History and the People Who Make It: Marshall Jones


This is the seventh in a continuing series of transcript excerpts from the collection of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida.

Former UF faculty activist leader Dr. Marshall Bush Jones, a WWII Navy Medical Service Corps veteran, was interviewed by Marna Weston [W] on March 9, 2009.

W: When you wrote Berkeley of the South, who were you writing it to?

I wrote it, in the first instance, for myself. I had spent five solid years in movement activity and I wanted to get it out on paper. I wrote it mainly to the people I worked with in those years. For Jim Harmeling, too. I wanted the story of his life to be written down accurately.

Jim was a very unusual young guy in many ways. He was very gifted, attractive, intelligent. He didn’t believe that people were bad or malign. He had a hard time adopting actions which would injure people, even people with whom he very strongly disagreed. He suffered on that account.

Well, they were out for Jim. There’s no question about that. [UF Graduate School Dean Linton] Grinter especially. But you know the part that injured him was not so much the actions, as their malevolence. It was hard for him to understand.

Jesse Dean was born and raised in Pensacola, Florida. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, my wife and I were in Pensacola. I was at the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine as a research psychologist. Jesse came out to the School, said he needed somebody to talk with about his high school science fair project. He happened to be president of the Youth Council in Pensacola at that time. About this time a minister named Bill Dobbins, who had trained under King in Birmingham, came to town and started holding mass meetings. Jesse said, well, why don’t you come along? So Bev and I did. We were one of two white families that attended these otherwise all-black mass meetings. Bev, my wife here, had been President of the League of Women Voters in town and that had become a very controversial role. In Pensacola, in those years, the most left organization in town that you could join was the Friends of the Library.

It was a stringently racist, right-wing town. There was a cross burnt. It was meant to be on our lawn, but they got the house next door! [laughter] So we decided to go to the University [of Florida] in 1962. The next year, they integrated six, I think it was, students in the first year class. One of them was Jesse Dean. He, at that time, was President of the NAACP Youth Council in Gainesville.

So he invited me, he and a friend of his, Jerry Essick, who was a white country boy. We began the Student Group for Equal Rights. Dan and Jim [Harmeling] and Judy [Brown] were the very first to come out. The first action was a very long, sustained picket at the College Inn. It was a wonderful way to start a movement. It was disciplined, protracted, a little scary. The police would not give us protection.

It was right across the street from Tigert Hall. [Black UF students] weren’t allowed to eat anywhere in town. We had one guy go. He was much lighter than Jesse and they served him.

So we were going to have to send in a guy who was unmistakably black. Jesse met the description and so we sent him in. They said, oh, we’ve got a real one now and then they threw him out. He didn’t like that role as, sort of, the bait. Later, it must have been ’66 … He was draft eligible. He went to Canada and he’s still there.

W: Your case of tenure denial is still one of those seminal moments with academic freedom as people look at it today.

The most remarkable thing was that the university was censured for denial of tenure. In the history of the AAUP [American Association of University Professors], there may be one or two other schools that were censured for denial of tenure. And they were Podunk schools, not a big state university like Florida. Almost always it’s for breech of tenure, when they fire somebody who has tenure. In my case, the case was so open and shut that the AAUP ended up censuring the university even though it was a denial of tenure and not a breech. The reason for that was all the chairs of the academic departments in the College of Medicine voted unanimously in favor of tenure, which shut off a challenge to my academic credentials.

In the summer of ‘67, we obtained a copy of a statement about why I should be denied tenure.

Beverly Jones: Is this that one that accuses you of trying to destroy the state?

No, that one was [Dr. Hayford] Enwall’s.

W: You write, As the meeting opened, Vice President Frederick Conner distributed a two-page written statement explaining why he was going to vote against tenure. [UF Pres. J. Wayne] Reitz announced that the Conner statement spoke for him too. Conner concluded, quote, my primary reason is that he has publicly urged in speech and print and principle of action, which is contrary to and potentially destructive of the principles of which true universities are supposed to be organized. Dr. Jones’ principle set forth in a Kappa Delta Pi article, The Role of the Faculty and Student Rebellion, delivered on this campus and published in the Educational Forum of January 1966, is that the only practicable way in which significant changes can be achieved inside or outside a university, is by rebellion and that democratic and other ordinate processes are merely means of ratifying and implementing the changes as forced. This time the board voted five to three to deny tenure, and you write, it seemed too good to be true.

The administration was basing its case against tenure on an article I had published, in a national educational journal. [laughter] The most significant thing was the black eye of the university. It wasn’t easy to get them censured.

The other legacy of it was the United Faculty of Florida. That union was formed about my case, but it had lasting implications. Faculty are not inclined to form unions or to participate in movement activity at all. So the fact that Florida has such an organization is further evidence of how deeply they were sunk in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement, support for the war, and opposition to faculty participation in any of these things. So that was the second, and the third is Berkeley of the South. It has given subsequent generations of students at the University a point of reference.

Academic freedom is often made into a shibboleth for better salaries for faculty or something like this. But its proper meaning is as a protection against professors when they speak out in their roles as citizens of the country and not as professors. That’s the way the AAUP started, and the University had violated it so egregiously that it was hard for any faculty member to argue that they had academic freedom.

[Later UF Pres. O’Connell] did say one thing, though, explaining his decision. He said I was the most dangerous man in American academic life. I still blush with pleasure at the recollection of that.

Bill Clinton talked about the politics of personal destruction That’s certainly what they wanted to do to me. It wasn’t a policy they were trying to change. They wanted to destroy me if they could. That was their attitude toward Jim Harmeling too. I thoroughly enjoyed the years I spent in Gainesville. I didn’t like the university officials. I didn’t like what they were trying to do. And I loved skewering them. I wasn’t very nice about it. I never appealed to their better angels. I didn’t think they had any.

There might have been half a dozen professors in the country who were as active as I was in civil rights and anti-war activities. The only one I can think of who ended up on his feet, so to speak, was Eugene Genovese. And I did.

I’m not very political. But those two issues, segregation and the war in Vietnam, were as close to an absolutely clear case that anybody could possibly have. For the powers that be to be so off base on both of them, and to have the opportunity to vilify, mock, deride people I never liked to begin with as clear a conscience as possible to do in the ‘60s, was a dispensation, you could hardly expect in a lifetime. I took full advantage of it and loved it. But it was over in ‘68. I had to start paying more attention to my academics. I was at Penn State for 35 years, 24 as professor and chair of behavior science.

I was a traitor to my race. I was a traitor to my country. I was a traitor to my profession, according to them. I backed the Black Power Movement. What kind of a white man does that? I had absolutely no questions about civil rights. I had to struggle to go full bore against the war.

I am a jingo American. I am very, very pro-American, it’s certainly a very large love affair in my life. It was very, very hard for me to oppose the national government at war, but I came to believe that there was no other course I could take. I should have been spending all of my time on psychology, not all this running around on the streets and getting arrested.

W: You actually took your students to St. Augustine when King was in town.

I took them to go to jail. [laughter] I did it because it was right. That was probably the single most dangerous place we were in the years I was there.

They were all white that I brought down from Gainesville, but we picked up a black kid—and a minor, as it turned out—in St. Augustine. We were at a Morrison’s Restaurant. We were an integrated group. That meant we couldn’t get served. We were arrested for violation of the segregation statutes, trespass, contributing to the delinquency of a minor and transporting. Said, what the hell is transporting? [laughter] transporting people to the scene of a crime.

Of course, there isn’t any such charge. We were put in jail. It was a segregated jail. So they had a lot of black guys on one side and they had ourselves on the other. Not only ourselves, but some people who were in there for unrelated offenses. The people on our side began singing freedom songs and stuff and these guys joined in.

Other prisoners on the white [side] who were not demonstrators, sang with us. This really ticked off the local sheriff who was a member of the white Citizens Council and was a Klan type. He took us as a group, including these two guys, put us in a sweatbox. When the word got out on the black side of the house, that we were in the sweatbox, they said, Jesus, we can’t have that. They’re getting out ahead of us! So they raised hell, then they put them on the black side of the sweatbox. But it was all very fortunate because Federal Judge Simpson vacated the cases against us on grounds of cruel and unusual punishment, which would not have been the case if we had not been in the sweatbox.

Joe [Waller] was born and raised in St. Petersburg and he was trying to organize the town. He was not getting much response from the black community. In city hall they had this huge tapestry, of a fête champêtre, a country aristocratic feast, with black people being portrayed in the most stereotypic possible images. He wanted them to come to city hall and protest So he took down this tapestry and was marching right down the center of St. Petersburg to the black neighborhood and they arrested him for defacing public property. They gave him two years in Raiford for that. Joe — he now calls himself Omali Yeshitela. He’s chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party.

He suffered in Raiford. At the time, I was president, chair or whatever of the ACLU in Florida and we worked hard to get him out. We got him out and he came to stay with me in Gainesville. Shortly after came the King assassination. He immediately started protesting, of course. And then he was jailed, as was Carol Thomas, as was Jack Dawkins, as was Wallace Davis. The entire leadership of the Black Power Movement in Florida was, at that point, in Gainesville, and they arrested them all.

Then the City Fathers and the university officialdom declared a big march to honor Martin Luther King. They would say all sorts of things about non-violence. They would say nothing about what he was non-violent about, nor would they say anything about all the people they had arrested on preemptive charges. They didn’t make a pretense. They wanted to prevent in Gainesville what was going on elsewhere.

Reverend T.A. Wright was the leader. He was a good ole guy but in my opinion, he wasn’t up to handling something like that. I get up that morning and I said, I’m going to break that damned march up. So I went to Wright and I said, I’m the only person, adult, grown-up person who was ever with King in his lifetime, in jail with him. You’ve got to put me on the march.

So I got up at the end and I pointed out all the guys who were in jail about four or five blocks from where we were gathered. And I said, you’re here to honor Martin Luther King and his philosophy. I said, well, if you want to do that, you’ll do what I’m going to do. You’ll go sit in the center of University and Main, and we’re going to bring this damned march to a complete shambles and we’re going to bring this damned town to a complete shambles. We had about two dozen people and they arrested us. I had already taken the money out and told everybody, when they arrest you, pay your fine and go, [laughter] because the day after tomorrow, they are going to raise the fine. It was fifty bucks. Twenty-four people cost me 1,000 bucks.

I have had two kinds of leadership roles in my life. For five years in Gainesville, I was in a leadership role in radical street action. For thirty-five years I was, among other things, an academic bureaucrat. Movement leadership is the most difficult and most challenging and the most honest form of leadership. You have no weapons to coerce anybody to do anything. All you have is either your example or your persuasiveness to get things done. Often times, what you’re trying to get people to do are very much against their self interest. You’re trying to get them to go to jail. Sometimes they may even get hurt and that’s not going to help either. So you have to lead on the basis of example and honest argument. There’s no other way to do it. I loved street action. You really had to think about what you were doing. You had to do it while you were running, [laughter] a lot of the time.

Ours was a very disciplined movement. We always had faculty or older people and the demonstrators, not just young people. We had a reputation for running a good show. You needed that because we were very small and very isolated. Sustained movement was almost unique to Gainesville in the South.

The student group was founded explicitly as an auxiliary grouping. We didn’t think we were the Civil Rights Movement. [laughter] We thought we were participating in it, but we didn’t try to take over. They were good years.

An audio podcast of this interview will be made available, along with many others, at www.history.ufl.edu/oral/feature-podcasts.htm.

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