In the early 1950s, U.S. Senator Joe McCarthy saw Communist agents everywhere in the government. Florida had its own Red-baiter in state Senator Charley Johns, the head of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, commonly known and feared as the Johns Committee. In 1953, Johns had briefly served as Governor when Daniel T. McCarty died in office. Although Johns had never attended college,his next project would find him keenly interested in Florida’s universities. The State of Florida had a long history of playing politics with its universities and professors, and Johns was about to write a long new chapter of political meddling in higher education.
Johns made it his mission to rid the state of Communists, homosexuals, and the NAACP. For many conservatives in the Deep South, these three groups were linked by their desire to turn American culture upside down, thus making the nation (theoretically) more vulnerable to Soviet infiltration and invasion. In a state with a tradition of political persecution, religious invective and racial segregation, organized opposition to the Johns Committee was understandably sparse and sporadic.
For a brief account of FLIC's investigation of USF, see the speech by John Egerton, "The Stormy 1960s at the University of South Florida." Egerton was USF's first public relations/press officer, and was in a unique position to interpret the events. He gave the speech here at the USF Tampa library in 1996. For another perspective on FLIC, watch this interview with librarian and historian James Schnur for his observations on researching the FLIC.