Towards the end of World War II and into the mid 1950s, the United States was accelerating towards the peak of the Civil Rights Movement. As tensions built, communities, often through the known avenue of philanthropy, were actively navigating issues of disparity and prejudice for the first time. On a local level, Rollins College was reacting to racial issues and disparities in the context of the Winter Park and Central Florida community prior to integration.
As philanthropic groups became increasingly outspoken against prejudice, there was a resulting backlash from African American communities as they grappled with a range of respect from Winter Park residents. For example, in 1943 the Hungerford School, an African American boarding school, called attention to the hypocrisy of Rollins College students for attending an interracial conference but still using racial slurs within the campus newspaper. The complicated dynamic between white philanthropic groups and local African American communities evolved from transactional to active throughout the 1940s and 1950s.
The Inter-Faith and Race Relations Committee was created in 1945 at Rollins College to work towards breaking down barriers between a wide range of racial and religious groups. The group, composed of white American students and a faculty sponsor, began contributing to the local African American community through donations and volunteering. They were actively involved in the Winter Park Interracial Committee. Their efforts culminated into an ongoing annual Race Relations Sunday Conference and a program of both local and international philanthropic work. The Race Relations Sunday Conference, held at Rollins’ Annie Russell theater, brought together African American and white community members to hear a sermon, academic discussion, and choir in the name of working against prejudice. Into the 1950s, the group began giving two awards a year to an African American and white resident that contributed to improving racial relations within Central Florida.
At Rollins College, there were several moments over this period when the school questioned how to handle instances when African Americans were on campus; first, when local African American students were barred from using the athletic fields in 1946 and second when students from Bethune-Cookman were invited to Rollins for a Student Government Association conference in 1953. Memos and private correspondence from the College Archive show the internal discussions held about how to approach the situations.
Through the growing partnership with the Hungerford School, the annual Race Relations Sunday, and regular philanthropic donations, the Race Relations Committee became intimately involved in creating a discussion about racial inequality and financially aiding the local African American community. Into the 1950s, Rollins College and Winter Park as a whole began paying more attention to the disparity between white and black residents and responded to instances of inequality with philanthropic efforts. However, discussions on mistreatment and prejudice were not publicly spoken about. Philanthropy became a way to make some difference even if only marginal or symbolic in nature.
— Julie Sparks (Class of 2020)