While most of South Florida was getting ready for the Super Bowl in Miami Gardens, about 20 people gathered at Margaret Pace Park in Miami, 14 miles south, to call on and honor their ancestors during the first week of Black History Month.
Constance Ekon, also known as Queen Mother Boatenmaa, has been organizing this Black History Month ancestor remembrance day for more than 10 years.
Attendees called out the names of their loved ones who are no longer living in a communal prayer. In the front row, several people called out Arthur McDuffie’s name.
In 1979, McDuffie, a 33-year-old insurance agent and former Marine, was beaten into a coma by up to a dozen white Dade County police officers after he ran a red light on his motorcycle. The officers immediately tried to cover up their crime to stage it as an accident.
McDuffie died several days later from his injuries. An investigation lead to arrests, but five months after McDuffie was buried, an all-white jury in Tampa acquitted the officers.
Forty years ago, the May 1980 McDuffie riots broke out in Miami, drawing international attention. The National Guard was called in to calm the city and the neighborhoods that were set aflame. Many in Miami’s black communities bitterly recall how justice was not served in McDuffie’s case.
At the Black History Month ceremony, McDuffie's family members were the guests of honor. Organizers say McDuffie's story should never be forgotten from Miami's history as they gave the family a proclamation from Miami-Dade County declaring Feb. 2 “Arthur Lee McDuffie Family Day.”
McDuffie’s son, Marc Patrick McDuffie, still lives in Miami. He was a year-old toddler when his father was killed.
Just a few hours before the NFL would air a national ad addressing recent police violence against black men, Marc Patrick McDuffie spoke at the ceremony about the same issue that took his dad's life 40 years ago.
“I still look at the news and I see black men like myself being mistreated, still being killed, still being beaten and not seeing the right hand of justice,” he said. The small crowd punctuated his remarks with, “Amen.”
Every Sunday, Marc Patrick McDuffie said, he drives to church past a stretch of Northwest 17th Avenue that was at the center of the riots when the news came down that his father's killers would be set free. That stretch was renamed after his dad in 2003, Arthur Lee McDuffie Avenue.
Marc Patrick McDuffie said he appreciates the few public markers in his dad’s memory and the events that remind people who may have forgotten or in some cases to inform those did not know about his dad at all —but for him it’s also very painful.
“Arthur McDuffie is someone we can’t have back,” he said. “That’s a father that we won’t have ever again. That’s a brother that’s gone, an uncle, a nephew that’s gone.”
For some of McDuffie’s family, staying in the same city where he was killed is still hard 40 years later.
Arthur McDuffie’s older sister, Dorothy McDuffie, flew in for the ceremony from Georgia along with several other family members.
“I want you to pray for us because I still have my moments,” she said. “I'm still crying. I don't think I'll ever get over it.”
Lonnie Lawrence, one of McDuffie’s best friends, presented the family with the proclamation from Miami-Dade County. He and McDuffie went to school together and served in the Marine Corps together.
Lawrence recalled the day he heard the news of McDuffie’s killing. He worked as a spokesman for the same county police department whose officers just killed his friend.
“I wanted to quit, but I couldn't because Arthur, as I know him, he would have cursed me out if I quit. So I was not going to do that,” Lawrence said. “I was going to stay there and make them deal with me. I wanted them to know that I knew what they did and I would never let them forget it.”
Femi Folami-Browne, who co-produced "When Liberty Burns," a documentary of about McDuffie and the riots, said his life should be honored year round and that his family should not be forgotten.
"They have survived some of the most horrific trauma any family could survive and have turned to their faith to inspire others," she said at the ceremony.
There were no elected or county police officials present at the intimate ceremony. The Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board committee requested the official proclamation.
The proclamation reads in part: “As the family honors the memory of Arthur Lee McDuffie, it is also fitting that the Office of Black Affairs on behalf of the African-American community in Miami Dade County echo the sentiments and duly honor the entirety of the McDuffie family.”