Florida & Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project Awarded Phase 3 Funding

NDNP Phase 3 Facebook-1

We have some exciting news for fans of digitization, preservation, and history. The Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project has been awarded funding from the National Endowment of the Humanities for a third digitization cycle! We’ll let you know as soon as newspaper titles are selected, but for now you can read more in our press release:

University of Florida Libraries Receive Additional $310,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities

Digitization project provides free online access to historic newspapers from Florida and Puerto Rico

August 2, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries was recently awarded supplemental funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to digitize in excess of 100,000 pages of historic newspapers. The $310,000 NEH grant will provide additional funding support for the “Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project, which is part of the state’s and territory’s participation in the National Digital Newspaper Program (NDNP). The award supplements earlier grants of $288,000 in 2015 and $325,000 in 2013, making the total award $923,000, the single largest direct award ever received by the Libraries.

Led by project director Patrick Reakes and project manager Melissa Jerome, the project is a collaboration between the University of Florida (UF) Libraries and the library at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras (UPR-RP). It will provide a national, digital resource of historically significant newspapers published between 1690 and 1963 from Florida and Puerto Rico.

The project provides free, internet-based access to newspapers that are currently available only on aging microfilm. The digitized papers will be available through the Library of Congress Chronicling America (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/, the University of Florida Libraries Florida Digital Newspaper Library (http://ufdc.ufl.edu/newspapers), and the Biblioteca Digital Puertorriqueña at the University of Puerto Rico (http://bibliotecadigital.uprrp.edu/cdm/).

“This additional funding is extremely important and provides the opportunity to substantially expand access to historically important newspapers in both Florida and Puerto Rico” said Reakes. “The Florida and Puerto Rico Digital Newspaper Project has always focused on two primary goals; to provide access to a large corpus of newspapers that previously had limited availability and also to provide a long term, sustainable option for archiving them in a format other than microfilm. By the end of this portion of the project we’ll have in excess of 300,000 pages digitized and they are all freely available to anyone who wants to use them.”

Follow us on Twitter @UFNDNP.

Pensacola- Where Naval Aviation Really Took Off

On Memorial Day we honor those who have died serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Florida has played a central role in both U.S military and aviation history, and today we want to focus on the state’s contribution to the development of aerial warfare leading up to and through World War I. Events surrounding naval aviation were covered extensively in Florida newspapers, notably The Pensacola journal. This is in large part because Florida served as “the ‘springboard’ from which was launched the expedition which revolutionized the history of warfare by using airpower”, which led William C. Lazarus to refer to the state as “the womb of airpower” (Lazarus 42).

Aeroplanes may play a big part in war
Pensacola journal-May 3, 1914

The origins of the Pensacola Naval Aeronautical Station, now known as Naval Air Station Pensacola, demonstrate the changing needs of the American military in the early 20th century. As aerial technology advanced, the U.S. Military developed an interest in the burgeoning field of aviation. In 1913, naval officers began searching for a location that would allow them to train pilots year-round and the area near Pensacola caught their eye due in part to the fact they could repurpose the facilities which from 1825-1911 had served as the Pensacola Navy Yard. According to Lazarus, “The old Navy Yard at Pensacola with its year-round flying weather, landlocked bay and numerous facilities capable of conversion, was the Board’s unanimous choice” (Lazarus 40). After making their decision, the Navy moved quickly to get the new station off the ground as soon as possible. By early 1914, ships containing planes began arriving in Pensacola and the first official flight took place on February 2, 1914 when Lt. J.H. Towers and Ensign Godfrey Chevalier flew for “twenty minutes…over the station and Bayou Grande.” Shortly thereafter, the community was reminded of the dangers associated with aviation when “Lt. James McClees Murray, USN, was killed in the crash of a Burgess D-1 flying boat” on February 16, 1914 (Lazarus 41-42). Nevertheless both the Navy and The Pensacola journal remained optimistic about the future of aerial warfare.

Only a few short months after the initial flight in Pensacola, naval aviation forces were ordered to transport their planes to Texas in order to engage in the expedition pursuing General Francisco “Poncho” Villa in Mexico. The Ocala evening star enthusiastically reported on the offensive the next month, speculating that in twenty five years, students would discuss the flight and accompanying details in history classes. The Pensacola journal also featured a long, front page article discussing how the “aviators made maps of Vera Cruz, Mexico…aiding in the occupation of (the) Mexican port” just before the pilots returned to Pensacola.

Aviators made maps of Vera Cruz
Pensacola journal-June 14, 1914

Airplanes were not the only aviation technology being explored and tested in Pensacola prior to World War I. At the time, the Navy was also exploring the possibility of using dirigibles (also known as airships or blimps somewhat interchangeably at the time) for combat. The Pensacola journal documents the arrival of the “first dirigible balloon of U.S. Navy” on December 15, 1916, eagerly anticipating the “preliminary tests” which would run as soon as it was constructed. Because it was considerably larger than the extant airplanes, the Navy soon realized they needed to build a hanger specifically for the balloon, and in 1917 it was announced that funding had been earmarked for that particular purpose. The DN-1 made its maiden voyage on April 20, 1917 and continued to be of interest both in Pensacola and among the national press.

First Dirigible Balloon
Pensacola journal-December 15, 1916

The Navy established an official aeronautics school to train future pilots and other support positions on August 17, 1916. However, according to historian George F. Pearce due to “inadequate funding and lack of personnel, the school developed slowly until after the United States entered the war” (Pearce 151). Despite being underfunded, the small number of trained American aviators were nonetheless prepared to be deployed in Europe when the United States entered WWI. During the war, the Navy also designated the emblem of Navy aeronautics and recruited future aviators who were “some of the most prominent figures in the world of college sports” due to the physically demanding nature of aviation. In total, “from January 1914 until November 11, 1919 (the Armistice), Pensacola Naval Air Station trained 921 seaplane pilots, 63 dirigible pilots and 15 free-balloon pilots” many of whom would be stationed around Europe during the war (Lazarus 48).

After the war began, the Naval Aeronautical Station found itself with increased funding and a need for not only more aviators but a larger labor pool in general. Job openings for police, electricians, machinists, and more were posted in The Pensacola journal during the war. According to Pearce, “the war-inflated salaries paid to the large labor force drawn to the station to meet its burgeoning labor needs added another stimulus to quicken the pulse of the city’s economy” (Pearce 159-160). In addition to boosting Pensacola’s economy, those stationed at the base also participated in society events and other leisure activities in Pensacola. These included the Navy Yard Jazz Band providing music at the local Labor Day picnic, officers going hunting with locals, being entertained in the homes of prominent members of the Pensacola community, and marrying into local families. The influx of personnel at the Naval Aeronautical Station certainly shaped Pensacola’s culture during the war years.

Star is Emblem of Aeronatic School
Pensacola journal-July 16, 1917

After the Armistice, the military broadly had to contend with shrinking budgets during the period of post-war demobilization. Even though many were optimistic about the future of aviation warfare, including the Ocala evening star, who, in September 1914 touted the European conflict as “the world’s first great war in the air,” there were some in government who were less eager about providing the funding needed to support further development in this field. The Pensacola journal enthusiastically backed continuing the program, perhaps in part due to national pride as well as the fact that it benefited the local economy. This position is frequently reinforced by the tone of news stories about naval aviation in the years after the war. For example, the paper dedicated the front page of the “woman’s feature section” to a long story on the “possibilities of aviation” on April 6, 1919. In addition to keeping abreast of national policy discussions, they also covered the visits of individuals who supported developing the aviation program including that of then Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Admiral W. A. Moffett.

The world's first great war in the air
Ocala evening star- September 2, 1914

Today, aviation still plays an important role in the U.S military. The Naval Aeronautical Station at Pensacola, and the men who learned to fly there, should be remembered for their contributions during the developmental days of the field.

Citations and Additional Sources:

Evans, Mark L. and Roy A. Grossnick. United States Naval Aviation 1910-2010. 5th ed. Vol. 1. Washington D. C.: Naval History and Heritage Command Department of the Navy, 2015. Accessed May 15, 2017. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/publications/publications-by-subject/naval-aviation-1910-2010.html.

Lazarus, William C. Wings in the Sun: The Annals of Aviation in Florida. Orlando, Florida: Tyn Cobb’s Florida Press, 1951.

Pearce, George F. The U.S. Navy in Pensacola: From Sailing Ships to Naval Aviation (1825-1930). Pensacola, Florida: University Presses of Florida, 1980.

Birds of a Feather Died Together: The Fight to Protect Florida’s Birds

Guy Bradley
Portrait of Monroe County Game Warden Guy M. Bradley Courtesy of Florida Memory

Today we bring you a guest post by R. Boyd Murphree, Project Manager, Florida Family and Community History, Digital Services and Shared Collections, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries. He can be contacted at bmurphree@ufl.edu and is also on Twitter @boyd_murphree.

In the weeks surrounding Earth Day, it is important to note that the work of protecting the environment has often been difficult, depressing, and even deadly. These aspects of environmental history came together in turn of the century Florida with the killing of Guy Bradley, a game warden who had fought to protect Florida birds from the ravages of plume bird hunters. Called “America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism,” Bradley was one of a handful of people who were willing to put their lives on the line to protect endangered species (McIver, xi). His actions were part of a nascent bird conservation movement headed by the newly formed Audubon Society and President Theodore Roosevelt, whose lifelong love of nature, especially of birds, drove him to create the nation’s first bird reserves as well as a multitude of national forests, game preserves, national parks, and national monuments. Florida newspapers covered Bradley’s death and many other episodes in this early environmental struggle.

Pattern Hats from Paris
From The Pensacola Journal-January 6, 1906

Killing birds for their decorative feathers was an age old practice, but it did not become an industry until the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the extraordinary growth of the American economy during the Gilded Age combined with a fashion craze among wealthier women for hats adorned with colorful bird plumes created a profitable market for the plumes of egrets and herons. By the late nineteenth century the last sanctuaries of these beautiful birds were the coastal wetlands and the Everglades of South Florida. Plume hunters scoured these areas for the birds’ rookeries, where the nesting birds presented an easy target for skilled marksmen. A plume hunter could receive as much as ten dollars per plume. In 1886, the American Ornithologists’ Union estimated that as many as five million birds were being killed each year for the supply of the millinery industry.

Easter Hats
From The Pensacola Journal-March 20, 1921

Although 1886 saw the first organized attempt to educate the public about the devastation of the plume bird population, it was not until 1900 that Congress passed the Lacey Act, a law that prohibited birds taken in violation of state laws from being transported across state lines. The Lacy Act was largely the result of the efforts of women who learned of the terrible toll the plume trade was having on the nation’s birds. Harriet Lawrence Hemenway and Minna Hall led this effort and organized the first state Audubon Society in Massachusetts in 1896. Four year later, the Florida Audubon Society was created and lobbied the state legislature to to pass Florida’s first bird protection act in 1901. The law provided for the protection of plumed birds by outlawing the killing of such birds or the sale of their plumage, imposing a fine of five dollars per bird on anyone in violation of the act and up to ten days imprisonment. Unfortunately, the law did not provide any resources for enforcement. It was up to private philanthropists to come up with the funds to pay for at least one warden to police the coast of South Florida for plume hunters. The job was given to Guy M. Bradley, a former plume hunter who had been by hired by the Audubon campaign to save the plumed birds. In 1902, Bradley took up the post of warden for Monroe County.

Lacey Act
From The new enterprise-December 10, 1903

Florida bird conservation received national attention in March 1903, when President Roosevelt backed legislation establishing Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon as the first federal bird reservation. Roosevelt needed little urging to take this step as he was appalled that so many birds were being killed just so their plumes could adorn the hats of fashionable women. After his friend Frank M. Chapman, ornithologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural History, laid out a detailed plan for the establishment of the reserve on the island, Roosevelt signed off on the project and agreed to appoint Paul Kroegel, an Indian River farmer and longtime bird enthusiast, as the first national wildlife refuge warden for Pelican Island.

Uncle Sam's Florida Aviary
From The Chipley banner-August 6, 1903

Meanwhile, Bradley began his work as game warden in Monroe County, where he focused his efforts on protecting the nests of the great white heron. Plume hunters had made the white heron their favorite target as the heron’s feathers were among the most prized feathers of the plume hat business. The Audubon Society supplied Bradley with a boat, which he used to police the islands off Cape Sable. His efforts soon paid off. Due to his vigilance, the number of plume birds taken in the area dropped dramatically; however, the resulting drop in supply only raised the price of the feathers as the millinery industry tried to meet the still widespread demand. Plume hunters had already shot at Bradley, who put his life on the line every day he was on duty. On July 8, 1905, he paid the ultimate price when a group of plume hunters known as the “Smith Gang” resisted Bradley, who approached them as they were shooting double-breasted cormorants. The gang refused Bradley’s order to stop the hunt. An argument ensued and Walter Smith, the leader of the gang, shot and killed Bradley.

Bradley Shot LA Herald
From the Los Angles Herald-September 17, 1905

A grand jury refused to indict Smith, who had powerful allies in the county, where plume hunting was a popular and lucrative business. Bradley’s murder and the mysterious disappearance of DeSoto County warden Columbus McLeod in 1908, encouraged the National Audubon Society to increase its efforts to end the plume trade. In 1911, New York became the first state to pass a tough plumage bill. This law was followed by federal efforts to restrict the trade. Although the business continued in Florida until World War II, stricter state enforcement ended plum hunting in the 1950s.

Citations and Additional Sources

Brinkley, Douglas. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper, 2009).

McIver, Stuart B. Death in the Everglades: The Murder of Guy Bradley, America’s First Martyr to Environmentalism (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003).

Portrait of Monroe County Game Warden Guy M. Bradley. Between 1902 and 1905. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory Website. Accessed April 17, 2017. https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/13858.

New Content: The Lakeland Evening Telegram

New Building
The Lakeland evening telegram-April 15, 1914

Notice anything new? Our new Florida paper for this digitization cycle, The Lakeland evening telegram, is now up in Chronicling America. We’re pleased to announce that the content from the paper’s debut on November 1, 1911 through the December 31, 1917 issue has been ingested and uploaded for public use. What kind of news will you find in the Lakeland evening telegram? Read on to find out!

The Lakeland evening telegram was published by Michael F. Hetherington as Polk County’s first daily newspaper. It began in 1911 with the motto “published in the best part of the best town in the best state.” The motto truly sets the tone of the paper, and one of its most noticeable features is their unrelenting editorial enthusiasm for Lakeland. More so than other papers in our collection, The Lakeland evening telegram ran articles written locally and by other papers around the state praising the city that housed it. Knowing this, it may not be surprising to learn that when a second motto was added to the paper in 1914, it doubled down on the pro-Lakeland message, proclaiming “boost-remember that Satan stayed in Heaven until he began to knock his home town.”

Boosters Devil
The Lakeland evening telegram-August 1, 1914

This support for Lakeland stems from the fact that Hetherington genuinely loved the city. Editor of the first daily in Miami, the Miami Metropolis (now called the Miami News), Hetherington went to Lakeland on an assignment and was so taken with it he sold his Miami paper and moved to Lakeland. While The Lakeland evening telegram was not the first or only paper in Lakeland (Hetherington moved there in 1905 after having purchased the Lakeland News), it was one of five papers in Florida (and the only inland paper) receiving service from the Associated Press. The paper was so successful that in 1913 they announced that they would be constructing their own building because “the institution has been sadly hampered by cramped and unsuitable quarters.” In keeping with the tone of the paper, they point out that “the management believes that more can be accomplished for the good of Lakeland” once the new building was completed. When the building opened in 1914, it was covered extensively. This coverage included photographs of the interior and exterior of the new building, as well as a flattering story on Mrs. M.F. Hetherington, Michael’s wife, whose contributions to the success of the paper were “no less important than that of her husband.” In addition to being outspoken Lakeland boosters, The Lakeland evening telegram was also a fervent supporter of their own publication, frequently running self-congratulatory stories from other papers.

The Hetheringtons
The Lakeland evening telegram-April 15, 1914

Given The Lakeland evening telegram’s tendency towards self-promotion, it may not be surprising that one of the features that sets this publication apart from other papers is the fact that it publicly celebrated its birthday annually. In these birthday columns, the paper presents a hagiographic account of their continued success in spite of the fact that creating the paper was “against the better judgment of our best friends, and, we confess, not without some misgivings on our own part.” While talking about their triumphs, they also emphasize how the paper has helped boost Lakeland’s profile nationally, as well as helped support local businesses. These quirky columns are a must read for anyone interested in this particular paper.

Our First Birthday
The Lakeland evening telegram-November 1, 1912

In addition to being fervent supporters of Lakeland, The Lakeland evening telegram includes topics you’d expect to find in a Florida paper during the time period such as international and national news related to World War I, the Women’s Rights Movement, and presidential elections. Reports of local events including agricultural news with emphasis on the citrus industry, local school events, and other happenings like personal travels, church notes, and fashion tips also fill the pages of this periodical.

What happened to The Lakeland evening telegram? In 1922, The Lakeland evening telegram merged with the Lakeland Morning Star to become the Lakeland Star-Telegram. Samuel Farabee, who started the Lakeland Evening Ledger in 1924, bought the Star-Telegram in 1926 and merged them, forming the Lakeland Evening Ledger and Star-Telegram. Another title change came in 1941, when the paper was sold to Cowles Communications Inc. and called itself the Lakeland Ledger. The paper changed title and ownership one last time; it was renamed the Ledger in 1967 and was purchased by its current owner, the New York Times, in 1971. While some of these dates are outside of our current digitization date range, we’ll be uploading more issues of the The Lakeland evening telegram, through the end of 1920, in the near future.

Citations and Additional Sources:

Hetherington, M F. History of Polk County, Florida: Narrative and biographical. Chuluota, Fla: Mickler House, 1971.

Seeing Lakeland: A guide and handbook to the city and its suburbs. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.

Lufsey, R E., and Kelsey Blanton. History of Lakeland. Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Florida, 1936.

The Grapefruit League: Baseball in Florida

George Cutshaw
George Cutshaw of the Brooklyn Dodgers from The Daytona daily news February 25, 1915

April 3, 2017 is Opening Day, marking the beginning of the baseball regular season following over a month of spring training. Baseball fans are already aware that many teams hold their spring training here in Florida because winters are relatively temperate. Due to this Florida connection, our Chronicling America newspapers are a treasure trove for fans of baseball history and its surrounding culture. As baseball moves into the regular season, let’s take a look at some articles that discuss spring training in Florida, including the rumored origin of the name “Grapefruit League.”

According to Kevin M. McCarthy’s Baseball in Florida, baseball teams have been heading to the Southern U.S. for spring training as far back as the 1870s. Spring training, at the beginning, was intended to get players back in shape for the new season after their winter off. In the age of highly trained and well-paid professions, spring training allows teams to try out new players and ease into the season. It also gives fans the chance to see their team play in smaller, more intimate venues. The first team to use Florida as the site for their spring training was the Washington Capitals (also called the Senators) who went to Jacksonville for three weeks in 1888 (McCarthy 141). While baseball players didn’t have the best professional reputation in the early 20th century, it was economically advantageous for Florida cities and towns to court teams for spring training and did so by offering teams new fields and improved facilities. While costing municipalities initially, in addition to bringing the team and support staff to town, the spring training season also brought spectators and their families who were likely to patronize hotels, restaurants, and other local attractions.

Baseball teams have held spring training in Florida since the late 19th century, but the Grapefruit League, the name for the group of teams who train in the Sunshine State, originated in the early 1910s. McCarthy nails down 1914 as the year the league was established, but the event that is rumored to have led to the naming of the league didn’t occur until 1915 when a grapefruit was tossed out of an airplane with rather explosive results (McCarthy 146). While multiple versions of this legend exist, The Daytona daily news, the newspaper of the city where the incident occurred, published their version of the event on March 17, 1915 while Daytona was hosting the Brooklyn Dodgers during their spring training. In their report, famous woman aviator Ruth Law devised a promotional stunt with Wilbert Robinson, manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, during which she would toss a baseball from an airplane for him to catch. Law claims that she forgot the agreed upon baseball and instead “substituted a grapefruit” which she had in her plane. Robinson missed the fruit, which “walloped him on the arm” leaving quite the bruise. Another version of the story also mentions that the fruit exploded “all over his face, showering him with freshly squeezed grapefruit juice” (Gardner). One can only speculate how badly he would have been hurt if he had been hit by a baseball falling from around 500 feet above the ground!

Grapefruit Airplane
The Daytona daily news-March 17, 1915

Coverage of spring training in Chronicling America’s Florida papers varies from title to title and the depth of coverage is largely contingent on if the municipality was hosting a team during a given year. However, there are reports in most papers about spring training throughout the state. In our collection, The Daytona daily news during the years 1915 and 1916 stands out for its coverage of the Brooklyn Dodgers (Officially named the Brooklyn Base Ball Club but also referred to in our papers as the Superbas), who held their spring training near the city during those years. In addition to reporting the grapefruit debacle, the paper, as you would expect, reported upcoming games as well as offering summaries after they occurred. But beyond reporting sports news, The Daytona daily news treated the Brooklyn Dodgers like local celebrities, including stories in the paper about their leisure activities including their success while fishing, going on plane rides with the aforementioned Ruth Law, and a banquet held in their honor by local civic groups.

Brooklyn Baseball Fish
The Daytona daily news-March 7, 1916

Beyond just the team, The Daytona daily news, like many local papers at that time, also included brief notices about important out of town visitors. In the time period before and after Daytona hosted the Brooklyn team, the paper also reported the coming and going of the club owner, other team staff including doctors and managers, and even the out of town press who accompanied the team to cover training. Daytona, already a well-established tourist destination by 1915, apparently had sufficient infrastructure for the press who, according to this April 6th article, were happy with the telegraph services available in Daytona. Nevertheless, while the city was under the impression that Daytona would be home to Brooklyn Baseball spring training “for next five years, if not longer” in March 1915, after 1916 the Dodgers only returned to Daytona once for spring training in 1946. After this, mentions of the Superbas fade from the pages of The Daytona daily news. Due to it being a seasonal paper, there are no issues of The Daytona daily news during October 1916, when they played (and lost) the World Series to the Boston Red Sox.

Five years
The Daytona daily news-March 23, 1915

There is undoubtedly more information about spring training in Florida newspapers that haven’t been digitized yet, and our incomplete record demonstrates the need for projects like ours, which ensure public access to primary sources. For example, we haven’t yet digitized issues of Gainesville papers for the years 1919 or 1921 when the Giants and the Phillies, respectively, held their spring training there. Today, fifteen teams, including the Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals, still come to Florida for spring training and to play exhibition games against one another, providing entertainment for yet another generation of native Floridians and tourists alike.

Citations and Additional Sources

Gardner, Dakota. “The amazing story of ‘Uncle Robbie’ Robinson’s plane-assisted grapefruit catch.” Cut4 (blog) . March 13, 2014. http://m.mlb.com/cutfour/2014/03/13/69250856/wilbert-robinson-airplane-baseball-grapefruit-catch.

“History.” Florida Grapefruit League. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://www.floridagrapefruitleague.com/home/history/.

McCarthy, Kevin M. Baseball in Florida. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 1996.

Semchuck, Alex. “Wilbert Robinson.” Society for American Baseball Research. Accessed March 22, 2017. http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/5536caf5.

Florida Governor Sidney J. Catts: the Polarizing Populist

catts-fl-memory
Governor Sidney J. Catts courtesy of Florida Memory

Sidney J. Catts served as the 22nd Governor of Florida from 1917 to 1921. While he only held office for one term, this colorful character certainly left his mark on Florida history. Originally a Democrat, he ended up running for governor on the Prohibition Party ticket after a close and contested primary. Beyond calls for prohibition, Catts mobilized rural voters by promoting an explicitly anti-Catholic platform. As we’ll explore today, these two aspects of his campaign were interrelated and reflect the imagined fears of a subset of Floridians during the early 20th century.

Born July 31, 1863 in Pleasant Hill, Alabama, Catts attended various colleges before graduating with a law degree from Cumberland University in Tennessee in 1882. He became both a Southern Baptist and a minister of the faith in 1886 despite having no theological or pastoral training. Known for having a divisive personality, Catts didn’t tend to last very long as pastor of any given church. As historian and Catts biographer Wayne Flynt puts it, “Sydney Catts was a visceral man who lived by the emotion of the moment, and many a temper tantrum would be followed by many a remorseful apology” (Flynt 2). Catts moved his family to DeFuniak Springs, Florida in 1911, where he worked as a pastor and insurance salesman.

candidate-speech-ad-1916
Pensacola journal-June 4, 1916

Catts initially entered the 1916 gubernatorial race as a Democrat. After a close primary, which Catts initially won, multiple recounts resulted in his opponent, William J. Knott, receiving the party nomination. Not deterred by this setback, Catts decided to run as a Prohibition Party candidate, which allowed him to criticize both the Democratic Party and what he perceived to be foreign influence in politics. His campaign took him to rural areas of Florida not usually visited by traditional politicians, and he is remembered for pioneering the use of the automobile to campaign in more remote parts of the state.

It appears the press in Florida had rather mixed opinions on Catts during the 1916 election. Discussing a study of the Florida press, Flynt states “before the June ballot, the press generally had dismissed Catts as a back country buffoon from the panhandle; but after the Supreme Court denied him the nomination, many papers defended him as the real party nominee” (Flynt 81-82). This column from the Palatka News and Advertiser highlights the opinions of several newspapers in the state. While another column from the Punta Gorda Herald reports that some of Catts’ more far-fetched assertions were making headlines in Havana, Cuba. This of course, refers to his belief that the Pope would take over the U.S and move Rome to San Antonio, Florida.

catts-as-viewed-from-havana
The Punta Gorda herald-October 12, 1916

The platform that Catts ran on “struck one major theme: the Democratic machine, supported by partisan courts, had stolen the nomination from the people’s choice” (Flynt 77). He linked this position to larger conspiracies about government influence; the most notable being that the Pope in Rome was planning to take over America and would do so by mobilizing American Catholics to rebel against the government. This would be possible, he believed, because nuns and monks in convents and monasteries were stockpiling weapons. Despite there being no proof of such activities, Flynt comments that “Catts’s oratory manifested an almost psychotic anti-Catholicism” and that to “protect himself, he carried two revolvers which he displayed prominently on the podium to quite unruly crowds and awe his followers” (Flynt 80). Although Catholics only made up about 12% of the population of Florida in 1890, Catts was able to capitalize on anti-Catholic sentiment related to fears about immigration that existed in Florida (and the rest of the United States) during most of the late 19th and early 20th century (Gaustad et al. C.17). In that sense, according to historian David Page, Catts “was rather a shrewd observer of the swelling tide of anti-Catholic prejudice” which “he played upon” when “visiting the backwoods regions of Florida” (Page 113). He used the fear of Catholicism and disillusionment with the mainstream Democratic Party to mobilize his supporters. His words must have resonated with the voting populace, because on Election Day he won “thirty-eight counties, while losing only fourteen” (Flynt 90).

catts-assumes-governorship
Pensacola journal-January 3, 1917

Catts’ fear of Catholic influence carried over into his tenure as Governor. In his inaugural address, he promised to encourage the passage of a law that would open “all closed institutions to police inspection.” Catts believed that such a law would allow for the more careful monitoring of “convents, parochial schools and other institutions of like nature” in order to neutralize the threat of Catholic take over. The legislature responded positively to the governor’s request, and passed a bill establishing a board to monitor such institutions during the 1917 legislative session. Despite being codified into law, the bill wasn’t enforced and was ultimately repealed in 1935 (Page 116). Catts was also successful in getting the legislature to approve a prohibition amendment, which the people ratified in 1918. While less explicitly anti-Catholic, many Protestants like Catts believed prohibition would curb Catholic immigrant drinking culture and help them more quickly adopt dominate American (Protestant) culture.

While Catts was unabashedly anti-Catholic broadly, he nonetheless maintained relationships with some individual Catholics including his own daughter-in-law (Flynt 15). This inconsistency resulted in many Florida newspapers relishing at opportunities to point out when Catts appointed a Catholic to public office. A one-term governor, the state press largely ignored Catts during the 1920 U.S. Senate race (which he lost). Catts ran for governor of Florida again in both 1924 and 1928, but he wasn’t able to mobilize the same state-wide support he found in 1916. After failing to get his party’s nomination in 1928, Catts, never afraid to oppose his own party, spent considerable effort campaigning against Al Smith, the Democratic (and Catholic) presidential candidate (Flynt 326). Smith lost the election, and shortly thereafter Catts retired to DeFuniak Springs where he died on March 9, 1936.

appointing-catholics
The Ocala evening star-July 3, 1917

A polarizing figure, Governor Sidney J. Catts represents the populism, anti-Catholicism, and nativism which flourished in the early 20th century. His novel approach to campaigning allowed him to reach a rural population who rallied behind his call for prohibition. Unquestionably motivated by his Baptist faith, Catts made headlines before, during, and after his tenure as governor.

Citations and Additional Resources

Flynt, Wayne. Cracker Messiah: Governor Sidney J. Catts of Florida. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1977.

Graham, Thomas. “The First Developers.” In The History of Florida, ed. Michael Gannon, 276-295. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013.

Gaustad, Edwin Scott, and Phillip L. Barrow. New Historical Atlas of Religion in America 3rd Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Josh. “Bone Dry: The Road to Prohibition in Florida.” The Florida Memory Blog. Accessed February 6, 2017. http://www.floridamemory.com/blog/2014/07/16/bone-dry-the-road-to-prohibition-in-florida/.

Page, David P. “Bishop Michael J. Curley and Anti-Catholic Nativism in Florida.” The Florida Historical Quarterly Vol. 45 No. 2 (Oct., 1966): 101-117.

Portrait of Florida’s 22nd Governor Sidney Johnston Catts. Between 1917 and 1921. Accessed February 8, 2017, https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/128339.

Rivers, Eugene Larry. “Florida’s African American Experience: The Twentieth Century and Beyond.” In The History of Florida, ed. Michael Gannon, 444-469. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2013.

 

The Ocoee Massacre-A Tragic Day in Florida History

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Description of the History of the Ocoee African Methodist Episcopal Church-Image from Florida Memory

In Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920, Paul Ortiz concludes “American history has completely erased the martyrs of 1920” (Oritz 229). Who are these martyrs and why were they forgotten? In this post, we’ll explore the aftermath of what is now known as the Ocoee Massacre by viewing responses from white Florida newspapers found in the Chronicling America collection to remind people of the consequences of racism in the not-so-distant past.

November 2, 1920 marked two important cultural moments; the first Presidential election in which (white) women were able to vote nation-wide and the culmination of the “Florida movement” among African Americans in the state. This voter registration movement began “January 19, 1919-Emancipation Day-“ and sought to mobilize thousands of African American voters. They intended to resist the entrenched Democratic Party’s control of the state as well as challenge “the fundamental elements of racial oppression: poverty wages, debt peonage, failing schools, racial violence, and corrupt law enforcement” (Ortiz 172 & 205). In the months and weeks leading up to the election, white Floridians sought to intimidate African Americans by holding Ku Klux Klan rallies and parades. While The Ocala evening star referred to the Klan’s activities as “incendiary foolishness,” The Daytona daily news reported on Election Day that their “demonstration” proved that the Klan “is in touch with local affairs” and lambasted another local paper for their “efforts” to “belittle the organization.”

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The Daytona daily news-November 2, 1920

On Election Day, African Americans attempted to vote, but faced “a planned system of fraud” throughout the state (Ortiz 220). In Ocoee, voter suppression combined with the accusation that an African American man named Mose Norman returned to the polls with a gun after not being allowed to vote, culminated in a white riot that tore through Ocoee. This riot resulted in the deaths, including at least one lynching, of an unknown number of African Americans, the destruction of all African American homes and social institutions in Ocoee, and an attempt on the part of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) to force the U.S. Congress to hold the state of Florida accountable for voter suppression.

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The Daytona daily news-November 3, 1920

On the morning of November 3rd, the stories in both The Ocala evening star and The Daytona daily news frame the stories as the fault of the African American man who wanted to vote. In an article also run in the Times-Union, The Ocala evening star states “fifty carloads of men left Orlando to help preserve order.” The Klan-supporting Daytona paper states that after “two young white men” were shot from the house that Norman found shelter in, a shootout started which then required “the white people to set fire to 18 houses as a manner of protection.”  The next day, The Ocala evening star ran a front page Associated Press article which declared “storing ammunition and attacking the whites does not pay them (African Americans)” and on November 6th it re-ran a piece from the Orlando Reporter-Star which asserted the “doctrine of social equality has no place in the South” and suggests African Americans “Stop loafing, get to work, and keep out of mischief.” These stories all gloss over the fact that “a group of white men chased Norman from the polls” and then decided they should “pay Mose Norman a visit to bring him to his senses” (Ortiz 220-221).

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The Ocala evening star-November 3, 1920

In the months that followed, the events at Ocoee were infrequently discussed in our white Florida papers. Sporadic reports discussed the hearings in Washington D.C. requested by the NAACP in response to the massacre. Paul Oritz argues that the event “drove nearly five hundred African Americans out of Ocoee, and the town became Florida’s newest white homeland,” which may explain the lack of coverage of the issue (Ortiz 223). The dearth in coverage in Florida papers after the massacre demonstrates deeply entrenched racial issues, the effects of which can still be felt today, in early 20th century Florida.

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The Ocala evening star-December 17, 1920

Citations and Additional Resources

Ortiz, Paul. Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005.