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"This project will be one of the greatest blessings that Miami ever had. It will not only eliminate the possibility of fatal epidemics here, but also fix it so we can get a servant freed from disease." -John Gramling, October 17, 1934.
Last Tuesday's mass shooting that left two dead and 7 wounded at an apartment building across the street from the crime-infested Pork and Beans housing project "was at least the 13th shooting [in the Liberty Square neighborhood] since 2009," according to the Miami Herald's Chuck Rabin.
Things weren't always so bad in Liberty Square - the housing project's official name - or the adjacent neighborhoods.
One Miami resident once called Liberty Square a "showplace."
But in 2014 it's become so dangerous that Miami Police officers have been warned not to respond to calls there without back-up.
Somewhere along the way - no one is sure why - the residents started calling the place "The Pork and Beans."
When Liberty Square opened in 1936 to 243 African-American families, things were much different. The Miami Daily News praised the project for its "sanitation and light and air and a harmony of simple architecture."
But Liberty Square's beginnings weren't the result of some magnanimous gesture on the part of white Miami.
In fact, the housing project was the brainchild of a wealthy former judge and successful Miami attorney named John Gramling who was concerned that Miami's blacks were living in "a cesspool of disease." His worry was, that as servants, they might carry their diseases into the homes of the "White people of Greater Miami."
In 1988, Paul S. George and Thomas K. Peterson wrote a paper entitled "Liberty Square: 1933-1987. The Origins and Evolution of a Public Housing Project."
The First Administration of Franklin Roosevelt was barely nine months old when in December 1933, Miami attorney John Gramling, along with six other lawyers and businessmen, formed the Southern Housing Corporation for the purpose of developing a "negro colony" on one hundred and twenty acres of land on Miami's northern outskirts.Their inspiration was the recently-created United States Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which provided low-interest loans for slum clearance and the construction of low-income housing for the poor. The application of the newly formed corporation stated the problem:
The only site on which a negro might live in the City of Miami is in what now is known as negrotown in the heart of Miami.That area consists of 343 acres of land and according to theUnited States census of 1930, there are 25,116 colored persons living in that area. This population is living in one-story negro shacks and there are from three to fifteen shacks on a city lot of 50'x 150'. The sanitary conditions are a menace to the whole city. The living conditions are inconceivable and are a shame and a disgrace to the responsible citizens of Miami. This area is principally owned by white people who have erected these small shacks and get exhorbitant rent from them so that they pay for themselves every two to three years... Many houses have no toilets connected with the house, no bathrooms, nor bathing facilities...
Gramling, a former municipal Judge and prominent attorney who arrived in Miami in 1906 from Alabama and the beneficiary of early and lucrative investments in Miami public utilities, seemed an unlikely champion of the impoverished and overcrowded residents of Colored Town, the city's first Black community. Yet irrespective of the purity of his motivations, his message was powerful. The principal concern, stated emphatically and repeatedly in correspondence from Miami to the Housing Section of the Public Works Administration (PWA) in Washington as well as in the press, was the threat of the transmission of disease by servants to the white homes in which they were employed. [Emphasis mine] In one of his innumberable letters to the PWA, Gramling wrote of the high incidence of tuberculosis in the negro quarters: "From this cesspool of disease the white people of Greater Miami draw their servants." [Emphasis mine]
The weekly (Miami) Friday Night, on January 12, 1934, sounded the same theme in no uncertain terms:
The people who hire negroes in their homes should come forth with their protest. A protest against allowing the maid that cares for their children, the cook that prepares their food, and the wash woman that does their clothes, from bringing into their homes the disease germs that flourish in the present negro district.
Two days later, apparently in step with the submission of the application of the Southern Housing Corporation to Washington, a Miami Herald editorial echoed the same theme:
Lovers of Miami have long decried the condition in which the colored people here are compelled to live. Attention has been led, frequently, to conditions that are not only a source of embarrassment but are actually a health menace to the entire population...With the help of the P.W.A. it might be possible that conditions in colored town could be materially improved.
|Miami Daily News, Oct. 16, 1936.|
Almost eighty years after Liberty Square first opened, it's no longer being called a "showplace" by anyone. Today, it's a breeding ground for crime and violence with one generation of criminal picking up bad habits from those who came before them.
|The Pork and Beans housing project today.|
(Click here to enlarge)
Last Tuesday's violence was just more proof that there's no end in sight. High rates of unemployment and poverty, drug use, a lack of effective community leadership, and a violent criminal element with nothing to lose, have, over decades, transformed Liberty City and the Pork and Beans into a hellhole. Or perhaps a more accurate description would be, a ticking time-bomb.
In a 48-page preliminary report released today, the anti-white violence in the Miami riot was called ''unprecedented in this century.'' It added that not since the slave uprisings before the Civil War had blacks risen spontaneously with the sole purpose of beating or killing whites. New York Times, May 17, 1981
Eddie Williams pushed a shopping cart full of kids through Liberty Square. They are his kids: Tanisha, 1; Denard, 2; Terrell, 3; and Tasha, 4.
Williams wants to move his wife and children out of Metro --Dade's public housing complex and into his own house in a better neighborhood.
"It's rough. Everywhere you go, you find wrong," said 32- year-old Williams, who has lived in the project for seven years. "If I get them away from around here, I'll feel much better."
Fifty years ago, Liberty Square was the kind of neighborhood where blacks wanted to live. Like Williams, many now want to move out.
Age has caught up with Liberty Square. When it was built in 1936 for $1 million, the 243 apartments, with their cream- colored walls and gray and white roofs, were symbols of housing progress for Miami's black community.
Today, the grass is overgrown, trash spills out of garbage bins and rots in the sun, graffiti is scrawled across dirty walls and paint peels from the ceilings of many apartments. Liberty Square is old.
It was beautiful when it was dedicated Oct. 15, 1936.
"It was really a showplace. It was the pride of everyone in Miami," said Leome Culmer, who lived in Overtown at the time. "They were bathing in bathtubs and we were still in tin washtubs."
Now Liberty Square is besieged with problems. Many tenants are unemployed; many are single mothers with children. Eugene E. Smith, a former tenant and now manager of the existing 970 Liberty Square apartments, said 90 percent of the project's 4,600 residents are on welfare. Drug dealing is the worst problem, he said. -Miami Herald, Oct. 23, 1986.
After the McDuffie riots in 1980, hundreds of millions of dollars poured into Liberty City for promised "improvements." Besides widening 62nd Street, there's not a lot to show for that money. Each layer of government took its cut and so did some unscrupulous community organizers and politicians, black and white. -Local 10 political reporter Michael Putney, This Week in South Florida, Feb. 5, 2012.
"It's the same people, the same pastors (who) call a press conference when there's a shooting. Does that actually cure the problem in our community? No." -Community activist Tangela Sears speaking with Local 10's Glenna Milberg, Feb. 28, 2013.
"Gangs" in South Florida are not necessarily the products of extensive organization structures as one sees in the movies. I was a Miami-Dade Gang Strike Force Prosecutor (2002-2005) along with 2 others who are now judges, and our case experiences in Liberty City were with loosely-intertwined, relatively young street-level drug dealers that financed daily their expenses and firearms purchases through sales.
The "members' " youth and lack of organization are the scary parts. We shut down multiple operations that were usually based out of specific apartment complexes via RICO prosecutions, but due to lack of police saturation and follow-up, another group would slide right in and occupy the void we created. It is a difficult and costly problem to tackle, and I do not envy the positions of the State Attorney or the Miami/Miami-Dade Police. -Miami Beach criminal defense attorney Michael Grieco.
Violent gangs have long been part of the inner-city landscape. In the 1990s, notorious drug gangs like the Boobie Boys and John Does terrorized poor urban communities. In the mid-2000s, crews like the Zombie Boys and the Terrorist Boys — whose members are awaiting trial for nine murders — engaged in bloody skirmishes in North Miami-Dade.
But in the past couple years, a new generation of young armed men, some in more loosely organized drug or robbery gangs, have triggered an uptick in the violence, according to law enforcement.
For example: James Phillips, known on the streets of Miami as “Booman,” is suspected of at least five murders. He is only 19.
So far, he’s only been charged in one: Miami cops say he sprayed a Little Haiti apartment complex with 22 shots in January. One man died, two others were wounded. He also shot at, but missed, a woman who stepped out of her apartment to view the commotion, according to an arrest warrant.
Another notorious gangster, Overtown’s Calvin Warren, walked free from jail last year after he was accused of killing two men, one of them an innocent bystander, in a shooting that started over a heroin debt. Prosecutors had to drop the charges when one witness admitted to severe mental health problems, and another was arrested.
But when Warren, a suspect in several homicides, began moving in on other dealers’ drug turf, someone put a bullet in his head. Police found him dead in Liberty City last month, in the backseat of a car, with an AK47 rifle in his lap. -Police ramp up efforts to curb North Miami-Dade shootings, by David Ovalle. Miami Herald, May 12, 2014.
Interview with historian Dr. Paul S. George.
Interview with Miami Police Major Delrish Moss.
Miami Herald, June 25, 2014: Killing scene in Liberty City is all too ordinary
Random Pixels, Jan. 10, 2012: Trapped in the Pork and Beans
Sun-Sentinel, Jan. 6, 1999: Battling Crime Is Costly In Liberty City