Shades of Beauty:
Miami's Black History
Words & Creative Direction: Dr. Cybil Bonhomme
Photographer: Richard Lecoin
Hair Stylist: Xavier Williams
Wardrobe Styling : Ruthia Fuller
Make-up Artist: Simi Sola
Models: Kia, Alana, Taelyr, Nellie, Jewly
One of Miami's oldest neighborhoods, Overtown, located in the original boundaries of the City of Miami.. It originated as "Colored Town" at the turn of the twentieth century, segregated by both custom and law, as a response to Miami's expected tourism economy. Over time, the folks formed their own vibrant community.
Black workers who built and maintained the railroad, streets, and hotels were assigned to this region. The prosperity of Miami's early tourism industry was dependent on the labor of African-Americans from the Bahamas and the South. They were Miami's core labor force for more than fifty years.
Miami and Civil Rights
When Miami was incorporated in 1896, Black men were used as voters, but were disenfranchised later on. Nearly one-third of the men who stood for incorporation were Black. Since the required number of white male registered voters failed to materialize, black men were disenfranchised later on.
As a result of existing public policy, the Black incorporators who helped Miami become a city lost their civil rights. Black Codes, enacted decades earlier, followed by Jim Crow laws severely restricted every aspect of the lives of Blacks in the South.
How Overtown Came To Be
Colored Town/Overtown grew and developed into a vibrant community despite its limitations. Schools, churches, businesses, and most goods and services were provided by the residents of the neighborhood.
Black-owned and operated businesses were listed in the official City of Miami directory as early as 1904, including general goods and services, a medical
doctor, 26 laundresses, and several hundred laborers. Miami's Lyric Theater opened in 1913 as a major center of entertainment for Blacks. It was owned by a Black man from Georgia and operated by Geder Walker. Miami's Colored Board of Trade was established as a means to facilitate economic and civic growth.
Around 7,000 black people lived in Miami in 1915, and their real estate and personal property holdings totaled $800,000. Black women were not members of the Colored Board of Trade, but some worked as seamstresses, landlords, and restaurateurs.
Migrants and Immigrants
Black residents living in Coconut Grove and Lemon City, respectively, both lived south and north of Miami's city limits, regularly visiting Miami's Colored Town for shopping, business, and entertainment.
Black migrants settled in Miami's Overtown from Florida's North and other Southern states. They came from the Bahamas, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and other countries throughout the Western Hemisphere. Their common heritage was slavery.
While there were different cultures in the different ports, as well as different languages, one common denominator was race.
Little Haiti and its Transformation
Approximately 25,000 to 35,000 Haitians settled in Miami in the late 1970s and for the next 17 years, fleeing political repression and poverty in their home country in search of a better life for themselves and their children. The Haitian refugees settled in Miami in a decaying 200-square-block area bordered by 41st Street and the Little River at 83rd Street, as well as by the I-95 Expressway and Biscayne Boulevard. Edison/Little River is now widely known as Little Haiti, due to its large Haitian population, which makes up 65 percent of its population. The community has experienced a revival in its residential and commercial sectors, due mainly to the settling of Haitians in the neighborhood.
The Flock to Overtown: Celebrities and Entertainers
A national convention was held annually in Overtown, where hotel rooms, restaurants, cultural events, and entertainment were in abundance. The repeated business brought by visitors helped stabilize the economy in the community, which in turn promoted pride in a people who were self-motivated and self-sustaining.
Like Broadway, Colored Town was aglow 24 hours; it was "the Great Black way." Nearly every one of human expressions were accessible in Colored Town through visiting music, dance and dramatization bunches just as voyaging abstract specialists, like writer Langston
Hughes and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson were among the included entertainers; world-popular fighter Joe Louis and baseball greats Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella likewise visited the region.
Nearby residents stuck from nightfall to day break with performers Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Sammy Davis Jr., the Inkspots, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Nat "Ruler" Cole, B.B. Lord, Bo Diddley, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and numerous other people who played out throughout the year. Neighborhood occupant and amusement advertiser, Clyde Killens, was essentially answerable for bringing the entertainers only to Overtown from Miami Beach.
Overtown has lost its magic over time. The community and the once vibrant economic and cultural center were decimated by urban renewal, desegregation, and the construction of two expressways.
The Overtown Advisory Board, Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and private and government entities are leading the charge to