IPH Communities – Overtown Chronology


June 28, 1896

Miami is incorporated as a city. Forty one percent of those who vote to incorporate are African-Americans. Among them are Silas Austin and Alex Lightbourne, a foreign born Black Man who gives a rousing speech in favor of incorporation at the incorporation meeting.

Old Washington School opens.


On Christmas Day, a fire burns down many buildings in white Miami.


Blacks are instrumental in the decision to move the county seat of Dade County from Juno to Miami.

On November 12, another fire burns down much of white Miami. After this date, higher standards are implemented regarding buildings in white Miami, but the buildings in Colored Town continue to be made of would and built close together – often becoming firetraps. Colored Town remains deprived of other services, including paved streets, sewage systems, and other infrastructure. As a result, the spread of diseases and fires poses a great threat.


The Royal Palm Hotel is built, becoming one of the major tourist and financial centers in early Miami.

Avenue D (later Miami Avenue) and 12th St. (later Flagler Street) develop into Miami’s most important business streets. Blacks are forbidden from operating businesses along these streets.


The U.S. Census shows 966 Blacks living in Miami, 727 of which are foreign-born. These figures do not include Bahamian seasonal workers.

The Colored Board of Trade is founded.


The U.S. Census shows that 2,258 Blacks live in Miami.


Hardieville is closed down, due largely to the efforts of the Civic League of Miami. The success of the CLM prompts Colored Town residents to form their own organization, the Civic League of Colored Town. Among the items in their agenda are the implementation of a curfew, the removal of “immoral” women from the streets, and seeing that “good women” were escorted at all times.


Richard Toomey opens the first African-American law practice in Miami.


Due to the spread of Blacks to the NW and S of Colored Town, Miami residents attempt to legally impose segregation through Ordinance 199, the Segregation or Color Line Ordinance. Although Ordinance 199 did not pass, Morse Street (NW 20th Street) became an unofficial line designating the Black part of town. Although this line did not prevent the migration of Blacks from Colored Town, it did significantly slow down this movement.


The Lyric Theater opens.

The United States enters WWI.


Blacks make up 32 percent of Miami’s population, but occupy only 10 percent of its space.


Henry E.S. Reeves starts the Miami Times.


The Great Hurricane destroys much of Miami. Colored Town is among the areas hardest hit, as is evidenced by the high concentration of relief centers located within its boundaries. Blacks from as far as Jacksonville come to Colored Town to assist in rebuilding the community.


Father John E. Culmer of Saint Agnes Episcopal Church becomes disturbed over the tuberculosis deaths of several of his young parishioners. He begins a crusade to improve conditions in his community, bringing his concerns to the attention of the Greater Miami Negro Civic League and volunteering to serve as chairman of the league’s fact-finding committee. By the early 1930s, his crusade wins the attention and support of the editor of the Miami Herald, who agrees to publish a series of columns on the unhealthy conditions in Overtown.


Railroad hurt Colored Town? Before both used Ocean Beach, but eventually segregated?

1930s, 40s, 50s

Colored Town’s Hey Day. N.W. 2nd Street, between 6th and 10th streets, is considered Little Broadway, and many big name acts (including white ones) frequent the neighborhood and perform there. The Lyric, the Modern, and the Ritz theaters, the Mary Elizabeth Hotel with itsFlamingo Lounge, the Rockland Palace with its Della Robia, and the St. John Hotel are among the cultural centers of the neighborhood. During these years, it starts to be called Overtown by its residents.


The Miami Herald’s expose, inspired by Father Culmer’s crusade, brings poor conditions in Miami to national attention, and eventually President FDR himself sends officials from the WPA to visit Colored Town. As a result, plans are made for constructing one of the first federally funded public housing projects in the nation – Liberty Square – which had all the modern facilities and services that Overtown lacked.


The Royal Palm Hotel is torn down.


The area generally referred to as the Central Negro District (Colored Town) has its name changed to Washington Heights.


Liberty City, a predominantly black community developed by Floyd Davis, a white man, springs up near the Liberty Square Housing Project. Although many blacks from Overtown and Lemon City are hesitant to move to the distant community, Alfonso Kelly, a black salesman hired by Davis, manages to sell a significant number of lots to Miami blacks.


Home inspections start. Officials begin coming to black homes and dictating that electrical standards had to be met, as well as demanding property for the building of sidewalks. This Urban Renewal begins to take its toll on the population of Overtown as many move out.


The Coconut Festival, which coincided with the Orange Bowl Parade, becomes the Orange Blossom Classic.


Rev. Edward T. Graham, pastor of Overtown’s Mt. Zion Baptist Church, emerges as one of Miami’s major Civil Right’s leaders.


A plan to have the Miami Expressway routed along the Florida East Coast Railway corridor into downtown Miami is conceived. This plan would have little impact on housing in nearby Overtown.


The 1955 plans for the expressway construction are scrapped, and a new plan prepared for the Florida State road Department shifted the route to the west and directly through Overtown. Despite community objections, the new route is accepted by the road department and supported by various downtown Miami officials and groups like the Chamber of Commerce. Specifically, the Florida East Coast Railway right-of-way was rejected, as the plan state, in order to provide “ample room for the future expansion of the central business district in a westerly direction.”

Desegregation and its effect on Colored Town business.


The construction of I-95 and I-35 rips through the center of Overtown, wiping out massive amounts of housing as well as Overtown’s main business district – the business and cultural heart of black Miami. The population drops from about 40,000 to about 10,000. Today, parking lots for the Miami Arena stretch along 2nd Avenue where the Rockland Palace and the Cotton Club once stood.


Police brutality and the failure of the Dade County business community in helping blacks, despite promises to do so, creates increasing tension in Black Miami, and more passive Civil rights leaders begin to decline in influence.

During the Republican National Convention, which convened in Miami Beach to nominate Richard M. Nixon for the presidency, Miami branches of some black political groups, such as CORE and the Black Panthers, organized political rallies in the black community. The restive crowds, which had gathered close to 62nd Street and 17th Ave., started pelting passing police cars with rocks. Hours later, the crowd attacked a passing car with a “George Wallace for President” bumper sticker, and the incident gradually developed into a full-scale riot.


Rotten Meat Riot takes place in Brownsville.

Rev. Graham is appointed to the Miami City Commission.


Rev. Graham is elected to the Metro Commission in his own right.


An investigation led by Assistant State Attorney Martin Francis Dardis implicates Graham and several other metro commissioners in an alleged bribery scheme.


Rev. Graham is found guilty of accepting zoning bribes and is forced to resign from the commission. He is the first of several black leaders to be discredited in the 1970s and 80s (Brownsville’s Neal Adams and Coconut Grove’s Dr. Johnny Jones would both suffer similar fates in 1979). Many Miami blacks perceived these incidents as the product of racial discrimination.


The State Supreme Court overturns the conviction against Rev. Graham, and the city drops the charges against him, but his reputation is irreparably damaged.


Arthur McDuffie, an unarmed motorcyclist, is beat to death at North Miami Avenue and Thirty-eighth Street by as many as a dozen white Miami police officers.


Upon the acquittal of McDuffie’s killers, full-scale riots erupt in Miami’s black communities.


Luis Alvarez and Luis Cruz, two uniformed Hispanic police officers, are involved in shooting Nevel Johnson Jr. without provocation at an Overtown pool room/video arcade. The incident sparks a full-scale riot. Several hundred blacks set fire to police cruisers, loot several stores, and trapped the two officers inside the video arcade. Alvarez is charged with culpable negligence and recklessness, and faced a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a ten-thousand-dollar fine if convicted. Ultimately, Alvarez is found not guilty. The verdict sparks another series of riots in Overtown and Liberty City,


Miami City commissioners approve a $460,000 settlement with the family of Nevel Johnson Jr.


Rev. Graham dies in relative obscurity.


While on call in Overtown, Police officer William Lozano shoots Clement Anthony Lloyd as the young man rides towards him on a motorcycle, killing him and his passenger, Allan Blanchard. The incident sparks a major riot, which lasts for four days and spreads into Liberty City and Coconut Grove. Lozano is found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 7 years in prison.


Lozano wins an appeal and is acquitted of the murders of Lloyd and Blanchard.

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