Freedom Tower in Miami, Florida is regarded as the "Ellis Island of the South” for its part from 1962 until 1974 as the Cuban Assistance Center, providing sanctioned relief to Cuban refugees who solicited political asylum from the government of Fidel Castro. Freedom Tower demonstrates an important story of the Cuban exodus to the United States and resettlement during the Cold War. Because of the political atmosphere of the era, Cubans seeking political asylum encountered a warm welcome into the United States. Many Cubans fled to Miami, Florida due to its close proximity to Cuba.
Enacted during President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 provided support to a large number of Cubans escaping to the United States for political asylum. The U.S. government converted the building at 600 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami into the Freedom Tower, beginning the Cuban Assistance Center there to help Cubans with everything from wellness to shelter, finances, and learning. Although assistance centers opened in Miami and other cities, the Freedom Tower remains as the single most important physical manifestation of this period of Cold War age politics and the Cuban emigration experience. More than anything else, Freedom Tower stands tall as representative of hope and liberty and the belief that democracy should be available to all who fight against despotism and demagoguery.
Construction of the Freedom Tower building began on June 11, 1924. The building opened on July 26, 1925.
Freedom Tower is 17 stories tall, which was a significant achievement at during this period of time, and contains over 82,000 square feet of space. The tower is based on the configuration of the Giralda in Spain. Using a mixture of Spanish and Italian structural techniques including Moorish ornamental adornments, Freedom Tower became a permanent and distinguishing hallmark on the Miami skyline. The Miami News employed the building until its 1957 move to a new facility. It remained empty and virtually unused for the next five years until the U.S. government leased it, starting in 1962, to assist the Cuban refugees.
Between 1965 and 1973, thousands of more Cubans escaped to the United States. Many entered via Pan American World Airways’ “Freedom Flights.” Between December 1, 1965, and December 31, 1969, well over 175,000 Cubans bolted to the United States on what would later be called Freedom Flights. The Freedom Flights lasted until 1973, with a short gap from August 1971 until December 1972.
Because of the large wave of exiles in such a small period of time, the U.S. government was required to provide assistance to ensure that the Cubans could favorably resettle and begin new lives in the United States. On July 1, 1962, the General Services Administration began its contract on the first four floors of the Miami News Tower for the Cuban Assistance Center. Utilizing the basement, lobby, terrace, third, and fourth floors of the building from 1962 until 1974, the Cuban Assistance Center implemented thousands of Cuban refugees with resources for adapting to their new lives in the United States.
Known to the Cuban refugees as "El Refugio," the building provided nationalization services, basic medical and dental services, information about relatives already in the U.S., as well as relief aid for those starting a new life with nothing. Refugees were provided with identification cards and were questioned to identify both their needs and strengths. They received medical examinations and surplus foods such as canned meat. Federal reserves were also distributed to provide financial assistance. Due to the mass inrush of workers in the Miami area, job opportunities became limited, and some refugees, through the Cuban Assistance Center, moved to other areas of the country where financial opportunities existed.