- The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami: Civil Rights and America’s Tourist Paradise, 1896–1968 by Chanelle N. Rose
In The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami: Civil Rights and America’s Tourist Paradise, 1896–1968, historian Chanelle N. Rose documents the rise of the African American freedom struggle in a city known more as a tourist destination than as a center for civil rights activism. Beautifully written and using an impressive amount of primary documents, Rose’s book traces the emergence of the black freedom struggle in relation to the Latin Americanization of the city and the multiple and evolving approaches to civil rights—from accommodationist to radical—as black activists “exposed Miami’s paradise image as simply a facade” (p. 91).
Rose convincingly argues that “the interplay between tourism and racial disparities” in Miami complicates the narrative of black civil rights in the South (p. 242). Without question, Miami is a city of contradictions. The Jim Crow laws that severely limited African American life in Miami often did not apply to Spanish-speaking migrants or to tourists of African descent. [End Page 728] “Dark-skinned” Latinos, in other words, were often served in public places deemed for whites only. This “peculiar Jim Crow” experience was a calculated move that white business owners and politicians practiced as they envisioned Miami as a gateway city to Latin America (p. 183).
Throughout the book, Rose does a nice job of highlighting Miami’s unique history of tourism and immigration. With its palm trees, posh hotels, and connections to Latin American commerce, Miami is somewhat of an anomaly in the South. It is a southern city with close ties to Latin American culture and a place with a “‘tri-ethnic’ character” that in many ways set the stage for black civil rights struggles (p. 184). Much of the black population migrated from Key West and the British West Indies, while others were middle-class professionals from other parts of the South who saw Miami as a place of opportunity. In the postwar era, “[t]he purchasing power of Spanish-speaking visitors” forced Miami’s tourist economy to move away from simply catering to a wealthy white population (p. 163). Add to that mix the Cuban exiles who arrived in Miami after 1959 and were afforded an honorary white status. Against this multiethnic backdrop, African Americans in Miami organized groups like the Interdenominational Minister’s Alliance, the Negro Uplift Association, the Negro Civic League, branches of the NAACP, and others. Each of these groups practiced various forms of political resistance. Some were militant, others moderate, and some, especially in the church, practiced an accommodationist resistance that relied on negotiating and collaborating with the white establishment.
In this timely and important book we get a clear picture of the different groups—black churches, Jewish groups, white progressives—that throughout much of the twentieth century challenged racism in Miami even as they collectively worked to maintain the city’s importance as a tourist destination. That juggling act—which shows the flexibility of white supremacy when pressured by capitalist interests—is what makes this book such a significant contribution to black and Latina/o studies. Moving beyond the black/white binary provides a more complete history of Miami and a closer understanding of “the nuances of southern race relations” (p. 8). The book also pushes the analysis away from the American West as the haven for studies on multiethnic histories. From the beginning, Rose brilliantly situates her work within an expanding framework of U.S. border cultures that pays attention to the connections with Latin America. The result is an exceptional model of engaged and politically necessary scholarship that should be assigned in upper-division undergraduate courses and graduate courses interested in how transnational networks helped shape black civil rights in the Deep South.