During the 20th-century, the population of Florida grew at a dramatic rate. The decennial census of Floridians reveals that early in the century approximately two-thirds of the counted residents were born in Florida but as the 21st-century grew closer, eventually less than one-third of the residents counted each decade were born in Florida.1 Over the century Florida grew from a relatively small (population-wise) state to the third most populous state in the union.
This blog will focus on the migration of Whites, persons of African descent, and Hispanics to Florida. In ‘Project Three’ I divided the country into six geographic regions and for this project I selected two states that are representative of each region. These states were selected to illustrate the movement of people to Florida; for the most part, the two states with the largest number of migrants to Florida throughout the century. For the African descent and Hispanic graphs, the population of persons from those groups born in Florida are also included to demonstrate the relative increase of these groups and several of the states were elimniated from those charts as they did not show any significant migrations of African-Americans or Hispanics. Also, new sources of migrants were included in these charts to demonstrate the impact of migration from outside of the United States.
The common belief behind the dramatic growth of Florida’s population is the warm climate. Although, at the start of the 20th-century a majority of White migrants to Florida were from the South. Beginning after World War II, however, a dramatic shift occurred in the origins of Whites moving to Florida as more people from two regions (the Northeast and the Great Lakes Regions) – predominantly New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio – settled in Florida compared to those from the southern states. The warm climate and the dramatic shifts in migration of Whites to Florida might have been delayed or more moderate had three major wars not impacted Florida. The line-graph chart (Chart 1)2 illustrates a slight uptick in immigration to Florida immediately after each of three wars (the ‘War of 1898,’ World War I, and World War II). Each war appears to lead to a more dramatic increase in migration from the sample states. Although the census data is not conclusive regarding why Florida’s population increased after each war, the fact there was an increase after each war is obvious.
Word of the warm climate may not have been spread as rapidly across the northeast had it not been for three major wars that impacted Florida. The War of 1898 – with a major theater in the Caribbean, required two Florida ports to be used in the effort. Key West, the site of a naval station in existence from before the Civil War, played a significant role in providing a prominent link in the supply chain for American troops. However, Tampa was the primary support city for the region. Men were trained in and debarked from Tampa; including future president Theodore Roosevelt and his legendary ‘Rough Riders.’ After the war was over, Tampa’s population enjoyed a decade of greater growth due to migration from other states. During World Wars I and II, not only were Tampa and Key West utilized for the war effort, Miami and Jacksonville were brought into the effort because of the east coast location and the fact they provided excellent ports to ship supplies across the Atlantic to Europe.
The most significant increase in migration of White Americans occurred after World War II, the magnitude of growth (especially from the northern states) can be attributed to the increased availability of affordable air-conditioning (used to combat Florida’s hot and humid summers)3; and, at the same time several major businesses (e.g., Disney, IBM, American Airlines, and banking interests) moved a regional, national, or international headquarters to Florida, bringing with them thousands of employees.4 This fact seems true, especially for New York as the number of migrants to Florida increase dramatically during the second half of the 20th-century (see Charts 2A and 2B).
People of African descent were part of Florida’s population from before the acquisition of Florida by the United States in 1817. After the Civil War, African-Americans were involved in sharecropping and other agricultural related employment. As the citrus industry developed in Florida, specifically south Florida, Freedmen were attracted from other former Confederate states. At the turn of the 20th-century the railroad industry laid track across the state, linking all parts of the peninsula to the rest of the nation the ‘Florida Railroad Barons’ who financed the building of the railroads employed workers segregated by race.
Similarly, men of African descent came to Florida from the islands, mainly the Bahamas during the first three decades of the 20th-century. The main attraction for these individuals was construction jobs in building Miami – during what was called ‘the Miami Craze.’5 Through the remainder of the 20th-century, most African-Americans arrived from other southern states (Chart 2).6
Unlike Chart 1, I included a line in Chart 2A that illustrates how many Florida-born African-Americans were included in the census. It is clear that the migration of persons of African descent to Florida is not as prominent as the data illustrated in Chart 1. Chart 2B included the same data as chart 2A except without the data from Florida.
An interesting observation of the data from “America’s Great Migration Project” is that Afro-Cubans are not counted as “Black migrants.” For most years persons of African descent from Cuban are included in the ‘Hispanic’ count.7
Migration of persons of Hispanic origins did not significantly impact Florida’s population until the last four decades of the 20th-century (Chart 3).8 Major reasons for Hispanic migration include the Cuban Revolution of 1959 as it started a mass exodus of Cuban citizens to Florida. Also, the numbers of Cuban migrants increased more in 1979-80 by way of the Mariel Boatlift. During the same time, a significant number of Puerto Ricans arrived mainly for economic opportunities. Hispanic persons from other South and Central American countries came to Florida for similar reasons as mentioned: political turmoil and economic opportunity, but arrived after 1980. Only Cuba and Puerto Rico are included on the graph as there are too many other sources of Hispanic persons, inclusion of all of these points of origin would create a cluttered illustration. The bolder blue line indicating the population of Hispanic persons born in Florida is included for reference and to illustrate the enormity of Cuban migration during the time between 1960 and 1980.
“Air Conditioning.” Wikipedia. Accessed November 10, 2022.
Gregory, James. “America’s Great Migration Project.” Accessed October 19 and November 15, 2022 Depts.washington.edu/moving1/Florida/shtml
Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century Gainesville, Fl: University Press of Florida, 1997.
- depts.washington.edu/moving1/Florida/shtml [↩]
- The purpose of this chart is to demonstrate where most domestic migrants to Florida came from. The regions are coded by color – two states from each region share a similar color, the differentiation is shown through a solid line and a dashed line. [↩]
- “Air Conditioning” [↩]
- According to Wikipedia and several websites of various companies. [↩]
- Dunn, Marvin. Black Miami in the Twentieth Century Gainesville, Fl: University Press of Florida, 1997. [↩]
- Chart 2 illustrates that the main source of African-American migrants from other states were from the South. Although difficult to see, several persons of African descent arrived from the ‘Atlantic islands,’ mainly the Bahamas during the first three decades. During the second half of the 20th-century migration from the Bahamas slowed down and more migrants arrived from Jamaica and Haiti – largely due to political and economic unrest. [↩]
- Gregory, “America’s Great Migration Project. [↩]
- Chart 3 illustrates that the migration of Hispanics to Florida as being relatively low and steady from 1880 to 1960. [↩]