Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why does Miami Beach want to celebrate its 100-year history by deleting part of it?

Historian Seth Bramson, third from left, and Miami Beach Mayor Philip
Levine and others,  at the opening in early March of a photo exhibit 

celebrating Miami Beach's 100 year history.
(Click to enlarge)


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana (1863-1952)

Perhaps Seth Bramson should have seen this one coming. After all, he's been down this road before.

In December 2008, the City of Aventura commissioned Bramson, a self-described South Florida "historian" and author, to write a book on the city's history.

According to an October 2013 story in Biscayne Times, after submitting a draft of the book, Bramson was invited to a meeting with Aventura's mayor and city manager where he learned "they had essentially rewritten his book, deleting chapters and pictures, and eviscerating the substance of his work. Never before had leaders of a city profiled in one of Bramson’s books censored its contents.

"[The mayor and city manager] conditioned the city’s underwriting commitment to Bramson’s agreement to their changes. Bramson refused, and the city withdrew its commitment."

Now, in a story in today's Miami Herald, staff writer Joey Flechas reports:
Miami Beach has fired the historian it hired to write a book commemorating this year’s centennial celebration over concerns with the content of the manuscript.

City Manager Jimmy Morales fired city historian Seth Bramson on Friday afternoon after he read Bramson’s manuscript and decided it wasn’t what the city wanted for its centennial coffee table book.
In his story, Flechas reports that "Morales reviewed [Bramson's] manuscript after the city’s Hispanic Affairs Committee raised concerns following a meeting Tuesday with Bramson.

"In an email to the city after the meeting, committee member Alex Fernandez said that Bramson had used the terms 'Hispanic and 'Spanish interchangeably."
“In advance of Prof. Bramson’s publication of the official City of Miami Beach history, I’d like to make sure that there is an understanding that not all Hispanics are Spanish or descendants of Spanish,” Fernandez wrote. “A significant segment of the Hispanic population are of indigenous or African ancestry — not Spanish.”

According to Flechas "the committee also took issue with his proposed title of the chapter chronicling the years from 2000 to 2012: “For Twelve Years, Things Did Not Go Quite Right.” Bramson later told the city he’d agreed with the committee to change the name to “It Was a Very Interesting Twelve Years.”

"The chapter recounted some of the scandal that occurred during that time period, including the arrests of city employees on corruption charges,"Flechas reported.

A source who has seen the chapter tells me that Bramson made it sound as though the city was on the brink of disaster in the decade that preceded Mayor Philip Levine's election, and that Levine arrived just in time to save it from decay.

According to the Herald's Flechas, in his termination letter to Bramson, city manager Jimmy Morales wrote, “I was dismayed to see that important portions of the document, particularly more recent years, read more like political and social commentary than a celebration of our city’s history,” he wrote. “Rather than unite the community in celebration, this book will divide the community and rehash ugly chapters of the past.”

But today, in a phone conversation with Random Pixels, Bramson defended his 60,000 word book, saying, "I was hired to write a history of the city. I was not told to leave out the bad parts."

Bramson added, "Not one word in the book is libelous or defamatory." Bramson told me he relied on research gleaned from numerous books, magazines and newspapers.

And in a phone conversation today with Random Pixels, Hispanic Affairs Committee member Alex Fernandez told me, "My intent was not for the book not to be published. I still think that the City should pursue documenting Miami Beach's history. This was a great idea of the Mayor and Commission. My intent and that of the motion I proffered was to offer constructive recommendations based on what we heard from Prof. Bramson. However, I trust the judgment of the City Manager on this matter."

Footnote:, the city's official centennial website, still contains a section with articles written by Bramson...including one article where Bramson uses material taken - without attribution - from an article I wrote for in September 2010. 

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