Florida: A Newer Capitol, But Still Sugar Coats Its Past

We continue with our art tour of other state capitols to see what lessons Minnesota might learn as we reassess our own controversial capitol art.

Going alphabetically, Delaware would be next up in our review, however, there is not a lot available on line. The virtual tour of the Legislative Hall and the photo gallery of the Old State House shows art is fairly sparse.

So we move next to Florida, and we’ll start our review with the State Seal.Floridas seal The Florida Legislature adopted the following description of the Seal in 1868: “That a Seal … having in the center thereof a view of the sun’s rays over a high land in the distance, a cocoa tree, a steamboat on water, and an Indian female scattering flowers in the foreground, encircled by the words, ‘Great Seal of the State of Florida: In God We Trust’.” While the Minnesota State Seal has been criticized for showing an Indian riding off into the west, here, the seal gives the illusion that Indians were still happily welcoming Europeans with flowers when by 1868 they had been brutally driven from the land.

From what is available on line, the art and exhibits do not appear to address the difficult truths of how Native peoples were treated in Florida. (If we’ve missed something, please send the links and we will update this blog.)

For instance, let’s look at the capitol grounds and monuments. They include the Andrew Jackson Magnolia Tree and plaque and The Parkhill Monument. The magnolia tree was grown from a cutting taken from a White House tree planted by Andrew Jackson. In fact, the $20 bill includes a picture of Jackson’s magnolia tree. The Parkhill Monument, dedicated in 1861, is the oldest monument on the grounds. It honors Captain John Parkhill, “killed at the battle of Royal Palm Hammock on November 28, 1857, during the Third Seminole War.”

In the intervening years, no one has added the narrative of the Indian experience. Jackson represents a brutal legacy for Native peoples. His “Indian Removal Policy” was very destructive to indigenous peoples in the southeastern United States, as explained here by a Seminole website. As described in Wikipedia, the Third Seminole War that resulted in Parkhill’s demise was: “the result of Seminoles responding to settlers encroaching on their lands, perhaps deliberately to provoke a violent response.”

The grounds also include the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The Florida website describes it almost apologetically as “a small dignified memorial.” That’s sort of a way of saying, “yes we know it’s small … but it’s dignified!” It is small, compared to such memorials as the monument to confederate soldiers.

Florida has a relatively new capitol, finished in 1977. The capitol complex includes a 22-story tower; there’s a lot of space for artwork and historical displays. Here is a quick overview, with more links to explore more.

The Permanent Collection in the Historic Capitol: Numerous exhibits are described online, from displays on the 2000 Presidential Election to Florida’s education system and environment. We would call attention to the narrative on their exhibit on Immigration. It frames Native Americans as just the first in a string of immigrants. This seems to subtly diminish their claim as the land’s original occupants. The online narrative of the exhibit reads:

Florida has a diverse history of immigrants. Native Americans migrated here as early as twelve thousand years ago. Europeans came in the 1500s. Later, escaped slaves founded communities here. Planters from southern states crossed into Florida before statehood in 1845. Many veterans of World War II had trained in Florida and settled in the state after the war. Afterwards, prosperity and the Social Security system allowed many older Americans to retire to Florida’s warmer climate. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Freedom Tower in Miami served as the leading gateway for 400,000 Cuban refugees.

Other exhibits include the following:

  • Florida before 1885: “Florida has had many forms of government each reflecting the people who lived here. Learn how Florida was governed by the Native Americans, as a Spanish and British colony, a United States territory and then as the 27th state of the Union. Artifacts representing Florida’s historical periods include prehistoric arrowheads, Native American pottery and an authentic carpet bag.”
  • Civil Rights: “Florida was the setting of important civil rights legal actions. National leaders, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr., both played a role in Florida’s struggle. Photographs from the 1950s and 1960s show civil rights demonstrators demanding an end to laws that provided for different treatment for minorities, especially African Americans.”

The capitol complex has several galleries for temporary exhibits. The Division of Cultural Affairs provides a list of current exhibits.

This Day In History, June 17: The Menominee Termination Act

From the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, the federal government pursued a policy to terminate tribes and force Native peoples to live as “Americans.” On June 17, 1954, the federal government passed the Menominee Termination Act, making it one of the first tribes proposed for termination. The Wikipedia entry on Indian Termination Policy provides the following account:

After they were terminated, the commonly held land and money were transferred to the corporation Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI), and the geographical area of the reservation was admitted to the state as a new county. Menominee County soon became the poorest county in the state. MEI funds were rapidly depleted. Concern about corruption within MEI, including its selling of former tribal land, led community members such as Ada Deer and James White to form a group called the Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Stockholders (DRUMS) in 1970.

They fought to regain control of MEI and, by the end of 1972, they controlled the corporation. The activists worked to restore Menominee tribal government and regain sovereignty. Their success was reflected in the Menominee Restoration Act, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973. With the help of the Menominee Restoration Committee (MCR), the reservation was reformed in 1975, a tribal constitution was signed in 1976, and the new tribal government took over in 1979.

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