Miami’s historic Black Overtown district gets a makeover
Dr Nelson Adams III remembers when his grandparents’ home in Miami’s historic black Overtown neighborhood was razed to make way for a freeway in the 1960s, forcing thousands to leave the area – known at the time as the “Harlem of the South” for its dynamic music and theater scene.
Miami was one of several black cities in the country where interstate highways were built, disrupting communities. Adams hopes the new Signature Bridge being built in the area, along with a planned park underneath called the Underdeck, will help transform and reconnect the neighborhood.
The Florida Department of Transportation’s $ 818 million project with taller, thinner columns will replace the original bridge across Overtown, opening up a dark and underused space to a park and heritage trail, and connecting the neighborhood at Biscayne Bay.
Referring to the original bridge as a disaster that destroyed a thriving community, Adams – president emeritus of the St. John Community Development Corporation – said: “Righting a wrong is ambitious, but we can try to do good today.
Gallery: Seen in Overtown
The Signature Bridge project coincides with an ongoing neighborhood revitalization. Community leaders work to ensure that Overtown’s black history and culture is preserved in the process. The Southeast Overtown / Park West Community Redevelopment Association is active in leading development, while working to preserve low-cost housing and increase home ownership for blacks.
Derek Fleming, managing partner of the new Red Rooster Overtown restaurant with celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson, considers Overtown’s story “one of Miami’s most forgotten and important stories”.
The Red Rooster was once the Clyde Killens Pool Hall, frequented by musicians such as Count Basie, Sam Cooke, and Aretha Franklin. Fleming’s hope is to unify the neighborhood. “There has to be a recreation of the existing culture, not a replacement,” he said.
Akino and Jamila West’s husband-and-wife team remodeled the formerly closed 1940s Demetree Hotel in Overtown to create the Copper Door Bed & Breakfast, as well as Rosie’s Restaurant. The couple are proud to be part of the neighborhood revitalization, Jamila West said, adding that it was important to pay homage to history, but “to also ensure that current residents, or even former residents, have the same opportunity “.
Historic photographs of the Overtown neighborhood are on display June 2 outside the historic Lyric Theater in Miami. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)
Located just west of downtown Miami, Overtown settled in the late 1890s when Henry Flagler was recruiting workers for his Florida East Coast Railroad. Due to segregation, most black workers in the South and the Caribbean settled across the railroad tracks in downtown Miami, in an area then known as “Colored Town.”
The historic Ward Rooming House, built in 1925, once served blacks and Native Americans during segregation. It is now an art gallery showcasing black art curated by Chris Norwood, founder of Hampton Art Lovers.
The gallery has been successful in bringing blacks back to Overtown as a cultural destination, Norwood said. “They are coming to a place which is holy to them.”