Southern Prohibition: Race, Reform, and Public Life in Middle Florida, 1821-1920

By Buenger, Walter L. | The Historian, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

Southern Prohibition: Race, Reform, and Public Life in Middle Florida, 1821-1920


Buenger, Walter L., The Historian


Southern Prohibition: Race, Reform, and Public Life in Middle Florida, 1821-1920. By Lee L. Willis. (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2011. Pp. xi, 209. $24.95.)

This new study provides a much-needed long view of the prohibition movement in the South. In doing so, Lee L. Willis highlights that after the 1820s prohibition was never totally absent from public life in middle Florida and that race always played a role in public policy. Willis, however, tells us relatively little about why opponents of prohibition objected to this reform and how the numbers and tenor of the antiprohibitionists changed after the 1880s.

Willis does an especially good job of rescuing from obscurity the attempts to encourage temperance in nineteenth-century Florida and the increasing division of public consumption of alcohol along class and race lines. Focusing on middle Florida allows Willis to sketch the connections between the national and the local. Typically, the impetus for prohibition came from outside the region and was closely linked to evangelical Protestantism. Proscribed by their local variant of religion and the limitations of a plantation system, however, women in middle Florida played a much less important role in promoting prohibition than elsewhere in the United States. Since the sale of alcohol to slaves was already banned in Florida, antebellum prohibitionists gained little traction with the standard argument that the lower classes needed to be protected from vice, drunkenness, and disorder. Gradually, however, drinking establishments segregated along class lines with genteel patrons congregating in hotel bars and no longer rubbing elbows with the working class in taverns.

Willis argues that after the Civil War, local conditions remained central to the success of the prohibitionists, who lost several attempts at statewide prohibition but won local option elections. …

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