Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section009/Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2021/Fall/Section09/Riviera Conch

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Overview[edit | edit source]

The Riviera Conchs are a subcommunity found within the Riviera region of southern Florida. The residents, known as "Conchs" are technically bi-racial, having Bahamian and European ancestry. The Conchs live as a small fishing village and are separated from the rest of society due to local white prejudice of the Conchs Bahamian heritage. This racial and ethnic separation has caused the community to experience a multitude of social and political issues. The small fisher community was often cheated by larger companies that bought their fish for low prices and reselling them for higher prices. The women partake in selling handiwork such as hats, purses, and baskets to make up for and too the low income received from fishing. This segregated community also experiences a childlike mindset because they are set a part from opportunities including educational and economic. The children, encouraged by their parents, do not promote education, continuing generations for the fisher community. In addition, the community faces health disparities because of their selective diet (only fish and grits) which has caused a multitude of diseases (could get rid of them if they had access to a variety of food and a changed mindset of what they should eat) (“Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940").

Social Life[edit | edit source]

Discrimination[edit | edit source]

During their initial interview with the Federal Works Project Administration in 1938, the Riviera Conch community revealed their social ostracization from neighboring communities, specifically from the white population. Most notably, the name "conch" has discriminatory origins. The name "Conch" refers to native Bahamians of European descent. The term, mostly used in slang communication find its origins in 18th century central America. In the Bahamas, the American Revolution led many loyalist to the Caribbean islands where they looked down upon the original white population there, referring to them as "Conchs", possibly due to their diet of the conch fish. In the states, particularly in Keys of Florida, the term Conch was used to define the white Bahamians on American soil (residents known as the Conch Republic of the Keys). "Unlike the situation in Key West and the rest of the Florida Keys, where being "Conch" became a matter of pride and community identification, "Conch" was used by outsiders (in particular the residents of West Palm Beach) in a pejorative manner to describe the Bahamian community in Riviera Beach. The usage there also carried the connotation that at least some of the "Conchs" were of mixed racial heritage. As a result, some of the Bahamians in Riviera Beach denied being "Conchs" when interviewed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Florida Writers Project in the late 1930s". A WPA produced Guide to Florida noted that both 'Conchs' and black Bahamians in Key West spoke with a "Cockney accent". Other residents of the Florida Keys, especially in Key West, began applying the term "Conch" to themselves, and it is now applied generally to all residents of Key West such as in Conch Republic. To distinguish between natives and non-natives, the terms "Salt Water Conch" (native) and "Fresh Water Conch" (non-native) have been used. Newcomers become "Fresh Water Conchs" after seven years." However, more inland like the Riviera Conch community, the name "Conch" was used in a derogatory way by outsiders of the community. This led many to disassociate with the label "Conch" ("Conch" People).

Instability[edit | edit source]

Before the Great Depression hit Florida, the Riviera Conch community had already faced hardship in its initial development. The settlement grew slowly with the Florida county, Palm Beach County. White settlers were originally unattracted to the area during the 19th century because of hostile natives. Economic stability was introduced into the Riviera Conch region with the construction of local railroad that promoted the growth of the nearby resorts and hotels. The Riviera Beach, which house the Riviera Conch community, became reliant on fishing (preferably the conch fish) citing commercial and tourist importance. However, "the collapse of the land boom in south Florida and the onset of the Great Depression, coupled with a destructive hurricane in 1928, served to dash all hopes for growth and prosperity". The Riviera Conch community was understood as a backwards community, losing population counts of an already two-thousand some people (Badger, 98). As a result, the Riviera Conch community became subject to a culture of miseducation, malnutrition, and low economic growth ("Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940"). This continued throughout the Great Depression, until 1940, when the Riviera Beach purchased another beach, Singer Island, to attract tourists and generate wealth for the community.

Conch Fishing.jpg

Depression in Southern America[edit | edit source]

The Great Depression effected different parts of the United States is vastly different ways. In the south, southern states experienced better outcomes to the economic collapse than other regions of the nation. Both the southeast and the southwest experienced income growths during the time period of the Great Depression (1930-1940), seeing an increase from "11.15 percent in 1930 to 13.23 percent in 1940 and 4.75 to 5.21 percent", respectively. In addition, income declines during the Depression decreased at a lower percentage in the south compared to other regions. Furthermore, in 1933, the south had an employment rate of 88.3%, nearly 10% higher than the the national employment rate of 78.4% ( Heim, 38-39). Statically, the Great Depression impacted the northern and western regions of the United States harder than the southern regions. Even so, the stories of the people living through the economic fall nationwide hold an emotional relation to the time period and its effects.

References[edit | edit source]

BADGER, TONY. "South, Great Depression in the." In Encyclopedia of the Great Depression, edited by Robert S. McElvaine, 910-917. Vol. 2. New York, NY: Macmillan Reference USA, 2004. Gale eBooks (accessed October 5, 2021). https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX3404500487/GVRL?u=unc_main&sid=summon&xid=93351e1f.

“Conch (People).” Wikiwand. Accessed October 5, 2021. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Conch_(people).

“Federal Writers' Project Papers, 1936-1940.” The Southern Historical Collection at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library. Accessed September 22, 2021. http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/03709/.

Heim, Carol E. “Uneven Impacts of the Great Depression: Industries, Regions, and Nations.” The Economics of the Great Depression, 1998, 29–62. https://doi.org/10.17848/9780585322049.ch2.