Our own Dr. Terri Fine has shared her first column for the UCF Forum. In it, she raises an interesting question: have we in Florida actually learned citizenship, and what it means to live together, and to pursue justice, as citizens? Using the horrific Groveland Four case as a starting point, the column makes an unfortunate, but important, point about Florida:
Despite its reputation for racial moderation, Florida’s white society brutally enforced segregation and discrimination into the 1960s as lawmakers enacted policies that curtailed minority rights. Florida’s reputation for racial moderation during those years has focused on Gov. LeRoy Collins’ measured response to the Brown case as compared to the massive resistance advocated by other southern politicians.
Governor Collins certainly deserves some level of praise for his refusal to follow the pattern established in places like Arkansas and Mississippi, but is that really enough to say that Florida handled integration well? Perhaps not. As Dr. Fine writes,
During that time, the Legislature passed a number of bills designed to fight integration. In addition, after Collins, Floridians elected governors who campaigned against integration, civil rights and busing, and made little effort to promote racial equality in the three elections that followed.
Of course, the violence in Florida concerning racial justice and civil rights tended toward the brutal as well. Besides Groveland, we need only think back to the crime that was Rosewood.
And yet, here in Florida, where we indeed have come far as compared to some of our Southern neighbors, have we learned the lessons of the past? Have we learned what it means to be a citizen? I never taught about the Groveland Four, though I spent a decade teaching in Levy County (the home of the Rosewood Massacre). If we don’t teach it, if kids don’t learn it, are we truly teaching what it means to be a citizen in Florida, a citizen in the United States, and the obligations that go with that citizenship? If we don’t teach kids about the struggles that our neighbors, that perhaps their parents and grandparents, had to endure to live as free citizens, are we really teaching them anything? ARE we teaching them citizenship that matters?