TAMPA — A dozen boxes might be enough to contain the detritus of an average career. For the late U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who spent more than four decades representing Pinellas County in Washington, D.C., the paper trail extends a little farther.
About 120 boxes of documents accumulated during Young's half-century in politics arrived Monday at the special collections library of the University of South Florida, a portion of the 250 boxes that eventually will be compiled by university researchers for posterity.
Promising in its sheer volume, the document cache is at this point a mystery. It arrived from the U.S. House of Representatives unlabeled and apparently unorganized, according to Matt Knight, coordinator of special collections for USF Libraries.
Sifting through a few boxes at random Monday afternoon uncovered curious but unremarkable memorabilia. There were photos of Young with Presidents Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, and of Young squeezing himself into an astronaut's spacesuit; also a letter thanking the congressman for his "help and participation" in the 1975 grand opening of a McDonald's on Fourth Street and Gandy Boulevard.
Perhaps the documents' greatest allure, Knight said, lies in whatever light they could shed on a more ignoble episode in Young's career: his participation as a young state senator in the Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, which organized a persecution campaign against gays (as well as civil-rights activists and suspected communists) in the 1960s.
Later in his career, Young downplayed his involvement in the group, also known as the Johns Committee after its chairman, state Sen. Charley Eugene Johns, a former governor. Records from the period, if any survived, could help historians assess that claim.
"As soon as we heard we were getting these papers, I thought, 'I hope he saved some of that stuff,' " Knight said. "It's a shameful period and a lot of people don't like to talk about it. A lot of people were involved."
He said the documents could also provide a fuller outline of Young's machinations over the years to steer money and political support to MacDill Air Force Base.
But such revelations won't come overnight, even if they are waiting in the boxes lining a full wall of a windowless room on the fourth floor of USF's main library. Reviewing and organizing the records likely will take about eight months, Knight said.
Times staff writer Caitlin Johnston contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.