Miami Beach, founded in 1913, soon proved itself to be a great attraction to many tourists. But the golden age of tourism in Miami happened during the age of Prohibition when alcohol was outlawed during the 1920's.
The city of Miami unofficially welcomed bootleggers and gambling in the city. While gambling and selling alcohol were technically illegal on the books, word started to get out that Miami was a place to relax, go to the beach, and maybe have a drink while playing a game of poker. All of these desirable assets made way for the Florida real estate boom.
The boom caused the price of land to soar, not just in Miami but throughout the state. But the sky-high prices didn’t last long, and following the great hurricane of 1926, growth was stopped and up to 50,000 people were left homeless. Not long afterward, Miami suffered another setback.
The indulgences of the booming twenties gave way to the Great Depression of the thirties, which caused even more people to lose their homes and jobs. This problem was felt heavily in the black community as they already faced restrictions regarding what jobs they were allowed to have.
Another factor affecting the community in Overtown was the fact that while the white communities had running water, electricity, and sewers, Overtown did not.
Due to the living conditions in Overtown, illnesses ran rampant. A wall was built to separate Overtown from the rest of Miami. Before he took office, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited Miami and took a tour of Overtown. He was appalled at the living conditions that he witnessed there. Following his election, he gave federal money to create the second federal housing project, Liberty Square. As of 2019, “Liberty Square Rising” has been approved as a redevelopment of the FDR”s historical housing project which will include a new playground for the child occupants.
When FDR visited Miami in 1933 shortly before taking office, he was nearly assassinated. An unemployed bricklayer and self-described anarchist by the name of Giuseppe Zangara opened fire at President-elect Roosevelt, but Roosevelt was saved by the Mayor of Chicago, Anton Cermak. Cermak took the bullet instead of the president and died a few weeks later from his wounds. His words to Roosevelt still reside on his grave: “I’m glad it was me instead of you.” The assassin, Zangara, was sent to the electric chair soon afterward.
Though the assassinations of Kennedy and Lincoln live on today in infamy and many still remember the assassination attempt against President Reagan in 1981, the 1933 attempt against Roosevelt in Miami has been largely forgotten. It is fascinating to wonder how history would have been changed with the premature loss of the President who shepherded America through the hardships of the Great Depression and the horrors of the Second World War.
One little known fact about the Second World War was that German U-Boats sank several American ships right off the coast of Miami in the 1940s. This caused the Military to perform a virtual take over of the city and convert many of its hotels and buildings into military outposts. For the remainder of the war, Miami stayed on high alert. Families of the soldiers moved to the city to be close to their husbands, causing the population to grow to nearly half a million people by the mid-1950's.
This article will be continued in Part Three
Watch the video below to see more information on the history of Miami and an exclusive interview with historian Dr. Marvin Dunn.
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