‘The McCarthy Moment’ opens at Matheson

What: “The McCarthy Moment” Exhibition
Where: Matheson History Museum
When: Starting Jan. 28, Tues-Sat, 11am-4pm
Cost: Free

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.

The McCarthy Moment exhibition does contain sensitive information, including self-harm, sexual acts, and persecution of the LGBTQ+ community. Museum staff is available if any visitor would like more information before entering the exhibition.

The Matheson History Museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11am-4pm, and admission is free.

This exhibition is funded in part by grants from Visit Gainesville Alachua County, Florida; the City of Gainesville Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs; and the Florida Department of State. 

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