Downtown Miami as Text
“The Wagners’ Homestead” by Aleidy Encarnacion of FIU in Downtown Miami, 31 August 2022.
We went to Downtown Miami for our first class meeting. Not being from Miami, learning about its rich history was remarkable. Even just walking around Miami’s downtown streets will give you a sense of the city’s vibrant culture. Miami’s past was all around us in the form of buildings, artwork, and historical monuments. The Wagner family homestead in Lummus Park was among the most significant sites we saw on this walk in Downtown Miami. The William Wagner Home, regarded as the oldest house in Miami, functioned as a memorial to one of South Florida’s early inhabitants.
The Wagners’ story is both a pioneering story and an inter-racial love romance set during segregation and before slaves were freed. William Wagner, a German war veteran living in South Carolina, fell in love with Eveline Aimar, a black creole woman who was fifteen years his senior and already had children. Interracial marriages were not permitted at this time, and as a result, the new family opted to relocate to Miami, Florida. Along with Eveline’s two boys, William and Eveline also had two children of their own. William and Eveline’s two boys moved to Miami first and settled down before the rest of the family did.
The Wagners were very gregarious individuals who welcomed guests into their home and were among the first to make friends with the local native Americans. The children played together while dinner was prepared to be shared by everyone at gatherings they hosted with the native Americans. The Wagners were a generous family. There are several aspects of this family that captivated me. Despite the time, they interacted with various people from their society without displaying any differences. I think they contributed to the level of diversity that exists today in Miami.
Within their community, the Wagners fostered harmony, peace, and acceptance. I believe this is the case because they desired to celebrate other people’s diversity and were unafraid to stand out from the crowd because they had also faced rejection. For those reasons, the Wagner family was well respected. However; it is still sad that the Wagners were forced to sell their home and that one of their boys was killed. I also wish that we were taught more about topics like these related to Miami’s history, in the public school system. It’s tragic how little history about Miami is known by so many Miami residents nowadays.
The story of the Wagners impacted me in many ways and allowed me to realize how far we have come from racism and colorism. Their story is an embodiment of Miami’s mixed composition today. Being of mixed heritage myself, learning about this incredible family that contributed to Miami’s evolution was eye-opening. It’s difficult to express, yet just by standing in front of this house, there was an incredible sense of peace. I felt like I belonged, and considering my time in Miami, this was one of the most enriching and satisfying experiences I have had so far. The Wagners were a remarkable family in every way.
Overtown as Text
“The Strip” by Aleidy Encarnacion of FIU in Downtown Miami, 14 September 2022.
This week, we began our walk at the Metrorail. Although I was nervous, it was exciting to learn how the Metrorail station operates in Miami. We started out in Overtown. Created as a result of the segregation of black people in Miami following the incorporation of the city. Colored Town was born in 1896. The only neighborhood in Miami, other than Coconut Grove, where black people could buy property and live. Colored Town is now known as Overtown. It received the name of Overtown because in order for you to get from Coconut Grove to get to Colored Town you had to go “over” downtown.
Despite its tragic formation, Overtown swiftly became known as a vibrant area rich in commerce, culture, and entertainment. Churches and theaters abounded in the area, all of which were a few blocks apart. Because of segregation and Jim Crow Laws, African-American performers were not allowed to spend the night in Downtown Miami or Miami Beach, but were permitted to perform there. As a result, black artists had to spend the night in Colored Town after performing in Downtown Miami or Miami Beach. These kinds of events are what turned Second Avenue in Overtown into Miami’s little broadway. The Lyric Theatre, which was built in 1913, hosted second performances by black artists who had previously performed in Downtown Miami and Miami Beach.
Overtown performances became a success and gained popularity. A full audience of not only black but also white people who chose to attend these performances over those staged in Downtown Miami and Miami Beach because they were less expensive. With performances by renowned musicians like Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and Aretha Franklin, among others, the Lyric Theatre helped unite the community. These Black Artists gave incredible performances at this theatre that brought people together from different parts of America. This speaks about the union between the black community at this time. Famous athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson and many others could have been found amongst the audience. Doesn’t this sound wonderful? I could only imagine what the ambiance and music were like at these concerts.
The Lyric Theatre was not only the home for live performances but also served as a venue for political gatherings, movies, school plays, and beauty pageants. The Lyric Theatre is now a beautiful structure with architectural significance that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The images on the building depict Miami’s black culture and tell a story, giving you a sense of what Overtown was like in the 1950s. However, I cannot picture all of this coming to an end as a result of the expressways that were built through the neighborhood’s center, forcing residents to relocate. However, it’s striking to observe how a place created by racial division produced a vibrant and rich atmosphere. The vibrant culture that exists in Overtown is beyond words. All over the city, from the buildings to the citizens, you can sense it. Overtown is full of life and history. I could only imagine how it was before. Now I understand why it is described as the “Harlem of the South”.