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Juneteenth: Burned crosses in Miami mark racist past

Burned crosses mark South Florida's racist past
Burned crosses mark South Florida's racist past 03:23

MIAMI - Juneteenth (June 19th) marks the end of slavery in Texas and is the day the country commemorates the ending of slavery and freedom for African Americans. It's a national holiday which was established by Congress in 2021.

After Juneteenth, Jim Crow laws sprang up along with the Ku Klux Klan to intimidate Black people, including right here in Miami.

Juneteenth is about being free which includes being free to exist without fear and intimidation.

Geographically, South Florida is in the South, and in the early 1900s segregation and racial oppression were a way of life.

That includes the Klan burning crosses in Miami. Kamila Pritchett is the Executive Director of the Black Archives at the Lyric Theater where one such cross is preserved.

"We have those things as a, not necessarily to constantly thrive or ruminate on those negative aspects of the past but to serve as a reminder that these things actually happened, that this is a part of our history," she said.

The cross is smaller than you'd think but is still very intimidating.

"The cross that we have, it was because there was a Black person invited to a church," said Pritchett.

In 1939, just before Election Day, crosses were used by the KKK to scare Black voters. Nadege Green is an archivist and founder of Black Miami-Dade. She explained what happened.

"The poll tax had been lifted and that terrified the white power structure in Miami because all of a sudden you have all of these Black voters who can go out and vote," said Green.  "So the Miami Klan came out the day before Election Day with a parade of cars through Overtown. They burned 25 crosses. At all of the major intersections of Overtown, a cross was placed and set on fire."

Life magazine covered the Klan rally and has pictures of what Miami looked like. Along with the crosses being burned, dummies were hung from poles and there are pictures of nooses dangling from cars.

The terror didn't work. Over a thousand Black people showed up and voted. Life magazine noted it was the biggest turnout in Miami election year history. The movement was so powerful that Langston Hughes wrote a poem about Miami and that terror called the Ballad of Sam Solomon.

Solomon, who live in Miami and was a civil rights activist, defied the KKK by encouraging Black voters in segregated Overtownto to cast their ballots.

The poem below contains strong language.

Sam Solomon said,
You may call out the Klan
But you must've forgot
That a Negro is a MAN.
It was down in Miami
A few years ago.
Negroes never voted but
Sam said, It's time to go
To the polls election day
And make your choice known
Cause the vote is not restricted
To white folks alone.
The fact we never voted
In the past
Is something that surely
Ain't due to last.
Sam Solomon called on
Every colored man
To qualify and register
And take a stand
And be up and out and ready
On election day
To vote at the polls,
Come what may.
The crackers said, Sam,
If you carry this through,
Ain't no telling what
We'll do to you.
Sam Solomon answered,
I don't pay you no mind.
The crackers said, Boy,
Are you deaf, dumb, and blind?
Sam Solomon said, I'm
Neither one nor the other-
But we intend to vote
On election day, brother.
The crackers said, Sam,
Are you a fool or a dunce?
Sam Solomon said, A MAN
Can't die but once.
They called out the Klan.
They had a parade.
But Sam Solomon
Was not afraid.
On election day
He led his colored delegation
To take their rightful part
In the voting of a nation.
The crackers thought
The Ku Klux was tough-
But the Negroes in Miami
Called their bluff.
Sam Solomon said,
Go get out your Klan-
But you must've forgotten
A Negro is a MAN.

"The Ballad of Sam Solomon" by Langston Hughes
Published in Jim Crow's Last Stand Atlanta: Negro Publication Society of America (1943) 

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