Floridians accepted the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the beginnings of the Depression with a little more understanding than most of the nation. After all, Florida had suffered its own economic collapse in 1926 and while Floridians were gradually rebuilding their shattered economy during the John W. Martin administration, they recognized the same foolish speculative factors that ruined the Florida Land Boom was an established part of business America.

Tampa lawyer Doyle E. Carlton was given the dubious task of fighting the Depression in Florida while still continuing efforts to restart the tourist economy. The industrious road building programs and irrigation projects of the Martin period seemed in vain as people in the North and Midwest canceled their Florida vacations. Many of Florida's bailout taxes, such as a huge seven cent tax on gasoline, hurt Florida in competing for the dollars of automobile travelers.

As unemployment rates rose and tourism decline from three to one million visitors per year, Florida's leaders searched desperately for solutions. There were no easy answers for the business solutions of the 1920's fell on deaf ears.
In the gubernatorial election of 1932 voters showed there was change in the environment as they rejected former governors Martin and Cary A. Hardee, and selected relative unknown David Sholtz of Daytona Beach. Sholtz emphasized a return to Florida's basic industries to pull the state out of its economic doldrums. Money was scarce and the tourist route was a poor solution. On the other hand Florida citrus and agriculture showed good yields despite low farm prices. Phosphate and cattle could not be hurt by a lack of visitors like banking and real estate.


Floridians had backed Republican Herbert Hoover in 1928 when his views on continued growth seemed more in tune to the state rather than liberal, Catholic Al Smith, but in 1932, Florida joined the rest of the South in supporting Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democrats. While business and conservatives feared Roosevelt's reform plans, most Floridians wanted reform and change. Florida banks were closing. Florida stock was declining in value.

The New Deal programs forever changed the outlook many Floridians had toward the role of the Federal Government in their lives. While rural Florida needed farm supports and urban Florida needed jobs, there was still great reluctance for the Federal Government to take over Florida institutions. Local Democratic leaders sought ways to reap the benefits of Federal funding without the stigma of Federal bureaucracy. The Roosevelt administration was cleverly political enough to accommodate Southern politicians to appease conservative constituencies.

Roosevelt could offset Southern opposition by placing Southern leaders on key Congressional committees and supporting local laws. It was not until Roosevelt began proposing minimum wage laws and better working conditions that Florida leaders expressed open opposition to New Deal plans.


The New Deal had its biggest impact in states where high unemployment, low wages, and poor working conditions were a fact of life. All three of those elements were found in many areas of Florida. TheAgricultural Adjustment Act provided a much needed subsidy to many Panhandle farmers. The National Recovery Act bolstered wages and protected the status of Florida's weak labor unions.

There were plenty of road construction projects left over from the Land Bust for the Public Works Administration, the largest being the development of a monstrous dirt dike around Lake Okeechobee to prevent a future tidal wave in hurricanes and to control water flow. The enormity of this project can only be realized when one notes that the second largest lake found in just one state in this country can not be seen by the highway due to this huge project.

Southern relief efforts were quite low. Relief payments in rural Florida were often less than seven dollars per month per family. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration pressured state officials to increase payments. Florida's business community did not support the New Deal's strong support for organized labor and minorities.

Roosevelt's efforts to pack the Supreme Court to pass some of his programs did not gain the approval of Florida voters. The Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act in 1937 failed to provide the loan needs of Florida's tenant farmers. The Jeffersonian ideals of small farm ownership was a major obstacle in convincing farmers to seek Federal help.

Florida was the last Southern state to enact unemployment insurance measures in conformity with theSocial Security Act. Florida was already known as a retirement state, but Florida's retiree population, while supportive of most of the New Deal, was not well organized. Other Floridians feared the retirement requirements would later burden the Sunshine State with a huge retired population that would discourage growth.


The question of civil liberties and liberal programs, coupled with the serious economic problems in the 1930's, made Florida politics turbulent and quite often violent. Socialist and other left-wing organizations emerged in Florida's large cities and many rural areas to question the tenant system, the fee system for paying police and judges, and the less than friendly poll tax. The efforts of the NAACP and the newly formed National Negro Congress to register black voters and to end racial barriers were heavily resisted despite pressure from Washington.

The 1930's marked a slow but important turning point for African-Americans in Florida. The majority of black Floridians were still engaged in agriculture, mostly as farm laborers, but more and more rural Floridians of all races were moving to the urban areas. A majority of black women worked as household or domestic servants. Yet, there was hope that more jobs in construction and manufacturing would open up. African-Americans increased in number in such traditional city jobs like longshoremen, stevedores, forestry, railroad transportation, and craftsmen.

The black middle class was strongest in larger cities where the community was large enough to support restaurants, rooming houses, newspapers, funeral homes, and shops. The shortest of white collar professionals in law, medicine, science, and engineering meant a lack of investment money for black business projects.

Florida A&M, started in October of 1887, was the only black public university. The other colleges like Bethune-Cookman were private. There was Edward Waters College (1883), operated by the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Florida Memorial (1879), run by the Southern Black Baptists.

While education ranked only behind the church as the pillar of most black communities, black teachers were paid in 1930 about 40% less than their white counterparts. Black teachers also faced larger teacher loads, lack of educational equipment, and overcrowded buildings.

Despite the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in many parts of Florida, African-Americans openly recruited Federal help in their economic and politics needs. Roosevelt's chief educational advisor Mary McLeod Bethune worked to improve Florida's backward public schools. She had gained national attention in 1923 when she merged her all-female Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School with the all-male Cookman Institute of Jacksonville. Despite great odds, she developed a strong college. She emerged as Florida's greatest promoter of minority higher education.

Left wing groups found Florida more than unsympathetic. Three socialists who set up a chapter of the labor backed Modern Democratic Party were attacked, flogged, and tar and feathered in Tampa. Communist Presidential candidate Earl Browder was padlocked out of meeting halls in Tampa and St. Petersburg. Opposition to labor union activism curtailed the efforts of the CIO to organize Florida factory workers.

The gradual acceptance of labor unions in Florida improved as the Roosevelt administration encouraged union participation in Federal projects and other economic issues replaced the issue of unionism. The Democratic Party gained the black and labor vote in Florida during the Depression.


Although most Americans were supporters of continued isolationism in world affairs and avoidance with the failing League of Nations, many Floridians had an internationalist attitude to world issues. Florida engaged in trade in phosphate and agricultural products with Europe. The state's close location to the Caribbean and many investments, particularly in Cuba and Puerto Rico, made foreign issues important Florida had been early supporters of American participation in World War I.

As the political and diplomatic situation deteriorated with the emergence of militaristic dictatorships in Italy, Germany, and Japan, Florida's political leaders were openly critical of the failure to curtail world aggression. Florida backed Roosevelt's Lend Lease plan when most of West and Midwest opposed it.


The airplane played a major role in Florida's status in World War II. Florida's flat terrain, abundance of water, and sunshine made Florida a logical place to fly test planes. Even Orville and Wilbur Wright flew planes in Florida between fishing trips to their vacation retreat at Aripeka, Florida. Pensacola Bay and the St. Johns River were early test sites for naval aviation.

Tony Jannus set up the first commercial airplane service between Tampa and St. Petersburg in 1914. St. Petersburg Mayor A. C. Pheil was the first commercial passenger. During World War I, the old Pensacola Naval Yard, with its landlocked harbor, was the first combat training field. Within one year, Florida trained pilots were flying over Mexico in a futile search for Pancho Villa. By 1920Aeromarine Airways built the first international airline, by flying between Key West and Havana. Although military bases closed in 1920, rumrunners filled the skies in the 1920's.

Later Pan-American and Eastern Airlines started successful international airlines using Florida as their first base. Aviation remained a successful industry in Florida despite the decline of tourism. In 1937 Amelia Earhart began her round-the-world flight into oblivion from Miami

With the start of World War II, Florida emerged as a key training center. The Army Air Corps utilized 70,000 hotel rooms in Florida with Miami Beach turning into a ninety day work station. The Army Air Corps utilized Drew and MacDill Airfield in Tampa, Eglin at Fort Walton Beach, Dale Mabry in Tallahassee, and Orlando Field as featured bases.

The Navy increased Pensacola Naval Station and added Banana River in Eau Gallie, Cecil Field and Mayport in Jacksonville, Camp Blanding in Starke and Key West. The British Royal Air Force moved into Arcadia and the University of Miami. WACS were trained at Daytona Beach. Later German prisoners were held in Miami, Clewiston, Leesburg, and Venice. A majority of American pilots had some contact with Florida's booming war industry.



World War II ended the Depression. Unemployment was no longer a problem in Florida as the state turned to the war effort. Many of the programs greatly disliked by Florida political leaders were terminated as the problems of the Depression faded.

Liberal Senator Claude Pepper and conservative Attorney General Tom Wilson were both reelected by a Florida electoral that seemed willing to exclude political labels and decide the fate of politicians on an individual basis. As newcomers poured into Florida during the 1940's, the political record of earlier Governors like Carlton (1936), Sholtz (1938), and Cone (1940) meant little in Florida's changing political climate. Florida's politicians were again captured, like in the 1920's, with a booming population and the need to provide facilities for this growth.