There was once a time in Miami, long before this epoch of patas sucias, EDM, and LeBron James, when vagrants and vagabonds pervaded the city, and good, God-fearing folks feared proud sluts roaming the streets. Or at least that's how it appears according to the 1917 Miami city code, which Riptide discovered last week.
In a remarkable decree that's equal parts hilarious and terrifying, the freewheeling manifesto illustrates not only what our city once was but also how far it's come. For starters, officials definitely didn't want to catch anyone "sleeping in an outhouse without having first obtained permission from the owner." And if they did? It meant a fine "not exceeding ten dollars" or imprisonment of "hard labor" for ten days.
Nor did they want anyone occupying something cryptically referred to as a "bawdy house" or a "house of ill fame." (It's unclear from the documentation whether nightclubs on Washington Avenue would have met the definition.) Next on the list of don'ts is the troubling matter of "proud sluts at large."
"Any owner or parent or guardian of a minor owner of a proud slut," Section 665 of the city charter reads, "who permits [the proud slut] to go at large upon the streets of this city shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not less than five dollars nor more than fifty dollars."
Local historian Paul George nerded out when Riptide showed him the charter.
"Amazing!" he gasped. "Just amazing! It's an unbelievable time capsule." George then padded upstairs in his house and, while cradling a phone against his ear, flipped through a dictionary looking for the proper definition of "slut." "It's either a hairless, slovenly woman, a sexually immoral woman, or a female dog," he said. "That's it! They must have not wanted female dogs running around getting pregnant!"
But if the charter's sexual mores are quaint and amusing, other pieces expose the hypocrisy of racial segregation at the time. One piece of the code outlaws prostitution, which was then the major industry of predominantly black Overtown, though the most frequent patrons were, in fact, whites. It likewise banned "prize fighting between the white and Negro races," because, George said, whites didn't "want to risk the humiliation of a black fighter defeating them."
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There's also a 500-word meditation on the meaning of "vagrant" and "vagabond," apparently large umbrella terms that encompassed anyone who was "idle," "disorderly," or merely a "common piper and fiddler." George perceived something racial in this language too, saying the city used it as a means to arrest congregating groups of blacks.
So next time you feel like the City of Miami couldn't be any more dysfunctional, remember that at least it's no longer illegal to be a common fiddler, a proud slut, or a wanton outhouse sleeper.