Panther Personalities

Miami in Miami, a class that examines the historical, social and cultural identity of the city

Episode Summary

Professor John Bailly leads students on six-hour expeditions through Miami. In their journeys, Panthers learn things that surprise even Miami-born students.

Episode Transcription

Valdes: This is Panther Personalities presented by Florida International University.


Drucker: Hello FIU family and friends, and welcome to Panther Personalities where students are stars, research is relatable, and FIU tells its own stories. I’m your host David Drucker. On today’s show, we have Professor John Bailly. John teaches a course in the Honors College called “Miami in Miami” where he and his students visit the places and talk with people who represent the authentic nature and history of the city. As the largest public university in the area, FIU has a multitude of efforts to educate students and the community about the real Miami, and this class is a great example of that. I learned a lot talking with John about his class, and I hope you all enjoy this discussion as well.


Drucker: Alright. We have another special Panther guest on the show. John, welcome to Panther Personalities.


Bailly: Thank you for inviting me. I love FIU, and I’m happy to talk to the community.


Drucker: Well, it’s a pleasure to have you on here. You are doing something unique at FIU that I think our audience will be really interested. Obviously, we’re FIU, based in Miami, and you have this course, “Miami in Miami” where you basically study the city. And, we’re gonna talk about all sorts of things, but let’s start-- What led you to create this experience?


Bailly: So, I’ve been the Faculty Director of France, Italy, and Spain Study Abroad for 10 years, and those courses, uh, they build a sense of community and camaraderie between the students that, um, I haven’t seen in other classes. They also entail a level of engagement with the subject that’s also not equal anywhere else that I’ve witnessed. And I realize, though, that it’s not just that we’re in these countries. It’s that we are having shared experiences, that it’s experiential learning. Um, so I thought, let’s have Miami as our classroom. Instead of being in a physical closed classroom, let’s not do power points. Let’s not do things through, uh, online chats. Let’s do it in person in the community so that we’re not just studying our subject, we’re living our subject at the same time that we’re studying our subject. I also thought that, um, Miami is such an interesting and unique and dynamic city, it would be perfect for a study abroad-type program, um, but for students that actually live in Miami.


Drucker: So this is designed for locals in a way, also, right? Like, locals have a lot to gain from this.


Bailly: Interestingly, um, many of my students that get the most out of the class have lived in Miami their whole lives and not been aware of the history or ever visited some of the communities of Miami.


Drucker: Wow. What kind of variety of places and subjects are you visiting during this trip?


Bailly: So, the “Miami in Miami” is offered through the Honors College at FIU, so it’s an interdisciplinary course, and my students are from all different majors. That’s a challenge for a professor, because I need to go outside of my discipline. I’m a painter. Um, I make paintings, and I talk about paintings. I should be teaching how to paint. But instead, in the Honors

College, the challenge is that we have to somehow go out of our discipline and engage students from other disciplines. That challenge is actually my favorite part of working at FIU and in the Honors College, because it expands the conversation, um, you get students out of their comfort zones, you get professors out of their comfort zones, and the dialogue is, uh, intuitively spontaneous, you don’t know which way it’s going to go. Um, so the class then has to reflect that academic diversity in that we are studying the history, the culture, and the nature of Miami, so we try to include all of those subjects in our excursions.


Drucker: So, across all these different dimensions of Miami, what are some of the places that you end up taking the students?


Bailly: So, the challenge is, um, finding places that we can spend, uh, six hours at, because we meet every other week, so that we have basically a six-hour class. And we also want to try to avoid relocating by car as much as possible. The most difficult challenge to teaching a class like this in Miami compared to a city like Paris or Barcelona or Rome is that you don’t have the same infrastructure as far as public transportation, so it’s really difficult to move around, especially if it’s a caravan of 20 students. So I have to, I’m somewhat limited by location so that we can adapt a class, a six-hour class. So, um, there are certain places, there are partnerships that I ‘ve developed. The Deering Estate is a really important one, the oldest archaeological site in all of southeast Florida. Everglades National Park is another great one. But also, um, Overtown has been a fantastic place to engage the history of Miami, downtown Miami with the History of Miami Museum. We do, um, a Wynwood walk, um, Wynwood and Allapattah, where we visit, uh, the Margulies collection where actually Mr. Margulies, one of the most famous contemporary art collectors in the world, um, comes and speaks to the students, not just about his collection, but about what art, how art serves a community, um, and then through the history of Wynwood. We, um, we go to Vizcaya. South Beach is probably my most popular walk, I think, Ocean Drive, architecture and history of, uh, South Beach, which the students love.


Drucker: Tell us about the trip to Deering Estate, because you mention it’s one of the oldest archaeological sites in Miami, yet isn’t it also called Deering Estate, isn’t it an estate?


Bailly: Correct. Um, yeah, David. That’s, a lot, one of the things that you’re touching on is the complexity of how the history of Miami is told. Um, and, there’s a lot of, um, social, historic, and, um, really complicated racial relations, uh, through indigenous peoples of the land we now call Miami of Bahamian immigrants and then northern settlers that come at the end of the 19th century, and so the naming and how we talk about these things is actually quite complicated, and that’s one of the more interesting parts of the class. Um, I like to say that there are several crimes, um, that, or tragedies that happened in history. One of them is the occurrence itself, um, that there were slaves in downtown Miami, that indigenous peoples that have been erased, the Tequesda have been erased, their remains sold as souvenirs. And so there are things in the past that we cannot change but acknowledging those things and talking about them is something that we can do. And so the class is really heavy on finding the authentic Miami and the authentic history of Miami. So the Deering Estate, um, has an archaeological site called the Cutler Fossil Site which has evidence of human habitation that dates back 10,000 years and human remains that date back 600 years. It’s an incredibly restricted site that my students get to visit it every year and actually go down into the Cutler Fossil Site. And so this is a time where we are able to see Miami even before the Tequesta, uh, paleo-indigenous people, uh, prehistorical people. And, uh, then there’s also a Tequesta burial mound there. So, uh, in the class at the Deering Estate,

we’re able to see Miami before 1513 when Ponce de Leon appears. However, it’s called the Deering Estate because one of the things that’s complicated about Miami is that when Northern settlers came in the 19th century, um, they fell into this myth that we often repeat which is this was empty land never inhabited before and we are the pioneers. And I object to the word “pioneer” to refer to them. They’re just another part of the migration that is constantly going on through Miami. And, uh, so it is ironic, yeah, that the oldest archaeological site is then named by one of, named after one of these northern settlers, but to be fair, he did preserve these sites, and he did preserve the nature of Miami, um, so, yeah.


Drucker: Okay. You mentioned also Overtown. Can you take us through that visit and anything that happens there?


Bailley: Right. So, um, Overtown, um, just to give a little bit of a context, um, before Miami was incorporated in 1896, there was no segregation here. Uh, there was a Bahamian, uh, settlement, uh, in what we now know is Coconut Grove, but there were people living throughout what we now call Miami of, of different races. There were Seminoles, of course, um, there was a decent amount of Bahamians, and there were of course settlers, but when, um, Flagler led the appropriation of Miami, despite, uh, a very large percentage of the people that voted for the incorporation of Miami were black, there was the creation of Colored Town. And Colored Town was the place that Blacks by law had to live. And Colored Town eventually became Overtown. And what’s fascinating is that they immediately established churches that are as old as the city of Miami. And some of those churches are still in their original locations. The buildings were destroyed in the hurricane of 1926, but they were rebuilt, so the buildings are from the 1920’s. And due to segregation, you had, um, Blacks were forced to not just live there, but they couldn’t sleep, for example, in Miami Beach either, so Miami Beach was heavily segregated. So you had people like Billie Holiday that would perform on Miami Beach but then had to go to spend the night in the historic Hampton House. Um, and there would be second shows that would happen at night there. So the best concerts-- Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday, all of these different people-- happened in Overtown, and it became, um, basically, just a thriving cultural center. And then, um, there’s, there’s the historic Lyric Theater that still exists. And then there are churches that are absolutely spectacular for their, because they’re as old as the city of Miami, but also, um, in the push for desegregation, they became organizing centers. So you have, um, the Greater Bethel Church and you have Mount Zion that still exist. And Martin Luther King spoke at both of them. He gave an incredibly, uh, important speech at Greater Bethel. And so my students, um, are able to go into these churches. And, um, it was great, we were in one of them and we asked, “Is it true that Martin Luther King lectured here?” And she said, “Oh yeah, I remember when Martin spoke,” one of the women that’s in the church, right?


Drucker: [laughter]


Bailley: . . . And so we’re next to the pulpit where Martin Luther King spoke, and so then you see all of this history and you also see the tragedy as well that that thriving historic community of Overtown was then absolutely ravaged, um, by the building of I-95 right through the heart of it, which is unfortunate to this day.


Drucker: In addition to the Miami experience, you mention that you expose students to the environmental aspects of Miami. So, what do those expeditions look like and what kind of, like, value does that add, like, to students’ perceptions of this area?


Bailly: So, um, “Miami in Miami” really here becomes Miami-Dade County. That’s the way that we can include the Everglades. And the Everglades is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s only, I believe, 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the entire United States, and the Everglades is one of them. It means this unique, um, location in the entire world. And so, first of all, the students have never really been to the Everglades, but then we go with, um, a park ranger, and we do a slough slog in which I have my students, my FIU students, basically waist deep slogging through the Everglades, uh, with alligators, um, with snakes . . .


Drucker: Oh . . . !


Bailly: . . . And, um, they actually, they are terrified, but it ends up being, along with South Beach, probably the most popular, um, lecture that we do. And I think though that when you come to realize how unique the land that you live on is, you tend to treasure it more, and it tends to contribute more to your sense of community and the identity of place. Another, uh, excursion that we do is we go to, um, in coordination with the Deering Estate, we do a clean-up of Chicken Key, which is a small island in Biscayne Bay. And so we’ll kayak, uh, out to Chicken Key. We’ll pack our lunches, because there’s nothing, it’s an uninhabited island. We’ll bring, you know, lots of water, uh, food, and we’ll do a clean-up of the island, and that the students just love, ‘cause we get to all be, uh, Tom Hanks in “Castaway” for a day and do it together . . .


Drucker: [laughter]


Bailly: . . . And, you know, we swim also when we’re there to cool off, and I remember swimming, and I just looked back. I was swimming alone, and I looked back towards the island that’s just sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay alone, and, really, it’s just, it’s a little paradise. And I just see my students sitting there, walking along, talking together and I thought, you know, I think, like, “This is what university should be,” um, learning about the environment and the importance of cleaning the environment by actually doing it, and especially in a place that’s unique in the world.


Drucker: Amazing.


Bailly: Yeah.


Drucker: South Beach. That trip. Um, what goes on there? Tell us about what students learn.


Bailly: So, um, we learn about the disastrous environmental impact of having destroyed all the mangroves that covered Miami Beach, and then that there’s land, that there’s land erosion. Of course, if you take away mangroves, that’s going to happen, so we learn about that. And then, of course, we discuss climate change as a result and rising sea level and how complicated that is. Um, we talk about, again, unfortunately, Miami Beach as it was developed became incredibly segregated, uh, not just for Blacks, but for Jews, as well, who could only live south of Fifth Street for a while. Um, but we also see how, um, despite that, they developed a thriving Jewish community with an absolutely beautiful, uh, two synagogues essentially that became one that is now the Jewish Museum of South Florida, which is part of FIU, which is a great resource that every student at FIU should visit. Um, and then from there we talk about, um, the, the what makes Miami Beach so unique, especially Ocean Drive, its Art Deco, and how it’s the largest Art

Deco, um, neighborhood in the world. And we talk about how that has been able to be preserved and how other places such as Overtown and Coconut Grove and now Little Haiti, uh, we’re not finding a way to preserve them, and as a result, we’re losing our cultural identity. And it’s thanks to this woman, Barbara Baer Capitman of the Miami Design Preservation League, that it was a concerted effort to save this, and that’s what makes it so unique. So we’re always tying it to, there’s a formal talk about the architectural components of Art Deco, but we talk about the history, and we talk about how this is successful and how other parts of Miami are not so successful.


Drucker: Interesting. So students are really picking up on themes of how things have been preserved and why other things are not, right?


Bailly: Oh, they’re, they’re shaping their ideas of how they’re going to be, uh, leaders in the community in the future. Absolutely.


Drucker: Amazing. And it’s great that these are the Honor students who are learning this from all different disciplines and can apply that to all sorts of different walks of life. Um, what are some of the things that students are surprised by after they take this course?


Bailly: Uh, well, um, there are several of them. First of all, um, they are surprised at how actually public transportation can be used, right? They are surprised at the length and amount of history that exists in Miami. They’re, they’re definitely not aware of this. They’re stunned by the contemporary art scene, which is one of the best in the world. Um, and they’re also, um, I think, really surprised at how things that they thought weren’t safe are actually really fun, um, for example, going into the Everglades, going swimming in Biscayne Bay and snorkeling. They’re terrified they’re gonna get eaten by a shark, and actually then they love it. They, uh, I get a lot of, um, uh, there’s, there’s imposition about going to Overtown, when actually it’s one of the places that we have the best welcome anywhere. Um, and actually the places that are always a little weird is, is South Beach. We always have somebody talking to us or coming up to us or acting a little crazy there. Um, even, um, they, they are stunned, for example, at also the Biltmore, the history. So, they kind of have seen the Biltmore from outside, but they have no idea of the beauty inside, and then it was also a hospital during World War II.


Drucker: Oh!


Bailly: Yeah, they didn’t know these things.


Drucker: It’s a hotel today, right?


Bailly: Today it is a hotel. Correct. Yes.


Drucker: Amazing. And so, Professor, how long have you led this trip? No, not trip . . .


Bailly: Yeah, it’s fine. Um, I guess this is the third year. And what was interesting is when my study abroads were canceled, um, mid-semester, I had, I had just started teaching “Miami in Miami” . . .


Drucker: . . . during Coronavirus.


Bailly: Correct. And when Covid canceled my study abroad classes, I thought the most cruel thing that I could do with those classes was continue telling them about countries we weren’t going to visit. So midway through the semester I reinvented all those classes into “Miami in Miami.” And, um, then the next year, I offered four sections of it, and they all filled up. And David, it was the most amazing thing, because we were in person. You know, with all due respect, online education is for some, it’s definitely not for me. Um, I’m not interested in it, I think it has vast limitations. I want to teach in person. I want students to interact with each other. And so, um, when my classes were moved online in Fall 2020, I appealed it and I won, and so “Miami in Miami,” we were downtown, and we were the only people there. Same on South Beach. We were the first student group to go back to Everglades National Park, to the Deering Estate, to Vizcaya, to the Margulies collection, to the Rubell collection. People would come out just to see us, like, “We can’t believe we’re seeing students again.” And, um, so that’s what really made the class, I think unique, because everybody was kind of living indoors and then they would see the students of “Miami in Miami” and they’re like, “What are you doing downtown? What are you doing in the Everglades?” And I’m, like, “I have a class.” And, uh, yeah, so it's really developed since that.


Drucker: And after all this, what do you come away with in terms of, just, kind of observations and lessons you come away from the “Miami in Miami” course, like, after doing it for, for three years. Do you have, like, a takeaway about the city or about learning or something?


Bailly: So, first of all, um, as with any class, the more I study it, the more I realize I’m ignorant of the history of a place.


Drucker: [laughter]


Bailly: And, so it’s “The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.” That happens to me so much. I thought I had a fairly decent grasp of the history and culture and nature of Miami, and I realize every day that I know so little. And I meet people and they’re, like, “Well, why don’t you include this?” and I’m, like, “Well, what is that?” And then I find out more. Um, so, Miami is far more interesting, far more diverse in its history than I ever imagined, and that is fascinating to me. Um, I also, um, it makes me even more committed to the idea of experiential learning, so that students respond to in-person shared experiences with other students and discussions on location. So, imagine me telling, giving a power point about the history of Overtown and then just showing a slide, like, “Martin Luther King spoke here.” compared to actually going to Overtown, being in the church, being next to the pulpit that he spoke at, and speaking to a woman that heard him speak there. And the students, it goes from a class to a life memory that they will take forever. And my hope is that, um, we can kind of redefine and expand the definition of authentic Miami by students then repeating our same walking lectures with their friends and family and beyond, and that the class then becomes a force. FIU then becomes an introduction to the real Miami, so that we then are the ones, that we take you out there. We celebrate Miami. We, we correct the history of Miami, and, um, our students are the ones doing that. It has to be said. All of the students create online public blogs of their experience of Miami, and so we have a website. I pay for it myself. I paid for it, so that there are no ads. Um, I profit from it in no way whatsoever. You can tip the students on it, though, for their blogs, and that money goes 100% directly to them. And the reason I do their website myself is that we want it to be no censorship. Students can write whatever they want. They can

criticize, they can post whatever they want. And so those blogs are open and available for people to read, and they also recommend where to eat and things like that, so, yeah.


Drucker: Awesome. Well thank you so much for coming on the show.


Bailly: Oh, absolutely.


Drucker: It’s been an absolute pleasure. And, what, what, like, who, who better to help, you know, kind of represent the, the real history of Miami and FIU, right?


Bailly: That’s what I think, and I, I would love for the idea of classes that use Miami as a classroom to be kind of a staple of FIU. It should be part of our identity. “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, Miami, world famous city? If you want to learn it, if you want to live it, come to FIU. That’s what we do.”


Drucker: Amazing. Alright.


Bailly: Alright.


Drucker: Thanks so much for coming by.


Bailly: Oh yeah, my pleasure.


Drucker: Alright, that’s gonna do it for today’s show. Thank you so much for listening. And let’s go ahead and thank all of our FIU contributors who make Panther Personalities possible. Our theme music is the FIU Samba given to us by Director of FIU Bands Barry Bernhardt. Our artwork is done by FIU designers David Roberts, Oscar Negret, and Barbie Ramos. Our intro is voiced by alumna Alexandra Valdes. And this show has been edited by FIU’s Strategic Communications, Government and External Affairs. We’ll be back with you in a couple of weeks with another episode. In the meantime, you can check out more stories and podcasts by FIU Talk with you soon Panther friends and family. Paws up.