Griffin and five others involved with the suit. The dismissal e educator in Florida, but this did not deter others from picking up the fight. 8 Over the next decade black educators, many affiliated with the Florida State Teachers Association, in a wide range of Florida cities, from Penseco la to Ocala, to West Palm Beach, successfully forced their respective school boards to increase the salaries of the Pinellas County school board in 1942. Finally, in 1 945, the board aquiesced. By 7 Patricia The Civil Rights Movement ed. by Jack E. Davis (Massachuset ts: Blackwell Publishers, 2001), 12, 15. 8 Griffin was one of the most educated black teachers in the state, and the first to get a graduate degree. After his firing, he could not obtain work anywhere else in Florida and eventually relocated to San Franc isco where he started the first NAACP branch in California. Gilbert L. Porter and Leedell W. Neyland, History of the Florida State Teachers Association ( Washington D.C.:National Education Association, 1977), 65; and Noah Griffin Jr., interview by author, S eptember 2009.
44 1952, the income for black teachers had risen to $2,922, just below the $3,195 figure for whites. 9 As Florida emerged from depression and war into postwar prosperity, the state launched a program to improve its lagging scho ol system. Under governor Millard Caldwell, Florida passed the Minimum Foundations Act in 1947. Millions of dollars went 1947, the capital outlay per student in Florida was $2.35 for blacks and $7.24 for whites. By 1952 those expenditures had become $68.78 and 59.84, respectively. Moreover, in 1945 the Florida board of control instituted a plan that funded thirty to forty s cholarships for black students to attend college out of state. 10 However benevolent such equalization efforts appeared to be, they mainly served to reinforce racial segregation, in the face of impending change. In 1954, after wiping out segregation at t he graduate level four years earlier ( Sweatt v. Painter/ Mclaurin v. Oklahoma, 1950 ), the U.S. Supreme Court public school system in Brown v. Board of Education The decision came at an unusual time in Florida po litics. Governor Dan McCarty had died two years earlier and the state was awaiting a special run off election to replace the acting Governor Charley Johns, a staunch segregationist from the north Florida town of Starke, considered calling a special 9 Porter and Neyland, Florida State Teachers Association 66 24. 10 -Journal of Negro Education Journal of Negro Education vol. 43, no. 4 (1974): 457 458; Rabby, The Pain and the Promise 199.
45 session of the legislature to address the ruling, but decided against it, deferring to Senator 11 six months after Brown An avowed segregationist, Collins promised to do everything in his power to legally avoid complying with Brown But Collins understood what many of tourism, was to keep e xtremists on all sides at bay. Because the Supreme Court withheld a ruling regarding implementation of Brown until May 1965, Collins had plenty of time plan for noncompl 12 Following its monumental ruling, the Supreme Court asked several state to submit briefs with suggestions on the best ways to implement school desegregation. Ervin, in his amicus curiae submi to restrain the use of coercive measures where necessary until the hard core of public by Florida survey found, of those who responded, that 75 percent of blacks in Florida felt whites agreed with desegregation and, to the contrary, 75 percent of whites believed blacks supported segregation. In addition, Killian surveyed white policemen, and found that a large majority worried that desegregation would lead to violence. Ervin bolstered illiter 11 The Pain and the Promise 201. 12 Anders Wallker, The Ghost of Jim Crow (New York: O xford University Press, 2009), 89
46 approach. Ervin essentially concluded that the socioeconomic status of blacks rendered described by Brown state briefs submitted to the Supreme Court, became the foundation for thwarting desegregation in Florida. 13 On May 31, the Court announced its implementation plan for s chool desegregation, known as Brown II At the urging of the Justice Department and Southern state officials, the Court set no immediate timetable and simply proposed that deli already on its way to formulating its own policy of handling desegregation. Several days before the Supreme Court announced Brown II, the state instituted a pupil placemen t law, school desegregation in the hands of local authorities and expanded the means by which school boards could avoid compliance. 14 Brown II not only killed hopes fo r immediate desegregation, it also paved the way for massive white resistance in the South. In 1956, the separation of the races took center stage. With President Eisenhower refusing to push for more than token desegregation, opportunistic Southern politic ians seized the moment by demagogically defending segregation. More than a hundred Southern congressmen including Florida senators George Smathers and Spessard Holland a document 13 system of legal repression to a The Ghost of Jim Crow 93, 94; Kluger, Simple Justice 727.
47 pledging to resist all attempts to implemen t Brown. Pressure came from the bottom up as well. Southern public opinion polls taken at the time revealed that 80% of white Southerners opposed school desegregation. 15 dial on his commitment to segregation, but he never quite matched opponent Sumter mo civil noncompliance effectively prevented meaningful school desegregation. By the tim e Collins left office in 1961, only one school, Orchid Villa elementary in Miami, had integrated its classrooms. 16 he had at least one thing in common with his rival and former governor, Charley Johns. Both men, for their own reasons, detested the NAACP. And in 1956, Collins gave later dubbed the Johns committee, performed the functions of a loc alized House Un American Activities Committee, tormenting any organization, person, or group, considered subversive. In its early years, the FLIC directed much of its harassment at the state NAACP and its branches, weakening their ability to fight for dese gregation. 17 14 227; Kluger, Simp le Justice 727 728. 15 Struggle For Black Equality 29. 16 Soon after black students began attending Orchid Villa, the school became predominantly black as white families moved out of the area. 17 Ibid., 60.
48 In Pinellas County, where Collins received 69% of the vote in 1956, one can see admonished school board Superintendent Floyd T. Christian in response to the Bro wn school board officials simply avoided discussing the issue. 18 greeted the decisio Brown injected life into the struggling St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, and with the help of state and national officials the branch began to formulate ways of enforcing desegregation. Anoth er voice in the community, the St. Petersburg Times which had long championed school desegregation, suggested in an editorial that the city take the lead in complying with Brown because its people had a higher degree of social conscience. Even after the announcement of Brown II the Times called for the adoption 19 Despite such sentiment, however, desegregation initially made no progress in Pinellas County. In 1954 and 1955, the county school board rejected applications submitted by Gibbs high graduates to St. Petersburg Jr. College. State NAACP officials group of wealthy white residents got together and paid for the students to attend college out of state. 20 In 1955, the school board created the Committee on the Desegregat ion of Schools, 18 Ibid., 41. 19 Ibid., 43.
49 composed of 14 whites and 7 blacks. Contrary to its name, the committee merely devised ways of instituting the pupil placement law, and as a result, every black application to a white school between 1954 and 1959 was rejected. 21 With contro l of school desegregation in the hands of individual school districts, and with institutions like the NAACP under fire from the Johns Committee, the Pinellas hearted effort to equalize educational oppor tunities for black students. Between 1954 and 1962 nine new black schools opened, while black applicants to St. Petersburg Junior College prompted the creation of all black Gibbs Junior College. The state built eleven such colleges, locating them near whit e counterparts in areas where projected black enrollment exceeded 100 students. Such developments left many black leaders conflicted. Although they grimaced every time a new black school opened, the reality of better supplies and facilties for black studen ts was a welcome development. The push for integration, however, continued. When a new all white high school, Dixie Hollins, opened in 1959, eleven black students applied. NAACP attorney Francisco Rodriguez sent a series of petitions to Superintendent Chri stian to admit the students. Christian, while appearing to give the petitions serious consideration, ultimately rejected the applications. Instead, in an effort school bo ard inititiated token integration in 1961. That summer St. Petersburg Junior College admitted two black students and in 1962, St. Petersburg High School, and Tomlinson Vocational School admitted several black students. By the1963 100 blacks had transferre d to previously all white schools, and black leaders expected additional 20 21 Ibid., 50.
50 desegregation the following year. But by the start of the 1964 school year, only two still the order of the day. 22 *** Sitting in his Boston apartment one day, Jim Sanderlin, thirty three years old and fresh out of law school, had a decision to make. He had job offers from firms in Boston and his family was urging him to return to Washington, D.C., where he had earned his ing young black law in 1962. 23 In St. Petersburg he joined a small cadre of l ocal of black attorneys. Sanderlin joined the firm of Minnis and Williams where he clerked alongside recent Howard Law injunction and the case of the arrested theater demons trators, and after passing the bar in 1963, formed their own firm with Frank White, a native of St. Petersburg and the top student in his graduating class at FAMU law school. With the clear expectation of 22 St. Petersburg Times November 11, 1968. 23 Sanderlin: The Gentle Giant of Civil Rights In Pinellas County,1962 interview by author, 2009.
51 handling civil rights cases, the law firm of White, Peterman, and Sanderlin represented a changing of the guard in local legal circles. 24 From the outset, Sanderlin wanted to foster the integration of Pinellas County. Along with White, he attended NAACP Legal Defense Fund seminars in New Orleans that stre resistance on all fronts. Conservative black leaders, initially opposed to the construction of new schools, had come to appreciate the increased funding and expanded opportunities; and from years of dealing with the school board, they feared retribution. Moreover, Sanderlin, eventually beloved by the black community, was still a bit of a newcomer, a nd like many of the northern whites who moved to the area in the postwar decades, lacked a broader understanding of local conditions. Nonetheless, by 1964 most for Pin ellas County toface the inevitable. After a family in St. Petersburg dropped a pending case in early 1964, Leon Bradley Sr., a police officer in Clearwater, contacted Frank White about suing the county school board. 25 The previous year, Bradley, vice presi dent of the Clearwater NAACP, had asked the board to transfer his son from the all black Pinellas High School to John F. Kennedy Jr. Middle school. Bradley merely wanted to give his son an opportunity, something missing at the overcrowded, ill equipped Pin ellas High. Francisco Rodriguez sent numerous petitions to the School board on his behalf, to no avail. But Bradley refused to give up. After a two hour meeting with Bradley, White concluded that the proposed 24 rview with Ray Sanderlin, 2009.
52 lawsuit would cost around $15,000, more than Br adley could afford. But it did not matter. This was the case White and Sanderlin had been looking for. 26 In May 1964, under the auspices of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Jim Sanderlin filed suit against the Pinellas County school board. After Superintende nt Floyd T. Christian downplayed the developments, confident in the knowledge that the school schools. Christian promised Bradley v. Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas C ounty would meet a similar fate. 27 He was wrong. Ruling on January 15, 1965, Federal District Judge Joseph Lieb and reassigned pupils, faculty, and other personnel on a non later school board attorney Edward Turville and Sanderlin presented Leib with a plan to desegregate the entire Pinellas County school system by the 1968 1969 school year. g the circumstances and conditions in 28 The plan may have been the best available, but according to historian Gordon guidelines of the plan as long as it had at least one black student. Second, the plan called 25 21, 24; St. Petersburg Times 26 Ibid., 24 28. 27 The earlier case was Williams v. Board of Public Instruction of Pinellas County 28 Ibid., 84; St. Petersburg March 16, 1965.
53 for the closing of black schools, setting the stage for the elimination of the institutional 29 The problems with the Lieb plan were evident almost immediately. In its 1967 annual report, the school board claimed all desegregated. But these figures were misleading. At the time, Boca Ciega high school had only one black student and Gibbs had just one white one. Northeast High School had one black teacher, but no black studen black institution. School board officials, nevertheless, claimed that the desegregation effort was ahead of schedule. 30 The closing of Gibbs Junior College (GJC) presented another dilemma. Although its opening in 1957 infuriated many in the black community, the school had by 1964 become an invaluable source of upward mobility for blacks and an acceptable alternative to the largely white St. Petersburg Junior College. In the summer of 1965, GJC became part of SP JC and was renamed Skyway campus. Two years later a new SPJC campus opened in Clearwater and Skyway campus shut its doors for good. Blacks had continued to enroll at Gibbs after it became Skyway, but after it closed the number of black applicants to SPJC d ropped off dramatically. Many black students just did not feel welcome in the predominantly white halls and classrooms of SPJC. 31 desegregation, another group in St. Petersburg f ound its voice. Twelve black officers in the St. Petersburg Police Department came to Sanderlin with a list of complaints, the 29 85. 30 Ibid., 87.
54 black officers to a single patrol area known as Zone 13, which was almost exclusively black. Sanderlin felt they had case, but questioned whether the officers knew what they the case anyway. In May 1965 Sanderlin filed suit against the city of St. Petersburg, City Manager Lynn Andrews, and Police Cheif Harold C. Smith, calling for a permanent injunction enjoining the d epartment from continuing its discriminitory practices. involved, Sanderlin filed the case, Baker v. City of St. Petersburg as a class action suit, incorporating the tw o men. 32 next two years, Judge Joseph Lieb found the arguments on behalf of the plaintiff operat ing the Police Department. .are vested with wide discretion in matters affecting addition to covering the costs, sent lawyers Jack Greenberg and Leroy D. Clark to help Sanderlin with an appeal. More than a year after filing an appeal with the Fifth Circuit Sanderlin discovered the Court had misplaced the brief, an error that caused a fifteen month delay in the appeal proceedings. Insisting his office had sent the court the proper documents, Sanderlin was perplexed. But the black leadership in St. Petersburg had a 31 St. Petersburg Times May 6, 1964 32 Baker et. al. v. City of St. Petersburg, et. al. Discrimination on the St. interview with Raymond Sanderlin, 2009.
55 day in court, and win, a new tobstacle had emerged, establishing a new tone in the loc al struggle for black equality. 33 *** Five days after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the Watts section of Los Angeles, California, exploded into race riots. For six days the Watts ghetto home to nearly a quarter of a million blacks became a war zone. Thousands of National Guardsmen and Las Angeles Police Department officers moved in to quell the violent uprising of more than 50,000 disenchanted black Americans. Thirty four dead and $30 million dollars in property damage later, Watts typified the growing disillusionment with race riots erupted across the country. The plight of black America once pegged as a distinctly Southern phenomenon now appeared a syste mic, nationwide affliction. 34 In Watts to witness the chaos was twenty five year old Joseph A. Waller. On a leave of absence from his job at the St. Petersburg Times Waller traveled to Los Angeles in early 1965. During and after the riot, he wrote corre spondence pieces for the Times. With access to places and information inaccessible to white journalists, he kept the burg as an inspired black militant. 35 Growing up in tight knit black neighborhood in segregated St. Petersburg, Waller developed an acute racial consciousness at an early age. As a kid shining shoes on 33 CA 65 14 8 St. Petersburg Times August 1968. 34 Harvard Sitkoff, The Struggle for Black Equality, 185, 192. 35 Omali Yeshitela, interview by author, June 23, 2009; University of South Florida, 2000), 17.
56 Central Ave, he asked his boss why the shoes of black folks were off limits. Later, after a series of run ins with police officers and white authority figures, he became increasingly While stationed in Germany, Waller exper ienced a sense of freedom alien to black southerners. Friendships formed with blacks from other parts of the world illuminated a transnational struggle that transcended the informed the civil rights movement at home. Upon returning to the states, Waller wa s stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, where his confident and confrontational attitude did nothing but get him into trouble. Honorably discharged in 1962, he made his way home to St. Petersburg, determined to get involved in the local struggle. 36 His ac tual involvement came when St. Petersburg Times journalist Peggy Peterman introduced him to the NAACP. For a time he attended NAACP meetings and participated in demonstrations to desegregate the movie theaters. But it was not long before he concluded that but unsuccessful campaign for a seat in the state legislature. Despite his close friendship with the Petermans, h e never felt comfortable in their circle of middle class activists. The Waller hanging around their law office. After the campaign Peterman sent Waller to South Carolina to wo John Due put Waller in charge of voter registration and antipoverty projects in North 36 Regaldo June 28, 2004; Cutting,
57 rally in Gainesville to the chagrin of VEP director Vernon Jordan, Waller advocated formed the Florida chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). 37 Proponents of nonviolence at its inception in 1960, SNCC operatives had become unwillingness to protect civil rights activists. Failed voter registration projects in places like Albany, Georgia, and the crushing denouement of the 1964 Freedom Summer became SNCC Chairman in 1966, the organization had already lost faith in nonviolence forms of protest. 38 workers, all b ut one of whom were black, went on a week long strike in November for better pay. Jim Sanderlin and Frank Peterman, though busy with the Baker appeal, represented an eight man committee of refuse employees in labor negotiations with city administrators. Ci ty Manager Lynn Andrews publicly ridiculed the strikers and initially workforce, recruited scabs to fill the vacant positions, and ordered riot gear for police 37 17; While Peterman ran for a house seat in Group 9, Ike Williams sought a seat in Group 7, but eventually dropped out. St. Petersburg Times March 19, 1966; interview with Omali Yeshitela, June, 2009. 34 Ibid., June 23, 2009; Sitkoff, Struggle For Black Equality 171; and Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981), 1 3.
58 officers. After several days of mounting pressure, however, Andrews capitulated and negotiated a settlement. 39 however, had trouble translating its frustrations into actions. Despite his cri ticisms of the NAACP, Waller initially led SNCC in a similar direction. Hoping to lure Stokely Carmichael for a visit, SNCC picketed an ABC liquor lounge in the black community that banned black patrons from entering the store and sitting at the bar. The o rderly and uneventful picketing lasted more than a week and received little press coverage. with Frank and Peggy Peterman kept SNCC from complete alienation. The Peterma ns and surreptitiously provided SNCC with financial support. In addition, SNCC found a confidante in Marvin Davies. Fired from his job as a teacher in Fort Myers becau se of his civil rights activities, Davies became a field secretary for the NAACP and opened an office in St. Petersburg in 1966. Initially SNCC shared space with Davies and could 40 Waller not only had trouble garnering the support of fellow movement leaders; he also found widespread apathy within the black community. Bit an opportunity to arouse the community emerged when city leaders announced their intention to spend a $50 million federal grant on beautifyin g the downtown area. Waller felt he had found an issue around which people could rally. Slum like conditions pervaded the black 39 Evening Independent, November 15, 1966, November 19, 1966. 40 St. Petersburg Times 21.
59 community, where many homes held tenants but had no indoor plumbing, and the dirty streets Waller had walked along as a kid were still unpaved and unlit at night. If SNCC was going to garner any support against the grant spending, the organization needed to prove its legitimacy. They found their cause hanging on the wall in city hall. 41 In 1945, painter George Snow Hill finished th a one of his well decades, at Pass a es of black musicians with oversized According to the St. Petersburg Times, the 42 ng in the 1950s, husband Charles, white social activists and members of the Council on Human Relations, voiced their distaste for the mural. Others, including future city councilman Ernest Fillyau and the Reverand Enoch Davis, lobbied city administrators to take the painting the council listened and laughed but did nothing about our reques 43 42 St. Petersburg Times intervi ew with Pe ggy Peterman, November 4, 1994. 42 St. Petersburg Times intervi ew with Pe ggy Peterman, November 4, 1994. 43 St. Petersburg Times la, June 23, 2009; Davis, On the Bethel Trail 100.
60 In December, Waller sent a letter to Mayor Herman Goldner requesting that the t letter to the head of the Community Relations Commission (CRC), Chester K. Guth, who torted 44 Waller tried again. In another letter he re ack community of St. Petersburg that it was most unfair for the city to use taxpayer money (Negroes Unfortunately, although Waller was correct to suggest that there was widespread condemnation of the mural in the black community, he soon realized he did not have the 45 After reading an article published in the Evening Independent on December 23, marching on city hall in protest of the mural, the Rev. Davis called an emergency meeting of the NAACP and CCC. Davis had concerns, fearing years of dedicated public service and successful social activism hung in the balance. With one uprising SNCC could u ndo decades of progress. At the meeting, 44 25 26; St. Petersburg Times December 15, 1966.
61 school teachers, Fannye Ayer Ponder. Chester K. Guth suggested SNCC let the CRC handle the situation. 46 was imminent. On Christmas Eve Waller had led a march to city hall, discouraged that it was closed for the holidays. They planned another trip to coincide with a city council Hoping to create a spectacle, the group marched two miles to city hall chanting Investigator Dennis Quilligan and Justice of the Peace Richard Carr peered from their windows as the marchers arrived. As a crowd of mostly white onlookers formed near the steps of city hall, an elderly black woman began to speak. With Waller at her side, she launched into diatribe and in broken English lambasted local insurance companies for taking advantage of black clients. When laughter from the white crowd mocked the SNCC leader entered city hall, with Jody Wall, an eighteen year old SNCC member trailing close behind. They ran up the stairs to where the mural hung and ripped it down, followed as Waller headed for the black community. 47 city hall. Waller and Wall then paraded down the sidewalk, with SNCC members, 45 St. Peterburg Times, 46 28; St. Petersburg Times December 24, 1966. 47 St. Petersburg Times interview with Omali Yeshitela, June 23, 2009.
62 journalists, camera crews, and other witnesses in tow. Though temporar ily caught off guard, law enforcement officials rushed in. Detective Homer Allen, who had seen the march developing earlier in the day, subdued Wall with the help of Thomas Witham. Down the street officers apprehended SNCC activists Tommy Williams, Lemuel Green, John Wesley Bryant, and Crawford Jones. Before getting pinned down, Williams managed to distract police long enough to give Waller time to get away. Dragging the mural behind him as he ran westbound on Central Ave, Waller briefly evaded capture by t hrowing the mural at the feet of a pursuing officer, Lt. Adkins. Eventually Adkins managed to corral Waller and placed him in handcuffs and under arrest. The crumpled mural lay on the ground with more than a third of its paint chipped off, a symbol of prot est march that somehow had turned into a spectacle of brazen defiance. 48 At the police station, Waller, Jody Wall, Tommy Williams, and Lemuel Green were charged with grand larceny, resisting arrest with violence, destruction of public property, and unlawf ul assembly, affray, or riot, and held on eight thousand dollars bail. Crawford Jones and John Wesley Bryant recieved lesser charges and a seven thousand dollar bail. Several of the...refused to cooperate, including Tommy Williams who refused to sit on a b ench with codefendants, an officer punched him in the stomach. The someone sh outed as the bailiff read the charges. Waller initially refused to declare himself indigent in order to secure a public defender, but changed his mind and informed 48 33; St. Petersburg Times December 29, 1966; Pittsburg Post Gazette December 27, 1966; and Lodi News
63 ad fifteen hundred dollars. Unable to afford bail, all six went to the Pinellas County jail. 49 In the aftermath conservative black leaders distanced themselves from the inciden mural was removed. We feel another method could have been employed to accomplish similar results. As concerned leaders of the black community, we oppose any act which defaces public property. However, we are too, opposed to any stereotype paintings of any 50 The local news media skewered Waller and his companions. In an attempt to un dermine any public sympathy, the Evening Independent ran an interview with the its destruction. Often an advocate of the black freedm struggle, the St. Petersburg Times, n dner, no attitude at City Hall that this was a responsible act of our Negro citizens but an y a sense Sentinel December 30, 1966. 49 39. 50 Ibid., 40.
64 the vast majority of our Negro citizenry are as ashamed of these persons who committed 51 The fallout was not what Joe Waller had anticipate d. Hopes for a credible civil minutes. For five of the six defendents the battle had been ended in court with either uous action became his and his alone. Instead of creating an inspirational spectacle, Waller had become one. While January 30, 1967, Waller fired his attorney and long a lawyer to represent him. Peterman, also defendi ng Bryant, felt a delay would harm his clients and ignored the request. Without a lawyer and unable to defend himself, Waller received a sentence of one hundred and eighty days behind bars. Returning to jail, the embattled SNCC leader resumed his hunger st rike. During interviews with reporters he 52 the other defendents. Careful not to contrite before the court. Although Municipal Judge Henry Esteva found all of them 51 Ibid., 40; St. Petersburg Times December 30, 1966. 52 46.
65 guilty, he suspended their sentences. Only Waller serve d time for the municiple offenses. But the six were not out of the woods yet. 53 The circuit court trials in Clearwater were fraught with complications. Presiding Judge Charles Phillips sympathized with the defendants and after a meeting with Waller, urged the city to grant parade permits to SNCC supporters. To lessen the chance of civil disruptions, Clearwater law enforcment officials darkened the windows of the courtroom and patrolled the grounds in plain clothes. But these precautions proved unnecessary a s the threat of mass picketing never materialized. 54 The number of lawyers involved in the case further complicated matters. While Assistant State Attorneys Richard Mensh and Allen Allweiss representd the state, the sville attorney Leslie H. Levinson handled Robert E. Jagger and Paul Barnard took the cases of Bryant, Green, and Wall. Due and Levinson requested a stay, arguing that trying Waller and the other defendants again for the same crimes constituted double jeopardy. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed and the trials went ahead. Despite a dizzying array of defense strategies the jury took only four hours to render a split verdict: Wa ller and Wall were guilty, and the other six were sentenced him to six months to five years in prison. Later, after initially witholding adjudication, Phillips gave Wall thre e years probation, considering him a risk to the social order. 55 53 Ibid., 46. 54 Ibid., 47 48. 55 Ibid., 49 51.
66 more than six months. But neither h alienatio n or his determination to fight for what he beleived in. Two and a half years in prison would both steal his spirits and fuel his rage. 56 56
67 Chapter Four : The Great Refusal "History began to catch up with Americans," in 1968 noted historian C. V ann myths of virtue and innocence became stock subject of jeers and ridicule. ." By the late n Civil Rights Movement had done little to erase the country's economic inequities. According to national statistics, in the mid 1960s black unemployment had reached 10% as c ompared to 5% for whites, and blacks earned on average 45% less than whites. Moreover, the increasing militancy of the antiwar movement and the ascendency of who on ce fell out of favor with Americans both disillusioned by the war in Vietnam and tired of rampant racial violence. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in May marked t he twilight of the classical Civil Rights Movement and along with the murder of moral declension. America's opportunity to redress centuries of injustice eventually dissolv 1 1 C. Vann Woodward, Loo king Back: The Perils of Writing History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Southern Labor in Transition, 1940 1995, ed. Robert Zeiger (Knoxville: Southern Labor in Transition, 1940 1995, ed. by Robert Zeiger (Knoxville: University of Ten nessee Press, 1997), 207.
68 In St. Petersburg, the racial tensions between the white and black communities had only intensified since the mural incident. The efforts of local organizations like the NAACP to procure better job opportunities for blacks had made little progress. By the beginning of 1968, fifty tersect more so than within the ranks of the sanitation department. As the eyes of the nation turned to Memphis, Tennessee, where Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated while in town assisting black sanitation workers in a citywide strike, long stand ing tensions within St. Williams and Chester K. Guth warned the atmosphere in St. Petersburg had the death, the spirit of Memphis touched St. Petersburg. 2 a.m. that morning, after receiving word of the stoppage, City Manager Andrews arrived at the san itation department's Lake Maggiore compound where he found plenty of sanitation workers, but few willing to work. Andrews listened as the milling workers announced their grievances, including the lack of pay raises for collectors and foremen. The men expre ssed their frustrations for what they considered to be broken promises. A month earlier the city had restructured the hours and pay scales for the sanitation department. Instead of paying $101.40 for six days of work including time and a half on Saturdays, the new system paid $73.00 for five days of work. Sanitation Director Walter Schultz initially gained employee support for the plan by promising a month long trial 2 St. Petersburg Times April 15, 1968, April 17, 1968.
69 period, after which the accounting books would be opened and some of the savings shared wit h the workers. But a month later, support began to dwindle as the books remained closed. The city asked for a two week extension. After two weeks, another extension. By then the sanitation employees had had enough and responded with a strike. Andrews recom mended the men take the day off, return to work the next morning, and give the city time to consider their demands. 3 and dismissed their demand for a 25 cents an hour raise. Andrews had seen this before. To avert a strike in 1964, he granted the requested raises. In 1966, again unhappy with their pay, refuse workers walked off the job. Taking a tougher stance, Andrews hi temporary replacements. But after a week, he gave in. This time, however, having wilted 4 The sanitation workers, too, had learned from the past. Durin g the 1966 work stoppage, when an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times said the strikers were not worthy of raise because they were illiterate, sanitation crew chief Joe Savage formed the Young Club (YMPC). The organization, comprised of hired Times reporter Sam Adams to teach them to read and write. In addition, the YMPC enlisted Jim Sanderlin and Frank Peterman to speak on their behalf in monthly meetings with department heads. Over the next two years many of the cit prepared for the possibility of another standoff. 5 3 St. Petersburg Times May 7, 1968. 4 St. Petersburg Times July 3 1, 1964, and November 11, 1966, May 7, 1968. 5 e, interview by Richard Lally, July 9, 1999.
70 On Tuesday May 7, the second day of the strike, Andrews fired fifty two sanitation workers when they refused to go to work. For another two days (the sanitation department usually t ook Wednesdays off) garbage went uncollected as the strikers sat idle in solidarity. Several of the workers reportedly wanted no part in the strike, but feared violent repercussions from coworkers if they refused to participate. Others remained on the job, and later, many suffered the consequences. While negotiations between Andrews and strike leaders continued, Savage urged his men to return to work. 6 At the advice of their leaders, 150 refuse workers showed up at the sanitation compound Thursday mornin g. Only 40 were there to work. The others had come to protest. Around 7:10 a.m. a garbage truck escorted by police cruisers tried to leave the premises. With Sanderlin and Savage looking on, protestors formed a barrier to block the exit. After Police Sgt. Ray Stewart warned them to back off, Sanderlin interceded and convinced them to move, allowing two garbage trucks to leave the premises. Moments later, as a third struck sped away, confusion ensued when thirty five sanitation workers, at the sight of polic e, broke ranks and abandoned the strike. Squad cars pulled into the compound and officers clad in riot gear piled out. After ensuring the safe passage of a fourth and final truck, the riot squad hung around for half an hour before leaving. The protestors a lso disbanded and headed home, ready to fight another day. ( footnote: During the 1966 strike the city had purchased $35,000 in riot equipment but had never used it until now.) The four sanitation trucks collected refuse from hospitals, schools, and busine sses, but residential trash piled up for the fourth consecutive day. 7 6 St. Petersburg Times May 8, 1968. 7 St. Petersburg Times May 9, 1968, May 10, 1968.
71 In light of the incident, Andrews took firm control of the situation. After firing the 120 absentees, he threw out the "new system," a major impetus for the strike, and reverted to the old system with a 5 cents an hour raise. To drive his point home and show he was serious, Andrews provided temporary relief from the lack of trash collection by establishing several cit i es where citizens could dump their own refuse. After two days, over 1 2,000 vehicles had dumped trash at one of the eleven designated locations. Responding to complaints from other departments about the unfairness of a special raise for the sanitation workers, Andrews hoped to defuse the situation. He announced a five cents with Andrews and reduced their demand to a twenty cents an hour increase. Andrews countered with his final offer, 7 cents more an hour. Talks stalled. 8 Speaking that night at Bethel Community Baptist Church, Ike Williams, then president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP, proposed an impromptu march to city hall, where Sanderlin busily negotiated with city leaders. Singing refrains of "We Shall Overcome," sixty people h eaded downtown. The councilmen were, however, unmoved by the display, and in reaffirming their support for Andrews, rejected 9 Days of fruitless negotiations turned into weeks. Over time, as the sanitation department slowly filled its v acancies with scabs and the occasional defeated striker, and no longer city employee s." Within two weeks, Schultz reported garbage collection was 8 St. Petersburg Times May 11, 1968.
72 completely neglecting the black parts of town. The department finally addressed the trash buildup in the blac k community, sending garbage trucks manned by inmates from the city jail, accompanied by police cruisers, to pick up the refuse. Unimpressed, Savage led reporters through alleys in other black neighborhoods where rotting trash was piled high and overflowin g into the right of way. But with an ever improving sanitation department up and running, and the support of much of the city council and chamber of commerce, Andrews had little reason to back down. 10 Pressuring the chamber of commerce to rescind its suppo rt for Andrews, the white owned business on May 23. According to Williams, the proposal "was partially in sympathy with the 211 striking garbagemen and partially to pro test the discriminatory hiring practices by city hall and the general racist attitude of downtown merchants and professional businessmen." The NAACP saw the inchoate controversy as the perfect opportunity to redress a variety of systemic problems facing th e black community. 11 The strikers got another, unexpected, boost when Mayor Don Jones, broke ranks with his fellow councilman. Angered by the city's "poor judgment," Jones charged the t from Geneva, New York, and former insurance salesman, Jones had been on the city council since 1963 when his friend, Mayor Herman Goldner, convinced him to get into politics. "I don't think city council or the administration have fulfilled their responsi bility or shown a sensitivity to the community," he explained, "and these garbage men are now the focal 9 St. Petersburg Times May 11, 1968.
73 point of that failure." During the weeklong strike in 1966, Jones had urged Andrews to use restraint and encouraged him to negotiate a settlement. While Jones was only one man with one vote on a council of nine, his defection provided the strikers much needed moral support, even if it cost him his political career. For more than three months Jones was the only major city official to publicly endorse the s 12 Despite the verbal sparring between Jones and his contemporaries and the stepped up efforts of the NAACP, nothing substantial emerged to pressure Andrews or the city council. As May faded into June, negotiations stagnated. Andrews refused to open talks with the "fired" men, and newspaper editorials revealed a torn public. Many residents disagreed with Andrews's handling of the situation and vented disdain for city administrators. Others expressed confusion and bewilderment. Blinded by beau tiful sunsets and myths of social harmony, much of St. Petersburg's white population failed to discern the growing racial tension within the black community. Ignoring the lessons of the Memphis strike, convinced that similar events "could not happen here," the city council, led by an authoritarian city manager, simply dug in its heels and refused to negotiate. 13 The symptoms, however, of building social turmoil, were in plain sight. On June 5, the St. Petersburg Times published an assessment of the damage. Since May 9, the report read, "Twenty fires had been deliberately set causing an estimated damage of $300,000." Firebombs burned a lumberyard, destroyed automobiles, and set a house ablaze. The St. Petersburg fire department responded to eight fires within a 12 hour 10 St. Petersburg Times May 5, 1968. 11 St. Pet ersburg Times May 14, 1968; 12 Don Jones, interview by author, August 20, 2008. 13 Ibid, August 20, 2008.
74 period on June 4 alone. During the first few evenings of the strike, firebombs struck the homes of two non striking sanitation employees. Savage expressed doubt that sanitation workers were responsible for the bombings, but confessed he "really couldn't be sure." To distance themselves from the incendiary acts, Sanderlin and Savage formed an Anti Violence Committee. Both the city council and the Anti Violence Committee offered rewards for information leading to the arrests of those involved in th e firebombings. But the random acts continued. Weeks later, gun shots, firebombs, bricks, and glass bottles again targeting sanitation workers not participating in the strike shattered windows and ignited fires. Such disturbances continued sporadically in the oncoming weeks, keeping police officers, already working twelve hour shifts, many without a day off, fatigued and on constant call. 14 With few other options, the idle sanitation workers took their case to the streets in a series of marches, hoping to mobilize an apathetic public around their cause. Aside from the spontaneous march nearly three weeks earlier, the struggle had remained isolated in the black community, behind the insulated walls of black churches and the closed doors of city hall. The fi rst of more than 40 marches took place on Friday, June 7. Three hundred citizens black and white marched the 29 blocks from Jordan Park community center to city hall. Initially slated as a protest march, the event also became a tribute to the recently assa ssinated presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. Just as the striking sanitation workers tried to counter the recent violent episodes with a peaceful march, Joe Waller and a band of followers joined the march. Waller had recently returned from Gainesville, Florida, where his odyssey of imprisonment had taken another turn. In 14 St. Petersburg Times June 5, 1968.
75 May, ACLU attorney Gardner Becket joined his defense team and convinced the Second District Court of Appeals to release Waller on parole while awaiting an appellate ruling. Upon his rele ase, Waller headed north to Gainesville to protest the incarceration of SCLC member Irvin Lee Dawkins. Within hours of arriving, Waller was back in jail, arrested on sam e day. The state attorney, after receiving word of the outbreak of the sanitation strike and worried Waller would get into even more trouble, had his bond revoked. For two more weeks Waller sat in an Alachua County jail cell. Finally released on May 29, he When he arrived, Waller was dismayed with the handling of the strike, and what he saw ers joined the back of the procession, they injected it with an air of militancy, chanting Savage abandoned the head of the march and rushed to quiet the provocateurs. After anoth er verse, Waller silenced the group, only to continue the refrain a few minutes later. 15 The return of Joe Waller to St. Petersburg worried conservative leaders on both sides of the issue. The St. Petersburg Times and Evening Independent printed a series of profiles about Waller, hoping to delegitimize him. But this was no longer 1966 and to discrediting the militant, the media attention raised his popularity and increas ed his following. Waller formed a black separatist organization known as the Junta of Militant Organization (JOMO). If the conservative strike leaders, in the words of Waller, were 15 St. Petersburg Times
76 h that especially appealed to the younger generation. Yet even Sanderlin and Ike Williams felt community rose up in arms," intoned I.W. Williams before a crowd of over 200 gath ered at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church. Williams assailed Andrews's "lack of human dignity," calling him a "zero in race relations and faithfulness to city employees." Marvin Davies followed Williams at the podium with a heartfelt plea for community uni fication, and encouraged a more concerted effort in the economic boycott of downtown merchants. same night, speaking in front of a group of St. Petersburg Jr. College studen ts, Sanderlin articulated the fragility of the situation:"The strike provides a check on violence because Negroes were afraid violence might hurt the strikers' position. But the longer the strike goes without a solution the more impatient and disposed towa rd violence Negroes will become." 16 Other factors played a role in the shifting tone of the strike. Most significantly was the economic toll taken on its participants. Already underpaid, the financial burdens of continuing the fight mounted. Over 200 men w ith families, which included more than 100 children, faced another month with little or no income. To alleviate some of the pressure, the Presbyterian Commission on Race and Religion provided the strikers with a $1,400 preliminary grant. Sanderlin called i promised even more to help cover the $700 a week budget of the recently formed
77 second jobs, and sanitation supervisor Bill Pulske announced the department was now end in sight. 17 The striking sanitation workers lacked a simi lar bravado. With no end in sight, strike leaders appealed to outsiders for help...To gain the support of national civil rights leaders and garner widespread attention, ex sanitation workers Henry Cathirell and Howard Myrick flew to Washington D.C. on June 19 to meet with SCLC Chairman Dr. p toward a solution of the that it is not just the black community that is suffering but the entire community. Get 18 While the men were in Washington, such efforts had already begun at home. An ecumenical group of religious leaders, calling themselves the Concerned Clergy of the St. Petersburg Area, met with the city council and voiced deep con cerns about the growing crisis. The city responded with a symbolic, yet nonetheless empty gesture. Following the legal team deleted the last remaining references to racial segregation in the city charter, of which sections still enabled the city 16 St. Petersburg Times 6 14 1968. 17 Later, Roy Wilkins, Executive Secretary of the National NAACP, provided the St. Petersburg branch with funds to assist the striking workers. St. Petersburg Times June 18, 1968, June 2 7, 1968. 18 St. Petersburg Times June 19, 1968, June 22, 1968.
78 er contained a provision long declared unconstitutional that enforced an all white primary in local elections. The move to expurgate racism from the charter, while hyped as a progressive move, made little substantive difference. Battling rain and oppressiv e heat, the marching continued. 19 Efforts to gain national attention paid off, but at the expense of splintering the grassroots resistance. As a cast of nationally prominent civil rights leaders descended upon St. Petersburg, local support waned. The crise s outgrew its localized scope, and in turn, became less about the sanitation workers and the racial and economic injustices in St. Petersburg and more about demonizing white reactionaries like Lynn Andrews. The appearance national figures, however, only st preparation for the arrival of A.D. King, brother of the slain Martin Luther King Jr., Andrews, for the first time since the marches began, denied the strikers a permit. He claimed the timing, which had been set back later t han usual, would interfere with traffic. Several city council members disagreed with the decision, concerned it would only antagonize the resistance. Andrews relented, but issued the permit on the grounds that the march used an alternative route. Outraged, yet undeterred, Savage planned to go ahead with the march. Andrews warned the strikers against defying the permit, and threatened to use law enforcement officials to break up the march. King, upon learning of the contentious developments, backed out. Mor e than 250 people, using the old route, marched anyway. As promised, police met the procession head on. 20 19 St. Petersburg Times June 21, 1968, June 22, 1968. 20 St. Petersburg Times June 6, 1968, June 27, 1968.
79 Equipped with shotguns, gas masks, and shields, 160 officers many of them brought in from Clearwater formed a barricade several blocks from city hall to intercept the marchers. For thirty minutes demonstrators calmly confronted police. Some sat down and sang freedom songs. Police ordered everyone to disband, but they were ignored. Officers repeatedly ordered the crowd to disperse, but no one budged After about twenty minutes, King and Sanderlin drove by in a convertible, and the throng of demonstrators surged towards the vehicle. Set off by the commotion, officers moved in on the crowd and calmly began making arrests. The episode, with all the ingr edients for a violent confrontation, remained peaceful even as police hauled forty three protestors off to jail. 21 As local groups like the Concerned Clergy continued to call for open communications, more outsiders poured in. Kentucky state senator Georgi a Davis and Kentucky Christian Leadership Conference (KCLC) representative Raoul Cunningham tump speech in front of city hall. Two hundred and thirty people answered the call, and showed up to march on Independence Day. And Davis did not stop there. The next morning she led a about 6 a.m., an interracial group of women stood in front of the compound singing and praying. For several days the pray ins continued before Davis left for Kentucky. 22 William La md, a staff member of the New York based Commission on Racial Justice of 21 St. Petersburg Times June 28, 1968, June 29, 1968.
80 two story wooden house on Dixie Ave. Two weeks later, on June 12, A.D. King returned with an ento urage, including SCLC vice president C.K. Steele, Senator Davis, Raul Cunningham, and several union officials from around the state. That evening, King gave an impassioned speech to a gathering at Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church. His abstract rhetoric to way of conc rete solutions. Marvin Davies followed King at the lectern and presented the ex sanitation employees with a $500 check from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Union, with promises of more donations down the to let everybody know the struggle is going to continue in St. strike settlement seemed. Nonetheless, amid oppressive heat and torrential summer rains the stalwart str ikers sloshed their way to city hall almost every day of July. 23 The protracted struggle began to take its toll on all sides of the issue. The national attention not only worried city officials and attenuated public support, it irked local black leadershi p as well. On July 12, the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP Ike William 22 St. Petersburg Times July 5 1968, July 7, 1968. 23 St. Petersburg Times July 12, 1968.
81 24 Local police officers, too, had grown tired of the situation By late June the city had spent more than $60,000 in police overtime. That number only increased as more officers were needed to oversee the daily marches and handle the growing social discord. Although cruisers had stopped escorting garbage trucks on th eir runs, everyday another incident demanded their attention: structure fires; vandalism; and the ever present threat ounted, and communication channels closed, no one seemed to benefit from ongoing crisis. 25 The efforts of outside agitators climaxed on the final evening in July. Nearly 1,100 people crammed into the gymnasium at Gibbs high school to hear Rev. Ralph Aber nathy and A.D. King speak. As the event began, Joe Waller, who had been purposefully excluded from the program, entered the gym through a side door. When he appeared, the place erupted with applause. Waller gave an impromptu speech where he worked the crow Between inspirational orations, the coterie joined together in freedom songs; choruses of "We Shall Over come" reverberated throughout the emotionally charged evening. As the 24 St. Petersburg Times July 13, 1968. 25 The lengthy standoff appeared even worse after a sanitation strike in Tampa lasted only three days before reaching a settlement. In Tampa, sanitation wor and walked off the job on July 15. But unlike the situation in St. Petersburg, what began as a labor strike in Tampa stayed that way. From the start, union leaders took over the negotiation process, a nd the employees returned to work three days later. St. Petersburg Times July 18, 1968.
82 event came to a close, hundreds of people lined up to donate money to the depleted sanitation fund. 26 rch, expecting more than a thousand participants from around the state. CORE representative Patricia Stephens Due, arrested weeks earlier outside the sanitation compound along with several other protesters for laying down in front of the exit, preventing t he trucks from leaving, brought in dozens of supporters from Tallahassee. Despite such efforts, only 650 people showed up. Using an alternative route for the first time, marchers locked arms and paraded east on Central Ave, while police officers blocked o ncoming traffic. Wearing a beard and darkly tinted sunglasses, Waller took over when the march reached city hall. "We keep talking about fighting for freedom in har dly pronounce Ho Chi Minh, but I can pronounce George Wallace. I can pronounce Ku Klux Klan. I can pronounce Lynn Andrews." But like so many times in the past, the thundering rhetoric, and the heartfelt pleas, failed to make a difference. 27 h marked the end of the line for the striking sanitation workers. Their cause had no staying power with a national audience overwhelmed by seemingly ubiquitous social strife. Local support flagged, too. Days later, JOMO renounced its support. Waller had tr ied on many occasions to take over as the voice of the sanitation 26 The March was originally planned for the 2,200 seat Bayfront Center, but organizers relocated it to the more affordable Gibbs High School gymnasium. St. Petersburg T imes July 28, 1968, August 1, 1968; 27 St. Petersburg Times August 3, 1968, August 4, 1968
83 forms of protest had run their course with the militant leader. 28 Just as the strike reached its nad letting in a ray of hope for the sanitation workers. The city manager had become sick with power and desperate to bury the opposition. The attempt to deny the strikers a permit had mushroomed into an all out e ffort by Andrews to reject all future permit requests. Moreover, he had submitted the names of a number of outsiders assisting with the strike to congressman William Cramer. If a riot should occur, reasoned Andrews, the people on his list could be subject to prosecution under a new federal antiriot act. City stretched beyond city hall. To help repair the communication gap, members of the chamber of commerce, along with Mayor Jones, initiated the creation of the Community for local blacks, the renovation of slum housing, and the expansion and improvement of educational opportunities. Unlike in years past, economic motives had come into play too late. 29 By mid Memphis." Despite the crit icism, Andrews seemed confident as ever. "The strike ended May 20, and the sanitation department has been rebuilt with new employees," he reiterated time and again. Sanderlin, recognizing what Waller had discerned all along, the futility of nonviolent demo nstrations, put a halt to the meetings. A few days later, when 28 St. Petersburg Times
84 riot police wielding bayoneted rifles arrested picketers in front of the houses of both Lynn Andrews and Claude Greene, the nonviolent struggle was all but over. In a rare appearance before the city council, Sanderlin, Enoch Davis, and several representatives from the black community, made a final plea on behalf of the fired sanitation workers. public responsi Progressive Willin wave of sympathy felt earlier by councilmen like Claude Greene, crashed when picketers targeted his home an again Jones stood alone in favor of negotiating a settlement. No one had to wait long to realize the severity of the fomenting crisis. 30 The arrest and beating of Joe Waller sent members of the black community over the edge. In an apparent setup, p olice took Waller into custody after he showed up to quell a confrontation between a young black woman and the officers. On the way to the of his injuries circulated throughout black neighborhoods, the rebellion began. 31 In the early morning hours of Saturday, August 17, the city erupted into race riots. Fires raged throughout the night, destroying, warehouses, abandoned homes, and parked 29 St. Peters burg Times July 14, 1968, July 23, 1968; David Welch, interview by Samuel Davis, July 30, 30 St. Petersburg Times August 16, 1968. 31
85 cars. As rocks pelted police cruisers and smashed storefront windows, an armored vehicle crowds of congregated s uspects. The city council called a meeting that morning and block area within the black community. Moreover, Andrews banned the sale of liquor an Governor Claude Kirk made a brief stop in St. Petersburg to meet with city administrators. Kirk committed 350 National Guardsmen, highway patrolmen, and game wardens, all with special riot training, to assist in r estoring order if needed. The disturbances abated Saturday afternoon, an eerie calm before the oncoming storm. The city braced itself for nightfall. 32 As anticipated, the rioting resumed Saturday evening and stretched into Sunday. Again police brought out Sunday morning, the damage report told the story: Fifty nine arrests, eleven fires, and more than $120,000 dollars in property destruction. An opinion poll printed in the St. Petersburg Times that Sunday revealed for the first time the disparate perspectives running along racial lines. 58% of whites considered the problem "very serious" as opposed to 94% of non whites. 76% of whites felt the demonstrations and marches should stop, but only 35% of no n whites held this opinion. Interestingly, 61% of whites, compared to 23% of non whites, believed "outsiders" to be responsible for the demonstrations. 33 32 St. Pe tersburg Times August 18, 1968. 33 Ibid. August 18, 1968.
86 For the third consecutive night, violence consumed St. Petersburg. The "monster" once again roamed t he streets unleashing torrents of tear gas. At one point, in a bout with friendly fire, policemen driving the armored vehicle spilled out into the streets after inhaling the noxious gas. Later, a tear gas canister crashed through the window of St. Petersbu year old daughter. As smoke filled the house, Kelly and his family stood in their front yard for over 12 hours waiting for the air to clear. Scattered disruptions occurred again Monday night, but wi th less intensity. Andrews perceived an "easing of tension in the Negro community," but kept bars and liquor stores in the black sections of town closed for another night. Ironically, current sanitation employees went to work Tuesday morning cleaning th e destruction wrought by the violence. 34 The rioting made a strong case for the futility of nonviolent forms of protest. Although hardly anything on the scale of Watts or Detroit, the unprecedented violence sent all sides scrambling into action. In the e nd, economics won the day. The city had spent nearly half a million dollars on extra police and riot gear while experiencing a 5 percent decline in the tourist trade. The Community Alliance, excluding Sanderlin and Savage, stepped in and negotiated a settl ement. On August 30, the sanitation strike officially ended. In a press conference, Andrews sat beside black accountant David Welch, cochairman of the Community Alliance, and announced the terms of the settlement. Conspicuously absent from the proceedings were the leaders of the entire sanitation strike, Jim Sanderlin and Joseph Savage. Sanderlin, who had been told the settlement announcement would come quietly and without a press conference, later 34 St. Petersburg Times August 19, 1968.
87 admitted he felt the Community Alliance had sold the strike rs out at the expense of an immediate compromise with city officials. Nevertheless, no one complained that the crisis had finally ended. 35 Eventually 83 of the 211 strikers went back to work under the original pay scale, the one previously abandoned by S chultz for streamlining purposes. Those who did not go back to work found other jobs. By October 1, the beginning of the city's fiscal year, collectors received an increase of 8 cents an hour. Foremen earned an additional 14 cents an hour raise. Veterans l ost their seniority and accumulated sick leave, but according to David Welch, eventually regained the lost benefits. But ultimately the strike succeeded because of what it meant for the future of community relations, not necessarily for any tangible gains won by individual sanitation workers. 36 35 St. Petersburg Times, 36 Davis interview with David Welch, July 30, 1998.
88 Chapter Five: Epilogue The sanitation strike represented a watershed moment in the history of St. no longer could c ity leaders ignore or claim to be unaware of existing racial problems. history that a cross section of community leaders -white and black -had come together to addres s the plight of the oppressed. It looked as if, in the words of Mayor Don Jones, St. 1 Indeed, maybe it had. Just eight months after the sanitation strike ended, C. Bette Wimbish broke the color line in lo cal politics, winning a seat on the city council in March with ambitious plans to become an attorney. Just shy of her graduation in 1967, her husband, Ralph Wimbish unex pectedly passed away. Never one to quail in the face of adversity, C. Bette returned to St. Petersburg to finish what she and her husband had started. 2 Jim Sanderlin, too, rode the wave of his successful social activism into uncharted waters. In 1972, he election to the county circuit court. But the ascents of Wimbish and Sanderlin also represented a racial and cultural convergence many in the black community hoped to avoid. Blacks worri ed about the ramifications of integration; about the loss of 1 interview with Don Jones, August 20, 2008. 2 St. Petersburg Times
89 community; the loss of identity. And when the schools began to desegregate, those fears intensified. 3 When it came to education, especially in the late 1960s, blacks in St. Petersburg cared mor e about equal opportunities and less about integration. The NAACP, however, reasoned that unitary status equality would never occur if the school system remained segregated. Until white students went to schools in the black community, their parents would h ave little incentives to care about the conditions of those schools. 4 With that as his driving philosophy, Jim Sanderlin continued the fight for school desegregation. In 1968, the Fifth Circuit of Appeals ruled that Florida, along with six other states, must integrate its remaining all black schools or shut them down. A year later, the Supreme Court threw out at once a Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education ). But in St. Petersburg, like much of the entire county, demographic patterns adversely affected the progress of desegregation. In 1970, Judge Leib signed off on anothe closing of Gibbs High School. This decision almost devastated the black community and intensified its worst fears about integration. However, on August 12, 1970, after more than two thousand black citizens signed a petition to keep Gibbs open, the school board capitulated. 5 3 4 ay It 5 Ibid., 117.
90 Victory came at a cost. Although Gibbs remained open, it began the 1970 71 school year with a white principal and newly installed racial quotas. Whites made up 70% of the student body, and blacks the other 30 percent. Gibbs may have been saved, but it certainly was no longer the school 2,000 petitioners had hoped to save. Unfortunately, the toughest part of integration for the black community had yet to come. That same year, the Supreme Court approved the use of busing to achieve school desegregation in Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenberg Board of Education By the beginning of the 1971 72 academic year, upon the orders of Judge Lieb, the school board implemen ted a comprehensive busing plan. Attendance zones separated north and south county schools in an attempt to scatter black students proportionately throughout Pinellas while requiring selective white communities to accept terms that sent their children to s chools in black neighborhoods for two years. While much of the bad press that busing received came from white parents unhappy with rezoning, black children within a few blocks radius of one another might attend four different schools. They therefore, bore the brunt of the burden. 6 One individual particularly incensed by the dismantling of the black community was Joe Waller. For three years following the sanitation strike, while his lawyers appealed his sentences from the mural incident and his arrest in Au gust 1968, Waller was community in the early years of integration: social and cultural alienation and loss of alist Party (APSP), and changed his Africanist approach to 6 Ibid., 118 120.
91 social struggle in St. Petersburg, and while many from the civil rights era embraced the newfound freedoms, Waller never spiritually left the insular world he came from. Unlike so many others, Waller never let go of the cloudy legacies that cast a long shadow on the Su nshine City.
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