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The legend scrawled across the top of every inside page of the Miami Times reads, "Blacks Must Control Their Own Destiny." But what is its destiny? Patrick Range II, a young man whose roots in the community give him a deep respect for the institution of the Times, acknowledges that many of his peers don't share his reverence. "Those younger folks tend to look at the Times as a second-rate paper," he says. "They don't read it. I know folks have various opinions of the Times. Most of the older generation depends on it, to some extent more than the Herald. My grandmother looks for it every Wednesday evening."
Marvin Dunn, former head of the psychology department at Florida International University and a historian of black Miami, says his opinion of the Miami Times has evolved over the years. "In the beginning it was the only consistent black voice in Miami, the only autonomous paper that could stand up to the white establishment," he observes. "I have a lot of respect for the paper." But Dunn acknowledges times have changed and the paper needs to evolve with them. "I would like to see more emphasis on the diversity in black Miami," he says. "I would like to know more about the editorial process. Is it a one-person show? Do they hire quality people to ensure the kind of product a quality paper should have? I'd like to see better writing.
"What is the future leadership beyond Rachel? Is it going to pass from the Reeves family to some other entity?" Dunn continues. "I think the paper is still relevant. There's a need for it even more so today. It can't afford to lose the next generation of blacks."
Wilson Louis is the sort of person Dunn is talking about. Louis, now 21, worked at the Miami Times for about a year and a half. A Haitian American with a round face and a sweet nature, Louis began writing teen articles for the paper when he was a senior at Miami Edison Senior High School. (He's now earning a degree at Miami Dade College and working for WSVN, Channel 7.) But because more experienced reporters were leaving, he was quickly promoted to writing news stories. "At one time, only me and [another writer] were reporting," he recalls. "And I was just a high school kid. It was tough."
Louis, like a number of other Times reporters New Times interviewed, felt a connection and a duty to the community that led him to believe in the mission of the paper, even when he was frustrated by a lack of ability to fulfill it. Louis says that as a Haitian American living in a predominantly Haitian neighborhood, he hadn't had much contact with African Americans in Miami. "At the time, I didn't know what the Miami Times was," he relates. "I had heard of it. It was a black paper about the African-American community. I hadn't had much interaction with it, but through the paper I was able to bond with the African-American community. There may have been ups and downs, but overall it was worth it." Louis admits he hasn't really read it since late 2003, when he was let go.
Yvette Anderson, a former intern who wrote stories for two months in 2003, had a similar experience; she was asked to perform at a level beyond her experience in a high-pressure situation. Yet Anderson, now 23 and completing a degree in elementary education at Florida A&M University, echoes a sentiment New Times heard over and over from even the paper's critics. "Despite the paper's faults, there are stories in there that if that paper wasn't there, you wouldn't see those voices in there," she argues. "When I was there, they did have errors.... A lot of people in the community read it just to know who passed. I used to try to get my friends at Miami-Dade [College] to read it and they weren't interested. The old people keep that paper alive."
The era in which the Miami Times was founded was a particularly brutal one for dark-skinned people. Miami was a tropical southern backwater in 1923 -- full of real-estate scams, fruit trees, hotels, and institutional racism. This was the year Henry Ethelbert Sigismund Reeves, a Bahamian transplant who owned a print shop, started his paper.In the early Twenties, the Ku Klux Klan was active and open to the point of sponsoring huge downtown parades and running vigilante raids through Overtown. The group bombed buildings, lynched black men, and flat-out controlled the Miami Police Department. In his 1997 book Black Miami in the Twentieth Century, Marvin Dunn detailed incidents of gruesome torture by police that bear a sickening resemblance to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers today. A 1928 grand jury report included testimony about the police shocking men and women with live electrical wires, sometimes on their genitals. It also included accounts of numerous vicious beatings that sometimes resulted in death, in which case the department would issue a flimsy cover story about suicide or a fight.
For black workers to enter Miami Beach in those days, they had to have a police-issued ID card. Yet the paradox of segregation meant black wealth and talent were concentrated in only a few areas, most famously in Overtown during its nationally renowned peak as an entertainment hub from the Thirties to the early Sixties. After World War II, the nascent civil rights movement in Miami was jump-started by black soldiers who returned from the war with the notion that since they'd fought for their country, they ought to enjoy its freedoms on the same level as whites.