By Gerald Ensley • DEMOCRAT SENIOR WRITER
November 15, 2008
Like many college students in the 1960s, Florida State University
graduate John Buckley got involved in political protest. He joined
the FSU chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). He
marched on Washington, D.C. He protested racial discrimination, the
Vietnam War and nuclear proliferation.
But Buckley carried more than outrage when he demonstrated: He
carried a camera. And now future generations of Floridians will benefit.
Buckley, 63, recently donated 5,000 photos and negatives to the
Florida Archives. The photos are of political demonstrations, marches
and protests in Tallahassee, in Florida and around the nation from
1968 to 1976.
Archive officials are elated by the donation. They plan to post 130
of the photos on the online Florida Memory Project within a month and
add more in the ensuing months.
"We have a few images of political protest from that time period. But
it's amazing how much stuff (Buckley) did and how in the trenches he
was," said state photo archivist Adam Watson. "Not only was he
shooting pictures of students protesting, but he was really involved
with the African-American community."
The photos have been stored in the Indian Head Acres home of Buckley
and his wife, Patricia Muar, a retired Tallahassee Community College
nursing instructor. The two met at FSU protests in the 1960s and have
been married for 30 years. Personal tragedy has motivated the
donation: Buckley, a former smoker, has terminal lung cancer and has
been given only months to live.
Longtime friends consider the photos an important contribution to
history. Local former activists Bob Broedel, Rick Johnson and Kent
Spriggs formed an online group to help identify events and people in
the photos particularly those from Tallahassee. Those photos
include demonstrations by FSU students, the Elberta Crate strike,
civil-rights marches in Frenchtown and visits by national figures
such as William Kunstler, Jane Fonda and Black Panther organizers.
"These photos are important for posterity," said Johnson, now a
Tallahassee attorney. "Tallahassee had a bigger and more advanced
movement for social change than any of the other cities in Florida."
Buckley's activism was born in an early-childhood incident. When he
was a 5-year-old in Newport, R.I., his best friend was a year-older
black neighbor, Tony Ames. One day, Buckley chanted a limerick he had
heard which used the N-word. His shocked friend explained why it
was a bad word and Buckley cried in embarrassment, vowing he would
never use the word again.
Buckley's family soon moved to Panama City, where he was further
dismayed by Southern racial practices. By high school he was an
outspoken critic of racial disparities, though it did not endear him
to Bay High officials.
"To me, (better race relations) were a simple matter of fairness,"
Buckley said. "So I spoke up. I was unfailingly polite. But I was
After a freshman year at the University of Florida, Buckley
transferred to FSU. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in physics
in 1967 and was aiming for a career in science.
But he was introduced early to the Liberal Forum, a Unitarian
Church-sponsored student group interested in social issues. The group
shared his social conscience "I met people there like me" and he
began participating in integration and free-speech demonstrations.
He also worked at an FSU physics lab, where one of his co-workers was
an enthusiastic photographer who taught him the basics. Buckley
bought a 35 mm camera and shot photos at every march, protest and
demonstration he attended. He photographed the 1969 march on
Washington, D.C., the 1972 Democratic and Republican national
conventions in Miami and anti-nuclear-proliferation protests in the Carolinas.
"It was quite dangerous sometimes," Buckley said. "It's not easy to
take pictures and dodge tear gas."
He went on to spend a decade as a professional photographer in
Tallahassee. He then taught high-school physics and chemistry before
becoming a computer programmer for the state. He retired in 2005.
Though he shrugs at praise for the photos "It would be too
grandiose to say I was taking them for the historical record" his
wife believes they're invaluable.
"When John and I grew up in the 1950s, you basically believed that
the government was right and always told the truth," Muar said. "If
there is a legacy (former protesters) have left for the current
generation, it's that the government is not always right and does not
always tell the truth, and it is our responsibility to make sure they do."
Call Senior Writer Gerald Ensley at (850) 599-2310 or e-mail