Mariano S. Mendez Perez is a junior majoring in Biological Sciences at FIU’s Honors College. Cuban-born and raised, he strives to achieve excellence and bypass the standard set by communist regimes now in the land of the free. His ultimate goal is to help others’ oral health by becoming a doctor in dental sciences. As a passionate tourist, he looks forward to exploring and creating memorable experiences. His hobbies include practicing martial arts, exercising, and playing video games.
Overtown as text
“A troubled and submerged town” by Mariano Mendez Perez of FIU in Overtown Miami on September 21, 2022
All photos taken and edited by Mariano S. Mendez Perez/ CC by 4.0
Is hard to imagine a place of such cultural importance be destroyed for business. Yet this exact thing has happened not only in Miami, but in other cities that grow exponentially, they often break important monuments of history. As population grows, so do construction sites for buildings, roads, and others. For many individuals, it is devastating to see the place you grew up on be destroyed for greed. Unfortunately, the people in Overtown have been seeing this reality unfold, many have had to leave their houses, and their neighbors.
As my class dove into what was known as a thriving-colored town, filled with life and joy, I had flashbacks of my home country. Very quickly I realized how similar the situation was for both Overtown and Cuba. Essentially, families had to flee to other places as new rules were set, and land was taken. My class got the chance of visiting what is left of Overtown, much of what was there was replaced with new buildings, roads like the I-95, or simply were bought out and destroyed.
One of the most impactful parts of the journey in Overtown was visiting the Greater Bethel. This Church is the oldest Black Church in the city of Miami, and it is still standing and in good shape. Founded in 1896, this sacred place was where many important events took place, like the speech Martin Luther King gave in 1958, amongst others. There, we met with a wonderful lady named Alberta Godfrey, she was kind enough to gives us the background of the church and the struggles it has gone through in order to stay open. From the hurricane in 1926, to the imposing demands from the city targeting organizations like the church, to the very people who made the church and congregation being displaced and torn apart, it is truly marvelous how it is still open. She reflected how important this church was for her and others, how the crowds were so big every time they gathered back in the day, that often people came hours early to secure a sit, and others simply just stood. However, she also said the church is struggling as of today since many members live too far to make it, also it was mentioned the people enrolled in the church has been steadily declining through the years because the younger generation don’t often go to church anymore. The story behind this house of prayer was truly inspiring, showing resilience to stay open and a great cultural background.
Unlike the Greater Bethel church, the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist church didn’t have the same luck with how well it stayed open. Also being founded in 1896, the church was a major development in Overtown. As of today, the church sits right next to the I-95 that destroyed the neighborhood. As the city of Miami grew, they gave two options to Mount Zion’s priest, he either had to destroy his house built next to the church, or the church itself. Obviously, his house was picked, and now the road built over it disrupts the peace a church often has, with cars being heard from inside the building. This is probably the most significant, and devastating example that could be given to how destructive the growth of Miami has been to Overtown.
As sad as this might all seem, it unfortunately cannot be undone. All through the history of the world, many errors have been made, most having a long-lasting effect on both the people and the places. Alas, the United States of America has dealt with a dark past of segregation and discrimination, and Overtown is one example. All one can do now is broadcast this story to the public and recognize the faults and the solutions.