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Richmond Heights, Developed As Community For Black Servicemen, Celebrates 65 Years

Mona Bethel Jackson

This weekend brings an opportunity to learn something about a southwest-of-Miami community called Richmond Heights.

It's a black neighborhood, always has been. But its founding and the history that developed from its unlikely roots make a good story, and add a pleasant nuance to common ideas about post-war race relations.

It's Founders' Weekend in Richmond Heights, the 65th since a white man named Frank C. Martin launched the community as a residential development for the families of black servicemen. Now a community of roughly 9,000 people wedged between Southwest 136th and 152nd streets, the neighborhood was built near a military installation called the Richmond Naval Air Station -- or, more properly -- the Richmond Naval Lighter Than Air Station.

It was a blimp base, the second-largest in the country, and it was responsible for patrolling the coast for Nazi submarines.

Richmond LTAS was active throughout World War II and until it burned down in a hurricane in 1945.

Martin was a Pan American Airlines pilot at the time Richmond Heights was getting its start. But he had served in World War II alongside black soldiers and, according to the stories that are still told, he had developed respect for their fighting skill and spirit, and their resilience in the face of war and racism. He had also planned to make a little money from building Richmond Heights, but that was not to be: He died in a car crash in 1951 before the project was complete.

Credit Frank C. Martin collection
LONG VIEW: Looking south from high above Richmond Heights in 1953.

The definitive book about the founding and growth of the neighborhood is "Miami's Richmond Heights" by Patricia Harper Garrett and her daughter, Jessica Garrett Modkins.

From the website blurb:

Captain Martin, also a veteran, thought this community would be a good business venture but, for a white man in the late 1940s, this venture turned into a tool of social change leading all the way to the White House.     Miami's Richmond Heights is a richly illustrated book that chronicles the beginnings of the original residents who are WWII veterans, Tuskegee Airman, Fortune 500 presidents, doctors, university professors, and many other professionals.  It explores the vision for the community, how this vision translated to the residents, and documents the first families in 1949.

Founders' Weekend events kick off at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 27, with a talent show called "The Heights Got Talent" at Richmond Heights Middle School, and conclude Saturday night with an $85-plate celebration banquet at the Elks' Lodge, 10301 Sunset Drive.