Florida: A Troubled Racial Past

In a State known for its sunshine and fun times, there often has loomed the dark cloud of racism. Unseen to those who admire the happy post cards from a relative on vacation. Unknown to many who come to Florida for its beautiful beaches, and family friendly good times. This is a long and storied past of conflicts, massacres, and racial divides. Discussing race relations hasn’t been at the top of the priority list in a place that depends on a multitude of travelers from around the globe to sustain its economy. As the country celebrates Black History Month it is important that these stories are remembered.

In the early 1900’s, Florida had many burgeoning self-sufficient black communities. After the abolition of slavery many came to Florida in search of a better life. The people who came were from varied backgrounds. Not all were ex-slaves, many came from the Caribbean and other Central American countries with hopes of joining the prosperous agricultural economy in the state. Their journey was often met with confrontation from white residents and in many cases those confrontations played out violently.

In 1920, the city of Ocoee, Florida was beset by a violent race riot after the Ku Klux Klan tried to dissuade African-American voters from participating in elections. The disturbance culminated in a massacre that left as many as 56 African Americans dead and started an eighteen-year period in which no black votes were cast in the Orange County area. Three years later the town of Rosewood, a small enclave near Gainesville, Florida was burned to the ground as residents fled after a black man was accused of attacking a white woman by the name of Fanny Taylor. The events that occurred in Rosewood were later depicted in a Hollywood film starring Ving Rhames in 1997.

In 1980 the city of Miami saw riots in the Overtown section of the city after the death of Arthur McDuffie at the hands of four Miami-Dade police officers, who were later acquitted. The officers tried to cover-up their crime by alleging that Mr. McDuffie crashed his motorcycle after a chase. Overtown, once known as “Colored Town” is one of Miami’s oldest and most predominant black communities. Since the turmoil of the eighties the section has seen a revival. Organizations like The Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida founded by Dorothy Jenkins-Fields have revitalized the area through their community works.


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