Talk focuses on civil rights struggles in Florida

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 17, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

History books discuss how residents of Florida were key players in the civil rights movement during the 1960s. The battle, however, began much earlier.

For instance, most people don't know that black residents of Jacksonville organized boycotts as early as 1901 and 1905, which forced the city to abandon efforts to segregate the street car system.

This is just an example of what an associate professor of community studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, will discuss Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Matheson Museum, 513 E. University Ave.

Paul Ortiz will talk about his most recent book titled "Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920."

Written for a general audience, "Emancipation Betrayed" focuses on the struggle by blacks for voting rights while documenting networks of secret societies, fraternal organizations, labor unions and churches that they relied on to organize and sustain themselves in Florida, which had the highest lynching rate in the nation.

Though the book focuses on happenings throughout Florida, Ortiz also addresses events that happened locally.

"It talks about events that happened in Gainesville such as the black women's voting activism during the 1920s election," he said. "Also, the local effort by women to create mutual-aid organizations."

He also addresses a lynching in Newberry in 1916, in which four men and two women, all black, were accused of stealing and then lynched.

Ortiz became interested in the subject as a graduate student at Duke University.

His research in oral history led him to Gainesville the summer after the Rosewood hearings, in which survivors were compensated for the deaths and burning of their town near Cedar Key in 1923.

"It was amazing to hear some of the stories that the survivors were telling," he said. "They were really compelling and made me realize we have to learn more about these stories."

Patricia Hillard-Nunn, board member and chair of the programs committee at the Matheson Museum, said she was so impressed with Ortiz's book that she recommended the committee invite him to discuss it.

The date of his lecture just happens to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Week.

"This book is important because it shows the very same things that were taking place in the 1960s to fight against oppression had been the reality of black people since they stepped foot on Florida soil," Hillard-Nunn said.

Along with "Emancipation Betrayed," Ortiz is co-author of "Remembering Jim Crow: African Americans Tell About Life in the Jim Crow South," which received the 2002 Lillian Smith Book Prize.

For more information about the event, call the Matheson Museum at (352) 378-2280.

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