The weight of history is linked with the stunning beauty of its golden salt marshes and dense maritime forests in a special preserve north of the St. Johns River. It’s one of the most interesting reminders of early Florida. Here, Quaker slave trader Zephaniah Kingsley and his African princess common-law wife, Anna, established a successful plantation in the 1810s. Their union marked one of the more unusual Florida chapters during the years of slavery. The pair ruled over a complex and relatively lenient plantation culture. Kingsley slaves could buy their freedom and multiracial children inherited property. Kingsley’s interracial family included four common-law wives and nine multiracial children. Today, the watery fields where rice, indigo and cotton once sprouted have been largely returned to nature. Gnarled oaks resplendent with ferns fill the woods while palmetto forms a spikey carpet.
If you draw two diagonal lines cutting across the state of Florida, one from Pensacola and another from Miami, they’ll meet in the middle at White Springs — the heart of the state, proud native Tom Shed argues. And this Memorial Day weekend, White Springs will become the state’s cultural heart, in a celebration of the music, art and people that make Florida unique. The 65th annual Florida Folk Festival, stretched across 200 acres at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, is the largest state-run folk festival in the nation, and the only one where festival-goers can dance, dine and deep-dive into Florida history.
When Florida aficionados hear “30A,” snow-white sand and pastel sunsets leap to mind. The scenic byway winds through sixteen seaside villages, each with distinct appeal.
At midnight on Jan. 17, 1920, the United States of America officially went dry. A long protracted battle had been fought by groups across America to bring this “great experiment” to fruition. The National Prohibition Act, informally known as the Volstead Act, was enacted on Oct. 28, 1919, to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment which established Prohibition. The Volstead Act was an act “to prohibit intoxicating beverages, and to regulate the manufacture, production, use and sale of high-proof spirits for other than beverage purposes.” In Florida, ratifying the 18th Amendment was a relatively simple task. Florida was already in the midst of enacting statewide prohibition, many counties had already voted to become dry, and in 1916 Sidney J. Catts was elected Governor on the Prohibition Party ticket. However, as in the rest of the country, Florida would become a state where the laws regarding prohibition were frequently broken, and corruption reigned.
When my friend Gerald Ensley wrote a column several weeks ago about how Tallahassee celebrated its centennial in 1924, something in the back of my mind clicked. I remembered a book that I had picked up sometime in the last couple of years from Goodwill, and determined to find it, something not easy to do in our house. “Tallahassee of Yesterday” is a small, brown volume, 142 pages, decorated on the front with the image of a hardy band of pioneers — complete with covered wagon — shaking hands with a couple of Native-American chieftains in full regalia, while in the deep background loom the buildings of a modern city and a rising sun. Gee, I wonder what message was intended to be sent.
The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is drawing to a close this weekend after 146 years of performances and travel that at times have been marred by tragedy and celebrated in film, but also constant. The circus has its roots in a spectacle that began two decades before the U.S. Civil War, equal parts freak show, zoo and museum. Traveling performances began in 1871, and 10 years later it officially became the circus that generations grew up watching. It has evolved over the years, most recently with its decision to retire its elephant acts.
In Florida, Carson Gilliland explores what he calls “the relationship of phenomenology within site-specific locations that offer relief from the darkness while within the darkness itself.”
Donn Colee’s “Towers in the Sand” is an important and welcome history of Florida Broadcasting. It fills a gap that has too long been neglected. The well-written and thoroughly researched publication provides the history of broadcasting from its origin in the 1920s to the present, almost 100 years later.
Featured Image: Slave Quarters at Kingsley Plantation. Courtesy of Library of Congress.