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August 31, 2007

Florida, a Short History

Michael Gannon – 9780813026800

What did you say? Four years after the re-release of this little volume you [meaning me] finally got around to reading it. Yep. Thaz-rite!

Now I know why . . . or at least I have an excuse. It is indeed short, but it is primarily a review of demographics and politics with a few little vignettes thrown in, such as orange grove freezes, hurricanes, etc. It occurs to me that the “Dean of Florida History” could have done considerably better.

Disappointing would be a kind word for this work. Further, for such a brief digest he manages to repeatedly mention how dismally blacks were treated without mentioning how much things have improved; how blacks were kept out of all save one college during a time when this was universal across the south; how they were re-enslaved in the turpentine camps and other trades and mentions the mini-pogrom in Rosewood in 1923, along with another.

Now, I have no objection to this history being revisited repeatedly to remind of how unjust the U.S. was prior to the peaceful, sensitizing mini-revolt led by Martin Luther King, but it seems to me over the top to dwell on this type of event to the exclusion of all others.

He minimizes some factoids regarding blacks, slipping them in between other data: e.g. over 50% of blacks owned their own farms beginning shortly after the civil war, and continuing thereafter. It seems fair to have been given a little more prominence, especially since the incidence of white ownership was only 10% higher.

I almost forget to mention--but then he did, too--the Seminole War(s). In what he describes as one of the “darkest chapters” of Florida history he recants the second war (no mention of the first and third). This war of genocide warrants two whole paragraphs, occupying nearly two-thirds of a page. In fairness, however, he did include a full page picture of Osceola!

Anyway, if you’re a political junkie it’s probably worth the hour or two it takes. But if you’re interested in more interesting historic vignettes I’d recommend the three volume series: Florida’s Past, by Gene Burnett. It is an anthology of his columns written over 30 years; a great bathroom read encompassing 500 word columns about the lumbering trades, crooked bankers and miscreant land developers, inventors and other noteworthy Floridians, making cigars in Tampa, hunting alligators in the swamp, etc. Put it down any time, pick it up again and open it anywhere. Continuity isn’t intended. It’s just fun to read, and especially for things about which you’d never willingly read more than 500 words, and it might suggest to you subjects you’d wish to explore in greater detail.

Equally good are Jeff Klinkenberg’s columns, also archived in three separate books over the years, the most recent being Seasons of Real Florida; and don’t forget Carl Hiaasen, whose most recent accrual is Kick Ass.

Posted by respeto at August 31, 2007 10:49 AM