Urban Sights: Urban History and Visual Culture

The silent majority watches Claude Kirk

While it is difficult to gauge how people judged Kirk’s protests, the governor’s office received (and archived) over 1,500 letters and telegrams that offer insight into how citizens and viewers made sense of Kirk’s defiance. Over 95 per cent of the mail Kirk received regarding busing in these months was positive, with most of the negative letters coming from his Florida constituentsWhat is striking in this correspondence is how many people outside of the South supported Kirk’s protests and how many explicitly identified themselves as members of the 'Silent Majority'. 'I saw on the news tonight the stand you took on the schools', a telegram from Cleveland said. 'Please stand firm on it I am 100% behind you.' A writer in Youngstown noted, 'Many of us, here up North, wish to commend you, for your stand on "bussing" students', while 'A Concerned Senior Citizen' from Syracuse suggested, 'There are many Northerners opposed to busing but you do not hear about them.' A mother from Detroit expressed concern that Kirk’s call for a uniform policy would hurt the North: 'I speak for everyone of us white middle income suburban parents…we are completely in sympathy with you…But for heaven’s sake, don’t attack us, help us to work together to protect our children. Certainly if hundreds of millions of white parents stick together we are a greater force than some supreme court [sic] judges.' A mother from Seattle thanked Kirk 'for speaking out and supporting the sometimes too silent majority who oppose the forced integration policy in our public schools', and a letter signed 'Silent Majority' from South Bend predicted, 'If you need funds, make a request, and I’m sure the Silent Majority will come thru.' Kirk’s busing protests would not have reached as large of a national audience – from Syracuse to Seattle and South Bend to San Antonio – without television news. Television news made a local integration dispute in Bradenton, Florida, meaningful for people across the country and helped to establish busing as a 'massive' issue. Ultimately, Kirk was more successful at rallying support and fuelling emotions of these national busing opponents than he was at stopping busing in Florida. [The map below highlights quotations from over 70 of the letters and telegrams Kirk’s office received. Click on envelope icons to see text. To zoom in on regions with clusters of letters double-click on map or use '+' icon at top left of map.]

View Claude Kirk Anti-busing Letters in a larger map

(All letters from Claude R. Kirk Jr. papers, series 923, boxes 14-16, State Archives of Florida)

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