Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Most of What You Know about Florida Is Wrong

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Most of What You Know about Florida Is Wrong

Article excerpt

The myths about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth have long been debunked, at least by historians if not in popular culture, but the story is but one tiny grain of sand on a Florida beach of the fictitious nature of the state.

So says T.D. Allman in his new book, "Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State" (Atlantic Monthly Press, $27.50), in which he posits that "the whole trajectory of Florida history is false."

Allman, a Harvard-educated Florida native who is also the author of "Miami: City of the Future," "Rogue State: America at War with the World" and "Unmanifest Destiny," devotes 528 pages to systematically ripping apart academics, politicians, developers and historians for willfully misleading not only everyone around them, but themselves as well.

And for what? The geography of Florida is perhaps the least useful chunk of land in the entire United States. Florida has no silver, no gold, no iron, thus rendering the early Europeans' forays into the state futile. With the exception of part of the state near Tallahassee, its soil won't support agriculture without high levels of chemical intervention.

Even the name is wrong: most of the flowers of "Florida" are imports; the native foliage of Florida is relentlessly green.

"Florida is the Play-Doh State," writes Allman. "Take the goo; mold it to your dream. Then watch the dream ooze back into goo. People are constantly ruining Florida; Florida is constantly ruining them back. For at least five hundred years that has been Florida's defining theme -- whoever the protagonists are, whatever their dream is, whatever flag they wave."

Allman spends much of the book addressing what he calls the overarching white supremacist history of the state's politics. Once the United States itself was well established in the south, the efforts to wrest Florida away from Spain seemed motivated by Spain's live and let live policy toward blacks, Native Americans and mixed- race people, many of whom lived in relative harmony with one another, rather than by any particular desire to have the land itself.

"I had not realized how truly vicious and comprehensive was the system of racism imposed on Florida started by Andrew Jackson and even before," said Allman in a telephone interview recently. …

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