Tallahassee wasn't exactly hippie town, but change was coming
By Kati Schardl • DEMOCRAT STAFF WRITER • August 22, 2008
The September 1968 tabloid published by the Tallahassee Democrat to
welcome students to FSU, FAMU and Tallahassee Junior College (as
Tallahassee Community College was called then) featured ad after ad
touting the city as "Collegetown, USA."
On the surface, it seemed a fitting sobriquet. Tallahassee seemed
insulated from the paroxysms of protest erupting in other university
The closest approximation to the "Summer of Love," which blossomed in
psychedelic, patchouli-scented profusion on the West Coast in 1967,
was the funky Imports by Vardi emporium on College Avenue. "The big
old house with the red door" was where students went to buy groovy
gear such as Indian print bedspreads ($4.50 each), tatami mats, giant
paper flowers, posters, incense and incense burners and mobiles.
Like, far out, y'all.
But if the local cultural cauldron hadn't yet come to a rolling
boiling, it was certainly simmering smartly in 1968. Metamorphosis
hung in the humid air, and before the year was out, the FSU and FAMU
campuses would be jolted by protests, political unrest and upheavals
in the educational landscape.
FSU would emerge from 1968 with a new nickname "the Berkeley of the
South." The provocative moniker would stick like a Day-Glo decal and
flare into buzzing, neon-hued glory as the '60s waned and the '70s dawned.
The stage was set in 1968 for the ascendancy of Students for a
Democratic Society and firebrands such as "Radical Jack" Lieberman,
who would figure prominently in the incendiary '70s.
The times, they were definitely a-changin', as noted in the
epigraphic Dylan quotes sprinkled throughout the pages of the 1968
"Tally Ho," FSU's yearbook.
One of the biggest local protests of 1968 had to do with one of the
yearbook's sister publications. When FSU President John Champion
refused to let the literary magazine publish a story called "Pig
Knife" because it contained what he considered offensive language,
students and faculty united in protest. There were marches,
impassioned speeches and a 24-hour vigil on the lawn of the Westcott Building.
Champion by all accounts, a gentle, soft-spoken man who detested
confrontation submitted his resignation, then was persuaded by the
Board of Regents to rescind the decision.
Later that year after another wave of controversy over refusing to
grant official student organization status to the SDS Champion was
hospitalized for "extreme exhaustion." His nerves, no doubt, frayed
to cobwebbed wisps by the hubbub, he abruptly resigned in early 1969
and the real fun i.e., the lively, contentious Stanley Marshall era began.
At FAMU, Afro-centric awareness was on the rise, fueled by the visits
of powerful black icons and the university's sponsorship of a seminar
on civil disobedience. Journalist, author and civil-rights movement
documentarian Louis Lomax appeared as part of the university's Artist
Series. Actor and activist Ossie Davis urged FAMU students to "look
for the truth." Controversial congressman and powerful orator Adam
Clayton Powell visited FAMU mere weeks before Martin Luther King
Jr.'s assassination to declare, with eerie prescience, that "the day
of nonviolence is over it is gone with the wind."
On the night of April 4, 1968, as news of the tragic events on that
Memphis hotel balcony spread, a volcano of anguish and anger erupted
on FAMU's campus. Students armed themselves with whatever came to
hand and struck out against passing cars and nearby businesses. The
violence spilled onto South Monroe Street, Gaines Street and Lake
Bradford Road. Police finally cordoned off the campus and took cover
from small-arms sniper fire and rioters armed with bows and arrows.
The riots continued through April 7, spreading to Frenchtown and
causing property damage to both black- and white-owned businesses.
When it was all over, 14 people had been injured and one person
killed 19-year-old Travis E. Crow III, who died from asphyxiation
when his father's grocery store on Lake Bradford Road was firebombed.
FAMU President George W. Gore Jr., led students and community members
in a memorial service in Lee Hall Auditorium on April 9, and later
students joined a 15-block march past the state Capitol led by the
Rev. Raleigh N. Gooden of St. Mary's Primitive Baptist Church.
FAMU's tumultuous school year closed with the passing of one of its
most treasured institutions. White legislators voted to close the law
school that had opened in 1949, and the last graduating class watched
as the law books were stripped from the shelves and shipped over to
FSU's new law school. FAMU reopened its law school in 2002 in downtown Orlando.
That time of flux seems so far away, as misty as myth. But students
today have much in common with their counterparts of four decades
ago. There has been a resurgence of campus activism that mirrors a
rise in environmental and political awareness. The outlook now is
more global, a broadening of consciousness that was initiated with
televised coverage of the Vietnam War, student protests in European
and American capitals, the police brutality at the Democratic
National Convention in Chicago and other seminal events.
When the three-man crew of the Apollo 8 mission made a live Christmas
Eve broadcast while in orbit around the moon, it drew the communal
gaze even further out, into the cosmos.
Whether FSU and by extension, Tallahassee deserved to be called
"the Berkeley of the South" will no doubt always be a subject of
debate for bar-stool philosophers and chroniclers of the era. Those
who were there back then say that even the most fraught anti-war and
anti-censorship protests on the FSU campus were conducted with
But along with politeness, there was undeniable passion, intellect,
purpose and an open-hearted feeling of community and the same is true today.
In 40 years, the culture has evolved from "far out" to "peace out,"
which proves that, to quote The Who, the kids are still all right.