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Eleutherans Helped Build Miami, Little Havana (Miami Herald)
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Posted by:Jul 27th 2006, 12:58:00 pm
Fig Tree News TeamLITTLE HAVANA
Blacks' role in Little Havana's history to be honored

As part of the Black Archives' 'Happy Birthday, Miami' program, black Miami pioneers will put their history on display during Little Havana's next Cultural Fridays event.
BY LAURA MORALES
llmorales@MiamiHerald.com

Not many people know that, in the early 1900s, the Bahamian enclave in west Coconut Grove wasn't the only black community thriving among South Florida's hardwood hammocks.

Another group of predominantly Bahamian blacks, most of them employees of the Brickell family, built homes and lives in an area they called ''Old South Miami,'' (today's East Little Havana) between the Miami River's southern bank and what is known today as Brickell Estates.

''It's not well-known that 30 percent of the men who signed the city of Miami charter in 1896 were black,'' said Minda Logan, CEO of The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida. ``The rich cultural heritage we have here started on Day One.''

That heritage -- and the 110th anniversary of the city's incorporation -- will be celebrated Friday during the monthly Cultural Fridays event along Calle Ocho.

The remaining children of Daniel Johnson, of Eleuthera, and Lenora Smith, of Jacksonville, will welcome attendees into Miami's past with an exhibition of old photographs, drawings, maps and stories gleaned from the taped recollections of the eldest Johnson child, Alma Lucille, who died in January.

Johnson and Smith were part of a wave of black migrants who came to work on the growing city's infrastructure and new railroad or as domestic and agricultural workers.

''At that time there were about 75 families living in Old South Miami,'' said Dr. James Johnson, a dermatologist who lives in California and the sixth of Daniel and Lenora's seven children.

The names of other families in the community include Braynon, Wake, Wilson, Gibson and Bowe, he said.

''Our family lived at 615 21st St., which is Southwest Ninth Street today,'' he said. No. 615, which no longer exists, can still be seen on old Sanborn fire insurance maps of the area.

Johnson said he has a friend who swore he remembered seeing Mary Brickell herself come down to Old South Miami on some Saturdays to collect rents.

''We're still trying to fact-check that one,'' Johnson said with a laugh.

Standing in front of the spot where their home once stood, Johnson's sister, Georgiana J. Bethel, the second of the seven siblings, displayed an enlarged map of the area in the 1920s.

'Fields' store was the biggest in the area; people gathered there,'' she said, pointing out landmarks such as Fields' General Store, St. Marks Missionary Baptist Church, the nameless ''negro school'' and the Grant Chapel AME Church.

Paul George, a historian who leads several regular tours of Little Havana said he is very excited that some of the history of this ''hidden'' black community will be shared with the public.

''So few people know it was ever there,'' said George, who is working on a book that will include research on that neighborhood. ``At the time the area was called Riverside, and it was only a couple of square miles. Everything else was the so-called hinterlands, all piney woods and hammocks.''

James Johnson said he and his relatives theorized that one of the major reasons for the settlement's demise was that much of it had to be torn down to make way for a streetcar.

``It ran from downtown to Larson, which they call South Miami today.''

Sisters Edna Johnson Williams and Leona Johnson Fulton will join James and Georgiana Johnson for the exhibition, which will begin at 8 p.m. across Calle Ocho from the Tower Theater, 1508 SW Eighth St.

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