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Bleeding Marianna: “The City of Southern Charm”

Bleeding Marianna: “The City of Southern Charm”

Marianna is a city of about 6,200 people, the county seat of rural Jackson County in northwest Florida. It’s official nickname is “the city of southern charm.” If you drive I-10 quite a bit, as I do, it’s a place you know mostly by green highway signs. I’ve never been there, despite regularly traveling to nearby Tallahassee.

But my co-blogger Dan has. His book, The Jackson County War, is the definitive account of Florida’s bloodiest and fiercest Reconstruction counterinsurgency, our state’s own source material for the mythology of The Birth of a Nation. Go buy and read it. I mention this not to fluff Dan and his book, although it’s a truly vital history of Reconstruction from the ground level.

I mention it to marvel at the outsized and gothic brutality that one little city can produce. For those who don’t know, Marianna is the site of:

1) Perhaps Florida’s most bitter civil war battle. Not the biggest or bloodiest — those would be Olustee and Natural Bridge — but the one that had the most lasting social import. Because it happened in the town, where everyday people experienced it, not in some remote meeting place of armies. The Federal attack on the city near the end of the war overwhelmed the resistance of a hundred or so local fighters, and the result is credited with deepening resentments that exploded into…

2) The Jackson County War, the quintessential armed overthrow of Reconstruction in Florida, where mobs of angry white residents took up arms against local blacks — specifically those who sought political and economic independence — and white Republican officials from the Freedman’s Bureau and elsewhere. That’s Dan’s book. You should read it.

3) Probably Florida’s most notorious lynching, the festival of torture and mayhem that befell Claude Neal in 1934. See Ben Montgomery’s excellent account from the Tampa Bay Times from a year or so ago.

4) The still developing horror story of the state’s Dozier School for Boys, which finally closed in 2010. I don’t much beyond the accounts I’ve read in the news here and there. But anthropologists have found dozens of graves on the site of the historic “reform school,” thought primarily to be the graves of black boys. You can find the report produced by University of South Florida anthropologists here. What’s striking to me about the Dozier school report is how easy it is for those on the margins of society to disappear — from life, from history — without consequence for anyone but the tiny handful people who might love or miss them. I suppose many of the skeletons in those graves lacked even that.

The pulsing boils on humanity that tiny Marianna has produced in its 150 or so years of history should humble us. Who knows what else lies buried in our own homes? Who knows what we don’t know about ourselves, our families, the very ground on which we walk? Who knows what lurks behind our charm, in any place? History, to me, is humility. Marianna offers an eerie lesson. I’m not a superstitious man, but I’m not sure I’d roam any Jackson County fields alone late at night.


  1. Pulsing boils on humanity? You must mean, for example, the way Jackson County desegregated its schools without violence. Or perhaps do you mean the way that Jackson County had one of the highest percentages of black farm ownership of any county in Florida? Or perhaps you mean the fact that according to the SPLC, there are no hate groups in Marianna, unlike Tampa, St. Pete, Jacksonville, West Palm, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Gainesville, Miami, etc. Perhaps you mean the way that Jackson County’s sheriff tried desperately to protect Claude Neal, but was told by the Federal government that it would not help him? Yes, during Reconstruction, local citizens rose up against corrupt Republican officials who were enriching themselves at the expense of the people of the county (a fact, by the way, come look at the records for yourself). Yes, Dozier School was located in Marianna, but state law from its earliest days forbade any Jackson County citizen from serving as superintendent. And yes, USF wants to dig up graves there in a cemetery that has always been known to be a cemetery, but the Attorney General’s office of the State of Florida says 1) It expects no crimes to be solved by the project, and 2) No murders are expected to be revealed by the project. I find that comments like the one you posted offer an eerie lesson of what happens when people make comments without looking at real facts and real history.

  2. Marianna is my hometown. 23 years I have grown, lived, and loved this small town I consider to be home. A city of southern charm yes, it is. Considering the city’s past it has come a long way from the hate, violence, and overall stupidity that once divided the citizens of the small town. HOWEVER …..There are still issues and bitter bloodlines scattered throughout the town. For someone to linger on the past and judge the town by its previous history is unfair. But to sweep those events under the rug and in anyway attempt to justify the injustice that has occurred in the city with statements such as “Jackson County’s sheriff desperately tried to protect Claude Neal” or mentioning how many black owned farms are in the county is an irresponsible, irrelevant, and outright sickening way to prove the town has bettered itself. While organized hate groups are indeed an atrocity, the ones who still have hatred in their hearts and discriminate with every action in everyday life PRETENDING that they believe in equality are the despicable ones who continue to stop the progress that my city is trying to make. The old teach the young and believe me, the evil never dies…it is simply surpressed.
    The FACTS:
    Marianna does have an eerie history.
    Hatred still exists there today
    Love exist there as well, bringing citizens together and at this point the idea of unity and peace is better then we have ever been
    We still have work to be done

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