Downtown Miami as Text:
“The real voyage of discovery” by Kylee Andrade of FIU at Downtown Miami on August 31, 2022
As the French novelist, Marcel Proust, once said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. Truly, this quote embodies my experience while roaming the peculiar streets of downtown Miami. Living in Miami for the past two years and not experiencing the cultural and historic wonders that Miami has to offer left me speechless once my journey to venture into the downtown streets of Miami began on August 31st. Being able to view the city of Miami with “new eyes”, inspired me to embark on the “real voyage of discovery” as I finally learned and reflected on Miami’s hidden history. The day of exploration felt as if Miami itself had narrated its past and its future with its marveling architectural wonders and culturally rich environment. No one could have prepared me for such a historical narrative, scenery, and atmosphere. Just being surrounded by the immensity of such buildings and the authenticity of the historical locations filled my heart with not only joy but a newfound curiosity for the desire to learn more…experience… even feel the emotion that the city itself conveys. Once in the heart of the Government Center, the seat of the Miami-Dade local government, we embarked on the emotion-filled journey to learn more about Miami’s past.
In July 1896, Julia Tuttle founded one of the only cities in the U.S. to have ever been founded by a woman which was Miami. Genuinely, this fact filled me with great emotion and joy as learning that a woman had pioneered the creation of a famous city was an accomplishment I felt proud of as a woman. This historical trinket was not the only hidden gem Miami had to offer that day as walking to the Wagner Family House and learning about the inspiring history behind one of the oldest structures in Miami proved to be quite extraordinary. The house had been home to the interracial couple William Wagner, a German immigrant, and Eveline Aimar, a French-Creole immigrant. Sadly, during this time in history, racism still stained society’s perspective and treatment of colored people which explained why the children of such family had faced discrimination and prejudice for the color of their skin. However, this story is notable for the family’s close relationship with the Seminoles as they acted as the mediator between the Seminoles and the Northern settlers. I mentioned the history of the Wagner home because hearing about the curious connection between the Wagner Family and the Indians had fostered a feeling of appreciation for the Wagner Family as their friendliness and generosity not only shattered the barriers between such ethnic groups but represented a symbol of peace for the healthy co-living of both entities.
Truly, another impactful site proved to be the Fort Dallas/William English plantation slave quarters as the native construction had been utilized as the U.S. Army barracks after Fort Dallas was re-established during the Second and Third Seminole Wars. Touching the limestone walls was an experience that registered to be one of my core memories as I wasn’t just simply feeling the sturdy walls at my fingertips but rather envisioning the historical context through the eyes of the slaves that had lived… who touched those same walls before. Yet, I also found myself imagining the quality of life for not only the slaves that lived there before but for the Army soldiers that had also occupied the English plantation. I started to envision the fear… chaos… stress that could have possibly infected their minds throughout the Seminole Wars. The emotions that may be evoked through the simple observation of a new perspective and all the history behind such was truly one of the most unforgettable moments throughout the venture of the trip.
Lastly, a historic wonder that filled my mind with overwhelming frustration and genuine shock was the Major Dade Plaque located in the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. The history behind the origin of the word “Dade” in “Miami-Dade” was one of the most shocking turning points in the trip as nothing prepared me for the horrifying and morbid story behind the individual whose name was bestowed upon one of the counties in Miami. Here’s the story… During the Indian Wars, the U.S. Federal government sent reinforcements to defeat the Seminoles in 1835. The commander in charge of such troops was Major Francis Langhorne Dade who arrogantly led his troops to an ambush as he underestimated the potent force of the Seminoles which resulted in a regretful massacre. So why would we bestow Major Dade’s last name to the name of one of Miami’s counties? Why give him that honor? Why reward his blood-stained legacy? Shouldn’t we be ashamed of this history and not display it as a plaque? Now, you can see why this historical artifact, the Miami Dade Plaque, genuinely appalled me. However, I gained true appreciation learning about the disturbing history behind Miami-Dade county’s name because where there is knowledge… there is growth and learning about the past, whether it is ugly or beautiful, is always important.
Ultimately, the journey to discovering the ancient history behind the complicated yet beautiful city of Miami was one of the most educational and emotion-filled voyages of my life. Being able to touch, feel, observe, and experience Miami from a different cultural and historical perspective was truly an honor for which I’m compelled to share with others so that the beauty and history of the city may never go unnoticed.
Overtown Miami as Text:
“A stone of hope” by Kylee Andrade of FIU at Overtown Miami on September 25, 2022
Martin Luther King once said, “Out of the mountain of despair, came a stone of hope”. Truly, this quote beautifully represents the dual experience of hope and frustration that I sense throughout our journey to Miami’s “Overtown”. It was a brutal experience to learn that despite the cultural, economic, and industrial value that the black community brought to Miami, black individuals were still segregated and treated with nothing but disdain. As if it wasn’t enough for the black community to be ostracized from society, their communities were shattered with the establishment of the I-95 and I—395 expressways which ultimately displaced black community centers, businesses, and churches. Nevertheless, the black community faced this challenge with great vigor as Overtown continues to flourish as a culturally rich and thriving neighborhood filled with historic buildings and individuals with welcoming hearts. Thus, out of a mountain of pain and struggle from segregation and discrimination, came a wave of resilience and cultural pride.
Photograph taken and edited by Kylee Andrade/ CC by 4.0.
As previously mentioned, learning about the separation of black communities from the construction of I-95 and I-395 was one of the most shocking and disturbing realities I learned as I could not fathom how the city would conveniently allow the black communities to be displaced. Specifically, the establishment of such expressways not only shattered black communities but also separated them from their vital centers such as churches and schools which was now less accessible because of the protruding roads. At this point, I remember feeling extremely overwhelmed at how unjustly the black community in Miami had been treated. Truly, I always thought Miami was welcoming of diversity as I considered it to be a melting pot of all cultures and ethnicities. However, witnessing the I-95 expressway in our journey served to be a turning point for me as I slowly realized the brutal reality of Miami’s disturbing history of slavery and segregation even though the lifeline of the city was founded by black laborers and workers. As I reminisced about the struggles of the black communities living in such an era of horror and hostility, we had advanced towards the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
All photographs taken and edited by Kylee Andrade/ CC by 4.0.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the journey to Overtown was visiting Greater Bethel Church which is one of the oldest black churches in Miami and is entirely funded by the congregation. Walking through the doors of the white church, I felt a wave of joy as I knew we had entered the same doors as Martin Luther King Jr. had when he gave the speech about voter registration on 12 February 1958. Seeing the wooden benches, the tall standing pulpit, the short glossed tables for the sermons, and the stained glass art depicting classical scenes from the Bible was a baffling experience for me as I was surrounded by so much historic beauty. This had been my first experience entering the doors of a church since I was 10 years old which reminded me a lot about the churches I would attend to when I lived in Ecuador when I was a toddler as both churches carried the same architectural layout and religious artwork. Genuinely, the Greater Bethel Church had triggered childhood memories which made me feel extremely connected to the value the church had for black communities. Thus, learning that the congregation was displaced ever since I-95 split black neighborhoods evoked a crippling sense of despair and frustration since, as described by Walter, the church was no longer the same.
Photograph taken and edited by Kylee Andrade/ CC by 4.0.
Ultimately, the journey to discovering Overtown was a truly unforgettable experience as I learned the history of the black communities in Miami and how, despite segregation and discrimination, their culture potently flourished with great pride and resilience. Being able to taste the soul foods of the community and witness historical buildings such as churches and recreational centers from Overtown was a bewildering experience. Even though there is great darkness in Miami’s past, there is also great beauty from the communities that founded their homes and families in such a captivating city with vast cultural richness and authenticity.