LeRoy and Mary Call Collins


For a brief time after Reinette Long Hunt died in 1940, her distant cousins, John W. Ford and Josephine Alger, owned the property. Several prominent buyers expressed an interest when the property went up for sale, among them Mary Call Darby Collins, the great-granddaughter of Richard Keith Call, and her husband, State Senator Thomas LeRoy Collins. Eventually, out of respect for the family, the other potential suitors withdrew and the Collins family acquired the property.

  

Left: LeRoy and Mary Call Collins, 1932.  Photo courtesy of Jane Aurell Menton

Right: The Collins Family, (L-R) Jane, Roy Jr., Mary Call Darby, LeRoy, Mary Call, and Darby, ca. 1955.  Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

Mary Call and LeRoy Collins shared deep roots in Tallahassee. Mrs. Collins grew up in the Brevard family home on Monroe Street, just south of The Grove. She was surrounded by strong women from an early age, including her grandmother Mary Call Brevard, her aunt Caroline “Carrie” Mays Brevard (1860-1920), and her mother Jane Kirkman Brevard (1868-1932). Carrie Brevard emerged as a leading educator in the state and authored an influential textbook on Florida history. She also lobbied for the creation of a State Library and Archives, the former coming to fruition shortly after her death in the mid-1920s. 

  

Left: The Brevard Family Home, 1934. Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida  

Right:  Mary Call Darby at the Brevard family house as the "Queen of the Fairies" for the May Day celebration, ca. 1917.  Photo courtesy of Jane Aurell Menton

Mary Call met LeRoy Collins while she was a student at the Florida State College for Women. They married in 1932. Collins was born in Tallahassee, the son of a grocer. He attended local schools before leaving the state to study business, and later, to attend law school. Collins returned to his hometown and established a law practice. He was elected to the state house in 1934 and the state senate in 1940. Collins resigned his seat in 1944 to serve in the Navy during World War II. He returned to the senate in 1947.

   

LeRoy Collins for Senate Campaign Card, ca. 1940.  Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

Throughout the 1940s and 50s, the Collins family worked to restore The Grove property. By 1950, the family had grown to include four children, LeRoy Jr., Jane, Mary Call, and Darby. In 1952, they built an addition on the rear of the house to provide the necessary modern conveniences. This addition by the Collins family complimented the historic building and represented an early contribution to the modern historic preservation movement in Florida.

 

Mary Call Collins standing in a doorway dividing the original house from the new addition, 1957.  Photo courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

When elected governor in 1954, Collins and his family lived in the original Florida Governor’s Mansion. In 1955, the decision was made to demolish the existing building and start anew. Governor and Mrs. Collins played a significant role in influencing the choice to design the new executive mansion as a nod to Andrew Jackson’s The Hermitage. Mrs. Collins worked with James Cogar, Curator at Colonial Williamsburg, on the furnishing plan for the new Mansion, which was completed in 1957. Cogar and Mrs. Collins then worked together to furnish The Grove with pieces that evoked the life and times of Richard Keith Call and Ellen Call Long. For a short time in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Cogar leased The Grove from the Collins family and opened the site to the public as a museum. 

 

Left: Postcard showing the Parlor from the first Grove Museum, 1959.  The Grove Collection

Right: View from Adams Street of the original museum sign for The Grove, ca. 1960.  The Grove Collection

LeRoy Collins’ early political career was marked by a commitment to reforming Florida’s inadequate educational system and fostering a climate favorable to economic development. While a state senator, Collins initiated legislation, known as the Minimum Foundation Program, to provide equitable funding for all pupils in Florida public schools. He supported the construction of the Florida Turnpike and helped to create the Florida Development Commission, an agency dedicated to promoting tourism. Collins entered the race for governor when his close friend, Dan McCarty, suddenly died while in office. Collins won a special election and became Florida’s 33rd governor on January 4, 1955. As he entered office, Collins pledged to continue along the track he had established over two decades of service in the state legislature. As governor, Collins went on to post an impressive record, including the significant expansion of the state’s community college system, an influx of industry, the completion of the Florida Turnpike, and steps towards long overdue legislative reapportionment. He also promised to approach the growing issue of race relations with the goal of maintaining segregation as Florida’s “law and custom.”

Time Magazine cover featuring Governor LeRoy Collins, 1955.  The Grove Collection

Race relations indeed came to define the political legacy of LeRoy Collins. Later in life, Collins spoke openly about the evolution of his thought on equality. His words and actions from the time of his second term as governor to his loss in the 1968 race for US Senate illustrate the progress of the nation over the same period on the expansion of civil rights. As early as 1957, Collins denounced the Florida state legislature’s attempts to nullify the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown vs. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education (1954). Later, in March 1960, Collins appeared before a statewide television audience to plead for dialogue and reconciliation following sit-in demonstrations in Tallahassee. By the time he left the governor’s office, Collins’ message had changed. He had come to see segregation as morally wrong and its dismantling as necessary and inevitable. Collins’ progressive, moderate tone attracted considerable attention, leading to his selection as the Permanent Chairman of the 1960 Democratic National Convention. By all accounts Collins masterfully presided over the convention, where proceedings vaulted John F. Kennedy to the presidency. 

  

Left:  Governor Collins at the Democratic National Convention, 1960.  The Grove Collection

Right: Governor Collins standing with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson at the Democratic National Convention, 1960.  The Grove Collection

Following the Convention, Collins accepted the position of President of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) in Washington, D.C. While in Washington, Mrs. Collins became involved with the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the leading historic preservation organization in the country. She applied her talents and lessons learned at The Grove and the Florida Governor’s Mansion to the ongoing efforts to preserve and share the legacy of George Washington. Collins used his brief time as President of the NAB to challenge broadcasters to create programming that benefited the public. He openly criticized the techniques used by tobacco companies to market cigarettes to children and also called for less violence on television.

 

Mary Call Collins standing in front of Mount Vernon as Vice Regent for Florida to the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1963.  Photo courtesy of Jane Aurell Menton. 

In 1963, President Kennedy appointed Collins as Undersecretary of the US Department of Commerce. Collins remained with the Department when Lyndon B. Johnson became president following Kennedy’s assassination. Johnson soon after appointed Collins to head a new federal agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, known as the Community Relations Service (CRS). As Director of the CRS, Collins was responsible for working with communities experiencing conflict over race relations.

LeRoy Collins at the signing of the Civil Rights Act, 1964.  The Grove Collection

His most prominent role as head of the CRS came in Selma, Alabama, in March 1965. President Johnson sent Collins to Selma following “Bloody Sunday,” in which Alabama state police violently attacked civil rights marchers attempting to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Collins devised a solution and presented his plan to both sides. Working through the night before the next planned march, Collins convinced state officials to restrain the police and allow activists to proceed. Ultimately, Collins helped to avoid a repeat of the ugly violence broadcast across the country just days before.

 

(L-R) John Lewis, Andrew Young, LeRoy Collins, Martin Luther King Jr., and Coretta Scott King.  Selma, Alabama, 1965.  The Grove Collection

By intervening on behalf of the federal government at Selma, Collins dealt a fatal blow to his future political aspirations. When he ran for US Senate in 1968, opponents distributed a photograph taken of Collins at Selma. The photograph showed Collins walking alongside prominent civil rights leaders, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Collins was portrayed as too liberal on civil rights, and as a result lost the election. Following his defeat, LeRoy and Mary Call Collins returned to Tallahassee. He rejoined his law practice and she resumed her commitment to historic preservation.

In 1971, Collins published Forerunners Courageous, a collection of short stories on Florida history. The book sold well. Collins continued his involvement with Florida politics, particularly constitutional revision, and served on the 1977 Florida constitution revision commission. Starting with Governor Reuben Askew, much of Collins’ unfinished business became reality, including legislative reapportionment. Mrs. Collins dedicated considerable time to local historic preservation projects. She lent energy and her name to the efforts to save the historic Union Bank building and the Old Capitol from destruction. The restored bank now serves as a satellite facility of the Southeast Regional Black Archives, managed by Florida A&M University. The Old Capitol is now home to the Florida Historic Capitol Museum.

 

LeRoy and Mary Call Collins in front of The Grove, 1980.  Photo courtesy Jane Aurell Menton

The Collins family sold The Grove to the State of Florida in 1985, entrusting the property to the Florida Department of State and ensuring its future use as a museum. Governor Collins passed away at The Grove in 1991. He was followed in death by Mary Call in 2009. Both are laid to rest in the family cemetery on the property. It is the great and lasting legacy briefly described above which informs current efforts to interpret The Grove. The Department is honored to share this story and to promote a better understanding of the relevance of the past to present and future generations. 

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Visitor Parking:

902 N. Monroe., Tallahassee, FL 32303

Visit

Sunday: Closed

Monday: Closed

Tuesday: Closed

Wednesday: House tours on the hour, 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Thursday: House tours on the hour, 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Friday: House tours on the hour, 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Saturday: House tours on the hour, 10, 11 a.m., Noon, 1, 2 and 3 p.m.

Group Tours: Tours for groups of ten (10) or more are available at $1.00 per guest. For group tours, please contact the museum in advance to make arrangements.

Grounds open Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.