The History of Overtown: The Commerce Center of Florida’s Black Community

By Samuel Phineas Upham

Miami was basically a working-man’s town at the turn of the century. It was incorporated by the Florida East Coast Railway and Standard Oil to act as a supply chain for other parts of Florida, and it was the hub of the citrus industry. This was a time in America where “separate but equal” was the rallying cry of segregationists in the South, presenting what they perceived to be a modest proposal.

These laws directly or indirectly contributed to the creation of “Colored Town” just north of the Royal Palm Hotel. This area is the second oldest part of Miami, today called Overtown, and it was a thriving center of commerce for the African-American community in Miami. It was the main hub of activity throughout the 1964 Civil Rights movement, and it claimed to house D.A. Dorsey, the first black millionaire in the Southern United States.

But Overtown was more than just a racial segregation. It became a center for culture and entertainment, popular with people of all colors. Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole and other popular blues and lounge performers played there.

I-95 is one of the driving reasons behind the economic decline of the 1950s. Overtown had thrived because it offered entertainment you didn’t have to drive to find. When the interstates divided up Florida, they fragmented places like Overtown and forced standards down.

Today’s Overtown has come a long way from the darker past. Community gardens offer tourists and visitors a place to relax, and revitalization efforts aimed at the Lyric theater have brought culture back to the area.

About the Author: Samuel Phineas Upham is an investor at a family office/ hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Samuel Phineas Upham website or LinkedIn.

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