Christopher Myers: Miami as Text 2022-2023

Christopher Myers next to a nesting Olive Ridley sea turtle on the beach of the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge taken during a research expedition in Ostional, Costa Rica.

Christopher Myers is a senior at Florida International University pursuing his BA in Sustainability and the Environment. After completing his degree, he plans to start a second career in the Environmental Field and hopes to be involved in nature conservation.

Downtown Miami as text

“The Miamians Before the Miamians” by Christopher Myers

The mouth of the Miami River with the Miami Circle National Historic Landmark on the south bank (right) of the river. Taken by Christopher Myers

Miami is one of those cities that has more to see than anyone has free time to actually see it. The beaches, the celebrities, the yachts and exotic cars, Miami has everything to offer to today’s pop culture. But, during this visit around historical parts of the city, we saw the original Miami. We were introduced to The Miami Circle, an archeological site of what is believed to be a village of the Tequesta Tribe, the original Miamians. There is plenty of history of who was originally here, where they lived, how they lived and where they went. The roots of the city go a lot further back than I think most are aware of. 

The original habitants of present day Miami was the native tribe of Tequesta who are believed to have resided in the southeastern Florida area for over 1000 years. The believed Tequesta village, the Miami Circle, is on the south bank of the mouth of the Miami River. These remnants were discovered during a survey for preparation to build multi story buildings. This discovery brought the project to a halt and it was later cancelled. Fortunately, unlike a discovery a short distance away, this site was deemed too important to build over top of and was officially made a historical landmark. 

What makes this so significant to me is that it still exists today and is a preserved and protected site. So much history is lost during new inhabitants and land discoveries to different parts of the world. As mentioned previously, just down the road only a short walk away was the site of another archeological site. What was believed to have been a burial ground with remnants of hundreds of people is now a Whole Foods. This discovery during the construction in the earlier 2010s resulted in a loss to history and a win to commercialism. The remnants were removed and reburied elsewhere and little time was given to study the site. Construction continued on and the burial site was replaced with a stereotypical Native American mural inside the Whole Foods. 

Overtown as text

“Overtown but Under-heard” by Christopher Myers

Greetings from Overtown mural. Photo taken by Christopher Myers

You cannot change the past. You can’t go back in time and change events, change the way things happened nor change the way people were treated. Throughout the history of modern civilization there is more than enough evidence to show that there was improper treatment of people. People that were different, a different language, a different skin of color, a different background, a different ethnicity. People were treated improperly simply because they were different. 

We visited a historical town in Miami called Overtown. Unfortunately, this town has numerous nicknames that do not need to be named. We visited a few important locations within this town that aren’t only important to Overtown, but important to Miami. But unfortunately, these few locations, are some of the last remaining historical sites within Overtown. The rest of the town is nearly gone. The original buildings of are now apartments and townhouses. There is now a main highway going right through the edge of town. 

A Priest of a church lost his house in because it was either the house or the church getting replaced by an on ramp for a highway. The Greater Bethel Church in Overtown was built even before Miami was incorporated in 1896. A historical theater, the Lyric Theatre, where some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world would put on shows for the local community, and even people from outside of the neighborhood would come here to be part of these historical musicians’ shows. These musicians would put on the shows in this town because they could not stay near the venue where they would originally perform. They had to leave south beach or other parts of Miami because they were an African American and they could not stay there for the night so they had to travel to Overtown after their original show and they would perform again at the Lyric Theater. That’s what Overtown is. It is a historical city for the African American community. The town where the African American laborers were segregated to after the train and railway was completed to Miami. They segregated those laborers to what we know today as Overtown, or at least what is left. 

At the Greater Bethel church we got to hear the history and stories from Alberta Godfrey, a member of the church. This church was one of the first buildings in Miami. Not just one of the first buildings in Overtown but one of the first buildings in the entire city of Miami. This church has almost more history than any part of modern civilization in the city of Miami. And it is now surrounded by sky rises, and a highway just a block away. Whether you are a Christian, follow a religion or not, there’s more than that to this church. It’s a piece of Miami. It’s a piece of the African American community in Miami. 

The Greater Bethel church and the Lyric Theatre are two of the few remaining historical locations of this town. But, it was amazing to hear the history of these places. To hear the history of the church and not what it just meant for the local community, it was a part of belonging somewhere. Martin Luther King Junior himself gave a speech here and that is absolutely incredible. One of the most well-known advocates for the African American community and Human rights step foot in this church, stans in front of the community and gave one of his famous speeches. Historical jazz musicians in and out of that theater every night. Those are absolutely incredible stories and pieces of history for Miami. 

Some of this history is hard to see and to learn and here from those that experienced it, that lived it. Some of the things you hear about others some of those stories that make you look down and shake your head in disappointment. The stories of segregation and racism and the poor treatment of other human beings. We can’t change what happened. But, we can learn about the good that overcame it, the fun and the historical events that took place. We can tell others about them and do our best to spread the word through friends and family, through this blog, through the school about the amazing history that this town holds and what it has to offer to the history of Miami. We can give them a voice.

Painting by Purvis Young, a Overtown resident, can be found in the Northside Metrorail station. Photo taken by Christopher Myers
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