Jul 28, 2023 - News

How Black voters helped incorporate Miami 127 years ago

Early street scene on North Miami Avenue in 1896. Photo: Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The city of Miami was officially formed 127 years ago Friday, when just over 350 registered voters gathered in a pool hall to support the city's incorporation.

Why it matters: That vote in 1896 would not have been possible without Black Miamians, who made up 44% of the meeting's registered voters.

  • Black laborers not only made up a large portion of the electorate, but they also worked to extend Henry Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad south to Miami, which led to a population boom that fueled the city's growth.

Yes, but: Flagler's company registered most of the Black voters to help incorporate the city, but Black Miamians would not see meaningful involvement in government affairs for more than 60 years after that fateful vote, Miami historian Paul George writes.

  • Restrictive land deeds meant Black residents could only own property in a segregated area called "Colored Town" at the time, according to George.

What they're saying: "Black Miamians were essential for incorporation … but as time went on, the color line became even more stark," Matthew Bunch, host of the "This Day in Miami History" podcast, tells Axios.

  • "The more trains ran into Miami full of white Americans, the more Miami began to resemble the other segregated cities along the Florida East Coast Railway and points north."

Between the lines: Friday's anniversary comes amid mounting criticism against Florida officials for new standards for teaching Black history in schools, including that "slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit."

Celebrate Miami: Ring in the city's 127th birthday by shopping for nostalgic Miami gear from Miami Stadium and Lottery Vintage at Tacos & Tattoos' 11790 SW 104th St. location tonight at 7pm.


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