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The Best Governor of Florida

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Well I had some major dental work done on Tuesday that put me at the dentist most of the day. I must be a glutton for punishment, because after I got home, I called up Dr. Joe and we talked Florida history for an hour. It gave me a few more topics to cover for the blog. Here is one.

Below: Governor LeRoy Collins and his wife Mary are presented with patchwork clothing. (Photo from Fla. State Archives)

LeRoy Collins (1909-1991) is considered by myself, other Florida historians, and even other Florida governors as the best governor that Florida ever had. He was genuinely concerned with Florida history and culture, and endeared himself to the people of Florida. He entered politics at age 25 in the Florida Legislature, and later while head of the State Senate during World War II, he resigned and joined the Navy. He was elected Florida Governor to fulfill the rest of the term of Governor McCarty. He was elected to a second term, making his time in office six years, from 1955-1961. No other governor had two consecutive terms since William Duval, territorial governor from 1822-1834, and WD was appointed by congress and not elected to office.

Governor Collins sitting with Charlie Cypress, one of the tribe's beloved elders. (Photo from Fla. State Archives)

LeRoy Collins took great interest in the state and people of Florida. You can say that Florida culture flourished under his watch--the Florida folk festival, Seminole and Miccosukee Indians visiting the governor's mansion, and promotion of Florida citrus and tourism. He was even on the cover of Time Magazine in 1955.

(Photo from Fla. State Archives)

Although not much changed with civil rights while he was in office, he was definitely against the old Jim Crow laws and the state legislature trying to circumvent desegregation mandated by the federal courts. You have to remember the times in Florida, where Florida politics were still dominated by pro-segregationists who had the backing of the voters, and the Florida Governor did not hold as much sway as head of state as the President. In 1965, President Johnson sent Collins to Selma, Alabama, to negotiate a peaceful conclusion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s march, which was successfully accomplished without violence. Collins ran for U.S. senator from Florida in 1968, and his opponent defeated Collins by showing a photo of him walking next to Dr. King during the Selma negotiations. So his opponent defeated him by using his record of peaceful race relations in front of the voters who were not as progressive in their thinking.

Governor Collins with visitors to the state mansion. Buffalo Tiger, future chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe, is on the right. (Photo from Fla. State Archives)

Governor Collins married Mary Call Darby, who is great-granddaughter of Richard K. Call, the Territorial Governor during the Second Seminole War. Governor Call's mansion, "The Grove" is down the street from the Capitol and present Governor's mansion, and still the residence of Mrs. Collins. The family burial plot in the backyard has both governors Call & Collins laid to rest, and is hidden from the street by a fence. Since I am someone who likes to look up historical figures in cemeteries, it would be my dream come true to see that backyard.

"The Grove" in Tallahassee (Photo from Fla. State Archives)

When I was a kid, the scoutmasters of my boy scout troop--Troop 625 in Maitland, the River Rats!--was Jack Champion, a Leon & Gadsden County native who went to FSU. Jack was very active in scouting in Tallahassee in the 1950's when Collins was governor. Jack was also very high up in the Order of the Arrow (OA), a fraternity for older scouts. He organized the state conference one year, and another time was national vice chief in charge of the national OA conference. I noticed photos of the conference Jack put on at Wallwood Scout Reservation, and some other functions where Governor LeRoy Collins was present. I asked Jack how he was able to get the governor at all those scouting functions? Apparently it was easy, because at the time Jack was dating the governor's daughter!
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