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USF Libraries Exhibits

War of Words

USF students protest at the University Restaurant

While politicians and USF officials fought through a public war of words, some students took action. Students picketed the University Restaurant, a popular eatery near USF that resisted integration until 1964.  USF Oracle.

The Johns Committee probably planned to visit USF at some point. Led by Mrs. Stockton Smith, a group of concerned Hillsborough County residents questioned USF’s leaders about the professors and teaching materials. They later accused university officials of calling them “witch hunters” in internal memos and refused all entreaties to meet with university officials again. Administrators suspected local segregationist Sumter Lowry was behind the Smith group and the complaints that drew the dutiful Johns Committee to investigate.

The Johns Committee loved to compile reports where it could make allegations (usually based upon testimony from like-minded witnesses) without actually proving them. The testimony alone stretched to more than 2,500 pages in the report about USF. Many deans objected to the committee's activities, and local editorials blasted the report as “a disgrace” and “a shameful document.”

President Allen suspended Sheldon N. Grebstein, assistant professor of English, after the committee denounced him for handing out “indecent” reprints of literary criticism aimed at Beat writers. The handouts actually denounced the Beats, but because they quoted from their work, Grebstein’s materials were considered pornographic. His book on the Scopes “Monkey Trial” probably did not endear him to the God-fearing committee, either. Later, Allen reinstated Grebstein, who still received censure for “poor judgment” to mollify Johns. The dogged English professor took a job in New York in 1963 and said upon leaving, "The greatest boost that higher education could get in this state would be for the Johns Committee to be put out of business." That same year, news leaked that 10 or 20 professors would resign, some for reasons of academic freedom.

Associate professor of theater arts John W. Caldwell, who was reinstated after being investigated by the Johns Committee, resigned, citing “extended and continuing harassment” by the legislators. He commended Allen's behavior during the ordeal and wrote: "The brief history of this institution has been indelibly marred by this fruitless investigation. These police state methods have made me and my colleagues almost physically ill, and I cannot tell you the contempt I feel as a result. I am a native of this state ... (and) I leave it sadly, but with the fond hope that the citizens of Florida will again make it possible for their universities to be governed in a dignified and intelligent manner, free of political interference."

D.F. Fleming was never hired due to a warning from the Committee that he was subversive-minded. Already relocated to Tampa after being offered a job at USF, but with no contract, Fleming was out of work and out of luck, all despite being the “wrong guy.”  The FLIC investigators had him confused with a D.J. Fleming.

Allen was in an unenviable position, caught between an intolerant investigation and the idealistic university he created. Protecting USF was always his highest concern, sometimes at the expense of his own ideals. He canceled a lecture to be given by Jerome Davis because he once appeared before the commie-sniffing Congressional House Committee on Un-American Activities. The American Association of University Professors issued a resolution against the cancellation. But if Allen defied the Johns Committee, it could have seen USF wasting away when the legislature withheld routine funding. With the Charter Class yet to graduate in 1963, USF had no alumni elected to office.

A letter to the Campus Edition editor from a concerned student read, "The enthusiasm [for USF] was here right up until last spring. Since then it has received blow after blow [by the Johns Committee]. Now Allen is in the position of choosing between alienating the BOC [State Board of Control] or the faculty. What we fear most is desertion by our best faculty. If they leave for attractive job offers in the North, USF will never recover from the broken morale they will leave behind. They must remember their enthusiasm of two years ago. They came looking for 'something of value.' It is still here. It will leave with them and the students they take with them." The student government passed a resolution supporting academic freedom.

The first FLIC report on USF was a bombshell that had been leaked to the press before anyone at the university had seen it.  Mrs. Stockton Smith released a report of her own voicing citizens’ general concerns about higher education.  President Allen responded with a condemnation of FLIC’s methods, which the committee steadfastly defended. The war of words at USF lasted for more than a year.