HIS 365 - Public History (Spring 2019)

The Role of the Rollins Race Relations Committee

This digital timeline looks at the creation and activity of the Inter-Racial Club (Race Relations Committee) of Rollins College, created c. 1939 and active until the late 1970s. This club was created during the Hamilton Holt Presidential era at Rollins, had support from faculty and administration, and was dedicated to discussing issues about race and inequality both on campus and in the larger United States. The club originated out of conversations between students from Rollins College, the University of Florida (Gainesville), and Bethune-Cookman College (Daytona) so its focus went far beyond campus, extending into the Winter Park community and beyond.

Accomplishments of the Inter-Racial Club included an annual Inter-Racial Conference, the creation of a weekly Inter-Faith service held in the Knowles Memorial Chapel, and major philanthropic donations to local black schools, students, and needy organizations. The club’s membership consisted of both male and female students at every stage in their academic career, including famous Rollins alumni Fred Rogers. Students were the manpower behind the organization’s fundraising activities, but they were not the only active members of this club. Rollins faculty and administrators worked closely with students in the club and supported them in their fight to educate others about racial injustice.

One Rollins faculty members who thoroughly supported the club and the students in it was Dr. Edwin Clarke, professor of Sociology from 1930-1948. Dr. Clark was constantly advocating for and promoting club activities and racial justice awareness initiatives. His name continually shows up in notes and correspondence in the College Archives about the club, especially in the earlier years of its existence when the organization was still gaining momentum.

The club received significant support from President Hamilton Holt as well. Holt believed in racial equality, desegregation of schools, and globalization of ideas. He supported the club’s efforts and ideals, understanding their unusual importance in the context of a predominantly white, central Florida city and within a southern, still very racist, state. Although the club itself does not still exist at Rollins today, the messages and ideals it promoted (value that Holt himself embodied) are still mentioned in the the college’s mission statement:

We provide opportunities to explore diverse intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic traditions. We are dedicated to scholarship, academic achievement, creative accomplishment, cultural enrichment, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. We value excellence in teaching and rigorous, transformative education in a healthy, responsive, and inclusive environment.


The Race Relations Committee of Rollins College was active and engaged in critical and public discourse about social injustice during what is now called the long Civil Rights Movement. During these decades Brown vs. the Board of Education (1954) was enacted, and like many other institutions of higher education, the Rollins study body was integrated (1964). It is interesting to think about how the Race Relations Committee promoted ideas about racial equality more than 15 years before the first African American student set foot on Rollins’ campus. We should consider what impact the Committee had on the viewpoints of faculty, staff, students, and community members in advance of that pivotal moment, and whether this club was a important precursor to the major social changes ushered in by the 1960s.

— Cameron Robinson (Class of 2019)

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