Billy’s review of Robert Cassanello’s recent book, To Render Invisible together with Paul Ortiz’s essay about W. Watson Davis in The Dunning School, caused me to think about the important Florida books that deal with the Blood and Oranges century (roughly 1865 to 1965). Here is a list in chronological order of such books that are alternately informative, enlightening, along with some important works that are outright irritating.

John Wallace, Carpetbag Rule in Florida (1888) A crucial but troubling document purportedly written by a disillusioned black politician who rails against the hypocrisy of the Republican Party and its Reconstruction policy. Ironically, this book vindicates the white Democratic “Redeemers” and has given great aid and comfort to subsequent Dunning School adherents. The extent of Wallace’s authorship has been questioned. Readability: not very high, but it has some entertaining anecdotes and can be found in full on googlebooks.

William Watson Davis: The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida (1913): The book that completely dominated Florida historiography for fifty years. Entertaining but antediluvian in its racial attitude: a perfect reflection of the Dunning school. This book is essential if only to understand the subsequent works that tear it to shreds. Readability: high (but with a caution flag), very easy to skim through to find particularly topics of interest – free on googlebooks.

Joe M. Richardson: The Negro in the Reconstruction of Florida (1963) Published exactly fifty years after Davis, this is the first great “Revisionist” volume of Florida history to up-end Davis and the Dunning school mentality. Further notable as the first serious work of Florida history to recognize blacks as political actors with minds and motivations of their own and to treat the Freedman’s Bureau as anything other than evil. Readability: Good: Richardson has an accessible style, but a bit scholarly. Thankfully, Univ. of Alabama Press has made this book available in a 2008 paperback reprint titled African Americans in the Reconstruction of Florida.”

Jerrell H. Shofner: Nor is it Over Yet: Florida in the Era of Reconstruction 1863-1877 (1974). This comprehensive political history of Florida’s Reconstruction era completely supplants Davis’s Reconstruction chapters. The detail and research involved is staggering. Although Shofner is technically in the “Revisionist” camp, his approach is somewhat conservative: he’s definitely no 60s campus radical. Still, this is the essential work of Florida Reconstruction history and probably will be for a long time. Readability: not so great – lots of detail, dense prose. Long out of print from UPF, but used copies are cheaply available.

Edward C. Williamson: Florida Politics in the Gilded Age, 1877-1893 (1976). This political history serves as a useful sequel to Shofner’s Nor is it Over Yet. Williamson’s book is strangely neglected, but it is valuable as the first serious overview of Florida’s “age of redemption” Readability: good – not nearly as dense as Shofner, but not nearly as groundbreaking either. Like Nor is it Over Yet, Williamson’s Gilded Age is out-of-print from Univ. Press of Florida but used copies are not too expensive. [Snarky aside: anyone else getting the sense that UPF doesn’t value its role as custodian of Florida history too highly? Maybe some Florida taxpayers should remind their press of this responsibility.]

E. Canter Brown, Jr. In my estimation, Canter Brown is the pre-eminent scholar working in Florida’s 19th and early 20th century political and African American history. His work relevant to our list includes Florida’s Black Public Officials, 1867-1924 (1998); Ossian Bingley Hart: Florida’s Loyalist Reconstruction Governor (1997), and together with Larry E. Rivers, the two religious history books: For a Great and Grand Purpose: The Beginnings of the AMEZ Church in Florida, 1864-1905 (2004) and Laborers in the Vineyard of the War: The Beginning of the AME Church in Florida, 1865-1895 (2001). All of these books are worthwhile, quite readable, and available used through the usual internet sites. Florida’s Black Public Officials, in particular, is groundbreaking.

Paul Ortiz: Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 (2006): A seminal work that finds its greatest value in drawing attention to the Florida’s age of Jim Crow. Readability: high.

Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns

Dan Weinfeld: The Jackson County War (2012). I’m at a loss for words.

Billy Townsend: Age of Barbarity: The Forgotten Fight for the Soul of Florida (2012). I laughed, I cried: I wanted more.

Gilbert King: Devil in the Grove, Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys and the Dawn of a New America (2012): This Pulitzer Prize and Florida Book Award winner doesn’t need help from our p.r. department. Important for bringing widespread public attention to Marshall and the Groveland story. King has done more for Florida history than all the other post-Davis authors combined. Only negative: sometimes King doesn’t let the sources stand in the way of good narrative detail and conclusions. Readability: as high as the Polk Co. temperature in August.

Marvin Dunn: The Beast in Florida (2013) A deeply disturbing read that recounts the state’s history of violence against African Americans. There is not a lot that’s new here, but this book is worthwhile for Dunn’s engaging voice and unique perspective (he’s a professor of psychology) and for bringing all this horror together under one cover. Readability: high.

Robert Cassanello, To Render Invisible: Jim Crow and Public Life in New South Jacksonville (2013)

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