As Antioch prepares for its Reunion and Commencement Weekend 2015: From Civil Rights to Social Justice, I thought fellow Antiochians might be interested to know something about my father, Grant Stockdale, friend of, and ambassador to Ireland under, President John F. Kennedy. Dad met JFK when Jack was a new Congressman and Dad was administrative assistant to Congressman George Smathers, also newly elected. Their offices were on the same hall (along with Dick Nixon’s).
Jack and Dad’s friendship grew over the years, probably as much as anything, as a result of geography. We lived in Miami and Jack was often in Palm Beach and Dad would drive up to see him, play golf and talk politics. (Dad would later head up Jack’s Florida Campaign for the Presidency.) During a long stay in Palm Beach, when Jack was recuperating from back surgery, Dad went up a lot. Jack was working on a book, about which they often talked. Jack was happy to have it finished, and he asked Dad what he thought he should call it. Jack was thinking about Courage in the Senate or Profiles in Courage.
Dad said, “Well, Chief [which he always called him], it’s about courage in the Senate, so I’d call it Courage in the Senate,” whereupon, according to Dad, the Chief instantly scribbled Profiles in Courage across the front.
Before all that, returning to Miami from Washington and his job with George Smathers, Dad was elected to the Florida State Legislature. Then 33 years old, the first bill he introduced would extend jury duty to women.
He told a Miami newspaper, “The past war showed us that women could do practically anything. I believe it will make for better government to have women serve on our juries. It will increase their interest and make them better citizens.” The bill was controversial, but finally passed both houses and became law.
Then, in 1949, Dad introduced what was known as the “Anti Ku Klux Klan Bill,” the first of its kind in Florida or any southern state. The state could not prohibit the KKK, or infringe upon the right of free assembly, but could prohibit the KKK’s wearing their masks and hoods in public:
House Bill No. 666 By: Stockdale of Dade [County]
Subject: Masks, etc., - Wearing of Reference: Judiciary Criminal
Provides that no person over 16 years of age, shall, while wearing any mask, hood or device whereby any portion of the face is so hidden, concealed or covered as to conceal the identity of the wearer:
(1) Enter upon, or be or appear upon any lane, walk, alley, street, road, highway or other public way in this State.
(2) Enter upon or be, or appear upon or within the public property of any municipality or county.
(3) Demand entrance or admission or enter into or come upon the premises, enclosure or house of any other person in any municipality or county.
(4) Hold any manner of meeting, make any demonstration or place any exhibition upon the private property of another unless such person or persons shall have first obtained from the owner or occupier his or her written permission.
The following are exempted from the provisions of this Act:
(a) Any person wearing traditional Santa Claus Christmas Costumes.
(b) Any person engaged in certain trades or employment where a mask is worn for safety reasons.
(c) Any person using masks in theatrical productions including use in Mardi Gras celebrations.
Violation is a misdemeanor. (Fine of not more than $500.00 or any imprisonment for not to exceed 60 days or both.)”
After JFK appointed Dad as ambassador to Ireland, Dad wrote Evelyn Lincoln, JFK’s longtime personal secretary:
As you would imagine, we have been avalanched with mail and inquiries from newspapers. There have been three newspapers from London that have called us. Thus far we have not made any comment except to verify some things that they have found out about my background.
In the background material I sent you, I failed to say anything about my legislative record thinking, of course, that it would not be of consequence to anyone outside the State.
However, the London Times seemed to have a keen interest in the bill called the Anti Ku Klux Klan measure, which I introduced in the legislature in 1949. Come to think of it, the bill was most controversial and it made the Associated Press in several areas of the country. It was the first such bill introduced in the Southern States insofar as I am able to learn.
Then, The London Daily Express called this morning and they, too, seemed to be interested in just my legislative background, none of which I included in the biographical sketch because, again, as I say, I thought it was unimportant. Apparently the latter newspaper developed some idea that I had a fetish for introducing bills, which had to do mostly with social legislation. I have never given it much thought but, apparently, they have a point. Suffice to say, I have included all three bills, which we introduced and which became law. If you put this enclosed Legislative Record along with our file, I would appreciate it.
Stockdale’s third bill, noted in the letter to Evelyn, “The Illegitimate Child Law,” ensured that birth records of children born out of wedlock would not be stamped “Father Unknown,” but would bear the name of the adoptive parents. Birth certificates of children not adopted were placed in a secured, confidential file, with release granted only through a court order.
Clearly, Dad was an Antiochian at heart (although he went to the University of Miami). He cared about civil rights and social justice before either was popular. I’m proud to say I’m his son. Sadly, Dad ostensibly committed suicide a week after President Kennedy’s assassination.