Working in miami
In the late 1880s, a growing number of black Bahamians arrived in the Coconut Grove area primarily to work at inns and as laborers on farms. This group played a key role in transforming South Florida from a wilderness into a rich farmland. Coral Gables founder George Merrick noted that the Bahamian blacks dispelled white settlers’ notion that growing crops couldn’t be possible in the rocky landscape. He said, “In the Bahamas, there is the same coral rock; and the Bahamian negroes knew how to plant on it; how to use it; and they knew too that all kinds of tropical trees would grow and thrive on this rock.”
By the turn of the century, a significant portion of the city’s black population was of Bahamian descent. Many Bahamian farm workers came to South Florida seasonally to work the crops, returning to the islands at the end of Harvest. Each season, up to 400 black Bahamian workers at a time would make their way to Miami solely for work. Most would return, but some stayed. They offered skills in areas including construction, maritime, and fishing industries, and in 1916, James Deering employed many Bahamian workers at his Italian Renaissance Villa on Biscayne Bay. By 1920, 52% of Miami’s black community were black islanders mostly from the Bahamas.
Dunn, M. (2016) Black Miami in the Twentieth Century. University Press of Florida
Building Home on a Rocky Road
Black Bahamians brought with them a world of knowledge and experience that proved invaluable to those unfamiliar with Miami’s climate and landscape. Listen as Dr. Fields sites records that credit this community for their expertise and impact.
For more stories, visit our blog “Black Grove Conversations“.