Blackburn, officially the City and County of Blackburn, is a major United States port city in Florida. It is located on the south-west coast of the state, between Blackburn Bay to the west and Watkins County to the east. The population of the city was 475,120 as of the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater Metropolitan Area of Blackburn had a population of 2,085,324 in 2010.
The area that is now Blackburn was once occupied by the indigenous Tokacha tribe before the arrival of Spanish explorers in the 16th century. European diseases and violent contact with the Spaniards largely wiped. Though Spain claimed Florida as part of New Spain, they did not found a permanent colony in the Blackburn area. The city is named after Edwin Blackburn, the British general who founded a settlement in what is now Downtown Blackburn in 1768. In order to populate Florida, partially fabricated reports of natural wealth were published in England. A small number of colonists from England, Georgia and South Carolina moved to Blackburn during the British occupation of Florida, building the fort to protect themselves from the remaining Tokacha population. The settlement, along with the rest of East Florida, remained loyal to the British crown during the Revolutionary War, and was largely abandoned when the two Floridas were handed back to the Spanish after the war.
During the Civil War the area was occupied by Federal troops, but due to Florida’s lack of strategic importance the Confederate Army offered no resistance. Americans had begun repopulating the area in the early 1800’s but growth was slow until the end of the century when railroads reached the city. This was concurrent with the explosive development of the shipping industry to export tobacco products and citrus fruits. The Great Freeze of 1894-95 was also highly beneficial to the city’s growth, as Blackburn’s crops were among the only ones unaffected in the state. By the turn of the century, Blackburn grew fortyfold in number from 1,000 residents in 1880 to 40,000 in 1910. During Prohibition mafioso Fabio Vitelli made a fortune from bootlegging and illegal bolita gambling, starting a tradition of organized crime that remains to this day.
Due to the Great Depression and the bursting of the Florida real estate bubble, Blackburn’s growth slowed until the onset of the Second World War when McNair Air Base was built by the Army Air Corps south of the old English fort. The Army Air Corps operated heavily out of Blackburn during and after the war, and many military families moved in. The improvement of American infrastructure during the 1950’s continued to bring in migrants from the Midwest and Northeast. Much of the previously agricultural land was replaced with industry and suburban homes, forcing agriculture into the surrounding Watkins County. Several race riots broke out in Blackburn during the Civil Rights Movement, due to friction between the African American community, white Americans and the surging Latin American and Caribbean immigrant community.
Blackburn began to have a nationally infamous crime rate in the 1980’s, in large part due to suburbanization, the crack epidemic, corruption, mismanagement, gang culture and the decline of Blackburn’s shipping industry. In spite of this, the city continues to increase its population by attracting young professionals in the service and innovation fields.
Blackburn is located in a clear area between between Blackburn Bay to the west and Watkins County to the east, with the elevation averaging only ten feet. Much of the city is a waterfront, abutting Blackburn Bay and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico, with several islands throughout the bay. By far the largest of these islands is Vicio, which holds approximately a quarter of the city’s population.
Blackburn possesses a tropical savanna climate where most rainfall occurs during summer months. Average highs range from 70 to 95 °F, and lows 55 to 75 °F. Summertime highs are often relieved by afternoon thunderstorms, with an average of ten rainfall inches during the summer months not being uncommon. Blackburn holds the distinction of being one of America’s rainiest cities. The area is at high risk of receiving a hurricane during the summer and fall.
Total Population: 475,120
In the 1960’s non-Hispanic whites were over 70 percent of the population. White flight and explosive immigration from Latin America and the Caribbean rapidly changed the ethnic makeup of the city, and Blackburn today is one of the most multicultural cities in America. Blackburn’s recent growth has much less to do with immigration, which has greatly slowed, and more with a revival in internal migration from other parts of the country. However, despite the decrease in external immigration, a trickle of immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean continue to arrive, and recently a growing middle class in Asia and Eastern Europe has joined their ranks.
The major ethnic groups that make up at least one percent of the city are Arabic, African-American, Chinese, Colombian, Cuban, Dominican, English, French, German, Haitian, Honduran, Indian, Irish, Italian, Jamaican, Jewish, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Polish, Puerto Rican, Russian and Scottish.
Most of the city speaks English, Spanish or both at home, with small minorities speaking Haitian Creole, Italian, Russian, French, various Asian languages and more.
Christianity is the most widely practiced religion in Blackburn, with about an even mix of Protestants and Catholics. There is a small Orthodox following among Eastern Europeans. Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism are also smaller religions of note. The irreligious, including atheists and agnostics, are about a third of the city.
The most important sectors of Blackburn’s economy include shipping, technology, retail, real estate, tourism, national defense, professional sports, finance and healthcare. Several large companies that have made their home in the metropolitan area include Progressive Genetics, ArmaMAX, Cerberus Security and Hamilton Industries.
Despite the very high crime rate, tourism remains a core industry. Casinos, nightclubs, beaches and shopping centers attract tens of millions of tourists annually.
Blackburn has two major professional sports teams, the NFL’s Blackburn Longshoremen and the MLB’s Blackburn Desperados Only the Longshoremen have brought home a league championship, with the Desperados often languishing in mediocrity. The Desperados remain at the center of a naming controversy, with polls showing even support and opposition. Formerly there was an NHL team in the city limits, but it has since folded due to low attendance.
Parks are very common throughout the Blackburn metropolitan area, where citizens survey the city’s natural beauty. There are many heavily visited beaches, including most famously Sapphire Beach. Boating is a very popular pastime both at the beaches and in the bay.
Blackburn is home to several heavy metal bands, as well as producers of house, rave, electronic dance, latin pop, hip hop and rap music.
There are currently 7 skyscrapers on the Blackburn skyline.
Blackburn cuisine encompasses a broad spectrum, representative of its very diverse population. Latin American, Floribbean, Cuban and Italian restaurants remain wildly popular. Oddly enough, food trucks are a staple of Blackburn, with the mayor’s office organizing monthly rallies.
The city has the second-largest amount of casinos in the country, second only to Las Vegas.
From 1935 to 1997 Blackburn was home to the Blackburn Mavericks, a group of costumed vigilantes who patrolled the streets. Founded by American Spirit I, the group was responsible for taking some of Blackburn’s most dangerous criminals off the streets until the group’s disbandment following a mysterious ambush.
Two major papers compete for viewership across the Blackburn area, the Blackburn Advocate, with a liberal slant, and the Blackburn Sun, with a conservative slant. A number of smaller Spanish-language papers serve the area as well.
Public transportation has become more popular as Blackburn undergoes redevelopment, as 24% of Blackburners use transit daily. Biking has also been advocated, both to promote public health and reduce emissions.
Blackburners speak with a unique dialect, a blend of dixie, midwestern and north-eastern, as well a hint of shortened Spanish-esque vowels.
Law and government
Violent Crime Index:
Violent Crime Rate: 1,354.6
Murder Rate: 18.8
The City of Blackburn follows the strong-mayor form of the mayor-council system of government. The city council consists of eleven members, nine of whom are elected by district and two at-large. The current mayor, Julian Montana, was elected in March of 2015.
Blackburn County Public Schools provides primary and secondary education while the Blackburn Fire Rescue Department provides fire and medical protection for the citizens of Blackburn. The Blackburn Sheriff’s Office serves court orders and provides security in correctional institutions.
The Blackburn Police Department provides law enforcement services to the city. Blackburn has struggled with high crime since the 1980’s, often topping 20 murders per 100,000 residents. The murder rate peaked at 32 murders per 100,000 residents in 1990. Although the crime rate has declined since the 2000’s, assaults, burglary, car jackings and white collar crime remain common, though often away from the eyes of tourists. Current Police Chief Gilda Fletcher claims to be “laser-focused” on continuing the reduction of the city’s crime rate, but the influence of organized crime causes many to doubt her ability to bring about long-term change. Blackburn has one of the highest amount of gang members per capita, with over fifteen thousand members walking the streets. Fletcher blames the gang culture for the city’s murder rate, remarking that “these gangs are very old and territorial. Group such as the Imperials and Vipers have been in this city for decades, passing traditions from parent to child, even grandparent to grandchild.”
Some of Blackburn’s active criminal gangs include:
- 824 Imperials
- Sunshine State Slayers
- The Fours
- Zo Bwa Tet Crew
- Locos Noche 22
- Hurricanes Motorcycle Club
There are currently 27 major gangs and criminal syndicates as outlined by the Blackburn Police Department.
Many of Blackburn’s worst offenders are housed in Redwater Correctional Institution in nearby Watkins County.