Skye Duke is a Junior at Florida International University, majoring in Criminal Justice and Disaster Management, with a certificate in Political Transition and Human Rights. She intends to pursue a career in human rights and humanitarian aid, and is interested in criminal justice reform. She was born in England and lived in Dubai for a short time. Having moved to Miami, then recently spending time studying in France and backpacking across Europe, travel along with the exploration of culture and differing areas is a passion in which she now finds integral to life. When she’s not reading or gaming, she’s most likely consuming some other form of escapism, romanticizing the mundane and willing the fantastical into existence.
Downtown as Text
The Names That Shape the Skyline
By Skye Duke of FIU at Downtown Miami on October 31, 2022
Downtown Miami is a unique area, where a significant landscape of urbanisation meets the ocean in which Miami is known for. The area is just one of many that serves as a reminder that South Florida’s history is so deprived in the education of its residents, and yet so ingrained in the place. Upon walking around Downtown, there are three memorials that pay tribute to notable figures who have shaped the place to be as it is today.
In considering the area of Downtown Miami, it is imperative to acknowledge potentially its most important figure. Julia Tuttle is known as the ‘Mother of Miami’ and can be attributed to founding the city. It was 1894, and Tuttle, a businesswoman (who sold oranges) and property owner in what is now known as Miami, sought to bring the railroad down Florida, to connect the now city to the rest of the country. When oranges became widely unobtainable due to weather, Tuttle won over the rich businessman responsible for extending the railroads. By sending a crate of her oranges, which did not undergo the harsh weather conditions tormenting the other parts of the country due to the unique climate of Miami, and giving up a piece of her land, the railroad was built!
The rich businessman responsible for the extended railway is better known to history, his name now a well-known street in South Florida. Henry Flagler came to the area in 1878 and was involved in the incorporation of Miami. A statue of Flagler stands outside of the Dade County Courthouse. It cannot be argued that Henry Flagler brought about positive elements of the Miami that we know today… and yet he brought a lot of negatives too. Flagler can be blamed for the segregation of African Americans along with the formation of ‘Coloured Town’. He also demolished a Tequesta Burial Mound along with wreaking havoc on Miami’s environment by having his hostel’s sewage run into the Miami River. In my opinion, he is not a man that should be so glorified as to have his name on a major road that is utilised by a huge majority of the residents of the area daily. It is unfortunate that a man responsible for such actions has been chosen by history to be remembered in such a way, but very few know Tuttle’s name. A woman to thank for so much but known now to so few.
The Major Dade Plaque brings another notable figure into the conversation when considering the historical importance of Downtown Miami. The plaque can be found on the Dade County Courthouse and explains the events which led to the naming of the county. In 1835, Major Francis Langhorne Dade, under the orders of the Federal Government, led his men in a move to defeat the Seminoles as they refused to surrender during the Second Seminole War. He was extremely unfamiliar with the area, and despite this, didn’t utilise his scouts as he wished to move faster. This proved to be a fatal flaw in his attack. Other than three men, the troops all died as they were ambushed by waiting Seminoles. This incident is referred to today as the Dade massacre and the county is named after a man defeated in battle. It is almost comical that a man who made such poor judgments in his role has received a tribute that is lasting to this day… and then disturbing when one considers a man involved in genocide and the mistreatment of Native Americans.
It is in knowing these facts, that Downtown becomes a living contradiction. The place is littered with politically charged stickers and posters. Advocating for change. Opposing the current social order. Demanding awareness. All of which concerning matters of political figures and legislative issues, both pertaining to a national scale. It struck me to see such posters across the street from a plaque memorialising Dade, and the statue of Flagler. I must wonder whether educational efforts would have activists in uproar over the glorification of those involved in suppressing the state’s former inhabitants.
How do well educated activists oppose the present but do nothing in the face of a buried past? Or even on a more personal level, how do we as residents live with so little protest to names that immortalise such a dark past? At what point do we become complicit? There is a burden to being educated, as we are no longer able to sit in our ignorance. Words have power, and so do names. I find it disturbing that certain name, that are related to such acts as Dade and Flagler, have been cemented in time, whilst names like Tuttle are barely whispered anymore. I will personally never hear the words Miami Dade County the same. But will speak of Tuttle, the Mother of Miami, proudly.
Overtown as Text
To Protect and Preserve
By Skye Duke of FIU at Overtown on September 14, 2022
While walking the area of Overtown, I was struck by how little of Miami I have explored and how uneducated I am in its history. Walking around Downtown Miami introduced parts of the past regarding Flagler and his act of segregating the African American population of Miami. After having taken time to consider that, it felt extremely immersive to then visit the area of Overtown, where people found themselves forced to live under Flagler’s instructions. Despite this, the place now holds a rich past that serves as a celebration of black history in Miami.
The Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church is one example of the historically important landmarks within Overtown (it is on the National Register of Historical Places). The church was founded in 1896 by Alex Lightburn, and destroyed in 1926 by a hurricane. The community came together in 1928 to build the church which stands today, completing it in 1943. In 1958 on the 12th of February, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke, in an attempt to encourage voter registration.
If democracy is to win its rightful place throughout the world, millions of people, Negro and white, must stand before the world as examples of democracy in action, not as voteless victims of the denial and corruption of our heritage.Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. needs little explanation as to his historical importance. His coming to the Greater Bethel Church highlights the fact the area held an important role in civil rights and political change. To stand in a place where one of the most important speakers in history and figures in the pursuit of civil rights spoke was a lot to take in. It reaffirms the importance of Overtown and all it now represents.
Another place located on the National Register of Historic places is the Lyric Theatre. During the time of segregation in Miami, many black artists were forced to relocate upon ending their performances in South Beach, unable to stay the night in the majority white owned districts. Therefore, while staying the night in Overtown, many performers ended their evenings by putting on an additional show, one that was more intimate and lively, in the Lyric Theatre. The theatre thrived during the 1930’s through 1940’s, and due to this NW 2nd Avenue coined the name Little Broadway. Along with concerts, the venue held Political meetings, boxing matches, and pageants, along with many other events. To this day, the theatre still puts on events, and symbolizes a period of incredible talent in the music community.
Roaming around the area, one is struck with the strength of the community and its residents. There is a sense of pride in those who call the place home, so much so that we ran into a man wearing head to toe Overtown merch. And yet despite housing many historically significant landmarks, the district also speaks to a prominent modern issue which is actively changing the community and burying its past by rebuilding a new Overtown.
Gentrification is the act of attempting to add value to the area, and in theory looks to benefit the community by bringing in new businesses and improving residential buildings. In reality, gentrification preys upon minorities, and those in lower economic areas, breeding racial inequalities and leading to the mass displacement of communities. Overtown saw huge numbers of displacement when the highway was built in the 1960’s, and continues to experience such as homes are destroyed to house new shops and apartment complexes. The original residents cannot afford to stay in the areas due to a rising cost of living, developers are essentially forcing people out of the area so that they can tailor the demographic to suit their needs and industries. It is actively stripping the area of its culture, community, and the residents in which make the place so special.
I understand that it’s important for areas to adapt, and there will always be incentive for economic and monetary gain. And yet, that does not justify what is occurring. Places like Overtown must be protected, not destroyed and whitewashed. It does a disservice to those of the past, along with those in the present who do not deserve to lose their homes in order for a new community to take advantage of potential economic profits. Gentrification can often fade and become a metaphorical economical issue. But exploring Overtown forces the concept to reshape, becoming more personal, as it ceases to be a faceless issue.
I feel as though throughout my exploration of Miami I’ve taken a stance of protecting the past, not allowing it to fall through the cracks. To be buried. But Overtown must be protected in the present. It must not be lost to developers and gentrifiers. Its rich past along with its current community are hugely important to the diverse and special nature of Miami as whole.