Now that we have had Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions and then William Barr playing around in the halls of justice we wish to recall that on this date investigators summoned a University of Florida Geography professor Sigmund Diettrich to the Manor Motel in Gainesville, Florida. Soon after, he was fired from his job and lost the life he loved as a beloved teacher and dean. He attempted suicide the same day he was let go from U.F.
Many people are familiar with the McCarthy hearings but do not realize that Florida had its own committee designed to weed out communism and homosexual activity. State Senator Charley Johns started the investigations to “protect Florida’s children.” Officially called Florida Legislative Investigation Committee it was widely more famous as THE JOHNS COMMITTEE after the presiding State Senator Charley E. Johns.
From 1956 to 1965, The Johns Committee threatened civil liberties in the Sunshine State. Led by Senator 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.
Hundreds of professors and students across the state were also terminated or expelled because of their sexuality. The Johns Committee pursued people in academic institutions, courthouse bathrooms and bus stations. The committee’s investigators went so far as tapping phones in motels, interrogating children as young as 10, and breaking up a teenage girl’s slumber party looking for evidence of moral misconduct. In 1993 more than 30,000 pages of secret documents became public including a University of Florida administrator’s statement that there was no way to prevent Gay men from lingering in university bathrooms “unless you pour sulfuric acid on the floor to make people go fast.”