Historic Overtown Neighborhood is Enjoying a Return to its Glory Days

Around the turn of the 20th Century, black people coming to Miami to work on Henry Flagler’s railroad were relegated to live in “Colored Town.” They faced discrimination and the wrath of Jim Crow, yet Overtown grew into a vibrant community  the Harlem of the South. When Miami’s growth encroached on Overtown, the neighborhood lost many of the places that made it shine. Like Clyde Killen’s Pool Hall, where some of the country’s top black artists performed late at night after they played shows in Miami Beach. Clyde Killen’s is being reborn into a restaurant from star chef Marcus Samuelsson. David Beckham plans to put his Major League Soccer stadium in Overtown. And talented Miami couple Jamila Ross and Akino West are about to open their Copper Door Bed & Breakfast nearby. The neighborhood recently hosted BlackTech Week, drawing innovators and entrepreneurs from around the country. Overtown is enjoying a return to its glory days.

Overtown Guide: Jackie Bell, Community Activist

Jackie Bell has lived in Overtown most of her life and remembers watching the likes of Nat King Cole perform in the town’s Little Broadway. “It was a very fun place to grow up,” she said, back when Overtown was an “economically sound community.” That changed when the highways were erected, cutting through the neighborhood, Bell said. The city promised Overtown that everything would return to normal after redevelopment. But businesses and theaters closed — the Historic Lyric Theater is the lone remnant of those days — yet Bell did not give up on her home. The president of the New Washington Heights Community Development Corporation, Bell is an active community organizer. In the 1960s, she teamed with state Rep. Gwen Cherry, the first black woman elected to the Florida Legislature, to give the city a voice in rebuilding efforts. Over the years, Bell has grown into a de facto mayor of Overtown, speaking up for the city and fighting inequality. “It’s wonderful to see the rebirth of this community,” she said.

Folklife Fridays

“I founded what is called Folklife Fridays on the first Friday of the month. It’s on the Ninth Street mall, and we bring together local businesses that sell food, arts and crafts, clothing.” 819 Northwest Second Avenue; 786-488-4872; experienceovertown.com.

The Overtown Performing Arts Center

“I’ve been to a number of receptions at the Overtown Performing Arts Center. I’ve been working since 1970 on this project. It’s such a beautiful, beautiful building.” 1074 Northwest Third Avenue; 888-672-2386; overtownpac.org.

Tribe Co-Work and Innovation Lab

“When you are a small business, the cost of operation is not easy, so if you can do it in a co-opt way at Tribe Co-Work and Innovation Lab, that is very, very good. All of us who are working in the community, we are being sharers. We share our knowledge and space with other small businesses that are up and coming.” 819 Northwest Second Avenue; 305-679-6800.

Jackson Soul Food

“As a kid growing up, we only ate turkey at Thanksgiving. But now you can go to Jackson Soul Food almost any day and get some turkey wings. They have a great breakfast, and you have to get some biscuits.” 950 Northwest Third Avenue; 305-374-7661; jacksonsoulfood.com.

Lil Greenhouse Grill

“With a new booming community, to have two great restaurants is a plus. We have the newLil Greenhouse Grill, and the food is superb. The vegetables come directly from Florida farms. I love the macaroni and cheese, and the shrimp and grits, and the salad is to die for.” 1300 Northwest Third Avenue; 786-277-3582; lilgreenhousegrill.com.

Gibson Park

Gibson Park is absolutely beautiful. It has the basketball courts. It’s a good, safe place. Every year, there’s a night out on Halloween and it’s always very, very busy.” 401 Northwest 12th Street; 305-960-4646; miamigov.com/parks/park_gibson.html.

Black Archives at the Historic Lyric Theater

“During Art Basel, Neil Hall hosts Art Africa Miami with the Black Archives at the Historic Lyric Theater. What a wonderful, wonderful thing that has happened that they now have the Lyric Theater. It means that this community is beginning to re-appreciate itself. The things that they are doing are just spectacular to this community.” 819 Northwest Second Avenue; 786-708-4610; bahlt.org.


Originally published in Indulge magazine

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