In the summer of 1963, Orlando teetered on the edge of racial strife. The demands for integration from the black community were growing louder, more insistent, more impatient. Black teenagers were holding drugstore sit-ins and "wade-ins" at the city's segregated swimming pools and lakes.

Orlando Mayor Bob Carr knew he had to do something. First elected in 1956, Carr was not a native of the South or Orlando. He was a businessman from Ohio. A shrewd politician who knew how to negotiate both sides of racial divide, he had one basic rule that he applied to both politics and race.

"A guiding principal in all things with my dad was a sense of fairness," said his son, Bob Carr Jr., a teacher who lives in College Park.

Carr's response to growing racial tension was to expand the 10-member Inter-Racial Advisory Committee he formed in 1957 to 24 members, half of them black and half white.

That committee —- which included clergy, businessmen, civil-rights activists, members of the media, and educators — would become the model for dealing with issues of race in Orlando for years to come. It would help set Orlando apart from other Southern cities, preserve the city's hospitable image and pave the way for the arrival of Walt Disney World.

"The role it played was to set the parameters of how the city would deal with race relations," said Bob Billingslea, a Disney executive who headed up one of the later committees. "It set the stage for where we are today."

Committee gets busy



The Mayor's Advisory Committee on Inter-Racial Relations, meeting for the first time June 13, 1963, didn't wait to get busy. On July 7, Carr announced that 56 Orlando restaurants and motels had agreed to voluntarily integrate, and he credited the Inter-Racial Committee with helping to make that happen.

There were some stipulations. Blacks who wanted to eat at the restaurants had to call in advance and could bring no more than eight people at a time. Nonetheless, members of Orlando's black community now had a list of places they could go out to eat, or rent a motel room, without encountering racism. Mimeographed sheets of the integrated businesses were passed out at black churches.

Just two weeks later, the committee made a bold recommendation to the Orlando City Council: All city parks, swimming pools and lakes should be fully integrated — immediately. The recommendation was a test of the committee's authority. Was it a group that had some clout?

It was a pivotal moment in race relations in Orlando: Would it emulate Atlanta — the City too Busy to Hate? Or could it become the next Birmingham — where civil-rights demonstrators were met with police attack dogs and fire hoses?

"There was real turmoil in those days," said Wally Sanderlin, 83, the last living member of the 1963 City Council. "We had all these terrible things happening throughout the country, and the unrest was here also."

The council chambers were packed as the Inter-Racial Committee presented its recommendations to the city commissioners. Black teenage activists and members of the Ku Klux Klan were in the audience, watching to see what the city would do.

Carr postponed the decision. When the council reconvened three days later, it announced that it had accepted the committee's recommendations for integrating city-owned facilities including parks, but not the pools and lakes.

"I feel we would be going too far, too fast, if we attempted to integrate swimming facilities at this time, and would be in danger of losing the gains that have been made," Sanderlin announced to the crowd.

In the back of the room, teen civil-rights activist Sam Jennings was angry but not surprised by the decision. At the end of the meeting, Jennings and NAACP Youth Council President Bill Boyer stood up and challenged the council's decision.

Carr brushed the teenagers aside.

"You must be pretty naïve," he said, "to think change is going to come that quickly."

The next day, all the public lakes and swimming pools in Orlando were closed.