Race, Railroads Shape History

LAKELAND -

Despite Florida being the site of the oldest European settlement, most residents know little of the state's history or culture. WUSF is podcasting featured presentations from authors and historians in conjunction with Florida Southern College History Lecture Series. Here's some insight on how Booker T. Washington, Henry Flagler and Gov. Leroy Collins shaped the Florida of today.

It was 97 years ago, March 4th, when Booker T. Washington arrived in Tampa to speak to about 2,000 black and white residents. Dr. David Jackson, head of the Florida A&M University History Department, has written a book on Booker T. Washington's 'educational tours' through the south.

Jackson says that after Washington visited Ocala. Black businessmen opened a bank that served both black and white customers. And in Jacksonville, Washington would tell African Americans 'to buy land in Florida because it would not always be cheap.'

Developing Florida would come at a cost as railroad entrepreneur Henry Flagler would find out. Author Les Standiford chronicles the cost in money and lives it took to build Flagler's dream, a railroad that connected Florida to Key West.

Standiford, a Professor of English at Florida International University, says Flagler actually lost money on his Florida railroad that was demolished 20 years later by the Labor Day hurricane that swept through the keys with 200 mile per hour winds and a 20 foot tidal wave.

'Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins' is Martin Dyckman's biography of the man who some have called Florida's most distinguished statesman of the twentieth century.

Dyckman gives vivid accounts of Collins' constant war with the state senate over race issues, the need for reapportionment and for a new constitution. And Governor Collins vetoed several bills that would have shut down the schools if they desegregated.

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