Communists and Perverts under the Palms
The Johns Committee in Florida, 1956-1965
Publication Year: 2012
In 1956, state Senator Charley Johns was appointed the chairman of the newly formed Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, now remembered as the Johns Committee. This group was charged with the task of unearthing communist tendencies, homosexual persuasions, and anything they saw as subversive behavior in academic institutions throughout Florida. With the cooperation of law enforcement, the committee interrogated and spied on countless individuals, including civil rights activists, college students, public school teachers, and university faculty and administrators.
Today, the actions of the Johns Committee are easily dismissed as homophobic and bigoted. Communists and Perverts under the Palms reveals how the creation of the committee was a logical and unsurprising result of historic societal anxieties about race, sexuality, obscenity, and liberalism. Stacy Braukman illustrates how the responses to those societal anxieties, particularly the Johns Committee, laid the foundation for the resurgence of conservatism in the 1960s. Braukman is considered and nuanced in her stance, refusing a blanket condemnation of the extremism of a committee whose influence, even decades after its dissolution, continues to be felt in the culture wars of today.
Published by: University Press of Florida
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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List of Figures
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This book would not have been possible without the support of many people, to whom I owe an enormous debt of gratitude. My editor, Meredith Morris-Babb at the University Press of Florida, belongs at the top of the list, thanks to her endless patience and unwavering belief in the project. The librarians...
Introduction: Where the Sunbelt Meets the Old South
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In 2002 in the pages of the New York Times, the poet Campbell McGrath asked of Florida, “Why here? Why psychopaths and terrorists, upside down elections and general weirdness? Is it the unrootedness of people, the extraordinariness...
1. The NAACP and the Origins of the Johns Committee, 1956
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In 1956, the Florida legislature established an investigating committee charged with identifying legal infractions by the NAACP. Florida joined other southern states that were creating sovereignty commissions, education commissions, and committees on...
2. Racial and Sexual Perversion, 1957–1958
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The Florida Legislative Investigation Committee’s first full two-year term began in the spring of 1957. FLIC members spent this time, as did many other southern state committees, dedicated to forestalling integration by harassing the NAACP. Under the chairmanship of Charley Johns, the FLIC aggressively subpoenaed...
3. Surveillance and Exposure, 1959–1960
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The Johns Committee began 1959 as it had ended the previous year, with secret hotel room interrogations and men’s room stakeouts on the University of Florida campus and around Gainesville. By the spring, the university had removed more than a dozen professors on the grounds of homosexuality. The...
4. Subversion and Indecency, 1961–1962
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C. Farris Bryant was inaugurated as Florida’s governor on January 3, 1961. A conservative Democrat from Ocala, Bryant had served as a member and as speaker of the state house of representatives and failed in his 1956 bid for governor. Soon...
5. Sex and Civil Rights, 1963–1965
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The first half of the 1960s saw a dramatic climax of nonviolent civil rights protests in the South and the passage of sweeping federal legislation to protect African Americans’ constitutional rights. By 1965, the movement had penetrated American politics and culture, awakening the nation’s conscience in a way that...
Epilogue: Anita Bryant and Florida’s Culture Wars
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“We’re not going to take this sitting down,” Anita Bryant told the New York Times on January 18, 1977. Florida’s Dade County Commission had just approved an ordinance banning discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of “sexual or affectional preference.”1 Bryant had moved to Miami Beach...
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About the Author
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Page Count: 266
Illustrations: 14 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2012