"The Reluctant Astronaut" opened at the Cedar Hills and Town and Country movie theaters this week in 1967.

50 years ago: Taxes and city council race dropout

May. 1, 2017

Have you ever wondered what life was like in Jacksonville half a century ago? It was a different era of history, culture and politics but there are often parallels between the kind of stories that made headlines then and today. As interesting as the differences may be, so are the similarities. These are some of the top stories from this week in 1967. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by associate editor Max Marbut.

Judge: Tax system ‘discriminatory and unfair’

Florida’s ad valorem tax system, which granted low rates to intangible property and levied higher rates on real estate and tangible property, was discriminatory and unfair, said Circuit Judge William Durden.

But it couldn’t be declared illegal because the people imposed it on themselves by voting it into the state Constitution, he added.

Those points were from a ruling by Durden as he dismissed, with obvious great reluctance, portions of 18 assessment suits seeking to have the controversial ad valorem tax system declared unconstitutional.

On behalf of the plaintiffs, who were challenging their 1966 property tax bills, attorney William Bostwick asserted the ad valorem tax laws violated federal and state constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal protection of the law.

Durden said in his 13-page opinion that under Florida law, there really was no ceiling on the ad valorem tax rate which could be imposed on real estate and tangible personal property by county taxing authorities.

However, he pointed out, intangible personal property — such as money, stocks and bonds — was broken down into classifications and under the state Constitution, could not be taxed at a rate higher than 2 mills, or $2 per $1,000 valuation.

Rutledge Pearson dies in car accident

Rutledge Pearson, president the state and local branches of the NAACP, died of head injuries near Waynesboro, Tenn., when his automobile went out of control on a rain-slick highway and struck a bridge abutment.

Pearson, 37, had left Atlanta for Memphis, where members of the Laundry, Dry Cleaners and Dyehouse Union were on strike. He was the international agent for the union.

Pearson had lived in Jacksonville all his life and was known nationally as a civil rights leader. At the time of his death, he was a member of the NAACP National Executive Board and was president of the Southeastern Region of the organization.

He would be succeeded as state NAACP president by Rev. J.E. Atkins, pastor of Zion Hill Baptist Church in Winter Haven.

Pearson was a “straightforward and fearless leader” and one who “believed in the human dignity of all men. He was working hard for all branches (of the NAACP) to put in motion a program to remove Florida from every vestige of segregation and discrimination,” Atkins said.

Wife drops out of City Council race citing spousal duty

Gerry Hembree, who qualified as a Republican candidate for City Council in the Sixth Ward, withdrew from the race.

She was the wife of Dr. William Hembree, a Republican candidate for mayor and former chairman of the Duval County Republican Executive Committee.

Hembree said her decision was based on her desire to help her husband win the race for mayor.

“I feel that my first duty is as a wife,” she said, “So I am withdrawing at this time in order to help and support him in his campaign.”

Firefighters seek responsiblility for ambulance service

The Duval County Firemen’s Association petitioned the county legislators to give responsibility for ambulance service in unincorporated areas of the county to firefighters.

The request was submitted to the delegation by Michael Hadden, chairman of the association’s Legislative Committee.

Hadden said county firemen were trained in rescue and first-aid operations and because their departments were strategically located, they felt they could perform the service “at a cost of 40 cents on the dollar cheaper than the city.”

Police make beach auditorium safe

The Jacksonville Beach City Auditorium was one of the few places in Duval County where parents would allow their children to attend activities without fear for their safety, said Jacksonville Beach Mayor William Wilson.

In a discussion of the policing of the venue at a meeting of the Jacksonville Beach City Council, Wilson defended the use of additional police officers at auditorium functions. He said “rowdyism and vandalism were practically non-existent” at dances attended by teens due to the increased police presence.

Funeral held for William Rogers

Graveside funeral services for William Rogers, senior partner in the law firm Rogers, Towers, Bailey, Jones & Gay, were held at Oaklawn Cemetery.

He lived at 2400 Seminole Road in Atlantic Beach, and died in his home after a long illness. He was 83.

Born in New Haven, Conn., in 1884, Rogers graduated magna cum laude from Dickinson College with a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1905 and received a bachelor of laws degree from New York Law School in 1909.

He came to Jacksonville in 1911 after practicing law in New York City and the Panama Canal Zone and was admitted to The Florida Bar the following year.

Throughout the Great Depression, Rogers served as chairman of the Duval County chapters of the Works Progress Administration and the Emergency Relief.

At the time of his death, he had been president of Florida Title and Guaranty Co. and was the Duval County agent of the Lawyers Title Insurance Corp. for 38 years.

McDuff Appliances plans expansion

McDuff Appliances Inc., a 12-store chain that was North Florida’s largest appliance dealer, launched a reorganization and expansion program aimed at increasing its $6 million-a-year sales volume by 50 percent by August 1968.

The firm planned to add three stores to the nine it operated in Duval County, and three outlets in other North Florida cities to bring its volume up to $9 million annually.

Company President Randolph Thomas said the expansion would include stores near the new Regency Square shopping center and on Normandy Boulevard near Lane Avenue.

Federal suits over Roosevelt Hotel fire

Lawsuits arising from the deaths of 21 guests in the 1963 Roosevelt Hotel fire asking damages in excess of $7 million were filed in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville.

The suits, brought on behalf of 38 heirs of those who died in the Dec. 29 fire, were against the U.S. Fidelity & Guaranty Co., the hotel’s fire insurer.

On March 6, the hotel owners settled out of court for a sum reported to be $1.26 million. Cases against the owners of the hotel were subsequently dismissed in Circuit Court, leaving USF&G as the only defendant.

Attorneys for the insurance company, a Delaware corporation, asked for and received a removal order, having the remaining cases against them transferred to federal court.

The fire occurred on the morning after the Gator Bowl football game and apparently began in the ballroom. No one was killed by the fire, but instead by smoke that filled the interior.

(The structure is now The Carling apartment building on West Adams Street between Laura and Main streets.)