Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Miami, Race and Real Estate; Historian Looks at Profit and Development

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Miami, Race and Real Estate; Historian Looks at Profit and Development

Article excerpt

Byline: Michael Hoffmann


Author: N.D.B. Connolly

Data: University of Chicago Press, 376 pages,$45

It was mere coincidence that Miami was incorporated in 1896, the year that the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy vs. Ferguson that separation of black and white Americans was constitutional provided that there were equal accommodations for each race. The federal, state and local statutes that followed made Miami as racially segregated as Birmingham, and the intermittent application of police or white vigilante violence cemented the edifice of Jim Crow in both cities.

There are no heroes in Johns Hopkins Professor N.D.B. Connolly's "A World More Concrete" except, perhaps, the long-suffering black masses. There are winners and losers, however, and the big winners were whites who controlled the land and real estate in Miami and Southeast Florida. Thin strata of blacks - professionals, entrepreneurs, preachers and civil rights leaders - were small winners who also had slices of the pie. All of the winners were hyper-conscious of Miami's public image and, when conflict emerged, they reached accommodation through biracial "conferences," white philanthropy and black paternalism.

Some of the racial separation in the suburbs was the result of Jim Crow zoning and restrictive covenants, and there was "red-lining" by the federal government and local lenders. The enforced separation - and accompanying scarcity - had the effect of increasing the cost of housing and rentals for both blacks and whites. Connolly illustrates this by comparing the costs in 1949 of renting a room in an all-white, oceanfront Miami Beach motel with typical amenities for a week and renting a two-room, shotgun shack without indoor plumbing and intermittent electrical service for a week in the downtown Central Negro District: The slum housing cost slightly more.

Miami's black slums were notorious although white tourists to Miami Beach seemed oblivious unless they ventured downtown for some "slumming" at black clubs. At one point more than three-quarters of Miami blacks were renters and until after World War II, when federal money at low interest rates became available for landlords to rebuild their properties with concrete block, the typical structure was the shotgun-style wooden house. These slum properties were tremendously profitable for investors, many of them absentee, as well as for local landlords of both races. Annual returns of up to 24 percent were reported.

The landlord class was able to delay urban renewal in Miami and South Florida for more than a decade after other cities in the U. …

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