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Articles of Interest about Jacksonville History

Charles E. Bennett

Charles Edward Bennett was a member of the United States House of Representatives from Jacksonville from 1949 to 1993. He was a Democrat.

He was born December 2, 1910 in Canton, New York and moved to Jacksonville by the end of his childhood. Bennett was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America. He was a lawyer and a member of the United States Army during World War II before being elected to Congress from what was then the 2nd District. He was reelected 21 more times from this Jacksonville-based district. He rarely faced serious opposition even as Jacksonville fell under increasing Republican influence.

In 1951, he began proposing a code of ethics for government employees, nicknamed The Ten Commandments. After the Sherman-Adams Affair, the code was adopted as the first Code of ethics for Government Service in 1958. In 1954, he sponsored the bill that added the words "In God We Trust" to both the nation's coins and currency.

Bennett died in Jacksonville on September 6, 2003 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He is still the longest-serving member of either house of Congress in Florida's history. The Charles E. Bennett Federal Building is named after him.                 -- from Wikipedia

Charles E. Bennett’s special reverence for Florida leaves
a treasure trove of written history and historic landmarks

by Emily Lisska

Charlie Bennett was a living legend, known and beloved by a diverse citizenry. His special reverence for North Florida leaves a treasure trove of land, written history and historic landmarks. With his death, the history community has lost a cherished friend. His accomplishments were so numerous and his own story so intriguing, no doubt someone will step forward to pen the life of this extraordinary Floridian.

 A week before Charlie’s death, his daughter Cindy Bennett phoned to ask if the Historical Society might have an available copy (for her family) of the televised Jacksonville History Show that had recently aired on Cable’s Comcast Channel 29, during August. Appearing on the show were long-time Bennett family friend Doug Milne, former Bennett aide Senator Steve Wise and Property Appraiser Jim Overton, who in recent years videotaped hours of conversation with the former Congressman.

 The show’s topic was former Congressman Charles E. Bennett, and it was my job to guide the discussion in the allotted time of thirty minutes, which I knew was woefully inadequate to approach his life and accomplishments.

 Charlie was too ill to participate in the show; his health had been extremely fragile for more than a year. But through the videotapes—a project fittingly originated three years ago by the National Park Service— Charlie shared memories of his life.

 The Jacksonville Historical Society now includes in its archives eight hours of oral history with the former Congressman. These tapes are a treasure, as was Charlie.

As scores of others, I have my own memories of Charlie. In recent times, I treasure that the Congressman spent both his 90th and 91st birthdays with the Jacksonville Historical Society; on both occasions he graciously agreed to our request to sign books and meet and greet the public.

 Several years ago when I ran a request for Merrill House funding in this newsletter, Charlie Bennett was the very first person to respond. Indeed, Charlie was the first donor to the Merrill House restoration project.

 Of course, his contributions to local history preservation projects are legendary and were part of his life for more than half a century; his beloved Ft. Caroline and the Timucuan Preserve were his special gifts to Florida and the nation. The Congressman’s initial legislation during his 44 years in Congress secured this treasure. Among his other gifts to the history community were the restoration of Old St. Luke’s Hospital and his acquisition of the famed Andrew Jackson statue, a replica of the very statue across from the White House.

 He authored nine books relating to the history of North Florida. He was the consummate historian and scholar, yet presented his material in a readable fashion; Mr. Bennett knew the magnificence of the North Florida story and he skillfully shared that passion through his talent for research, writing and storytelling. His contributions of original research and his additions to the body of knowledge on the area’s history are staggering. And with each publication, profits were gifted to the National Park Service or an organization in need.

 He is directly responsible for igniting the love for local history in legions; through his prolific writing he reminded us again and again of the incomparable story of this place we call home.

While Charlie Bennett delivered in a big way, he never forgot how little things counted. Many of us cherish the notes and the letters he was so good at writing.

 Appropriately, Charlie Bennett stands as the sole recipient of the Jacksonville Historical Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award. … He recorded our history, he preserved our history, and to North Florida’s great fortune, he is our history.

             Charlie and Jean in 2001

Charlie Bennett served as a member of the Florida House of Representatives in 1941, and he served in the U.S. Congresses from January 3, 1949 to January 3, 1993.

Remembering Charlie

Longtime Bennett Family Friend Offers a Tribute to a Hero of the Highest Order
by Doug Milne

(The following is a eulogy delivered by longtime Bennett family friend, Attorney Doug Milne,
at a
September 9, 2003 memorial service for former Congressman Charles E. Bennett .)

To Jean, Cindy, Bruce and Jim and all your families…it is indeed a great honor, as high as I can ever image, to be asked to speak today about your and our beloved Charlie.

You all loved and supported him in such tender, caring ways – as he, you – and you generously shared him with us in such unselfish ways. And for that, we’re all forever grateful.

 We often hear the cry “What has become of those men who are larger than life?" Well, one has – in a way – just left us. Who in this place does not have his own Charlie Bennett experience? Who among us could not recount how this amazing – man for all seasons – had positive effects on his or her own life. The simple truth is, we’ve all been touched, and made better by Charlie. And in that very real sense, he’s still with us…and we say to ourselves happily, he always will be. In our heart, our minds and our spirits.


At left - Congressman Bennett, 1964, with his children and wife Jean (center) in front of Capitol. From left: son Charlie (also deceased), Jim, Cindy and Bruce. The Congressman will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Ceremony.

As Charlie molded his life around service to others…and, oh so generously… he became a unique model, a guide for principled living for us all, and for generations to come. Tireless, ingenious, courageous and humorous…and beholden only to God…in whom he – and we – trust.

 With respect for human dignity a life long goal, while admired by kings, presidents and captains of industry, he was equally comfortable with – and interested in – the concerns of men women and children from all walks of life.

 Husband and father; churchman; scholar and soldier; congressman; historian; teacher; author and motivator – everything he undertook was with relentless care, integrity, courage, hope and old fashioned determination. A measure for us all.

 A straighter arrow might never be, and we may well not ever see the likes of this bold, remarkable man again. But he’s with us.

Left - Congressman Charles E. Bennett and Eartha Mary Magdalene White on her 89th birthday.  The party was held in the Clara White Mission auditorium on November 8, 1965.

Charlie, who knew and appreciated the rich history of La Florida, the Timucua, Jean Ribault, Isaiah Hart, James Weldon Johnson, and Andrew Jackson, could view, cherish, describe and share the unmatched nature of this flowery land – in the same glowing manner writers had for centuries; particularly about great historical personalities who made our land what it is…personalities like Charlie, himself – and we had the good fortune of having him with us and among us – as he lived out that life of caring greatness.

 He taught us all to value, respect and preserve the human events of the past and to cherish and exercise meaningful stewardship over the rare, natural resources with which we’ve been so blessed – by the hands of God – in whom Charlie placed his trust.

 A once in a lifetime fellow…this Charlie Bennett. The lives of everyone here…and in thousands of other places…are better because of him today…and will continue to be tomorrow.

 Goodbye, Charlie. You served your family…your country…your fellowman…and God…very, very well.

Bronze statue of
Charles E. Bennett

in Hemming Plaza


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Emily LisskaExecutive Director
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