His moral courage and leadership is credited with fostering a legacy of tolerance that set Florida apart from other Southern states during the turbulent Civil Rights era. A gifted orator, he made a number of enlightened speeches on race that set the state on a path of acceptance.
His political career began in 1934, when he was elected at age 25 to the Florida House of Representatives. Six years later, he was elected to the state Senate.
He was elected governor in 1954 to finish the term of Dan McCarty, who died in office. Months before starting his first term, the Supreme Court ordered the desegregation of public schools. While other Southern governors and members of Florida’s Legislature called for their states to resist the ruling, Collins insisted the courts be obeyed.
Two years later he was re-elected, becoming the first Florida governor re-elected to a consecutive term. Under his watch, the state created the community college system, new state universities and a statewide educational TV system. He left the governor’s office in 1961, unable to run again because of term limits.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Collins director of the Community Relations Service, an agency created to help states enact provisions of the Civil Rights Act. Johnson sent Collins to Selma, Ala., in 1965 to help negotiate a peaceful resolution to the standoff between civil rights marchers and state and local police. His role in resolving that conflict was later used against him by his opponent in the 1968 U.S. Senate race. He lost the election.
Collins served as undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce before returning to Florida to practice law in Tampa and Tallahassee. He served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, where he pushed to end the death penalty.
He died in Tallahassee at age 82 on March 12, 1991.
Established in 1988, the Collins Center for Public Policy is named in honor of Gov. LeRoy Collins (served 1955-1961) and is a statewide nonprofit organization that seeks out creative, nonpartisan solutions to Florida’s toughest issues. Throughout our history we have strived to uphold the principles maintained by Gov. Collins – public and private integrity, deliberative democracy, environmental stewardship and economic fairness.
While we conduct comprehensive and quality public policy analysis, what makes the Collins Center unique is our desire to see changes in public policy implemented. We take an active role in putting these changes to the test.
During the past 22 years, we have analyzed Florida’s elections processes, developed strategies for improving local education systems, supported economic development initiatives in struggling communities and given Floridians alternatives to costly lawsuits. We hope you find this information about the state’s most important document – its Constitution – and the proposed amendments to be informative and useful. Please visit our website at Collinscenter.org to learn more about the amendments and the work the Collins Center is doing for the residents of Florida.