An Oddity from the Past: Governor Sidney Johnston Catts

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Wed, 12/17/2014 - 2:35pm

An Oddity from the Past: Governor Sidney Johnston Catts

December 17, 2014 - 14:35
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Sidney Johnston Catts was a pastor turned insurance salesman.  He seemed an unlikely choice for governor with bright red hair and one eye. He struck a cord with his slogan that "Florida Crackers have only three friends in this world: God Almighty, Sears Roebuck and Sidney Johnston Catts." In 1916, he entered the Democratic primary for governor of Florida. He led after the vote, but lost the nomination in a recount. Many felt that backroom dealings had robbed him of the nomination. Harnessing these sympathies he then changed parties and ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for Governor. He was elected with 43% of the vote and served as governor from January 2, 1917 to January 4, 1921. He chose to not have an inaugural ball because he frowned on dancing.

Governor Catts had well recorded anti-Catholic and anti-African American beliefs. During a dispute, he stated that he would suspend the Duval (Jasksonville) Sheriff "as quick as I would a guinea n**** (Italian)". He also sent a scathing reply to the NAACP complaint about a couple of hangings in Florida, where he stated that African Americans were "an inferior race".

Trying to take advantage of World War I anti-German sentiment, he pushed a wild conspiracy theory. He publicly claimed that the monks from St. Leo Abbey would arm the African Americans, and together they would take over Florida for Kaiser Wilhelm II. After Florida was in the hands of these German sympathizers, Pope Benedict XV would move the Holy See (Vatican) to San Antonio, Florida and all non-Catholic churches would be closed. 

Photo Credit: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/128339

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