How slave labor built the state of Florida — decades after the Civil War

tags: slavery, Florida, Civil War

Bryan Bowman is a 2018 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (B.A. Journalism) and recipient of the UMass Rising Researcher Award. Kathy Roberts Forde is associate professor of journalism at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of "Literary Journalism on Trial: Masson v. New Yorker and the First Amendment."

The state of Florida was built on slave labor — long after the Civil War.

From 1885 to 1913, Standard Oil founder Henry Flagler built an empire in Florida of railroads, hotels, steamship lines, resorts, even cities, from Jacksonville to Key West. He raised Palm Beach and Miami from the sand. And like another real estate tycoon, his name is blazoned across the state’s landscape: Flagler College, Flagler County, Flagler Memorial Bridge, Flagler Beach.

Few know, however, that Flagler built his tourist empire — and modern Florida — by exploiting two brutal labor systems that blanketed the South for 50 years after the Civil War: convict leasing and debt peonage. Created to preserve the white supremacist racial order and to address the South’s labor shortages, these systems targeted African Americans, stealing their labor and entrapping them in state-sanctioned forms of involuntary servitude.

Why do so few know this chapter of our history?

Committed to preserving his and the state’s reputation, Flagler co-opted powerful news outlets to spread distorted versions of events. When the U.S. Justice Department, African American leaders and northern muckraking journalists exposed Flagler’s labor practices, he colluded with powerful government, newspaper and business interests in Florida to whitewash public knowledge and, by extension, the historical record itself. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

comments powered by Disqus