Photo exhibits spotlight various topics in Florida history, and are accompanied by brief text intended to place selected materials in historical context.
Racism and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Florida
Florida During American Racial Segregation
On the night of April 4, 1968, Leon County Sheriff William P. Joyce and Florida Governor Claude Kirk stood in the streets of the state capital. Hours before, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
When the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) campus heard the news of the assassination of Dr. King, student protests broke out in the quads. Day turned into night as protests escalated into bottle throwing at passing cars and small car fires in the streets of Tallahassee. For the 10 days following the civil rights leader's death, riots broke out in over 100 American cities from San Francisco to New York, Chicago to New Orleans. Race relations in the United States had taken front and center in the public square.
This exhibit of images from the Florida Memory Photographic Collection illustrates a brief history of racism and the struggle for civil rights in Florida.
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Nearly a century before the modern Civil Rights Movement, the Civil War pushed the nation into a new era ending legal human bondage. During the period of Reconstruction after the Civil War, laws were created to protect the rights of former slaves and for the first time, all African-Americans were legally permitted to own land, go to school, and run businesses.
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Reconstruction also marked the birth of the infamous white supremacy group, the Ku Klux Klan. After Reconstruction, Southern state legislators enacted laws segregating public spaces. Under "Jim Crow," as the laws came to be known, a segregated culture enforced racial discrimination and a tradition of legal and extra-legal violence emerged that terrorized African-Americans throughout the South.
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In the decades following the Civil War, racism became firmly fixed in American culture. Literature and the new form of popular entertainment, films, celebrated the "Lost Cause" of the Confederacy and the triumph of white culture. One example was the hugely successful and innovative 1915 Hollywood film, Birth of a Nation, which was based on a best-selling novel that romanticized the origins of the KKK. Black-face minstrel shows and black humor postcards showing cut-and-pasted African-American babies in the mouths of alligators and other grotesque depictions were common.
In the first half of the century, Florida led the nation with the highest number of lynchings per capita. Mobs of unmasked white men targeted and attacked Florida's Black communities like Ocoee on November 2, 1920, and Rosewood in January of 1923. Today it's hard to understand "the feeling," as W. J. Cash wrote in The Mind of the South, "which, in time of stress, would seize control of the best almost as surely as the sorriest cracker."
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