Charley Johns (middle) talks with members of the State Senate. The Florida Legislative Investigation Committee was born during the Cold War and Senator Joseph McCarthy's hunt for communists in the 1950s. Johns was one of the key figures of the Pork Chop Gang -- a bloc of 20 conservative North Florida lawmakers who favored segregation.
On the heels of McCarthyism, the Florida State Senate in 1956 appointed a committee to "investigate all organizations whose principles or activities include a course of conduct on the part of any person or group which would constitute violence, or a violation of the laws of the state." The committee was originally designed to seek out bus boycotters in Tallahassee. There was actually a law on the books stating that blacks could not organize car pools.
The committee's leader, Senator Charley Johns of Starke, Florida, steered the group to investigate the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), hoping to find a link with communism. When the NAACP fought back by winning a U.S. Supreme Court decision preventing the committee from obtaining its membership lists, the Johns committee then turned to investigating homosexuals. Johns was targeting anyone who could be labeled as a "free and liberal thinker without concern for society."
For the next nine years, the Johns Committee and its investigators terrorized and coerced hundreds of witnesses to testify about their private lives. The committee's chief investigator was R.J. Strickland (Photo at left). Investigators would call professors and students from classes, take them to area motels and question them for hours about their alleged sexual encounters. In 1963, more than 39 college professors and deans had been dismissed from their positions at the three state universities, and 71 teaching certificates were revoked.