Southern Prohibition
Race, Reform, and Public Life in Middle Florida, 1821–1920

Lee L. Willis

A case study of prohibition across a classic southern frontier


"A sophisticated and nuanced examination of an important yet understudied region of the country. Willis tells an interesting story that will contribute substantially to the growing literature on prohibition's relationship to religion, gender, and reform in southern history."
—James M. Denham, professor of history and director of the Lawton M. Chiles Jr. Center for Florida History at Florida Southern College

"Using highly unusual sources as well as very clever detective work, Lee Willis has explored the history of alcohol in Middle Florida from early white settlement in the 1820s to Prohibition in 1917. Shrewdly conceived and skillfully executed, this informative and entertaining book is finely tuned local history at its best."
—W. J. Rorabaugh, author of The Alcoholic Republic: An American Tradition

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Southern Prohibition examines political culture and reform through the evolving temperance and prohibition movements in Middle Florida. Scholars have long held that liquor reform was largely a northern and mid-Atlantic phe­nomenon before the Civil War. Lee L. Willis takes a close look at the Florida plantation belt to reveal that the campaign against alcohol had a dramatic impact on public life in this portion of the South as early as the 1840s.

Race, class, and gender mores shaped and were shaped by the temperance movement. White racial fears inspired prohibition for slaves and free blacks. Stringent licensing shut down grog shops that were the haunts of common and poor whites, which accelerated gentrification and stratified public drinking along class lines. Restricting blacks’ access to alcohol was a theme that ran through temperance and prohibition campaigns in Florida, but more affluent African Americans also supported prohibition, indicating that the issue was not driven solely by white desires for social control. Women in the plantation belt played a marginal role in comparison to other locales and were denied greater political influence as a result.

Beyond alcohol, Willis also takes a broader look at psychoactive substances to show the veritable pharmacopeia available to Floridians in the nineteenth century. Unlike the campaign against alcohol, however, the tightening regulations on narcotics and cocaine in the early twentieth century elicited little public discussion or concern—a quiet beginning to the state’s war on drugs

Page count: 224 pp.
19 b&w photos, 6 maps, 7 tables
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Lee L. Willis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. He is the coauthor of At the Water’s Edge: A Pictorial and Narrative History of Apalachicola and Franklin County.