Gabe Kaimowitz: Distorting civil rights history

Published: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 3:28 p.m.

Now that the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. has come and gone, I have a dream for the next 50 years. I dream the day soon will come when Florida media no longer has to falsify history and distort the events leading up to the changes in this state about race relations.

In my dream, we no longer will have to hear the false praises ring out for four Democratic Party governors who did something but never nearly enough to advance equal opportunity for blacks in this state. Their views would be duly noted, as well as their limited actions. But it will be clear that if anything is to be accomplished about this issue, this state will have to start over from scratch.

What am I talking about? White state historians laud four periods when blacks were fortunate to find allies in the governor’s mansion. They would have the public start with Gov. LeRoy Collins (1956-61). Then, after an unredeemable segregationist Gov. Ferris Bryant, and a quirky Republican governor, the golden age continued with Gov. Reubin Askew (1971-79); Gov. Bob Graham (1979-87), and again after a GOP interruption, Gov. Lawton Chiles (1991-98 — he died in office.)

What really happened? Collins failed in every meaningful way to deter ardent segregationists from preventing any meaningful advancement for blacks in Florida, while he was in office. An interposition resolution passed overwhelmingly in the state Legislature. Because of that document, Florida would not recognize decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education, or in other cases in which the state senators and representatives disagreed with the rulings of the high court.

Long after Collins left office, the Florida Constitution continued to require separate schools for blacks and whites. It was changed in 1968, under a Republican. Modern legislative reapportionment did not occur until 1967. As a final kick in his teeth, voters finally rejected Collins and his views when he was defeated in 1968, in his attempt to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Askew was a Pork Chop Gang member who was elected in 1958 to the Florida House, and in 1962 to the Senate. e was popular enough with that crowd to be elected president pro tem of the Florida Senate in 1968-70.

When he was in office, Askew failed in his effort to have voters accept busing if necessary to enforce the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown. He was unable or unwilling to do anything to deter University of Florida President Stephen J. O’Connell from expelling black students and punishing adult supporters who were seeking greater opportunities for African-Americans at the flagship schools. His token appointments of blacks to statewide executive offices were just that — tokens. None followed until Gov. Rick Scott took office.

In 1983-84, when he sought to run for the U.S. presidency, Askew was rebuked by Democrats elsewhere. They could not understand his total right-to-life approach, and antipathy toward Roe v. Wade. On labor issues, Askew continued to favor Florida’s right to work laws. Askew had to withdraw before the Florida primary.

Likewise when Graham considered going outside of the state for political support for the presidency, he found himself trying to defend his advocacy of the return of capital punishment to Florida. Chiles in fact stepped down from a U.S. Senate seat, because he could not handle that environment. In brief, Florida liberals have never been seen the same way out of state as they have within its borders.

Gabe Kaimowitz lives in Gainesville.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top