The Beast in Florida: A History of Anti-Black Violence

The Beast in Florida: A History of Anti-Black Violence

Author: Marvin Dunn
Publisher: Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2013. 240p.
Reviewer: William D. Carrigan | May 2014

Marvin Dunn chronicles anti-black violence in Florida, a state that is perceived by the general public to have not been part of the Deep South, and to have possessed more benign race relations as a result. The truth, as has been known for quite some time by black Floridians and scholars, is quite different. Dunn’s book seeks to counter the generally overly optimistic assessment of Florida with a thorough recounting of the state’s racial violence from the end of the Civil War through the mid-20th century. The infamous Rosewood massacre of 1923 is the pivot point of the book, with the chapters before and after entitled “Pre-Rosewood Anti-Black Violence” and “Post-Rosewood Incidents.” The book contains a wealth of detailed and well-written narratives that will be appreciated by a wide range of readers.

For a general study, the research is quite impressive. The author, a retired professor of psychology, has consulted dozens and dozens of secondary sources — far more than are read by journalists and non-specialists who have written recent popular books on anti-black violence and lynching. Yet it must be pointed out that the volume’s bibliography does not include the most recent scholarly literature on anti-black violence in the South. Dunn mines many primary sources, especially newspapers and oral histories. The depth of the research, however, does not approach that of the best monographs on racial violence — and the methodology employed is not discussed explicitly. For example, the appendix of lynching victims at the conclusion of the volume does not include primary sources, and it is unclear whether it improves on Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck’s inventory published in 1990. Despite these shortcomings, this is an important contribution and a resource for scholars.

William D. Carrigan,
Professor of History,
Rowan University

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