The Defense of School History of Florida and Long’s Perception of the Floridian Identity

Letter from Ellen Call Long to Edwin Luther Green, Dec. 12 (c. 1900)

Long references and responds to the criticism of School History of Florida.

After criticizing Fairbanks, Long references the criticisms that Green’s “present volume” had received. This “volume” is likely School History of Florida as it was Green’s most recent work and his only work on Florida’s history. According to Long, some had labeled his book “an extract from Sprague and Fairbanks,” saying that Green’s book was more the work of others than the result of his own research. She then appears to identify one of the critics of the book and dismisses the claims by stating that, “W. Sheats is not a Floridian.”

William N. Sheats (1872-1922) was Florida’s first state superintendent of public instruction, who served from 1893 to 1905 and then again in 1913 to 1922. He had previously taught in Florida’s Alachua County and served as superintendent of education there as well (Cusick, “Regarding Long Letter”). Becoming a well-known Southern educator, he succeeded in making educational reforms and increased funding for schools across the state. However, his positive reforms came with the condition that education be strictly segregated. He refused to allow even white teachers to teach black students, going so far as to make it illegal in 1895 as part of a high-profile campaign against the Orange Park Normal and Industrial School, which taught both black and white students (Richardson 399). His efforts to enshrine segregation into Florida’s education system remain part of his legacy.

In the preface of School History of Florida, Green dedicates his book to Sheats as the person who suggested that he write a history of Florida to be used in schools. Sheats had an interest in a variety of textbooks being available to Florida’s schools. One of the major issues of the 1904 election of the state superintendent, among other issues like racial segregation, was Florida state senator H. H. McCreary’s proposal for textbook uniformity across the state. Sheats opposed the idea because he believed that the Florida educational system would become a monopoly for a few publishers (White 253). For this reason, it makes sense that Sheats would have encouraged a professor from Florida to write another schoolbook in the years leading up to the election to prevent a monopoly by giving schools another resource that they could use. However, Sheats appears to have been dissatisfied with the completed work to some extent, prompting Long’s refusal to acknowledge him as a Floridian.

Letter from Ellen Call Long to Edwin Luther Green, Dec. 12 (c. 1900)

Long asserts her superior knowledge of Florida and gives Green advice in the closing of her letter.

The concept of an exclusive Floridian identity is a recurring theme throughout Long’s letter. Long had been born in Tallahassee, Florida, and had lived there most of her life. She identified strongly with her state, knowing without a doubt that she was a Floridian. She goes so far as to state that, “Excepting myself, very few know anything about Florida.” In her mind, only a true Floridian could understand Florida, and the work of non-Floridians was inherently flawed. This explains her favoring Green’s recent article to the work of Fairbanks despite him being an influential and well-respected historian. She draws attention to the fact that he had moved to the state and credits the positive elements of his work to the manuscripts gathered by Thomas Buckingham Smith, who had grown up as a Floridian. While she acknowledges that Green could improve his writing in the future, she rejects the criticism of those who, in her mind, do not truly understand Florida. This was the reasoning behind the statement that, “W. Sheats is not a Floridian.”

Long concludes the letter by giving Green advice to make connections with the Jacksonville Times-Union which she thinks would benefit his writing. In the end, it is unclear whether Green ever succeeded in writing about Richard Keith Call’s life. Perhaps, he wrote an article that has been lost to time or remains buried in an archive. However, this letter remains as evidence that such an effort was at one point considered.

The Defense of School History of Florida and Long’s Perception of the Floridian Identity