Samantha Johnson: Miami as Text 2021-2022

Photo taken by Faith Tullier //CC by 4.o

Samantha Johnson is a 19-year old junior at Florida International University. She was the youngest at her high school graduation and graduated at 16. She later graduated from Indian River State College with her Associates Degree. Samantha is currently studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to one day achieve not only a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.


Downtown as Text

“Walking on History” by Samantha Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami

Miami is rich with history. From the Tequesta who have lived here since its origin, to the railroad being built by Henry Flagler, Miami has faced many changes and diversity.

Exhibit in HistoryMiami.
Photo taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

The Tequesta people had been living in Florida for generations. It is thought that they had lived in South Florida for over 2,000 years. they were one of the first tribes to settle in South Florida and settled in the Biscayne Bay area. They lived along the Miami River, and the chief lived at the mouth of the river. They lived here from about 500 BCE through Spanish colonization until about 1763.  

Miami was founded by Julia Tuttle who lived in the area. She was a rich woman and ran orange groves on her land. In 1894-1895, there was a major freeze that killed off most of the citrus in Florida, but not in Miami. At the same time, Henry Flagler was constructing his railroad to transport citrus to the northern states. The freeze impacted his business immensely and he was later sent a few oranges from Julia Tuttle with the invitation to extend his railroad down to Miami.

Miami Circle. Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

When Henry Flagler made the deal with Julia Tuttle to come to Miami, part of the deal was to make a hotel. They decided to build the Royal Palm Hotel. They had to level the mound of an ancient burial ground for construction to begin. The clearing for the hotel began in 1896, and it opened in January of 1897. When the mound was there, it used to face the Miami Circle. The Miami Circle is a source of many archeological findings. It contains many different Tequesta artifacts including shell, stone, bone, and pottery. It is also thought to have been the place where a Tequesta hut was once standing.

Slave quarters from Fort Dallas (top), William Wagner’s house (bottom left), at Lummus Park. Photos taken and edited by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

Lummus Park is the oldest public park in Miami. It was established in 1909, and holds both the home of William Wagner, and the slave quarters from Fort Dallas. Both of these buildings had been relocated from their original locations because they were going to be demolished. Mary Brickell Park contains the mausoleum of the Brickell family, and now allows visitors to walk through the park with their dogs.

What made the most impact on me when we were walking through Downtown was the realization that we were walking on sacred and hallowed ground. I thought that Downtown Miami was mesmerizing but learning about the history behind it left me with an eerie feeling. From walking through Lummus Park, to walking through Mary Brickell Park, and just through the city itself it all felt wrong knowing what had occurred there. I was in awe of the buildings because I have never lived in such a big city, but learning about the history it felt wrong. It astounds me how there is an archeological site that is now underneath a Whole Foods.

Brickell mausoleum.
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0
Whole Foods, Downtown Miami.
Photo taken by Samantha Johnson // CC by 4.0

I am a superstitious person by nature and knowing that we had been walking through and walking by ancient burial grounds got underneath my skin. I just kept feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Burial grounds are considered sacred because that’s where people bury their family, friends, loved ones of all kinds. If someone were to go around and disturbing these places nowadays, they would be in trouble, but this did not occur back then. I will never understand how someone could trade precious history and burial sites of someone else’s people just to make a profit. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a different people used to live there and had buried their people there. It really saddens me to think about it, but I am not surprised. People will always more about making a profit for themselves than other people, and I truly believe that this is where we have failed as a people. Downtown Miami is just one sign of this, but it has happened all around the world. I just hope that future generations will learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones we did.


Author: SamanthaJ

I am a junior at Florida International University studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. I love the beach and am passionate about the environment.

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