Currently there are many shades of black in Miami: ethnic shades, economic shades, religious shades, and political shades, among others. There is, therefore, no such thing as the black community of Dade County; there are many black communities in Dade County. Indeed, we comprise groups with quite different historical experiences, priorities, and perceptions. Now, after more than a century on Biscayne Bay, blacks in Dade County face a watershed. In the search for answers to what lies ahead, a look back might be helpful-perhaps even inspiring.

Four historical events brought black people to Miami. The first, in the early 1880s, was the collapse of the Bahamian economy, which forced thousands of black workers to leave their homeland in search of employment. Some came to the Florida Keys, particularly to Key West. By the 1890s, the migration had extended north up the chain of islands to Biscayne Bay. There the emigrants found seasonal work on the scattered, white-owned farms that existed in the area before the city of Miami was established in 1896. A few settled permanently in a small farming community called Lemon City, north of the Miami River. By the early 1890s many had also settled in Coconut Grove, which maintains a distinctly Bahamian flavor even today.

The second historical event that brought blacks to Miami was the Great Freeze which struck the southeastern United States, particularly Florida, in the winter of 1894-1895. Temperatures plunged to fourteen degrees in Jacksonville for four days. Virtually all crops north of Lake Worth were destroyed; the Florida citrus industry, then in its infancy, was decimated. In the aftermath of the freeze, thousands of white farmers and black field workers headed south from north and central Florida and from southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina, hoping to capitalize on the expansion of agriculture in Florida. By the turn of the century, thousands of blacks had settled in Miami and in small farming communities to the south, such as South Miami, Goulds, Homestead, and Florida City.

The third historical event was the arrival of Henry M. Flagler's Florida East Coast Railroad at Biscayne Bay in July 1896. This railroad had been chiefly responsible for the expansion of agriculture and tourism in Florida as far south as West Palm Beach by the time of the Great Freeze Of 1894-95. Flagler had no definite plans to extend his system further south, but the urging of a white woman named Julia Tuttle (later recognized as the mother of Miami) caused Flagler to agree to bring the railroad to the bay in 1896. The city of Miami was established in that year. The building of the railroad and the city required hard physical labor, and thousands of blacks were glad to get the work. Thus, Miami has been populated by a significant number of blacks from it's very beginning. Indeed, when the vote to establish the city of Miami was taken, 162 of the 367 voters were black.

The fourth and most recent factor influencing the presence of blacks in Dade County has been the economic and political turmoil in Haiti and Cuba. This unrest has resulted in the arrival of untold numbers of immigrants, legal and otherwise, in south Florida since the 1970s. Many of these newcomers are black.

Massive immigration has caused some African Americans to feel increasingly isolated and angry because they believe the immigrants from Haiti and Cuba have displaced them in the job market. Many blacks also feel that immigration has negatively impacted public facilities such as hospitals, and schools. Consequently, among the African American, Cuban and Haitian communities, there exists a low-level tension and strong competition for dwindling public resources.

Ethnic tensions in Miami extend beyond the immigration issue. Like most big cities, Miami, has not solved it's policing problem. The result has been a decade of deadly race rits, which have shaken the city to it's core and earned Miami the title of the most ethnically divided city in America. Today, multiethnic black Miami has slowly climbed into the mainstream with help from many people in the white and Hispanic communities. From the city's earliest days. there were whites who spoke out against injustices committed upon blacks; whites were a key element in Miami's civil rights struggle. More recently, Hispanics have begun to offer blacks access to the opportunities created by the phenomenal growth of the Latino community.