Only in Florida: Peculiar Facts & Events
Ax Handle Saturday (Jacksonville Riot of 1960)
On August 27, 1960, a racially motivated attack in Jacksonville against Blacks who were engaging in sit-in protests opposing racial segregation occurred. A group of 200, mostly middle aged White men, armed themselves with baseball bats and ax handles and attacked the protesters. The mob then ran down the streets attacking any Blacks they could find. 50 people were injured, 3 seriously, and there were 62 arrests. In an attempt to protect the protesters a Black street gang called the “Boomerangs” became involved in the riot. The police then intervened and arrested some members of Boomerangs. One of the main issues of the protesters were segregated lunch counters. In 1961, lunch counters in Jacksonville were desegregated.
In 1936, the Florida Legislature, led by Governor David Sholtz launched a state investigation into what was believed to be fiscal mismanagement of city, state and federal funds. The Daytona Beach city charter called for the dismissal, by the governor, of all officials responsible for the exceeding the budget. Assuming that they were going to be removed from office Daytona Beach Mayor Edward H. Armstrong and two commissioners, George T. Robinson and R.W. Carswell resigned from their offices on December 10, 1936. Both Armstrong and Robinson appointed their wives to fill their office vacancies. On December 30, 1936, Governor Sholtz ordered Mayor Irene Armstrong (Edward H. Armstrong’s wife), three city commissioners, the city clerk and the city manager from their offices, holding them responsible for budget issues and poor judgement related to city affairs (misfeasance, malfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence). Mayor Irene Armstrong believed that these charges were ridiculous, since she did not take office until Dec. 10, 1936 and had not had the time to prove whether she was a good, bad, or indifferent mayor.
Governor Sholtz appointed former city commissioner, Harry Wilcox, as mayor. But, Wilcox could not assume office because the Daytona Beach City Hall building was locked and barricaded. Two hundred National Guardsmen were ordered to Daytona Beach to install new officials appointed by Sholtz, and to confiscate the city’s financial records. Approximately one hundred local policeman armed with riot guns and heavily armed city employees and supporters barricaded themselves inside the city hall building to protect Mayor Irene Armstrong and other city officials. Many city records were hauled away in garbage trucks and destroyed by city employees during this time. A crowd of more than two thousand people gathered outside the building. It seemed an armed confrontation was about to occur. However, a temporary restraining order was issued by Circuit Court Judge Herbert Frederick that prevented the newly appointed officials from entering the building. On January 4, 1937, the Florida Supreme Court ruled to uphold the restraining order, and, on a technicality, vacated Governor Sholtz’s orders to remove Daytona Beach city officials. After a 5-day ordeal, the National Guardsmen and the crowds left the area. This incident, which made national headlines, is now known in local lore as the “Battle of Daytona Beach”. The ruling, in addition to Governor Sholtz’s term ending and new Governor Fred P. Cone taking office and having no interest in challenging the court’s decision allowed for Edward H. Armstrong, and the other city officials, to be reinstated into their former offices on March 4, 1937.
Bradley Massacre - the last Indian Attack of its kind east of the Mississippi River
On May 14, 1856, during the Third Seminole War, the Bradley Massacre occurred in present-day Pasco County when a band of Seminole Indians, likely led by Billy Bowlegs, attacked Captain Robert Duke Bradley's homestead. Two of Bradley's children were killed in the attack. An historical marker on near the site of the Bradley Massacre reads, "last such attack on a settler’s homestead east of the Mississippi." On May 22, 1856, the Palatka Democrat reported the attack happened as, "Bradley’s family had returned from supper, and the children were in an open passage of the house, when Indians fired a volley which killed a little girl and mortally wounded a boy fifteen years old; he ran into the house, got a gun and returned to the passage to return the fire when he fell dead. The mother, Mrs. Bradley, ran out and carried her children into the house. The Indians shot at her without hurting her or any more of the children. Capt. Bradley, who was prostrated on his bed with sickness, arose and returned a fire on the Indians with two or three guns which he had in his house, which caused them to withdraw."
Civil Rights Struggles in Daytona Beach
Compared to other communities in the South, Daytona Beach enjoyed a reputation for racial moderation, and its black community possessed a relatively high level of self-confidence and political activism during the decades preceding the modern civil rights movement. By 1960, the beaches, golf courses, schools, and every public facility, with the exception of the buses, remained segregated. A rash of protests broke out in early June 1963 with demonstrators picketing the segregated lunch counter of a downtown drug store, an all-white movie theater, and a cafeteria. Several black youths were arrested in the demonstrations, which was sensational enough to reach the pages of the New York Times. The proliferation of local civil rights organizations during the 1950s and 1960s reflected the intensifying activity of the movement in Daytona Beach, but it also demonstrated that the movement spoke with many voices.
Dozier School For Boys: At Least 81 Boys Died Under Horrific Conditions
Florida's Dozier School for Boys was a notorious, reform school operated by the state of Florida in the panhandle town of Marianna. It operated from January 1, 1900, to June 30, 2011. Throughout the school's history, reports often surfaced regarding its harsh conditions and brutal treatment. Despite periodic investigations, changes of leadership, and promises to improve, the allegations of cruelty and abuse continued. After the school failed a state inspection in 2009, the governor ordered a full investigation. Many of the historic and recent allegations of abuse and violence were confirmed by separate investigations by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2010, and by the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice in 2011.
Dr. John Gorrie - his invention of the artificial manufacture of ice, refrigeration, and air conditioning leads to Affordable Air Conditioning that fueled Population Growth in Florida
With Florida’s intense humidity and heat during the summer months many people were reluctant to live or even travel to the state prior to the availability of air conditioning. In 1851, Dr. John Gorrie, an early pioneer in the invention of the artificial manufacture of ice, refrigeration, and air conditioning, was granted the first U.S. Patent for mechanical refrigeration. Dr. Gorrie used a small steam engine to cool air so that his patients suffering from tropical illnesses could be more comfortable. Gorrie called his invention an “ice machine.” New machinery that could produce cool temperatures would seem like an exciting proposition during the Industrial Revolution, but Gorrie’s efforts to patent and popularize his invention were thwarted. Northern icemakers who profited from shipping ice to the South lobbied against Gorrie and benefited from a public skeptical of the artificially cooled air produced by Gorrie’s ice machine. Even though his invention was so revolutionary it did not become a commercial success during his lifetime, but his invention laid the foundation for modern air conditioning and refrigeration. Dr. Gorrie was honored by the state of Florida, when his statue was placed in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol. In 1932, home air conditioning units that could be placed on a window ledge were patented, but were not widely marketed due to their high cost. During the 1930s and 1940s, engineer Henry Galson developed a more compact and affordable version of the window air conditioner. By 1947, 43,000 of these air conditioning systems were sold. By the late 1960s, most homes being built included central air conditioning, and window air conditioners became more affordable than ever, fueling population growth in Florida.
Early 20th Century Automobile Beach Racing was NASCAR's Predecessor
Today, Daytona Beach is known as the "World Center of Racing," however in 1903 the hard packed sands of Ormond Beach "The Birthplace of Speed" provided early automobiles a perfect area to test how fast these new machines could go. Many world records were set on the sands of both Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach long before NASCAR was created.
Edward H. Armstrong (Mayor of Daytona Beach: 1928-1929, 1932-1938)
A Monument in Daytona Beach sat for 82 Years without any Plaque or Sign because of Political Bickering and became known as the "Mystery Monument." On July 1, 2020, that all changed as a grassroots effort finally placed a plaque on the Edward H. Armstrong Monument.
The Spanish brought cows into Florida in the early 1500s, and they evolved into the breed now known as the Florida Cracker Cow (sometimes known as the Florida Scrub or even just simply the Cracker cow). The Florida Cracker Cow is known to be the oldest native bovine breed in the U.S. Florida Cracker Cows almost went extinct in the 1950s due to excessive cross-breeding. Since the 1970s, conservation programs helped to save the breed. In 1989, the Florida Cracker Cattle Breeders Association was formed and they identified over 400 animals that were registered to serve as the foundation for breeding. Today, Florida Cracker Cows are rare, but their numbers are slightly increasing.
The Spanish first brought horses to Florida in the early 1500s. Some of these horses were left to roam free as the Spanish did not have enough room on their ships to carry them back to Spain. These Spanish horses evolved into the Florida Cracker Horse which is a small, agile horse that is ideal for working cattle. These horses served as cattle horses, driving Scrub and Cracker cows throughout Florida. When the practices of raising cattle changed during the Great Depression the Quarter Horse was better suited, and the demand for the Florida Cracker Horse decreased. The Florida Cracker horse has become quite rare as there are only around 1,000 of these horses alive today.
Florida's World War II U-Boat War
Germany sent five U-boats (submarines) during mid-December 1941 on a mission code named Paukenschlag (Drumbeat) to attack merchant ships off the eastern coast of the United States. When they arrived there were no blackouts and the bright coastal lights made ships maneuvering along the coastline easy targets. Also, early in the war the United States had only a small number of airplanes and ships to defend its entire east coast and Gulf of Mexico. As a result, by early February 1942 German U-boats sank 25 ships. By July 1942, the German U-boat offensive managed to sink almost 400 ships, and 40 of these were off the coast of Florida. Their main targets were freighters and tankers which disrupted the flow of supplies to support the war effort. It became apparent that the U.S. military was not properly equipped and was ill-prepared and ineffective against the well-trained German U-boat fleet. The attacks were so close to land and some in plain sight of American civilians that fears and tensions were increased as morale was lowered. This prompted civilian and military action as it was obvious that Germany was successfully disrupting shipping activities in the Atlantic Ocean. Florida Governor Spessard Lindsey Holland ordered a blackout of coastal area lights so that they could not be seen at sea and possibly silhouette passing ships. The United States and Allied ships traveling on the Atlantic Ocean joined convoys and were assigned armed naval escorts. Civil Air Patrol aircraft and private vessels joined in the search for U-boats. The United States Navy ordered blimps to fly as U-boat spotters in anti-submarine warfare operations. The blimps were equipped with radar and magnetic anomaly detectors (MADs), and proved very successful at locating U-boats. By the end of 1942, Allied ships being sunk in the Atlantic drastically declined as the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard gained control of the Atlantic Ocean around North America. Advancements in technology and convoy tactics led to the German U-boat fleet suffering heavy casualties in the Atlantic and elsewhere.
During Florida's Great Freeze temperatures dipped to an all time low, the impacts of which were felt for years after.
Four young black men named Charles Greenlee, Ernest Thomas, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman named Norma Padgett and assaulting her husband on July 16, 1949 near the city of Groveland in Lake County, FL. They became known as “The Groveland Four.” Ernest Thomas fled and a sheriff’s posse killed him on July 26, 1949. The other three men were arrested. While in the custody of the Lake County Sheriff’s office, they were beaten and Greenlee and Shepherd were coerced into confessing to the rapes, but Irvin refused to confess. An all-white jury convicted all three men of the crimes. Greenlee, only 16 at the time the crimes, was sentenced to life in prison, and Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death. In 1951, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund led by Thurgood Marshall was successful in getting the United States Supreme Court to order a retrial after hearing appeals by Shepherd and Irvin. The court ruled that Shepherd and Irvin had not received a fair trial because of excessive adverse publicity and because there were no blacks on the jury. The convictions were overturned and a new trail in a lower court was ordered.
In November 1951, Sheriff Willis V. McCall of Lake County, Florida, and a deputy transported Shepherd and Irvin from Raiford State Prison back to the county seat of Tavares, Florida, for the new trial. During the trip, Sheriff McCall shot Shepherd and Irvin while in custody as he alleged they tried to escape. Shepherd died and Irvin was seriously injured. During an FBI investigation, Irvin said that Sheriff McCall shot Shepherd and him unprovoked and in cold blood. Irvin also said that Deputy Yates shot him as well in an attempt to kill him.
During the second trial, Irvin was represented by Thurgood Marshall, special council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, but was convicted by another all-white jury and sentenced to death yet again.
In 1955, Florida Governor LeRoy Collins commuted Irvin’s death sentence to life.
In 1962, Greenlee was paroled and moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he died in 2012.
In 1968, Irvin was paroled and died the following year in Lake County of natural causes.
In 2016, the City of Groveland and Lake County each apologized to survivors of the four men for the injustice against them and their families.
On April 18, 2017, the four men were posthumously exonerated by a resolution of the Florida House of Representatives.
On January 11, 2019, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, and Governor Ron DeSantis, agreed unanimously to pardon the Groveland Four.
On February 21, 2020, a memorial was placed at the Lake County Courthouse honoring the Groveland Four, who were pardoned in 2019 after the unjust 1949 rape accusation.
Henry M. Flagler: Did he burn down the Black neighborhood of Styx in West Palm Beach?
There are still some people who believe that Henry M. Flagler masterminded the burning of a dilapidated oceanfront neighborhood known as the Styx (in West Palm Beach) in 1912 that left 2,000 homeless. This colony was a haphazard array of wood shacks that housed many of the Black workers who labored for Flagler's many projects, and was an eyesore that deterred tourism. If indeed Flagler was behind such an atrocity it would have been an illegal precursor to what later became known as Urban Renewal. It seems that this urban legend is a myth as no legitimate evidence has ever surfaced to prove it.
Hurricane Andrew devastates South Florida in 1992
and changed Building Codes and shifted Demographics
In August of 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck the Bahamas, Florida and Louisiana as a powerful and immensely destructive Category 5 Atlantic hurricane, and its greatest impact was in South Florida. It was the costliest hurricane to make landfall anywhere in the United States until Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It is the most destructive hurricane to ever hit Florida in terms of structures damaged or destroyed, and was the costliest in financial terms until Hurricane Irma surpassed it in 2017. Hurricane Andrew is one of only four Category 5 storms to make landfall in the United States, alongside the Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969 and Hurricane Michael in 2018. Hurricane Andrew had sustained wind speeds as high as 165 mph, and passed directly through the city of Homestead in Dade County (now known as Miami-Dade County). Many homes were blown completely off their concrete foundations. In total, Hurricane Andrew destroyed more than 63,500 houses, damaged more than 124,000 others, caused $27.3 billion in damage, and left 65 people dead. The immense damage in Florida prompted Governor Lawton Chiles to establish the Florida Building Codes Study Commission in 1996. This commission's purpose was to assess the building codes at the time, as well as develop improvements and reform to the system. In 1998, the Florida Building Code was established and went into effect by 2002. It phased out local laws and regulations and replaced them with universal statewide building codes. The hurricane also transformed the demographics of Miami-Dade County as many, mostly White families, moved northward to Broward and Palm Beach counties. Many of these families used the insurance money they received to relocate.
Last Naval Battle of the American Revolutionary War
On March 10, 1783, the last naval battle of the American Revolutionary War took place off the coast of Cape Canaveral. The battle began when three British ships sighted two Continental Navy ships, the Alliance commanded by Captain John Barry and the Duc De Lauzun commanded by Captain John Green sailing northward along the coast of Florida. The HMS Sybil, a 28-gun frigate commanded by Captain James Vauchon pursued the Alliance, a 36-gun frigate, and the Duc De Lauzun, a 20-gun ship, which were loaded with 72,000 Spanish silver dollars they were bringing from Havana, Cuba to Philadelphia to support the Continental Army. As the HMS Sybil closed on the slower 20-gun Duc de Lauzun off Cape Canaveral, Captain Barry aboard the 36-gun frigate Alliance suddenly reversed course and challenged the HMS Sybil in a broadside. After less than an hour of fighting the HMS Sybil, which was outgunned, suffered damage and withdrew from the skirmish.
Martin Tabert: His Brutal Death and the end of Florida's Convict Lease System
Martin Tabert was arrested for riding a train without a ticket and was convicted to labor. His brutal death, in 1921, while under the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections in a Putnam Lumber Company camp in Dixie County ended Florida's practice of leasing County prisoners.
Mary McLeod Bethune's early 1900s Activism
(a Precursor to the Civil Rights Movement)
Mary McLeod Bethune was the only African American woman to help the U.S. delegation that created the United Nations charter. She also created the National Council of Negro Women, directed the Office of Minority Affairs in the National Youth Administration, and became a general in the Women's Army for the National Defense. In 1904, she also founded the Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls in Daytona Beach, which evolved into today's Bethune-Cookman University.
On May 17, 1980, race riots broke out in Miami over the acquittal of four Dade County Public Safety Department officers for the death of Arthur McDuffie, a Black insurance salesman and U.S. Marine. McDuffie was beaten to death by these four officers after a traffic stop. A riot broke out in the Miami neighborhoods of Overtown and Liberty City during the night of May 17 and continued until May 20, 1980. At least 18 deaths and an estimated $100 million in property damage occurred due to these riots. The Miami Riots of 1980 were the deadliest since the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.
Motel manager pours acid in the water when Integrationists swam in his pool (1964)
The St. Augustine Civil Rights Movement: On June 18, 1964, James Brock, the manager of the motel, pours muriatic acid into the pool in an effort to get a group of white and black integrationists out of the former Monson Motor Lodge's swimming pool.
Native American History of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee Basin
The region contained some of the most sophisticated indigenous cultures that ever existed north of Mexico.
Ocoee Massacre (November 2, 1920)
On November 2, 1920 (Election Day), a black man named Mose Norman attempted to vote in the presidential election in Ocoee, Florida, but white officials said he failed to pay his poll tax and disallowed him from voting. Norman was so upset at the injustice that he returned to the polling place with a shotgun in his car and several dozen friends and neighbors. Members of the Ku Klux Klan were watching over the polling place, and when they discovered a shotgun in Norman’s car, they pistol-whipped him and chased him and the others away. That night a mob of whites, many of them Ku Klux Klan members, searched for Norman and found him at the house of another black man named July Perry. The mob began shooting at Perry’s house and two white men from the mob were shot and killed in the melee. As Perry fled from the house into a nearby cane field the mob caught and shot him, then dragged him behind a car and lynched him from a tree in Orlando, FL. Other whites from the mob torched the entire Ocoee black neighborhood called the “Northern Quarters.” They burnt down 25 houses, two churches and a fraternal lodge. As black people fled the burning buildings snipers from the mob fired at them killing an undetermined number including a pregnant woman. It was also reported that the mob castrated one black man as well. All the black residents that were not killed fled to other towns, and Ocoee became a sundown town for the next several decades. The exiling of the blacks and reluctance for witnesses to tell their stories has contributed to the fact that an accurate number of blacks killed in the melee has never been established. However, estimates range from a few to more than 50. An FBI team went to Ocoee to investigate the incident, but they could not find any witnesses willing to identify the mob members or leaders. No one was ever tried for the violence, destruction of property or the murders. A local grand jury reported that the people who lynched Perry and burned down the “Northern Quarters” which exiled all of its black citizens “admirably succeeded in the execution of their obligations as loyal American citizens.” On November 3, 1920, the morning after this melee the Orlando Morning Sentinel published a news article with the headline, “Race trouble at Ocoee claims 2 white victims.” This and other stories in local Southern newspapers described the Ocoee Massacre as “A Race Riot.”
Pensacola Streetcar Strike - (1908)
In 1908, workers from Pensacola’s streetcar system went on strike over pay and company policies, including a rule which required suspended employees to report to the company’s car barn three times a day for a “roll call.” The strike sparked a month-long ordeal which rocked the city. Martial law was declared and the more than five hundred state militia troops were called in amid escalating violence between striking workers and out-of-town strikebreakers. By the time the strike ended more than a month later, several people had been shot, streetcars had been blown up, and dozens of people had been arrested.
Pensacola - the First European Settlement in the United States
In August 1559, Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna y Arellano sailed into what is now known as Pensacola Bay. The name seems to have originated from a local tribe as they called the region Panzacola, most likely meaning "long-haired people," as the indigenous inhabitants may have been known. Luis de Velasco, Spain's viceroy of Mexico, sent Luna to establish a settlement on the bay, which was observed by Spanish navigators the previous year. Luna’s fleet of 11 vessels and around 1,500 settlers, included African slaves and Mexican Indians, many of them craftsmen. On September 19, 1559, a powerful hurricane sank all but three of Luna's ships. Luna dispatched a surviving ship to Veracruz, Mexico, in hopes of enlisting rescuers. For more than a year, the settlers remained in Pensacola, but their supplies dwindled. Ships then arrived to transport the surviving settlers to Havana. By spring of 1561, only a small Spanish military outpost remained, but Spanish authorities determined that the area was too dangerous for a settlement and abandoned Pensacola in August and the few soldiers returned to Mexico. In 1698, (137 years later), the Spanish established modern Pensacola due to its strategic location as a defense against French settlements in Louisiana.
Perry Race Riot (December 14-15, 1922)
The Perry race riot was a racially-motivated hostility in Perry, Florida, that occurred between December 14th and 15th, 1922. After the murder of Ruby Hendry, a white schoolteacher, an African American named Charles Wright, a 21-year-old escaped convict, and Albert (or Arthur) Young, his alleged accomplice, were arrested and jailed for Hendry's murder. A mob of several thousand strong, made up of local and out-of-state Whites, seized the Charles White from the sheriff, and tortured him until he confessed. Wright claimed to have acted alone. He was subsequently burned at the stake and some of the witnesses reportedly collected souvenirs of the gruesome event. Following Wright's murder, two more black men were shot and hanged. Hostile whites then attacked and burned the town's black school, Masonic lodge, church, amusement hall, and several families' homes. This is a significant historical event because there was no actual proof that Wright committed the crime. No witnesses or murder weapon were ever discovered. Yet, several men were murdered and an entire town was savagely attacked by a mob.
Pork Chop Gang - "Florida's version of McCarthyism"
The Pork Chop Gang was a group of 20 Democratic Party legislators from mainly rural areas of northern Florida who worked together to dominate the Florida legislature. They were powerful from the 1930s to the 1960s, and they worked to maintain segregation and to conserve the disproportionate political power of mostly rural northern Florida as the legislative districts of the state had not been redrawn to account for the massive growth of urban areas in earlier years. For nine years, the Pork Chop Gang attempted to expose alleged communism in the NAACP, but failed. They then devoted their efforts to identifying homosexuals in Florida universities and schools. By 1963, more than 39 college professors and deans had been dismissed from their positions at the three state universities, and 71 teaching certificates were revoked. Their downfall was the Florida Constitution of 1968, which ended decades of malapportionment that favored rural north Florida over more populated central and south Florida, and eliminated mandatory school segregation. They have been called "Florida's version of McCarthyism."
Rosewood Massacre - Levy County, Florida (1923)
The Rosewood Massacre was a racially motivated massacre of Black people and destruction of the predominantly Black town of Rosewood during the first week of January 1923. This incident was categorized as a race riot by contemporary news media. At least six black people and two white people were killed, however several eyewitness accounts suggested a higher death toll of 27 to 150. Trouble began when white men from several nearby towns lynched a Black Rosewood resident because of accusations that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been assaulted by a Black drifter. A mob of several hundred whites combed the countryside hunting for Black people and burned almost every structure in Rosewood. Survivors from the town hid for several days in nearby swamps until they were evacuated by train and car to larger towns. No arrests were made for this violence.
St. Augustine - the oldest continuously occupied settlement of European origin in the continental United States
St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by the Spanish admiral, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. He erected a fort to protect his people and supplies and established a permanent colony to defend the Spanish treasure fleet and defend the Spanish crown's claimed territories in North America against rival European powers. The settlement was originally intended to be a base for further Spanish colonialization. The Spanish encountered resistance from the indigenous peoples which hampered their initial efforts.
To a Florida native, being called a “Cracker” is a compliment
The nickname Florida Cracker recalls the grit and tenacity of laboring cowboys who came generations before them. Many associate the cowboy with the Wild West, but few know that these bullwhip-toting ancestors shaped the landscape, history and economy that make Florida what it is today – and we’re proud to share the story of the term’s roots.