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

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