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Civil War and Reconstruction
The Travails of Reconstruction
The Story of Immokalee [Florida]

Mrs. Mary Platt was seventy-eight years old when interviewed by the WPA. In her own words, she was "not very strong on her feet" but still got around. She was a "real pioneer woman" in the words of the federal writer who interviewed her or as she expressed it herself: "A real genuine Florida cracker." How does Mrs. Platt justify her views about Reconstruction?

View the entire interview with Mrs. Platt from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.

. . . They had good hogs in those days, but when everything was demoralized during war days, and through the terrible days of reconstruction, many people were unable to feed their stock, there were no Negroes to work the farm, and "everything went to ruin."  That is why the "native stock" of cattle and pigs was so poor in Florida.

North Florida, where Mary's people had lived for generations, was a cattle and hog country. Both the planters and their slaves had all the meat they wanted, such as beef, pork, poultry and wild game. During the four years of the war, times were hard but the climax came with reconstruction when "Carpetbaggers" took control.

Mary remembers her childhood home as one of comfort and peace. Her father owned a small farm which was worked by a few slaves who were well treated. There was a plentiful food supply such as various vegetables, peaches, pears, apples, plums and grapes in season, plenty of meat, both fresh and cured, and game at all times. They used to have turkey several times during the week, besides other birds and small game. Cane and sorghum cutting and boiling of syrup were festive times for both family and slaves. Things were different when the Civil War came on which only prepared the way for the suffering that followed during reconstruction.

Asked for information on the days following the war, Mary told of how the slaves were declared free. Many went off, only to come back asking for food and clothing, or for money, of which there was none, although they understood that they no longer needed to work. This was where the northern politician came into the picture, forbidding the slave to work for his old master unless he was paid for every trifling service rendered. There was no money save Confederate script and not much of that.

Slaves were encouraged to go away from the land on which they had lived. Many went away only to become vagrants and were guilty of misdemeanors in other localities. As conditions grew more desperate, so the problem of the Negro became more serious. The carpetbagger stirred them to lawlessness, and only the appearance of the Ku Klux Klan saved the women and children of the South, including the north Florida counties and the southern counties of Georgia, where the Burrell families and their connections had their properties. . . .

Another thing of which she spoke was the absence of schools for the children. In reconstruction days, there were schools for the freedmen maintained by northern money, and pretty, young New England school marms. Children of southern families were usually taught at home or, in each community, families would arrange to have children meet at one house where the teaching was done by someone, often an old man or woman, who could at least give the children the three R's. "The reason why so many elderly Florida women have scant education" Mary said, "is due to the fact that school facilities were so meager in those terrible years."
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View the entire interview with Mrs. Platt from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.