Liberty City Community

The community now known as Liberty City has its roots in New Deal era politics, as well as in local efforts to address the needs of Miami’s African-American communities. In the 1930s, Father Culmer, then minister of Saint Agnes Episcopal Church, spearheaded an initiative to improve sanitation and housing in Miami’s black neighborhoods. Benefiting from coverage in the Miami Herald, Culmer’s crusade reached garnered national attention and involvement from the WPA. By 1937, this interest led to the building of Liberty Square, a housing project of 34 units built between Northwest Sixty-second and Sixty-seventh streets. Under the tenure of James E. Scott, the project’s first administrator, Liberty Square flourished as a middle class African American neighborhood. Many of Liberty Square’s residents moved into the area in response to deteriorating living conditions in Overtown coupled with the realities of a segregated society.

Conditions in Liberty City began to deteriorate in the 1940s and 1950s, when white developers began purchasing land from African American families for developing. This trend led to an increase in rentals and a decrease in home ownership in Liberty City. The area suffered another more dramatic blow in the 1950s, when Overtown, the center of Black Miami, was demolished to make room for the building of I-95. This tragedy displaced tens of thousands of African Americans, many of whom migrated to rental properties in Liberty City.

Faced with overcrowding, neglect, and economic stagnation, citizens of Liberty City struggled to maintain a sense of community, often meeting with significant success. Most notably, Athalie Range, one of Miami’s most important politicians, began her crusade for community involvement by fighting for improved conditions at Liberty City Elementary. Liberty City, however, also faced difficulty and frustration, as evidenced by race riots in 1980, 1982, and 1989, all of which manifested in response to instances of police brutality against African-American citizens. This tension between strong local yearning for a viable community, and the limitations imposed by municipal neglect is one that continues to play itself out in Liberty City to the present day.

Print Resources

  • Marvin Dunn, Black Miami in the Twentieth Century (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997) This incredibly important book has proven invaluable for for contextualizing the various interviews that appear on this website.


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