Review of "Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement"

The essays edited by Irvin D. S. Winsboro and collected in Old South, New South, or Down South?: Florida and the Modern Civil Rights Movement illustrate the trajectories of various civil rights battles held in the streets, schools, stores, public spaces, churches and courtrooms of Florida. In various ways the authors depict a series of status based contestations. Blacks were no longer going to “stay in their place,” as evidence via battles won in several Supreme Court Rulings, nor leave it at a pace dictated by the local whites.

The collection suggestions that the nature of African-American struggle changed as the primary mode of economic reproduction shifted from agricultural to service oriented work. As they transitioned from farming towns with small population density to larger towns and cities, the greater concentration of people with similar experiences or disenfranchisement caused a number of a qualitative shifts. First was the abandonment of the gradualist approach to social uplift exemplified in the yeomanry ethic of Booker T. Washington. As most of those in these regions were no longer agricultural producers but were wage laborers such a ideology was no longer as applicable to their experiences in the cities. Instead a number of ideologies were formed that were the beginnings of various forms of black power. Based upon this increasingly militant class-consciousness, a number of groups formed to place demands upon the state that approximated struggles occurring in other locales. Due to Florida’s heterogeneous composition of industry, previous settlement and migration patterns, the intensity of open political conflict varied from country to county. The response to these contests was, however, largely the same. Institutional violence, token desegregation, electoral dispossession through districting that gave more electoral power to rural, racist bastions over those areas more open to accelerated integration, and the legal tactics of delay that would have likely made the wording in of the Brown ruling “with all deliberate speed” mean never were the responses to these collective contestations.

The articles in Winsboro cite a number of local civil society organizations that worked on their own and in conjunction with national groups and branches of the Federal Government to overturn the laws and help reshape the attitudes that maintained the Jim Crow regime. While there is a dearth of information on the actual composition, charters, membership numbers and structures of the organizations themselves, the story which emerges is that these grass-roots militants connected to activist churches spread across the state were sufficient to remake the laws which had chained them down to an inferior caste. Despite these gains, however, institutional discrimination persisted. Though KKK rallies were no longer considered socially acceptable, group membership persisted and maintained a degree of control via their entry into police forces. Thus while the legal standing of racial status was eventually changed, purposive targeting continued. Additionally, commensurate economic gains were not accomplished due to their being categorized such as communism, which was deemed a crime greater than being born black.