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Robert "Bob" Canney Collection

Identifier: MS 191

Scope and Content

The Bob Canney Collection documents the social activism of Robert Benjamin Canney. The collection begins with Canney's involvement in the Student Group for Equal Rights at the University of Florida in the early 1960s. However, there is little information on that group. There is considerably more on Canney's participation in unionization efforts at Brevard Junior College and the 1968 teacher's strike. The antiwar activities of the late 1960s and early 1970s are also extensively documented. About two-thirds of the collection, however, relates to his arrest at the Straub Park demonstration and his subsequent trial and imprisonment.

The collection is divided into three sections. The first part consists of records unrelated to the events surrounding Straub Park and includes biographical materials, correspondence, newspaper clippings, and publications. In addition to the records related to the Student Group for Equal Rights and the American Federation of Teachers, there is frequent mention of other struggles of the 1960s and 1970s including the anti-war movement and the struggles for women and students' rights. Of particular note, in this regard, are the materials related to the expulsion of the Canneys' son, Michael, from Gainesville High School for having long hair. This section also contains materials that reflect on Canney's political philosophy as well as his activities subsequent to his release from prison.

The second and third sections of the collection relate to the Straub Park arrest and its aftermath. Section two consists of copies of official court documents related to the trial and the numerous appeals to overturn the conviction. This section includes a complete set of the court transcripts for the trial and the appeal hearing. Also of interest are the remarks of a dissenting appeals judge.

The third section consists of correspondence, newspaper clippings, and published articles on Canney's case. It includes notes from interviews with potential witnesses whose testimony was ruled inadmissible, a journal kept by Connie Canney during her husband's imprisonment, and Canney's letters from prison to his supporters. Among the letters to Canney are many offering encouragement and support including a series of letters from fellow activists Phil Berrigan and Arthur Kinoy.

Connie Canney compiled the collection before it came to the University of Florida. Folders entitled "R's notes" are evidence of the effort she put into identifying and explaining the context of the materials. Connie's own involvement in the events of the time is extensively documented as well.

Another feature of the collection are the many examples of alternative print media. Underground newspapers, leaflets and pamphlets are found throughout. In addition, two long runs of the Eye, a publication produced at the Canney residence by local activists, and a Different Drummer, produced in Cocoa, were provided for digital preservation.


  • Creation: 1964-1988
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1967-1976



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Social activist, college professor.

Robert Benjamin Canney was born July 7, 1928 in West Lebanon, Maine. During World War II, at the age of 15, he altered his birth certificate and entered the Merchant Marine. He served in the Merchant Marines for several years and later enlisted in the United States Army. He served in the 82nd Airborne until 1950. In 1952, he married Constance (Connie) March. While working in various jobs to support a family that included three children, Canney attended classes in education at several New England colleges. He entered the University of Florida in 1961, completed his undergraduate studies, and went on to earn a master's degree in 1964. Shortly afterwards, he accepted a position at the Brevard Junior College in Cocoa.

It was at the University of Florida that Canney first became involved in the civil rights struggle as a member of the Student Group for Equal Rights. He was one of several UF students arrested at a desegregation sit-in in Ocala. At Brevard Junior College he helped organize the first Florida chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and was a leader in the 1968 statewide teacher's strike. Like many of those who played a leadership role in that strike, Canney was not rehired when the strike ended. He decided to return to the University of Florida and was admitted to its doctoral program in education in 1968. While working on his doctorate, Canney served as an instructor in the College of Education.

During his tenure as a graduate student and instructor at UF, Canney continued to be active in the civil rights movement while also taking a leading role in the growing opposition to the war in Vietnam. He was a key organizer of a statewide demonstration in Straub Park in St. Petersburg on April 18, 1970 that united Black activists and antiwar protestors. After making a speech at the demonstration in which he declared "Let's bring the goddamn war home and begin dealing with the problems which confront us here," police broke up the demonstration. Canney was arrested for public profanity and charged with resisting arrest. The profanity charge stemmed from an ordinance passed several days earlier by the St. Petersburg city council. That charge was quickly dropped, but he was tried and convicted on the resisting arrest charge.

Canney was sentenced to two years in prison and was subsequently fired by the University of Florida. He was briefly incarcerated at Lake Butler and then released on appeal. He was returned to prison in 1975 to begin his sentence. His trial and imprisonment spurred a Free Bob Canney Movement that brought national attention to his case. He was released after serving five months of his sentence and moved back to Maine with his family.

Bob Canney sustained his struggle for social justice throughout his life. In Maine, he and Connie operated an antique store and both remained active in various causes. Both traveled to Nicaragua in 1984 to give their support to that country's struggle against US backed Contra rebels. Only months before his death on August 21, 1988, Canney had traveled to Cuba with the solidarity group Venceremos Brigade.

Connie Canney returned to the Gainesville area in 2001 and donated her husband's papers to the University of Florida in 2005.


2.5 Linear feet (5 Boxes)

Language of Materials



Papers of social activist Robert Benjamin Canney, primarily related to his trial and imprisonment following a 1970 anti-war demonstration in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Acquisition Information

Gift of Connie Canney in 2005.

Alternate Form of Material

Digital reproductions of items in this collection are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

A Guide to the Robert "Bob" Canney Collection
Finding aid prepared by Carl Van Ness
April 2006
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America