restricted access 5. Sex and Civil Rights, 1963–1965
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p 5 Sex and Civil Rights, 1963–1965 We’re not having any sex orgies or anything like that. This is a march for freedom. Lester Maddox, Americans for States’ Rights, Private Property Rights and Private Enterprise demonstration, Atlanta, 1965 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 individual episodes in the 1950s—from Emmett Till’s lynching to the venomous white mobs in Little Rock—jarring though they were, had not. The stark contrast between the dignified resolve of peaceful demonstrators and the raging violence of segregationists came into ever sharper relief during the era of the Freedom Rides, Birmingham, the March on Washington, and Bloody Sunday and the subsequent march from Selma to Montgomery. A majority of Americans sympathized with the abstract principles of black voting rights and equal access to lunch counters. At the very moment when the greatest constitutional victories in a century had been won, however, the movement itself was already changing. Growing student activism across a widening spectrum, from the increasing radicalism of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to the emergence of the New Left, seemed to portend the fulfillment of postwar conservatives’ and segregationists’ most dire prophecies. In Florida, the Johns Committee continued monitoring students active in civil rights and peace groups, defended an unpopular and soon 160 · Communists and Perverts under the Palms notorious report on homosexuality and published a leering account of Martin Luther King’s and SCLC’s St. Augustine campaign. By 1964, with passage of the Civil Rights Act and the conservative triumph within the Republican Party, massive resistance had transformed from an overtly race-based articulation of white supremacy and fears of black contamination to an ostensibly color-blind defense of individual rights, in particular, the freedom of association. Politicians, legislative committees, and the FBI continued to discredit the civil rights movement as Communist-tainted. The seeds of this critique of liberalism had been sown in the immediate postwar years, but the commingling of conservative and segregationist attacks on the morals of blacks and whites on the left forged a crucial bond with nonsoutherners that would contribute to the reshaping of conservative politics in the decades that followed. * * * In December 1962, Mrs. Smith had stood before the Plant City Conservative Club and reminded members that the problems at USF remained unsolved, despite the Johns Committee’s hearings and the Board of Control ’s new policies related to homosexuality, communism, and academic freedom. She framed her concerns around the question of rights. “Moral order is being attacked at our university,” she warned, and “I have a right to act when they come into class and indoctrinate.” At one point during the evening, she attempted to read from the Norman Podhoretz article that had been the source of Sheldon Grebstein’s suspension, but her husband hastened to restrain her, cautioning that the content was inappropriately graphic for this particular setting. He allowed his wife, however, to read from John Dollard’s chapter on interracial sex in his study of the Mississippi Delta, Caste and Class in a Southern Town. According to the Tampa Times, which chose not to quote her in this instance, “club members readily agreed that the book was unfit” for college students.1 Ill will lingered on all sides of the controversy after the Johns Committee left Tampa, but R. J. Strickland, unbothered, traveled around north Florida and the Panhandle in the early months of 1963, continuing his search for lesbian and gay teachers. In Ft. Walton Beach, Panama City, Tallahassee, Pensacola, and Jacksonville, Strickland located dozens of women and men and methodically interrogated them all. He found female softball leagues filled with lesbians, gay navy men in Jacksonville and Pensacola, and even an embittered victim of the Johns Committee Sex and Civil Rights, 1963–1965 · 161 in Tallahassee who was allegedly plotting to kidnap the son of municipal judge John Rudd as payback for his antipathy toward homosexuals.2 Then, in February, the chief investigator made a grave mistake. He paid a female informant to lure Orlando Sentinel reporter Robert Delaney to a motel room in Tallahassee that he had booked in advance. Eavesdropping from an adjoining room, Strickland arranged to have the local police burst in when the woman gave the signal (according...


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Subject Headings

  • Florida. Legislature. Legislative Investigation Committee.
  • Florida -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
  • Culture conflict -- Florida -- History.
  • Communism -- Florida -- History.
  • Homosexuality -- Florida -- History.
  • Civil rights -- Florida -- History.
  • National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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