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In This Section:
pre-1492 | 1492-1821 | 1821-1845 | 1845-1861 | 1861-1865 | 1865-1877 | 1877-1900
1900-1932 | 1933-1941 | 1941-1945 | 1945-1970 | 1970-Present

Pre-Contact (pre-1492)

People first reached Florida at least 12,000 years ago. Prehistoric Florida was home to a large number of plants and animals including large mammals that are now extinct such as the saber-tooth tiger, mastodon, giant armadillo, and camel. The peninsula of Florida was more than twice as large as it is now because the sea level was much lower than in the present day. The first Floridians settled in areas where a steady water supply, good stone resources for tool making, and firewood were available and they sustained communities through hunting and gathering. As the centuries progressed the native Floridians developed intricate and complex societies and were well established as self sufficient entities before contact with Europeans in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.


Map of Explorer's routes 1513-1562

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Period of Discovery and Colonial Period (1492-1821)

Spanish exploration of Florida began in 1513. These expeditions began near present day St. Augustine, Key West and the Tampa Bay area. The Spanish were not the only ones to explore, settle and colonize Florida. The first recorded French settlement was erected in 1562 on the St. John’s River. It was founded by French Huguenots (Protestants) searching for religious freedom. This settlement was easily overrun by Catholic Spanish forces who were settling over areas of Florida.

The first settlement in Florida was technically not St. Augustine as is the widespread notion. In 1559, Tristan de Luna y Arellano made an attempt to colonize what is today Pensacola Bay but he ultimately failed due to a series of misfortunes. St. Augustine was established in 1565 largely because the Spanish felt threatened by increased efforts by the French in establishing a foothold on the peninsula and in the New World. Pedro Menéndez de Avilés landed near present-day St. Augustine and named the area San Augustin (the Spanish version of St. Augustine). He captured, killed or expelled the French in the area and also attacked all settlers except for non-combatants and Frenchmen who professed belief in the Roman Catholic faith. Menéndez also captured Fort Caroline, a French fort and renamed it San Mateo.


Aerial View of Castillo San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida
The Spanish were soon joined by the English. In 1586 English captain Sir Francis Drake burned and looted the village of St. Augustine but this did not diminish Spanish control of Florida and their control over the peninsula was not really threatened until the 18th century despite a growing English presence in North America. The English colonists in the Carolina colonies were particularly hostile toward Spain. In 1702, led by Colonel James Moore, the Carolinians with Creek Indian allies attacked Spanish Florida. They destroyed the town of St. Augustine but could not capture the Castillo de San Marcos. In 1704 they destroyed the Spanish missions between Tallahassee and St. Augustine, killing many native people and enslaving others. In 1733 the English established the Penal Colony of Georgia led by James Oglethorpe and in 1740 the Georgians attacked Florida and assaulted the Castillo de San Marcos and held the fort and town in siege for more than a month.

During the Seven Years War (1756-1763), known as the French and Indian War in America, the British was in control of one of Spain’s most prized possessions, Havana, Cuba. In 1763 at the conclusion of the war Havana was transferred back to Spain, but Madrid parted with Florida in the compromise and from 1763-1783 Great Britain and King George III ruled Florida. This is a little known fact in the history of the state today. Florida was not found in rebellion from London during the American Revolutionary War as most of the peninsula stayed loyal to the Crown.

Before the war broke out, the British implemented part of their ambitious plans for Florida. They split the vast land into two separate colonies, East and West Florida. East Florida was to be governed from St. Augustine while the Western half would have its capitol at Pensacola, which at the time was just a small military town. The boundary between the two sections was the Apalachicola River. Britain attempted to attract white settlers by offering land on which to settle and help for those who produced products for exportation. If the 13 original colonies had not rebelled in 1776 Florida may well have been converted into a flourishing English colony. The British also established ties with local Indians whom the British called Seminoles. When war broke out in 1775 Spain remained neutral although they were benevolently neutral on the side of the colonies. Spain officially joined France and the 13 Colonies in the war against Great Britain in 1779. In 1781 they helped to seize Pensacola Bay from the British in what was the largest and most significant battle fought in Florida. At the Treaty of Paris in 1783 the rest of Florida was transferred back to Spain.

The Second Spanish Period lasted from 1783 until 1821. Beginning in 1783, colonists as well as settlers from the infant United States came pouring in 1783 when the British evacuated the peninsula. Many of the new residents were lured to Florida by favorable terms for acquiring property, mainly land grants. Others who came were escaped slaves, trying to reach a place where their U.S. masters had no authority and effectively could not reach them. This pattern continued, troubling the neighboring Deep South states of Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina whose economies were driven by chattel slavery.

In 1812 a small group of settlers in East Florida rebelled and declared their independence from Madrid. The Spaniards quickly and easily disposed of the rebels but the writing was on the wall. Spanish Florida was growing closer to the United States and farther away from King Joseph Bonaparte and Spain. Spain technically remained neutral during the War of 1812 (1812-1815) in North America but because of alliances employed in Europe, Spain let Great Britain use Pensacola as a naval base.


Portrait of Military Governor, Andrew Jackson
The majority of Indians in Florida was allied or friendly with the British and this deeply troubled the Americans who had their own designs on Spanish Florida. The First Seminole War began when Eastern Florida was invaded by U.S. army forces under the command of General and future Military Governor of Florida and President of the United States Andrew Jackson. White settlers had previously attacked the Seminole and the Seminole had retaliated. Also, runaway slaves were harbored by the Seminoles. The Seminole fort at Apalachicola, the so-called Negro Fort, had been razed in July, 1816 but the war is dated from the arrival of Jackson in December, 1817. Jackson's forces captured St Marks on April 7 and Pensacola on May 24, 1818. The campaign secured American control of East Florida. Unofficial American military expeditions continued until Spain ceded the territory. In 1819, Spain agreed to cede Florida to the United States after President Monroe's Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams defined the American position on this issue as inflexible and hostile towards Spain. Adams accused Spain of breaking the Pinckney treaty by failing to control the Seminole Indians and refused to apologize for General Jackson's actions in Florida which he claimed were a reaction to an unjust provocation. The United States gained formal control of Florida in 1821 through the Adams-Onis Treaty.

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Territorial Period (1821-1845)

Florida in 1821 was a melting pot. People from all over the nation and world lived in the peninsula. Many of the residents were escaped slaves who had sought refuge within the Spanish Colony. Over the next twenty four years Florida would grow exponentially and be transformed into a Deep South state dependent on slavery and deeply tied to its sister Southern states of Georgia and also South Carolina which would come into play in 1861 when the state left the Union.

As settlers flocked to Florida, many sought a new and better life, feeling Florida was a land of opportunity. Florida was the nation’s but, more importantly, the South’s newest frontier. Despite over three hundred years of Spanish, British and French rule, Florida was largely a virgin land to whites in the 1820’s. It was considered part of the “old Southwest” which included Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, and eastern Texas and can account for why many felt Florida was a land of opportunity where settlers could begin new lives. This attitude is somewhat similar to that which would fuel the westward expansion movements of the 1840’s and 1850’s.

Most of the settlers came to the territory from the older Southern plantation areas of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. The Virginia planters were more conservative and even though they were slave owners they were not the fire eaters that would lead the state to secession in 1861. These Virginia planters made up the majority of the government of Florida in the Territorial period.


Replica of the Original Capitol Building in Tallahassee constructed in 1823
The newest territory in the Union would prove to be different from the outset for many reasons, including those listed above. One major distinction was the shear size of Florida and its dependence on the sea rather than the land for survival. Florida was dominated by Pensacola in the west and St. Augustine in the east. They alternately held sessions of the territorial legislature in their cities, which left delegates scurrying back and forth between the two situated 400 miles apart. When the first session met in July of 1822 in Pensacola the members from St. Augustine had traveled fifty-nine days by water to attend with one delegate, Thomas Lytle, losing his life in a storm. When the second session of the Florida Legislative Council met in St. Augustine in 1823, the delegates from Pensacola were shipwrecked and barely escaped death. The solution to this dangerous situation benefited the new settlers of Middle Florida as commissioners John Lee Williams and William H. Simmons selected the present day site of Tallahassee as the location for the new capital of Florida. Not only was Tallahassee the midpoint between St. Augustine and Pensacola but Middle Florida also contained hundreds of thousands of acres of rich land suitable for plantations. The selection, or rather creation, of inland Tallahassee as the capital was a vital step towards replicating the “Old South” in Florida.

In 1821 when Florida became a United States Territory, the land held fewer than 8,000 people including slaves, but by the mid 1830’s immigration to Middle Florida had caused the population of this region alone to swell to over 35,000. As Florida’s population increased through immigration, so did pressure on the federal government to remove the Indian people from their lands. Indian removal was popular with white settlers because the native people occupied lands that white people wanted and because their communities often provided a sanctuary for runaway slaves from northern states. Under President Andrew Jackson, the U.S. government spent $20 million to remove Indians from the land. Some Indians migrated "voluntarily." Some were captured and sent west to Oklahoma and others escaped into the Everglades, where many remain today.

The last decade of the territorial phase saw Florida ravaged by war. The Second Seminole War, which last from 1835-1842 was a direct result of the forced removal of Indians from their land. By the terms of the Treaty of Paynes Landing (1832), the Seminole were forced to migrate west of the Mississippi River within 36 months. By 1834, 3,824 Indians had made the move. The largest faction of Seminoles, led by Chief Osceola refused to obey the treaty. He vowed to fight to the death and in response to his resistance, he was briefly imprisoned. A few months following his release, he commenced attacks on the Americans. On December 28, 1835 Osceola murdered Indian agent Wiley Thompson. The same day, Major Dade and his U.S. soldiers were ambushed by 300 Seminole warriors near Fort King (near present day Dade City in Central Florida). This battle began the Second Seminole War. The natives retreated into the Everglades, began guerilla tactics against U.S. forces and fought desperately for more than seven years. Osceola was arrested and confined first at Saint Augustine, then Fort Moultrie at Charleston, South Carolina where he died on January 30, 1838. By 1842, the Seminoles were nearly exterminated. Over 4,000 surrendered and were deported to Oklahoma.

By the time the first territorial convention to discuss statehood met at St. Joseph in 1838 the state had was home to 48,223 of which 21,132 were slaves. The state’s regions also bickered with each other over the question of statehood. East Florida, jealous of the power and influence Middle Florida would have in the political arena based on the region’s rapid growth in population and wealth, voted 614-255 against statehood. Middle Florida voted 1,152-226 for it and West Florida 732-324 in favor of the resolution. The constitutional convention was only made possible because the legislature had placated the West and East by giving them greater proportional representation than Middle Florida. By 1839 Floridians had voted in favor of statehood in one final referendum after the close of the constitutional convention by a narrow 2,065-1,961 margin. In spite of the vote, statehood would not come to Florida until 1845. Plantations were concentrated in Middle Florida, and their owners established the political tone for all of Florida until after the Civil War.


David Levy Yulee, Florida's First Senator, the First Jewish Senator in the United States Senate and one of Florida's Senators to the Confederate States of America
The Democratic Legislative Council, backed by Florida’s Congressman David Levy Yulee, applied to the United States House of Representatives for statehood and the bill passed the House on February 13, the Senate on March 1, and was signed into law by President John Tyler on March 3. Two decades after becoming a United States territory, Florida entered the Union as the twenty-seventh state alongside the Free State of Iowa.

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Antebellum Florida (1845-1861)


First Governor of Florida, William Moseley
William D. Moseley was the state’s first Governor and David Levy Yulee became the first Senator. Yulee, an ardent state right’s activist and disciple of South Carolina’s fiery secessionist John C. Calhoun. Florida’s population when it entered the Union in 1845 was estimated at 66,500 of which at least 27,181 were slaves and 453 were free blacks. In 1845 slaves made up 48.7% of Florida’s population, placing the state high among the ranks of fire eating states.


Ice Maker constructed by John Gorrie in his house in Apalachicola as the precuror to Air Conditioning
In the 1850’s John Gorrie of Apalachicola created an ice machine that evolved into the modern day air conditioner. The ice machine was created by Dr. Gorrie in an attempt to cool his yellow fever patients.


Portrait of the Members of Florida's Secession Convention
The dawn of the 1850’s saw the new state participate in its first national census. Florida’s 1850 population was 88,445, of that number 40,242 or 45.5% were black. Florida sided with South Carolina during the Crisis and Compromise of 1850, but Florida was not ready to follow its neighbor out of the Union. Florida was still dominated by the Whigs and they were for the large part conservative. As the decade progressed and the South moved away from conservatism, Florida fell into the hands of the Democrats and the fire eaters such as Yulee, Governor James E. Broome (1853-1857), Governor Madison Starke Perry (1857-1861) and Southern rights proponent John C. McGehee. McGehee delivered fiery secessionist speeches in 1851 during the crisis and would lead Florida’s Secession Convention in 1861. By 1856 the two party political system was virtually dead in Florida setting the stage for the election of 1860 and ultimately secession.

Abraham Lincoln did not appear on the ballot in Florida in 1860 and Vice President John Breckenridge carried the state as a Southern Democrat. On January 10, 1861 Florida voted 62-7 to secede from the Union and became the third state to do so following South Carolina and Mississippi out of the United States. The Ordinance of Secession was read from the steps of capitol building in Tallahassee and Florida prepared for war.

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Civil War in Florida (1861-1865)


Fort Jefferson near Key West, occupied by the Union Army during the Civil War
The Civil War in Florida began before the South Carolinians bombarded Fort Sumter and the Union and Confederate Forces met at Manassas, Virginia (Bull Run). Even before Florida seceded from the Union, the Quincy Guards took over the Arsenal at Chattahoochee, now the present day site of the Florida State Hospital in Gadsden County near the Alabama border. Two days later Floridians seized Fort Marion, or the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine from the one Union soldier guarding it. Two major forts remained in Federal hands in Florida, Fort Pickens in Pensacola and Fort Jefferson near Key West. The former was a major fort that guarded Pensacola and was vital to the Union cause in the region. Floridians, aided by volunteers from Alabama and Georgia never captured the fort despite some light fighting. The “fighting” at Fort Pickens actually preceded action at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor and can therefore be called the first shots of the American Civil War.


Governor John Milton, who led Florida during the Civil War and committed suicide in April, 1865 as the Confederacy fell
Florida’s wartime Governor, John Milton was an ardent Southerner but also but a rarity in the South, a Confederate Nationalist, meaning ideally he vowed to put the Confederacy before the state of Florida. As the war progressed Milton became upset with the Richmond government because they stripped Florida of her manpower, leaving the state virtually defenseless against Northern invasion. Overall, Florida supplied 15,000 troops to the Confederate cause out of a total population of 140,000. This population is misleading since close to 77,000 were slaves and a large amount women. Close to 80% of adult males fought for the Confederacy in Florida and nearly 1/3 of these lost their lives. Florida trailed only North Carolina in percentage of population that rebelled on the battlefield against the Union. Florida was also valuable to the Confederate cause in the amount of cotton, salt, beef and pork that was supplied to the rest of the fledgling nation. Florida also provided over 2,000 troops to the Union cause, some of these black troops. Jacksonville was a bastion for Unionism within Florida during the war and was occupied by the Federals on three separate occasions.


Reenactment of the Battle of Natural Bridge south of Tallahassee
Florida was largely insignificant to the overall course of the war, but one major battle was fought in the Peninsula. On February 20, 1864 over 5,000 Union troops moved from Lake City and met an equal force of Rebels near Ocean Pond in what was known as the Battle of Olustee. The Union forces lost over 1,800 men and retreated back towards Jacksonville making this one of the most costly battles of the war percentage wise. The 54th Massachusetts and various other Colored regiments were part of the Union force at Olustee. In March of 1865 the Union made one more attempt to seize Tallahassee from the Confederates but they were repulsed at Natural Bridge about 20 miles south of the capitol and Tallahassee remained the only Confederate capitol to never be captured by Union forces. Union troops occupied Tallahassee on May 10, 1865, close to a month after Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U.S. Grant in Virginia. The Emancipation Proclamation was read from the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee while it served as temporary Union Headquarters in 1865. Brigadier General Edward McCook read the proclamation that freed Florida’s slaves.

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Reconstruction (1865-1877)

Floridians faced reconstruction with mixed emotions and goals. Half of the population was newly freed and looked to the federal government for support and help in creating new lives, while the other half of the population was bitter and embattled and this led to the creation of local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan and other racist societies. Former plantation owners tried to regain pre-war levels of power and production by hiring former slaves to raise and pick cotton. Much of the land came under cultivation by tenant farmers and sharecroppers, both African American and white. The recreation of the plantation economy was basically a failure.

Reconstruction began in earnest in 1868 and during this period, Republican officeholders tried to enact sweeping changes within Florida which included improving conditions for African Americans. Florida was one of the last troops to come out the reconstruction period and in fact this did not occur until 1876 under controversial and mysterious circumstances. The election returns in the 1876 Presidential election were disputed in Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana. Democrat Samuel Tilden had won the popular vote but the Electoral College returns were disputed and claims were made that the Republicans promised to pull Federal Troops from Florida, South Carolina and Louisiana if they swung the election to the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The three aforementioned states did so, and Hayes was rewarded with the White House. The troops were removed in 1877, but the Democrats soon gained control of the Governor’s Mansion and the Legislature and enfranchisement of the state’s blacks was quickly repealed. The Democrats would then control the Florida state government for almost 100 years (until the 1970’s).

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The Agricultural and Tourism Boom in Florida (1877-1900)

Commercial agriculture and cattle raising grew immensely in the years following the Civil War. The Florida citrus industry grew rapidly during this period as well and many business and ordinary citizens began to look at the peninsula as a place to start a new life. Beginning in the 1870s, residents from northern states visited Florida as tourists to enjoy the state’s natural beauty and mild climate. Steamboat tours on Florida’s numerous rivers were a popular attraction for these visitors.


Henry Flagler's East Coast Railway
It was during this period that a transportation revolution began in the state in earnest. The growth of Florida’s transportation industry had its origins in 1855, when the state legislature passed the Internal Improvement Act. Florida’s act offered cheap or free public land to investors, particularly those interested in transportation which helped railroad magnates such as Henry Flagler on the state’s East Coast and Henry Plant on the West Coast. The Disston Purchase of 1881 cleared the way for a mass development of South Florida, a development that would seriously reshape Florida's political and economic future. This boom helped to the founding of Miami and the cultivation of South Florida which has now turned into the state’s most populous region. The citrus industry benefited greatly. It was now possible to pick oranges in South and Central Florida and ship them on train and have them arrive in the Northeast in a week. As the twentieth century drew to a close Florida began to become a player on the national level.

After the U.S. Civil War, cotton production declined due to several factors, including the loss of slave labor. The timber industry rose to take its place. There was high demand for wood for building and fuel as well as for turpentine and rosin. In 1874, the US Corps of Engineers secured a 6-feet deep channel at low water that was 100 feet wide throughout the length of the Apalachicola River. The completion of the Pensacola and Atlantic Railroad to the east bank of the Apalachicola River further opened the areas’s forests to large-scale commercial logging. At the beginning of the 20th century, Florida’s main economic products in the Apalachicola River area was timber- or agriculture-based.


Florida A&M University in Tallahassee
Education increased in this period, especially the education for the state’s black citizens. Florida A&M was founded in 1887 and was the only black public university in the state. There were other colleges like Bethune-Cookman, Edward Waters College, and Florida Memorial which were private. Waters College was founded in 1883 and run by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Florida Memorial four years earlier in 1879 by the Southern Black Baptists.


10th United States Cavalry in Tampa on their way to Cuba during the Spanish-American War
During the Spanish-American War, Florida served as a base for troops being shipped to the Caribbean. The port city of Tampa served as the primary staging area for U.S. troops bound for the war in Cuba and numerous Floridians supported the Cubans desire to be a free and independent nation not inhibited by a Colonial Spanish regime.



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Florida in World War I to the Great Depression (1900-1932)

The first decade of the new century and World War I served to stimulate Florida's economic growth. The real estate industry exploded in this period and would grow even more during the decades to follow. Florida became a haven for tourists with the growth of the automobile industry as many more tourists flocked to the Sunshine State from the North. Florida’s population also began to grow during this period as many of the new visitors to the state decided to stay and make a new life in the state.

All was not rosy in Florida and by 1926 things turned southward. Florida’s economic bubble burst in 1926, when money and credit ran out. Banks and investors abruptly stopped trusting "paper millionaires”. The state was also affected by natural occurrences as several severe hurricanes swept through the state in the 1926 and 1928, further harming Florida’s economy. In this respect, the state had already lived through economic troubles and hardships before the great depression. The state’s citrus and agricultural industries were also hurt by a fruit fly epidemic in 1929 that cut the state’s production by 60%.


Deconstruction of the Black Town of Rosewood in 1923
The 1920’s also saw the growth of racial violence in the state. One of the most horrific incidents in the nation’s history occurred at Rosewood in North Central Florida in 1923. A black man was falsely accused of raping a white woman and in return the entire black town of Rosewood was attacked, burned and razed to the ground by vengeful white citizens from neighboring Sumner.

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Florida and the New Deal (1933-1941)


CCC Camp at Highland Hammock State Park during the New Deal Era
President Roosevelt’s grandiose plans to get the nation back on its feet after the depression were felt in Florida. The state was the home to numerous projects of the CCC and their camps were set up throughout the state to help Florida regain its footing. Scores of buildings were erected throughout the state due to funding and aid from the Federal Government. The CCC began work on the Florida Caverns project near Marianna on September 30,1938.

The year 1937 also saw steps towards equal rights for the state's African-American citizens as poll taxes were repealed. Most African-Americans in Florida were still working as farm laborers at this time but more and more were moving to urban areas. Many African-American women worked as domestic servants while men worked in forestry, railroad industry, or as craftsmen.

The timber industry of north Florida was established by Alfred I. DuPont and his brother-in-law, Ed Ball, in the 1930's and owned more than one million acres in Florida. The St. Joe Company is one of DuPont’s legacy.

The New Deal programs forever changed the outlook many Floridians had toward the role of the Federal Government in their lives. Rural Florida needed support for their farms supports and urban Florida needed jobs. President Roosevelt was able to accommodate Southern politicians and appease conservative constituents.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act provided subsidies to many farmers in Florida’s Panhandle. The National Recovery Act also bolstered wages and protected the status of Florida's weak labor unions while road construction projects were implemented under the PWA. Florida was the last Southern state to enact unemployment insurance measures in conformity with the Social Security Act even though the state was home to numerous retirees.

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Florida in World War II (1941-1945)


Amphibian Landing Training at Camp Gordon Johnston during WWII in the Florida Panhandle
The state was highly important during the war years as a main training site for soldiers. One of the larger bases was Camp Gordon Johnston. In June 1942 the U.S. War Department selected a 155,000 acre section of coastal Franklin County to be used as an amphibious warfare training center. Originally called Camp Carrabelle, the base was renamed in January 1943 to honor the memory of Colonel Gordon Johnston, who had died in 1934. The3rd Engineer Amphibian Brigade arrived for training on September 10, 1942. One of the largest army facilities in Florida during World War II, the base was known by troops stationed there as "Hell-by-the-Sea" because of its crude living conditions and dangerous training programs. The 4th, 28th an 38th Infantry Divisions also received training at the base. Its mission was changed September, 1943 to train personnel to operate small harbor craft and amphibious vehicles. In 1944, German and Italian prisoners of war were interned at the camp. The end of World War II in August 1945 made Camp Gordon Johnston obsolete, and it was decommissioned in 1946.

In late 1943, Carrabelle Beach and Dog Island, while they were a part of Camp Gordon Johnston, were used by the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division to train for the Normandy Invasion on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. The Amphibious Training Center had been officially closed, but it was reopened and staffed for the purpose of training for this important mission. Although the troops had trained for over three years, the amphibious training conducted on this site was the last step before shipping out to England for the invasion. On D-Day, the first amphibian infantry assault teams to arrive on French soil were from the 4th Infantry Division at Utah Beach. On June 6, 2000, the Camp Gordon Johnston Association extracted a small amount of soil from this site and delivered it to the National 4th Infantry Division Association to be placed in the Association’s monument in Arlington, VA. The U.S. Department of Defense’s World War II Commemoration Committee in 1995 named the Camp Gordon Johnston Association an official “Commemorative Community.


Tanker Gulfland attacked and sunk by German U-Boat during WWII of the coast of Florida
There were also numerous incidents of German U-Boats attacking and sinking American ships off the coast of Florida which in turn horrified portions of the population from Jacksonville down to Miami.

In 1944 the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed a system of all-white primary elections that had limited the right of African Americans to vote which was another step towards equal rights and foreshadowed the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Highway and airport construction accelerated and by war’s end, Florida had a modern network.

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Post War and Civil Rights Era in Florida (1945-1970)

North Florida supported Dixiecrat and State’s Rights candidate Strom Thurmond over President Harry S Truman in 1948, highlighting the growing division between rural Florida and the growing towns of South Florida which were becoming dominated by retirees from the North. In 1950 Florida still trailed Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia in population among Southern states, but the state was growing much more quickly than the rest of the country and region. Florida was also rapidly emerging as an urban society, much to the dismay of Florida's rural politicians who largely supported segregation. Segregation officially ended in the state in 1954 with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education and in time the state’s schools were integrated. The Baker v. Carr decision in the state’s Supreme Court established proportionate districts ending the domination of the state by the Pork Barrel Gang, or politicians from rural North Florida. Governor LeRoy Collins led the charge to integrate schools with support from the state’s black population. In 1968 Florida elected its first Republican Senator since Reconstruction.

Tourism replaced agriculture as Florida's top industry. Generations of future farmers were turning to jobs in construction and hotel management when they used to consider agribusiness as a career. Miami Beach became a haven for tourists from New York and the Northeast and the entire focus of the state seemed to shift southwards during this period.

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Modern Florida (1970-Present)


First space launch at the Kennedy Space Center on Florida's East Coast
The U.S. space program also helped to put Florida on the map with launches from Cape Canaveral, lunar landings, and the development of the space shuttle program. The citrus industry prospered and still does to this day.


Cinderella's Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Orlando
Reedy Creek’s transformation into Walt Disney World revolutionized Central Florida and turned the region into the nation’s largest tourist destination. The beaches and coastal areas of Florida now had competition from the interior of the state. Foreign tourism plays an important role in Florida. Six to seven million foreign tourists come to the state every year and with most hailing from Europe and Canada with South America a close third.

Beginning in the 1990's, the St. Joe Company evolved from a lumber company (originally known as St. Joe Paper Company) into a land development and real estate company. The company has identified several major real estate projects in the Apalachicola River region to be developed during the early part of the 21st century. These projects have the potential to dramatically alter the culture and lifestyles of much of the middle and eastern Florida Panhandle.

Modern Florida is home to over 17 million citizens due in part to a large influx of immigrants from Latin America, mainly Cuba. The 2000 census saw Hispanics make up 16.8% of the state’s population. Over the past 150 years Florida has grown from a backwater rural frontier society in the nation’s fourth most populous state and the nation’s number one tourist destination.

Sources:

Fernald, Edward A. and Elizabeth D. Purdum, 1996. Atlas of Florida, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, 280 pp.

Gannon, Michael. Florida, A Short History. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1993

Tebeau, Charlton. A History of Florida. Coral Gables: University of Miami Press, 1972

U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, Website
www.sam.usace.army.mil/op/rec/acf/history.htm. Accessed on April 6, 2004.

Weitz, Seth A. “The Rise of Radicalism in Antebellum Florida Politics, 1845-1856” (Master’s Thesis, Florida State University, 2004)

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This page was last modified on : 03/14/2005

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