To 'new breed' of black professionals, rioting is no reason for giving up on Miami
Black street people ignited the May 17-19 violence -- they call it a "rebellion" -- that propelled Miami into the spotlight as a racial battleground. But a new breed of black middle-class professionals is surfacing, and these people are running to, not from, this resort city.
The seeds of another explosion remain in Miami, but there appears to be a recognition that most people -- whites and Hispanics as well as blacks -- stand to lose more than they gain if there is one.
Miami is a "sleeping giant," ready to soar out of the 1960s into the 1980s as Atlanta did, says black city attorney George knox. A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. Knox is part of this new breed, turned off by the Liberty City rebellion and its costs -- 215 businesses (all but four of them white-owned) looted, damaged, or destroyed; 18 live lost; hundreds of people arrested and injured; $200 million in destruction; and human relations set back perhaps by decades.
But in another 10 years Miami will be in the vanguard of progressive American cities, Mr. Knox says, adding: "My family will be here to enjoy it." (Mr. Knox's wife, also a lawyer, is a member of the city school board.)
"Yes, tourists are beginning to shy away from us," Mr. Knox continues. "Miami's current image hurts. But look: The local NAACP held a togetherness day Sunday after all the agitation from the national convention in Miami Beach [June 30-July 4]. We relaxed in the hot sun together in peace in Liberty City."
Rioting is no reason for giving up on miami, says Brenda Rivers, a city planner with one of the largest architectural development firms here.
Miss Rivers is from Newark, N.J., which is still recovering from its own riots of 1968. She has involved herself with the boards of the local Urban League and the antipoverty Community Action Agency of Dade County. She is one of 200 young potential leaders selected by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce for a special seminar and committee service.
"Young blacks of Miami often complete their college training here, then flee to greener pastures," she says. "Few want to go through the burdens of the racism and sexism here. I see a fertile ground for progress and professionalism. I am staying."
Anita Bryant, a professional convention arranger also from New Jersey, came to Miami last March to coordinate the NAACP gathering. She acknowledges the racial problems here, but loves the weather and economic opportunities and plans to stay.
"We Northerners do come to Miami with our own prejudices," she says. "I still see this place as one with the plantation atmosphere -- with blacks as maids, porters, and laborers." She notes that the city has "only a few, but very capable black professionals. But we can see that blacks can progress here."
Miami lacks a social or economic gathering place for blacks, she notes; most black businesses are "mom and pop" stores, taverns, night clubs, funeral homes, weekly newspapers, and restaurants.
But she sees the city as a collection of peoples -- black, Cuban, Haitian, Colombian, and the white mainstream. "I had a chance to work with all of them," she says. "I liked it."
"Race discrimination is a part of Miami," says Arthur J. Hill, the black assistant vice- president of Southeast First National Bank of Miami, largest in the city. "Lots of people try not to accept this as fact. But it exists."
Mr. Hill, however, offers a recipe for racial harmony. He suggests that local business and public officials deal with problems of the criminal justice system, high unemployment, improvement of public school education, acceptance of blacks "as real human beings," and equal opportunity for minority employees.
"We are a test tube for the nation," Mr. Hill asserts. "I plan to be part of the solution."
Blacks here have listened to scores of proposals from politicians and human-rights leaders from around the globe, but they think Miami can fend for itself and they have their own ideas for how to do it. Among them:
* Government and the public sector must not be left to "do it all." The private sector can invest in the black community, which has no central economic and social base. There are only a small handful of indigenous community organizations, only two supermarkets, no movie houses, and only occasional cultural activities.
Already southern Bell Telephone Company plans to open an office in Liberty City that will provide 300 jobs. If other firms follow suit, progress looms.
* Black people are eager to open businesses in Miami, but they find it virtually impossible to get start-up funds from local banks and other financial institutions. They would like to see money-lending agencies loosen their purse strings and give creative blacks a chance to serve their own community.
Black investors here hope to set up a credit union through the Small Business Administration to finance economic development. A black organization, the Miami-Dade chamber of Commerce, has formulated its own renovation plan, designed to operate through a community development corporation.