- Land of Sunshine, Land of Dreams: A Social History of Modern Florida
A glum paradox is embedded in the recent history of Florida. "I spent thirty years of my life trying to get people to move down there," the former mayor of Orlando has recalled. "And then they all did." In dreams begin responsibilities, which can lead to repercussions. The glad hand that for a century Florida residents have extended to tourists and to land developers, to senescent retirees and to spring-break hedonists has been so accepted that the consequences have been appalling: environmental degradation, traffic congestion, and the sort of sprawl that implies a kind of devotion to ugliness. The much touted attractions of the state—its sublime and tranquil beauty, its glistening beaches, its wish-you-were-here weather—became all too obvious; and a stunning growth in population has facilitated not only spectacular prosperity but also resulted in the staggering problems associated with uncontrolled growth. When Carl T. Langford, the Orlando mayor who played the role of booster a little too persuasively, decided to retire, he moved to North Carolina.
To the whole cluster of crises that Mach-2 modernization produces, Florida can be considered a first responder. At the dawn of the twentieth century, perhaps no southern state was sleepier; indeed until the end of the 1960s, even the Tallahassee legislature met only every other year—for sixty days. Before World War II, when Gary R. Mormino's account begins, no state seemed less relevant to the challenges that urbanization and industrialization were posing elsewhere. In 1940 no southern state had fewer residents. Before the end of the century, Florida had become the nation's fourth most populous state, and is coming on so fast on the outside that soon even New York will be outpaced. Only one Florida county was needed to decide the 2000 election, with consequences for the planet that have yet to be calibrated. Florida's latitudes do not correspond, however, with its [End Page 104] attitudes; a smaller slice of its residents think of themselves as southern than any state that seceded from the union. Florida even became the first ex-Confederate state to harbor a majority of whites who were born outside the region.
Indeed the combustible, dynamic heterogeneity of Florida casts doubt on the meaning of regionalism—the organizing principle that has bewitched many an American historian and social scientist. Texas can at least be attached to the West. But if Florida does not belong to a region that includes, say, Alabama or Arkansas, where can this behemoth be inserted? And if Florida must therefore be subsumed into the South that was long preceded by the adjective "solid," how are essential features of Dixie's identity altered—and even rendered suspect? The jacket photo poses Mormino at a beach—a background that would have been incongruous in showcasing the books of W. J. Cash or C. Vann Woodward.
To trace the astonishing transformations of Florida since World War II requires an historian of uncommon skill; but Mormino, who is (inevitably) not a native, is up to the task. Based at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg, he brings a breathless enthusiasm to his subject, which is illumined through vivid prose and impressively diligent research. Over four dozen of the state's local newspapers have been culled, in addition to more predictable national sources. The standard scholarly journal, the Florida Historical Quarterly, apparently failed to keep up with the tempo of change in the last half century and is barely cited, however. Mormino is serious about the scope of his subtitle: this is social history from which politics has been firmly excluded (although even he cannot ignore the vehement anti-Communism of south Florida's Cubans in affecting American foreign policy in the Caribbean). The text of Land of Sunshine, State of Dreams is sprinkled with a huge array of interesting data, adroitly deployed to back up the claims of demographic and economic cataclysm. But this book...