50 years ago: Warren Folks, avowed white supremacist, acquitted at trial
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 1966. The items were compiled from the Jacksonville Public Library’s periodical archives by Staff Writer Max Marbut.
Warren Folks, a militant segregationist who was charged with two counts of inciting a riot and another count of interfering with a lawful assembly in connection with civil rights demonstrations, was found not guilty on all counts by Municipal Judge John Santora.
After no other attorney would defend Folks, retired Circuit Judge William Maness agreed to represent him at the bench trial.
Maness was a well-known civil rights advocate and resigned from the court in 1963 to devote his time to the cause of equal opportunities for all people, regardless of race.
At one point in his argument in Folks’ defense, Maness described his client as “foolhardy,” but with a reason.
“Foolhardy? Yes, but for a cause he holds dear. A cause that shocks the sensitivity of all who hold human values high regardless of race, color or religious preference — a cause sparked by a belief that the white man, outnumbered though he may be, is ordained by God as supreme, superior to all other men,” he said.
“This may be the practice of many — and it seems to be, but it finds no support in democracy, and few openly admit their own prejudices or join this cause. The cause is not popular, but this court knows that the popularity of a man’s belief is not the test of criminal responsibility, nor for that matter, the test of his right to counsel,” Maness added.
As he announced his decision, Santora said he was ashamed of his fellow members of the Bar for not wishing to represent Folks.
“I am happy that Judge Maness agreed to defend him, even though he disagreed with Folks’ views,” Santora said.
It was noted Folks was imperial potentate of the Knights of the Great White Klan. He was arrested when he attempted to arrest Pearson on a warrant issued by the Klan.
• The Duval County grand jury accused city officials of “shameful and shocking waste of public funds” in the purchase, operation and use of automobiles owned by the city.
In a caustic, sometimes sarcastically worded report, the jury said the city squandered in a four-year period more than $100,000 in the purchase of vehicles alone.
The report did not cite names, but lashed out at the city commissioners, city auditor, purchasing agent, department heads and unnamed city employees who used city vehicles for private business.
The jury questioned why the city did not seek bids when purchasing automobiles and described the lack of competition as “gross neglect and flagrant disregard of the public interest.”
From 1961 through mid-1965, the jury said the city bought 168 cars from one local dealer and paid maximum list price for vehicle while no vehicles were purchased from another dealer that sold the same make and models.
The tone of the report was most sarcastic when it referred to luxury cars.
“If one could believe the testimony given before us, a horde of city automobiles converge on the airport and railroad station every time an important visitor arrives in Jacksonville. This was the one feeble excuse given by city officials and employees in justification of the fact that they drive fully equipped, air-conditioned luxury cars in the $5,000 class purchased for them by the city. We do not believe this explanation,” the jury said.
The 13-page document, which did not indict anyone, was read by State Attorney William Hallowes to Circuit Judge Marion Gooding, who ordered certified copies of the report to be sent to the city commissioners — the main target of the presentment’s findings — and to the City Council president.
“You are to be commended for going into this thing as thoroughly as you are. I’m sure there will be other reports,” said Gooding to the jurors.
• Mayor Lou Ritter received the support of the City Commission in designating the Jacksonville-Duval Area Planning Board as the agency for city planning needs.
Ritter said in addition to general planning services, the city needed specific services in the further development of a planning program that would conform to federal requirements for assistance.
The commission agreed to set aside $25,000 in the 1967-68 budget to be spent with the board as needed for special planning projects.
Both proposals would be sent to City Council for its approval.
• Shocked by a projection that funds were running about $1 million short of the budgeted amounts, the Duval County Board of Commissioners ordered all departments under their supervision to limit spending to bare necessities and dire emergencies.
The edict came after County Auditor Ed Barwald informed the board revenue to meet the budgeted accounts for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30 was running about $1 million short.
He attributed the shortfall mainly to the commission overestimating revenue and underestimating expenses when the 1965-66 budget was drafted.
Collecting about $60,000 less than anticipated due to non-payment of taxes also was a factor, Barwald said.
He pointed out an extra burden was placed on the budget after the 1965 Legislature passed a bill requiring the board to pay fees to the tax collector and tax assessor for the services they rendered to various county agencies.
• City Council, meeting in special session, approved acceptance of a $4,711 check from the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity for use by the city Recreation Department.
The money was earmarked for construction of a play court at the Wilder Park Community Center.
• Joseph Marshall, who had been sought since December on a charge of conspiring to perform an abortion, was arrested in New Orleans by FBI agents.
They served a federal warrant charging Marshall with interstate flight to avoid prosecution on the charge, said D.K. Brown, special agent in the Jacksonville office.
Marshall had been scheduled to stand trial in December 1965 on the conspiracy charge, but could not be found.
On Jan. 18, the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville asked for the FBI’s help in locating Marshall. Two days later, the federal warrant was issued.
• Four cape buffalo from South Africa, purchased for the city zoo, landed in New York City, but it was expected to be at least 90 days before the animals would arrive in Jacksonville.
The animals were quarantined in New York due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
The U.S. Agriculture Department at first refused permission for the animals to be brought into port and it was feared they would have to be dumped at sea.
After numerous protests from zoo officials, some members of Congress and others, the department agreed to appropriate $25,000 for the quarantine arrangements.
The buffalo were among 55 wild animals aboard a Dutch freighter, bound for 13 American zoos.
• Jacksonville University summer commencement exercises were scheduled for Aug. 21 in Swisher Gymnasium.
There were 152 candidates for degrees, which would be presented by Robert Spiro, university president.
U.S. Rep., Charles Bennett would address the graduating class with the topic “Promises of Tomorrow.”
Bennett was a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, which oversaw the $56.6 billion defense budget.
He also was chair of the Real Estate Subcommittee and a member of the Central Intelligence Agency and Policy committees.
• Firefighter Chandler Platt believed in graphic demonstrations when he gave instructions for first aid for snakebite.
At the Holly Oaks Volunteer Fire Station garage, his audience of fire personnel and nearby residents gasped when he shook a 5-foot diamondback rattlesnake out of a bag.
Platt them milked venom from the snake by pressing his fingertip against the roof of the snake’s mouth and hooked the fangs over the rim of a cup. The venom dripped down the side of the cup and settled in the bottom.
“There’s enough venom in this cup to kill three people,” he said.
Platt was a veteran herpetologist, having handled all the major varieties of poisonous snakes, including king cobras and South American rattlesnakes.
• The first step toward expanding technical education in Duval County would begin during the 1966-67 school term.
The initial action was setting up a vocational-technical program providing adult general and high school education at Central Adult School, Technical High School and Stanton Vocational High School.
The expansion could lead eventually to establishment of a centrally located vocational-technical school in Jacksonville.
The move was supported by officials of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce, including its president, banker Guy Botts.