PolitiFact Florida On A 'Sanctuary State', And Did Slaves Build The State Capitol?

Feb 12, 2018
Originally published on February 9, 2018 11:57 am

Do Florida politicians really want to create a "sanctuary state," as the speaker of the state House claims? And did slaves really help build the "old" state Capitol in Tallahassee? PolitiFact Florida answers these claims by politicians.

Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran has been making waves with this ad, which references a San Francisco woman who was killed by a stray bullet fired by a Mexican living in the country illegally.

"This could have happened to any family, anywhere," Corcoran says in the voice-over. "Incredibly, some Tallahassee politicians want to make Florida a sanctuary state."

What's the reality behind Corcoran's claim about Florida becoming a sanctuary state? Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:

There is no specific legal definition of sanctuary cities, but the term generally describes jurisdictions that to some extent limit their cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Typically, these cities don't honor federal requests to detain illegal immigrants in their custody who they would otherwise release. These policies are generally set at the local levels and are enacted by police department and sheriff’s offices.

Watchdog PAC’s communication director Taylor Budowich gave PolitiFact Florida a factsheet for the ad.

It included two news articles. One was about Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and the other was about Democratic lawmakers who introduced legislation in 2017 that would have protected sanctuary cities in Florida.

We’ve looked at whether Gillum wants to make Florida a sanctuary state before and we rated it Half True. We found that the claim was extrapolated from Gillum's vows to fight back against Trump's attack on sanctuary cities.

Budowich also pointed to a news article which talked about Gillum’s response to President Donald Trump’s January 2017 executive order to penalize cities that don't comply with federal immigration agents by withholding federal funds.

After the executive order was announced, Gillum took to Twitter and posted a lengthy statement to attack Trump’s decision as "inconsistent with our highest values," adding the United States can "protect national security interests and have a secure border without criminalizing people who are here undocumented."

Gillum’s campaign said as governor he would support an approach like in Tallahassee that emphasizes immigration enforcement as a federal responsibility, not a local one.

But Gillum has not offered a specific statewide policy for not cooperating with detainer requests from immigration enforcement officials, so his position is murkier than what Corcoran’s is describing.

"Mayor Gillum regularly talks about how illegal immigrants should not be ‘criminalized’ based on being in the country illegally," Budowich said. "So, call it sanctuary cities or wholesale amnesty, it's equally as wrong and defies the rule of law."

Last year, Florida Democrats sponsored legislation that emphasized immigration enforcement as a federal responsibility, not a local one, but that bill died in committees.

With everything considered, we rate this claim Half True.

In our next ruling, State  Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami, offered up this thought during a debate over whether to place a memorial honoring slaves in the state capital.

He said that in 1845, when the Old Capitol was built in Tallahassee, much of that work was done by slaves.

Here's PolitiFact Florida's ruling:


We found very little documentation about enslaved people building the Old Capitol, but history experts said it was very likely they helped build it, given the large role slaves played in Florida at the time.

McGhee’s team said the claim can be found in The Old Capitol: The Florida Center of Political History and Governance, an informational pamphlet compiled by Museum of Florida History staff to accompany the opening of a new exhibit.

The booklet said that the Old Capitol was "built in part" by enslaved people, but does not say anything else about its construction.

The history of Florida’s Capitol

Florida commissioners picked Tallahassee as the capital in 1824, between two existing governmental centers — Pensacola and St. Augustine. The building that came to be known as the "Old Capitol" was completed in 1845, just before Florida was admitted as the 27th state.

The Florida Capitol Complex we know today includes the Old Capitol, plus House and Senate office buildings, and the 22-story building sometimes called the "New Capitol."

We asked the Florida Historic Capitol Museum, the Museum of Florida History and the Florida Department of State for additional information about the pamphlet McGhee cited, but came up empty-handed.  

The Florida Historic Capitol Museum has a webpage dedicated to the Old Capitol, but it does not mention anything about slave labor. (Rachel Porter, the director of research and programming at the museum, collected the information for McGhee’s claim.)

Every expert we spoke to said that slave labor was integral to every aspect of Florida in the 19th century.

However, specific records about slaves’ contributions often went unrecorded, as slave owners rarely disclosed the extent of their labor.

"The fact that there is only a cursory mention of enslaved Africans building the Capitol is not unusual," said Larry Rivers, a distinguished history professor at Florida A&M University. "Enslaved Africans were regarded, like in other antebellum southern states, as objects to be simply worked until they died."

According to Census information from 1840, Richard A. Shine, the supervising architect and primary contractor for building the Old Capitol, was listed as a slave owner. Andrew Frank, associate history professor at Florida State University, said Shine was known to have used slaves on other projects in Tallahassee or to have hired out some of them as manual or skilled laborers.

Frank added that Shine’s son, Richard Shine Jr., later described himself as an "auctioneer" or slave trader.

"They, like most residents in what was known as Middle Florida, were deeply invested (financially and socially) in slavery," he said.

African-American slaves were part of almost every facet of Florida life in the 19th century. Historians said they did all possible work in Florida, which would have included the building McGhee referenced. 

However, we were unable to find conclusive documentation about the construction of the Capitol building. Without that certainty, we rate this claim Mostly True.

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