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  • Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920
  • Gilles Vandal
Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920. By Paul Ortiz ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. xxviii plus 382 pp.).

Between 1876 and 1920, white Floridians resorted to every means imaginable, including law, fraud, and terror, in order to keep Afro-Americans disinfranchised. The 1920 election held the key to the fate of legal segregation in America and as early as January 1919, Afro-Americans in Florida planned a voter registration drive. The registration movement pursued goals that went far further than simply seeking the right to vote. It addressed the gravest problems that the Afro-American community in Florida faced under white domination: lynching, economic oppression, disfranchisement, and loss of dignity. In the process of this particular registration drive, leaders of the Afro-Americans showed great courage in joining the struggle and recruiting thousands of new voters.

This study deals primarily with people who resisted oppresion and created new social movements. Professor Ortiz examines the personal accomplishment of individual people in the face of violence, discrimination and economic misery. Covering sixty years of combat, this work demonstrates how the Afro-American resistance against segregation in Florida was continuous over time, although its effectiveness could vary from region to region. In the process Florida's Afro-Americans developed a culture of social mobilization in a state where it was impossible to exercice full citizenship. Professor Ortiz convincly demonstrates how the various generations of leaders of the registration movement did not need to create new structures to mobilize Afro-Americans in their registration drives as they simply resorted to preexisting institutions. Throughout his prologue, nine chapters and conclusion, Professor Ortiz tries very hard and in my view very successfully, neither to romantize nor to downplay the fight for democracy as he convincingly describes how the Afro-American community succeeded in 1919-1920 in creating a state-wide movement in Florida that had a decisive impact on race relationships throughout America.

This is quite a good book, highly readable, lucidly written and amply endowed with imaginative insight. Ortiz writes well, in a lively style showing a keen eye for nuance. As a result the treatment is very instructive and quite fascinating. The author not only provides cogent treatment of complicated topics, but delivers a well-organized study that rests on thorough research, careful argumentation, and balanced use of reference. His extensive use of archival records, manuscripts, oral histories and personal interviews makes this work important for any scholar interested in Afro-American history. Ortiz's conclusions, which emphasize Afro-American detetermination to achieve equality, are based on thorough research and careful argumentation.

In the light of the earlier published litterature on the Afro-American struggle, the findings of the author are not surprising. Still, Professor Ortiz provides us with a very useful study of the Afro-American movement between Civil War and the early 1920s. As such, his work stands as a solid addition to the mushrooming body of publications on civil rights and clearly demonstrates how the rise of Black political awareness foreshadowed the civil rights movement that changed the Afro-American political map after the second World War. As a [End Page 541] result, this monograph will long be accepted as the definitive study of the Afro-American fight for equality between 1860 and 1920 in Florida and will be of much value for readers concerned with Civil Rights history in general.

Gilles Vandal
University of Sherbrooke


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