Miami is no stranger to the cyclical nature of history. We bear the brunt of hurricanes, regularly scheduled economic booms and busts, and a never-ending stream of politicians from less than a handful of families.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Xavier Suarez, father of our current city mayor, was himself city mayor 30 years ago. Back then, he proclaimed October 7, 1990, Yahweh ben Yahweh Day, in homage to the charismatic Miami religious sect leader. One month later, on charges of racketeering brought by then-U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen (husband of then-U.S. Rep. and current investigation subject Ileana Ros-Lehtinen), the day's namesake was in handcuffs.
Yahweh ben Yahweh was born Hulon Mitchell Jr. to an Oklahoma preacher. He moved around various clerical circles, eventually leaving the Nation of Islam and moving to Miami in 1978 and forming the Nation of Yahweh, an offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelite church. In short order, he amassed two things: a large following, and because it's Miami, a large real estate portfolio.
His holdings included a building in what is now known as the MiMo District, apartment projects in Liberty City, and ultimately one apartment building in Opa-locka, which became the focus of authorities when two tenants the Yahwehs attempted to evict turned up shot to death. A religious leader once viewed amiably enough to have a day named for him turned quickly into a villainous cult leader who commanded his disciples to kill in his name.
Today, Suarez distances himself from the Yahweh ben Yahweh Day proclamation.
"The Yahweh proclamation was requested by then-Commissioner Miller Dawkins," he told New Times in a recent interview. "I only met with Mr. ben Yahweh once."
There was something else about his meeting with the controversial figure that Suarez felt the need to note.
"The only thing salient in my mind," Suarez said, "is that he had a Black Madonna on his desk, which I identified as Our Lady of Kraków."
According to Jacek J. Kolasinski, a professor of art history at Florida International University, the image of the Virgin Mary has been co-opted by many cultures. As part of his Creole Archive Project, Kolasinski collects images of Black Madonnas found on buildings in Little Haiti that have been knocked down as a result of gentrification.
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The creolization of the Virgin Mary dates back to the adoption by Haitian freedom fighters of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa. Thought to have come to Haiti with Polish Legionnaires sent by Napoleon to quash the island's rebellion, the religious icon was eventually adopted by the Haitian vodou community as Ezili Dantó, a warrior goddess. This might explain how she came to Miami and invited the curiosity of our city mayor on Yahweh's desk.
As Miami politicians remain the same, so do other characters. The Black Hebrew Israelite sect to which the Yahwehs belonged continue to maintain a presence in the city. Locals are also no strangers to Michael the Black Man, a famous Trump supporter and former disciple of Yahweh. Also, last year, Larry Greene, also known as Elijah Israel, attempted to stab two religious practitioners outside a synagogue in Sunny Isles. He called them fake Jews when accosting them. That rhetoric is typical of the fringe movement.
Yahweh died of cancer in 2007, but his followers remain active in Miami today. The Tabernacle of Shiloh Hebrew Israelite Witnesses Congregation is registered to an address in El Portal. Its Facebook page is replete with Yahweh-touting posts, anti-abortion memes, and homophobic scourges.
So, in honor of Miami being a never-ending cycle of the same absurd characters, happy Yahweh ben Yahweh Day!