Florida’s 200-year war against oppressed people: DeSantis vs Black and Indigenous history

Seminoles attacking a fort on the Withlacoochee River during the Second Seminole War, December 1835.

For Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the road to the Republican presidential nomination is being seen as an even bigger bigot than Donald Trump. When DeSantis says Florida is “where woke goes to die,” he means kicking Black History out of the schools. 

DeSantis narrowly defeated Andrew Gillum, a Black man, in the 2018 governor’s race with a race-baiting campaign that warned voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for Gillum.

Transgender people are a special target for Governor Bigot and his flunkies in the Florida legislature. So are reproductive rights.

Trans children are prohibited from receiving gender-affirming medical care and can be kidnapped from their parents. Abortions were made illegal after six weeks of pregnancy.

The racist demagogy of DeSantis was part of the background of hate for a neo-Nazi gunman to murder three Black people in Jacksonville, Florida, on Aug. 26. They were Angela Michelle Carr, 52; Jerrald Gallion, 29; and Anolt Joseph Laguerre Jr., 19.

A week later, Nazis carrying swastika flags paraded in Orlando, Florida. Unlike Black Lives Matter protests, there was no interference by the police. 

The Sunshine State’s union-busting “right-to-work” law is a big reason why only 1 in 18 Florida workers have union protection. Seventy-eight billionaires live in Florida, while 753,000 children live under the miserably low federal poverty level.

Governor Bigot is also a war criminal. As a Navy lawyer at the Guantánamo concentration camp, DeSantis oversaw the forced feeding of prisoners, which is torture. The U.S. naval base is on territory stolen from Cuba.

As a member of Congress, Super Scrooge DeSantis voted against aid to survivors of Hurricane Sandy. 

DeSantis didn’t come out of nowhere. A previous Florida governor, Jeb Bush, abolished affirmative action in state colleges and helped his brother George W. Bush steal the 2000 presidential election.

The United States Civil Rights Commission determined that one out of seven “Black voters cast ballots that were rejected” in the Sunshine State. That was nine times the rejection rate of all other voters.

It’s shameful there was no organized opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision stopping ballot counting in Florida, throwing the election to Bush. The court acted after John Bolton — who became a national security advisor to Trump — led the “Brooks Brothers riot” of well-dressed thugs who stopped vote counting in Miami.

Lynchings and massacres

Florida is now the third most populous U.S. state, with over 22 million people. Its blood-drenched history is filled with racist violence. At least 311 Black people were lynched there.

Thirty-three Black people were murdered by lynch mobs in Florida’s Orange County, home to Orlando and most of Walt Disney World. The actual figure may be higher.

People are coming to Orlando on Saturday, Oct. 7, for a National March to Protect Trans Youth and Speakout for Trans Rights. At least 32 trans people were killed in the United States in 2022. 

“Stop Racist Attacks” is one of the Oct. 7th protest’s demands. So is defending Black history; stopping voter disenfranchisement; expanding Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps); and free, legal, and accessible abortions on demand.

People will be demanding that charges be dropped against the Tampa 5, activists who were arrested protesting DeSantis. For more information about Oct. 7, see ProtectTransKidsMarch.org

Nina Simone composed the classic song “Mississippi Goddam,” but Black people were murdered at an even higher rate in Florida.

Measured per the number of Black people in the state, Black people in Florida were over 40% more likely to be lynched than in Mississippi. Racist massacres drove entire Black communities out of towns.

A dozen miles from Orlando, a Ku Klux Klan-led mob burned down the Black community in Ocoee, Florida, on election day, Nov. 2, 1920. Children were among the 30 to 40 people killed because Black people wanted to vote.

On Jan. 5, 1923, a white mob, hundreds in number, attacked the Black community in Rosewood, Florida. Between 30 and 40 Black people were killed. According to the Equal Justice Initiative, “Black residents hid in the woods and fled by train to Gainesville, Florida, never to return.” 

War against Seminole Nation and Africans

Florida had been a Spanish colony that was annexed by the United States in 1819. The genocidal slave-owning rapist and future U.S. President Andrew Jackson became the territory’s first governor.

The U.S. grabbed Florida largely because it was a refuge for enslaved Africans. They escaped from bordering Georgia and Alabama, as well as from the Carolinas and even Virginia.

The U.S. waged three wars against the Seminole Indigenous Nation from 1816 to 1858. Washington sought to remove the Seminoles and prevent Florida from becoming a liberated maroon territory for Africans.

During the first Seminole War, a main U.S. target was the “Negro Fort,” which was a center for runaway Africans. A leader of the Seminoles during the second war starting in 1835 was John Horse, who was of both Indigenous and African descent.

During that conflict, the Black Seminoles John Caesar and John Philip led raids along Florida’s east coast. Twenty-one sugar plantations were destroyed. Hundreds of enslaved Africans joined the Seminoles. 

There was so much resistance that the U.S. lost 2,000 soldiers in these wars. Since the U.S. population in 1830 was a little less than 13 million, these losses would be equivalent to between 40,000 to 50,000 GIs being killed today.

Around 4,400 Seminoles were forcibly removed to Oklahoma, while between 300 to 500 managed to stay in Florida.

Florida had the smallest population of the 11 states that formed the slave master’s confederacy. Of the 140,424 people counted by the 1860 census in Florida, 44% were enslaved Africans.

The too-short period of Reconstruction following the Civil War brought hope. The Black man Josiah T. Walls served six years as one of Florida’s two members in the House of Representatives. 

The Black minister Jonathan C. Gibbs became Florida’s secretary of state. Between 1872 and 1874, Gibbs was the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

In the words of W.E.B. DuBois, “He virtually established the public schools of the state as an orderly system” that benefited both Black and white. (Black Reconstruction in America.)

But by 1876, Reconstruction was overthrown in Florida. Decades of Jim Crow hell followed.

Slave labor for Flagler

As late as 1880, just 269,493 people lived in Florida. Forty-seven percent of them were Black.

Railroads were key to the state’s development, bringing wealthy tourists in and shipping fruit out. Particularly important were Henry Plant’s rail system serving Florida’s west coast (now part of CSX), and the Florida East Coast railway, owned by Henry Flagler. 

Flagler was a partner of John D. Rockefeller — the world’s first billionaire — in the Standard Oil trust. Among its Big Oil descendants are ExxonMobil and Chevron.

The oil money financed the Florida East Coast Railway and a string of hotels extending from Jacksonville to Miami. An extension was even built to Key West, although the line was swept away by a 1935 hurricane.

It was the enslaved labor of largely Black convicts that built this empire. Black and immigrant workers held in debt peonage built the line to Key West.

It’s outrageous that Flagler College, Flagler County, Flagler Memorial Bridge, and Flagler Beach are named after this criminal.

War profiteer Alfred I. duPont later took control of the Florida East Coast railway. After he died, his estate was administered by Edward Ball, a diehard segregationist.

Ball instigated a strike on the Florida East Coast that started on Jan. 22, 1963, and lasted over 11 years. The strike was broken, a defeat for all labor in the South.

One of the strikebreakers Ball hired was William Calley. Later, as a U.S. Army second lieutenant, Calley carried out the My Lai massacre in which hundreds of Vietnamese people were murdered. 

In 1964, Dr. King helped lead demonstrations against segregation in St. Augustine, Florida, home to Flagler College. The terrorist National States Rights Party violently opposed the human rights protests.

When Black people swam in the Jim Crow Monson Motor Lodge pool, motel manager James Brock poured acid into the pool.

Twenty-seven thousand teachers across Florida went on strike on Feb. 19, 1968, demanding increased school funding. It was the first state-wide teachers’ strike in U.S. history.  Although an agreement was reached on March 8, 1968, school boards refused to rehire thousands of teachers.

The singer Anita Bryant led a 1977 homophobic campaign to repeal a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. Forty-six years ago, the target was lesbian teachers; now, the bigots want to ban Drag Queen Story Hours and deny medical care for trans children.

In 1998, the Miami-Dade County Commission reinstated the anti-discrimination law. Poor and working people can defeat DeSantis and all the bigots.

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