Throughout its rich history, even prior to the Spaniards landing along the shores of the Miami River, Miami has been a city of great history and survival. Enduring three Seminole wars, the Mexican-American War, U.S. takeover in restitution for damages incurred during the Spanish-American War, and the mass influx of Cuban refugees beginning in 1959, Miami has grown into an international city with a population of nearly 380,000 people. The Miami area is located between the Florida Everglades and Biscayne Bay, which extends from Florida Bay north to Lake Okeechobee.
By the time the Spanish entrada arrived in 1513, the native inhabitants of Florida numbered roughly 250,000. Ponce de Leon was the first European to spot Miami while he was sailing into Biscayne Bay. Of “Chequescha," the name previously used for that area, de Leon wrote of his sighting. It is not known whether de Leon actually went ashore and met the Tequesta tribe residing there.
In the span of 250 years, the native population was wiped out due to disease, war, and dislocation. During the 1800s, three Seminole wars were fought, Spain sold Florida to the United States for $5 million in restitution, and in 1822Florida became a territory. America’s longest and bloodiest battle with its indigenous people, the Second Seminole War, was fought in southern Florida between 1835 and 1842. The war caused a large-scale exodus from Miami and an army build up to protect the remaining settlers at the end of the 1830s. The U.S. Army established Fort Dallas on a portion of an abandoned slave plantation near the north bank of the stream.
The Village of Miami was established on a portion of that abandoned plantation soon after the Second Seminole War ended. William English, the nephew to the original plantation owner Richard Fitzpatrick, began selling plots adding buildings to the plantation near the south bank of the Miami River. After selling many plots, English left his uncle’s plantation at the beginning of the 1850s to chase the dream of gold during the California Gold Rush.
At the outset of the Third Seminole War (1855-1858), the U.S. Army reestablished Fort Dallas on English’s plantation. Discouraged emigrants were reticent to settle in the Miami area even though this final Indian war was fought on a much smaller scale. So lackluster was its growth that by the beginning of the 1900s, the population of Miami was only 1,000 persons. The official founding of Miami occurred the same year that the first railroad train arrived in 1896. At that time, the town occupied both sides of the Miami River and the heart of its retail district resided on Avenue D, later known as Miami Avenue.
The mid-1920s brought rapid changes to the Miami area. With the annexation of neighboring cities in 1925 and bootlegging came a dramatic increase in deaths in Miami and Dade County. When the boon began to dry up in 1926, speculators slowed their investments and left the area en masse. That same year more than 100 persons were killed and thousands of homes were destroyed when hurricane winds of 125 miles per hour blew into the Miami area. As a result, the region fell into a severe economic slump three years prior to the rest of America during the Great Depression.
With the advent of World War II, Miami’s economy rose sharply due to the deep pockets of the U.S. Armed Services. A large training base was opened in Miami that included other parts of Dade County. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were trained there. From the Port of Miami, the United States Navy operated a submarine chaser school, also known as the “Donald Duck Navy." The Navy’s Gulf Sea Frontier established their naval headquarters in the region and the U.S. Army Air Force Transport Command occupied the municipal airport located on Northwest 36th Avenue.
With the end of the war came the veterans who had grown fond of “sand in their shoes," setting up households in Miami as permanent residences. Veterans flooded the University of Miami taking advantage of the G.I. bill, as the institution scurried to keep pace with record enrollments. Suburbs filled to overflow while contractors rushed to satisfy the housing needs of bulging suburban areas. A record number of winter tourists flocked Florida, especially Miami, seeking escape from the winter cold of the nation’s Northeastern and Midwestern regions.
By the 1950s, the population of Miami had grown to 172,000 while maintaining a trace of its Southern roots. Residents referred to their city as “Miamah," just as earlier residents had. With Fidel Castro’s takeover of Cuba in 1959, the city became an international haven for refugees fleeing Marxist rule. The first Cuban refugee contingent consisted of mostly well-educated persons, who had left behind successful careers and businesses. This new boon led to a population increase throughout the older Miami neighborhoods and filling the vacancy created by a middle-class relocation to the suburban areas surrounding the city.
During the 1960s, Miami served as a center of international activities involving the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as they prepared to overthrow Fidel Castro’s rule. With the unfortunate failure of the Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961 and the unsatisfactory agreement between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis, resident Cubans thought less of their newly adopted U.S. government. Also during that time, massive airlift transports of Cuban refugees during the “Freedom Flights" beginning in 1965, led to an increase of 150,000 Florida residents to mainly Miami and its surrounding areas.
The 1970s were tumultuous times for Miami residents, especially when Dade County passed a law regarding sexual orientation. After an ordinance was passed making it forbidden to discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation, Florida orange juice spokesperson and entertainer Anita Bryant led a successful anti-homosexual campaign against the ordinance. While her campaign received national attention, she also successfully led a campaign to outlaw adoptions by gays The law was eventually repealed in Dade County some 20 years later in 1998, along with the reinstatement of the law forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In a national backlash, gay activists launched a somewhat successful campaign to defame not only Bryant but also Florida orange juice. As a result, Bryant lost her Florida Citrus Commission contract, her marriage failed, she remarried but was unable to relaunch her entertainment career, and she filed for bankruptcy in 1997 and again in 2001.
In a case of police brutality involving Miami police officers in the fatal beating motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie, one the worst race riots in America was spawned in response to an all-white jury’s acquittal of the officers involved. The Liberty City Riots broke out in December 1979, killing 18 people during that three-day period. Of the verdict, McDuffie’s mother said in the Miami Herald, “They beat my son like a dog. They beat him just because he was riding a motorcycle and because he was black."
The city became a Latin American capital and continued on this trend through the 1980s. It became a destination for refugees from other Latin and South American countries, especially those from Nicaragua and Haiti. Many famous people also visited Miami. Pope John Paul II, who held an open-air mass there in November 1987; Queen Elizabeth II; Ronald Reagan, who subsequently had a street named after him in the Little Havana section of Miami; and Nelson Mandela, whose visit in 1989 was marked by racial unrest. When Mandela appeared on ABC’s “Nightline" praising Fidel Castro for his anti-apartheid stance, the city withdrew their welcome and no high-ranking official was in attendance at his arrival. Such actions led to a boycott by local African Americans that resulted in the estimated loss of more than $10 million in tourist trade.
During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Miami-Dade County area was swept up in Mother Nature’s and society’s turbulence when residents suffered $20 million in damages from Hurricane Andrew. Other survivals included a fierce drug war that killed approximately 20 persons in the Liberty City area during 1998 and national involvement in the immigration/custody battle of six-year-old Cuban Elian Gonzalez. Drawing such attention from President Bill Clinton and federal agents in a case that resulted in the return of Elian and his father to Haiti in 2000.
Bilingual education offered
With such a large population of immigrants, Miami-Dade County is the largest minority public school system in the country. It is also one of only a few public school systems in the country to offer a bilingual education. Miami-Dade County Public Schools is the fourth largest school district in the country. Among their institutions of higher learning in the area are Barry University, Florida International University, Johnson and Wales University, Miami-Dade College, St. Thomas University and the University of Miami.
Center for commerce
Miami is the headquarters of many international corporations due to its proximity to Latin America. Those multinational corporations include American Airlines, Cisco, Disney, Exxon, FedEx, Microsoft, SBC Communications and Sony. Many such large corporations as Burger King, DHL, Norwegian Cruise Line, and Ryder System call Miami-Dade County home. The Miami International Airport and the Port of Miami are some of the busiest points of entry into the United States, receiving much cargo from South America and the Caribbean. With the Free Trade Area of the Americas hosting in its downtown area during 2003, Miami has a reasonable chance of becoming the trading bloc’s headquarters.
Activities and attractions
To experience Miami is to appreciate the tropical influence on the area. Among the attractions located in the Miami-Dade County area are the Coconut Grove Playhouse with its beginnings dating back to 1926 as a movie house that later became a regional theatre that is considered to be a “Broadway by the Bay. There is also the Coconut Grove Village, Virginia Key Beach and the Parrot Jungle, which began with one man’s dream to build a place where tropical birds could “fly free" without escaping. Not only can visitors come to see the birds but they may also witness orangutans and reptiles of all kinds.
Founded in 1983, the Miami Children’s Museum is located on Watson Island. The 56,500 square-foot facility includes 12 galleries, classrooms, parent/teacher resource center, Kid Smart educational gift shop, and a 200-seat auditorium. At the Miami Seaquarium, what began as a small campaign to save the endangered Manatee from extinction resulted in it becoming a world leader in the biology and medical treatment of those gentle animals. The first major marine attraction park in South Florida, the Seaquarium was designed by Fred D. Coppock and Capt. W.B. Gray and opened in 1955.
Miami maintains three professional sports teams within the area. The Miami Dolphins, an NFL franchise, selected the dolphin as their mascot from more than 19,000 entries in 1965 for its intelligence and irresistible, built-in grin. The Florida Marlins baseball team play their MLB games at the Dolphins Stadium and the Miami Heat became part of a two-phase league expansion in the NBA during the 1988-1989 season. The University of Miami also have competitive and well-known sports teams.
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