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Economic and Political Change

The Florida Economy
Political Change
Violence Erupts
Working for Change
Strengthening Voting Rights
Challenging Segregation
Political Change in Modern Florida
Political Leaders in Modern Florida


The Florida Economy
After years of planning and building, Walt Disney's dream came true. Today Disney World in Orlando is the most popular tourist destination in the world. Florida's many attractions bolster the economy. The beaches, parks, and theme parks draw millions of visitors from across the United States and around the world. Tourism is Florida's largest industry. It represents about one-fifth of Florida's total economy. In 2002, tourism generated nearly $50 billion in taxable sales. Tourism provided nearly $3 billion in state sales tax revenues, or total income.

Next to tourism, agriculture is the biggest part of the economy. Florida is the nation's top producer of citrus, sugarcane, tomatoes, and strawberries. Florida is also a leading producer of eggs, beef cattle, and potatoes.

While Florida's economy still relies strongly on tourism and farming, Florida's job growth has developed with light industry and the service industry. The state has been expanding its manufacturing because of its good climate, improved air transportation, and deep water port system. Florida's booming population also provides many workers.

Port of Pensacola


Florida's economy has become more diverse in the last 50 years. Electronics, construction, and banking are important industries. Florida is home to major international airports and plays an important role in global trade. Among the largest corporations with headquarters in Florida are Office Depot at Delray Beach and Winn-Dixie Stores at Jacksonville.


Florida and Global Trade Map

Political Change
Today, laws at the federal, state, and local level protect the people of Florida against unlawful discrimination. Discrimination is unfair treatment because of a person's race, religion, ethnic background, age, or place of birth. All people have the right to expect fair treatment in employment and housing opportunities. They also have the right to expect fair treatment in the state's hotels, restaurants, and other areas of entertainment.

Violence Erupts
This was not always the case, however. Many citizens were denied their rights. Sometimes, racial violence erupted. One such incident occurred in the town of Ocoee near Orlando. In November 1920, two whites and at least five African Americans were killed in a dispute over voting rights. Twenty-five houses and two churches were destroyed. Most African Americans left the town. By 1925, all the African Americans had moved away from Ocoee. In January 1923 mobs destroyed the homes of African Americans in Rosewood, 3 located in Levy County. Seventy years later, the Florida legislature agreed to compensate survivors of the Rosewood tragedy.

Working for Change
Many Floridians worked to make sure that their fellow citizens would be able to live their lives without fear or discrimination. Mary McLeod Bethune worked for the right to education and freedom from discrimination for African Americans. Bethune founded a school in Florida for the children of African American railroad workers. Gradually, she raised enough money to found the Daytona Educational and Training School. This school later became Bethune-Cookman College. She served as an adviser on African American affairs to four presidents. In 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt named her director of the Division of Negro Affairs. Bethune was the first African American woman to serve as head of a federal agency.

Strengthening Voting Rights
In 1934, an African American school teacher named Harry Moore started the Brevard County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Moore soon built the NAACP chapter into a strong organization. Moore supported equal pay for African American teachers, helped organize African American voters, and fought against discrimination. When Moore first began his efforts for voter registration in 1934, only 5 percent of Florida's African Americans who were eligible to vote were registered. Sixteen years later, the percentage had risen to 31 percent—a higher percentage than in any other Southern state. Moore's efforts to raise the status of African Americans angered many whites who felt threatened by the prospect of equality of the races. Moore and his wife, Harriette, were killed when a bomb was exploded in their Mims, Florida home on Christmas Eve in 1951.

Florida women won the right to vote in 1920 after the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became law. Mary Mann Jennings was one of the strongest supporters for woman suffrage. She also campaigned for better treatment of prisoners, highway beautification, and Seminole Indian reservations. In 1928, Floridians elected Ruth Bryan Owen to Congress. She was the first Democratic woman elected to Congress from Florida. She sponsored bills to develop Florida's rivers and harbors, including Port Everglades, which today is among the nation's top seaports.

Doing away with the poll tax in 1937 allowed poor Floridians to have a greater voice in government. In 1944 the Supreme Court outlawed the all-white primary elections that had limited African American voting in many states.


Challenging Segregation
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, some Floridians pushed to challenge segregation. In Tallahassee two Florida A&M students were arrested for sitting in a whites-only section of a city bus. A six-month bus boycott led to the desegregation of the city's public transportation.

Robert Hayling, an African American dentist, organized campaigns against segregated public facilities in St. Augustine. Hayling was singled out and beaten by Ku Klux Klan members for his activities, but refused to stop organizing campaigns. He persuaded Martin Luther King, Jr., to take part in the protests against segregated beaches, swimming pools, and motels. The publicity surrounding the protests pushed Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act gave the federal government broad power to prevent racial discrimination in a number of areas.


Political Change in Modern Florida
The foundation of state and local government in the state is set forth in the Florida Constitution. The current constitution was ratified in 1968. Like the U.S. Constitution, the Florida Constitution provides for three branches of government—executive, legislative, and judicial. The 1968 constitution includes 23 sections on the rights of citizens and the limits of government power. Once every 20 years a committee reviews Florida's Constitution and proposes changes for the voters to consider. The committee completed its last review in 1997–1998.

Political Leaders in Modern Florida
From the period of Reconstruction until well into the 1900s, the Democratic Party was the strongest party in Florida politics. Florida's first Republican governor since the Civil War, Claude Kirk, was elected in 1967. Jeb Bush was elected the state's 43rd governor in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. He is the first Republican to be re-elected governor in Florida's history.

Other individuals have made important contributions in government. In the 1970s, Governor Reubin Askew of Pensacola opposed segregation and supported busing students to schools outside of their district to end racial segregation. Askew was praised for his courageous stand, even by those who disagreed. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona wrote to Askew, saying

"I do not agree with your feelings about busing, but I must tell you I have great admiration for you, not only for the courage it takes to maintain your position, but for the forthright, understandable way in which you discussed it."

Askew was also instrumental in placing the "Sunshine Amendment" on the ballot. This amendment established Florida's commitment to open government.

Claude Pepper served Florida in a long and distinguished career in both the state and national governments. Pepper became an important spokesperson for the elderly and worked to protect Social Security.

During his two terms as governor, Bob Graham worked to preserve Florida's rivers and beaches. He endorsed laws protecting wetlands and managing growth. As a United States senator since 1987, Graham has continued working for the concerns of Floridians.

 


McGraw-Hill/Glencoe
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