The Legacy of the Johns Committee
Captions: Above, Cartoon by Don Addis. Right top, The Johns Committee. Right bottom, Cover image for the Johns Committee report: Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida.
By Ian Gaffney
From 1956 to 1965, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee threatened civil liberties in the Sunshine State. Led by Senator Charley E. Johns, the committee operated in a McCarthyite manner, seeking to discover communist connections among integrationist organizations and purge academic liberals and so-called "subversives" from educational institutions.
When the committee had failed to demonstrate communist involvement within the NAACP or the academic community, a desperate Charley Johns sought to extend his committee's life by searching for a weaker enemy and "committee agents soon monitored lavatory stalls and private bedrooms rather than city buses." The University of Florida was the first academic target chosen in the search for homosexuals in 1958. 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.
"Charley Johns didn't have anything against the University of Florida as such, he wasn't trying to hurt the University. He was on a mission by gosh that he heard there were homosexuals on the faculty and he was going to get rid of them." - J. Wayne Reitz, Former University of Florida President.