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Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920

Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 430
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  • Book Info
    Emancipation Betrayed
    Book Description:

    In this penetrating examination of African American politics and culture, Paul Ortiz throws a powerful light on the struggle of black Floridians to create the first statewide civil rights movement against Jim Crow. Concentrating on the period between the end of slavery and the election of 1920,Emancipation Betrayedvividly demonstrates that the decades leading up to the historic voter registration drive of 1919-20 were marked by intense battles during which African Americans struck for higher wages, took up arms to prevent lynching, forged independent political alliances, boycotted segregated streetcars, and created a democratic historical memory of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Contrary to previous claims that African Americans made few strides toward building an effective civil rights movement during this period, Ortiz documents how black Floridians formed mutual aid organizations-secret societies, women's clubs, labor unions, and churches-to bolster dignity and survival in the harsh climate of Florida, which had the highest lynching rate of any state in the union. African Americans called on these institutions to build a statewide movement to regain the right to vote after World War I. African American women played a decisive role in the campaign as they mobilized in the months leading up to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The 1920 contest culminated in the bloodiest Election Day in modern American history, when white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan violently, and with state sanction, prevented African Americans from voting. Ortiz's eloquent interpretation of the many ways that black Floridians fought to expand the meaning of freedom beyond formal equality and his broader consideration of how people resist oppression and create new social movements illuminate a strategic era of United States history and reveal how the legacy of legal segregation continues to play itself out to this day.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94039-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. XI-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XXII)
    (pp. XXIII-XXVIII)
    Paul Ortiz
    (pp. 1-8)

    One day early in the twentieth century an elderly woman is sharing a part of her life story with her grandson on the family’s front porch. Reared in Daytona, the child has spent much of his life with this venerated midwife, reading passages of the Bible to her because she is illiterate. There is one part of the sacred text, however, that the young boy’s grandmother, a descendant of African slaves and Seminole Indians, refuses to let him read aloud in her presence: the Pauline epistles with their injunction for slaves to obey their masters. By way of explanation, Nancy...

    (pp. 9-32)

    Newly emancipated floridians rapidly grasped the connection between economic justice and electoral politics. African Americans believed that access to inexpensive farm land, the right to bargain with employers, free public schools, and the elective franchise were the keys of liberty. This was a broadly democratic vision that subordinated the whims of the powerful to the needs of the many. A black Floridian testified in 1867 that “[freedpeople] are all seeking lands for themselves and building houses to live in. Some have been fortunate enough to make five or ten bales of cotton and many bushels of corn. . . ....

    (pp. 33-60)

    African americans redoubled their efforts to build a democratic Florida in the final two decades of the nineteenth century. They faced enormous obstacles. Emanuel Fortune, Jr. lamented, “Southern Democrats think that the colored man who does not go to the polls to vote, who does not express his opinion when he has one is a fine fellow. But just as soon as he aspires to a political position, just as soon as he speaks up for his rights and condemns the injustice perpetrated upon colored people by the pretended preserves of law and order, he is pronounced an ‘impertinent nigger.’...

  10. 3 WE ARE IN THE HANDS OF THE DEVIL Fighting Racial Terrorism
    (pp. 61-84)

    It is impossible to understand the African American freedom struggle in Florida without considering the toll that racial violence took on black lives. Between 1882 and 1930, African Americans in Florida suffered the highest lynching rate in the United States.³ During those years, at least 266 black Floridians were lynched. In the same period, whites physically destroyed black communities, raped black women, and drove African Americans out of parts of central and south Florida designated by area residents as white homelands.⁴ “Too late to talk about the ‘suppressed vote’ now,” a black Floridian cried. “We are in the hands of...

    (pp. 85-100)

    History was one of Jim Crow’s fiercest battlegrounds. African Americans invoked memories of slavery and Civil War to emphasize their claims on citizenship while white Americans used history to show that African Americans had done nothing to earn a stake in the society.¹ When a group of African American Civil War veterans from Florida attempted to participate in a remembrance day ceremony near Fitzgerald, Georgia, in 1911, a crowd of nearly one hundred white men ripped the military insignia off the men’s jackets and ordered them to leave the area.² Nothing was more threatening to the maintenance of Jim Crow...

  12. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  13. 5 TO SEE THAT NONE SUFFER Mutual Aid and Resistance
    (pp. 101-127)

    Daytona native howard thurman observed, “It is clear that for the Negro the fundamental issue involved in the experience of segregation is the attack that it makes on his dignity and integrity.”³ African Americans throughout the nation organized institutions of mutual aid, especially secret societies, lodges, churches, women’s clubs, and labor unions, in order to sustain black dignity, testimonial culture, and economic security.⁴ Black fraternalism in America originated in the struggle to survive slavery.⁵ In post-emancipation Florida, black cooperative associations elevated the practice of civic fraternalism—public acts of fellowship that advanced African American solidarity and public struggles against oppression—...

    (pp. 128-141)

    African americans in florida had engaged in decades of struggles against Jim Crow by the time that World War I erupted in Europe. This history explains why black Floridians were so quick to seize the opportunity provided by labor shortages in the North. Black working families were pioneers of an exodus out of the South into northern wartime factories that became known as the Great Migration.² Leaving the South en masse challenged the power of white business supremacists who sought to keep African Americans immobile through vagrancy statutes, convict labor, and poverty wages. The migration disrupted southern labor relations and...

  15. 7 ECHOES OF EMANCIPATION The Great War in Florida
    (pp. 142-170)

    Bolton smith, a white southerner, felt the need to warn his countrymen that World War I had spawned an insidious enemy from within. The writer claimed that African Americans were subverting the tenets of white supremacy and segregation. Smith offered the example of a black chauffeur who pointedly refused to be served in the rear of a segregated restaurant. Citing this and other cases, Smith argued that since blacks had long accommodated themselves to white rule there was only one explanation for these insurgencies: German spies must be spreading anti-American propaganda among the Negroes to foment a rebellion in the...

  16. 8 WITH BABIES IN THEIR ARMS The Voter Registration Movement
    (pp. 171-204)

    In the spring of 1920, Clem Gandy tried to return a bottle of flavoring extract that she had purchased at a store in Fort Meade. The white proprietor brusquely refused to offer a refund. Feeling that she had been discriminated against, Gandy contacted a local group, the Negro Welfare League, for assistance. The organization sent a letter of protest to “practically every business and professional man” in Fort Meade “asking the white people to reply to questions on how they stood in regard to the matter and their opinions regarding the relations of the white and black races.”³

    White businessmen...

  17. 9 ELECTION DAY, 1920
    (pp. 205-228)

    The florida movement stood poised at the brink of a great victory against one-party rule in the South. African Americans planned to use the ballot to challenge the fundamental elements of racial oppression: poverty wages, debt peonage, failing schools, racial violence, and corrupt law enforcement. The movement was so successful that the NAACP used Florida as the primary vehicle in its crusade to end disfranchisement in the South. While James Weldon Johnson and Walter White worked nationally to defend the movement, Mary McLeod Bethune, Eartha White, and local organizers across the state prepared African Americans for Election Day. White Floridians...

    (pp. 229-236)

    American history has completely erased the martyrs of 1920. It is possible to walk through Tallahassee, the state capital of Florida, and have absolutely no inkling that one of the greatest democratic struggles of the nation’s life occurred here. No streets are named for the activists who fought to regain the right to vote. No markers are dedicated to honor Floridians who died to secure freedom on this soil. Critics complain that civics and American history are no longer taught in the schools. Yet there has been no effort to learn from the experiences of Americans in twenty-eight Florida counties...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 237-338)
    (pp. 339-368)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 369-382)