As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be aware of change in the air however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
~ William O. Douglas, Associate Justice, Supreme Court
Formed in 1956 in the wake of the Tallahassee Bus Boycott, the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee (dubbed the "Johns Committee" after is ebullient first chairman, former governer Charley Johns) was given the mandate to seek out people whose conduct would be "... inimical to the well being and orderly pursuit of their personal and business activities by the majority of the citizens of this state." Like its older national cousin the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Johns Committee's initial targets were Communist sympathizers and leftist activists, but eventually it found a much more susceptible target, and its impact still taints the state of Florida to this very day, 50 years after the Committee's inception.
The Committee itself was actually founded due to bureaucratic infighting within the Florida Legislature. As the urban cities of Florida began to grow in size, they began sapping influence from the largely Dixiecrat majority in the capitol (the conflict was laconically dubbed "Pork Chops vs. Lamb Chops" by newspaper wonks.) The Johns Committee was formed in response, and primarily to attack civil rights groups such as the NAACP. The Committee filed several amicus curiae briefs on behalf of Alabam Attorney General John Patterson, who was attempting to force the NAACP to release their membership list to him. When the Supreme Court finally ruled against the state of Alabama, the Committee turned its attentions to a place where it held more control: higher education.
From 1959 to 1964, the Johns Committee used the legislature's power of the purse to wield a fearsome and disturbing control over the three major public universities of Florida. Professors and students were often pulled out of class by uniformed officers, interrogated for hours about any Communist sympathies, homosexual tendencies, and in general "Un-American" agendas they may have had (one teacher was suspended for promoting his book on The Scopes Trial.) Undercover officers sat in classes and took notes on potential deviants. Investigators interviewed potential employees and collegiate speakers - and if they said no, that was that. A number of professors quit in protest, while others resigned under duress. Finally, in an impassioned speech before the Florida Senate, University of South Florida president John Allen laid out the case for academic freedom with the immortal words
A college is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas.
By this time, however, the Johns Committee had once again refocused its energies on another subset of the population which promoted a viewpoint the Pork Choppers were loath to embrace: homosexuals.
The Committee spent the bulk of its time in the 1960s pursuing homosexuals in both faculty and student body, higher education and public schools alike. Nicknamed "The Lavender Scare", from 1959 to 1964 the group tallied up 71 revoked teacher licenses and 39 dismissals due to admissions of homosexuality by teachers (homosexual acts being a crime in Florida at the time), and dozens of other firings and resignations can be attributed to the work of the group. The Johns Committee's demagoguery against such "moral turpitude" was a powerful antidote to the general misgivings of the Florida populace, and it allowed the Committee to serve without discretion or care.
The end came in 1964, when a pamphlet produced by the group was released to the public entitled "Homosexuality and Citizenship in Florida." The pamphlet, which warned of homosexual recruitment of the youth and the criminal tendencies and sexual proclivities of homosexuals in general, gained more notoriety for its explicit photographs and depictions of homosexual activity. Dubbed "The Purple Pamphlet" for its eye-popping cover, the literature was drubbed by the newspapers and even conservative civic groups as "state-sponsored pornography."
Its funding denied by the legislature, the Florida Legislature Investigative Commmittee quietly disbanded in 1966. Over a ten year period, it had amassed 30,000 secret documents, which were released to the public (albeit redacted) in 1993. In 2000, University of Florida film student Allyson Beutke made a 30 minute documentary on the Johns Commmitte entitled Behind Closed Doors. Despite the Committee's fall from grace, it still has a lingering impact on the homosexual community in Florida: in 2004, the United States 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law banning homosexuals from adopting children.