There was once a time in South Florida — long before this current epoch of condo overdevelopment, strip-mall existence, and LeBron James — when our land was pervaded by vagrants and vagabonds and when good, God-fearing folk feared proud sluts roaming the streets. Or at least that's what it appears from reading the 1917 Miami city code, which New Times discovered on Reddit last week.
In a remarkable decree that's equal parts hilarious and terrifying, the freewheeling manifesto illustrates how far we've 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 anyway? 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 clubs on Fort Lauderdale Beach would have met the definition.) Next on the list of don'ts was the troubling matter of the 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."
Paul George, a professor of history at Miami-Dade College, nerded out when we showed him the charter.
"Amazing!" he gasps. "Just amazing! It's an unbelievable time capsule." George then padded upstairs in his house and, while cradling a telephone against his ear, proceeded to flip 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 declared. "That's it! They must have not wanted female dogs running around getting pregnant!"
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But if the charter's sexual mores are quaint and hilarious, 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 says, whites didn't "want to risk the humiliation of a black fighter defeating them."
There's also a 500-word meditation on the meaning of "vagrants" and "vagabonds," an apparently large umbrella term that encompassed anyone who was "idle," "disorderly," or merely a "common piper and fiddler." George perceived something dark and racial in this too, saying the city used it as a means to arrest congregating groups of blacks.
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.
"Any owner or parent or guardian of a minor owner of a proud slut" ... shall be punished.