Miami’s historic Black Overtown neighborhood receives makeover

Dr. Nelson Adams III remembers when his grandparents’ residence in Miami’s historic Black community of Overtown was razed to make way for a freeway in the 1960s, forcing thousands to go from the region — regarded then as the “Harlem of the South” for its vivid songs and theater scene.

Miami was a person of various Black towns across the state wherever interstate highways were crafted, disrupting communities. Adams is hopeful the new Signature Bridge now being crafted over the location, together with a planned park underneath named the Underdeck, will assistance to transform and reconnect the community.

The $818 million Florida Office of Transportation venture with better, thinner columns will substitute the initial bridge crossing Overtown, opening up darkish, underutilized house to a park and a Heritage Trail, and connecting the neighborhood to Biscayne Bay.

Referring to the unique bridge as a catastrophe that destroyed a flourishing community, Adams — chairman emeritus of the St. John Local community Progress Corporation — explained: “Righting a completely wrong is some thing that is aspirational, but we can check out to do ideal now.”

Gallery: Observed in Overtown

The Signature Bridge undertaking coincides with a revitalization of the community that is underway. Community leaders are doing the job to make sure that Overtown’s Black heritage and culture are preserved in the method. The Southeast Overtown/Park West Group Redevelopment Association is active in spearheading the enhancement, and at the identical time operating to maintain very low-price housing and increase Black home possession.

Derek Fleming, managing spouse of the new Pink Rooster Overtown cafe with superstar chef Marcus Samuelsson, sees the history of Overtown as “one particular of the most overlooked and 1 of the most crucial histories of Miami.”

The Red Rooster was once the Clyde Killens Pool Hall, frequented by musicians these kinds of as Depend Basie, Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin. Fleming’s hope is to unify the community. “There demands to be a replenishment of the current lifestyle, not a alternative,” he reported.

The spouse-and-wife crew of Akino and Jamila West renovated the as soon as boarded-up, 1940s-period Demetree Lodge in Overtown to make the Copper Doorway Bed & Breakfast, alongside with Rosie’s restaurant. The pair is happy to be part of the neighborhood’s revitalization, Jamila West explained, introducing that it is really critical to shell out homage to the background, but to “also be certain that the latest inhabitants, or past inhabitants even, have the identical opportunity.”

Historic photos of the Overtown neighborhood are exhibited June 2 on the exterior of the historic Lyric Theater in Miami. (AP Photograph/Lynne Sladky)

Positioned just west of downtown Miami, Overtown was settled in the late 1890s when Henry Flagler was recruiting personnel for his Florida East Coast Railroad. Simply because of segregation, primarily Black staff from the South and Caribbean settled on the other facet of the tracks from downtown Miami, in an area then acknowledged as “Colored City.”

The historic Ward Rooming House, developed in 1925, as soon as served Black and American Indian people today for the duration of segregation. Now it is really an art gallery showcasing Black art curated by Chris Norwood, founder of Hampton Artwork Fans.

The gallery has had accomplishment obtaining Black men and women to occur back to Overtown as a cultural spot, Norwood reported. “They occur to a put that is holy for them.”

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