Democratic lawmakers Lauren Book and Evan Jenne are once again proposing a formal apology for the Legislature’s role in operating the “Johns Committee,” a Cold War-era body which sought to oust communists and homosexuals, among other groups.
Sen. Book, of Plantation, and Rep. Jenne, of Hollywood, have introduced companion measures (SCR 244, HCR 19) pushing the Legislature to offer a formal apology for that committee, which lasted from 1956 to 1965. The two pushed similar measures last Session, though neither advanced through a single committee.
Formally titled the “Florida Legislative Investigation Committee” (FLIC), the organization was created after a Special Session in July 1956 to operate as a sort of state-level version of the House Un-American Activities Committee operated by U.S. Rep. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
The Florida body was borne from a push by then-state Sen. Charley Johns, prompting it to be nicknamed the “Johns Committee.”
Per its founding language, the committee sought “to make as complete an investigation as time permits of all organizations whose principles or activities include a course of conduct on the part of any person or group which would constitute violence, or a violation of the laws of the state, or would be inimical to the well being and orderly pursuit of their personal and business activities by the majority of the citizens of this state.”
As the resolutions from Book and Jenne describe, the committee’s work turned troublesome. The body sought to make connections in the late 1950s between the NAACP and communists during the so-called “Red Scare.”
The committee then began probing universities, such as the University of Florida, to root out gay staff members and students.
“The University of Florida was the first academic target chosen in the search for homosexuals in 1958,” says a UF explainer on the committee’s actions.
“At least 15 UF professors and more than 50 students left after being interrogated by investigators. Even though the committee’s tactics violated state law, UF administrators did not attempt to halt the investigations and went so far as to allow university police officers to serve as investigators and tape interrogations with professors and students.”
In 1961, the committee then moved on to the University of South Florida. Committee members “questioned USF faculty, staff, and students in a motel room without appropriate legal counsel, and gathered information about the allegedly anti-Christian, pro-integration, and pro-communist slant of reading assignments, classroom lectures and invited campus speakers,” according to the resolutions from Book and Jenne.
That work continued with public hearings, until the committee’s work culminated in reports about those under the body’s microscope. The resolutions recount that history before closing with a call for an apology.
Book and Jenne are asking fellow lawmakers to agree to language stating that “the Legislature acknowledges the injustices perpetrated against the targets of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee between 1956 and 1965 and offers a formal and heartfelt apology to those whose lives, well-being, and livelihoods were damaged or destroyed by the activities and public pronouncements of those who served on the committee.”
December 11, 2020 at 8:16 am
How much time are we going to waste on something that happened 55 years ago? Is this really the best use of the Legislature’s time right now?
December 11, 2020 at 11:27 pm
This is absolutely absurd!! Most legislators including Book and Jenne were not even born in 1956-57. What a colossal waste of time, that accomplishes nothing. Typical for Democrats!!
December 13, 2020 at 11:41 am
Communists will fight this bill.
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