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'No dogs, no blacks, no Jews'
By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- As far as anyone can remember, this is the first time that an exhibit at Florida's state museum has come with a warning label. It needs one.
"The Art of Hatred: Images of Intolerance in Florida Culture" includes some of the most offensive images that you're likely to see at a museum. The collection spotlights the Sunshine State's dark side, unearthing racist propaganda from the past and present.
The images are relentless.
One photograph shows hooded figures on a 1928 Ku Klux Klan parade float in Miami. Old Florida postcards depict black people getting eaten by alligators as a joke.
"Free lunch in the Everglades, Florida" reads one.
There's an application form for the Ku Klux Klan in Dunedin, which requires potential Klan members to sign an oath promising that they aren't Jewish and don't work for the FBI.
The date on the form? 1995.
There's also a 1995 copy of The Eagle, a white supremacist newspaper in Tampa.
"More than 400 attend Florida Race Rally at Auburndale Civic Center," the headline says.
Hundreds of anxious faces peer from a 1939 Miami Herald photograph. They are Jewish refugees from Germany on the SS St. Louis, which cruised within sight of Miami Beach but couldn't land because Cuba and the United States refused asylum. The refugees were forced back to Germany, where most of them died in the Holocaust.
Some of the materials on display at the Museum of Florida History were seized by law enforcement, and some were collected by the Anti-Defamation League in Florida. The exhibit was assembled by the Jewish Museum of Florida in Miami Beach and will travel to St. Petersburg's Florida Holocaust Museum in January.
"Most museums do "pretty' and "happy' and they don't like to do tough topics," said Marcia Zerivitz, the Jewish Museum's executive director.
Museumgoers are told up front just how tough this topic is. "WARNING," reads the sign at the entrance,"THIS EXHIBIT CONTAINS OFFENSIVE MATERIAL. MANY OF THE IMAGES AND TEXTS REPRESENTED HERE WERE CREATED AS PROPOGANDA TO ADVANCE AN AGENDA OF HATRED. THE JEWISH MUSEUM OF FLORIDA PRESENTS THIS MATERIAL AS AN EDUCATIONAL SERVICE."
An alarming number of the images of hate are recent. A photograph taken just four years ago shows a hooded Klansman in Fort Pierce, holding a "Welcome to Klan Country" sign and standing next to a Christmas tree with a swastika on its top.
"We spent a lot of hours agonizing over individual images," said Dr. Henry Abramson, an associate history professor at Florida Atlantic University and the exhibit's curator.
Jeana Brunson, chief of Florida's Bureau of Historical Museums, said the state hasn't received any complaints about the content. But people who go through the exhibit get emotional.
"This is the only exhibit that anybody around here remembers that's had this degree of subject matter that's this emotional," Brunson said.
At the exhibit's opening on Feb. 13, Maxine Weiss of Tallahassee peered at a series of Miami Beach hotel brochures from the 1920s, '30s, and '40s, which advertised "gentile only" or "restricted clientele."
"I remember this one," said Weiss, 78, stabbing her finger at a brochure for the Marine Terrace Hotel. The brochure boasts that a "restricted clientele assures you of a pleasant environment."
"I was dating a man, and he took me there," Weiss recalled. "As we walked up the steps, on the terrazzo floor it said: "No dogs, no n---, and no Jews.' I turned around and walked away."
Weiss is now volunteering as one of the guides at the exhibit. She says it's important for people to see these images so they don't forget how open racial hatred once was in Florida.
Florida, the museum catalog points out, was a "Catholic only" Spanish colony until 1763, when Jews were first allowed to live in the state.
Many of the images of racial hatred target both Jews and blacks, and one White Power handbill from 1996 decries Miami as a "multiracial cesspool of a city."
"It is still going on, and it's very frightening," said Sue Edelson, 72, of Tallahassee, waving toward Klan photographs that are only 4 years old.
Zerivitz, the Jewish Museum director, believes that it's important to show older children -- middle school and up -- how severe racial hatred can be. The idea, she said, is to inoculate them against the messages of hate, which sometimes come couched in "white power" comics.
"We want kids to be able to look at this and say: "The people who made this picture are trying to sell me something,"' Zerivitz said. "I heard one girl say to the other, "Do they think we're stupid enough to buy this stuff?' That's what we're hoping for."
At a glance
"The Art of Hatred: Images of Intolerance in Florida Culture" is at the Museum of Florida History, 500 S Bronough St., Tallahassee, through June 1. The museum is open every day and admission is free. For more information, please click on dhr.dos.state.fl.us/museum or call (850) 245-6400.