In 1845, Florida joined the United States as a slavery-sanctioning state. It joined the provisional Southern Confederacy government to maintain the oppressive and lucrative institution of slavery, built upon the labor of Black Americans. One farmer’s address to Florida’s territorial legislature in 1823 exemplifies this clearly:
“...our climate forms an insurmountable barrier to the cultivation of our soil by white People whose health sinks under the toils of agriculture in the Sun, for that reason we have no other alternative but either to abandon it or to employ colloured [sic] labourers which must consist of slaves, as the class of Free People of colour is not yet suficiently [sic] numerous to be hired at reduced wages or such as comport with agricultural economy.”
By this account, the sole options for Black Floridians were slavery or abysmal pay. The legacy of slavery and Florida’s economic reliance on exploited labor continues to resonate: domestic workers remain sidelined from basic workplace rights and the state’s service-driven labor force pushes for better pay. Over the years, Black Southerners were denied many opportunities to become economically mobile and build capital, long after the institution of slavery was formally abolished. Today, Florida lawmakers still enable worker exploitation, disempower unions, and undermine local wage and benefits policies. Centuries of history have shown when working people suffer, working people of color often suffer worse and for many generations. While there have been notable exceptions to Florida's anti-worker policies, the Sunshine State — like most places in the South — has a long and storied history of putting employers and their profits first and workers and their power last.
Image Source: Florida Memory
Image Description: Anita Davis, Leon County NAACP director, and others speak about the hiring of minorities during the Martinez administration, 1987