Race and Change: The Florida Experience

Read how Kitty Oliver, a veteran South Florida journalist, author, oral historian, jazz singer, and university professor, was inspired to collect the personal stories of Floridians from many cultures as way to bridge the racial divide, promote healing, and affirm progress.

Among her many appearances, Oliver, who wrote the book Multicolored Memories of a Black Southern Girl, was featured in the CNN News “Black in America” series and director Ron Howard’s 2016 documentary on the Beatles, “Eight Days A Week: The Touring Years.”

By Kitty Oliver

I call myself “Florida Southern,” the product of contrasting perspectives on race that have underscored my personal life and professional work.

By Deep South accounts, when I was growing up my home state was dismissed as a racially-liberal Yankee outpost because of the influx of transplants from the North, while my hometown of Jacksonville was nicknamed “south Georgia” because of the hostile racial attitudes. I left the old world of segregation for a journey across the Black/White divide as one of the first Black freshmen at the University of Florida and ended up as a writer, teacher and diversity consultant in multicultural South Florida. But race continued to plague me, like red country clay clinging to walking shoes.

At the close of one of those feel-good workshops about the value of celebrating differences, perplexed immigrants would take me aside to whisper conspiratorially that skin color really is an underlying factor in the rate of acceptance into U.S. society — as if acknowledging the discovery was a form of treason. Then, hesitantly, they would reveal the shadows of race that lurked in their home country’s history.

So, I began to ask questions, and I listened. And the Race and Change work emerged, using oral history methods to encourage people across cultures to talk about how they experience race in their everyday lives over time and using those stories to create non-confrontational dialogue on race in communities to promote healing and affirm the progress we have made.

In the past decade, the life stories and race relations experiences of over 125 native-born and immigrant Florida residents from various Black, White, Hispanic, Caribbean, and Asian cultures have been preserved in the Race and Change Oral Histories Archive for scholarly research. Books have been written and public television documentaries have been produced featuring more interviews. Through the Race and Change Initiative, the intergenerational iTunes radio podcast “Voices of Race and Change” has grown to over 50 programs produced by high school and college students, many of them first-generation Americans.

This body of work forms the foundation of my Florida Humanities Council Speakers Bureau presentations –- poignant “Florida Southern” memories as nagging and sweet as a squeaky porch swing.


Programming to celebrate Black History Month

We feature Kitty Oliver and many other speakers for Black History Month in February. For program details visit our event calendar.

CNN’s Black in America looks at Dr. Kitty Oliver’s background as an integration pioneer in 1960s and career creating healing dialogues across cultures through oral history and television work. June 18, 2008.

How a beloved author learned to love Christmas in Florida


Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings at her home in Cross Creek in the 1940s: author of The Yearling, Cross Creek, The Sojourner, and many other novels and stories.
Image courtesy of Florida State Archives. This photograph by Erich Hartmann is part of the Rawlings collection at the University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries.

“It seemed to me that my first Christmas at Cross Creek would break my heart,” wrote Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, a journalist who left Upstate New York in 1928 for the wilds of the Florida subtropics.

Rawlings, who became one of Florida’s (and the nation’s) most acclaimed writers, knew she would miss the snow and the roaring log fires of traditional Christmases up North. But as she settled into the small Cracker community of Cross Creek 15 miles south of Gainesville, she began to experience “culture shock.”

“It was unreasonable to be outraged by a temperature of 75 degrees, hot blazing sunshine and red birds singing lustily instead of Christmas carolers,” she wrote in “American Cookery” magazine in December 1942. “I had moved to the subtropics, and the lush life had become my life. Yet the bland air infuriated me.

“In pique, I built a great roaring log fire in the living room of the old Florida farmhouse—and was obliged to fling wide all doors and windows. But as I set the table on the sunny veranda for Christmas dinner, the yellow flames in the open fireplace were comforting.”

Eventually she became acclimated to her new surroundings—with the help of her new neighbors. They taught her about Florida backwoods culture, and these lessons became material for her novels, short stories, and memoirs. Her novel “The Yearling,” about a boy who adopts an orphaned fawn, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939.

In time, they also taught her how to celebrate Christmas Florida-style.

“The men, and some of the women, consider Christmas as one of the great days for hunting. That…goes back to something solid and important, when men made their living, pioneer fashion, in the woods. The relation of man to nature continues,” she wrote in the article, headlined “Christmas at Cross Creek.”

“It is the mode to cook for Christmas dinner whatever the men bring down with their guns. That, too, is stable and good…The men have brought it in and the women have cooked it, and an old, good way of life is maintained.

“The beverage is likely to be Florida ‘corn,’ or moonshine liquor, with, for the more delicate or puritanical women, home-made Scuppernong or blackberry or elderberry wine,” Rawlings wrote. “What the men hunt for Christmas dinner depends on what game frequents their locale. In the Big Scrub, in Gulf Hammock, in the Florida Everglades, it is wild turkey or deer. At Cross Creek, it is quail or dove or rabbit or wild ducks.”

The holiday celebration did not include decorating Christmas trees, she noted. Instead, her neighbors festooned their pine cabins with wild mistletoe and boughs of holly, bright with red berries. Rawlings grew to cherish these traditions and the sense of community that she felt with her new-found friends in the subtropics.

“I have come to love the lazy and casual Florida backwoods Christmas,” she wrote. “The function of all such festive days is to give us a sense of cozy hominess, of belonging to something stable and lovely. And it is all a matter of the things to which one is accustomed. Now that Cross Creek is ‘home,’ I should be as infuriated as on that first Christmas day, if snow fell, and sparrows pecked at ice. The red bird’s song is the accepted Christmas paean.”

How a worldly little lime found fame in Florida


Florida State Archives

After a winding journey some 500 years ago, a small, tart lime arrived in the Florida Keys. It had started out in southern Asia and was carried by Arabs across North Africa into Portugal and Spain. Explorers brought it to the Keys, not knowing of course that one day the sour, yellowish fruit would become a Florida culinary icon.

How that came about is a study in pioneer ingenuity –- or, as folks in the Keys might say, Conch can-do.

No one knows for sure who made the first pie with this worldly little lime, but it was after the 1850s, when Gail Borden invented sweetened, condensed, canned milk, which was sold at general stores. Before then, milk wasn’t readily available for folks who lived on the Keys, since dairy cows were about as scarce there as hens’ teeth. Hens, however, were there—and that meant Keys residents had eggs. And they had wild lime trees that sprouted in their backyards long after the Spanish explorers had sailed away.

One day, someone mixed a can of the sweet condensed milk with beaten egg yolks and spiked the concoction with tart lime juice. This creation became a custard that “cooked” from the acidity of the lime, jelling so that it didn’t need to be baked. More importantly, the confection packed a luscious sweet-sour taste that sparkled on the palate. It was an instant hit.

The custard was poured into a baked pastry crust and topped with a meringue of beaten egg whites, resulting in the first Key lime pie. Years later, people began using graham-cracker crusts and topping the pie with whipped cream—and baking the pies because of worries about salmonella in eggs.

These days, finding authentic Key lime pie can be tricky. There are imposters flavored by the bigger, greener, Persian limes that are sold in supermarkets around the country. But the widely available Persian lime just doesn’t have the same sharp tang, taste, or deep-yellow color as the Key lime.

Real Key limes are harder to find. A 1926 hurricane reportedly destroyed lime groves planted by commercial growers in the Keys. Groves are cultivated elsewhere now, although backyard trees still exist in Florida.

Still, after all its travels and travails, the Key lime is in Florida to stay. In 2006, the Legislature proclaimed that Key lime pie is Florida’s official state pie.

Florida’s Key Lime Pie recipe from 1964 postcard above

An authentic Key Lime Pie with native key limes. Note the creamy yellow inside. Key Lime Pie is world famous for a just-right tart taste.

4 Eggs
1 can Condensed Milk
1/3 Cup Key Lime Juice

Beat the yolks of 4 eggs and the white of one until thick. Add the condensed milk and beat again. Add the lime juice and beat until thick. Beat the 3 remaining egg whites until dry and fold in the mixture. Pour into a baked pie shell. Separate two eggs, beat the whites with two tablespoons of sugar until stiff and forms peaks. Spread on top of pie and bake in oven until meringue is brown.

2016fallcommunitiesFlorida Stories Walking Tours

Listen. These streets
have stories to tell.

Take a stroll through history with our free walking tours as your guide. Just download our Florida Stories walking tour app to your phone or mobile device. You’ll meet the dreamers and adventurers, citrus farmers, cattle ranchers, families, individualists, working people, industrialists – and many iconic characters who built this state, town by town.

Our latest tours – launching soon – are for Bartow, Lake Wales, Pensacola, and DeLand. Already available: tours of historic St. Augustine and Tampa’s Ybor City. Coming next spring: Key West, Fort Pierce, Tarpon Springs, Fernandina Beach, and “Guilded Age St. Augustine”.

Want a sneak peek? Listen below.

Interested in bringing Florida Stories to your community?


The Florida Humanities Council is currently looking for partner cities and groups to expand Florida Stories across the state. We are looking for communities that have a network of interested parties who could help provide content, images, and marketing plans as we expand the app. We have the platform and now we need you to bring this wonderful walking tour to your town. To get started contact Lisa Lennox at 727-873-2018 or llennox@flahum.org.

By Gary R. Mormino

This postcard reveals a bustling scene of hundreds of Ybor City cigar makers.

This postcard reveals a bustling scene of hundreds of Ybor City cigar makers. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of South Florida Library

In 1977, Ybor City was in steep decline. Few of the original inhabitants of this once-vibrant ethnic community remained. Seventh Avenue was a shadow of the thriving commercial center of years past—and ghost-like at night. But to a young historian, this weathered and wearied enclave was a dreamland.

It was different from any immigrant community I had ever seen. Or smelled. The aromas of fresh Cuban bread emerging from La Segunda Bakery mingled with those of the shredded, savory flank steak called ropa vieja (translation: “old clothes”!) served at the Alvarez Café and the “burnt” scent of dark coffee beans emanating from roasters at the La Naviera Mill. Add to that the fragrant, musty smell of tobacco leaf that wafted through the remaining cigar factories, mixed with the staccato sounds of Spanish and Italian, and you have a very special place.

Despite the obvious economic decline, many buildings lining the brick streets of this historic area just northeast of downtown Tampa remained visually stunning. I returned again and again to gasp at the monumental scale and grandeur of the immigrant ethnic society buildings so lovingly erected by the Cuban, Italian, and Spanish residents who established this community beginning in 1886. Monuments to immigrants, these structures suggested the grandeur they once evoked: three- and four-stories tall with opulent theaters and elegant dance floors, marble stairs and cast-iron balustrades.

I couldn’t wait to find out more about the people who built them and who lived in the small wooden cottages nestled throughout the neighboring streets. I wanted to know their stories. Many of the immigrants and their elderly children were still alive, I learned. In a race against time, I tracked hundreds down, traveling to their homes and tape-recording their memories. I also found some playing dominos and sipping café carajillo or caffé corretto (coffee with brandy) in the arabesque-tiled cantinas of the still-active ethnic society buildings.

In 1909, the reformer Lewis Hine brought his camera to Tampa to document child labor. His photograph of two young women working at an Ybor City factory scandalized Americans and resulted in national child labor legislation. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

In 1909, the reformer Lewis Hine brought his camera to Tampa to document child labor. His photograph of two young women working at an Ybor City factory scandalized Americans and resulted in national child labor legislation.
Courtesy of Library of Congress.

As the tapes rolled, tales of struggle and heroism poured forth and patterns and themes emerged. I met an exotic cast of characters that only a novelist could imagine—boliteros (numbers runners), los lectores (those who read books aloud to workers in the many cigar factories), and cafeteros (those who supplied workers with fortifying cups of Cuban coffee). I even met what were called stripper women, las despalilladoras, who stripped the tobacco leaves from the stems!

Some of these people stay deep in my memory—like José Vega Díaz. In 1980, my colleague and fellow historian George Pozzetta and I met this 94-year-old cigar maker who had arrived in Ybor City in 1892. He described how he and others supported revolutionary José Martí and his plea to free Cuba from Spanish rule. He recalled a fight in the 1960s when the urban-renewal wrecking ball cut a swath through his beloved Ybor City community. He and his wife Blanca resisted bureaucrats who demanded they vacate their home. Blanca pleaded, “I can’t, I can’t,” on eviction day—and was dead by sunset. He shared many other stories of his life, too, as well as his underlying philosophies. When asked about organized religion, he channeled his favorite author, saying: “You know what Victor Hugo say? In every town they have a school teacher. The school teacher is the light. But in every town there is someone who—wheeww—try to blow away the light. That is the preachers!”

When Ybor City was founded 130 years ago, its prospects seemed dismal. A company town for the cigar industry, it was a primitive outpost scoured by yellow and typhoid fevers. When I asked Paolo Longo, an immigrant from Sicily, his first memories of Ybor City in 1904, he replied, “Hhumph!! Zanzare e coccodrilli!” (mosquitoes and alligators!). Yet this community survived epidemics and wars, revolutions and labor strife.

“The cigar industry is to this city what the iron industry is to Pittsburgh,” wrote the Tampa Tribune in 1897. Millions of cigars—Tampa Nuggets, Hav-A-Tampas, Tampa Girls, and many more once-famous brands—ensured prosperity.  A Tampa-made cigar became a proper status symbol for the era’s growing middle classes.

To grade, de-stem, bunch, and fashion the tobacco leaf into puro Habana cigars, thousands of immigrants from Cuba, Spain, and Italy— “Latins” in the local vernacular—created an ethnic oasis in the Deep South, an industrial community in an agrarian state. Over 100 factories solidified Tampa’s reputation as “Cigar City.” Alas, only a handful of them still stand.

A “Reader” in cigar factory, Tampa, Fla. He reads books and newspapers at top of his voice all day long. This is all the education many of these workers receive. He is paid by them and they select what he shall read. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

The cigar factories were home to genuine celebrities and heroes, known as los lectores or “readers.” The practice of reading aloud to cigar workers began in Cuba and followed the migration routes of tabaqueros across the Straits of Florida. A distinct culture surrounded them. The fiercely independent cigar makers, not the factory owners, controlled the process. Workers hired lectores to read literature to them while they worked. Some readers sat on chairs, while others preferred elegant pulpits called tribunas. Workers secured the right to select the novels that were to be read to them. In a celebrated incident, two workers began quarreling over whether the Victor Hugo novel Ninety-three offended the sensibilities of the women workers. The argument spilled outside where a duel was held, resulting in a tragedy that the French author surely would have approved.

Tampa’s prosperity largely depended upon the skills of these 10,000 cigar makers. The immigrant laborers were anything but passive, either about their working conditions or political issues; indeed, Ybor City was a hotbed of radical ideas. Angelo Massari recounted how as a young man in Sicily, he became radicalized confronting a conservative Roman Catholic Church and a repressive state. “When in 1902 I landed in Tampa, I found myself in a world of radicals for which I was prepared,” he recalled. In Ybor City, anarchists and trade unionists, socialists and communists, battled for primacy.

Massari had left the impoverished Sicily because it was said that young men there had only three options: rebellion, stagnation, or emigration. He’d heard that in Tampa, “there is no shortage of anything.” Even coffee, someone told him, “they make in a big pot.” Massari emigrated and became a prosperous banker!

Consider the inspiring story of Jose Yglesias, arguably Tampa’s greatest native-born writer. Yglesias’s family came from Galicia, a poor region in Spain. Tales from there and Ybor City enrich his writing. His stories colorfully reflect the political passion of the cigar workers. “People date their lives from various strikes in Tampa,” he recollected. In 1902, his uncle, a reader in a cigar factory, was kidnapped by vigilantes determined to bludgeon the labor movement. When he returned, cigar makers held a one-day strike in tribute.

Latins may not have won many strikes, but they left a stirring cultural legacy. “Those cigar makers knew how to organize more than trade unions,” asserted Yglesias. Nothing speaks more eloquently of their immigrant resolve and dreams than their mutual-aid societies. Rarely in America have immigrants erected ethnic society buildings on such a scale and with such noble purposes as in Ybor City. These were monuments to immigrant dreams: El Centro Asturiano, El Centro Español, El Círculo Cubano, L’Unione Italiana, and La Uníon Marti-Maceo seemed more like cathedrals to the working classes than ethnic clubhouses.

Each of the societies erected impressive theaters, where performances in Spanish and Italian languages occurred weekly. “When great international performers like opera virtuoso Caruso came to Tampa,” remarked Yglesias, “it was cigar makers who booked them, not the Americanos.”

Thousands of Latins belonged to Ybor City’s mutual aid societies.Jorge Mascuñana Cruz proudly displayed his identification card of El Círculo Cubano (the Cuban Club). Courtesy of Special Collections, University of South Florida Library.

Thousands of Latins belonged to Ybor City’s mutual aid societies.Jorge Mascuñana Cruz proudly displayed his identification card of El Círculo Cubano (the Cuban Club). Courtesy of Special Collections, University of South Florida Library.

The societies also established modern hospitals and medical clinics to provide collective health care. The Cuban, Spanish, and Italian mutual aid societies hired physicians to work at the clubs, clinics, and hospitals.

But for all of the charm of the material culture of Ybor City—the wrought-iron balconies, the wooden cigar makers’ cottages, and the palatial theaters—it was the survivors’ stories that I treasure and remember most fondly. The story told by Manuel Alfonso illustrates the ethnic and racial fluidity within Ybor City. An Afro-Cuban, Alfonso maintained that respect, above all, mattered among neighbors. “We used to get along good,” he remembered. “When my grandmommy died in 1923,” he reminisced, “she was buried on Nocha Buena—Christmas Eve—which in Cuban homes always had a big celebration. The only black family on that block was my family, [yet] nobody on that block celebrated Noche Buena out of respect for her.”

History is never static. The original Ybor City characterized by scarcity gave way to the prosperous community of the 1920s. The Great Depression followed, walloping the cigar industries, and in a cruel symmetry, machines replaced hand rollers while radios replaced the readers’ voices.

World War II emptied Ybor City of young men, who wanted to prove to Uncle Sam that they were more American than Americanos. When G.I. José and Giuseppina came home, they wanted little to do with aging wooden casitas (small houses) or a cigar industry that had cratered. By the 1950s, African Americans constituted a majority of Ybor’s residents. Third-generation businesses closed. The Columbia Restaurant, a landmark Spanish restaurant that dates from 1905, and Ybor Square, small shops and antique dealers inside the original V.M. Ybor factory, stood as sentinels on opposite ends of the enclave.

The 1960s shook Ybor City to and from its foundations. Interstate 4 dissected the enclave and in a classic case of intended and unintended consequences, the Great Society’s efforts at social engineering failed miserably when urban renewal simply leveled hundreds of homes and businesses, leaving vacant blocks or new buildings that jarred the senses.

The late 19th century raised advertising art to new heights.Cigar labels, produced in Germany by a ophisticated process known as chromolithography, allowed consumers to choose the popular Victor Hugo brand. Consumers could also smoke cigars named after Shakespeare, Jules Verne, and Cervantes. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of South Florida Library.

The late 19th century raised advertising art to new heights.Cigar labels, produced in Germany by a ophisticated process known as chromolithography, allowed consumers to choose the popular Victor Hugo brand. Consumers could also smoke cigars named after Shakespeare, Jules Verne, and Cervantes. Courtesy of Special Collections, University of South Florida Library.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, young Tampeños found Ybor City a hothouse for artist studios and counter-culture bookstores. Guavaween, a raunchy Halloween parade down Seventh Avenue perfectly fit Ybor’s new sensibilities. The City of Tampa and developers built parking garages and a shopping complex, Centro Ybor, to boost the struggling enclave, hoping a festive marketplace would bring back crowds. Now, early in the 21st century, raucous bars, tattoo parlors, and musical venues define the newest iteration of Ybor City. The Church of Scientology moved into Ybor Square.
To be honest, I prefer the old Ybor City. I miss the elderly immigrants who quoted Victor Hugo and recounted the great strike of 1910. I miss the imperious Spanish waiters who had served patrons for decades at Spanish Park and Los Novedades, masters who effortlessly deboned a broiled pompano with only a knife and fork. Former Florida Gov. Bob Martínez once told me that his father worked as a waiter at the Columbia Restaurant and won a bet that he could take the food and drink orders for a party of 60 and never write anything down.

I mourn for an Ybor City that we lost long ago. So much of modern Florida is a recurring story of loss and lamentation: crystal springs despoiled by development, century-old orange groves replaced by condominiums, and kitschy tourist attractions taken over by mega theme parks. Florida is never static.

In 1980, Angelina Comescone, aghast at the current generation, recalled nostalgically, “In the evenings our parents would take us walking. We would sing as loud as we could, Italian, Spanish, and American songs.” She lamented, “Nobody walks anymore. Nobody sings anymore.”

And yet, as a historian, I know that every generation deserves its own music and its own Ybor City.

GARY R. MORMINO, scholar in residence at the Florida Humanities Council, co-authored The Immigrant World of Ybor City in 1987 with George Pozzetta. This article by Mormino, recipient of the 2015 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing, appears in the latest issue of FORUM magazine.

Who was Zora Neale Hurston? Get to know this singular woman, author of one of Florida’s greatest novels, Their Eyes Were Watching God; an independent spirit who didn’t let 1930s-era racial and socioeconomic obstacles stifle her creative genius; a folklorist who captured back-roads songs, stories, and otherwise-unrecorded lives in the turpentine camps and juke joints of our state.


Singing Along Back Roads: Recording Florida’s Cultural Treasures

Read about Zora in the words of the late Stetson Kennedy, who worked with Hurston on a “treasure hunt” to collect cultural information about Florida for the federal Works Progress Administration. Click here.


Re-Enacting Zora

Listen to our fascinating audio snapshot by scholar/actor Phyllis McEwen, who has brilliantly portrayed Hurston on stage since 1990.

Shove it Over

Hear Hurston herself singing a song she learned from a Florida railroad worker in 1933. The workers sang this when they were lining up the rails.

Congratulations Haiku Winners!

The public cast more than 760 ballots to select these top three winners in our Hurricane Haiku contest:

1st Place
Janie Seal

Paths and cones on maps
Pit of my stomach, churning
Please not here, or there.

2nd Place
Douglas Burkett

Forceful winds and rain
Nature’s violent tango
Tear up the dance floor

3rd Place
Jim Gustafson

If enough wind blows
It is given its own name
A breeze is nameless

Hurricane-Haiku-Winners-PageWe will send these poets Visa gift cards ($125 for first place, $75 for second, $50 for third) —- and feature them in our upcoming Florida Book Awards issue of FORUM, our statewide magazine (coming to you in September). If you don’t already receive FORUM, sign up for a complimentary one-year subscription, here.

Our great thanks go to the two runners up:

Robin Nigh
Grey sky like charcoal
Green palms are the painters brush
The storm is artful

Stacey Marquis
Spaghetti models
slice through the state, as we wait
and wait – for our fate

The competition was fierce. The five finalists were chosen from more than 350 haiku entries. Below, take a look at a larger sampling of this treasure trove of hurricane wisdom, wit, and lore. Each offers a personal insight and perspective on the unpredictable season we face together every year.

A Samplin’ of Haikus Submitted

Ragin roiling surf
Slate clouds hurl needle sharp rain
Winds howl: HURRICANE

Blown to Bits we are
Leaves in the teeth of the night
No ground below us

Perfect life Homestead
Newlywed then nearly dead
Hurricane Andrew

The strongest storms are
named for women because you
can’t survive either.

the shrill wind bellows
I will bury your condo
like Spanish treasure

Nautilus of wind,
you roar ashore and frappé
our false confidence.

First year bought flashlights
Fifth year, batteries and beer
Decades later, eh

Branches snap like bones,
Flood exhumes a shallow grave.
Fright night theatre.

Hurricane tattoo
Described the man perfectly
Calm eye. Destroyer

Waters slash, floods birth..
Rapacious winds whip to raze.
Memories scattered.

Hurricane winds lash
Action Weather alerts blast
To safety we dash

Florida summer
Days of never ending rain
Or a hurricane.

Stupid weather man,
why do you stand in the storm,
We know its raining!

They call me Tempest,
Furiously, intently,
I sweep clear my path

Hurricane winds lash
Action Weather alerts blast
To safety we dash

Deep eye of the storm
Calmly watches strong palm trees
Bow down to the wind

Category 5:
the atmosphere’s expletive.
Batten down or flee.

Wind plays warning flute
trees bend low, hope not to break,
in the dark, we wait

Breaths of running gods
Devour what my father built.
I watch. Mother turns.

She’s phenomenal!
Eerie calm, so still her eye;
sirens’ lullaby.

Hurricane Haiku VotingHurricane Haiku Ballot Box

Haiku ready? Come!
Cast your votes and have some fun
while we still have sun

It’s time to vote for your favorite Hurricane Haikus! Vote below by awarding stars to the five finalists. The three haikus with the most stars win prizes (Visa gift cards: First place $125; Second $75; Third $50) and get published in the upcoming Florida Book Awards issue of FORUM, our statewide magazine. Voting ends on July 17 at midnight EST. We’ll announce the winners in our July 21 ENews. (You’ll have an opportunity to sign up for FORUM and ENews after you click “Submit Vote” below.)

These five finalists were chosen from more than 350 entries in our Hurricane Haiku contest. We loved reading them! Each one is a nugget of personal experience and perception—witty, wise and, yes, woeful. Together, they create a sense of community about this unpredictable season we go through every year. We’ll share a wider sampling of haiku entries after the contest ends.

Write a Hurricane Haiku

It’s that hurricane time of year, Floridians—and that calls for a poem.
Express your thoughts in our Hurricane Haiku contest! The top three haikus win Visa gift cards: First place, $125; Second, $75; Third, $50. Deadline for entries is June 30 at midnight EST. Florida Humanities staff will select five finalists. Three winners will be chosen by a public vote on our website. Voting begins July 11 and ends July 17 at midnight EST. We’ll announce the winners on July 21 and publish them in the fall issue of FORUM, our statewide magazine.

Here’s how it works:

  • Write a hurricane-themed haiku in our online entry form below.
  • Your poem must follow haiku format. (First line, 5 syllables; Second line, 7 syllables; Third line, 5 syllables.)
  • Only one entry is allowed per person.
  • Only Floridians are eligible to participate.

To kick this off, we wrote some haikus to inspire you:

Wind whistling by
sideways rain slices my eye
Party time–stop by!
–By Brigitta

breeze turns to tempest
Mother Nature is angry
fear like flood rising
–By Jacqui

Lights out, matches wet,.
Roof blown off. Wind took the cat.
Gosh, I want a beer.
–by Jon

Hurricane Haiku Entry Form:

What is a Florida Cracker?

Florida folk singers will tell you all about the tough Scots-Irish pioneers who tamed the Florida frontier. They are the great grandparents of today’s Crackers. What did they eat and how did they survive here more than 200 years ago? How does their culture endure today? Enjoy the music and hear the stories below.

Florida Cracker Definition

These five-minute audio programs are part of more than 500 features about Florida in our searchable audio archive.

Cracker Music

Length: 5:56 Recorded: 7/1/2006

Songwriters talk about composing new songs honoring the heritage of Florida’s crackers.

Cracker Food

Length: 5:37 Recorded: 3/1/2006

Native Floridians look at some of the traditions and customs surrounding the food they grew up with.


FORUM Magazine Winter 2006

Cracker Country

Long before the Wild West, Florida’s rancheros, Seminoles, and Crackers were riding, roping (and sometimes rustling) our country’s first cattle on the steamy, subtropical frontier. That story, plus Patrick Smith, moonshiners, Bone Mizell, He-Coons, and lots more, in our newly digitized “Cracker Country.”

Browse digital issue