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The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera

An Insider's History of the Florida-Alabama Coast

Harvey H. Jackson III

Publication Year: 2012

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera traces the development of the Florida-Alabama coast as a tourist destination from the late 1920s and early 1930s, when it was sparsely populated with “small fishing villages,” through to the tragic and devastating BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

Harvey H. Jackson III focuses on the stretch of coast from Mobile Bay and Gulf Shores, Alabama, east to Panama City, Florida—an area known as the “Redneck Riviera.” Jackson explores the rise of this area as a vacation destination for the lower South’s middle- and working-class families following World War II, the building boom of the 1950s and 1960s, and the emergence of the Spring Break “season.” From the late sixties through 1979, severe hurricanes destroyed many small motels, cafes, bars, and early cottages that gave the small beach towns their essential character. A second building boom ensued in the 1980s dominated by high-rise condominiums and large resort hotels. Jackson traces the tensions surrounding the gentrification of the late 1980s and 1990s and the collapse of the housing market in 2008. While his major focus is on the social, cultural, and economic development, he also documents the environmental and financial impacts of natural disasters and the politics of beach access and dune and sea turtle protection.

The Rise and Decline of the Redneck Riviera is the culmination of sixteen years of research drawn from local newspapers, interviews, documentaries, community histories, and several scholarly studies that have addressed parts of this region’s history. From his 1950s-built family vacation cottage in Seagrove Beach, Florida, and on frequent trips to the Alabama coast, Jackson witnessed the changes that have come to the area and has recorded them in a personal, in-depth look at the history and culture of the coast.

A Friends Fund Publication.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

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Introduction: Alabama Dreaming

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pp. 1-9

In September 1944, on the island of Oahu, half a world away from his south Alabama home, a lonely Corporal Jewel Rivers, “Jack” to his friends, wrote his wife and infant son of the wonders he had seen—the coast, an active volcano, and Honolulu, which he described as...

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1. The Coast Jack Rivers Knew

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pp. 10-23

The beach that Jack Rivers wanted to see again was not much by Waikiki standards. The same could be said for most of what would become the Redneck Riviera. Down on the Alabama coast there was no Royal Hawaiian, but there was the Orange Beach Hotel, which opened in...

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2. The War and after It

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pp. 24-45

As the 1940s opened, if Gulf Coast folks were troubled by the possibility that the United States might be pulled into the war in Europe, not to mention the one going on in Asia, it did not show in what they were doing, which was what they had always been doing. Over at Long Beach Resort...

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3. Bring ’em Down, Keep ’em Happy, and Keep ’em Spending

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pp. 46-64

Things were looking bright all along the northern Gulf Coast as the 1940s came to an end, and at no place did prospects seem brighter than at Fort Walton, where the local chamber of commerce predicted that the last summer of the decade would be the “biggest summer season...

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4. Times They Were A-Changing

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pp. 65-82

As the 1950s came to a close the Alabama coast and the Florida Panhandle seemed settled comfortably into a skin of tacky resorts for southerners whose income and aspirations kept creeping up on middle class. In and around these amusements was a sprinkling of small...

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5. The Redneck Riviera Rises

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pp. 83-97

It can be said, with some justification, that by the 1970s the Redneck Riviera had already risen and was pretty firmly in place. All along the coast, a less than sophisticated southerner could find just about everything he or she might want: carnivals, amusements, clubs, roadhouses...

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6. A Storm Named Frederic

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pp. 98-113

What Hurricane Eloise did to the Florida Panhandle pales in comparison to what Hurricane Frederic did to the Alabama coast. It was not that the damage was greater (along the Gulf it was about the same); it was that Frederic drew not only a historic, but also a psychological...

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7. Sorting Out after the Storm

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pp. 114-128

In Destin traditional redneckery rocked along despite a controversy created by a song sung by the Trashy White Band that used the “N word” to lament interracial love gone bad. Around the same time, a visionary with a block of undeveloped sand and scrub next door to Seagrove...

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8. Playing by Different Rules

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pp. 129-145

By the mid-1980s, most counties along the Redneck Riviera had a tourism development council working hard to attract people to their stretch of beach, and the “TDC” stenciled stamp was appearing on everything from park benches to trash cans. Council promotional efforts sent a mixed...

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9. Storms and Sand, Bobos and Snowbirds

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pp. 146-161

The Redneck Riviera has always attracted the affluent, but they were always in the minority and they usually kept discretely to themselves. In the 1980s they began to come out a bit—out of Sandestin, Pinnacle Port, Ono Island, and of course Seaside—but for the most part...

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10. Trouble in Paradise

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pp. 162-178

The Florida panhandle moved quickly to repair what Opal had done and in the spring of 1996, word went out that even though some places, such as Holiday Isle and Okaloosa Island, were still recovering, on the mainland there were rooms aplenty for those who wanted to...

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11. Taming the Redneck Riviera

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pp. 179-194

Shortly after the 1978 Howell Raines New York Times article gave the Redneck Riviera national exposure, concerns that the nickname might bring negative publicity to the region prompted a member of the Gulf Shores City Council to introduce a resolution condemning the label...

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12. Making Money “Going Wild”

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pp. 195-211

If any one thing seemed to fly in the face of TDC efforts to present “The Beach” as a family-friendly, affluent-attracting playground for the settled-yet-sophisticated, it was Spring Break. During those few weeks in March and April all the plans to create an upscale image were seemingly...

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13. Selling the Redneck Riviera

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pp. 212-228

Panama City Beach may have wanted to refine its image— “there is a difference between ‘having’ spring break and ‘being’ spring break” Mayor Sullivan pointed out—but local businesses did not want to refine away any of the $300 million that Spring Break brought in. “To walk away...

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14. “Where Nature Did Its Best”

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pp. 229-242

I’ve always found it more than a little ironic that C. H. McGee chose “where nature did its best” to entice people to come to Seagrove Beach and despoil it. But McGee was no different from the other developers who were attracted to the natural beauty of the Redneck Riviera...

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15. Stumbling into the Future

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pp. 243-260

In the summer of 2001, David L. Langford of the Associated Press traveled down to the Alabama Gulf Coast and returned to confirm the existence of what Fodor’s Gulf South guidebook called “the Barrier Island Republic.” Created by a keg-party coup in the late 1970s, “when a group of...

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16. Who Wants a Beach That Is Oily?

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pp. 261-278

So we get back to where it all began, back to the beach, to what the Miami Herald called Florida’s “signature attraction.” Even if there were no golf, no amusements, no recreational eating or shopping, no fishing, no Flora-Bamas, no Seasides or Sandestins, folks would still come to...

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17. The Last Summer

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pp. 279-296

On June 17, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Stop the Beach Renourishment, Inc. v. Florida Department of Environmental Protection et al., and the city of Destin, along with a lot of folks in the tourist industry, breathed a sigh of relief. The court held that...

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pp. 297-300

First I would like to thank Jacksonville State University and its Eminent Scholar program for the support given me over the years. President William A. Meehan, Vice President for Academic and Student Affairs Dr. Rebecca Turner, and Dean of Arts and Sciences J. Earl Wade have...

Essay on Sources

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pp. 301-327


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pp. 329-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780820343785
E-ISBN-10: 0820343781
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820334004
Print-ISBN-10: 0820334006

Page Count: 352
Illustrations: 68 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Gulf Coast (Fla.) -- History.
  • Gulf Coast (Ala.) -- History.
  • Gulf Coast (Fla.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Gulf Coast (Ala.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Tourism -- Florida -- Gulf Coast -- History.
  • Tourism -- Alabama -- Gulf Coast -- History.
  • Tourism -- Social aspects -- Florida -- Gulf Coast.
  • Tourism -- Social aspects -- Alabama -- Gulf Coast.
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