Brown vs. Board of Education put an end to segregated schools. Despite the decision, Florida responded slowly and was a racial tinder box for the next decade.
It was the efforts of one man who made the difference. A year after the court had declared separate but equal unconstitutional, it was being ignored.
Leroy Collins, former Florida governor (1955-1961) speaking in April 1955, said, "Segregation in our public schools is a part of Florida's custom and law."
In 1957 the state Legislature passed a resolution saying the Supreme Court decision didn’t count in Florida, then they took another big step. Florida lawmakers passed a bill allowing school boards to close a white school with a black student enrolled.
Gov. Leroy Collins vetoed the bill in great political risk, mounting tensions were evident in this 1960 news report. Lunch counter protestors were being arrested and Collins went on statewide TV.
Leroy Collins speaking in March 1960, said, "It is unfair and morally wrong for him to single out one department though and say that he does not want or will not allow Negroes to patronize that one department."
By 1965 the Democratic candidates for governor were still fighting over who was a Negro sympathizer. Rubin Askew was governor and campaigned against an anti busing straw ballot. He lost three to one.
Reubin Askew, governor 1971-79, said, "Any one who thought that we had separate but equal opportunities, they must be looking somewhere else."
So while the court ruled 50 years ago, it was the beginning not the end of change. The governor and other state leaders gathered in the Capitol courtyard Monday afternoon to mark the anniversary of the desegregation ruling.
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