Florida’s Minority Trailblazers: The Men and Women Who Changed the Face of Florida Government
by Susan A. MacManus
Reviewed by George Waas
Florida’s rich history of explosive growth following World War II is told through the lives of minority trailblazers who helped the Sunshine State rise from being one of the poorest, most isolated states, with the smallest population in the South, to the most dynamic state on the east coast and, with California, the most diverse in the nation.
In this more than 600-page tome, Dr. Susan MacManus tells the story of the critical role minorities played in forging political change — a seismic shift that moved the state from a rural, agricultural, biracial, and segregated society of the 1940s to the dynamic and diverse state it is today.
It is a story Dr. MacManus is eminently qualified to tell. She is Distinguished University Professor of Government and International Affairs at the University of South Florida and has authored and co-authored several books dealing with politics, as well as having edited two books on redistricting and reapportionment in Florida — a subject that lies at the core of minority involvement in the affairs of state government.
This trove of anecdotes and political nuggets is woven through the biographies of more than 50 Floridians — along with charts, tables, 174 photos, and several timelines placing each trailblazer’s place in Florida’s political history — each of whom overcame widespread discrimination because of their race, ethnicity, gender, and even political affiliation, and became leaders by achieving a governmental “first.”
Dr. MacManus, along with writer and editor Barbara A. Langham and a host of University of South Florida student assistants and researchers, divides the book into sections that include 25 members of the House of Representatives and one speaker of the House; 10 state senators and one president of the Senate; three in the section on governor and lt. governor; three members of the Florida Cabinet; four Florida Supreme Court justices and four chief justices; 10 members of the U.S. House of Representatives; and one U.S. senator. Some accomplished more than one political “first” and are listed under each pertinent category.
These are the risk-takers or groundbreakers; the preface to each biography denotes how he or she was the “first” — the first African-American to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives; the first Hispanic to be elected governor; the first woman to be appointed to the Florida Supreme Court; the first of Chinese ancestry to be elected to the Florida House of Representatives, etc.
The author’s purpose for this book, which is part of a series designed to put Floridians in touch with their political history, is to provide a more in-depth look at the state’s history through the stories of those minorities who by their strength of character and focused perseverance paved the way by daring to lead the way.
It is a compelling — indeed, fascinating — story that need not be read like a novel from cover to cover; rather, it can be read one section and even one biography at a time, allowing the fullness of Florida’s history to become more revealed to the reader. And with more “firsts” yet to be accomplished, this is a history that will continue to be written.
George Waas is a member of The Florida Bar.