MIM Ineffable Miami: Overtown (Formerly “Colored Town”) by Fauzan Sheikh

Fauzan Sheikh Slough Slogging through Everglades National Park

Student Bio

Hello! I am Fauzan Sheikh. I would describe myself as a person with a solid set of plans and a set direction for life. Currently I am a Junior headed to my Senior year in Florida International University enrolled in the Honors College. My area of studies is in Construction Management and I am enrolled in the Moss School of Construction at Florida International University working on their bachelor’s degree program. My profession is Estimating as I am the Assistant Estimator currently at Zahlene Enterprise Inc., which is a construction company located in Medley, FL. I was born in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan, raised in Miami, FL, and I currently live in Pembroke Pines, FL. Being enrolled in Miami in Miami with professor Bailly as my instructor, has truly opened my eyes to what Miami really is. I emphasize that I was raised in Miami, but I was part of a closed circle which was limited to my schooling, family, and friends that were from my area. I only wished to travel outside of the state of Florida, and outside the United States itself. Not only did I learn what a gem Miami is itself, but also the light and dark history behind it all. My Ineffable Miami project this semester will be on the city of Overtown, which was formerly known as “Colored Town”.

Geography

Map of Historic Overtown by Google Maps

Overtown is a Historic predominantly Black city which is adjacent to Downtown Miami. The northern boundary of Overtown is NW 20th Street; the southern boundary is NW 5th Street; the western border is marked at the Miami River and SR-836; and the eastern border is the East Coast Railway and NW 1st Avenue. The surrounding cities include Downtown Miami, Town Square, Edgewater, Wynwood, Allapattah, Little Havana, and Brickell. Interstate I-95 passes directly through the heart of Historic Overtown and is also a topic of great controversy.

History

Johnny’s Records Storefront by Miami-Grid.com

The History of Overtown is one that you would see in a movie or documentary, and consequently there are many movies and documentaries based on the historical events occurring in Overtown. Overtown was once a highly populous and growing city with a booming industry. We can first begin talking about the major event that led to the decline of Historic Overtown. Interstate 95 is a highway that many Floridians use for their daily commute to and from work, for access to the other highways that connect the residents of Miami, as well as the tourists to the beaches as they are the spotlight of Miami, and is also a major highway that Floridians use to commute out of state as well. The expansion of Interstate 95 was planned in the 1950s and in the 1960s the expansion of the highway was constructed directly through the center of the city of Overtown. This major event displaced hundreds of families, and thousands of residents. The initial idea for the expansion of Interstate 95 was to expand along the Florida East Coast Railway, which would have been the option that would not have torn Overtown in half, but was an idea that was opposed by the businesses of downtown Miami and the city’s chamber of commerce. The plans that went into effect instead, was to build near Northwest Seventh Avenue which was passing through the City of Overtown. The displacement of thousands of residents, primarily black, was not overlooked by the white local and government officials but was accepted. There was an opposition from the locals at Overtown, but they were Black, and did not have any influence in the decision since they were considered second class citizens.

Riot of 1980 by CNN

The Miami Riot of 1980 is still considered to be the worst riot in the history of Miami. Miami-Dade police officers were involved in a “high speed chase” in the end of 1979 involving Black insurance agent and motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie. There is specific emphasis on the original story behind the death of McDuffie being caused by a motorcycle crash, but the report of the coroners reported otherwise. A responding officer that was following the chase testified against the initial story claiming the death was caused by crash following a high-speed chase and reported that the police officers had beaten McDuffie to death with their metal flashlights. McDuffie was beaten so badly that the prosecutors referred to the condition of his skull as like being cracked open like an egg. McDuffie was a strong man and did not die until four days after the beating as a result of injuries. The riot was not a result of the beating of an innocent black man, or even his death which followed the beating. The riot was the result of an unjust decision. The case was sent to a jury in Tampa, FL, which was behind even Miami when ending of segregation and the come-up of equality was considered. The jury in Tampa granted the officers who had brutally beaten McDuffie to death immunity and announced them as not guilty. The Great Riot of 1980 in Miami was the result of this unjust decision. The Great Riot of 1980 affected the city of Overtown and Liberty City the most and resulted in long clashes between the black community and law enforcement.

Demographics

Overtown is currently at an all-time low considering population and households. The decline was caused primarily by the expansion of Interstate 95 through the heart of Overtown. Currently the total population sits at approximately 10,004 residents and 4,228 households. Overtown consists of 6,762 people that are Black accounting for 67.6% of the population. 2,375 Hispanic residents reside in Overtown and is the second largest race of the city accounting to 23.7% of the population. There are only 722 white residents, 7.2% of the population and the other 1.5% of the population are from other racial backgrounds. The sex of the residents of the city of Overtown is about equal throughout the different age groups.

Landmarks

Exterior View of the Historic Lyric Theater Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Phillip Pessar


The Historic Lyric Theatre was built in 1913 by a man from Georgia named Geder Walker. Miami Metropolis called the Lyric Theater “the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the southland”. Throughout the glory days of the Lyric Theater legends such as Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammie Davis Junior, Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday, and many more performed to entertain the residents and visitors of Historic Overtown. Walker passed away in 1919, following his death, his wife Henrietta continued to operate the Theater until 1959. In 1959 the Theater became a church. In the 1960s smaller riots and confrontations in order to achieve freedom caused the Theater to become shuttered until 1988. The Black Archives History and Research Foundation purchased the Lyric Theater in 1988 and began to restore it. The Lyric Theater is now listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. The restoration was completed, and the doors finally reopened in the year 2000. The new Lyric Theater included a new lobby, box office, and administrative offices, as well as many other additions. Ever since the reopening there have been many events held within the theater. The late Whitney Houston filmed a music video there, in 2005 Missy Elliot threw a party at The Lyric Theater during the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, and a local documentary was filmed there as well. The Lyric theater faced a renovation once again and reopened during Black History Month of 2014 and claimed its title of being the oldest operating theater in Miami.

The Dorsey House is located on Northwest Third Avenue in Historic Overtown and has a nameplate right up front. People may have heard the name D.A. Dorsey by reading the name of a park or a technical school that were named in his honor. D.A. Dorsey was the first black Millionaire in Miami. The Dorsey House has featured multiple renovations and struggles since it was built in 1920. The historic building is now accessible by the public as a museum. The architecture of the building is very Bahamian, and this was the popular style of architecture in Coconut Grove. The Dorsey House is located in between the Historic Lyric Theater and The Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dorsey was born in Quitman, Georgia, and was the son of a sharecropper. Dorsey moved to Miami in 1896 and worked for Henry Flagler’s Florida First East Coast Railroad Company as a Carpenter. D.A Dorsey purchased what is known as Fisher Island today from Herman B. Walker in 1918. The purpose of the purchase of 21 acres of land which totaled to the entire Island, was to provide a beach for colored people because at the time there was none.

Green

Map of Williams, Dorsey, and Gibson parks By Google Maps | Highlights by Fauzan Sheikh

The Historic city of Overtown has many green spaces, which include six public parks. The largest and the most famous of the six parks are Gibson Park, Dorsey Park, and Williams Park. Gibson Park is signified by the name Overtown Optimists Club on the map. Gibson Park offers After School, Summer Camp, Winter Camp, Spring Break Camp, Master Swim, and Learn to Swim Programs. The Overtown Optimists Club is at Gibson Park and offers Dance, Travel Basketball, Swimming, Flag and Tackle Football, Cheerleading, Mentoring and College Tours, Tee Ball and Baseball as well. Dorsey Park is named after D.A. Dorsey, the first Black Millionaire, owner and builder of the Dorsey House, and the previous owner of Fisher Island. Dorsey Park offers Baseball, Basketball, Bathrooms, Computers, Dog Walking Track, Outdoor Gym Equipment, Playground, Picnic Tables, Racquetball Court, and many Youth Programs. Williams Park offers all the same amenities as Gibson Park and Dorsey Park with the addition of Bicycle Racks.

Transportation

Miami Metrorail Mural in Overtown by: Fauzan Sheikh

Overtown is a City in Miami Dade County so just like the rest of the county the traffic, roads, and Transit is just as poorly planned. Being a community primarily of lower income families, the residents heavily depend on public transit. Overtown has local Metrorail stops which make long distance commutes to work and school within Miami-Dade County a bit easier for people that cannot afford their own private vehicles. There are three Metrorail stations in Overtown, the Southernmost station known as the Virgin MiamiCentral Station, the Central station known as Historic Overtown/ Lyric Theatre Station, and the northernmost Station named the Culmer Station. The Metrorail Stations in Overtown are full of Art on walls, whether it is registered professional murals, or Graffiti.

Food

When we visited Overtown with the Miami In Miami Class led by Professor Bailly, one of our stops was at Jacksons Soul Food, which is a renown restaurant in the city of Overtown. Jacksons Soul Food is a spot that you must stop at when you visit Overtown whether it is with friends, family or even alone. Authentic Soul food is served here. Jacksons Soul Food is a family owned and managed restaurant that has been open for a very long time. Excellent service was provided, and food was served in a timely manner even though we were a very large group of over 20 people. I ate steamed seasoned fish, with a side of Mac and Cheese and French Fries, accompanied with a fruit punch lemonade which was quite visually appealing. As we sat and ate the owner/manager of the restaurant told us stories of Historic Overtown and how the city is at a steady decline.

Businesses

Jackson Soul Food is an excellent example of a non-chain family owned business in Historic Overtown. There are not many other restaurants that serve Soul Food nowadays and Jacksons was the first I had ever seen or been to eat at. Another great business in Overtown that is popular amongst residents is Just Right Barber Shop and Beauty Salon. Just Right Barber Shop and Beauty Salon is one of the few examples of an all in one place for all genders that provides services for both male and female. Forrest Pilates is a Pilates Studio and gym owned and ran by Maria Forrest in Historic Overtown. There are not many fitness related amenities such as gyms in Overtown, so this is an attraction for not only residents of Overtown but also residents of Little Havana since it is located right at the border of the two Cities. All businesses in Historic Overtown are very friendly and everyone knows one another since it is a very small and tight community. When a resident walks into Jackson Soul Food the servers already know what the expected order should be. When a resident goes into a Barber Shop or a Salon, the beauticians and Barbers know whatever the consumers need to get done.

Summary

Although Historic Overtown has been on a decline ever since the construction of Interstate 95 was completed straight through the heart of the city, and the city is nowhere near as prosperous as it once was, after viewing a few documentaries which included interviews from locals, visiting Jackson Soul Food and devouring their food, and visiting the local churches, the overall vibe of the city is very warm and welcoming. Overtown residents hold a great amount of pride for where they reside and still have the will to fight for their city and to eliminate the urbanization which would destroy local businesses and cause residents to have to leave their homes. The crime rates in Overtown may be high but mainly because of drug related problems, not theft, murder, or anything that would be life threatening. I would like to see Overtown prosper once again as it did prior to the 80s and have people from its surrounding cities come in to enjoy the lively night life.

Citations

“About Overtown.” Afmfl, afmfl.org/index.php/common-good-initiative/about-overtown/.

shaanmiami April 10, 2019 3 Comments. “Past/Present of Segregated Miami.” Miami Grid, 11 Apr. 2019, miami-grid.com/2019/04/10/segregated-miami/.
“About Overtown.” Afmfl, afmfl.org/index.php/common-good-initiative/about-overtown/.

“Miami Riot of 1980: Black Motorist Arthur McDuffie Beat To Death.” Black Then, 28 Jan. 2020, blackthen.com/miami-riot-of-1980-black-motorist-arthur-mcduffie-beat-to-death/.

“Riots in America – CNN Video.” CNN, Cable News Network, 29 Apr. 2015, http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2015/04/29/riots-in-america-ts-orig.cnn.

“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.

“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.

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

Time Out Miami. “Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex.” Time Out Miami, 5 Apr. 2018, http://www.timeout.com/miami/things-to-do/black-archives-historic-lyric-theater-cultural-arts-complex.

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.

“OOC Dance Team Keeps The ? Energy.” Overtown Optimist Club, 1 Nov. 1970, http://www.overtownoptimist.org/.

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

“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/.

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