Laura Mae Dixie, known as “the Mother of the Movement in Tallahassee, Florida,” passed away last month at the age of 92. Her life is a testament to the oft-forgotten role of African-American working-class people — especially women — in the making of the modern civil rights movement in the South. (Photo by Deborah Hendrix.)

Facing South has published our essay on Mrs. Laura Dixie. Known as “the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement,” in Tallahassee, Florida, Laura Dixie was one of the most important organizers in the rise of the modern civil rights movement in the Deep South in the 1950s. She was a lead organizer in the historic Tallahassee Bus Boycott in 1956; played a pivotal role in the FAMU sit-in movement in the 1960s; was responsible for a massive voter registration campaign in the Panhandle in the 1970s; marched against the Ku Klux Klan in Forsyth, Georgia in the 1980s; was a founding president of her hospital workers union–and even all of these listed activities barely scratches the surface of the importance of her life. For the Proctor Program, Mrs. Dixie has hosted us for barbecues, fish-fries and stop-overs during our annual Mississippi Freedom Project field trips–as well as other events for a decade. SPOHP will continue to honor the memory of this amazing person who has done so much for the nation as well as SPOHP.

Read our essay published in Facing South titled “Laura Dixie: Remembering a ‘Mother of the Movement'” here now!




Dear Friends of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program,

As you will read in this exciting end-of- year progress report, SPOHP has reached more students, scholars, and members of the general public than ever. We have conducted community-based oral history workshops with churches, businesses, university classes, veteran’s groups, African American history museums, Native American nations and much more. Thanks in large part to your generosity we have been able to provide logistical support for social-justice research projects throughout the Americas and we provided transformative and life-changing educational opportunities for hundreds of students.

In the summer of 2017 we embarked upon our 10th annual field work trip to the Mississippi Delta. In addition to interviewing legendary civil rights organizers, our team performed a day of service at the Emmett Till Museum in Glendora and sponsored public educational forums on bringing civil rights education to K-12 students in Mississippi and the South generally. Teaching students how to learn outside of the classroom is one of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s specialties. From the moment when our founder Dr. Samuel Proctor trained a cohort of graduate students to conduct oral history interviews with Native Americans in Florida, North Carolina and Alabama in the early 1970s, SPOHP’s mission has been to promote experiential learning, civic engagement, and history outside of the box—and outside of the campus. In an era of “fake news” we train interns how to conduct rigorous research. In a time of polarized debates, we show students how to listen carefully—especially to people who share diverse opinions—and we engage students in learning the age-old art of conversation. When we return from the field, we teach students the art of digital video and audio production which gives them the ability to create podcasts and documentaries on important social issues that have gained broad audiences.

Of course, none of this is possible without your support. If you like what you read in this newsletter, I hope that you will join me in helping us celebrate the 50 th year of SPOHP by making a tax-deductible donation to help sustain the work of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program. In addition, if you have a friend or family member who may be so inclined, please pass this newsletter along to them. Finally, I hope that you will visit or phone us sometime in the New Year. Our students, staff and volunteers treasure the opportunity to personally share their experiences with members of the Proctor Program Family! Thank you as always for your consideration and your support.


Sincerely Yours,


Paul Ortiz

Check out our year-end journal here. 




On June 8th, 1967, Israeli warplanes and torpedo boats launched a ferocious two-hour attack on and attempted to sink the USS Liberty as she sailed under a U.S. Flag in International waters. Of the 294 men aboard the vessel, 34 were killed and 174 were wounded by a well-coordinated, multi-wave assault that included the use of napalm. Rescue aircraft had been launched but were recalled in mid-flight by direct orders from President Lyndon B. Johnson, but why? The October 2003 Independent Commission of Inquiry found that “Israel committed acts of murder against American servicemen and an act of war against the United States.”

  • Why after 50 years are the USS Liberty survivors still seeking justice?
  • What: USS Liberty Remembrance Day Petition Drive (Volunteers Needed)
  • When: Thursday, June 8th, 2017 from 12 Noon to 4:00 PM
  • Where: Volusia County Administration Center, 123 W. Indiana Ave, DeLand
  • Who: Proudly presented by the Dr. Bob Bowman Memorial Chapter of (We Are Change Central Florida)
  • Contact: Phil Restino of We Are Change Central Florida
  • Cell: (386) 235-3268; email:

2017 USS Liberty Remembrance Day Flyer-Mailer (PDF)

Know Their Story

BBC Documentary USS Liberty Dead in the Water

“They took out all of our transmitting antennas, and shortly thereafter deposited napalm there on the deck. It appeared to me that it was the intent of the attacker to take out all communications and keep all people off deck so they couldn’t re-establish any sort of antennas or communication system. If it was an accident, it was the best planned accident I ever heard of. The only reason we got the SOS out was because my crazy troops were climbing the antenna string and long wire while they were being shot at.” -Dave Lewis, USS Liberty Survivor Veteran

The BBC documentary USS Liberty Dead in the Water  follows the story of the attack moment by moment.

Watch it here now.


USS Liberty Veterans Association

“The War Crimes Report we filed lists allegations of acts committed during the attack on our ship, including:

  • The jamming of our radios on both US Navy tactical and international maritime distress frequencies;
  • The use of unmarked aircraft by the forces attacking the USS Liberty;
  • The deliberate machine gunning of life rafts we had dropped over the side in anticipation of abandoning ship; and
  • The recall of two flights of rescue aircraft that had een launched from Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers.  After those flights were recalled, Sixth Fleet personnel listened to our calls for help as the attack continued knowing they were forbidden to come to our assistance.” —USS Liberty Veterans Association Website


The Veterans’ Mission 

The crew of the USS Liberty is the most decorated crew since World War II. It is among the most decorated crews for a single engagement in the entire history of the United States Navy. Yet, the attack has never received a full investigation, as required by law.

Learn more about the survivors and sign their electronic petition on the Honor USS Liberty Vets Survivors Website here


Ray McGovern’s Article Not Remembering the USS Liberty:

“It is safe to assume that when President Donald Trump lands in Israel Monday, he will not have been briefed on the irrefutable evidence that, nearly 50 years ago – on June 8, 1967 – Israel deliberately attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 U.S. sailors and wounding more than 170 other crew. All of Trump’s predecessors – Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – have refused to address the ugly reality and/or covered up the attack on the Liberty.” -Ray McGovern, Not Remembering the USS Liberty

Veteran CIA officer Ray McGovern’s article Not Remembering the USS Liberty addresses the cover-up of the Israeli attack of the USS Liberty.

Read the article here.

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program had the privilege of getting to know Frank Towers as one of our narrators in our valuable Veterans History Project. Over the years we came to know him as a leader for his fellow veterans, especially WWII veterans. We always had a deep respect for his heroism in WWII, and we came to regard him as a valuable friend to the program. We have three interviews housed in the SPOHP archives from Frank Towers, and have filmed him in the community speaking at events.
This 25-minute video is an oral history tribute to our own Frank Towers using segments of the two interviews that were filmed. To Frank we say this: we know we join countless others whose lives you have touched, as well as lives you have literally saved, to say you will be sorely missed.

Ms. Margaret Block, lifelong civil rights activist, teacher, and friend, passed away in June 2015. Her efforts to organize, agitate, and educate for social justice inspired men and women across the country to work together for freedom in America, including students of the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s Mississippi Freedom Project, whom she led for many years.

Margaret worked as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee with her brother, Sam Block, in the 1960s, as well as the Black Panthers in California, where she taught school for more than three decades. When she recently returned to the Delta to care for her mother, Ms. Block met SPOHP Director Dr. Paul Ortiz and became involved with the Mississippi Freedom Project, leading groups of students each year to historical sites across the Delta and teaching civil rights history using lectures, poetry, and song. Guided by her directional insight, students visited the home of Amzie Moore, the Taborian Hospital, the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial, and other sites crucial to grassroots organizing for civil rights in the Delta.

Margaret Block was a great woman, an inspiration to our students, a freedom fighter who commanded respect all throughout the Mississippi Delta (and beyond!) as she taught countless people the traditions of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee! Margaret Block, presente!

The Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida will do all we possibly can to live the ethics Margaret taught us and to keep her memory alive. In honor of her revolutionary legacy and dedication to civil rights, SPOHP invites you to share lessons and memories from Margaret using the form below. Comments will be updated daily.

I’m outspoken, and if I see something wrong, I’m going to say something about it, because that’s my nature. You can’t sit up and see something wrong and not do anything about it, but I don’t consider myself a leader. I’m just a citizen that’s doing what you’re supposed to do, is being a citizen.

-Margaret Block, MFP-006B

A Poem Commemorating the Voting Rights Act of 1865-1965, by Margaret Block

Vote or die will always be my battle cry.
I cry for the slaves who are long ago gone
It wasn’t for the vote but t’was freedom they longed
And they cried and sang this sad song.

Woke up this morning with my
Mind stayed on freedom
Woke up this morning with my
Mind stayed on freedom
Hallelue, Hallelue, Hallelujah
Vote or die.

Vote or die was Mary Ann Cary’s battle cry
She was an attorney in D.C.
The year was 1880
She fought for the woman’s right to vote
She asked Hiram Revels if you can vote, then why can’t I?
Vote or die was always Mary Ann’s battle cry.
Vote or die.

Vote or die was Aaron Henry’s battle cry
He got in the battle early on.
He was a pharmacist and Clarksdale, Mississippi was his home,
They put him in jail and beat him up
And made him ride on the back of a garbage truck.
They tried to take away his dignity and
He told them that when he got the vote,
We will all be free.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Malcolm X’s battle cry
He asked LBJ in no uncertain way which will it be
The ballot or the bullet.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Hartmon Turnbow’s battle cry
He lived in Mississippi town in Holmes county
They put bullet holes through his front door
And they set his house on fire because
He said that he was going to vote in the fall
Because freedom was his desire.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Diann Nash’s battle cry
She fought for rights in Nashville, Tennessee.
She went to jail all over the land
She took a lot of young people by the hand
And said if you vote, it’ll set us free.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Rev. J. D. Story’s battle cry.
In 1962 he took a very brave stand
And he let the world know that he wasn’t a coward
But a god-fearing man
He said that “the doors of the church is (sic) open”
And he showed no fear because
The vote to him was crucial and dear.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Larry Rubin’s battle cry.
He came to Mississippi because he had a dream
But they locked him up in Holly Springs.
When he went to court he took a stand
And told the Judge, if you can vote, then why not every man.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Sam Block’s battle cry
When he went to Greenwood they beat him up and threw him in jail.
They told his attorney there would be no bail
He stayed in jail and stood his ground
And he turned Greenwood upside down.
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Jimmy Travis’ battle cry.
While in Greenwood he got shot in the head
The Klan thought that he was dead.
They were surprised he survived and when he awoke
He said in a voice very loud
My head is bloodied but unbowed
Vote or die!

Vote or die was Arnell Ponder’s battle cry
They almost killed her in the Winona jail
She told Euvester to hold her head high
Because when they got out
She would vote or die.

Vote or die was Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer’s battle cry
They did her a favor when she got kicked off the land
She went to Ruleville and took her stand.
She told the world with force and pride
That she was sick and tired of being sick and tired
They beat her up in the Winona jail
When she got out she was strong but kind
And she would always sing this little light of mine.

This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
Vote or die!

“Vote or Die” copyright © Margaret Block, all rights reserved. Images from the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program and Independent Florida Alligator, taken by Alex Catalano, January 20, 2012.

Janos Zsigmond Shoemyen, 93, died December 7, 2014, at his home in Alachua, FL. Shoemyen was a noted writer, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. He worked in the publications department of IFAS and taught Creative Writing for Santa Fe College’s Continuing Education Program for more than thirty years.

For a detailed biography of Janos Shoemyen, read “The words of a master,” by April Patten, The Gainesville Sun, July 25, 2004, and Shoemyen’s obituary, available online.

Remembrances of Janos Shoemyen

by Anna Muller, University of Michigan-Dearborn
Janos Shoemyen was interviewed by Anna Muller for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s Authors and Literature collection in 2013, ALC-004. Thanks for Edit Nagy for contributing research and proofreading.

In the first ten minutes of my initial meeting with Janos Shomeyen, he mentioned his childhood and the tradition of putting boots outside on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day, in expectation of receiving a gift. I nodded in understanding. “You know that tradition? Of course you know that,” he answered his own question, agitated, and added jokingly, “you are civilized…” This joke established between me, a Polish speaker, and Janos Shomeyen, a Hungarian-born American poet an immediate familiarity. We are both from Eastern Europe, so these customs and traditions remind us of the rituals of our childhood. Janos, however, was not generally nostalgic for his past in Hungary. There were only moments, isolated images from his past, that brought back fond memories—absolutely “beautiful and real,” as he used to say—such as the visits of his maternal grandfather or Christmas celebrations. The rest of his story was buried in memories of wartime violence, Nazism, and Hungarian nationalism—“unreal,” as he called them—events and feelings that estranged him from the country of which he once felt a part.

Janos’s life narrative was built on contrasts: real and unreal, beautiful and horrible, intimacy and estrangement. As a Hungarian aristocrat he grew up speaking three different languages: he spoke French with his French mother, Hungarian with his Hungarian father, and German with his German nanny, with whom he and his sister spent most of their time. He began writing poetry in French when he was 12 years old, but it was the Hungarian language, nationalism, and politics that filled his early youth. As the son of a WWI war hero, he was destined to be in the military. In 1943, after attending the Ludovica Military Academy (the Hungarian West Point) for over a year, he joined the Hungarian army as a commander of the Third unit of the Second Panzer Division. They marched towards Kiev. When Janos narrated this part of this life, he spoke quietly and became almost incomprehensible. From time to time, I heard Janos use the term ‘unreal’ as a summation of his war experience.

Two years later, in the spring of 1945, the Red Army pushed back against the Hungarian advance. On April 1, 1945, Janos reached Sopron, a city on the Hungarian-Austrian border. The same day, the Red Army captured the city. Here, three days before the official liberation of Hungary, the war ended for Janos. Soon after, while still in his military uniform, he travelled to war-ravaged Budapest where he found his mother. His narration of his time in Hungary after the war ended was chaotic and incoherent. He became tired and agitated in the face of my repeated insistence on chronological order. There was a tension in his narrative, which perhaps reflected a desire to put behind him this chapter of his life, when daily existence resembled war: hunger, poverty, and an excessive reliance on the black market for survival. In the midst of the post-war chaos, Janos began working for the communist newspaper Új szó (New World). This phase of his life ended with his imprisonment for political reasons. Janos succeeded in escaping from prison, but this freedom meant leaving Hungary. After staying a short time in Vienna and Salzburg, in 1949 he decided to try his luck in England.

In England, he worked in a coal mine and began learning English, a language that sang for him. “It is not like putting tiles on the floor…” he said comparing it to German. “It is poetry…it sings.” When he met his future wife Clare, an American who was in England studying occupational therapy, he still barely spoke the language. In spite of their linguistic difficulties, he proposed during their second meeting. She laughed. Offended, Janos decided to leave England, but Clare stopped him by proposing to marry him. It was 1950. Within five years, thanks to the tutoring of Clare and her father, Janos began writing in English, and he wrote beautifully. English became for Janos the language of love, new life, a new way of expressing himself, and, after his move to the United States, the language of newly-found freedom. And yet, as I soon realized, he addressed his loved ones with diminutives he created by adding Hungarian suffixes to their English names.

What seemed to parallel this adaption of English was a growing estrangement from Hungary and Hungarian. He criticized Hungarian nationalism, the Hungarian aristocracy’s sense of entitlement and jingoism, and finally the post-war Hungarian history that enfolded in the shadow of communism. “This extreme nationalism makes you intolerant, you know…,” he often said. The presence of Edit Nagy, my Hungarian friend and colleague, during several of the interviews seemed to bring some of these feelings to the forefront. Having another Hungarian speaker in the room, he began to retrieve from his memory Hungarian terms that were more effective in describing the Hungarian reality of his past. These recollections, in turn, began bringing back more memories. For example, the Hungarian word raccsol—means a specific pronunciation of a letter ‘r’, different for the Hungarian aristocracy and the lower classes respectively. As a child and young teenager, Janos struggled with the correct pronunciation of certain Hungarian words in a way his class expected him to. He felt estranged from the class from which he originated, but due to these social origins, he did not fit into any other social group either. With time, as our interviews continued, his emphasis on the growing sense of alienation from everything Hungarian was becoming more pronounced.

From my first interview with Janos Shoemyen, I was trying to understand who he was. With a historian’s precision and a reliance on traditional historical documents, Edit and I tried to embed his individual story within a larger historical context. But nothing was straightforward in his biography, beginning with the two different birth dates that he used. He was a Hungarian aristocrat with deeply ambivalent feelings about Hungary’s past: on one hand, he had a deep nostalgia for the Hungarian hero and dictator Admiral Horthy, who collaborated with Hitler during the Second World War; on the other hand, he wholeheartedly rejected nationalism and the dismissive attitude of Hungary’s upper class towards those from the lower classes. He insisted that he had been confined in camps for political prisoners in Recks, but according to historical records, Recks operated between 1950 and 1953—a time when Janos was no longer in Hungary.

The details of his past, all the historical moments that we historians hold so dear, appeared blurred in his narrative. But he remembered people well. Their smiles. The impressions they made on him. The words he heard them speak. “He was absolutely beautiful,” he said about the first meeting with his English father-in-law. “Tall, a very English face… ‘I presume you are Janos’… I kissed him and he almost fainted. He was a priest and I confessed everything. And he said: alright my son, you don’t have to do that anymore.” While Janos remained reticent to fully share his past in the oral interviews, in his novels he explored it fully. And yet he denied it when I ask him if his novels represented his life. “My life is raw material,” he told me during one of our last meetings. “My stories are based on something, but then in the story, it becomes a different story and it is not me, ever…. It is fiction, but it is not.” Fiction “sings”, it helps us understand by pulling us into the story; it “sings” and thus becomes real. “Everything was fiction,” he insisted. His life and his stories became one, with blurred borders between what was real and what was not; with a blurred sense of what ‘real’ means for an individual—all this became his life, his own way of dealing with the difficult past, his own way of sharing it with others while maintaining his own secrets.

Janos’s life narrative was built on contrasts: real and unreal, beautiful and horrible, intimacy and estrangement. As a Hungarian aristocrat he grew up speaking three different languages: he spoke French with his French mother, Hungarian with his Hungarian father, and German with his German nanny, with whom he and his sister spent most of their time. He began writing poetry in French when he was 12 years old, but it was the Hungarian language, nationalism, and politics that filled his early youth.

-Anna Muller, writing about Janos Shoemyen

Photo by Doug Finger of the Gainesville Sun. To access this and other interviews, contact SPOHP, call the offices at (352) 392-7168, and connect with us online today. 

Local civil rights leader Reverend Thomas A. Wright died Tuesday. He was 94. Reverend Wright was the pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Gainesville. Read more from The Gainesville Sun, article by .

A native of Chile, Dr. Hernán Vera, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, passed away last week. He was a prolific scholar in research spanning a range of topics, including race and ethnic relations and sociology of knowledge.

A native of Chile, he received his PhD in Sociology from the University of Kansas in 1974. His co-authored books included, Liberation Sociology, White Racism: The Basics, Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness, The Agony of Education: Black Students at a White University, and Handbook of the Sociology of Racial and Ethnic Relations. Hernán was also a very active affiliate faculty member of the Center for Latin American Studies. Late in his career, he taught the Center’s introductory Latin American Studies course. His passion for Latin America was infectious, as he attracted large numbers of students to the course.

Oral History with Dr. Vera: UFF-007, March 3, 2009
by Diana Gonzalez-Tennant</

Dr. Vera was interviewed for the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program’s United Faculty of Florida collection in 2009. The following excerpt is from a draft of his oral history transcript draft, UFF-007, and accompanying biography, written by interviewer Diana Gonzalez-Tennant.

Dr. Vera was born on February 16, 1937 in Santiago, Chile.  He attended Colegió San Jorge, where he learned English and French. This school was owned and run by the fathers of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Indiana. The school was a progressive one, and he was exposed to a variety of academics as well as extracurricular activities. He graduated in 1954 and went to law school at the Universidad de Chile, and became a lawyer in 1962.  He worked for the Banco de Chile for some time, the largest bank in Chile.

After working for some time in Chile, Vera was invited to teach in the Department of Government and International Studies at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 1968. While in the U.S., he applied for a fellowship and worked on his PhD in sociology. On September 11, 1973, right about the time that he was finishing his PhD, Pinochet staged a military coup in Chile. Dr. Vera was in the US at the time, and he and his wife Maria Inez Concha Gutierrez were advised by their families remaining in Chile that they should stay in the United States. Dr. Vera emphasizes, in his interview, the surprising brutality of the Pinochet government in repressing dissenting voices within Chile.

Dr. Vera arrived at the University of Florida in 1974 as an Assistant Professor in Sociology. Five years later, he came up for tenure and was denied.  The following year he came up for tenure again, and received it. During the second round, however, he was informed by one of the Associate Deans that the Chair of the Sociology Department who denied him tenure the previous year had personally disliked Dr. Vera, and for that reason denied him tenure.

Vera joined the United Faculty of Florida union when it was first formed in 1976. He offers a variety of reasons for joining the union; one of the primary reasons he offers is that it was an act of solidarity. Another reason he offers is that discrimination, expressed through drastically varying pay scales, occurs often and is rampant. He states that when he became a full, tenured professor, he was paid $4,000 less than the least-paid Assistant Professor in his department. For this and other reasons, he strongly believes that the rights of workers, if even existent, without a union are abused far more than the rights of those with a union. Specifically, he feels that the union could fight to defend minorities, and was one of the only groups that did help minorities.

He became president of the union for at least two years and had very memorable experiences as UFF President. Specifically, one of the most memorable was on February 16, 1985, when he received a phone call from a journalist asking about then-UF President Marshall Criser and his involvement in silencing professors in the Chamber of Commerce. This scandal, eventually called “Chambergate”, was an involved attempt to silence professors’ voices and essentially eliminate academic freedom. Eventually it also led into a conference, held at the UF Law School, on academic freedom.

Dr. Vera then leads into discussing the McCarthy Era and its effects on UF. More specifically, he talks about the Johns Committee which investigated homosexuality in the university system under the guise of eliminating Communists from the University.

Dr. Vera presents these three instances of silencing of individuals who think differently—in Chile by Pinochet, at UF during Chambergate, and the John’s Committee—as important, related events in his life. His is a fascinating perspective on how what he termed the ‘Genocide’ of dissenting voices in Chile, is not a far cry from the destruction of Academician’s careers at UF through events like Chambergate and the John’s Committee.

It is important to note that Dr. Hernan Vera is an accomplished Sociologist and his perspective on structural discrimination is highly informed by his training. Other important aspects of note are that the interviewer and interviewee both identified as hispanic/latino/a, their specific roles during the interview—Dr. Vera as retired male Professor and the interviewer as female Graduate Student—and the research focus on the union, to some degree, all shaped and crafted the interview into a history and comparative of silencing.

I joined the union when the union began to exist in 1976. I didn’t know much about what unions were about in the United States, I considered myself more of a conservative-leaning scholar than anything else. But it was, as I saw it, an act of solidarity. It was something you did with your colleagues, for your colleagues . . . If you don’t have a union, or you don’t join a union, you have no rights to speak of.

-Dr. Hernán Vera, 2009

Photo from Florida: Magazine of The Gator Nation. To access this and other interviews, contact SPOHP, call the offices at (352) 392-7168, and connect with us online today.