Genesis Lee-Smith : Neighborhood 2022

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Genesis Lee-Smith is a junior at Florida International University majoring in Business with a concentration in Management Information Systems. Lee-Smith has always been into the arts and strives to combine her creative skills with her knowledge in order to inspire and help others. She is passionate about improving the lives of those around her based on her values and beliefs. Originally from Georgia, Lee-Smith decided to move out of her small hometown to the city of Miami in order to step into a world that was different from what she was used to in the suburbs of Georgia.

Chosen Neighborhood as Text

“From Party to Peace” by Genesis Lee-Smith of Florida International University on December 11, 2022.

“Dynamics”. Photos taken and edited by Genesis Lee-Smith CC// by 4.0

While being in the class, Miami in Miami, I learned a lot about the history of Miami. On our trip to Miami Beach, we learned about how Carl Fisher segregated the people at the beach by no longer making it a place for blacks to enjoy.

As more people began to move to Miami, blacks were pushed further and further away from the places they built. They did not have many places to call home.

However, blacks started to spend time in Virginia Key. A place that they could enjoy. It was not always like this though. Blacks fought to have this beach. They mostly hung out around “Bears Cut” which is a part of the beach. Not only were they allowed there, but it became known as a “color-only” area in 1945. People from Cuba and the Caribbean would tend to visit the beach because they felt welcome there. People were able to come in from other countries because the beach was only accessible by boat. With this information, blacks would sometimes arrive on boats in packs of a hundred people. They came in packs so that many people would be able to make it from their homes to the beach all together.

The blacks seemed to have made Virginia Key a place where there were no worries for them. They could simply enjoy the beach and the company of those around them without being in fear that they would be disturbed.

“Stillness in Nature”. Photos taken and edited by Genesis Lee-Smith CC// by 4.0

This beach was not only a place for relaxation and enjoyment, but blacks would also host religious services here. They felt free to express their praise to God in such a sacred place to them. They were able to give thanks to God for the area where they made many memories. This place was the hangout spot where everyone was welcome and where they could laugh and dance and create memories with their friends and families.

As I visited Virginia Key beach today, 76 years after the beach became a popular place for blacks, I noticed how different the beach was compared to the stories I had imagined about the beach in 1945. When I went, it was quiet. There were times when I was the only person at the section of the beach I was at. It was a Friday afternoon so I expected to see more faces. There were a few families that would come across every now and then, but it was not as busy as the other Miami beaches that I have visited. I imagine that the dynamic of the beach changed after it was closed down to the public in 1982 because of high maintenance costs and was not reopened until 2008.

However, the stillness and soothing sounds of the waves were peaceful because I was able to reflect. As I stood at the smooth shore and looked out into the clear water and watched all the birds fly around in the clear blue sky, I got to think about how Virginia Key Beach used to be different from what I was experiencing in my moments of visiting. I thought about how lively it was and remembered all of the pictures I would see of blacks in the 40s having cookouts and celebrating life. One picture that I saw while collecting my information was an old portrait of a black lifeguard in red shorts with a whistle dangling from his neck. I noticed that this picture was posted often around the beach. I saw it on signs and even stuck to almost every trashcan at the beach. I tried to find out the man’s name who was plastered in these pictures everywhere around the beach but I could not find his name. Even though we do not know his name, he is now the face of the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park.

“History of Virginia Key”. Photos taken and edited by Genesis Lee-Smith CC// by 4.0

Moreover, Virginia Key Beach was one of the most beautiful clear-water beaches that I had ever been to. The line of separation between the sky and the sea at this beach was so beautiful. It was an array of different shades of blue that meshed into each other perfectly. The beauty of the beach brought me peace because I knew that the blacks truly had a joyful experience at such a beautiful beach as this.

Since Virginia Key is now a historic location, there are still many pavilions and small gathering places where the blacks would meet up at. There are still many boats and docks around which made me think about how blacks would come in large groups to enjoy this beach. If the beach had not shut down maybe it would still be as popular as it used to be, however, the stillness of the beach and its historic parts allowed me to simply reminisce on the blacks enjoying their best days in the 40s at this beach.

“Beach Collage”. Photos taken and edited by Genesis Lee-Smith CC// by 4.0

Works Cited

Our History. Historic Virginia Key Beach Park, https://virginiakeybeachpark.net/our-history/.

White Sand, Black Beach: The Black History of Virginia Key . The New Tropic, https://thenewtropic.com/virginia-key-beach/.

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