MIAMI (AP) – “Moonlight” helped cast a national glow on Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood when it won the Oscar as the best film of 2016.
Filmmaker Barry Jenkins and playwright/actor Tarell Alvin McCraney grew up in Liberty City and made it a focal point of “Moonlight.”
“Part of the impetus for writing this story was that as a kid, I walked everywhere,” McCraney told the Miami Herald when the movie opened in the fall of 2016.
The places he must have seen help to tell the history of black life in South Florida and we can still learn from many of these landmarks that still exist.
There are places of worship like the First Baptist Church Piney Grove that was founded in Fort Lauderdale in 1904. Miami’s Overtown neighborhood is home to the Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church, established in 1896. And nearby, Saint Agnes Episcopal Church of Miami was established two years later in 1898.
We still have entertainment and cultural venues like the restored Lyric Theater in Overtown. Schools named for notable African Americans and conceived and built by pioneers like D.A. Dorsey (Booker T. Washington High).
And then there is the Hampton House in Brownsville where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. honed his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
Here’s a travelogue of just a handful of notable black landmarks in South Florida.
THE HAMPTON HOUSE
When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled through Miami he did what black celebrities like Lena Horne, Muhammad Ali, Nina Simone, Jackie Robinson and Ray Charles had to do. The civil rights leader stayed at The Hampton House, a Brownsville hotel that served as a social hub for prominent African Americans in the segregated ‘60s. Despite performing at Miami Beach hotels, even famous African Americans could not stay on the island.
The Historic Hampton House at 4240 NW 27th Ave. opened in 1955 and closed in 1972. The house was restored and reopened as a non-profit museum and community center in 2015.
King met with other civil rights organizers at the Hampton to plan strategy. He liked the tranquility of his room on the first floor for writing.
Millions the world over would soon know what he was writing there on one 1963 day.
“He was working on a speech in his room, and he wanted everyone to sit down and listen to it,” Charlayne Thompkins, the president and CEO of Hampton House, told the Miami Herald. “It was the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. So he dreamt the dream here.”
The Dorsey House was named for Dana Albert Dorsey, a carpenter and son of former slaves. He is widely known as Miami’s first black millionaire.
Dorsey, born in Georgia, moved to Miami in 1897. Here, he built many of the shotgun houses in what was named the Colored Town section in northwest Miami. That neighborhood had a thriving black business community, according to Miami historian Howard Kleinberg in author Marvin Dunn’s “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century” (University Press of Florida, 2016).
Dorsey, who helped build the railroad that opened up Miami, ventured into the hotel business. He opened the Dorsey Hotel on Northwest Second Avenue – the first black-owned hotel in Miami.
And he poured his considerable wealth into education, Dunn wrote, by donating land for black schools that include Dorsey High School in Liberty City and Booker T. Washington, Miami’s first school for black students.
The white frame vernacular Dorsey House at 250 NW Ninth St. used Dade Pine and some scrap lumber from railroad cars and was built for Dorsey’s bride in 1915, according to the Miami Herald.
The house, renovated by the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation and opened for tours, also drew white millionaires for social gatherings in the 1920s and 1930s.
According to Dunn’s book, Dorsey, who died in 1940, lent money to William M. Burdine to help the retail magnate keep his department store open during the Depression. The transaction took root at Dorsey House.
E.W.F. STIRRUP HOUSE
Bahamas-born Ebenezer Woodbury Franklin Stirrup Jr. was 9 in 1882 when his mother died. She had tried to get her son schooling. But with his lifeline gone, his other relatives “expected him to scale fish and sell them too. This being the situation, he would only go to school selectively,” his daughter Louise Stirrup Davis said in Dunn’s book, “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century.”
Despite a lack of formal education, E.W.F. Stirrup scaled mountains. Figuratively.
By the turn of the century, then living in Coconut Grove, Stirrup and his growing family – he would have 10 children with his wife Charlotte Jane Sawyer – lived on the money he made as a laborer in South Dade’s pineapple fields. He also worked as a chauffeur at Vizcaya.
Stirrup speculated in real estate, too, using part of his savings to snap up property upon which he built hundreds of homes that gave fellow Bahamians the opportunity to own their own places, Miami historian Dorothy Jenkins Fields wrote in a column for the Miami Herald in 2017.
His real estate savvy made the immigrant laborer a millionaire Coconut Grove property owner – and the Stirrup homestead on Charles Avenue in the Grove remains a family jewel, according to Fields.
The home has been restored and some of descendants plan to reopen the house as a bed and breakfast lodging establishment. They are seeking a rezoning for lots that they own across the street to build a companion Bahamian-style inn.
Stirrup’s granddaughter Dazelle Dean Simpson became the first board-certified black pediatrician in Florida. She credited her granddad and his daughter, Kate – her mother – for encouraging her to pursue her education and a degree in medicine.
Earlier this month, Dr. Simpson died at 95 in Miami.
“Grandpa always believed in taking care of the community and family. Dazelle embraced his feelings wholeheartedly,” Carol David Henley, told the Herald for her first cousin’s obituary.
THE HISTORIC LYRIC THEATER
Overtown’s Lyric Theater, first opened in 1913, was touted in a 1915 advertisement as “possibly the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the Southland,” Fields recalled in a column for the Miami Herald in 2014.
The ad’s banner headline screamed, “Colored Town Section of the City of Miami is a Thriving Community.” The building, at 819 NW Second Ave., earned its reputation as the epicenter of social life in Miami’s black community.
On New Year’s Day 1916, the Lyric was the site of Miami’s Emancipation Day celebration sponsored by the Miami Colored Board of Trade.
Back then, the Lyric was built to showcase silent movies – especially popular were the cowboy flicks, before “talkies” arrived with Al Jolson’s “The Jazz Singer” in 1927. Traveling performing troupes and vaudeville acts thrived on the Lyric stage in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Lyric, Fields wrote, “served as a symbol of black economic influence, culture, entertainment and job opportunities,” she wrote.
Decades later, in the 1960s, The Lyric became home to powerhouse music entertainers like B.B. King, Count Basie and Sam Moore – who grew up nearby.
More than 100 years after its opening – restored and expanded to the tune of $10 million, and renamed Historic Lyric Theater – the venue houses the Black Archives headquarters and remains a “premiere venue for black culture in South Florida.”
Today, the Lyric Theater hosts film openings, dances, concerts and spoken word artists and is listed on the National Register.
SOUTH FLORIDA SCHOOLS
At least four South Florida schools are named for pioneering African Americans. There’s Charles R. Drew K-8 Center at 1775 NW 60th St. in Liberty City and Charles R. Drew Elementary at 1000 NW 31st Ave., in Pompano Beach. Also, Overtown’s Phillis Wheatley Elementary at 1801 NW First Place, and Booker T. Washington Senior High School at 1200 NW Sixth Ave.
Charles Richard Drew, born in Washington in 1904, was the McGill University-educated surgeon who pioneered medical research into blood transfusions and established the American Red Cross blood bank. His expertise and development of safely storing blood and the establishment of bloodmobiles has been credited with saving thousands of Allied lives during World War II.
In 1941, Drew was the first African-American surgeon chosen to serve as an examiner on the American Board of Surgery.
Phillis Wheatley was given her name by the family that enslaved her starting when she was 8 in 1761. She was brought to Boston from West Africa aboard a ship named The Phillis. The family who purchased her were the Wheatleys.
But they recognized her exceptional talents as a writer and orator and encouraged her education.
In 1773, at age 20, Wheatley – emancipated that year – became the first black woman to have a book published. She called the poetry book, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.”
One of the school’s most famous alums is Sam Moore, the R&B; legend who sang “Soul Man” as one half of the 1960s duo Sam & Dave. Moore was raised in a house on Third Avenue in Overtown and briefly lived with an aunt in Fort Lauderdale where he attended Dillard High School.
Moore graduated from Booker T. Washington Senior High in 1955.
“It was wonderful in those days,” Moore told the Herald in 2002. “Miami, in the early 1950s, I didn’t know anything about segregation. Not until I got out there with Dave.”
Moore, 84, now lives in Coral Gables with his wife Joyce. He still records and performs and is readying the release of an illustrated memoir.
On Saturday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools inducted Moore and the “Moonlight” duo Jenkins and McCraney into its 2020 Alumni Hall of Fame, along with Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and Books & Books founder Mitchell Kaplan.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON SENIOR HIGH
As Fields, the Miami historian, wrote in a Herald column for Booker T. Washington’s 90th anniversary in 2017:
“Miami-Dade County’s first senior high school, ‘free to all white children,’ was Miami High. It opened the 1902-1903 school year.
“Miami-Dade County’s first senior high school, ‘free to all black children,’ was Booker T. Washington Junior-Senior High. It opened the 1926-1927 school year.”
The school, originally a combined junior and senior high and the first board-recognized public school in South Florida for black children in grades 7 to 12 during the Jim Crow era, was named for Booker Taliaferro Washington.
Washington was a freed slave who was born in Virginia in 1856. But his reach extended to South Florida and well beyond. Washington’s life mission was to educate black children. He co-founded Tuskegee Institute (with fellow freed slave Lewis Adams) in Alabama in 1881 and founded The National Negro Business League in Boston in 1990.
Miami’s Booker T. school came to fruition under the leadership of pioneering black businessman D.A. Dorsey, who took it upon himself to take charge of education for local black youth. He hired the teachers and led the community’s efforts to open a junior-senior high school in the 1920s, Jenkins wrote.
Washington died of symptoms related to hypertension at age 59 in Alabama in 1915.
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