Beyond the Headlines: Reflections on 2021 from Behind the Camera

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This body of work comes from University of Florida students enrolled in Dr. Louise Newman’s “From Headlines to Histories” course during the fall semester of 2021. The class seeks to instill an appreciation for the longer historical trajectories behind current news events. To get introduced to this concept, students were instructed to emulate historian Matthew Frye Jacobson by taking a picture that contained within it an accumulated history that future historians might study to better understand our present society. We hope that this collection of reflections can provide a glimpse into today’s anxieties and complexities as visualized by UF students, and encourage a deeper admiration for the many layers of history that have led us to this moment.

COVID-19 Community Archive

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This exhibition was created with the help of our community members. We are one of the primary organizations dedicated to Alachua County history. As we conduct research, we often wish that we had more photographs, narratives, and documentation from the past. Living through the COVID-19 pandemic gives us all a unique opportunity to create and collect these primary sources for the future.

McCarthy Moment: The Johns Committee in Florida

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“Have you ever been engaged in any homosexual activities here in Gainesville?”

This question forever altered dozens of lives at the University of Florida between 1958 and 1959.

In 1956, State Senator Charley Eugene Johns created the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee. Better known as the Johns Committee, it tried to uncover subversive activity in Florida.

Their first target was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The Committee used Communists as an excuse to prevent integration in public schools. The NAACP’s members and lawyers proved too hard for the Committee to beat.  Soon an embarrassed Johns looked for easier victims.

At this time, Americans thought being gay was a shameful mental disorder. It was something to hide and keep secret. It was also illegal in Florida. This secrecy made gay people more vulnerable to the persecution of the Johns Committee. Committee members threatened people with exposure and prison if they did not cooperate. This reign of terror led to dozens of professors and students leaving the university. Although we will never know everyone the Committee hurt, this exhibition seeks to tell their stories.