Florida City's Main Man

Hubert Albury is a fixture in South Miami-Dade's political scene. He also cooks a mean pigeon peas and rice.

For his part Albury once again uses an apt market metaphor, this time to explain his approach to love and marriage: "If you can't get it at Winn-Dixie, you can get it at Publix. Life's too short to fight."

Ms. Brown seems to understand. She works as a nurse at Everglades Academy, a juvenile correctional facility that is just down the road. She's from Mississippi. While in Homestead visiting her mother about five years ago, Ms. Brown and her two girls decided to stay. She and Albury met at the Elks club, naturally; she says she didn't like him at first, but it wasn't long before, as she puts it, she was "standing in line with the other girls."

When Ms. Brown is in another room speaking on the phone, Albury looks pensive. "We have our differences," he says, shaking his head, "but I won't trade her in. Naw. I won't trade her in."

Every year in Marathon the citizens celebrate Grace Jones Day with games and cakewalks, speeches and band music, and lots of Bahamian food. Jones was Albury's great-aunt, the sister of his mother's mother, and an early community activist. Grace and her husband, Harry Jones, were among the rush of islanders who came to Key West in the early 1900s to find work. The end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865 devastated the Bahamas, which were a transshipment point for the blockaded, cotton-producing Southern states during the fighting. "The Bahamas fell into a deep depression; people were starving," says Cudjoe Key writer and historian John Viele, author of several articles and three books about early Caribbean and Bahamian history.

Grace and Harry arrived in Key West in 1919. Both worked until moving north to Marathon in 1933. Grace became a leader in the black community there and in 1941 founded the Upper Keys' first school for black children (their only classroom until then was in a church).

Meanwhile Grace's niece Kathleen Cash married Mathland Albury in the Bahamas, had five children, broke up with Mathland, and in 1948 moved back to her hometown, Key West. Hubert Albury, the third child, and his older brother Willias were raised in Lower Bogue by their father's mother, Albertha Kelly, and her daughter, Lilla Johnson. They lived in a wooden house only about twelve-feet square. "In the islands they train boys as well as girls. Them floors had to be scrubbed every Wednesday and Saturday. Wednesday was my day, and I scrubbed on Saturday, too," Albury recalls.

When Albury and his mother tell their family history, their memories are full of contradictions, holes and switched sequences, made more elusive because there are no surviving witnesses to fill in the many gaps. One such questionable account comes from Albury's grandfather, Bertram Cash, and it rings true for Coconut Grove in the early Twentieth Century.

Three decades before Albury arrived in Florida, Bertram Cash and his brother Tommy, like many Bahamians of the day, migrated to the Miami area to work on Henry Flagler's railroad. They were laying tracks when Tommy got into an argument with a white man and apparently struck him. Immediately after the incident a white posse, formed seeking vengeance on Tommy. When the group couldn't find him, it called in the Ku Klux Klan, then very active throughout South Florida. The Klan, too, was unsuccessful in its manhunt, so the group targeted Bertram, his pregnant wife, Salaney, and their two sons, Lloyd and Leroy. To avoid their inevitable fate of tar and feathers or worse, they started walking south, heading for Key Largo, where Bertram's cousin, a Mr. Buckner, awaited them. "They hid in the bushes during the day and walked at night," Albury says. "They walked all the way to Homestead." The family eventually made its way to Key West, where their third child, Kathleen, was born.

Miami historian Paul George, an authority on Miami's early days, says not only was the Klan a force to be reckoned with, but it was particularly irked by Bahamians, who were unaccustomed to being kicked around in their home country, and were less likely to tolerate such treatment here. According to George a Florida circuit court judge once complained from the bench that "uppity" Bahamians were exceptionally hard to control. This only inflamed the Klan. Several kidnappings, assaults, and lynchings were recorded from the Grove south to Goulds and Homestead. "The Klan showed up in a big way on a Sunday night in 1921," George says. "They marched down Flagler Street with 150 members. Soon afterward they showed up at a church in Coconut Grove, where H.M. Higgs was the pastor. After his sermon the Klan essentially kidnapped him and sent him back to the Bahamas."

By the time Albury arrived in Florida, the Klan had retreated somewhat, but not much else had changed for people of color. No bank would lend a black person money to start a business or buy land; black people weren't allowed on downtown Homestead streets after dark, nor could they take refuge in a public shelter during rainstorms; and of course, even if a bus was empty, blacks were forbidden to sit anywhere but in two seats at the back.

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