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Colored Town: Miami’s Historic Black Community PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul S. George, Special to the BT   
October 2017

A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami

APix_PictureStory_10-17ter Miami’s incorporation in July 1896, the nascent city upheld state segregation statutes, passed its own Jim Crow ordinances, and consigned blacks to their own cramped quarter with inadequate services, called Colored Town and located in the northwest quadrant of the municipality.

Victimized by segregation and discrimination, and policed by a white force with “Deep South” mentalities, Colored Town was characterized, on the one hand, by crime, congestion, and disease, but on the other by a bustling business community, a small cadre of professionals, fraternal orders, civic and business organizations, a number of entertainment offerings, and numerous churches.

Colored Town also contained a rich population mix, since a sizable percentage of its inhabitants were Bahamian blacks, while a lesser number were Jamaican and Haitian.

Colored Town’s population rose sharply in the decades following the city’s incorporation. By 1960, it contained more than 34,000 residents, and its dance and music halls attracted large mixed-race audiences and black entertainment celebrities, including Lena Horne, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and many more. By then many called the area Overtown.

Among the most prominent residents of Colored Town was Dana A. Dorsey (pictured here), its pre-eminent businessman and lone millionaire. After arriving in Miami in 1896 from Quitman, Georgia, it is said that Dorsey parlayed a $25 parcel of land into a business empire that included properties in Dade and Broward counties, Cuba, and the Bahamas.

By 1920, Dorsey’s holdings included Colored Town’s first hotel, which became a gathering spot for visiting dignitaries. On Sundays, Dorsey rode about in a chauffeured limousine, collecting rents from his properties. He was Colored Town’s main benefactor, financing the community’s first park and a library, and providing the land for a high school.

Dorsey died in 1940. A replica of his house still stands in Overtown, which is itself experiencing rapid change and redevelopment as it recovers from a long malaise due in part to a vast population displacement following construction of I-95 and I-395 through portions of the community.

 

Paul George is historian at HistoryMiami Museum. To order a copy of this photo, please contact HistoryMiami archives manager Dawn Hugh at 305-375-1623, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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