Miami History

Miami has a unique and troubled past. The following is a selection of events integral to understanding Miami’s history.

?: Cutler fossil site

1513: Ponce De Leon claims the territory of Florida for Spain 

1819: Spain and Florida sign the Florida Purchase Treaty, effectively ceding Florida to the United States in exchange for about $5 million in debt claims. The treaty would be ratified in 1821 and Florida would be formally admitted as a US territory in 1822 and as a slave state in 1845.

1836: Dade County is formed. At the time it included today’s Broward, Martin, and Palm Beach counties.

1895: Julia Tuttle persuades Henry Flagler to extend the Florida East Coast Railway farther south to Miami in exchange for land. The first train would reach Miami in 1896 and Key West in 1912.

1896: The City of Miami is incorporated through a vote (344 votes were tallied and 368 voters were present—206 were white and 162 were black). A portion of the city was designated as a  a district for Miami’s black residents in what was then known as “Colored Town” and is present-day Overtown. 

1934: The US Congress authorizes the creation Everglades National Park. In 1979, the United Nations would designate it a World Heritage Site.

1939: Miami is among those ports to deny entry to the M.S. St. Louis, a ship which carried 937 Jewish refugees seeking asylum from Nazi Germany and who were sent back, many to their deaths.

1945: Dade County established Virginia Key Beach as a black-only beach.

1959: Fidel Castro comes to power in Cuba leading to an initial wave of Cuban refugees into the the United States including 14,000 children who came as part of operation “Pedro Pan” between 1960 and 1962.

1965: Hatian refugees began arriving in South Florida and were given asylum in the US. Thousands more would follow. The treatment of Haitian refugees versus Cuban refugees would be the source of great controversy.

1979: Dade County police officers beat and killed Arthur McDuffie. The acquittal of the officers by an all-white jury led to the Miami Riot of 1980.

1980: Mariel Boatlift brings about 140,000 Cubans to South Florida between April and September. 

1992: Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida


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