Florida City's Main Man

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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.

"To make a long story short, you had no rights," Albury remembers. "I wasn't used to that. But me, personally, I've had some very good days because after I learned the system and met a lot of people ... I found out if you are honest and sincere, people will recognize it. Where I was from, you had freedom, but you didn't have any money or anything."

Albury dropped out of school in the sixth grade to work at whatever jobs he could rustle up. He was only age sixteen, but passed himself off as an eighteen-year-old when he arrived in the United States in 1950 to pick vegetables. "They don't give you anything in the Bahamas. If you wanted anything, you had to earn it. And I wanted things," he asserts.

Albury was among the thousands of Bahamians who came to Florida under a labor arrangement that was struck between the Bahamian and U.S. governments during World War II. Bahamian farm workers pocketed 25 cents out of each dollar they earned, and the remaining 75 cents was transferred to an account in the Bahamas that the workers could access when they returned home. But many never did return.

Albury worked for H.L. Cox & Son, picking tomatoes, beans, potatoes, and other vegetables. "I could work," he recalls proudly. "Tomatoes, pole beans, potatoes, squash, anything in the field. It was piecework. We got paid by the box. Ten cents for a bucket of tomatoes, 25 cents a box for pole beans. Another boy and I were the best they had ever seen. We set a record of 520 boxes in one day. We were so good, they'd only let us work two or three days a week."

George Gibson, a trim, high-cheekboned man in a fine beige suit and vest, nods. He's sitting on one of the black vinyl sofas in Albury's den. They're drinking cranberry juice and conversing before leaving for a night of partying at the Elks Lodge. "Yes, the Cox boys had the reputation as the best," Gibson confirms. He worked for another grower during the contract days. Neither man is sure of the exact year they met, but they know it was some time shortly after Albury arrived and it was during weekend socializing with the other Bahamian workers at a nightclub in Goulds or one further south on U.S. 1. Gibson worked on contract the entire time, from 1943 to 1965, planting and harvesting all over Florida. In 1969 he got a live-in job as a landscaper at the Sheraton Hotel on Key Biscayne, where he remained until Andrew wrecked the place in 1992. Since then he has been a landscaper at the Miami Beach Ocean Resort. He lives in North Miami now and is widowed, but he's still an Elk and still drives down the Turnpike in his white Lincoln Town Car to spend time with Albury.

Albury went off contract in 1953, after he got married, became a U.S. resident, and moved to Florida City. (He was granted citizenship about five years later.) He still did farm work, but he'd take anything he could find. Some summers he, like Gibson and the other Bahamian laborers, followed the vegetable harvest north to Minnesota. They lived in tents or barracks. "I worked for Bird's Eye," Albury says. "Those folks treated me well. I was up there five, six weeks, and my grandmother passed away, but I couldn't go home."

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Kathy Glasgow
Contact: Kathy Glasgow

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