James Anthony Schnur oral history interview

James Anthony Schnur oral history interview

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James Anthony Schnur oral history interview
Uniform Title:
Legislative Investigation Committee (Johns Committee)
Huse, Andrew Thomas
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program


Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


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Full cataloging of this resource is underway and will replace this temporary record when complete.
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interviewed by Andrew Thomas "Andy" Huse.

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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Resource Identifier:
J15-00001 ( USFLDC DOI )
j15.1 ( USFLDC Handle )

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text Andrew Thomas Huse (AH): Okay, its April 9, 2015, Im here with
James Anthony Schnur (JS): Jim Schnur, S-c-h-n-u-r, graduate of USF [University of South Florida] Tampa, class of 1988, history undergrad, 95 masters in history, 96 masters in library science, native of St. Petersburg, Florida, President of the Pinellas County Historical Society, and currently, special collections librarian at the rank of university librarian on the USF St. Petersburg campus.
AH: Sweet. And so, were going to talk about the Johns Committee a little bit today. And in many ways, I think of scholars in the know, know that you kind of cracked that shell of doing research on the Johns Committee because there was so little official stuff that was available before you kind of brought it to light. So tell us a little bit about, first of all, how did you become aware of the Johns Committee, how did you get interested, and then, how did you kind of crack that shell?
JS: Well, I became interested in the Johns Committee in 1989, 1990. One of the things I did as an undergraduate, I took an independent study with Gary Mormino, who was a professor over here. And I also took a biography seminar with Jim Swanson, who taught history for a long time over here.
Jim Swanson was one of the early faculty members. In Jim Swansons pro-seminar, back in 88, I had to doit was a pro-seminar on biographyand I choose to do Leroy Collins. And so, from that, I put together a lot of stuff about Leroy Collins, a lot of research. Much of my work actually came in Tampa campus Library of Special Collections, which has the Leroy Collins papers, a very distinctive collection.
After that, I became interested in post-war Florida history. Gary Mormino and I did a little bit more work in that area. By 1989, 1990, I was starting graduate school, had just finished my undergrad, and I was interested in looking at Florida politics, Florida history.
And, while doing the research, one of the books that I had to read was Ellen Schreckers book, No Ivory Tower, which is about McCarthyism in the universities. What was very important to me, what I got out of that book, was the fact that universities throughout the United States, in different parts of the country, experienced different types of attacks in the years right after World War II. Largely anticommunism, sometimes civil rights entered the picture.
In doing my research, I found that in the early 1960s, something happened at the University of South Florida, the school I attend, and USF was a very young institution at that time; it had been censured by the American Association of University Professors. And I was wondering why. As I started to dig deeper, I kept hearing about the Johns, as many people call it, the Johns Commission or the Johns Committee.
And then, I knew a little bit about Charley Johns from my work with Leroy Collins. So I started to dig deeper and deeper, and, before you knew it, I had about a 50 page paper for the class. And what I did is, it was a paper called Academic Freedom and Intellectual Inquiry in Floridas Universities.
And I looked at the Johns Committee, very sketchy, looked at it within the context of the Cold War. I looked at the witch hunts as being anticommunist and anti-immigration activities. So, I was interested. About that same time, I was taking another seminar at the graduate level with Steve Lawson, who was a long-time professor over at USF Tampa, actually started over at USF St. Pete.
And Dr. Lawson was teaching a Civil Rights seminar, and, for part of my research for him, I also became interested in Cold War activities. So working on some research with Drs. Lawson, Mormino, and Arsenault, I became very interested in getting more into the Johns Committee.
AH: Thats quite the trifecta there too.
JS: Exactly. I had the benefit. When I was in graduate school at USF, the history department in the late 80s, early 90s, was just full of phenomenal faculty. You had Steve Lawson; you had Nancy Hewitt; you had Lou Perez; you had Ray Arsenault, Gary Mormino; you had just a great core of folk.
And it was a wonderful time to be here at this institution. What was interesting about Steve, though, was that he had worked on trying to get those records of the Johns Committee opened. The committee started in 1965, during the summer of 65, late spring, as a reaction to the Tallahassee Bus Boycott. In Tallahassee
AH: You mean 55?
JS: Nineteen fifty-six.
AH: Fifty-six, okay.
JS: Fifty-six, yeah. In 1956, there was a bus boycott in Tallahassee. And, as a result of that, the Johns Committee was started. It was started as a way to curtail what they thought was a communist-infiltrated uprising in Tallahassee. They looked at the students of Florida A&M and at FSU. A handful of white students at FSU had looked at what Rosa Parks had done earlier in Montgomery, and they became inspired by her.
And, as Ive often said, the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of the spring and summer of 1956 was one of the first, quote, student protest movements, of the 1960s. It very much student inspired and led. The Johns Committee started in 1956, continued until 1965. What happened was that the records were closed after that, and Ill talk more about that later. But whats amazing is, I talked with Dr. Lawson, and he talked about how he, in the early 1980s, had tried to get the records open.
And he talked about a former graduate student of his, Bonnie Stark. Bonnie Stark had worked in the 1980s and did her masters thesis, where she had talked about the Johns Committee; that was the focus of her work. Bonnie did an amazing job. Bonnie was doing her work primarily off of newspaper articles and clippings. She lived in special collections. She worked in the Tampa campus library archives, in terms of spending hours and hours as a graduate student living here and making it all happen, spent a lot of time in the microfilm room.
Bonnies work was pretty thorough, and so, I wanted to take it to the next step. By that point, it was the early 1990s. I put a number of letters together. I tried to write a letter to the senate council president, to the president of the senate, who was Gwen Margolis, I believe. This is a time when Florida was going through some transitions, and, at this point, Charley Johns had passed away.
And I made a request under Floridas public records law. Florida has a very liberal and open public records law. And it allows for access to documents, we call it Government in the Sunshine. So, I made a Chapter 119 request under Florida public records law.
And, immediately, I received a letter back from the Stephen Collins, who was the senate council; he was the attorney for the Senate of Florida. What Collins said was that the records of the Johns Committee or, as it was officially known, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, were to be closed until the end of, I think, December 2028. He made the argument that these were in accordance with census records.
If you look at census forms, theres a 72-year period between when you fill out a form and when the individual records are open. Thats why in 2015 we have the 1940 census, but we dont have the 1950 individual census yet. So he was making the argument that these were like census records; they would have to be closed for 72 years. Of course, the reason is because what the committee was doing was so criminal that it needed to be closed because they were trying to protect the legacies of all the people who had been on the committee.
But winds had changed a lot between the 1990s and the 1950s and 60s, when the committee was in its heyday. So, I wrote a number of letters to try to force the issue. I wrote to Charlie Reed, who was the Director of the Board of Trustees, Im sorry, the Board of Regents. Charlie Reed was Chancellor of the Board of Regents at that time, President Frank BorkowskiI wrote letters all up and down the chain to let them know what I wanted to do. And I received letters of support from President Borkowski and others saying, Go for it. You need to pursue this.
Unfortunately, what happened was, every time I pursued it, it really fell on deaf ears. A lot of credit goes to the local community. There was a longtime editor of editorials at the St. Petersburg Timestoday, the Tampa Bay Timesnamed Bob Pittman. Robert Pittman was a progressive editorial writer who sometimes pushed the edges of things. He also worked very closely with Leroy Collins on a number of articles that Collins had written for the Times.
Bob Pittman wrote a really nice editorial in August of 1991, I believe it was, where he said, Heres this graduate student at USF named Jim Schnur. He wants to get into these records of this committee that did some bad things a long time ago. Whats the problem?
And some of that helped a little bit, and other writers. There was an article that took place in the Miami Heralds Tropic magazine, I think it was, by a writer named McGarrahan, I believe. There were a number of other writers, had a number of folks who are very involved in the Tampa Bay area who are noted at the USF Tampa campus from that time.
Leyland Halls, a longtime writer from the Tampa Tribune who was a very big friend of USF Tampa Library, he also was very supportive. So I had a lot of good support, and they wrote articles and wrote letters of support along the way. Nothing really happened.
So I kept looking at the newspaper articles and I started to do the research. My committee was Ray Arsenault, Gary Mormino, and John Belohlavek. So I had a really good committee of rock stars.
AH: So the class that kicked all this off was long past. And youre thinking about your thesis now.
And I really was trying to get this history masters moving forward. And so, along the way, I kept trying to nudge the issue about getting the records open. A lot of others got involved, so this wasnt a one-person effort; this was actually a multi-party effort. And the biggest thing that helped wasnt me or any other individuals as much as a court case. Court case that invalidated parts of Floridas public records law.
So what happened was that they had to reestablish parts of the public records law. And, again, I dont remember all the details of the time, but one of the things that began to become an issue that was raised was: now that were rewriting the public records law, and now the time has passed with the Johns Committee, is there any possibility of us moving this to open those records? Fortunately, the legislature allowed for an exemption, under Chapter 119, to open those records of what they called criminal investigations, but as long as the names of those who were victimized were redacted.
So, this happened in early 2000, Im sorry, early 1993. Sometime around March or April, I think, right in the early part of 1993. The records of the Johns Committee were slated to be opened as of July 1, over 25,000 documents. The irony is that, for many years, and the exact story of where they were located varies.
Allen Morris was a longtime historian of the Florida legislature; claimed that, for years, the records were moved from the capitol building, the Old Capitol, over to the state archives. But, at some point, they came back over, probably after the new capitol was built in the 1970s, and were put into a closet, which I find ironic, that they locked the records in a closet because of some of the contents therein.
From what I heard, and, again, a lot of this is hearsay and not really easy to verify or possible to verify, all the good stuff, in terms of photographs and the stuff that was the most revealing, was destroyed a long time ago. Although, they did have some interesting things. I did hear that they had garbage bags full of stuff, but exactly what it is is up for conjecture.
Long story short, in early 1993, the State of Florida was tasked with getting these 25,000 or so pages ready for public access. The records were to be available on July 1. So, they had a big problem on their hands because they didnt have the staff to do this. So what they did wasthey did something that no archivist would ever tolerate, except this is Florida, and, as they said in the 1980s in that old commercial, the rules are different here.
So what they did is, they gave the records to bunch of students, I think, primarily, FSU students, who were OPS [Other Personnel Services]. They were temporary employees, student assistants, work-study, probably. They gave them Sharpie markers, and they mutilated the original documents. They told students, If you see a name, black it out.
Now, a good archivist wouldif the law requires that a document be redacted, what you do is, you take the original with the content, which is kept secure and never shared with the public unless its allowed to in the future, you make a copy of it. You black out the copy, then you make another copy, so that theres no way it can be read through.
Thats what you should do to protect the records and to protect the people who were supposedly protected under the legislature. What the State of Florida did in early 1993, in a sense, was mutilate the entire collection of records. They destroyed the records. What things did the students block out? They blocked out the letterhead that had the name of the governor, so Governor Blank was governor in 1962, when everybody can know that it was Farris Bryant.
It was done really haphazardly, through no fault of the students; they were just given markers and told to mark names out. And they missed quite a few names along the way, in their haste. And so, what happened is, in the early part of the spring of 1993, the records are getting ready. I, at that time, was also getting ready to go up to Tallahassee for July 1. Dont remember the exact time, but it was about the same time that all this was going on.
I worked as a student assistant at USF St. Pete, and, at that point, the highest honor that the president of USF could confer upon a non-USF graduate was the Presidents Medallionthe Presidents Seal, I think it was called, Presidents Award. Anyways, President Borkowski, at that time, I believe he was still president, was going to give that to Bill Young, who was a longtime St. Petersburg representative, at that time, very involved as a long-term member of the US House of Representatives; very powerful with bringing home the pork to Pinellas County, in terms of legislative allocations from US Congress but also, in the early 1960s, an ambitious state senator from Pinellas County, who was a member of the Johns Committee.
So I had the pleasure of getting over to the Tampa campus, and this was right about the time when somebody had interviewed me, I think it was from WUSF radio, about the Johns Committee. This was the day of commencement. And I believe it was for the Florida Report, which was an old afternoon program that WUSF radio used to do as part of the NPR. It was the local segment that tied into NPR around the time of All Things Considered.
So, on the day that I was to be back at the St. Pete campus that evening to videotape the graduation where Bill Young gets this honor, earlier that afternoon, I was here on the Tampa campus in the studios of WUSF radio, being interviewed about the Johns Committee and about the activities thereof and, especially, about how the person who was getting the award from the then-president of the university was very much involved with hurting the university in its infancy.
So, as Im driving back from Tampa to St. Petersburg and hitting malfunction junction at about 4:35 or so, I have the radio on, Im listening to myself on WUSF as they have the introduction, USF St. Petersburg, or The USF St. Pete campus is awarding Bill Young with the presidential seal from President Borkowski.  Jim Schnur, a graduate student at USF, who has done some research on the Johns Committee knows a little bit about another part of Bill Youngs life. And there I am, listening to myself as Im trying to get over to the Mahaffey Theater to go videotape the event. Its not probably the wisest thing for a person to do.
AH: So they linked the two stories together?
AH: Wow.
JS: I mean, WUSF radio rocks. And, you know, its great because the timing was awesome. And WUSF radio is going to come back into the story a little bit later. I also was interviewed a few times by WMNF, by a talk radio station in Orlando, about this time. The exact years, I dont remember, but between 91 and 93, I was interviewed a number of times as the innocent, which I really was, the innocent graduate student who just wanted access to these records.
Now, I wasnt the only person trying to work on this topic, but, at that point, I was the person who was trying to move things forward to get my thesis done. I want to graduate, to be honest with you. But I also wanted the story to be righteous. So,16: what happens in late June of 1993, I move up to Tallahassee. I get a dorm room up in Rogers Hall, which is a graduate dorm at FSU for that summer and the following summer. I get there just a couple of days before the records open.
So, Im sitting in Strozier Library at FSU looking through microfilms. July 1 rolls in; I get to the Senate Office Building, which is one of the two buildings alongside the Capitol in Tallahassee as part of the Capitol Complex. And I always referred to it during my time up there by its acronym, the SOB. So I would go, so I went into the SOB on July 1 of 1993, and the place was a madhouse.
They had the boxes, and I grabbed box number nine, which was the box of lists. The other boxes were being hoarded by about 30 or 40 reporters; either online, well, basically television or radio or newspaper reporters who were looking for names, names that they could scour, so they could knock on somebodys door and say, Hey, I hear you lost your teaching license in 1963. Whats that all about?
This is an important part of the story, though. Long before I made it up to Tallahassee in July of 1993, I spent a lot of time on the fourth floor of the Tampa library. There are some great collections there. The first media relations person at USF was a guy named John Egerton. John Egerton came right out of school and, in his early twenties, was working with President John Allen as a public relations person.
When John Egerton witnessed what was going on here during the Johns Committee activities, he actually put together a typewritten manuscript called The Controversity. And it was amazing. What he did, he put together a tell-all, from his perspective, of what he witnessed firsthand that had happened here at USF during the USF investigations.
At this time, USF had no alumni; it was a much smaller school. There were fewer than 2,000 in the charter class. There were fewer than 5,000 in the early 1960s. This was a tiny school, had no alumni to defend it from the legislature.
JS: Thats exactly right. I mean thats a really good point. The Johns Committee was here before the first graduates of USF occurred. And there were some people who, I would argue, some members of the committee, who really didnt like USF, and Ill try to get back to that a little later on. The thing to remember, though, is John Egerton had his record. Steve Lawson had met a white librarian from Miami Beach named Ruth Perry.
And, years later, Ruth Perrys collection, a very small collection of stuff about her experiences as a white member of the NAACP in Miami-Dade County, also found their way here to USF Tampa. So, I had a lot of good stuff here to work with. Well, Id like to say, even before the records opened up in July of 1993, the foundation was already in place because of what I had to work with at the USF Tampa library. More so than at Gainesville at P.K. Yonge, more so than at FSUs Strozier, this was where to go, which is another important point I want to get to in just a second. Ill come back to that.
The records opened up in July of 1993. And that afternoon, after I had dug into the records, I had a prearranged call all ready to go, to WUSF radio. And so, I was reporting as a kind of graduate student-slash-journalist from Tallahassee on the day the records opened, as a follow up to my earlier conversation on the radio. So then I was giving a blow-by-blow account of what I found on my first day digging into the Johns Committee, so that folks listening to NPR in the Tampa Bay area knew that I was doing my job, I guess.
But, coming back to USF, this is another very important story. The battle to get these records open is largely the battle that goes in three waves. Three waves, in terms of the history of the Johns Committee, but two waves in terms of the battle. The first battle was the unsuccessful battle to get the records open, and that was what Steve Lawson and what Bonnie Stark did in the 1980s. The second battle, which is where I start to get involved, was the battle that the records did get open. Again, not just because of me but because of a lot of good people.
But heres the most important thing, and heres something thats really strong for the historical record. The first wave of Johns Committee scholarship, pre-opening of the records and opening of the records, is all primarily USF people: myself, Steve Lawson, Bonnie Stark, and also, a USF graduate who did her masters here but actually did her doctoral dissertation at UNC Chapel Hill. And her focus on the Johns Committee took place at that point. Her name was Stacy Braukman. So Stacy Braukman, although she didnt really focus on the Johns Committee while here, when she went on to do her doctoral dissertation, the time she had with mentors like Steve Lawson and Nancy Hewitt allowed her to have a good understanding of why the Johns Committee was important.
AH: Why do you think that is?
JS: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the cohort of faculty that we had here at the history department. We had some really strong faculty in various areas. Again, Steve Lawson had been involved with Eyes on the Prize; Nancy Hewitt was one of the most renowned scholars of women and gender history; Gary Mormino was a consummate historian of Florida. I would even throw in Nick Wynne who was, at that time, executive director of the Florida Historical Society. He, through his organization and the organization itself, lent a lot of support to the idea of getting these records open to clear the air.
So, there were a lot of great things happening at that time. And a lot of them were centered here, on the Tampa campus of USF. Nineteen ninety-three, Im working on my masters research; I come back again in 1994. By that time, they had moved the records over to the archives. I think the thing to know is that, during my first visit, we worked out of the Senate Office Building. So they werent even in archives yet.
Interestingly enough, Bonnie Stark was there for part of that time. She was going to rework her thesis into a book. That never happened. But what happened is, between 93 and 95, I began the process of writing. And it was quite a challenge, because what I didnt want to do was focus upon the committee in terms of the small pieces.
There were the civil rights investigations; theres a larger Cold War theme; theres anti-communism theme; theres, of course, the attacks against GLBTQ people. The gay and lesbian investigations were largely not in the earlier records, or if they were, they were more-or-less sanitized, because newspapers of the early 1960s really didnt deal with gay and lesbian issues in any substantive way. So, the older narratives tended to focus more on civil rights issues.
What I wanted to do was something that was, I think, trying to bite off a lot more than anyone should have tried to chew, and do an overall institutional history of the Johns Committee. And 341 pages later, somehow, it all came together. But it was amazing because, when I started to dig deeper into the research, I started to see all these relationships between people who had largely been exonerated from their activities on the committee as time had gone by.
And I guess probably the greatest example is my local congressman, US Rep. Bill Young, who, for years, had talked about development and, ironically, had become quite a good friend to USF. When he was a young, ambitious state senator in the early 1960s, he was involved with the Johns Committee, not during its entire tenure, but during the later part of it.
Well, it is important to know was he was involved with the Johns Committee at a point in 1963 when John Allen, the president of USF, was called to defend the, quote, intellectual trash, and the other questions about the way he managed USF. John Allen, in my mind, comes out as a true hero because Allen had a lot of work to do on his hands to save USF. Ill come back to that point in a minute.
Bill Youngs kind of funny in the sense that when he was interviewed in 1993 after the records open, Bill Youngs perspective was, Oh, that was long time ago. I dont remember anything. When he was asked about if he was involved with the Purple Pamphlet, the 1964 document Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida, which, again, five years before Stonewall puts Florida on the national stage of GLBT awareness, not the positive way.
The irony, of course, is that Bill Young claimed he had no knowledge of it, but his name was right there on the label of the authors title page. So, Bill Young fully knew what he was doing back then. And, of course, after Bill Youngs death, there were some other questions about what a family man he was, that I think future historians will have a good time with, but back to John Allen.
One of the challenges that John Allen faced as president was, during the investigations that began in 62, primarily, and kicked up into 63, they focused a lot on academic freedom here. You had a guy named Thomas Winter, who was an instructor in a course called The American Idea, which was an undergraduate core course, who had been involved with some local people who had questions about what the university was. You had a situation where you had a lot of first time in college.
USF was given that name in large measure because when the board of control, the predecessor to the board of governors, created the fourth public university in Florida, they probably thought that in the 1950s, and USFs name came a little later than when it was established, that this would be the last university wed need. This should never have been called USF. It should have been called UCF; were in Central Florida, or something like that.
Anyways, when USF was established, it was established in a way that a lot of people didnt like it. People in the Tampa Bay community, some people didnt like its location; they wanted it to be downtown. There was actually talk, briefly, about taking over UT, the University of Tampa. That would have been a parking nightmare. But, when USF Tampa was established, some people were mad because it was way out in the boonies in Temple Terraceand again, back then, Temple Terrace was way out in the boonies, in perspective. Others didnt like it because it didnt have a football team. They wanted to have a football team to compete against UT, which did have a football team.
So, you had people that didnt like USF because it didnt have football. You had a lot of first time in college, meaning a lot of parents who had never attended college themselves.
And so, its a really cool analogy that, what USF was doing in its early years; there were no professional schools; there was no College of Nursing, no College of Medicine. The professional schools didnt really exist. It was like a big liberal arts college on the Tampa campus. USF was pushing the envelope with all these young, enthusiastic faculty who had come here. They wanted to help reshape this area by creating a high quality of education. USFs hallmark, at that time, and forward, is that.
So, you have these faculty, like one whose name is beloved to me, Charlie Arnade. Charlie Arnade grew up all over the world; he was a globetrotter. He taught in history and in political science and government and international affairs, here at USF. He was one of the earliest faculty hires here. He had finished his degree at the University of Florida.
At that time, he was contacted by the Johns Committee because he was a member of the NAACP and very involved in pro-civil rights activities. He was, again, contacted by the Johns Committee while he was an instructor at FSU. And then, when he came to USF, he got called before the committee again. So he was brought before the committee on three different occasions while at three different institutions.
But Charlie Arnade was one of those types of individuals that the committee scorned because, here you have a person who had no problem with cultural diversity, at a time when that was considered a bad phrase, who encouraged his students to think outside of the box, who challenged his students to deal with ideas that are not in their natural comfort zones, and you have a number of people like that.
I had a number of opportunities to interview folks who are no longer with us. One of them is Phyllis Marshall, who was an early leader of student affairs, and later the Marshall Center was named in her honor because of her leadership of cultivating students. Her memories were just of how this time during the USF investigations really caused a chill on our campus, here, in the way that the ones at UF and FSU had done on those campuses.
When I talked with Charlie Arnade, one of the things that came out of his conversations and his memories, quite strongly, was how much he was upset with President John Allen and wanted John Allen to do more and had a number of times where he had been somewhat confrontational with John Allen. Again, its hard to go back and talk about this without putting it within a different framework.
What I dont think Charlie understood, at that moment in time, in the early years, was had John Allen taken the higher road in terms of becoming more forceful about questioning the motives of these lawmakers, these lawmakers would have replaced him with a lackey.
John Allen had previously been the vice-president at the University of Florida. After a presidential departure, he became the acting president for a brief period of time at UF. Why is that important? He knew the lay of the land. If they had brought in an outsider, you know, some big brain from out of the state, and thats, I think, what happened when Gordon Blackwell, who came from FSU, you would have had a different environment, but they would have gotten rid of him and replaced him with a more favorable and friendly president. So, while John Allen didnt take a stand in the way that some faculty, like Charlie Arnade wanted to, he did take a stand.
So, the summer of 62, they used the Tampa Times, which was the afternoon Tampa newspaper. It was more conservative than the Tribune, and they published in there an extended investigation, expos, of whats going on at USF. Your children are learning that evolution exists. Theyre in courses with professors who use words like damn and hell. And your children are being exposed to pornographic literature, books on anthropology that include pictures of naked animals, stuff like that.
Anyways, what you see happening as a result of this is, John Allens not around to defend the institution, but
AH: Well, and this is the first he hears of the investigation, is that right?
And that was a very careful cakewalk, too. That was a very careful diplomatic walk. They wanted to select an African American student that was exemplary in all ways. And so, that if he didntso that it didnt look as if it was a bad choice.
So, John Allen realized, I think, that something was going to come down the pipeline. But heres what John Allen did: he found out that many of the investigations and many of the interviews with students and others were being conducted at the Hawaiian Village off of Dale Mabry and other hotels far away from campus, a tactic that the Johns Committee had used quite successfully at Florida and Florida State and Florida A&M.
For example, at University of Florida in 1957, 58, when the Johns Committee first began to focus on homosexuality and gay and lesbian issues, along with academic freedom and immigration, they published a 2,000-page document. 2,000 pages of the transcripts of the Johns Committee records are called, quote, Crimes Against Nature at the University of Florida.
And, again, it was a great, titillating type of a narrative. John Allen knew about this. I mean, he knew what was happening at his former employer. So, John Allen was in the aware about that, so John Allen says, You guys want to have investigations, fine and dandy. You are the lawmakers. Its within the purview of your body, as the legislature, to create interim investigation committees, even though you are the legislative branch, not the executive and judicial branches, you might act like them sometimes.
But he had most of the interviews, as many as he could, or as many as he was aware of. They took place in the ADM building, on campus, with a USF employee also tape recording the conduct of them to protect the students, to protect the faculty, and to protect the institution. Johns didnt like this at all. He thought John Allen shouldve stopped meddling.
And there were conversations of possibly trying to get John Allen removed. It never did happen, but the important thing for us to remember is that John Allen took a very courageous stand to defend USF at a time when USF had no alumni, no true friends in the legislature, and Sam Gibbons was a friend, in a sense that he could help out a little bit. Sam Gibbons would later refer to Charley Johns and the Johns Committee as the Christopher Columbus of homosexuality for their ability to uncover things.
Investigations that the committee did were pretty bad, too. Again, they would often target people that were easy targets. Many of the people they targeted at [the University of] Florida and Florida State [University], in the gay and lesbian witch hunts up there, were people that they could use under the Crimes Against Nature law, which was a very fluid and expansive law. Depending upon how its interpreted, you could be married to your heterosexual, opposite-sex spouse, but if you were alleged to have committed a non-procreative sex act with that individual, you could be condemned for a, quote, homosexual act on a member of the opposite sex.
Schoolteachers. There was a schoolteacher, I believe, at Boca Ciega High in Pinellas County, who either lost her job or was threatened with losing her job because she had admittedshe was in her twenties; she was in a monogamous, heterosexual relationshipthat, when she was a teenager, a 12-year-old girl, she had kissed another girl as a friend, and, therefore, she had homosexual tendencies and was a threat to the classroom.
I mean, you read these documents over and over, and it getsyou talk about prurient literature, the Johns Committee created some early narrative pornography. You know, thats its legacy.
AH: And it kind of culminated with that Purple Pamphlet.
JS: Exactly. I mean, the Purple Pamphlet was an outrageous document. The irony, of course, is that even though it was very homophobic it puts down on the table a lot of conversations. So now you know what a queen really was because they had a descriptive glossary. You knew what certain numbers like 69 meant now. I mean, they actually helped promote an awareness of sexual activity in their own contorted way because, what happened is, the book was reprinted and published by bookstores outside of Florida. The attorney general from Miami-Dade County actually called it pornographic literature, to which the Johns Committee had to rebut that.
The irony, of course, too, is that the Johns Committee was so overwhelmed with requests for the booklet, that what they began to do, because it did have a few choicely created photos for dramatic effect, is they would just, all of a sudden, give mimeographed copies of words, which nobody really wanted to read those.
The other thing that is amazing about this whole time is that while the Johns Committee is doing its work, Florida is undergoing some incredible changes. Floridas demographics are changing. This is a time when the battle between rural North Florida and the urbanizing Central-South Florida are taking place. Again, USF is front and center, and the Tampa Bay region is front and center.
These areas had been historically north. I mean, we have to go back to 1905, 60 years early than the Johns Committee, this establishment, and look at the fact that when the University of Florida moved from Lake City to Gainesville, people thought Gainesville was too far south. So Florida was mostly, at that point, what we would today consider old North Florida.
So you have a largely white supremacist culture that goes back to the years of slavery, the antebellum period up in North Florida. You have a lot of segregationists in the Tampa Bay area and in South Florida as well, but you have also have a lot of people who come to these areas that are more progressively minded.
The Johns Committee had fellow travelers. They were looking for fellow travelers among communist integrationists, and some of the fellow travelers that they have, their records were actually here at the USF Tampa Library. For example, they had a longtime district attorney in this area named Herbert S. Phillips. Herbert S. Phillips was an amazing character.
He was a man of the law, but he was also a man who had some pretty strong racial tendencies. And his collection here at USF Tampa Spec Col [Special Collections], has a number of different things, which, again, he has a picture of then-Vice President Richard Nixonat the time, Nixon was vice president to Eisenhower, in the 1950sin some sub-Saharan African country. I think its Ghana, but dont quote me on that, where hes embracing or holding, kind of, congratulating Ghana, or this new country, on breaking the chains of colonialism and becoming an independent nation. And this flyer makes the point that Richard Nixon is probably an integrationist-loving communist.
Herbert Phillips papers have a number of screeds that you have about, Dont let your white daughter talk to those black men because the worlds going to go to hell on a handbasket. One of my favorite little old things was a little, single-page pamphlet of a song that was created called Segregation which is amazing.
So you have one of the lead law enforcement officers, if you will, of the Tampa Bay area is a very proud white supremacist. At the same time, in another collection thats here over in this USF Tampa Library, you have the son of the man who donated the land for Lowry Park Zoo, Sumter Lowry.
Sumter Lowry was called Old 93; he was born in 1893 and, until his death in the early 1970s, was considered to be a local hero. A war hero in a lot of ways, he was involved with the National Guard, and he was very much a big part of Tampa social circles. He also was an avowed white supremacist who ran for governor in 1956, I believe, on the Democratic ticket as part of the primary.
Lost, but he ran on a very simple platform: keep white schools white. And whenever youd ask him what he wanted to do, What are you going to do about economic growth? Ill keep white schools white. What will you do about the citrus economy? Ill keep white schools white. He loses the election, of course, but the thing to know about Sumter Lowry is, he also decides he needs to create a friends group to help the Johns Committee and also to help other causes that would keep those people on their side of the tracks.
There were a number of different white supremacist types of groups in the South. We all know about the Klan, which is not a single body but an amorphous group. You also had these groups throughout the South called the White Citizens Council, which were local groups that tried to perpetuate what we call sundown towns. You may let blacks come in during the day to do domestic work, but they get the hell out of there before the sun goes down.
Sumter Lowry also createdwrapping the flag around himself as a war heroan organization called the Florida Coalition of Patriotic Societies. So, under his Florida coalition, he saw this as a fellow traveler to help the Johns Committee weed out unholy activities in the Tampa Bay area.
I mean, Sumter Lowry was very vicious about his belief in maintaining a certain worldview. When Tampas mayor, Julian Lane, who was no progressive, mind you; he was a very traditional, conservative mayor of Tampa. When Tampas mayor, Julian Lane, was in power in the early 1960s, there were letters in the City of Tampa archives in which Sumter Lowry is writing to Julian Lane, complaining that there should be more blue laws in effect. The only thing that should be open in the big city of Tampa on Sundays are churches, maybe a grocery store, the police, fire, and hospital. All these otherlaundry mats can stay closed, this is a day of rest.
JS: Exactly. Well, and the irony is that at the point that Tampa starts to gets on the cusp of being this great urban center in the early 1960s, you have Sumter Lowry looking back to a different time and wanting to make Tampa the city that he knew in the 1890s as a baby. You know, I think that theres a lot to say that, but the Johns Committee was, in the 1950s and 1960s, was a last-ditch effort by those largely in North Florida, but not entirely North Florida, who saw the writing on the wall.
Civil rights became an inevitability and especially afterthe Brown decision was one good mile marker. The Tallahassee Bus Boycott gets them created. The 1964 Civil Rights Act tries to change them in a different direction because now you have federal law, which says you cannot discriminate. And, again, there were some activities out in St. Augustine where the Johns Committee investigates what they consider the racial discord, which is largely the racial discord of whites pouring muriatic acid in swimming pools, but they saw it, really, as Martin Luther King and all the troublemaking African Americans trying to harm the white businesses by their presence. So, you have all this going on.
What Im trying to say is that the Johns Committee was populated by people and was supported by people who wanted to turn back the hands of time and to turn back the tide to a different type of world. They wanted a world, which whites have supremacy, where white supremacy was allowed, continued, celebrated, and they didnt want to move forward.
You know, I think that if you were to walk around the Tampa Bay campus in 2015, and look at our student body, look at our faculty, look at the curricular offerings we have today. If you were to have a time machine, and in 1962 or 1963 when the Johns Committee is conducting its investigations, you could shove all the members of the Johns Committee and their wonderful investigator, Remus Strickland, into a box, and then open the door to right in front of Cooper Hall or the Tampa Library today.
What we today see as a vibrant, healthy, celebrated university with a great academic reputation, they would call hell on earth. Youve got non-whites all over the place, and you have all this integration happening. You have people talking about ideas that were not considered to be within an acceptable sphere of influence. They would see hell in where we see heaven. And thats a really important irony.
A couple of other examples of what happened in the Johns Committee investigations here at USF. There was an opportunity that the university had to hire a retiring Vanderbilt professor named Denna Frank Fleming. D.F. Fleming was a very noted political scientist. He had written a book called The Cold War and Its Origins. And D.F. Fleming, in his book, makes a point that the Soviet Union, as well as the West, had some level of complicity, that it takes two to have a quarrel, not just one drama queen or one belligerent person and one innocent bystander whos pure.
And, again, his book was not panned; it was well regarded, and he was considered quite somewhat of an authority. Well, D.F. Fleming was offered a part-time opportunity to teach here at USF. Just before his contract was tendered, and at the time he had put a down payment on a house in the Tampa Bay area, the Johns Committee contacted John Allen and put John Allen in a very difficult position by ascribing communist affiliations to D.F. Fleming saying, We got dirt on him. We cant tell you what it is; we got dirt on him, however.
Well, John Allen, of course, had no choice but to rescind the contract. Later, it turns out the Johns Committees attacks, or information, on D.F. Fleming were on somebody [named] D.J. Fleming; they couldnt get the initials right. So the Johns Committee used false information about an entirely different person as a way to keep USF from hiring this guy. Thats what brought the American Association of University Professors here and why USF was censured.
So, I mean, USF was censured early in its history. USF, as a child, was already put in detention, before it got to kindergarten. I mean, thats a real shame.
AH: Well, you know, and also I think, you kind of pointed this out earlier in that, I think Egerton does, at some point, and some other people, really, the critics from the left werent of any help. Like you said, if Allen had followed their advice, he would have been gone. USF would have been a community college, end of story probably, right?
JS: Thats a good point. And, you know, when we talk about Florida during that time, when we talk about critics from the left, the critics from the left would be critics from the moderate center, today.
AH: Well, right.
JS: Putting the words Florida and progressive in the same sentence really didnt mean much, unless youre talking about progressive termites and progressive citrus. I mean, there was a lotthis was a very reactionary town. Tampa was, in many ways, a growing city that was trying to cling onto its old school aspirations, and its evidenced because, even after the committee comes to an end in the late 60s, you have terrible riots here in Tampa. So there are racial issues here that are not fully addressed.
AH: Well, and one other thing I wanted to mention, too, and I dont know how much this came across your radar screen, but the fears of the Johns Committee were coming to life in 62; like, the USF students were already arguing for the integration of the university restaurant, which was off campus. So that must have been, like, a warning, Oh, this is already happening. I mean, these students are already being indoctrinated. Right?
JS: I think thats ayou know, Ive heard people say that in the late 60s and early 70s, USF was, in some ways, quote, the Berkeley of the South. Maybe thats a bit of an exaggeration, but theres a lot to be said for the fact that there was a restaurant that was built among the sand hills of what is now Fowler Avenue, about the time USF opened, called Scagliones University Restaurant. And it was not part of USF. It was along the way; it was near where University Mall is today.
But the thing is, just to talk about students wanting to integrate an off-site thing, was considered to be an affront. You know, a lot of what you see happening is that there was a fear that the quote, children, at USF were being exposed to ideas that were unnatural, and that needs to be curtailed.
One of the major USF investigations involved a professor of English named Sheldon Grebstein, who came here, and he was involved in teaching a number of classes. He came from the University of Kentucky. One of things he wanted to do in an advanced classand this was a class in which the youngest student was, I believe, 24 years of age; these were not children, quote, unquote; these were adults under the law at that timewas, he was no fan of the Beats [Beat Generation].
He didnt like Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg. He did not like beat writers, but he wanted to use the writings of some of the beat writers, like Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, to show how shallow, in his opinion, their writing was. Well, of course, by putting in front of those, quote, children, words like damn and hell, he was exposing them to words their innocent ears may have never heard before.
Well, Grebstein gets called before the committee and investigated, and, later, as a result of his use of such controversial literature, the board of control decides they are going to put together an academic freedom policy to govern what professors can use in class.
AH: Right, and responsibilities associated with academic freedom.
JS: Exactly. And so what happens is, Sheldon Grebstein leaves USF. Which, Sheldon does pretty well. He actually goes on and becomes a college president up in the SUNY system in New York. And its ironic, I was actually here on campus years ago, when he came back to USF Tampa, USF for the first time in almost 25 or 30 years, probably 30 years, to give a talk about his memories of USF. And here he comes back, and he hadnt been in the Tampa Bay area for three decades or so and wasnt a witness to witness the changes he did, but, again, he made the right decision by leaving.
But, theres a lot of challenges. For example, universities today are held to a lot of accountability measures: how many students do we graduate; what is our FTE; what is our enrollment; how many books do we have per student? And all that stuff was all fine and dandy, but theres one thing you cant quantify: how many people heard about what was happening in Florida because of the Johns Committee and said, Theres no way in hell Im going to A) work here, or go here as student. And whether that means USF or FSU or UF or any other schools, the Johns Committee did a lot of damage to Floridas academic reputation that would take years to correct.
Its not really until the late 70s to early 1980s, under governors like Askew and Graham that you really see Florida start to move forward. Higher education in Florida goes through a very ambitious upswing during the 1980s.
But back in the 60s, really quickly, back when the Johns Committee came to an end, you begin seeing new controversies hitting the institution. And one of my favorite is, for example, that after John Allen retires, the next president we have, Cecil Mackey, sometimes referred to as Mack the Knife, was very ambitious in expanding graduate programs.
So, the committees legacy goes away, but the battles that take place between students and the institution continue. What you see, for example, is, when WUSF radio originally began, there were a lot of student-focused programming, including, they had a radio program called The Underground Railroad. They had a lot of rock music and things like that. One of the things Mackeys looking at in the early 1970s is hes expanding the graduate programs; hes putting together the professional schools of medicine, engineering, nursing. And he realizes that, if he wants the demographic of the greater Tampa Bay area to support USF, we need to get all that crazy rock-and-roll off of WUSF radio and replace it with beautiful music.
So, again, the battles continue in different ways. At the same time, the GLBT battles continue. Nineteen sixty-nine, the Stonewall is often considered a very important mile marker of gay and lesbian history, wherein the Johns Committee was, more than a decade earlier, a very big part of GLBT history. The magnet of GLBT history comes back to Florida in the 1970s with Anita Bryant, the former spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, who later became very outspoken in her homophobic views of gays and lesbians from the 70s and was involved in attempts to repeal ordinances in Miami-Dade.
So, Floridas history is affected in many ways, but its kind of a tug-of-war between a couple of various schools of thought: those who see Florida as a forward-moving, progressive place, a land of opportunity where you can cast aside your old, dirty laundry and put on your bathing suit and swim in the land of milk and honey, versus those who would like to keep Florida whistling Dixie. And what the Johns Committee was in many ways an attempt to try to slow down, if not stop, that move forward.
AH: Well, and one of the other features, you know, youre talking about all these other things, is the constant intervention by the state government into education in the university system in very intimate ways. And the Johns Committee wasnt the first time; it wasnt the last time. And weve got lots of mechanisms, still, that are designed to have direct control over the education system, over a lot of people who may not be qualified to do so.
JS: You know, thats a good point because Florida was the last state east of the Mississippi River to consolidate and create a system of higher ed. There was a University of Florida prior to 1905, but its not until 1905, under the Buckman Act, that Florida truly has a system of universities.
There were three original, post-secondary institutions of higher learning: the University of Florida in Gainesville, moved from Lake City; Florida State College for Women, later Florida State University in Tallahassee; and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negros, which later became Florida A&M University. So you have three institutions. USF becomes the fourth.
The board of control was the board that oversaw higher ed in Florida under the Buckman Act. The name was so fitting. One of the things that happened as a result the Johns Committee, however, was they decided to create a bit of a political buffer and create a situation where the board of control would be replaced by what they then called the board of regents and give a little bit more space between the universities and lawmakers.
Of course, the irony is that, in the last 10 or 15 years, weve kind of stepped back, in terms of our way of governance, where the board of regents, afterthere was a local lawmaker, who was an FSU alum, who wanted a college of chiropractic at FSU. Now, when that didnt happen, he got a little bit mad. And there were some other local lawmakers who wanted things to happen.
And when the board of regents said, Were not properly funded to do what were doing. We cant take on more of your pet projects, one of the responses was to disestablish the board of regents, create what we now have, the state board of governors, the state board. And now you have the boards of trustees, that are largely people that are local business leaders, but not with as much general public representation.
And weve kind of moved forward in not always the most progressive way. I often say that politics and education are intimately related, and USF is probably the greatest example of that in the state of Florida, not in a positive way. USF has been a fighter and a survivor. USF, during the Johns Committee years, survived the Johns Committee. Accent on image prevailedno, its accent on learning prevailed over accent on image, excuse me.
But heres what else to know: as USF grew during the 60s and 70s, USF had the largest surface area of any state university. From Brooksville, where Chinsegut Hill was, all the way down to the tip of the Everglades. USF had campuses in, originally, Tampa; St. Petersburg in 65; and in the early 70s, Ft. Myers, which became our third major campus; then Sarasota, as we took possession of New College, a private institution; and then, Lakeland.
I think its ironic that in the past 20 years or so, since the early 1990s, USF has been the fall guy, if you will, for expansion of higher ed. USF was, by many accounts, the biggest institution with surface area in the state. In the early 90s, the Ft. Myers campus was transitioned as Florida Gulf Coast University was created. Gulf Coast offered classes, I think, in 97. USF Ft. Myers closed.
In the late 1990s, there was a lawmaker from Manatee County who was whining about not having his own college campus. So the lawmakers, as a going away present, decided to sever the New College, the state honors college that USF so ably governed forever, and create New College of Florida. So, if you go to what is now USF Sarasota-Manatee, its actually a campus physically disassociated, by some distance, from what used to be USF Sarasota and New College. And, while New College is independent, the relationship is still very strong down there.
And, of course, recently, the action of a lawmaker in Polk County who took what was called USF Lakeland that started in the 1980s, later called USF Polytechnicwhy you need a polytechnic in the middle of an orange grove is a good questionto create what became Florida Polytechnic University. And the argument that was made and was supported by Gov. Rick Scott and the legislature and others in trying to assuage certain lawmakers was, Florida needed a polytechnic university, which really shows that lawmakers and others have short memories.
There was an institution created in the 1960s, which was the states first polytechnic university that nobody talks about. It was FTU. Florida Technological University was created in the Orlando area as the states high-tech engineering school. We dont call it FTU anymore; we call it UCF. So, the irony is that theyve created something they already had 50 years earlier. And I guess the big question is, when Florida Polytechnic starts wanting to offering degrees in literature and history, does it lose the technical, the polytech name, or not?
Again, USFs history is so closely tied to the growth of Florida after World War II. USF played a huge role to the students and faculty here in addressing a very bad chapter of Florida history.
JS: And, I guess, in a kind of a closing remark, at the end of the day, USF still flourishes. Even though USF, by force of the legislature, the St. Petersburg campus had to become a separately accredited entity to appease lawmakers, even though Sarasota had to follow the same path. And there were benefits to that, but, also, there are good and bad opportunities as a result.
At the end of the day, more than 50 years after its inception, nearly 60 years after its creation, USF is doing quite fine. And I think thats a testament to the institution. Its also a testament to how the libraries here preserved good records of what happened.
AH: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time with us today.
JS: Its been a pleasure.
AH: And so much information in less than one hour.
JS: Thanks.
AH: Thanks a lot.


COPYR I GHT NOTI CE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 19952016, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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