Exclusive: A Quaker Was Noticed By the Florida Klan in 1951. It Didn’t Go Well. (But It Could Have Been Much Worse.)

Florida, 1949: Where Woke Went And Didn’t Die

By Stephen W. Angell

We don’t know the exact date, or the place, when Richard Bradshaw (“Brad”) Angell (1918-2010) had his encounter with the Klan.  All the participants are dead, and the story has been passed on orally.

But we know the time and season: 1951, likely early spring. And the place, if not the exact location: Tallahassee, in northwest Florida. 

And not least,  the agenda: Angell, a World War Two veteran, was expecting to meet up with other Tallahassee veterans, and they planned to organize a new chapter of VFW: Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But with a difference: Angell was white. Some of the other veterans were Black. And their new VFW chapter would be integrated.

Angell may have been expecting to meet a friend named James Hudson, because they both taught Philosophy in a Tallahassee college. Yet their schools, while only a mile or so apart, occupied  different, parallel worlds: Florida State, was segregated white; Florida A&M University, was segregated black. Rarely if ever were the twain meant to meet. Angell and Hudson got acquainted not in Tallahassee but at a national philosophers’ conference.

But neither the meeting, nor the  new VFW chapter came to pass. Instead, Angell was met by the police and the Klan (or maybe just the cops, in cahoots with the Klan). And Angell came home instead with an ultimatum from the masked order: he, and his wife, were to be gone from Tallahassee, lock, stock & barrel, in 48 hours. Or else.

Or else what? Angell was a northerner, a graduate of Swarthmore College and Harvard. Maybe he was naive; possibly he didn’t yet know that the northwest Florida Panhandle region, a narrow strip along the gulf Coast that abutted Georgia, Alabama and (almost) Mississippi,  encompassed some of the very deepest and most dangerous parts of the Deep South.

In fact, the Klan and its violence had flourished unhindered in Florida for decades. Angell might not have been familiar with the data gathered later, that between 1880 and 1940 there were (at least) 311 lynchings in Florida, plus a 1920 massacre in the town of Ocoee near Orlando that killed 30 Blacks and drove several hundred away from their homes and possessions. The “lynching rate” there was the second highest in all the South

But he must have known about the frequent bombings of houses of people associated with voting rights work, or promoting school desegregation. Those were not only from years past: they were happening in 1951.

Certainly, he understood that the Klan was dangerous; their ultimatum was not to be shrugged off.

The next 48 hours were a blur. When the smoke cleared, it was revealed that FSU’s president, one Doak Campbell, had stepped in and negotiated with the Klan. Campbell persuaded them to let Angell complete the spring semester, then leave town.

And so it was. The Angells left Florida in June, 1951. Brad spent a year selling encyclopedias, then resumed teaching, first at Ohio Wesleyan University and then Wayne State University in Michigan.

In Tallahassee, James Hudson continued teaching at Florida A&M University as a much-beloved and highly respected Professor of Philosophy. He would soon become a central mover in the protests over the segregation of city buses in Tallahassee in 1956 (soon after the beginning of the more famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) He also backed the efforts of Harry Moore, the NAACP’s very active field secretary for Florida, who was challenging segregation in many venues.

Hudson was known to prefer a behind-the-scenes role in work for racial advancement. This made a lot of sense:  Tallahassee was his home, and The Florida Klan was especially active in 1951. The Klan likely saw themselves as countering substantial activity by the NAACP, which was “challenging Jim Crow ordinances over the use of public golf courses, swimming pools, and libraries.” The NAACP also filed a federal lawsuit seeking a court order to permit Blacks to enroll in Florida public colleges. (It would take til 1962 for this to happen at  FSU.)That year, the Florida State legislature passed an anti-mask ordinance, and subsequently the Klan engaged in numerous cross burnings and floggings, both in the Florida Panhandle region.

Harriette and Harry Moore, in an undated photograph.

The most infamous Klan action that year was the bombing of the Seminole County house of the NAACP’s Harry T. and Harriette Moore on Christmas Day ( which was also the Moores’ wedding anniversary).

Both Moores died as a result of the bombing; among American Black communities, this was national news. The NAACP held a memorial rally in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Poet Langston Hughes red a poem he composed for it:

Florida means land of flowers.
It was on Christmas night
In the state named for the flowers
Men came bearing dynamite.

Men came stealing through the orange groves
Bearing hate instead of love,
While the Star of Bethlehem
Was in the sky above. . . .

But they must’ve forgotten Jesus
Down in Florida that night
Stealing through the orange groves
Bearing hate and dynamite.

It was a little cottage,
A family, name of Moore.
In the windows wreaths of holly,
And a pine wreath on the door. . . .

Harry Moore was the first NAACP staffer to be assassinated for civil rights activism. But not the last. The murders were investigated at least twice, unsuccessfully. More recently, in 2005, a new probe claimed to have identified four Klansmen as the bombers; all were conveniently deceased.

Florida State University, in a 1940s postcard
Florida A&M University, from an undated postcard

Brad Angell, who was white, and a Quaker, was himself a World War II veteran, who had served in the military as a medic in the European  theater. He reported that he “was struck by the lack of ethical standards among American soldiers when in foreign territory.” Development of a rational, persuasive, and consistent ethics was a central concern of Brad’s in the academy, the classroom, and all of life.

Richard “Brad” Angell (1918-2010)

One leader in the Tallahassee branch of the Civil Rights Movement was James Hudson, Chaplain, and then Professor of Philosophy, at Florida A&M University, about a mile away from FSU on the other side of the railroad tracks. Brad Angell met Hudson at a national conference of philosophers, and learned they taught the same subject about a mile away from each other; such was their segregated world.

James Hudson, Chaplain and professor of philosophy at Florida A&M. Also a World War II veteran.

Yet Brad’s wife Imogene Angell knew Hudson well. She worked as a dental assistant in Tallahassee, and Hudson was one of her customers. She knew Hudson would refuse to use the Negro waiting room at the dentist’s office. When he was scheduled for a dental appointment, she kept a dental chair open, and would say, “Right this way, Mr. Hudson!” and usher him immediately into the chair where the dentist could serve him.

James Hudson continued teaching at Florida A&M University as a much-beloved and highly respected Professor of Philosophy. He would be a central mover in the protests over the segregation of city buses in Tallahassee in 1956 (soon after the beginning of the more famous bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, led by Martin Luther King, Jr.)

The author of this piece, Stephen W. Angell, taught in the Philosophy and Religion program at Florida A&M University from 1990 to 2001. While Professor Hudson was deceased by that time, his memory has been deeply cherished at FA&MU. The Angell family also cherishes the memory of Brad and Imogene; they are the author’s uncle and aunt.

Reflections on telling these stories:

Brad was the middle of three brothers in a very close-knit family centered in Westchester County, New York, just outside of New York City. He was born in 1918, and the whole family, Stephen L. Angell, Sr. (his father, my grandfather), Alice Angel Angell (his mother, my grandmother), Brad’s two brothers Gardiner and Steve, and himself, joined the Chappaqua Friends Meeting together sometime in the 1930s, switching from the Congregational Church.

The Scarsdale, New York, meetinghouse, adjacent to his parents’ home, was built on land given by the Angell family. Brad was a faithful Quaker member and attender throughout his life; for many years, he was part of the meeting in Birmingham, Michigan.

One year after he graduated from Swarthmore College in 1940, the Pearl Harbor attack happened and the nation plunged into war. Brad (or “Uncle Dick” as I often called him) was a conscientious objector, but he also felt that the American cause was just, and thus he served in the armed forces in a non-combatant role. (The chapter on him in the Mary Hopkins-edited book fills out this part of his life story nicely.)

After the war, he married Imogene Baker. Brad and Imogene were very close and long-lived, and she survived him by five years, til 2015. They had five children, all born after they had moved away from Tallahassee: John, Paul, Jim, David, and Kathy.

Brad and Imogene were dedicated to racial justice issues their entire life. One cause that was close to their heart was the Detroit Friends School. Imogene served on its board for many years. One of the many activities of their busy retirement was raising funds for inner-city Friends schools, including the Detroit school.

Brad was a great conversationalist, and he was always using his enthusiasm for logic and reason, and he was endlessly curious about many things . . . .

He enjoyed having a nephew (namely, me!) who was also a college professor, and we would have searching conversations on a variety of topics. As a non-theist Friend, he enjoyed debate and discussion on religious issues with his theist nephew. When I remember my uncle and aunt, I remember, most of all, two very kind, generous, hospitable, and loving people. Their memory is a continual blessing.

Brad and Imogene first told me this Tallahassee story in June, 1991, during the sessions of Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, held that year in Barnesville, Ohio. I had just learned that I had been appointed as a professor in the Philosophy and Religion program at Florida A & M University.

In the four decades since they had left Tallahassee,  politics there had changed. I was told that in the 1970s during the Jimmy Carter presidency that centrist-to-left Democrats had prevailed among Tallahassee elected officials and the electorate in general. Tallahassee politics was not very different from that of other university cities. Indeed, when I arrived, Democrats still held the governor’s office and the state legislature. It’s certainly different now! But, apart from statewide trends, Democrats would remain the dominant force in Tallahassee city politics.

Naively, I thought it would be safe to talk about my uncle’s experience with the Klan, with my older acquaintances in Tallahassee who would remember that time period. But, no, that was not a safe topic of conversation, not at all.

One White acquaintance who would have been a resident during that time period was outraged when I brought up my uncle’s experience as a topic of conversation. We had been on friendly terms for years before I broached it, but a wariness and an element of distrust characterized his interactions with me from that time forward.

Another time, when I raised my uncle’s experience with an elder Black colleague who would have lived in Tallahassee during that time period, a look of terror flashed in his eyes. It was all too close and horrifying a reality. He quickly switched the topic to something safer.

Eventually, I did find someone who both remembered my uncle, and with whom it was safe to discuss my uncle’s experiences. Friend Ray Sheline, professor of physics at Florida State University. He had joined the faculty of FSU in 1951. When we talked, Ray had been away from Tallahassee for some years in the Bay area of California, but, like me, he was a member of Tallahassee Friends Meeting. . . .

He had visited FSU that spring of 1951 and had talked with uncle Brad, who described in very matter-of-fact terms his encounter with the Klan and his imminent departure. He offered advice to Ray as to how to live in Tallahassee, we might say, as an anti-racist White person.

Ray went on to describe the difficulties of living in Tallahassee during the highly segregated 1950s, as he experienced them; he was there much longer than my uncle. When Martin Luther King, Jr., came to town to speak, Ray went to listen – something that few Whites would have done in Tallahassee during that period.

As a historian, I yearn for verification of the oral traditions I have been told. With Ray, I finally had the satisfaction of finding someone with whom I could discuss, and process, this significant family tradition.

Addendum: excerpts from notes on the Klan in Florida accompanying a PBS documentary about the Harry & Harriette Moore murders.

The Klan was first organized in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee, by ex-Confederate soldiers. The first Imperial Wizard was former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forest, who disbanded the Klan in 1869 to avoid government sanctions.

The Modern Klan

The modern Klan was reborn in 1915, when William J. Simmons, an Alabama physician, led a cross-burning ceremony on Stone Mountain, Georgia. An effective promoter, Simmons played on anti-black, anti-Catholic, and anti-Jewish sentiment to build the Klan into a formidable power. Simmons was dethroned as imperial wizard in 1922 by Hiram Wesley Evans, and by 1925, the Klan had an estimated three million members nationwide. By 1928, however, membership had shrunk to no more than several hundred thousand.

During the Depression, the Klan continued to wither away — except in Florida, which had an estimated 30,000 members. Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa were the most powerful klaverns.

Although Florida Klansmen continued to terrorize African Americans, they expanded their targets to include union organizers, particularly in the citrus belt from Orlando to Tampa. One of the most notorious Klan incidents in Florida history occurred in Tampa in 1937, when labor organizer Joseph Shoemaker was flogged, castrated, and tarred and feathered. Shoemaker eventually died from his injuries. Ironically, one of nine Klansmen indicted for the murder (although they were all freed) was Edward Spivey, from Orange County, who would later play a role in the 1978 re-investigation of Harry Moore’s murder.

In 1939, Hiram Evans retired as imperial wizard and was replaced by James A. Colescott, who testified before Congress that Florida was the strongest realm in the nation. The national Klan was effectively put out of business in 1944, however, when the Internal Revenue Service filed a $685,000 lien against the Klan for back taxes from the 1920’s. Colescott sold the Imperial Palace in Atlanta and retired to Miami.

The Post-War Revival

But in the post-war period, a Klan revival was initiated by Dr. Samuel Green, an Atlanta doctor, who formed the Association of Georgia Klan, which spread to Florida and at least six other states. On election night of 1948, the Florida Klan paraded 20 miles from Lake County to Wildwood Florida, northeast of Orlando, through several African American neighborhoods, to show support for Dixiecrat presidential candidate Strom Thurmond and attempt to intimidate black voters.

In January 1949, Klansmen held a motorcade through Tallahassee, where newly- inaugurated governor Fuller Warren, a former Klansmen himself, denounced them as “hooded hoodlums and sheeted jerks.”

After “Doc” Green died in August 1949, the national Klan splintered, with new, and extremely violent, organizations springing up across the South. In Florida, a plumbing contractor named Bill Hendrix chartered the Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and named himself as its head. The Klan’s power grew quickly, particularly in Orange County (Orlando), where its ranks included prominent lawmen, businessmen, and elected officials: Sheriff Dave Starr was a known Klansmen, as were a county commissioner and the city manager of Winter Park. Apopka and Winter Garden were particularly infested: Apopka’s police chief, constable and night patrolman all belonged, as did one constable and the justice of the peace in Winter Garden. One businessman estimated that 75 percent of Apopka’s male population belonged.

The “Florida Terror”

By 1951, however, the Florida Klan was at a crossroads. NAACP staffer Harry T. Moore’s Progressive Voters’ League had registered 100,000 new black voters in the Democratic Party; NAACP branches were challenging Jim Crow ordinances over the use of public golf courses, swimming pools, and libraries; and the 1951 Florida Legislature passed an anti-mask ordinance by an overwhelming margin. The Klan responded with a rash of cross burnings and floggings from the Florida Panhandle to Miami; Hendrix declared war on [pro-integration] “hate groups,” including the NAACP, B’nai B’rith, the Catholic church, and the Federal Council of Churches of Christ; and then declared himself a candidate for governor. By the summer, the Klan began trying to roll back progress with sticks of 60 percent dynamite, with so many bombings, or attempted bombings, that the northern press dubbed it “The Florida Terror.” The Moore bombing turned out to be the twelfth bombing of the year.

The biggest impetus to the growth of the Klan in the South was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. As the civil rights movement begin to grow in the 1960s, the Klan responded violently to the freedom rides, sit-ins and mass demonstrations. Florida remained a Klan stronghold, particularly in the Jacksonville area.

Florida Klan Today

During the 1970s and 80s, the Klan splintered into competing factions and its membership declined. That trend continued in the 1990s. Today, although its numbers are relatively small, Florida has one of the more active Klans, and its commitment to racial hatred and prejudice have not gone away.

Conversations with Brad and Imogene Angell
Larry O. Rivers, “’A New Social Awakening’: James Hudson, Florida A&M University’s Religious Life Program, and the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott,” Florida Historical Quarterly 95:3 (2016): 1-31.
“The Legacy of Harry T. Moore,” https://www.pbs.org/harrymoore/terror/k.html (accessed on April 4, 2023)
“Richard Bradshaw Angell, Ph.D.” http://www.rbangell.com/index.asp (accessed on April 4, 2023)
Wikipedia page on Isaac Woodard
Mary R. Hopkins, Men of peace: World War II Conscientious Objectors. Caye Caulker, Belize: Producciones de la Hamaca, 2010.
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3 thoughts on “Exclusive: A Quaker Was Noticed By the Florida Klan in 1951. It Didn’t Go Well. (But It Could Have Been Much Worse.)”

  1. I sometimes get asked whether Brad and Imogene were scared when they were threatened by the Klan. Of course, they were scared. One family member recalls: “I remember they got a brick through their window and one night a shelf holding pots and pans fell off the wall and made a racket. They thought they were done for. And Mom would worry when Dad didn’t come home on time… “

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