Afifa Fiaz: Overtown (AKA Colored town) 2022

BIO

Photo by Ashley Sanchez //CC by 4.0

Afifa Fiaz is a Pakistani student getting her bachelor’s at Florida International University. She is planning on continuing her studies in the medical field. She loves travelling and exploring new places. Her goal in life is to help people through medicine.

GEOGRAPHY

Overtown, also known as “Colored town”, is a city in the northwest Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States. It is located located at 55°45’26″N 3°54’59″W (55.7571900, -3.9164500). Overtown is bounded on the north by NW 20th Street, on the south by NW 5th Street, on the west by the Miami River and SR-836, and on the east by the East Coast Railway and NW 1st Avenue. Downtown Miami, Town Square, Edgewater, Wynwood, Allapattah, Little Havana, and Brickell are among the nearby cities. Interstate I-95, which runs right through the center of Historic Overtown.

HISTORY

Photo taken by Afifa Fiaz CC// by 4.0

Overtown formerly known as “Colored Town” dates back to 1896, where it was inhabited by African Americans. When Coconut Groove started to come about due to Henry Flagger’s railroads (primarily built by blacks), the blacks were no longer welcomed there. They had to go “Over” downtown after they were done working or performing there as it was against the law for them stay after a certain period of time. As time went by, Overtown started thriving rather quickly and started attracting known folks such as James Brown, Josephine Baker, Aretha Franklin, and Muhmmad Ali, who stayed in colored town after visiting Coconut Groove. As more and more night life was brought on the Avenue G, the city acquired it’s nickname “Harlem of the South.” Overtown even became the central organizing center for Civil Rights movement in Miami. “Whether it was the organization of an action against segregation, a voting initiative, or the delivery of a speech, Civil Rights history unfolded in Overtown. Churches often served as the ground zero, hosting such figures as Malcolm X, Andrew Young, and Martin Luther King.” Bailly’s Lectures

The town’s glorious moments come to end in 1960’s when two highways cut through the middle of it. The construction of two expressways, I-95 and I-395 caused the city to be separated into four quadrants. This resulted in the displacement of 80% of Overtown residents along with the areas business community, that held over 300 businesses. New structures caused the destruction of older homes and buildings in the neighborhood. Despite many efforts in the last few decades, the city hasn’t been able to recover economically. Today, Overtown has among the highest poverty, unemployment, and crime rate in Miami. About Overtown

DEMOGRAPHICS

The population of Overtown is at it’s lowest with 8,333 residents currently living there. Most of the town is under the poverty line; Unemployment is at 34%, with a substantial proportion of youth not in school or working. The median household income is $22,909 Point 2. According to the Florida Department of Health, the incidence of hospitalizations for heart disease in Overtown was three times that of Miami-Dade County generally; the percentage of low birth weight newborns in Overtown was 10.8 percent, which was higher than the county-wide average of 8.9 percent. The neighborhood has one of the highest infant death rates in Miami-Dade County. About Overtown

INTERVIEW

Photo of Janelle Fertil taken by Rachel Fertil //CC by 4.0

Janelle Fertil has family from that was there during Overtown’s thriving moments.

Afifa: Hey Janelle, so tell me a bit about your family and it’s relations with Overtown?

Janelle: Well, my family particularly my aunt used to work in Coconut Groove and had to go to Overtown at the end of the day every night. She used to live there with her husband and kids. I am not sure what her job position was but I know she lived there and told us many stories about the town.

Afifa: Do you happen to know if she crossed paths with any of the known people that performed or passed by Overtown?

Janelle: Actually yes, she told us a story of how she got to see Aretha Franklin’s performance and was going on and on about how crazy the show out was. She mentioned that people from other places even came to see her perform.

Afifa: Was your aunt one of the many people that had to relocate when the highways were built?

Janelle: Yes, she and her family were asked to move to a different location.

Afifa: Have you been to Overtown? Why or why not?

Janelle: I have once with my aunt’s kids to see some of the places they used to talk about. They were showing me spots that used to be homes or businesses at one point.

Landmarks

LYRIC  THEATRE

Photo taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Lyric Theatre was built in 1913 by a man from Georgia named Geder Walker. It was once known as “the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the Southland” by Miami Metropolis. Many performers such  Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday performed here. When Walker passed, his wife took charge of the theatre until 1959, when it became a church. It was used for various reasons: movie theater, performance hall and community auditorium. However, it went quite after the building of highways in 1960’s. It wasn’t until 1988, that the Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida bought it and marked it as a National Register of Historic Places.

The Lyric Theatre was reopened in 2000. The renovated Lyric Theater had a new lobby, box office, and administrative offices, among other improvements. Many events have been hosted within the theater since its restoration. The late Whitney Houston recorded a music video there, Missy Elliot had a party there during the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, and a local documentary was also produced there. The Lyric Theater underwent another refurbishment and reopened during Black History Month in 2014, claiming the status as Miami’s oldest operational theater.

Lyric Theatre was built in 1913 by a man from Georgia named Geder Walker. It was once known as “the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the Southland” by Miami Metropolis. Many performers such  Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday performed here. When Walker passed, his wife took charge of the theatre until 1959, when it became a church. It was used for various reasons: movie theater, performance hall and community auditorium. However, it went quite after the building of highways in 1960’s. It wasn’t until 1988, that the Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida bought it and marked it as a National Register of Historic Places. Historic Overtown’s Lyric Theatre

GREATER BETHEL AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Photo taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Greater Bethel was founded by Alex Lightburn on 12 March 1896, is known to be Miami’s oldest black church. The church’s congressional meetings started in a small house transitioning into a larger wooden structure. The wooden structure later gets destroyed by the Great Hurricane 0f 1926. In 1928, reconstruction of the church began and lasted till 1943, building the Mediterranean revival style seen today. The church even got listed as the National Historic Place. Another extraordinary things about this church is that Martin Luther King spoke here on 12th February 1958 at the SCLC Crusade for Citizenship. The point of this event was to bring in new voters and keep access to polls. Martin Luther King’s words can still be reminisce today. National Register of Historic Places Greater Bethel

DORSEY HOUSE

Dana A. Dorsey was one of the first African-American millionaires in Miami. Him and his wife Rebecca bought land when when the city of Miami was newly incorporated. They then built properties and leased them to other African Americans residents in Miami. Dorsey came about on his own and soon became a influential businessman, relator, banker, and philanthropist. Dorsey started to be brought up in 1896, when he was working as a carpenter for Henry Flagler’s railroad. He realized that the blacks workers needed housing and got the idea to buy property as far as Ft. Lauderdale. “He and his wife sold land on Northwest 17th Street and First Avenue to the City of Miami for a park for African-Americans which is still enjoyed today.” Dorsey was also big on education and therefore donated land for black schools. He even sold the Dorsey High School land for one penny to Dade County Public Schools. Dana A. Dorsey Collection

GREENS

Dorsey Park

An important park of Overtown is the Dorsey Park. This park was built after Dana A. Dorsey and his wife sold the land to the city of Miami. It gained popularity due to the baseball players that played in the Negro League. During the time of segregation and Jim Crow laws, the park was an escape for most blacks.  “Black folks used to come out “dressed to the nines” after Sunday church to watch ball. Very exciting place to be.” Warren Cromartie, a Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns player. Since blacks were banned from playing Major League Baseball, the formed their own major leagues. Even though Miami didn’t have any teams that played in the Negro League, the Miami clowns originated from this park, eventually becoming the Indianapolis Clowns in the Negro Major Leagues. Today, you can still see the murals in the parks walls reminiscing these times. History Of Negro League Partly Written At Miami’s Dorsey Park

Gibson Park

On the map, Gibson Park is shown by the term Overtown Optimists Club. Gibson Park provides programs such as After School, Summer Camp, Winter Camp, Spring Break Camp, Master Swim, and Learn to Swim. The Overtown Optimists Club is located in Gibson Park and provides Dance, Travel Basketball, Swimming, Flag and Tackle Football, Cheerleading, Mentoring, and College Tours, as well as Tee Ball and Baseball.

William Park

This park located in Overtown features outdoor activities, shelter, spring camp, sports area, summer camp and youth programs. These features are similar to that of Dorsey Park. William park

FOOD/BUSINESSES

JACKSON’S SOUL FOOD

Photo taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Jackson’s Soul food was first introduced to me by our professor on one of our excursions. This is a renown restaurant in Overtown. This is a must when visiting Overtown as they serve authentic soul food. This family owned restaurant had great and fast service even though our group was large. I had their spicy wings and mac and cheese, along with lemonade to finish this perfect meal. I will definitely be visiting Jacksons Soul Food with my friends in the future.

House of Wings

House of wings is a restaurant in Overtown that serves chicken wings, Caribbean, and sea food. If you want to try different variety of wings, then this place is a must! I recommend their spicy wings with fries along with fried shrimp. House of Wings was even listed as top 13 best chicken wings in Miami. Thrillist

Lil Greenhouse Grill

Lil Greenhouse Grill is another restaurant located in Overtown. This restaurant started as a food truck and is now quite popular for its food. They have variety of food ranging from seafood cakes to barbecue rib tips. Their prices are very affordable and service is very friendly. Lil Greenhouse Grill

TRANSPORTATION

Photo taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Overtown has local metro trail to help resident commute for cheaper. Overtown, like the rest of Miami is always packed with traffic. Because this is predominantly a low-income region, residents rely significantly on public transportation. Overtown includes local Metrorail stops, making long-distance travels to work and schools within Miami-Dade County a little simpler for those who cannot afford their own private automobiles. Overtown has three Metrorail stations: the southernmost, known as the Virgin MiamiCentral Station, the central, known as the Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre Station, and the northernmost, known as the Culmer Station.

SUMMARY

Photo taken by Afifa Fiaz //CC by 4.0

Overtown was once a thriving city that once attracted many people. It declined after the I-95 and 395 freeways were built. Many Miami residents overlook Overtown. People’s stigmas and prejudices have led them to assume that traveling along I-95 and looking down at the town is preferable to driving through it. During the Jim Crow era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Overtown, also known as Colored Town, was the prominent and is now the historic center for black business in Miami and South Florida. Musicians such as James Brown, Josephine Baker, Aretha Franklin, Muhmmad Ali, and others once performed in the town! People would come from all over the country simply to hang out with the known and have small chat for a dime! When the I-95 and 395 highways were built through town, the community fell silent. Hundreds of homes and properties were destroyed as a result of the motorways. Many people thought it was an act of racism and segregation to restrict blacks from thriving at the time.

Citations

“Historic Overtown’s Lyric Theater.” Historic Overtown’s Lyric Theater, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/arts-culture/venues/tour-historic-overtown-s-lyric-theater.

“Experience Historic Overtown, Florida.” , Florida, http://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/18-historic-sites-in-miamis-overtown.

“Age and Sex in Overtown, Miami, Florida (Neighborhood).” The Demographic Statistical Atlas of the United States – Statistical Atlas, statisticalatlas.com/neighborhood/Florida/Miami/Overtown/Age-and-Sex.

“Who Was D. A. Dorsey?” D. A. Dorsey Technical College, http://www.dorseytechnicalcollege.com/who-was-d-a-dorsey/.

Dixon, Lance. “This Historic House Is Paying Tribute to One of Miami’s Black Pioneers.” The New Tropic, 19 Feb. 2019, thenewtropic.com/miami-dorsey-black-history/.

“Gibson Park.” Parks & Recreation – Gibson Park, archive.miamigov.com/parks/park_gibson.html.

“Williams Park.” Miami, http://www.miamigov.com/Residents/Parks-and-Recreation/Parks-Directory/Williams-Park.

Areavibes. “Overtown, Miami, FL Transportation.” Overtown, FL Transit – Public Transportation, Amtrak Train Stations & Airports, http://www.areavibes.com/miami-fl/overtown/transportation/.

Bailly, John. “Overtown Walking Tour.” Bailly Lectures, 13 Oct. 2021, https://baillylectures.com/miami/overtown-walking-tour/.

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