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- 2014 - July - 7th -
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50 years ago: Acquittals and mistrials in federal racial bombing case

Compiled by Max Marbut

After deliberating for nearly six hours after a five-day trial, an all-white, all-male federal court jury declined to convict five defendants charged with conspiracy in the Feb. 16 bombing of an African-American’s home. All five admitted they were members of the Ku Klux Klan.

One defendant was acquitted outright on the two-count indictment; one was acquitted on one count, a mistrial on the other count; and mistrials were declared on both counts for the other three defendants.

The mistrials were declared after jurors reported to U.S. District Judge Bryan Simpson they were unable to reach a verdict.

All five had been charged with conspiring with William Sterling Rosencrans Jr. to bomb the home of Donald Godfrey, a 6-year-old African-American, six months after he integrated Lackawanna Elementary School under a federal court order.

Godfrey and his mother were in the home when dynamite exploded under the house, but neither was injured.

Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hamilton Jr., the prosecutor, said retrials probably would not be scheduled soon because of a full court calendar.

It was noted the defendants and Rosencrans, who already was serving a seven-year federal prison term for the bombing, could face state charges.

County Solicitor Edward M. Booth said shortly after the verdicts the decision on local prosecution had been delayed pending the federal trial.

• Jacksonville Beach police arrested 10 youths and charged them with violating an ordinance that prohibited surfing within 300 yards of the fishing pier at Sixth Avenue South.

The arrests came after a surfing contest for locals and an exhibition by visiting professionals, which drew thousands of spectators to an area along the strand south of the pier.

Police Chief C.H. Franks said he issued orders that the ordinance would be enforced and arrests would be made if necessary.

“We are not against surfing,” he said. “We think it is a fine sport, but if it is not kept under control, it will have to be barred from the beach. I do not want to see this happen.”

Franks added that in addition to ignoring the pier ordinance, several surfers under 21 had been found with beer and whiskey in their possession and there also were a number of reports of surfboards being stolen.

“We did not bother the boys during the contest or the exhibition. We only made arrests after issuing several warnings,” Franks said.

• The demolition of what was described as a “Riverside landmark” began when a wrecking ball collided with a brick structure along Riverside Avenue at Leila Street. The building, formerly an electric generating plant that powered Jacksonville’s streetcars, was being torn down to make way for construction of a newspaper plant and offices for Florida Publishing Co., publishers of The Florida Times-Union and Jacksonville Journal.

Plans included a two-level building for the mechanical operations and an adjacent 11-story office building for the company’s advertising, editorial and executive departments.

Clearing the site for the $11 million, 8.5-acre project was under the administration of The Auchter Co., and was expected to take more than three months to complete. The project was scheduled to be complete within 18 months.

• State Development Commission Chairman Wendell Jarrard said even though it was “losing money hand over fist,” the $6 million Florida exhibit at the New York World’s Fair would not be shut down.

Jarrard, a member of the executive committee of the Florida World’s Fair Authority, made the declaration after he returned from New York City.

“Florida is outdrawing every state exhibit except the state of New York and has the best show on the grounds,” he said.

The Florida exhibit featured an Indian family with a tepee brought up from the Everglades and Ross Allen sent up a reptile exhibit from Silver Springs. A couple of sea turtles also had been shipped to New York for the exhibit.

The porpoise show was what the authority counted on to carry the whole exhibit. Jarrard said it cost more than $130,000 a month to keep the show open.

He alleged the New York World’s Fair Authority did not live up to some of its commitments, which was contributing to the lack of attendance at Florida’s exhibition. A moving sidewalk to the exhibit was promised, but it was not provided because “General Motors put its foot down claiming it would cost it visitors,” Jarrard said.

• Municipal Docks and Terminals officially became Talleyrand Docks and Terminals of the Jacksonville Port Authority when the name was formally adopted by the authority’s board of directors.

Also on the agenda was a resolution authorizing the hiring of a new engineer and additional legal counsel for the proposed large-scale development of the port.

The board also adopted a resolution requesting the Duval County Budget Commission to levy a tax of 1.5 mills for the operation and maintenance of the docks and terminals.

• A four-day Eastern District assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses opened in Jacksonville and was expected to draw more than 13,000 attendees.

Although arrangements had been made by volunteers from the Watchtower Society, the influx of visitors was expected to tax the local lodging capacity.

In view of the housing situation, the Jacksonville Convention and Visitors Bureau served as a clearinghouse for the normal flow of visitors seeking overnight accommodations.

George Tobi, vice president and general manager of the bureau, said his office at 133 W. Monroe St. near Hemming Park would remain open after the usual business hours and would keep its doors open as late as necessary.

“All of the delegates coming to the convention have been housed. We now are trying to aid the usual visitors,” Tobi said.

• The state Public Utilities Commission reported there were more than 1.5 million telephone subscribers in Florida at the end of 1963 and most were served by Southern Bell.

A commission survey showed Southern Bell, with 94 exchanges in the state, was the largest of five companies operating in Florida.

• “Young people today need to be equipped with the strength of faith,” said D.K. Brown, FBI special agent in charge of the Jacksonville District.

Addressing the Meninak Club at the Mayflower Hotel, he also said they should be equipped with the tools of awareness.

“They can meet the challenge of our times, but only with our help, with our pointing out that life wasn’t intended to be a bed of roses,” Brown said. “The Creator wove in us a strong thread of adversity and provided us with the opportunity to cope with it.”

• A neatly dressed man who threatened to blow up the Lake Forest Atlantic Bank unless he was given $5,000 in cash fled when a teller simply stared at him.

The bank was evacuated but no bombs were found inside the building at 1336 Edgewood Ave. S., near Lem Turner Road.

Sherril Herlick, 18, was the teller who was approached by the would-be bandit. She said he shoved a note at her that said one bomb was inside and one bomb was outside the bank and both would be detonated by an accomplice by remote control unless he was outside with the money in three minutes. Herlick just stared at the robber and he ran out of the building.

FBI agents rushed to the bank and within minutes were searching the premises looking for explosives and clues to the man’s identity.

One agent called Herlick a “cool customer” for not panicking. However, she said her lack of immediate action was due to confusion, as she did not know what to do when the man handed her the note.

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