The hidden history
of a Florida witch hunt.
Starting in the 1950s, a Florida state committee spent years stalking, intimidating, and outing hundreds of LGBTQ people. And they got away with it. Amid a national witch hunt for communists and an ascendant civil rights movement, a group of Florida politicians with a mission to preserve racial segregation in the state created a powerful group called the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee.
Commonly called the "Johns Committee" for the influential state senator Charley Johns who spearheaded it, the Committee went after civil rights activists by arguing they were backed by communists. But when those investigations failed, they turned to a new group to target: LGBTQ people. Today, over 50 years later, some Florida legislators are calling for the state to finally come to terms with this part of its history.
Note: The headline on this piece has been updated.
Previous headline: When Florida had a committee to terrorize gay people
In the Vox series Missing Chapter, Vox Senior Producer Ranjani Chakraborty revisits underreported and often overlooked moments from the past to give context to the present. Join her as she covers the histories that are often left out of our textbooks. Our first season tackles stories of racial injustice, political conflicts, even the hidden history of US medical experimentation.
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To learn more, check out some of our sources below:
Our DocumentCloud folder with the Florida state archives we used in the piece: www.documentcloud.org/search/projectid:46504-Florida-Legislative-Investigation-Committee
Judith Poucher’s book on the history of the Johns Committee, “State of Defiance:
Challenging the Johns Committee's Assault on Civil Liberties” - upf.com/book.asp?id=POUCH003
Stacy Braukman’s book on the history of the Johns Committee, “Communists and Perverts under the Palms” - upf.com/book.asp?id=BRAUK001
Karen L. Graves’ book on the Johns Committee’s purges of K-12 teachers, “And They Were Wonderful Teachers” - www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/56bwz3ba9780252034381.html
Watch the documentary, “The Committee,” on the history of the Johns Committee: www.pbs.org/show/committee/
Check out the documentary “Behind Closed Doors,” on the history of the committee: www.behindcloseddoorsfilm.com/index2.htm
Read about the push for a state apology by Florida State Rep. Evan Jenne and State Sen. Lauren Book: www.tallahassee.com/story/news/2019/03/22/florida-lawmakers-push-apology-lives-ruined-johns-committee/3244097002/ Vox.com
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