Meanwhile, he canonizes Sen. Claude Pepper as a true Southerner and right-thinking liberal who rose above the racism of his time, only to be defeated by a race-baiting carpetbagger from New Jersey. Allman fails to mention that Pepper joined his southern colleagues in the Senate in a filibuster that successfully blocked a bill to outlaw lynching in 1938. By some accounts, Florida led the nation in lynchings at that point.
Sometimes Allman’s assertions are simply hard to reconcile with reality, as when he described the manned space program as “failing to fulfill any scientific purpose.” Any? At all?
His description of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings just seems silly. He’s offended that Rawling’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling doesn’t include stories of black Floridians and doesn’t mention the fact that poor whites in Florida were “denied land, opportunity and education because Florida’s political and financial oligarchs grabbed everything for themselves.”
In Allman’s telling, Rawlings’ fortunes take a turn for the worse, and she has to resort to “taking in boarders.” Allman’s suggestion that Rawlings was reduced to changing sheets “with her literary endeavors failing” is itself a glossed-over account that denies reality. Rawlings’ husband was a wealthy hotelier, and though The Yearling was her most successful work, her 1942 nonfiction book Cross Creek was a Book of the Month Club selection, and she was far from destitute or forced to take in boarders.
Allman makes a powerful argument for revisiting Florida’s past, unpeeling the layers of myth wrapped up in biases and prejudice that have been written into the history books. Yet his own political prejudices tend to blur his focus.
Susannah Nesmith is a writer in Miami.