August 24, 2022
Nikolas Lund-Hansen is an 18-year-old sophomore at Florida’s International University. He is currently majoring in Global Studies. In his free time, he enjoys going to the beach and doing physical activity especially soccer. Nikolas also values travelling as well as being with family and close friends. He hopes to get enlightened with knowledge on the region which has been his home for the last 11+ years.
Downtown as Text:
A walk along the Miami river on a day in late August was enough to get a glimpse of life hundreds of years ago. While the scorching heat or mosquitos were far from absent on our walk, we often were greeted with a luxury in form of air condition any time we stepped into a building. While the first inhabitants of the present-day Miami region were able to live in an unspoiled world, fresh and wild, new settlers, and slaves evidently endured hardships to survive. Working, sleeping, and living tightly quartered was the reality for both Bahamians and African slaves who were often dehumanized in the process of Miami’s gradual development into a town and later a city.
A simple walk a few kilometers from the bustling high rises in Downtown, lead us to a park. The relative silent background noise was fitting to introduce us as a class to both solemn and inspiring stories from when Miami was not Miami yet. A house tucked in the corner of Lummus Park was a former plantation quarter for slaves. Reflective and troubling were my first impressions on the plantation. Why this “house” had remained so isolated and why I hadn’t seen before in all my years living close by, lead my personal reflection. Being there didn’t make it necessarily easier to process the impossibly hard life slaves lived in early Florida, but it gave a more truthful insight to how our city was built.
A theme of ignorance to learn from our dark past and a rush to erase everything native before us, became a common theme as we walked briefly from Downtown to Brickell. How had our ancestors convinced themselves that traces of native history were either unimportant or expendable? The statue on the Brickell Bridge symbolized a Tequesta warrior and while the warrior is depicted to look fearless and triumphant, it struck me that nobody really knew how the Tequesta looked like. A circle of cultural and spiritual importance for the Calusa on the Brickell side of the bridge had until very recently, given an adequate memorial. Mistaken previously as a dog park may not be the product of ignorance but a result of the lack of representation and a willingness to teach the dark history. The archaeological finds of this “circle” had been undervalued as well as their importance in our understanding of Floridian history.
I couldn’t help but imagine what the Calusa people would do if they in present-day stumbled across the current monument of the remains. They might silently offer a prayer and a gift to their long distant ancestors. Instead, the circle remains at the mouth of the river, no longer a symbol of agriculture or fishing and hunting in the Bay. Instead, mega yachts are harbored nearby, and ever-growing skyscrapers steal both the serenity of what should be a more prominent holy site. When I think about how people made way for the structures that stand now in my backyard and the backyard of thousands of people, I can’t help but become disappointed. Especially the thought of those laborers (often the Bahamians and the African Slaves) forced to clear the land, or those forced out of their homes (natives), rarely escaped my mind as I peered onto the modern landscape.
Professor Bailly also told us about inspiring stories during our walk, which added a new perspective to the former inhabitants of the land we live in. Professor Bailly insisted we shouldn’t call the settlers like William Wagner, “pioneers” because there were already people living in Florida. Yet his story was one to pay attention to.
William Wagner story reminds me of how my life has been growing up in this city. Our ways of life can be regarded extremely different because of the era we lived in, yet Wagner’s values can be identified with many of us in this class. His strength of finding similarities within differences lead him to find himself a Creole wife (Everline), and to have a rare interracial marriage and children with her. Despite her being 15 years older than him, with two kids from a previous marriage, Wagner takes her to Miami. His regard for people as a whole and his open-minded interactions with people of different backgrounds including the Seminoles, made him an important figure during the Seminole American Wars.
Regarding the Seminoles, Professor Bailly’s stories about their fierceness and productivity were a source of my inspiration. Their unwillingness to surrender meant being pushed further down in Florida into what was thought to be inarable land or unsustainable living. Yet, the Seminoles continued to prove them wrong using their traditional methods of survival and managed until their near disappearance.
If I learned one thing from this trip, I would say that the power of a multi-cultural perspective and a traditional outlook on our resources and surroundings tie us back to the original inhabitants of “Miami.” Having learned new pockets of eye-opening information, this trip leaves me with newfound hope that being informed about the truth, has a chance in battling against ignorance, naivety, and greed.
Overtown as Text
By Nikolas Lund-Hansen of FIU at Overtown, September 25, 2022
Our eye-opening trip as a class with the Metrorail was evidence of our mobility in contemporary times. A simple train ride and a day pass costing little over five dollars, meant we could visit different parts of Miami without sitting in traffic. Our mobility meant being able to enjoy and learn about the historic city of Overtown, stop for lunch, and continue to the Northside station and the Hialeah Racetrack in just about 5 hours. Many times, we can take our mobility for granted, and we forget about how infrastructure can “imprison” and limit the mobility of others. Overtown is an example of historic example of this, and it was ever so evident during our walk around the area.
A 360 turn from the Mount Zion Baptist Church, meant gaining a grasp of the compression on the community. Tall modern condos, close in from the bay and from Downtown Miami. The skyline that in the past seemed distant, now is at the doorstep of the community of Overtown if not already in the community. On the other side of the church, the highway enclosed us. We learned as a class, how the same highway, I and others are dependent on to get from place to place, did unimaginable harm to the dynamic nature of Overtown.
Immersed is the wrong word for how gentrification has changed Overtown. Like Professor Bailly mentioned, the people in this community had little influence on their way of living. “Citizens” of Overtown have been limited historically by Jim Crow Laws and Segregation. The first black public school in Miami was not the product of wanting to be self-sufficient, rather because of necessity.In the case of the historic school, now a modern condo lays its place. It looms as an unaccommodating to the people who still live in Overtown and the generations of people who might have attended this school.
Decisions to demolish historic monuments, are often ones without consent and rarely reflected on. Considering the possibility of a future “extinction” of Overtown, I felt a certain degree of powerlessness as Professor Bailly told us about parts in the city that are no longer there.
We were constantly reminded of the past during this trip. Decisions, unrepresentative with the wishes of the people living in Overtown meant interruptions on end to progress and adequate aid to the community’s needs, past and present. Not to mention, most of the buildings we saw, only went back to 1926, the same year a hurricane devasted most of the area.
The most marking moments of our trip were our connections with the people of Overtown. Despite centuries of injustice and marginalization, the people we encountered on our trip, were helpful and welcoming. They told their stories and we listened. Our attitudes and eagerness to know the truth, organically led us to these resilient and inviting people. Despite their struggles or the struggles of their ancestors, they wanted to interact and share their knowledge with us. The many of the people who we met were eager for us to get the word out, that they were there. We often take being heard and seen for granted and our interactions repeated the same overarching message; good things happen in Overtown, a sense of community is still present, good food can be eaten there, and powerful monuments and churches still exist.
The element of disappointment during our trip, was my recognition of the power of persistent developers. It means realistically we might be seeing structures for the first and last time. Easy to oversee when driving through or looking at Google Maps, our trip showed that each block plays a different role to this historic part of a greater city. While infrastructure has made it advantageous and cheaper for external people to live in Overtown, it forces others from their homes and their communities. Our visits to two churches, showed the strength of unity for the greater good within a community to make something nice with the funds available. Unfortunately, the highway means people beautiful Greater Bethel Episcopal church we visited now has about 250 members rather than the previous membership of about 2,000 people.
This trip helped me gain more knowledge on the history and current situation of Overtown. It will no longer be a place for me, that gets driven through without stopping or looked down at from the highway. I hope the people of Overtown get the awareness and support necessary to avoid further historical blocks to be demolished in face of real estate. My resonance with the area as an integral part of Miami’s multicultural part, inspired me. Meeting people is a motivation to come back and interact with people who are a part of history and hopefully eating at Jackson’s Soul Food can be a new tradition with friends from this class and others.