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University Beat

WUSF TV To Air Documentary On Johns Committee

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"The Committee" website via UCF
Florida Senator and former Gov. Charley Johns (center) with members of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee

Thanks in part to work by WUSF TV, more than 70 public TV stations around the country will air an award-winning documentary that looks back at a 1950s and 60s legislative effort that targeted a then fledgling University of South Florida.

"The Committee," which was produced by faculty and students at the University of Central Florida, examines the Florida Legislature Investigation Committee -- also known as the Johns Committee, after its chairman, state senator and former governor Charley Johns.

The panel attempted to eliminate homosexuals from state government and public education and explored alleged subversive activity among academics and civil rights groups.

The documentary features surviving members of the committee, as well as some of those targeted.

The committee followed in the footsteps of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's investigation into suspected communists in the 1950s. During the late 1950s and early 60s, the committee's work led to dozens of professors, deans and public school teachers being fired or having their teaching certificates revoked. A large number of students also were expelled.

It also shows how USF -- which had been established in 1956 -- helped bring about an end to the Johns Committee.

Last year, in conjunction with events commemorating the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of the Committee, USF St. Petersburg Special Collections Librarian James Schnur spoke about the role USF played.

"The students, faculty and staff at USF in its early years did a successful job of responding to the Committee by looking at its activities and really, in a large measure, helping to encourage others in the academic institutions throughout Florida to rally in a way that they hadn't done prior," Schnur said.

That, in turn, led other universities to act.

"Really, in a large measure, (USF) help(ed) to encourage others in the academic institutions throughout Florida to rally in a way that they hadn't done prior," he added.

"The Committee" was created as the result of an interdisciplinary seminar with students from the University of Central Florida's History Department and the film program in the School of Visual Arts and Design.

It was produced by professors Robert Cassanello and Lisa Mills and filmmaker Aaron Hosé and released in 2012. It was screened at film festivals all over the world, picking up a number of awards, including a Suncoast Emmy for Historical Documentary in 2014.

With same-sex marriage becoming legal in 2015, the ending of the film was re-shot. WUSF TV pitched the updated documentary to the American Public Televsion Exchange for national distribution, and earlier this month, the film was released to more than 70 local public TV stations.

"The Committee" airs Sunday, June 26, at 7 p.m. on WUSF TV.