Miami is such a unique city with an incredible history, yet, not a lot of people know much about it-not even locals who were born and raised in the city. I am one of those locals who was born and raised in this urban center that many individuals from all kinds of cultures call home. In order to get to know Miami’s roots, Downtown Miami is a great way to start since it is considered the “…history center of Miami”(“Greater Downtown Miami”).
It comes as no surprise that, since it is coined the “history center” of Miami, there are many well-preserved historic buildings and sites that are accessible to the public; some of which include the Freedom Tower, the Miami Circle, Miami Dade County Courthouse, English Plantation Quarters, and many more. These sites all represent a different part of Miami’s intriguing history and deserve to be preserved for generations to come. However, there are several sites that have been transformed, modernized, or even wiped out.
The city’s developers have been so preoccupied with the modernization of the city, that they have turned their backs on the different places and treasures that made a huge impact on making Miami what it is today. An example of this is the trolley service. The trolley played an integral part in Miami’s transit system history. The trolley era unfortunately came to an end in 1940 when “…the last Trolley Car entered its barn at Southwest Second Street and Second Avenue for the last time” (“History of the Trolley in Miami”). Although we have a modernized version of the trolley system today, it does not compare to the streetcars that once busied the streets of Miami benefitting communities, tourism, and preventing urban congestion.
My name is Martyna Kwiatkowska and I am Junior studying Economics in the Honors College at FIU. I have also completed my German language and culture certificate in the past year, I’m fluent in Polish and English and proficient in German. I am originally from Poland; however, I moved to the US in 2015. I love to explore, travel, and learn about anything and everything. Since I’m relatively new to Miami, I’ve always wanted to learn about its culture and history, when I moved here, the first thing that I felt was a lack in the amount of history I was surrounded with. Warsaw, the city where I’m from has hundreds of years of history and I remembered all the school field trips I’d take to museums and places of great historical importance. Through this course, I hope to learn about the history and culture of this city, that I now call home and I hope to be positively surprised throughout this course.
Downtown as Text
Diversity? No diversity?
On September 1st, we took a trip to downtown Miami, a quite mysterious place, that I have indeed visited a few times in the past, but I honestly did not know how we would fill the 5 hours we had allocated for this class. I came in completely blind and left intrigued by the rich history and culture that these square blocks entail.
With my cultural background, I always saw Miami as an extremely diverse mix of people from all parts of the world. When we met up at government center, in the middle of the chaos, that is exactly what I saw. The combination of people in poverty, the government officials entering and exiting the buildings, a vaccination center right in the middle and chickens running all around was just that; chaos and diversity. I was surprised to find out that the first Jewish and female mayor of Miami Dade was currently serving in office. It made me feel empowered and happy that a person from a minority background was elected to high office.
The whole perception of Miami being inclusive of diversity was undermined when we went to our next destination, an old slave house, right in the middle of the city. First, I was surprised that an old building like that even stood here, and the history behind it made it so much more intriguing, but it left me a bit confused about my view of Miami from 20 minutes ago. I hoped for horrible things that occurred in this house to be part of the times, in which the home was constructed. And that this part of both American and potentially Miami history was long gone. I gained some hope, when we learned about William Wagner, an immigrant who built a house for the family he formed with his French creole wife. But this was a story like not many. Although heart warming, Julia Tuttle, also a very powerful women of her time, created modern Miami, with the help of no other than Henry Flagler.
A big statue was constructed right in front of the courthouse to commemorate a man who historically built the railroad to make Miami a part the country. This man has done a lot for Miami, perhaps this city wouldn’t be what we know it as today without him, but he also brought quite a bit of segregation to the city. He was the creator of what we know as over town, an impoverished community, predominantly black that faces oppression and isolation from the rest of the city in part because of this man. He created this neighborhood to separate the African Americans in the community, so more white people would feel comfortable coming down. Putting a big hurdle on the diversity of the city, or at least how visitors perceived it.
With the times changing, this social oppression of minorities slowed down a bit. In the future generations, Miami became an even more diverse city as Cubans would flee the crisis going on in their home country and inhabited Miami. This city has become a hub for many south and central Americans who fled their countries in search of freedom and prosperity. However, equality and diversity are two different things, and unless every community feels empowered to prosper in a city, they will not work to further expand this diversity.
The rollercoaster of deep contemplation I was taken on during this trip was a very impactful one, we finished the trip in the history Miami museum, that further explained typically Miami instances, like the boats of migrants from Cuba or typical instances that were happening all around d the country, at the time being like an old train cart, that only allowed the colored people to ride in the back. I concluded that all of this diversity vs no diversity was a matter of individuals. It all depends on the individuals that live and lead the city. But it also is important for us to realize this gift and charm that this city has and work hard to support the minorities that need our support to grow and further diversify our Miami. The imagine of Miami is different in everyone’s eyes, mine was completely different back in Poland, but it also changed the more acquainted I got with the city, this trip around downtown changed it once again. I can only imagine that people from different parts of the city or different time periods in the city’s history perceive it, but I for sure want to learn at least a bit about their points of views.
Paola Castro is a senior majoring in Computer Science at Florida International University. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, and later coming to pursue higher education in south Florida, she was able to meet other people of various cultural backgrounds and learn more about the vibrant communities of south Florida. As someone who is interested in the history, art, writing, and politics of the Caribbean and south Florida, she is eager to explore Miami in this course.
Downtown as Text
Even in the years prior to its official establishment, Miami was the “melting pot” we celebrate today – and understandably so. It is not a stretch to say that south Florida is a natural extension of the Caribbean, sharing many of its historical trends and its sheer variety of inhabitants. Much like the islands of the Caribbean, Miami was inhabited by a multitude of people since its beginning, offering a home to Tequesta natives, Bahamians, Africans, and European settlers.
People of color built Miami from the ground up, in more ways than one. Their various contributions are what allowed Miami to prosper. Without the Tequesta natives’ techniques for taking care of the land, Miami’s soil wouldn’t be fertile enough to start growing crops for profit. Without slaves to tend to the crops within the farmland, the railroad would not have been brought down to south Florida for the purpose of shipping food up north (a decision which later allowed the city to grow and get officially established).
Unfortunately, these contributions later spelled the marginalized communities’ doom, in one way or another. The fertile land Tequesta natives cultivated was coveted by wealthier European settlers and later taken by the settlers, driving the Tequesta out of their own communities. Barracks created by enslaved Africans and Bahamians were later used as forts to fight native people in the Seminole Wars. Even the railroad brought down to south Florida by Henry Flagler later led to segregated communities, one of which being modern day Overtown.
People living in Miami nowadays, ignorant of the town’s history, may see these formerly segregated neighborhoods populated by people of color as a failure. They may assume that these communities are in dire straits through some fault of their own, some character flaw or just bad work ethic. The truth of history tells another story. Miami – much like other big cities around the world – has a history of profiting off of marginalized people’s labor, even using it against them at times. It’s difficult to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when your bootstraps are constantly stolen from you.
Make no mistake, Miami was built by the marginalized.
Samantha Johnson is a 19-year old junior at Florida International University. She was the youngest at her high school graduation and graduated at 16. She later graduated from Indian River State College with her Associates Degree. Samantha is currently studying Sustainability and the Environment with a minor in Marine Biology. She hopes to one day achieve not only a PHD but also a JD in Environmental Law. In her free time, she loves to read and hang out with friends, but also loves to go to the beach and is extremely passionate about the environment.
Downtown as Text
“Walking on History” by Samantha Johnson of FIU at Downtown Miami
Miami is rich with history. From the Tequesta who have lived here since its origin, to the railroad being built by Henry Flagler, Miami has faced many changes and diversity.
The Tequesta people had been living in Florida for generations. It is thought that they had lived in South Florida for over 2,000 years. they were one of the first tribes to settle in South Florida and settled in the Biscayne Bay area. They lived along the Miami River, and the chief lived at the mouth of the river. They lived here from about 500 BCE through Spanish colonization until about 1763.
Miami was founded by Julia Tuttle who lived in the area. She was a rich woman and ran orange groves on her land. In 1894-1895, there was a major freeze that killed off most of the citrus in Florida, but not in Miami. At the same time, Henry Flagler was constructing his railroad to transport citrus to the northern states. The freeze impacted his business immensely and he was later sent a few oranges from Julia Tuttle with the invitation to extend his railroad down to Miami.
When Henry Flagler made the deal with Julia Tuttle to come to Miami, part of the deal was to make a hotel. They decided to build the Royal Palm Hotel. They had to level the mound of an ancient burial ground for construction to begin. The clearing for the hotel began in 1896, and it opened in January of 1897. When the mound was there, it used to face the Miami Circle. The Miami Circle is a source of many archeological findings. It contains many different Tequesta artifacts including shell, stone, bone, and pottery. It is also thought to have been the place where a Tequesta hut was once standing.
Lummus Park is the oldest public park in Miami. It was established in 1909, and holds both the home of William Wagner, and the slave quarters from Fort Dallas. Both of these buildings had been relocated from their original locations because they were going to be demolished. Mary Brickell Park contains the mausoleum of the Brickell family, and now allows visitors to walk through the park with their dogs.
What made the most impact on me when we were walking through Downtown was the realization that we were walking on sacred and hallowed ground. I thought that Downtown Miami was mesmerizing but learning about the history behind it left me with an eerie feeling. From walking through Lummus Park, to walking through Mary Brickell Park, and just through the city itself it all felt wrong knowing what had occurred there. I was in awe of the buildings because I have never lived in such a big city, but learning about the history it felt wrong. It astounds me how there is an archeological site that is now underneath a Whole Foods.
I am a superstitious person by nature and knowing that we had been walking through and walking by ancient burial grounds got underneath my skin. I just kept feeling like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Burial grounds are considered sacred because that’s where people bury their family, friends, loved ones of all kinds. If someone were to go around and disturbing these places nowadays, they would be in trouble, but this did not occur back then. I will never understand how someone could trade precious history and burial sites of someone else’s people just to make a profit. I had a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a different people used to live there and had buried their people there. It really saddens me to think about it, but I am not surprised. People will always more about making a profit for themselves than other people, and I truly believe that this is where we have failed as a people. Downtown Miami is just one sign of this, but it has happened all around the world. I just hope that future generations will learn from our mistakes and not make the same ones we did.
My name is Amaranta Mattie Bailly and I am a proud Cuban-French-Floridian. I have grown up in Miami for the Majority of my life but have had the privilege to travel much of the world at a very young age. My education, passions, upbringing and goals drive me to constantly learn more about the world that I live in and how I can better it. I consistently find myself fascinated with various forms of artistic expression, as well as the environment and understanding its intricacies. Understanding the profound history and facets of my hometown Miami will undoubtedly provide more clarity regarding where I hope my life, as well as hard work, will take me.
Downtown as Text
“The Origin Story,” by Amaranta Bailly of Florida International University at Downtown Miami, 1 September 20201
For 19 years I have lived on these streets, going to the beach with family, grabbing food with friends, and exploring with anyone willing to join me. It was both riveting and shocking to learn that I didn’t understand how my city came to be the undeniable wonder it is today, and that I had been denying myself the privilege of truly understanding what lay just below my feet. It was disheartening to realize I hadn’t seen this statue before class. Not only did I experience Miami in a different light on an educational level, but observing the physical landmarks I had passed by for so long was a wake up call. I quickly recognized that I need to become more aware of my surroundings.
Throughout the day I absorbed what seemed like an endless amount of information that revealed or involved the development of Miami economically, socially, politically and environmentally. Somehow, Oldenburg and Bruggen were able to narrow these incredible and at times heartbreaking stories down into a single sculpture, that somehow sits at the near center of our city. This piece was developed to display how Miami grew as a city; explosive, stunning and through chaos. On top of how unique to our state and city it is, seeing as how the Orange has been a Florida staple for decades, the shattering glass properly reflects the literal groundbreaking work that was required to build from the ground up.
The Fort Dallas and William F. English Plantation Slave Quarters in City park display a perfect parallel between the darker and lighter parts of history. The stone unit, although it was relocated, emanated a physical and evil energy that will never leave those walls. It was built approximately 200 years ago by slaves themselves, and holds tales of horror that are incomprehensible when compared with the Miami that surrounds the structure today. The quarters were passed down through generations as well as the plantation until 1849, when the Army claimed the land and used it as a base during the Seminole Wars. I was standing in front of a building that had been used as an aid to commit mass genocide as well as strip the humanity from individuals, individuals who were treated as less than mules, I felt and still feel disgusted. Professor Bailly recommended that we become physical with the structure but I almost couldn’t bring myself to move so close. I felt nothing but repelled by the mass before me. He then had gone on to elaborate regarding his request, and stated that he felt connected to the slaves building this quarter, and not the stories that had occurred within them. I then proceeded to hold the same rock a slave had held 200 years before, and the sensation of the grainy material beneath my hand brought about feelings of extreme sadness and sympathy. I began to ponder how exactly a city can host such tragedy a mere 200 years ago, and morph the diverse and cultured beaut it is today.
The answer I had quickly begun to search for was found earlier than expected in the neighboring building. Not more then 20 feet from the slave quarters stood a home from the same time period, but told a strong opposing story when looked at from a moral perspective. William Vagner was a German man who had immigrated to the United States in the earlier 1800s and met a woman named Evelyn Emair. They had fallen in love but unfortunately were forced into keeping their relationship a secret because interracial marriages were not legal at the time. They lived a beautiful life together and had 15 children. It stunned me that even during this dark time period, there were tolerant people who looked past societal standard to find happiness. Professor Bailly then went on to discuss a seemingly frightening encounter with a Group of 17 seminoles. William had come across the unit with his wife and daughter Rose, and seeing as how the political situation at the time was rough to say the least, its natural to feel a certain level of fear when the intentions of others are unknown. Instead of insighting violence or being verbally aggressive in order to protect his family, William invited the Seminoles to his home for dinner. Together, 17 seminoles, an interracial couple and several biracial children were more than capable of sitting at a table and have a meal together despite the judgement and war raging on the outside world. William formed an alliance with the seminoles, and attempted to bring peace between peoples throughout his life. My admiration and respect for William grew to unimaginable proportions as the minutes passed. He has a vision that not many had at this time and was not influenced by the fact that because of his origin or the color of his skin, he could have abused his position in more way than one. Instead, because of his endlessly tolerant mind, he found love within Evelyn, faith in his children, and peace with the Seminoles. He used his divine insight to make people stronger in a time where everything was divided amongst the masses.
I am thrilled that I was able to become more educated regarding the origin story of the city I was raised in and adore. I was fortunately raised around a largely diverse group of people. My family is from various different countries and continents, as are my friends. Now I don’t have to question the ways to which we reached this peace in this place we call home. Now I know that even in the darkest times, there were people out there who saw the light in others. The extent to which these people fought to save that light now gives me the privilege to do the same, and gave others privileges that I won’t take for granted anymore.
Joheily Rodriguez is a junior majoring in Biological sciences with minor in chemistry at Florida International University. Passionate about art, medicine and connecting with new cultures and individuals. She is involved in numerous leadership opportunities like being able to be a resident assistant at the University level, and holding a leadership role in an organization known as students care. Students care provides help to the local community and connects college students to medical exposure.
Downtown as Text
“a stranger in a not so strange place” by Joheily Rodriguez of FIU at Downtown, Miami.
A conversation of community and belonging is happening in downtown Miami; however, the volume is relatively low. At the same time, walking through the streets of Miami and heard about those that were in this land; the Tequesta, the Bahamians, and slaves. I could not stop thinking of how I have walked these streets many times with friends and family and not once thought about the history and the sacrifice it took to the city to get where it is today; there was sadness, destruction, and bloodshed. Miami is known for its diversity, for its ability to thrive and be beautiful in the chaos. Chaotic, just like the sculpture “ Dropped Bowl with scattered slices and peels by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, this sculpture describes the diversity of Miami; it showcases the falling of fruit, so chaotic yet so majestic to watch. However, I feel like this sculpture also conveys that some pieces of fruit tend to fall and catch dust and mold under the refrigerator.
These pieces that were hidden and left to deal with their own are communities that have been displaced, strangers in a place that is not so strange. Although the Tequesta have no known ancestors, Bahamians are well concentrated in the coconut grove. Many undernourished communities also pushed into Overtown, or how it used to be known, colored town. This community survived in its little niche, but following that, they were misplaced once more by building bridges and highways to allow the privilege to drive downtown Miami and escape from the hardships happening right under their noses.
Monica Schmitz is a sophomore at Florida International University, studying Public Relations with Advertising, and Applied Communications. With a love for writing, graphic design, and photography, Monica aspires to be a published author and work at a communication agency. Having lived in Minnesota, Virginia, and California, Monica is passionate about discovering other cultures and traveling. She has challenged herself with many leadership positions and involvements which have allowed her to see the world through new perspectives. She is always eager to learn more and use her voice to make an impact in the world.
Downtown as Text
“History Can Be Ugly”
By Monica Schmitz of FIU at Downtown Miami, Florida, 12 September 2021
Downtown Miami, Florida is a collection of pieces of history, cultures, and memories. With this diverse collection of individuals and backgrounds come difficult historical moments that we try to block out. We often ignore the shameful, hateful moments of our history, focusing on the victories but erasing the struggle that we faced to reach those victories.
Growing up in southern Virginia, I was surrounded by statues of leaders from historical moments. However, these statues caused much controversy as the community and country as a whole discussed whether these statues should remain or be taken down. Seeing the statue of Henry Flagler at the courthouse in Downtown Miami sparked this memory for me. The statue of the confederate leader Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia was a topic of conversation that has been sparking in America for a long period of time. It was the question of whether historical leaders with wrongful actions should remain standing. Although it is important to remember history as history and understand the journey our country has taken to rid itself of prejudice and racism, it is also questionable to keep these statues standing because they could be seen as commemorating leaders that symbolize hate.
I am not from Miami, so the name Henry Flagler meant nothing to me until our first Miami in Miami class. Learning about Flagler’s influence on racism and prejudice in Miami opened my eyes to the fact that we often make judgments about history, cities, and historical figures without fully understanding the depth or the details. We cannot ignore the ugly pieces of history, such as hatred, poverty, and heartbreak. These pieces all build a beautiful masterpiece that makes up our communities. We must embrace the ugly but truthful history of our country.
When we started the walk around Downtown, I didn’t really know what to expect. Downtown Miami holds so much history, art and culture that it was hard to determine what we would focus on. However, I was amazed at what I saw.
As young adults who live in Miami, we are surrounded with people who come from diverse places, who have generational varying ethnicities, people who have been brought up in different ways. What unites us? Our lovely Miami. As we walked through historic buildings, such as The Wagner House and Fort Dallas which were located one in front of the other, we truly grasped what Miami is all about. This city has seen indigenous tribes getting kicked out of the land, slavery, and the division of colored people; however, it has also seen the growth of multiculturalism that happens on a day to day basis. People from all over the world move to Miami in hopes of getting a better life. We can see it through Coosje Van Bruggen’s and Claes Oldenburg’s ‘Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels’, a massive public artwork.
Personally, I saw this art piece as a representation of the diversity that Miami has. Miami grows everyday. Currently people from Venezuela are coming over to flee their political, social and economic situation. Nonetheless, Cubans, Hatians and people from other countries in South and Central America have come to Miami in hopes of having a life with better opportunities and a freer life. Miami has been the home of many immigrants, including myself. I came here looking for better educational opportunities, and my parents also lived here in the past due to work openings. The scattered oranges and peels represent the continuous increase of people in Miami. It’s like a mandarin was thrown to the floor and it exploded.
When I first saw this piece of art, it appeared very colorful and full of life, each part of it being different and separated. Miami has neighborhoods that are all so distinct from each other. For instance, Brickell is known for its fancy restaurants and beautiful tall buildings, while Little Havana is known for its people and vibrant environment. This fusion of places and cultures are what make Miami what it is: a city full of life, diversity, a variety of places to eat and activities to do and a place where people want to be. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, many decided to move to Miami and be by the beach, in a place with a warm and dreamy weather, where life is like we’re on vacation. The scattered slices and peels are all those distinct pieces that make up Miami: the neighbourhoods, people, food, cultures, activities, weather, etc.
At the end of the day, the past and present of Miami can be summed up by Van Bruggen and Oldenburg’s artwork. Will the future of Miami keep being this multicultural land?
Luis Gutierrez is currently a sophomore studying English at Florida International University. He loves to watch movies, listen to old music, and play beach volleyball with his friends. He also enjoys writing and collecting vinyl records.
Downtown as Text
“The Wall that Needed to Fall”
By Luis Gutierrez of FIU at Downtown Miami, Florida, 13 September 2021
Downtown Miami, Florida is known for capturing many famous and iconic scenes of our world’s history. From statues to monuments, to houses and museums, everywhere you turn there is an opportunity to catch a glimpse into the past. One of these opportunities resides on 3rd street, right outside one of the campuses for Miami Dade College. Though many pass by this graffitied piece of cement, once you are informed, the power and importance it holds is breathtaking.
This piece of cement was a portion of the Berlin Wall before its collapse in the late 80s. The Berlin Wall was placed to divide East Berlin from West Berlin and to stop emigrants from crossing freely. This separated families and friends instantly and soon caused riots around the wall to appear. Residents, desperate to get over the wall, would jump from the surrounding houses and even create makeshift hot air balloons. Eventually, in 1989, the leaders of East Berlin announced that the wall and its power will be stripped away, and all residents are free to cross the border. To celebrate, people would bring tools such as pickaxes and anything they had to tear down this concrete border that divided their people.
This portion of the wall now serves as a reminder of what those people experienced for over 20 years. The thought of being divided from my friends and family for even a couple months sends a shiver down my spine so I cannot imagine the thoughts and emotions the residents of Berlin were experiencing. This should also serve as a reminder of all the abstract walls that are now built up today and how they divide us as both a nation and as a species. Though we cannot see these walls, they nonetheless are serving the same purpose of dividing us and making our people weaker. We must come together as a people and strike down these walls that surround us.
Catherine Carrasco is a Junior studying Behavioral Neuroscience at Florida International University. She is an Executive Board member of the Alpha Epsilon Delta honor society and an English tutor for the Refugee Assistance Alliance. During her free time, she enjoys practicing yoga and rollerskating.
Downtown as Text
“A Melting Pot” By Catherine Carrasco of FIU at Downtown Miami, 1 September 2021
As someone born and raised in Miami, my perception of the city’s origins only recognized historical moments through textbooks and not experience. Our walking lecture of Downtown Miami led to a deeper understanding of how the city’s melting pot of cultures came to be. The Wagner Homestead located at Lummus Park is a physical representation of the rich history created here. William Wagner was a Mexican War veteran who relocated from Georgia with his family and built the Wagner house. The Wagners lived contrary to many of the societal expectations of those times. As a mixed-race couple, they were known for befriending Native Americans during a time of war. I was able to sit on their front porch and imagine what social gatherings must have looked like for them.
One of the best moments of this trip was coming across a piece of the Berlin Wall at Miami Dade College. Here, we took a moment to discuss some of the effects of totalitarianism and the difference experienced in democracy. Many brave people risk their lives fleeing their hometowns searching for better work opportunities, education, and safety. Members of restricting government systems often face persecution for their religion or sexuality. Years ago, I researched the destruction of the Berlin wall and came across videos of people embracing each other with chunks of the wall missing. At the time, I was too young to comprehend what this moment meant for Berlin, but as an adult, I’m thankful for the piece of the Berlin Wall available at MDC.