Overtown History

Overtown ChildrenTML has the wonderful opportunity to minister in the community known as Overtown. This neighborhood is located just northwest of downtown, south of Alapattah neighborhood, and west of the Wynwood area. It is one of the historically black neighborhoods of Miami. Interstate 95 and 836/Interstate 395 bisect the neighborhood.

Overtown History

Our thanks to The Black Archives, The Overtown Collaberative, and Dr. Marvin Dunn for their work in perserving Overtown’s unique history.

1890s

Overtown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami, dating back to 1890 when it was designated as a segregated living area within the Miami city limits for blacks working on Henry Flagler’s East Cost Railroad. Blacks were not allowed to live within the white community; therefore the land west of the railroad tracks, within the city limits of Miami, was designated as “Colored Town”. . .and was later called Overtown.

Overtown residents had a significant role in the development of Miami in 1886. Forty percent of the incorporators for the city were from Overtown.

The area grew and developed into a vibrant community, and Blacks became owners of businesses and thereby helped establish a viable economic community. Opened in 1913 in the heart of Overtown, the Lyric Theater quickly became a major entertainment center for blacks in Miami. The 400-seat theater was built, owned and operated by a local black man. The theater served as a symbol of black economic influence and a source of pride and culture for the Overtown community.

Black entertainers could perform in the clubs on Miami Beach, but they couldn’t stay overnight, so they stayed in Overtown where thriving hotels and restaurants were established. Black entertainers such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, and others performed in the Lyric theater.

1950s

At it’s peak population in the 1950s before the construction of the interstates Overtown was a community of over 40,000 people and though isolated by racial segregation, Overtown was culturally and economically vibrant with a diverse mix of 318 businesses.

During this same time a controversial program is taking place in major cities across the country. . . Urban Renewal. In the early 1960s, the well-being of the Overtown community was seen as subordinate to the expansion of Miami’s port and the city’s economic development.

By 1965 much of Overtown had been razed for highway construction and “urban renewal.” Interstate 95 a ten lane expressway and state highway 836 were both constructed directly through the heart of Overtown.

Children SmilingWith massive displacement due the interstate construction, the community lost half of it’s population going from 40,000 to 20,000 residents. These same forces that destroyed or altered the physical structures in Overtown also weakened the social underpinnings of the community. Businesses folded, churches closed, and many more residents were forced to leave. The great pride of the community, The Lyric Theater, closed during this time and would remain closed for forty years.

Today

  • 55% of the residents of Overtown live in poverty
  • the median household income is $11,314
  • there are only 41 businesses
  • the vacant space under the elevated expressways has become a wasteland
  • 32% of the community’s population lives in either public housing or government subsidized housing
  • the homeownership rate is 3% compared to the national average of 60%

For further information on the history of Overtown, please visit the Black Archives.

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