Saturday, March 21, 2009

CLICK - Accep Us

I can understand. I can support. I will never accep. Never.

With all my love,
Aunty Em

Monday, March 16, 2009

Toussaint Louverture in Miami

I was on another route in Miami, headed from North Bay Village to 53rd Street. As I zipped along North Miami Drive I spotted a small parkette, with a statue, at 62nd. Having no good place to pull over, I circled the block and parked.

I knew I had read the name and I knew a connection to Napoleon, but that's all I could recall and the marker was not very helpful. As usual The WikiWackyWoo was more helpful:
Historical significance

Toussaint Louverture played a key role in what was the first successful attempt by a slave population in the Americas and the world to throw off the yoke of Western colonialism. He defeated armies of three imperial powers: Spain, France, and Great Britain. The success of the Haitian Revolution had enduring effects on shaking the institution of slavery throughout the New World. Haiti became the second independent republic in the Western Hemisphere.

After being captured by the French general Leclerc, on the ship to France, Toussaint Louverture warned his captors that the rebels would not make his mistake in the following words: "In overthrowing me you have cut down in Saint Domingue only the tree of the trunk of liberty, it will spring up again from the roots, for they are many and they are deep."
James Mastin has sculpted a very impressive Toussaint Louverture.

Bear with me, because I'm not an Art Critic and I never met Toussaint Louverture. However, Mastin gives his subject all the quiet dignity of the "warrior, liberator, diplomat, statesman" that Louverture represents. The statue seems to capture the man I have since read about.

He stands impressively on a black, polished granite base that has the brass plaque on its front.

It's unusual to see a Black man dressed in the European refineries of the day and, at least for me, that's also what's so striking about the statue.

Sadly, the parkette is a meager little thing. It appears to be relatively new, considering Google Maps satellite view has the park, but not the statue and landscaping that came along with it. Drag the little street view guy over, tho', and you'll see the statue is there. What's more, you can see the landscaping when it was new and lush.

Compare that with my recent picture at right. It's no longer lush, green and verdant. A lack of rain has dried the grass to patches of brown with some light green showing. The bushes were once a relatively thick hedge surrounding the parkette, which would have given the statue a sense of place. Now, again because of near-drought conditions, the are scraggly and, in some places, disconnected.

Oh, and that Napoleon stuff?

According to History Wiz:
By 1803 Napoleon was ready to get Haiti off his back: he and Toussaint agreed to terms of peace. Napoleon agreed to recognize Haitian independence and Toussaint agreed to retire from public life. A few months later, the French invited Toussaint to come to a negotiating meeting will full safe conduct. When he arrived, the French (at Napoleon's orders) betrayed the safe conduct and arrested him, putting him on a ship headed for France. Napoleon ordered that Toussaint be placed in a prison dungeon in the mountains, and murdered by means of cold, starvation, and neglect. Toussaint died in prison, but others carried on the fight for freedom.
With all my love,
Aunty Em

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Shame of Coconut Grove

Number Two in a series

I said a picture is worth a thousand words, but either I should have included more pictures, or at least a couple of words, because most people misunderstood what the picture represented.

It was viewed as a current picture what exactly? A political statement? An uncaring neighbour? A lack of respect for those founding Blacks who, having settled the area, helped the Whites survive and conquer the conditions found in this humid, mosquito-infested swampland that was southern Florida in the late 1800s?

Well, yes it's all that, but it's more and my picture didn't tell the full story.

I have since visited Charles Avenue on four subsequent occasions. Only once was there no trash piled at the bottom of the historical marker. But, as you can see, it wouldn't have mattered. The base is broken and the sign leans at an uncomfortable angle against a wire fence surrounding an empty lot of gravel and weeds.

I have also now done a moderate amount of research on the area. The story of Coconut Grove, writ large, is the story of what happened in every Black neighbourhood in America, save NYC which has always been unique.

This historical marker demonstrates years of neglect of Black heritage, while the heritage (and racial make-up) of the area grew to be overwhelmingly one associated with White folk.

There is one thing that differentiates Black Coconut Grove from all other Black communities. When one speaks of "the other side of the tracks" it is a literal description of these areas. Black Coconut Grove has no railroad tracks to separate it from the more affluent homes. Main Highway is the main dividing line in The Grove.

Coconut Grove, on the west side of Biscayne Bay, was a sleepy holiday destination in the early 1900s, unknown by most United Statesers and frequented by The Very Rich™. However, in December of 1925 "The Cocoanuts," starring The Four Marx Brothers, opened at the Lyric Theatre in NYC. The madcap antics take place in Cocoanut Grove [sic; the original spelling], Florida, where Groucho runs a bankrupt hotel. The George S. Kaufman play ran for nearly 300 performances and became the first Marx Brothers' movie in 1929. In the movie Groucho famously said, "You can have any kind of a home you want. You can even get stucco. Oh, how you can get stucco."

And so, for the longest time, The Grove was associated with carpetbagging land speculators selling swampland to rich northerners.

Yet, something was happening in The Grove. First annexed to Miami in 1925, the same year the Marx Brothers trod the boards in the play, the sleepy town of The Grove already bragged of a library, school, yacht club and chapel, joining the Peacock Inn as structures in town.

Later, after WWII, Coconut Grove became an artists' destination after servicemen, who had experienced Florida weather for the first time, packed up their families and moved south. The great influx of people occurred in the 50 years since. These days Coconut Grove is one of the richest and most desirable neighbourhoods in these United States.

As more people moved into The Grove the division that Main Highway represented became the colour line.

According to The WikiWackyWoo:
Demographically, Coconut Grove is split up into North-East Grove and South-West Grove, and as of 2000, the total population of both of the neighborhood's sections made up 18,953.

As of 2000, North-East Grove had a population of 9,812 residents, with 5,113 households, and 2,221 families residing in the neighborhood. The median household income was $63,617.82. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 35.24% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 2.25% Black or African American, 60.96% White (non-Hispanic), and 1.55% Other races (non-Hispanic).

As of 2000, South-West Grove had a population of 9,141 residents, with 3,477 households, and 2,082 families residing in the neighborhood. The median household income was $63,617.82. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 14.80% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 48.27% Black or African American, 35.27% White (non-Hispanic), and 1.66% Other races (non-Hispanic).

Which side of that line do you think this historical marker is on? If you cross Main Highway due east from Charles Avenue and the historical sign you will find the gates of "Camp Biscayne," a lush gated complex less than a football field away. Most of the communities on the east side of this line are gated, as near as I can tell. This is a far cry from those that run along Charles Avenue, small bungalows and shotgun shacks that are set up cheek to jowel.

More to come...

With all my love,
Aunty Em

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Shame of Coconut Grove

Number One in a series

I am on another one of my routes in Miami-Dade County and looking for Charles Avenue, a street my GPS tells me is only a few short blocks long, running west, less than a mile ahead of me. I am travelling northeast on what is laughingly called Main Highway. This small street, part residential and part commercial, begins at Grand Avenue in the north, near Coco Walk. Running on an oblique angle, parallel to the coast of Biscayne Bay less than a half mile away, it ends at South Douglas Road, aka Southwest 37th Avenue. That's a distance of one mile. Yes, that's right. Main Highway isn't either very Main, nor is it much of a highway to be perfectly honest.

I am in Coconut Grove, long since amalgamated into the city of Miami.

The GPS announces, "Approaching left turn. DING," and I make the swing onto Charles Avenue. Immediately upon my turn I spot an historical marker. I've always been a sucker for historical markers, stopping for as many as I see. It's extremely rare to find one on residential street, tho'. Naturally I stop.

It seems like providence stumbling across this marker, considering my life-long interest in race relations (which involves a massive book I am writing on just that topic).

Our new Attorney General Eric Holder says we are are a cowardly nation when it comes to discussing race relations. "Some people say" a picture is worth a thousand words.

Allow me to add these thousand words to get the discussion started. Here's the reality of how Florida's oldest Black community is honoured:


I'll be back with periodic updates on my new research obsession: Coconut Grove.

With all my love,
Aunty Em

Sunday, February 01, 2009


For Anisha

With all my love,
Aunty Em


After I had explored that little lakefront I took a leisurely walk back to the car. I was less than 3 feet away when I saw this paper bag on the ground. Naturally, I was attracted by the curious shape sticking out of the broken bottom. It wasn't until I was standing right over top of it did I realize it was a whole chicken (or other fowl; I didn't examine it that closely), which had somehow been flattened and left for posterity.

On some of my routes I have seen roosters in the city (really!), but this was my first chicken.
Q: What's the difference between kinky and perverted?
A: With kinky you use a feather. Perverted? You use the whole chicken.
I also see a lot of odd and interesting signs on my travels as well. This one is my most recent favourite.

I know I promised Charles Avenue next, but I've determined that to do it properly it's going to take a little research. Once that's done I'm going to have to put on my Investigative Journalist Hat, so please be patient with me. I see it as a 2 week project, if I have the time.

With all my love,
Aunty Em

Saturday, January 31, 2009

America, The Beautiful

Work has me driving around every Zip Code in Miami-Dade County, from Sweetwater all the way north and over the county line into Broward, as far as Sunrise. In the course of an 8 or 9 hour day I see people and neighbourhoods of all descriptions.

My job also requires me to carry a camera, which is always within easy reach. I see a lot of strange stuff on these rounds. [CLICK] If I can snap off a shot, I will. [CLICK]

As I kick start Aunty Em’s Place back to life, let me share some recent pictures:

I carry a nice, comfy fold-up camping chair in the trunk of the car. If I'm doing an all-day, sometimes it's nice to pull over, grab a book and the chair and walk over to a nearby lake, pond, canal, or stream (there are TONS of those in Miami-Dade) and take a small break before I head back onto the road.

Here's a recent pit stop. You can see the lake in the background and beyond that a condo complex. On all 4 sides of this lake is not just civilization, but Civilization with a capital "C". It's a part of Hialeah, which is as dense as Miami-Dade gets and I'd say it was easily an upper-middle class area. If not that, then certainly a lower-upper class area.

This vacant lot off one side of the lake had been mowed, with tire tracks into it. That's why I chose it for a break: easy access with a walk of about 100 meters to the water's edge, just far enough not to hear the traffic on the residential road. If you ignore the debris in the foreground for a moment, you can see the property line for the next lot, also vacant. It had been allowed to grow wild (and had also been fenced), so there was no trashed dumped on this site.

Because the water was that far from the side of the road, my anticipation of a relaxing time out didn't dissipate until I had walked 2/3rds of the way to the water, over a small rise. Then suddenly I looked upon an environmental disaster zone. Cardboard and plastic, with oil leaching from all the crushed plastic containers littered an area about 100 square feet.

[Yeah, I know meters in one place, feet in another. I'm a schizophrenic Canadian when it comes to metric.]

It was too muddy at the water's edge to unfold my chair. All the best land was taken up by this mess. Obviously I wasn't going to be able to read my book, so I decided to take a few pictures, including the close-up at left. America The Beautiful™.

After I had burned off a dozen shots from all angles I used a stick to turn over some of the cardboard to see if there were identifying marks. Nothing that I could find other than some bar codes, but I don't read bar code.

I cannot imagine a more perfidious act than driving onto a vacant lot and purposely dumping this shit all over the ground. There ought to be a law. In fact, there is. Miami-Dade is littered [pun intended] with NO DUMPING signs. While obvious placement would be in vacant lots (and there were signs posted on this lot), one will see these signs in alleys, main streets, residential streets, and mall parking lots; places that I couldn't imagine anyone pulling up and dumping trash. Despite all of these signs, an eyesore in themselves, the idyllic garden spot these pictures document is not a rarity. I now have pictures of at least 20 sites that have become unofficial dumping grounds, but I thought these three told the best story.

Next stop: Charles Avenue.

With all my love,
Aunty Em