© 2024 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

New museum exhibit delves into historic Overtown's resilience as a community

A man walks down a street, Sunday, May 16, 2021, in the Overtown neighborhood in Miami. Miami was one of numerous Black cities across the country where interstate highways were built, disrupting communities. The Signature Bridge project coincides with the revitalization of the neighborhood that is currently underway. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Lynne Sladky/AP
/
AP
A man walks down a street, Sunday, May 16, 2021, in the Overtown neighborhood in Miami. Miami was one of numerous Black cities across the country where interstate highways were built, disrupting communities. The Signature Bridge project coincides with the revitalization of the neighborhood that is currently underway. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

A new exhibition at Miami's Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum explores Overtown's rich history as a major hub for Black tourism before desegregation and the impact of the decades-old construction of I-95 and I-395 highways on the renowned Black neighborhood.

The new exhibition is called “Anything But A Slum: Miami-Overtown Before I-95/395.”
It will include video and audio, and historical artifacts to highlight "the quiet joys of living within this tight-knit Black community, in the decades before major highway construction irreparably altered its social fabric."

Jordan Rogers, the museum's curator of history, told WLRN he wanted to explore Black Miami history and how residents created cultural hubs similar to those found in Harlem, New York and Tulsa, Oklahoma — even during the Jim Crow era.

“I wanted to look at that and explore that a little bit more to see what was so fun about life back then … the pleasure of life in Miami during Jim Crow,” Jordan said.

Situated just west of downtown Miami, Overtown was settled in the late 1890s when Henry Flagler was recruiting workers for his Florida East Coast Railroad. Because of segregation, mostly Black workers from the South and Caribbean settled on the other side of the tracks from downtown Miami, in an area then known as “Colored Town.”

The neighborhood later filled with bars, clubs, luxury hotels, with Black musicians traveling there while on tour around Florida on the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Miami Beach was segregated at the time, so artists made their way to Overtown to perform and spend the night. Gladys Knight, Nina Simone, James Brown, and more renowned Black artists and musicians regularly made their way down.

The exhibit also examines the devastating impact of the interstate highway construction on Overtown.

READ MORE: How I-95 Shattered The World Of Miami's Early Overtown Residents

Miami was one of numerous cities across the country where interstate highways were built, disrupting Black communities. Thousand of Overtown residents were forced out of their homes in the 1960s to make room for Interstate 95 and later, Interstate 395.

Rogers said the construction of the highways coincided with the end of segregation.

“You get the decline of Jim Crow segregation style of racial order, and then the built environment sort of rises up to take the place of that,” he said. "So instead of having a race wall like we know that used to exist here in Miami, you've got a race highway in a certain way.”

Jordan Rogers is Curator of History at the Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum in Miami
Courtesy
/
Jordan Rogers
Jordan Rogers is Curator of History at the Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum in Miami

With the establishment of the interstate highway system, Jordan said Black people were often left out of the picture. The decline in public transit, amid the rise in use of automobiles, created more problems for Black residents who could not afford a car, he said.

The museum’s executive director, Terrance Cribbs-Lorrant, said the exhibit aims to offer a glimpse into the often-overlooked achievements and happiness that existed despite the adversity and segregation laws of the Jim Crow era.

“The current ongoing construction on the I-95 can evoke memories and even cause distress for those who resided in the area during the 1960s,” he said. "For individuals not present during the original development of I-95/395 but who possess an understanding of the impact of Urban Renewal on the Overtown community, there is an opportunity to recall the joy and vibrancy of the predominantly African American neighborhood once known as "Colored Town."

EDITOR'S NOTE: WLRN/NPR Morning Edition host Natu Tweh will interview Jordan Rogers on Friday, June 28, during a special opening reception for the new exhibition, #AnythingButASlum. The reception begins at 6 p.m. Find more information here.

IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Anything But a Slum, Miami-Overtown Before I 95/395” exhibit
WHEN: Through Nov. 1, 2024. The museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10:30 am until 3:30 pm.
WHERE: Black Police Precinct and Courthouse Museum, 480 NW 11th St, Miami, Florida, 33136

Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Host.
More On This Topic