Miami Beach has fired the historian it hired to write a book commemorating this year’s centennial celebration over concerns with the content of the manuscript.
City Manager Jimmy Morales fired city historian Seth Bramson on Friday afternoon after he read Bramson’s manuscript and decided it wasn’t what the city wanted for its centennial coffee table book.
Morales reviewed the manuscript after the city’s Hispanic Affairs Committee raised concerns following a meeting Tuesday with Bramson.
In an email to the city after the meeting, committee member Alex Fernandez said that Bramson had used the terms “Hispanic” and “Spanish” interchangeably.
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“Last night, the Hispanic Affairs Committee had a productive conversation with City Historian, Professor Seth Bramson,” Fernandez wrote. “However, throughout our meeting Prof. Bramson repeatedly referred to the Hispanic community as the Spanish community, using both terms interchangeably, and seemingly unsure as to which would be the proper term.”
The word “Spanish” specifically refers to people from Spain. “Hispanic” refers to people from Spanish-speaking countries.
“In advance of Prof. Bramson’s publication of the official City of Miami Beach history, I’d like to make sure that there is an understanding that not all Hispanics are Spanish or descendants of Spanish,” Fernandez wrote. “A significant segment of the Hispanic population are of indigenous or African ancestry — not Spanish.”
The committee also took issue with his proposed title of the chapter chronicling the years from 2000 to 2012: “For Twelve Years, Things Did Not Go Quite Right.” Bramson later told the city he’d agreed with the committee to change the name to “It Was a Very Interesting Twelve Years.”
The chapter recounted some of the scandal that occurred during that time period, including the arrests of city employees on corruption charges.
In his termination letter to Bramson, Morales notes the committee’s concerns and his own displeasure with what he read.
“I was dismayed to see that important portions of the document, particularly more recent years, read more like political and social commentary than a celebration of our city’s history,” he wrote. “Rather than unite the community in celebration, this book will divide the community and rehash ugly chapters of the past.”
Morales also said in an email to Bramson that the centennial “is all about celebrating our shared past and looking forward to a positive future for all groups in our community.”
“Your manuscript is completely inconsistent with that message and could offend certain groups in our community, as was the case at one of your community presentations earlier this week,” he wrote.
In July 2014, the city awarded him an $18,000 contract to be the city’s official historian through the centennial celebration and to write the centennial book.
He only received the $6,000 he was given as a retainer fee when the contract was signed, according to the agreement. He chose to donate $2,333 of that to the city for the police department or the fire department. While the total contract was for $25,000, he asked to give $7,000 back to the city.
On Friday, Bramson told the Miami Herald he was disappointed, but he had no hard feelings.
“I felt that I wrote the history as it happened. And certainly, I quoted extensively from books, magazines and newspapers through the years,” he said. “If they felt they weren’t pleased with it, that was their right to cancel it. What can I say? That’s the way it goes. There’s no sense in being upset about it.”
Bramson said he met with the Hispanic Affairs Committee to talk about the book and how he was writing a monograph, or a detailed study, on the Hispanic community’s contributions to the Beach’s history.
“The real purpose of the meeting was they wanted to make sure that there was going to be a monograph on the great contributions of the Hispanic community,” he said. “I don’t know, because we talked about the great depth and breadth of the various nationalities represented on Miami Beach. I’m not certain what would’ve been offensive.”
In an interview Friday, Morales said that while the city certainly has its blemishes in the past, he didn’t feel that belonged in a book meant to celebrate the positive moments in Miami Beach’s past.
“Sure, every city has its past,” he said. “And we all know about it and can talk about it. But that’s not what you put in a book to commemorate the city’s centennial.”
Morales said the city is focusing on preparing for the 100-hour celebration beginning March 22, and they will revisit the idea of a centennial book afterward.