Legislators take aim at ‘Johns Committee’

committee
WIKIPEDIA
Johns Committee namesake and chairman Charley Johns (center) discusses plans to screen out homosexuals from employment in state government and colleges, in 1963.

NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

Democrats again will urge the Legislature to apologize for an infamous committee in the 1950s and 1960s that targeted civil-rights leaders, academics and gay Floridians.

Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, and Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, have filed proposed resolutions (SCR 74, HCR 33) for the 2020 legislative session that seek acknowledgment and an apology for “injustices perpetrated” by the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, which was better known as the Johns Committee.

The name came from its initial chairman, Sen. Charley Johns, a Democrat who served as acting governor from 1953 to 1955 after the death of Gov. Dan McCarty and then returned to the Senate.

The committee, organized in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling about racial segregation, focused on alleged subversive activities involving the NAACP, suspected communist organizations and homosexuals in universities and public schools.

The newly filed resolutions note the committee spent nine years “at the expense of the taxpayers of this state using unconstitutional and unjust methods to discredit and combat legal, peaceful desegregation efforts; to destroy or otherwise jeopardize the livelihoods and reputations of educators, administrators, and other professionals in Florida’s public schools and universities; and to create a climate of fear that caused pain and suffering among vulnerable residents and made Florida a national symbol of intolerance.”

Book and Jenne proposed similar legislation during the 2019 session (SCR 1220, HCR 893), but the measures were not heard by committees.

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