Miami Black History: 1980s to 1990s


This month, we’re taking a look at some of the significant people, places and events in the course of Miami’s black history with the help of Mandy Baca, author of The Sizzling History of Miami Cuisine: Cortaditos, Stone Crabs & Empanadas and Discovering Vintage Miami. In the ’80s, Miami was ripped apart by race riots, a new wave of Haitian immigrants staked their claim to the city, and Miami Bass took center stage in pop culture.

1980s RIOTS

“The decade of the 1980s was Miami’s time of fire. The horrendous riot of 1980 was the darkest moment in the life of the city.” – Marvin Dunn in Black Miami in the Twentieth Century

Following the acquittal of four white Dade County police officers in the beating death of a young black man named Arthur McDuffie in mid-May 1980; the city went into shutdown mode. Miami city was engulfed in flames for four days. Looters, murderers, and arsonists took to the streets, Liberty City was left in ruins, and eighteen people died. Race riots had calmed down after desegregation in the 1960s, but the ’80s saw violence on a whole other scale. Many chose to blame a variety of different factors — boredom, lack of recreational facilities for inner-city youth, immigration, poverty, but really the riot was sparked by injustice. This McDuffie riot spurred a decade of race riots over police violence  throughout the city, including the Nevel Johnson Incident of 1982 and the Lozano Incident of 1989. The 1990s couldn’t start soon enough.


Miami’s immigrant story is largely a story of Cuban migration, and because of this there are a lot of other important groups that get overshadowed. Case in point, the Haitians.

Did you know Haitians have been immigrating to the United States as early as the 1800s? A University of Michigan study offers some interesting statistics to quantify all of this: “For example, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service reported that between 1931 and 1940, there were only 191 legal Haitian immigrants. In contrast, between 1961 and 1970, there were 34,499 legal Haitian immigrants (it is important to note that there are no numbers of Haitian immigrants before 1932 because Haitians were classified as Caribbean immigrants). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 4.2% of the Miami-Dade County population was Haitian in 2000, making them the second largest immigrant group (after Cubans) in the county.”

Here’s what you should know:

Fidel Castro is to Cuba as Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier is to Haiti.
Little Havana is to Cuba as Little Haiti is to Haiti.
Marielitos are to Cuba as the Haitian Boat People are to Haiti.
American dreams are to Cubans as American dreams are to Haitians.

The Haitian immigration story shares similarities with the Cuban story. The 1950s and 1960s saw arrivals from the islands’ professional sets, while the 1970s and 1980s brought the Mariel boatlifts and the Haitian Boat People. However, Haitians escaping dictatorship were not afforded the protected immigration status of the Cuban Adjustment Act, also known as the “wet foot, dry foot” policy. On different ends of Miami, both communities built strong roots. The abundance of newcomers in the ’80s placed a strain on Miami, causing many Haitians to be placed, i.e. moved to other parts of the country. It really was a power struggle that caused many tensions to arise, many which are still present to this day. There is so much more to learn about Haitian culture. The University of Miami’s Special Collections Library has an expansive Haitian oral histories collection, which is open to the public.

The majority of Miami’s Haitian community lives in the Northeast section of Miami-Dade County, with large concentrations in Miami Shores, North Miami, and Miami Gardens. Most famous to outsiders and tourists, however, is Little Haiti, a vibrant community with bright colors, interesting architecture, music, art, and bon gou food. The area roughly spans between 54th and 86th streets and bordered by I-95 to the west and Biscayne Boulevard to the east. While Little Haiti serves as the definitive marker for cultural identification, other artists and creative groups are starting to move into the area due to lower cost of living and attractive location. Keep your eyes on Little Haiti, especially this year. There are many changes afoot, not just with changing demographics and real estate developments, but also with the expansion of the Little Haiti Cultural Complex, which is a hub for the community’s arts, culture, and small business.

County Commissioner Jean Monestime, the first Haitian-American elected to Miami-Dade’s Board of County Commissioners in 2010, was named chairman of the commission this year. A 30-year resident of of Miami-Dade County, Monestime has served as Vice-Mayor and Councilman in the city of North Miami and was a former teacher.


Diamond Girl bass remix, anyone? How about Luke Skywalker (who is now known as Uncle Luke)? Miami Bass doesn’t get much credit in popular culture these days, but it was big back in the day. If you’re looking to recreate the sound, it is a mix of synthesizer, turntable, drum machine, sampler, human beatboxing, and the eponymous 808.

Dubbed Miami Bass or Booty Bass, the hip-hop sub-genre sprouted in the 1980s and early 1990s in Miami’s neighborhoods of Liberty City and Overtown, and was headed up by the likes of 2 Live Crew, DJ Magic Mike, J Grey, and MC A.D.E and record producers, Caribbean Manufacturing and 4 Sight Records.

2 Live Crew was the most nationally recognized group of the era, in part because sexual lyrics in their 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be were the subject of an obscenity case that went national and another case over sampling that redefined legal precedent on parody and copyright in the U.S. Supreme Court. Miami Booty Bass may be making a comeback this year. Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew are finally reuniting for a world tour.