Jacksonville History: Cooling "The Long Hot Era"

June 6, 2016 6 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

While the business leaders of the area were discussing the future of Jacksonville in Planning, this article also appeared in Jacksonville Magazine, describing the efforts of the Jacksonville business community to reach out to the Negroes. At the time, Mayor Hans Tanzler feared the unleashing of a 'national holocaust'

Ash Verlander in a recent Times-Union photo, shortly before his death.

Cooling the Long Hot Era.
Jacksonville Magazine, FALL, 1967

The purpose for calling this meeting this morning is to discuss racial relations as they exist here in Jacksonville today at to talk about what we of the business community can do."

The strong face of big W. Ashley Verlander, president of the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce, was clouded and his mood conveyed an urgency and a sense of responsibility for the well being of his community which he wanted to share with the 90 businessmen who represented the cream of Jacksonville's leadership.

He had taken hours from his responsibilities as the president of American Heritage Insurance Company to meet with city officials and Negro leaders because he believes the future of his company is linked with what happens to the people his company serves.  He is not alone in that opinion.

The day was August 9,  Only the day before, residents of Duval County had voted overwhelmingly (2 to 1) to consolidate the area under one government and make  Jacksonville the largest city in Florida.  The men present in the Chamber Board Room were pleasantly exchanging congratulations and conjecturing.  Then Mayor Hans Tanzler began his proposal.....

"You know what happened in Detroit"  he began; then he outlined the economic impact.  "Let's face it.  A condition exists here and we must do something about it.  The threat of it last weekend resulted in business falling 40%.

Rap Brown, The Source of Unnecessary Terror in the Jacksonville Political World of 1967

"We aren't advertising the fact that Rap Brown might come here tonight....he's still in New York I understand.  But we are working with the press to keep down wild rumors.  We aren't going to be blackmailed into anything either.  We ARE going to give everyone an opportunity to prove themselves.

"Negroes are just beginning to believe we are moving ahead here....and our problem might just turn out to be keeping them from killing Rap Brown!  (editor's note:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._Rap_Brown)

"Three weeks ago when everything blew up in Detroit, I would have though the possibilities of avoiding a race riot here were not 10 to 1, But this new 'hope' has brought a real cooling situation.  Now I believe, as a result of our efforts, we might avoid a major crisis.  But we must take a whole new look at our policies.

Mayor Hans Tanzler, who feared a "National Holocaust" arising from the Civil Rights Movement

"I didn't think so at the beginning of my campaign.  (Tanzler was elected mayor of Jacksonville June 2 and took office June 23.)   When I was going around campaigning, one Negro preacher said to me:  'You've got to give a little consideration to some of these people', and I thought to myself:  This is discrimination against White People!

"Now I realize you don't make people respect property when they aren't respected as human beings themselves.  We need to use all the imagination dedication, wisdom and love we can muster to help these people.

"So many of our programs thus far aren't relevant.  'Learn, Baby. Learn!' we say, but it's too late for some of this generation!  The problem now is to educate white people to understand---or the result will be a nationwide holocaust."

The noted Civil Rights Reporter Michael Durham, after his beating here in Jacksonville during a Civil Rights Rally.

The sincerity of his delivery had its impact and, as Ash Verlander outlined, the plan took some shape.  "While we cannot solve the racial problems of the whole nation,"  Ash observed, "I believe we businessmen can help here at home by providing some more recreation and jobs.  Our underemployed come to nearly 35%,  I guess....just think what could happen to our city if we could boost the income of these people 25%.  Kids between 17 and 25 --- give them a chance.  Only those who have been screened will be sent to you businessmen.  We need better rapport between those who are seeking and you men who have the jobs.

"Our biggest problem of course is the untrained.  Pressure should be on job training for the unqualified.

Responsive remarks came from the men:

"We must continue to do something about housing in poor areas"
"We must maintain law and order while we're working things out"
"We must work out something with the unions"

"We've got to find some way to deal with people of both races who are ill equipped.  Our big technical education program for the State was vetoed by the Governor, but we must revise that."

"The Colored work force is not mobile.  whites are very mobile.  A certain amount of shifting from one employer to another is necessary if these people are going to be upgraded in skills.  I've got one man who has been with me for years and he won't leave.  I have no way of moving him up and he's really capable.  But he won't leave and go to a better job."

"The Chamber of Commerce can't run an employment service.  And it will take the prestige of our mayor to be effective."

"But we need a central place for registering.  Why can't we use the Chamber of Commerce as a clearing house and assume that we'll all be responsible to offer all the opportunities we can, when we can?"

Thus was born the "Mayor's Employment Committee" which began functioning the following Monday morning, August 14.

A Friday morning organizational committee meeting with agencies of the Greater Jacksonville Economic Opportunity, Inc.,  the Urban League, NAACP, and Florida State Employment Service revealed an interplay of opinions.

"The anti poverty agencies are NOT a means of finding employment for these people.  There's a lack of understanding about this and it hurst.  We just get hundreds of people seeking and then have to disappoint them."

"You're going to have to deal with the hard core unemployed because they have become so disillusioned with the whole poverty program that they lost all intention of going to work.  You've literally got to show many of them how to get on a bus.  They aren't ready"

"We will, of course, relax requirements as much as we can, but we must have people who can pass the tests.  We must have people capable of moving up after we invest training in them.  We put men on machines which cost millions of dollars.  These machines can be torn up in a split second....we cant let an intern operate on a patient when what we need is a surgeon!  We need men who can come in and be trained....men who are ready to be trained and move up."

"But its going to take a long time----and these guys aren't in the mood to wait.  They've been disappointed too many times."

"Well if we send these kind of people to employers, they'll be further disillusioned---and so will the employers---because they aren't qualified.  These people should be slotted into training programs right now."

"It isn't easy to  slot them into training:  We have 5,000 in our files....and some of them just won't go."

"Four young men came in yesterday and hung around all day. "Baby, Keep it Cool!....Don't Riot!' we tell them.  

"So ....where are the jobs?" they ask"

"They (referring to agencies) take applications and nothing happens.  They push these kids back and forth....and draw salaries from the government for their effort.  "You will be given consideration'---that's what we keep telling those hard core drop outs.  We have put ourselves out on a limb in the past few weeks, I tell you, and if these people are bypasses, we'll be in real trouble!"

"Then you should line up those people and get them in here next week."

"Well, once we get them in here, you must do something with them, they are getting real impatient! Im just saying that these guys are hanging around in pool rooms and back rooms right now waiting for something to happen.  You better get to them...."

"Well, they'll just have to come in and apply."

And many of them did so on Monday.

transcribed by Stephen Dare