|— Neighborhood of Miami —|
|Nickname(s): Colored Town (historic name)|
|• City of Miami Commissioner||Richard Dunn|
|• Miami-Dade Commissioners||Audrey Edmonson|
|• House of Representatives||Cynthia Stafford (D)|
|• State Senate||Larcenia Bullard (D)|
|• U.S. House||Frederica Wilson (D)|
|• Density||8,820/sq mi (3,410/km2)|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-05)|
|Area code(s)||305, 786|
Overtown is a neighborhood of Miami, Florida, United States, just northwest of Downtown Miami. Originally called Colored Town during the Jim Crow era of the late 19th through the mid-20th century, the area was once the preeminent and is the historic center for commerce in the Black American community in Miami and South Florida.
Now roughly bound by North 20th Street to the north, North Fifth Street to the south, the Miami River and Dolphin Expressway (SR 836) to the west, and the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) and West First Avenue to the east. Local residents often go by the demonym "Towners."
A part of the historic heart of Miami, it was designated as a "colored" neighborhood after the creation and incorporation of Miami in 1896. The incorporation of Miami as a city occurred at the insistence of Standard Oil and FEC railroad tycoon Henry Flagler, whose mostly black American railroad construction workers settled near what became Downtown Miami, just north of Flagler's Royal Palm Hotel on the Miami River. Owing to a substantive African American population, 168 of the 362 men who voted for the creation of the city of Miami were counted as "colored," but the separate but equal segregation laws of the Deep South dictated the city to a designate the portion of the city, in this case, north and west of FEC railroad tracks, as "Colored Town."
The second-oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of the Miami area after Coconut Grove, the area thrived as a center for commerce, primarily along Northwest Second Avenue. Home to the Lyric Theatre (completed in 1913) and other businesses, West Second Avenue served as the main street of the black community during an era which, up until the Civil Rights Act of 1964, barred African American residents from entering middle and upper income white areas like Miami Beach and Coral Gables without "passes." During the Florida land boom of the 1920s, Overtown was home to one of the first black millionaires in the American South, D. A. Dorsey (who once owned Fisher Island), and the original Booker T. Washington High School, then the first high school educating black students south of Palm Beach. Community organizing and mobilization during the era, as such in actions of Reverend John Culmer, who advocated for better living conditions for lower class blacks living in abject squalor during the 1920s, led to the completion of Liberty Square in 1937 in what is now-called Liberty City. Northwest Second Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood, once-called the "Little Broadway" of the South, by the 1940s hosted hundreds of mostly black-owned businesses, ranging from libraries and social organizations to a hospital and popular nightclubs.
Popular with blacks and whites alike, Overtown was a center for nightly entertainment in Miami, comparable to Miami Beach, at its height post-World War II in the 1940s and 1950s. The area served as a place of rest and refuge for black mainstream entertainers such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole who were not allowed to lodge at prominent venues where they performed like the Fontainebleau and the Eden Roc, where Overtown hotels like the Mary Elizabeth Hotel furnished to their needs. Further, many prominent African American luminaries like W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston, Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson lodged and entertained in the neighborhood.
The area experienced serious economic decline from the late 1950s. Issues ranging from urban renewal to the construction of interstate highways like I-95 (then, the North-South Expressway) and the Dolphin Expressway in the 1960s, fragmented the-once thriving center with the resident population decimated by nearly 80 percent from roughly 50,000 to just over 10,000. The area became economically destitute and considered a "ghetto" as businesses closed and productivity stagnated in the neighborhood.
Development was spurred in the area again in the late 1980s with the construction and completion of the Miami Arena and transit-oriented development surrounding the newly-opened Overtown station. Since the 1990s and 2000s (decade), community gardens have been created, in addition to renovations to the historic Lyric Theatre and revitalization and gentrification efforts spurred both by the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
As of 2000, Overtown had a population of 10,029 residents, with 3,646 households, and 2,128 families residing in the city. The median household income was $13,211.99. The racial makeup of the neighborhood was 19.90% Hispanic or Latino of any race, 74.77% Black or African American, 3.27% White (non-Hispanic), and 2.05% Other races (non-Hispanic).
Overtown is home to several historic churches and landmarks, including the Lyric Theater (Miami), Greater Bethel AME Church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, and St. Agnes Episcopal. Other places of interest include the reconstructed and historically accurate Dorsey House, the Old Black Police Precinct Museum, the Overtown Public Library (with its exterior walls adorned with paintings by Overtown's famous urban expressionist painter, Purvis Young), and L. E. Thomas Building, home of the first black magistrate in Miami.
Overtown is served by the Miami Metrorail at:
- Historic Overtown/Lyric Theatre (NW Eighth Street and First Avenue)
- Culmer (NW 11th Street and US 441)
- "Overtown: Inside/Out" Multimedia project c. 2009-2011 - Video from Overtown with commentary from Towners
- Mjagkij, Nina (2001). Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis. p. 287. ISBN 978-0-8153-2309-9.
- Mjagkij 2001
- Savage, Beth (1995). African American Historic Places. Washington, D.C.: National Register for Historic Places. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-471-14345-1.
- Bird, Christiane (2001). The Da Capo Jazz and Blues Lover's Guide to the United States. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press. p. 106. ISBN 978-0-306-81034-3.
- Jones, Maxine; Kevin McCarthy (1993). African Americans in Florida. Key West, Florida: Pineapple Press. p. 164. ISBN 978-1-56164-031-7.
- Hirsch, Arnold; Raymond A. Mohl (1993). Urban Policy in Twentieth-Century America. Piscataway, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-8135-1906-7.
- Simms, Bob (21 July 1975). "Minority Experience: Welcome to the Ghetto, It's No Place Like Home". The Miami News. Retrieved 19 June 2011.
- "Demographics of Overtown Miami, FL". miamigov.com. Retrieved 2008-06-11.