Communities form in many different ways – sometimes through shared hardship, sometimes through shared goals or histories. For the neighborhood of Overtown, it is all three. Miami’s history of segregation and its subsequent hardships may have created Overtown, but what made it grow into a vibrant community was its inhabitants’ shared goal of prosperity and progress.
When discussing Overtown, it is very necessary to mention its grim origin story of exclusion (shown even in its original name, Colored Town). After all, history is doomed to repeat itself if we don’t learn from past mistakes and prejudices. But I have a problem when that dark history is the only thing mentioned. After all, the citizens of Overtown created a wonderful community for themselves to live in – full of business and music! Nowhere was this more apparent than the overlapping business lined streets and the street that housed the Lyric Theater and what was then called ‘Little Broadway’. From soul food to music to small businesses, the people of Overtown turned a forced living situation into a place they would be proud to call home.
Not only that, but the community was not all about entertainment and success, it was also very collective. Overtown began its first black police squad, in order to reduce the unnecessary brutality born of racism often inflicted on people of color within their own communities. Not only that but two historic churches, which still stand today, provided essential services to those who needed help – a practice they are still committed to even today, as they give free showers to the homeless in one of the church’s mobile vans.
Overall, while it’s important to grieve the circumstances that brought the community together, it is also worth celebrating the immense effort the townspeople gave in making their community a vibrant, safe, and supportive home for all who lived in it. When visiting historic neighborhoods, it’s important to remember that along with the hardships endured, there was also joy to be had.