It may be a providential coincidence that the controversy surrounding the recently discovered multi-layered archaeological site in downtown Miami which is now threatened with destruction by the ambitious new upscale MetSquare development project is beginning to come to a head during Black History Month.
The month, which has inspired so many others, began as Negro History Week in 1923 as a yearly reminder of our need and our duty to retrieve and make known those components of American history that have been lost, forgotten, deliberately neglected, misunderstood, and/or misrepresented. This applies particularly to those chapters which tell the truth of African-American trials and triumphs, lessons learned and contributions made.
It may also be fortuitous that the discoveries currently being revealed at the site of the notoriously abusive Dozier “School” for Boys in Marianna serve as a very timely reminder of the value of archaeology and of preserving such sites for further research to continue into the future.
The Florida peninsula, as history would have it, is particularly rich in archaeological sites, not only as the location of the earliest landfalls of the European and African presence in North America some 500 years ago but also arguably of some of the oldest settled human communities, as evidenced by the Tequesta period (2,000 years ago) on both sides of the Miami River in downtown Miami suggest.
Archaeologists have indeed served our current generations in Florida well, on land and sea, with such important finds as the remains of the Peliklakaha Black Seminole village near Gainesville, the Loxahatchee Battlefield in Palm Beach County and the wreck of the English slave ship Henrietta Marie off Key West.
In spite of such richness, the modern city of Miami began with a dismal record of destroying local natural and historic treasures. The beautiful rapids on the Miami River were dynamited to make it a “commercial river” for money-making ventures. The natural stone bridge which gave Arch Creek its name was destroyed by heavy trucks and nearby construction.
Perhaps most egregious of all was the destruction of the sacred Tequesta burial mounds which supposedly blocked ground-level views of Biscayne Bay from Flagler’s Royal Palm Hotel, with human bones and skulls reportedly being given out or sold as “souvenirs” or tossed into barrels for dumping. Will such callous waste and disrespect continue in our time?
A promising answer came with the very broad community support, locally and from far and wide, which came together to save the ancient Miami Circle site from a downtown development scheme in 1999, eerily similar to the current controversy.
Whether such community wisdom and resolve are still with us 15 years later remains to be seen but a very promising step forward came at the special meeting, which lasted nine hours, of the city of Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board (HEPB) this Valentine’s Day at City Hall.
The purpose was to review the developers’ proposed MetSquare Tower project for the site, which included saving only a portion of it, moving one of the eight circles of ancient postholes to a new location and building interpretive museum facilities.
Even after a vigorous defense by the developers’ attorney, the HEPB members present rejected the plan by a 7-1 vote and required the developer to produce a new plan which will keep all of the permanent archaeological features (not including bones and artifacts) preserved in place.
The developers have cause to cite their already heavy investment of time, energy, expertise and money to date, all of the commitments they have made, and the expense and delays caused by having to redesign the project.
But they do also seem to be obligated to answer the question of “what they knew and when they knew it” when they purchased the site and made elaborate plans for a property that was known to be in an archaeological zone, where such finds as those which have come to light (and are continuing to do so) were quite to be expected.
They may seek compensation from government for these added expenses but should the taxpayers have to compensate wealthy businesspersons for losses due to a lack of vision on their part?
The Miami City Commission has its own decision to make. Surely the developers will be lobbying them heavily but, clearly, such an effort on their part will need to be balanced.
Dinizulu Gene Tinnie is a Miami-Dade artist and historical and cultural preservationist. He may be reached at He may be reached at 305-904-7620 or firstname.lastname@example.org