African American History · miami

history and complexities of home ownership in Miami


Me standing beside my mom in front of the structure she now calls home in the City of Miami Gardens. The palm trees suggests the subtropical climate of my beloved South Florida.

This week’s reading for my “Gender, Race and Urban Space” course touches close to home. Indeed, it is about my home. Home as in South Florida. Home as in Miami. Home as in the houses in which I grew up.

How the second place I called “home” looked in the 1990s.

Whether looking sharp and well-maintained, or in need of extra care, a home tells stories about the people who live in them and the communities from whom its inhabitants descend.

My mom standing between my brother and I during a visit in the early 1970s to relatives “back home” in Mississippi.

N.D.B. Connolly’s persuasive study on real estate in South Florida from the late nineteenth century through the middle of the twentieth century provides context for the idea of home, my childhood and names that meant something in my Miami, among them Athalie Range, property holder and Civil Rights leader. Hear Connolly addressing this subject on this CSPAN program.

What happens to the stories we tell ourselves when learning about the way in which black property holders complicate narratives about black struggle, class and liberalism?

Connolly’s award-winning study on South Florida is must-read for anyone wanting to fully understand how property holders – black and white – figure into racial oppression in South Florida as it unveils itself in housing.

Who knew? Landlords shaped government land projects and harm the efforts of governments to control land including the construction of highways.

Who knew? Some 1300 black neighborhoods were displaced during redevelopment of urban areas since the Great Depression.

Who knew that as early as the 1930s, white powerbrokers knew they wanted blacks in northwest Dade, the second community I call home.

Who knew? Black propertyholders participated in the displacement of African American residents while also seeing to the securing of certain rights for those same people.

The complexities of self and community interests.

I look forward to what my graduate students have to say next week.

My grandfather Richard Earvin stands on the far right. Beside him are his brothers. They are in Coconut Grove, the first community I called home.

Tomorrow is my late grandfather Richard Earvin’s birthday. He descends from Mississippi sharecroppers. He ended up in Miami in the 1950s after he and my grandmother “followed the crops” to South Florida. I have a vivid image of the little house in which he and my grandmother lived in Miami. Some time in the early 1990s, I paid for them to take a trip via Amtrak to Mississippi. At the time, I lived in Detroit. We drove around several Mississippi Delta towns that unveiled many stories about their struggles to become full citizens in this place we call America. One of those struggles involved home ownership.

Although I never heard the details, I sensed the little house they once owned and had to give up involved a lot of pain. Perhaps there was so much pain, my grandfather was reluctant to risk buying a home in the Coconut Grove section of Miami after their relocation to that community.

My mother recalls the lightness in her voice when she, my aunt Dot and my grandparents drove to this particular neighborhood in so-called West Grove. Perhaps her dad would buy the house. It was where the black elite lived. He decided not to get it. We do not know why. When he died some forty years later as a man who’d helped build Miami’s Metrorail and a man who also peddled veggies and fruit out of the back of his truck, he lived in subsidized senior housing as did my grandmother although when she died, her apartment overlooked the Miami River just steps from lucrative property in downtown Miami.

Conch salad. Just mention of those two words suggests “home.”

How did she get there?

How did we in 1972 leave “the Projects” we called home for the once incorporated area of now-Miami Dade County – the very place powerbrokers wanted people like us since the New Deal era? Our new neighborhood was called Carol City. It is now the City of Miami Gardens. It is affectionately called the “Baa Haas.” In all of those names are stories of home and dispossession, but also the unanticipated power for the unlikely.

My father holding me in front of the Coconut Grove duplex in “The Projects” that I first called “home.”

All because of the title to land.

The deed to a structure. So much through which to sort for me, a woman who descends from people of color from the so-called “South” and the Bahamas and more (indeed, more as my “American Civilization to 1865” students are invited to think through the complexities of the place we call Africa as we turn, at last, to the English colonies and the difficult subject of slavery). And then, as those same students know, I will try to make connections between the history of black migration to South Florida and the rise University of Miami football largely on the labor of black athletes from Florida in the 1980s and the Seminole Indians’ encounters with the U.S. military before the Civil War. Land and how it helps unlikely people become powerful is the thread through these three case studies.

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