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In my career, I have gotten the reputation of being a storyteller, and that is what I’m going to present to you here, my story. My route to Florida State’s History department was an interesting one.  After graduating with a BA in History from the University of Miami with a focus on medieval history, I sent out a number of applications to graduate schools across the country and in Europe looking to continue my academic journey. I received denials from all of them. Not yet willing to leave academia, I entered into a MS ed program at Miami and served as an administrator for a number of years.  However, my heart was not in it and when my girlfriend of the time, now wife of 16 years, moved to Tallahassee to attend the FSU’s School of Music, I decided to move with her. With no job prospects, and time on my hands, I felt it was time to re-enter academia and get back on my original plan.

My graduation (Spring of 2020) looked nothing like I had expected. I had left Tallahassee in March thinking that I would be getting a nice break before coming back to defend my thesis and finish off my semester before hopefully finding an internship to ease me into the working world. Of course, the entire world shutting down had not been in my plans. That being said, I was able to defend my thesis and graduate. I had hoped to work in a museum, which was complicated by the fact that most public gathering places were closed until further notice. I was looking anywhere and everywhere for a job, but I found myself back in Tallahassee once again with the opportunity to work in history in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

The Department of History at Florida State University is pleased to announce Ryan André Brasseaux, dean of Davenport College at Yale University, will deliver the 2021 James P. Jones Distinguished Lecture in American History.

Brasseaux will present, “Louisiana Saturday Night: Representing Cajun Music in America after World War II,” which explores the development of Cajun musical experience as the genre spread across the U.S., at 3 p.m., Friday, March 26, 2021.

In the 1960s, Black students began enrolling at Florida State University. Their presence challenged the prevailing racism in the student body and administration and began a permanent change in university life. After Southern states ignored or worked around Brown v. Board of Education (1954), Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enforce desegregation. White-only two-year colleges in Florida responded by mandating entrance tests and cutoff scores that created obstacles for nonwhite students seeking admission. In 1977, Adams v. Califano found the state of Florida still had “not achieved desegregation or submitted acceptable and adequate desegregation plans” for higher education. In this case, Judge John Pratt ruled that North Carolina and five other states should stop receiving federal funds until they complied with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VI by increase black enrollment at predominately white public colleges and universities.

The desegregation of schools, public transport, and public areas in America began in the 1950s. Integration faced significant pushback. College students across America participated in various forms of protest. In Tallahassee sit-ins became an important way to protest. 

The first widely publicized Civil Rights sit-in occurred on Feb. 1, 1960, when four African-American students, later deemed the “Greensboro Four,” from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sat down at their local Woolworth lunch counter for a meal. At this time, the official Woolworth policy was to refuse service to anyone who was not white. When the four young men were denied service and asked to leave, they refused to give up their seats. Then, police were called to the scene. 

The police were unable to take action against the men due to the peaceful nature of their protests. The Greensboro Four remained seated until the store closed, and their actions were covered in local and national news outlets.The four young men returned the next day with more students from local colleges.  

The Greensboro Four inspired thousands of college students across the South. In Tallahassee, students from local high schools and from Florida A&M University supported the call for a region-wide sympathy sit-in. On Feb. 13, 1960, these students took to the Woolworth on Monroe Street and sat at its lunch counter. The sit-in lasted nearly two and a half hours and ended peacefully.

In the decade after World War II, Tallahassee was a segregated town. This segregation included the seating arrangements of passengers on city buses: white people sat in the front, and Black people had to sit in the back. The Civil Rights Movement protesting such laws in Southern states began in 1954, and in 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery city bus. Five months later, two women took similar action in Tallahassee.

On May 27, 1956, Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson, two African-American students from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), a historically Black university in Tallahassee, boarded a local city bus. The two women took the only two vacant seats, which were in the whites-only section. Upon being told that they needed to move to the back to stand or leave without getting their fare returned, the two women refused. Since they refused to leave their seats, the police were called by the bus driver. Once three police cars had arrived, Jakes and Patterson were arrested on the charge of inciting a riot and were released on bond later that same day. 

Over the forty years of my career in business, I have interviewed and subsequently hired several PhDs to work in our company.  Even though their areas of study had little, if anything, to do with our business.  In two cases, they ended up becoming equity partners and retired after having very successful careers. 

What did I know about these PhDs even before I hired them that were important to me in making the decision to employ them?

My degree in History directly led me to my career in museums and cultural institutions. When I came to Florida State as an undergraduate, my initial major was actually Environmental Studies, as part of the Geography department. I had taken an AP course on Human Geography in high school and was interested in studying cultures and their interactions around the world. I soon came to realize that this was the wrong major for me and requested a transfer to History, where I could still study those themes! I had always had an interest in history as a young child and once beginning my degree in History, I knew I was on the right track.

Initially, I was quite unsure what to do with my History degree upon reaching graduation. My first thought was to go on to teach, but something about that did not fit for me. I began taking my courses and needed to declare my minor. I remember scanning the list of available minors and when I saw “Museum Studies,” I immediately knew that this was what I was meant to do!

Last summer, Emma Davis, a French & History junior, got accepted for a Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) internship with the National Cemetery Association (NCA). “I heard about the VSFS program through the History Department and decided to apply. I have been doing internships since I came to FSU which helped me in applying for the NCA.”  Emma is one of three interns working for that department this year. VSFS internships are by nature remote/ virtual. They are offered by a range of federal government agencies. Founded in 2009, VSFS internships run from September to May and are aimed at goth graduate and undergraduate students.

Emma singled out time management as her number one challenge during the fall semester. “The VSFS internship did not start until September 1st, so I got settled in all my classes. But staying on top of things throughout the semester was hard. My experience with previous internships helped me in staying on track with the VSFS one.” Emma works 10 hours a week on the internship, and she creates her own schedule. “But sometimes I have a test or a paper due and I put work on the project off till Thursday. Then I have to sit down and spend some time catching up.”

For graduate students going stir crazy in Tallahassee, my experiences can serve as a cautionary tale or a note of (chaotic) inspiration. After living in Tallahassee for three years, I was itching to get away. The climate was heaps and bounds too hot and humid for this northeasterner, and I missed the mountains and valleys of Upstate New York. I stuck around long enough to teach my own course (which was a ton of fun – and, of course, important for the CV), then ran for the literal hills. For the next couple of years, I graded online for the department and used that freedom of movement to apply for grants and fellowships, pursue archival research in the States and abroad, and live in the middle of nowhere.