High Rents Spark Protests in Fort Lauderdale

“Nathaniel Wilkerson, a black college graduate who could only find work as a chaffer, organized a mass meeting of over 400 tenants at a Fort Lauderdale Baptist church. He explained to the media, black community leaders and, later, city commissioners how the city’s colored tenants ‘ have no protection.’

Leases, when renters got them, were one-way documents that bound tenants to pay rent, but let landlords off scot-free. Tenants already paid between half and two-thirds of their income in rent; when they refused to pay more, landlords responded with a wave of evictions. One 60 year-old white landlord, Ben Biegelsen, filed 40 eviction notices in immediate response to black demands for repairs. ‘If they force us out,’ one tenant warned, ‘they’ll have to evict every Negro in Fort Lauderdale.’

Ultimately, Fort Lauderdale’s tenant activists suffered widespread evictions and received only weak assurances from city officials to expect more public housing. Broward’s activists, while generally disregarded, nevertheless garnered media attention that helped propel a glacial leftward lean on what should be done about Negro slums.”

Sources: A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida by N.D.B. Connolly The University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 228; and “Soaring Negro Rents Arouse Commission,” Fort Lauderdale News December 13, 1959; and “Relief for Tenants Still Far Off,” Miami Herald, December 14, 1959

Bombings Rock Miami Part 2

“White residents detonated a second batch of dynamite on November 30, [1951]. This one generated an explosion strong enough to toss hunks of concrete debris over 50 yards from the initial blast site, causing $22,000 in damage. Miraculously, no one had been killed in either the September or November attack. Local people nevertheless understood the attacks in the context of violence elsewhere on the globe, renaming Carver Village ‘Little Korea.’

The project’s developers used the event to shore up the point that private capital was always friend to ‘the Negro.’ John Bouvier condemned the bombing as ‘a dastardly act of professional murderers,’ and vowed to use the powers of his dollars to counteract the blatant racism he had witnessed in South Florida’s housing market over the previous decade.”

Source: A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida by N.D. B. Connolly, The University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 193

Bombings Rock Miami Part 1

“As a final form of community activism, a small cadre of Edison residents deployed more familiar means of expressing white power. They organized night riders around Carver Village, shouting warnings and epithets from moving cars in an attempt to expel black residents through intimidation.

Then, in the predawn hours of September 22, [1951], whites with training in explosives ignited over 300 pounds of dynamite outside of a vacant apartment at Carver Village. As far as 50 blocks away, Miamians felt conclusive waves from the blast, as the bomb shattered hundreds of windows and destroyed or damaged ten different rental units.”

Sources: A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida by N.D. B. Connolly, The University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 1922; and “Tenants Ignore Threats in Miami,” Pittsburgh Courier, August 18, 1951; and “Group Seeks Evacuation of Carver Village Negroes,” Miami Herald, September 24, 1951; and Forbidden Neighbors: A Study of Prejudice in Housing by Charles Abrams, Harper & Brothers, 1955, p. 125

This Seminole Chief Didn’t Snitch

“On September 18, 1823, at Moultrie Creek just south of Saint Augustine, the major Seminole leaders signed a treaty ceding their claims to all of Florida except for a reservation, far to the south, cut off from the sea. In return for this cession and a pledge to apprehend runaway slaves, the Indians were promised a little property and some money.

Interestingly  enough, during the Moultrie Creek negotiations, Neamathla, the Mikasuki chief and principal Seminole spokesman, refused to enumerate the blacks among his people. But a rough census taken the previous year estimated the number of ‘slaves,’ ‘Maroon Negroes,’ or ‘half slaves’ (as they were called) at about eight hundred, including 150 men. Neamathla did submit the names of thirty-seven Indian towns with a total of 4,883 inhabitants but did not list Peliklakaha, the main Black Seminole community.”

Source: The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom Seeking People by Kenneth W. Porter. Revised and Edited by Alcione M. Amos and Thomas P. Senter. University Press of Florida, 1996 pages 27 and 28

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Chiniquy

How a Legendary Black Seminole Got His Name

“One autumn morning in 1826, Andrew the black cook of Lt. Col. George M. Brooke, commander of the cantonment, appeared at the officer’s door. Andrew told him there was a young black Seminole wanting an interview. He also said the youth had some ‘gophers’ (land turtles) for sale. Since arriving in Florida, Brooke had developed a taste for their succulent meat and owned a pen of rails for keeping them.

Gopher John

Presently, between his quarters and the kitchen, the colonel met a ‘long legged, lathy negro boy of some fourteen years.’ His long, crinkly hair and copper complexion indicated some Indian blood. The officer’s main interest, however, was in the youngster’s large fiber bag. Brooke asked to see the terrapins and John tumbled out two unusually fine specimens. The officer eyed them covetously and asked their price. After a moment’s hesitation, the youth said ‘about two bits.’ Brooke took a coin from his pocket and gave it to the boy. Then he turned toward the kitchen and told his cook to put the reptile inside the pen. After learning the young salesman’s name, the Colonel asked John for a steady supply in the future. If possible, he wanted more brought tomorrow. For the next few days, John returned with more gophers for sale. Colonel Brooke gladly paid a quarter for each new acquisition. Then he began planning a great feast for the post’s officers. Terrapin would be the main course.

Days later, and shortly after one of John’s visits, Brooke finalized the menu and asked Andrew to count the turtles in the pen. He was stunned when informed that there were only two; the same pair John had delivered that morning. Upon reflection, the officer realized that the youngster had repeatedly sold him the same ones.

Enraged, Brooke commanded  his orderly to go immediately to Tholonotosassa and fetch John. The soldier soon reappeared, shoving the ashen-faced lad before him. The officer, barely containing his fury, confronted John. Desperately searching for words while trying to conquer his nervous stammer, John mumbled that his only intent was not to disappoint the colonel.

The ingenious excuse deflated Brooke’s anger. Rather than punishing him,  he ordered the youngster to provide, eventually, the turtles already purchased. The officer then nicknamed him Gopher John lest he forget his dishonesty. This sobriquet stayed with him for life.”

Sources: The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom Seeking- People by Kenneth W. Porter. Revised and edited by Alcione M. Amos and Thomas P. Senter. University Press of Florida, 1996. p. 30; and McCall, George A. [1868] 1974. Letters from the Frontier. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Facisimile

Florida’s Black Women Take the Lead in Voter Registration

“When African American women became eligible to vote, the Florida voter registration movement gained new life. To say African American women played a momentous role in the movement would be an understatement. From the time that four black women in Gainesville registered to vote on September 1, 1920, to the day of the election, black women were the movement.” 

Source: Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920 by Paul Ortiz University of California Press, 2005, p. 187

Where Is Douglas C. Lyons Going with The ‘Florida Historic Marker Tour’?

5th Avenue: The Hub of West Settlers Historic District

Oh man! The season of warm weather is coming to an end, and so is the summer “Florida Historic Marker Tour” is coming up. Join us here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, August 24th for our sixth and final stop at a black historic destination. We hope you enjoyed the tour and actually learned something. — Douglas C. Lyons

Photo Credit: Douglas C. Lyons