The home of Miami’s first black millionaire is now open to the public.
Dana A. Dorsey was what today would be considered a real estate mogul. He was also a civic leader philanthropist in Miami’s black community.
The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida restored his 1920s era home and will use it as a museum to document Dorsey’s life and to host cultural events.
Timothy Barber, executive director of the Black Archives, spoke to WLRN’s Nadege Green about Dorsey's legacy.
WLRN: Dana Dorsey was a central figure here in Miami and he would ultimately become one of the first African-American millionaires in Miami and across the south. Tell us a bit more about who he was and what you've uncovered about him.
Barber: Dana Dorsey we found came from Quitman, Georgia and we do know that Dana moved to Palatka, Florida. He left Palatka for whatever reason, he departed and came to Miami probably like everyone else were coming to Miami because it was a brand new booming city. When he came to Miami he began to amass his fortune in real estate. He began to buy property, sell property, rent property and it amassed to be well over a million dollars, which made him the first black millionaire in Miami.
Since then we know that Dorsey donated the land for the city park that's named Dorsey Park today. We do know that Dorsey donated the first black library, Dorsey Library, which is right across the street from Dorsey Park.
And what was the climate like then specifically for black business owners and just black enterprise?
Well, it was during a time, a climate in our history, where blacks were not allowed to mingle with whites. Where blacks were designated to a certain area of the city that separated them from whites. Just as white people traveled to Miami because it was a tourist destination, financially capable and wealthy black people traveled to Miami. And there were needs that blacks had. What blacks were demanded to do by unwritten Jim Crow laws [was] that they had to spend their money in black establishments.
Now he owned property not just here in Miami. He owned property as far north as Fort Lauderdale. He owned property in the Bahamas and in Cuba as well, but a very well-known property he owned was Fisher Island here in Miami Beach. What was his dream for Fisher Island and why did he sell it?
He wanted to build a colored resort because during this time of Jim Crow, blacks were not allowed to even swim in the beach, get in the water. So his whole purpose was to establish a black resort because he knew that, just like there were wealthy white people, there were wealthy black people. And I’d like to thank the Miami Daily Metropolis for putting it on the front page and it says, “Negro Buys 1/3 of the Keys To Erect A Colored Resort.”
And that was the alarm sent out to let them know, “Hey while you're sleeping, there's a wealthy black man that's about to change the face of our area"—or their area at the time.
There were some issues where he could not build and expand Fisher Island. One, I know notably was that it was on the east side of a railroad tracks and we know that [Henry] Flagler designated the east side of the railroad tracks for white people on the west side for black people.
And I think it was very difficult for Dorsey to get the people and the manpower that he needed to get over to the island on a regular basis to get this island prepared for a resort that he then sold the island to Carl Fisher.
When we talk about preserving black history, specifically local black history, people like D.A. Dorsey, what can we do to make sure that these stories are not lost within community memory?
So if there's a repository that's housing information, the best thing that you can do if you do have that information is to donate it to the collection here at the Black Archives so that it can be preserved for years to come. If you have any knowledge or histories, [come] by and meeting with our archivists to document. That is essential to the survival of the history of people of color.