HomeArts & LitFlorida’s Identity Crisis

Florida’s Identity Crisis

Author Shannon O’Neil defends her home state’s place in the Deep South. 

Ask anyone north of the Mason Dixon Line or west of the Mississippi to name a state in the Deep South and see how long it takes for them to mention Florida.

Fair warning: You should probably get a snack or something, it’s going to be a while.

Florida is not often the first place people think of when they picture the Deep South, and, frankly, we’re starting to get a little offended.

For years, outsiders have been lied to by Florida’s tourism brochures and postcards. Images of sandy white beaches, colorful South Beach architecture and that big castle with all the kiddie rides have painted a very incomplete picture of The Sunshine State.

Every piece of culture that makes the Deep South what it is — historical roots, beautiful music, unique art, passionate faith, reverent literature, gorgeous landscapes and (of course) delectable food — can be found in Florida’s blood as well.

Our history began in 1565 with the founding of St. Augustine, our nation’s oldest city (and home to the fabled Fountain of Youth), which will soon celebrate its 450th birthday. In later years, Florida played a role in the losing side of the War Between The States, seceding with the union and hosting our own Civil War battle in 1864 at Olustee.

But unlike other portions of the Southern states, areas of Florida like Fort Mose and Lincolnville gave sanctuary to freed slaves in the days before and after the war ended. So, The Sunshine State shares both the dark and light of the Deep South’s jaded past.

Still, we are (like the rest of the South) proud of our history because it makes us who we are, and because it gave us the artistic cultural expressions we love. We are avid consumers of folk music, lovers of contemporary art and followers of great Southern literature.

Florida’s natural beauty and social charms made it a respite for literary legends like Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Today it has spawned a new breed of colorful Southern writers like Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey.

(Read “The Yearling” by Rawlings for a real taste of Florida’s Southern roots, then follow it up with any novel by Carl Hiaasen to see how the state’s landscape, but not its people, have changed.)

Authors have long waxed poetic over many of the South’s dazzling vistas, which can also be found in Florida, from the hills and oaks of the panhandle to the swamps and cypress knees of Central Florida. Garden life most often associated with Dixie grows strong in our sandy soil as well. Our azaleas bloom in the spring, magnolia trees in the summer and gardenias in the fall. Canopy roads, clay hills and acres of green farmland lie in wait for long Sunday drives less than an hour from the famed white beaches (and rival the sand’s beauty to boot).

But if the history, culture, nature and steeple count of Florida don’t tie us to the Deep South, it’s definitely the food.

We fry things with reckless abandon, just like our Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana brethren. In addition to the traditional fried chicken, we crank up our deep fryers for shrimp, crab, oysters, clams and conch (pronounced “conk” — say it any other way and you’ll be branded as a Yankee). We cook up a mean chowder, grow our own unique brand of peppers (like the Datil) and wash it all down with a tall, cold glass of sweet tea.

So don’t let the sandy postcards and theme park commercials fool you — Florida belongs in the world of the Deep South, and we’re proud to be there.

Photo by Gregory Moine from Flickr Creative Commons.

Shannon O’Neil is a native of St. Augustine and author of novels highlighting some of the colorful characters and cities tucked away in The Sunshine State. Enter to win a copy of her book, “I’ll be Home for Peacemas,” in our Giveaways section today, and read her account of St. Augustine’s Nights of Lights holiday attraction here

Christmas at the Dri
Letter From Emily, V
  • Conrad Deitrick / December 14, 2012


  • Hope / December 14, 2012

    Loved this! Very, very true on every account. Having lived all along the Gulf Coast, including the Florida Panhandle, I’ve often been miffed when people omit The Sunshine State from the South.

    Great article.

  • Shannon / December 17, 2012

    Thank you Hope and Conrad! Glad I’m not the only one who appreciates Florida’s heritage and place in the Deep South. 🙂

  • ApalachJack / December 22, 2012

    I advocate drawing a line fron north of Daytona Beach across to the north part of Tampa Bay. Everything below the line becomes the 51st state, New Florida. Everything above the line is Florida.

    • J.T. / September 12, 2013

      I think you might need to travel a little more friend. Plenty of folks south of Daytona Beach are as southern as our tea is sweet.

  • John / January 16, 2013

    Thank you for this…So many people don’t even think of us Florida Crackers when The South is mentioned. Our literature is slowly fixing that, however.

    • tb813 / November 6, 2014

      IM from Tampa florida what it is is that you have the folks thats are from round florida who are born or raised hear are manly southerners florida is a home based souuthern state but then you have a majority coming from the north east calling florida home and you cant forget about the latin cultural but evn in the lating culture ALL OF FLORIDA IS SOUNTHERN its a southern tropical experience

  • Richard / January 25, 2013


    Can we include Polk County on the Florida side please?


    • Mike / December 26, 2014

      Polk is southern. You get your fair share of Yankees visiting of course. Defiantly dont leave out Occechobee. You got some real good ol boys down there. They have a serious southern draw as well.

  • Not / June 22, 2013

    I say yes as my home state was once a slave-holding state. Some early settlers in Pasco County, where I grew up, were Confederate soldiers.

  • J.T. / September 12, 2013

    Great article. I have shared the same sentiment about Florida often being mischaracterized by many who only see the tourism ads. I hail from Central Florida where the spirit of Dixie is and has been alive and well. From the hills of Clermont to the ranches and farms in Brevard county, me and my family whole heartedly identify as being from the South.

    • darkduck / June 29, 2015

      Glad you mentioned brevard! I’m from brevard and there’s four different Confederate flags in my neighborhood alone! Half the cars have Confederate bumper stickers, the average yard is at least and acre we go to a small locally owned store and live 5 minute walk from an orange grove.

  • Irv / October 31, 2013

    Hail to the foods of the South’s Florida Panhandle, my home for over three decades. Working on my first cookbook ” Panhandle to Pan” for 2015. “Our neck of the woods is where local plates are affected by nearby states and generations of its inhabitants ” I look forward to sharing my recipes and stories!

    • Mike / December 26, 2014

      I want to buy that book

  • Irv / October 31, 2013

    Spread the good word and hail to the foods of the South’s Florida Panhandle, my home for over three decades. Working on my first cookbook ” Panhandle to Pan” for 2015. “Our neck of the woods is where local plates are affected by nearby states and generations of its inhabitants ” I look forward to sharing my recipes and stories!

  • Allesia / January 31, 2014

    We are considering moving to Dade Co. from northern VA. My roots are in the Deep South. Obviously, it is the Climatic South, but every time I am down there it seems like a tropical NY in temperament. Fairfax (VA) could probably out-southern it. I don’t know.

    • J.T. / May 19, 2014

      You’re probably right. Dade County is about as Southern as Vermont. I’ll never move to South Florida.

      • Mike / December 26, 2014

        Don’t let the name “south” Florida fool you. Miami is not southern. You wanna see southern? Try chattahoochee, FL.

        • Chris / January 17, 2016

          I’m a Florida native that was born and raised in South Florida and very much consider myself to be southern.

  • maximilian.sadowski / May 17, 2014

    People often say south florida is run down by yankees, but I grew up down here my entire life and have southern ways of going about things, I love moonshine, I drink sweet tea, I southern fry turkeys on thanksgiving. I will admit I am somewhat more modernized but I’m southern, I like hip hop and rock music, I don’t wear camoflauge, I skate, but I still have southern ways and traditions in me that never dies out, people say I have hospitality, manners etc. I say yes sir no ma’am when spoken to. Now I will admit one thing south florida has a fair amount of yankees that brought all their “mess” down here, but think about this, south florida is the most tropical part of our state, to a lot of people that’s attractive, and not to mention a lot of fish to catch. There is still southern culture down here its just south florida has to share it with tourists and yankees. I’ve been to central florida and north florida and it’s way more southern than south florida, but south florida is still indeed southern just not as southern as north and central.

    • John / May 20, 2014

      You make the best out of your situation.

  • Gunner / June 13, 2014

    Florida is not southern. Nobody I’ve met from Florida is southern culturally. Buncha yankees and old people, there are remnants of southern culture but only because of the neighboring influences. Deep south is TN MS LA GA AL and that is all

    • Ronald / August 11, 2014

      Could you be any more ignorant? Glad you feel like you can speak for an entire state of people and all Florida regions.

    • Nate / August 28, 2014

      You poor soul, bless your heart. You should try telling that to someone in Grand Ridge or Live Oak.

    • Sal / April 26, 2015

      You are all right and wrong at the same time. If you’re speaking in generalities you are correct about “south Florida”. But tell that to someone in Beverly Hills, Florida.. Sanford, etc. and more central/northern Florida. Its God’s country up there so in that respect you’re wrong. But in a very broad sweeping stroke you are correct. Miami and such is a bad representation of the south but say Davie, Fl. in Broward Country is a good example of a small southern town surrounded by Yankees. SO … no winners here.. everyone’s right and wrong at the same time 🙂

  • becjac / September 6, 2014

    As the 3rd state to secede from the Union, we are very much the South. It’s tough claiming that from South Florida, but head up to the middle and north parts and there us no doubt.

    • laura / September 27, 2014

      I was born and raised in Mobile Al. I have lived here almost all my fifty six years.When in highschool I moved to Winterpark Fl. It is a beautiful place to live but while there I met maybe one native Floridian. Everybody else had moved there from elsewhere. I was called Alabama Girl because of my accent. I have visited Pensacola Fl. often while living here in Mobile and somehow it doesn’t have the same feel as Winterpark did. It has more military than here but it feels by far more Southern. The atmosphere in lower Florida seemed more tropical but that could be because of Disneyworld and all the landscaping that came along with it.There were plenty of orange groves too which don’t feel southern. There are still oak trees dripping with spanish moss closer to Pensacola and pine trees I feel that there are two Floridas…all beautiful and full of history but only the upper half feels southern.

      • darkduck / June 30, 2015

        The heartland is located entirely in the southern half and it’s as southern as it gets. You’ve probably only been to little pockets of northern influence in the southern half like Miami Orlando Sarasota Tampa and parts of the space coast. The majority is very southern. I’m from the southern half of Florida and it’s all confederate flags guns and accents here. I do live by an orange grove but that feels southern to me. Maybe its because of where I’m from. I posted another comment on this that goes into more detail. Most of the coasts are northern but once you hey away from that all southern. And not even all the coastal areas are Yankee.

  • Jay / July 4, 2016

    Lived around Tampa and Dunedin all my life. Used to be that you couldn’t enter a tourist shop in the whole state without finding a confederate shirt. Me and most of my friends drive big broken trucks with the stars and bars in the back; Hell I know we’ve got a giant rebel flag over I-75 (the “world’s biggest” http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/19407). Florida’s southern, we just also have a bunch of northerners mixed in and Disney World so no one thinks about it

  • RealFloridaCracker / July 18, 2016

    Don’t forget about okeechobee, Moore haven or the rest of the florida heartland. It’s just as southern down here as the rest of Dixie.

  • South Floridian / September 16, 2016

    Dade, Broward, and West Palm Beach counties are very much Southern as much as sweet tea is the drink of the South. Just because most northerners retire here, if you look carefully the culture is still here. You can experience the coastal southern hospitality everywhere especially towards the outshirts the cities of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Here’s my point, you can find people flying the Southern Cross and the Florida flag from their monster trucks. People smoke BBQ, hunt, go gigging from their John boat or airboat, and even make moonshine. You can experience the coastal Southernness while shrimping, crabbing, diving for lobsters or bow fishing. South Florida is southern. Yes, it is not as obvious as central or northern Florida, but the culture and hospitality is here. If you peel the “northern” layer off of South Florida, you will discover a South Florida that is coastal in its Southernness.

  • janis / September 17, 2016

    Hmmi live in Broward county.one thing I notice is why do Black people keep calling white people MISS so an so.I am not a racist or a big or it just makes me mad enough to leave and never come back.

  • Terry Turner / February 23, 2017

    I’m a south Georgian with family all through north and middle Florida, so I know full well that Florida, especially once you get ten miles away from the coast, is pretty much as Southern in culture as any other Southern state; however, I have to say we have always enjoyed the jibes we can give the state for its suffering so much from “northern aggression.” In my hometown about 30 miles above the Florida line our statue with the traditional Confederate soldier is facing south, not north as is usual, because, we used to joke when I was a child (>50 years ago), “That’s where the closest yankees are!”

  • Terry Turner / February 23, 2017

    My wife and I just moved back to hour home town in south Georgia from northern Virginia where we had lived for the last 35 years. We have been surprised at the frequency of the usage you mentioned by both blacks and whites. Miss Jane and Mr. John for Mr. and Mrs. Doe is very common and to my ear sounds very hokey; nevertheless, I realize the usage is something the people were raised with and I’m not going to change them. They mean nothing by it but a mixture of familiarity with formality. “Miss Jane” is about half-way between the fully formal Mrs. Doe and the perhaps too familiar Jane. What has seemed unusual to me is that when I was a child the Miss Jane/Mr. John thing was something used by those presumed to be social inferiors to those presumed to be social superiors. Back then a laborer might use it in reference to his or her boss, but not the other way around or between social equals. Now the usage seems to be ubiquitous. Somehow, there has been a leveling hand.

  • Christopher Brooks / June 13, 2017

    I’m not being combative but I tend to agree with people who exclude Florida from “The South”
    And before we go further I should clarify that I was born in Florida and can trace my roots back at least 4 generations here.

    People outside of Florida typically know little or nothing about it, and most Floridians have an only slightly better grasp of our history. The reason Southerners refuse to include us in ‘the South” is because they’re very aware that we are different, the same is hilariously true of Northerners. The truth is they are both right, we are neither.
    Many of us relate closely to Southerners. They tend to be a little more relaxed and aren’t in a hurry to pave everything to build more starbucks. Many Floridians came from southern states, but we’re also displaced Indians, runaway slaves, pirates, Cubans and other people who didn’t like the idea of dealing with a pushy government. Florida never asked to be a state either. Andrew Jackson just barged in and claimed it. Florida was Spanish for longer than isn’t been a part of the US, and that’s why most of you don’t know our history. The history of Florida started long before it became a state, carpet baggers showed up and those God awful theme parks were built. In terms of how the federal government has behaved towards us our closest counterpart is probably Hawaii. Natives of both states know what it’s like to have outsiders arrogantly explain our identity to us. We watch outsiders bulldoze beautiful places to build crap nobody asked for, and smugly tell us how lucky we are they did. We take in vast numbers of economic refugees from all over the country, north and south, and most of them do nothing but complain when they get here. To us Crackers, you’re all from up north. We don’t have to be included in the south, or anything else. We have our own thing going on down here. But sadly only a tiny number of outsiders will ever get it.

    • Kolya / July 28, 2017

      Best response. Period

  • Jack / September 10, 2018

    All of Florida is The South, even touristy Little Havana, South Beach & Key West. It doesn’t matter.

    Parts are culturally Southern (even in South FL, think Hendry and Glades counties). Lots don’t feel it, and have been overwhelmed with Northeastern & Latin culture. But examine the history, geography, Black culture, et cetera… and it becomes evident you are in a unique region of The South.

    The Deep South, through, starts at Northern Florida. It’s always been that way; central/south had swamps & crackers, north had belles & plantations.

  • Coolyfett / May 24, 2020

    Many southerners are trying to hold on to something they lost years ago.

  • Sir Jay LaFlare / May 24, 2020

    I’ve read all of these comments so I know what I’m about to say will hurt many feelings. Florida is not The South, It’s Florida. There are pockets of southern culture, but the very notion that Yankees, Midwesterners, Latin & Caribbean people are the “bad guys” is foolish. They make Florida Florida. You may resent the tourist, you may resent the Walt Disney company, but they are who Florida is now & it’s awesome. How is the seafood culture forgotten in this article & comments is a little funny. Many here are acting like everyone eats grits & drinks sweet tea for breakfast, lunch & dinner. The truth is Florida has been taken by the very forces you resent. It’s never been southern as a whole. States like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia & South Carolina are The South, but Florida just isn’t. You can blame Spain, World War II, Walt Disney, Cuba, Space exploration, the Beaches & and any other factor that you deem as an “outside” force. Those forces are inside forces now and are in Florida to stay. It’s a mixed bag, it’s not the South. Never really was compared to the slavery loving Cotton producing states of the real Deep South. Let it go Floridians, you are just different & that’s ok.