Liberty City

The Liberty City segregation wall was built in the 1940’s to divide the black and white communities as blacks began to move north of Overtown. Parts of the old wall still stand along Northwest 12th Avenue at 63rd Street. In this view 12th Avenue is to the right. To the left is the Liberty Square Housing Project. A similar wall was built in Coconut Grove for the same purpose. [1]Dunn Collection, FIU

Shanreka Perry was eleven years old in 1980 when a car driven by whites was attacked on NW Sixty-Second Street in Liberty City. The disturbance began after five white police officers were found not guilty in the killing of Arthur McDuffie, an unarmed black man. The driver lost control and the car hit the wall of one of the apartments in the Liberty Square Housing Project. The impact severed her right leg and set off the violence in the McDuffie riots. In the end, eight whites and ten blacks were killed. Shanreka will be present tomorrow when flowers are laid at the site of her injury. The Compassion Caravan is supported by the James L. Knight Foundation and Temple Beth Or.

“Concrete monster” so called by black residents of Overtown, Liberty City and other black areas where the white folks built these apartments for blacks primarily those who had been displaced by the interstate. It was if someone sat down and figured out the worsts possible housing at the cheapest cost. It was stacking poor people on top of each other with the predictable results. I remind you, black housing has always been primarily owned by whites who have never stepped into these communities. The apartments are small with no air conditioning and no place for children to play except the parking lot in front of the building.

My Visit to Yahweh Ben Yahweh Cult Compound

In a moment of lunacy, I ran for Mayor of the City of Miami in the mid-1980s when the Yahweh Ben Yahweh cult was at its peak in Miami. They owned a fleet of limousines, busses, vans, apartment buildings, a large compound in Liberty City and other properties.

Out of the blue one day I received a call from a woman named Judith Israel who was second in command of the group inviting me to visit the compound. I showed up the next day and was met by two white-robed sentries at the entrance to the place one of whom escorted me to Judith’s office. She welcomed me and offered to take me on a tour of the compound. As we walked through their workshop where dozens of women were sewing the pages of bibles together to be sold (Yahweh Ben Yahweh had rewritten the bible and the organization sold copies of his version). Each time I tried to speak directly to a person, Judith answered: “Oh, she has been with us for three years,” or “She has two children in our preschool program,” and so forth.

Ultimately, we ended up back in her office and she handed me an envelope. It was filled with one hundred dollar bills. “We want to help you”, she said. “We don’t usually get involved with politics but you are the only black in the race for mayor and here is some support.” When she saw my hesitation she added, “You see all that we have? We only deal in cash.”

I told her that I could not accept the money. Pressed for an answer, she asked my why not? I told her that their organization was racist and that I was running to be mayor for all of Miami and therefore could not accept their money. That was my last direct contact with the group.

Orchard Villa Elementary School, an all-white school in what is now Liberty City, was the first public school in Dade County to be desegregated. This image was taken on the first day of school in 1963 showing black parents escorting their children into the building. By Christmas break, fewer than a dozen white students remained at the school.

Civilian Review of the Police Does Not Work

Miami Dade County is debating a civilian review board for oversight of the police. This is putting a Band-Aid on a gushing wound. Without subpoena power civilian review boards are useless and a waste of money. The toothless thing the county is debating is a distraction. We need to reform policing itself.

The first step is to select hand picked, good officers and have them go to the worse crime spots in Overtown and Liberty City, take out a couple of lawn chairs and sit and visit with the community for their eight hour shift. Those same respectful officers would be right back there in their lawn chairs the next day and the next. Watch how fast crime drifts away from those drug infested corners.

Horace Sharpe, Jr, a descendant of the Blue family who were early settlers in Lemon City, in front of one of the first homes built in Liberty City taken around 1923. As whites pushed black families out of Lemon City (the city’s white population was expanding to the north) some long-time black families in Lemon City moved west along what was called Saw Mill Road, now called Northwest Sixty-Second Street. A saw mill operated in the area and a few blacks who worked there lived in rented housing near the saw mill. When the black population of Colored Town was forced north, and especially after the Liberty Square Housing Project was built on Saw Mill Road, blacks flocked to the area. Liberty City was born.[2]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.55.

Josephine Dillard was an early settler in Lemon City. Her son, Richard Powell, who gave me this photo of his mother, became the long-time head of the NAACP chapter in Liberty City. There were three black settlements in Lemon City, Knightsville,, Boles Town and Nazarene. Nazarene, the largest, was bounded by Northeast Seventy-First Street on the north, Third Avenue on the east and Northeast Second Avenue to the west. The south boundary was never determined. Nazarene It was described as part pineland and part prairie.[3]Dunn, p.2.

Range’s political involvement began in 1948 with the PTA at her children’s school, Liberty City Elementary School then located on the site now occupied by Charles R. Drew Elementary School. According to Range in an interview she gave me in 1992, conditions at the school were deplorable. With an enrollment of about 1,200 black students the school consisted entirely of portable classrooms. It had only twelve toilet facilities for girls and about the same number for boys. There was no cafeteria although white schools had long had cafeterias. There was no grassy area or trees on the property. The children had only outside drinking fountains fed by uncovered pipes merely laid on the ground. The water was so bad that many parents sent their children to school with mayonnaise jars full of chipped ice. The school was one of the few Dade County schools operating on a double shift. In the late 1940’s Range was elected PTA president. It was on after that!

Range and the PTA were especially determined to get a cafeteria for the school which led to a confrontation between black parents and the Dade School Board. Although some PTA members wanted to write a letter to the school board Range insisted on a group appearing before the board. She showed up with 125 parents. They filled every seat in the auditorium. The superintendent delayed the meeting for over an hour hoping the group would go away. Finally, a spokesperson from the group was called up and Range laid into the school board. As a result of this confrontation arrangements were made for Miami Jackson Senior High School to transport food from its cafeteria to Liberty City Elementary. Jackson was an all-white school at the time. The board agreed to build a new school for Liberty City Elementary School. By the time I went there in 1951 the new building had been constructed. It was the first new black school in the county in twenty-two years.[4]Dunn, p.2.

Segregated Holmes Elementary School in Miam’s Liberty City in the early 1950’s. As residential areas for blacks were developed in north Dade County in the 1950’s black children were bussed from Opa-Locka into Liberty City to attend schools there. On the way they passed several white schools. Finally Bunch Park Elementary and North Dade Senior High School opened in the late 1950’s making it no longer necessary to bus black children to Liberty City.[5]Dunn, p.4.

The Liberty Square Housing Project was built in Liberty City and opened in 1937 eliminating some of the crowding in Colored Town, now being called Overtown. President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt personally approved the project after he visited Colored Town shortly after his election in 1933. It was the second public housing project in the country. The public housing project had electricity, hot and cold running water, bathtubs, a child care center, recreation center and was run by a former captain in the U.S. Army, a black man, Captain James E, Scott. According old timers Captain Scott ran the project almost like an army camp. The place was spotless. Parents had to keep their children under control and if you broke the rules he threw you out. The James E. Scott housing project in Liberty City was named for him and was the second largest public housing project in the county.

Some blacks professionals such as teachers and doctors built homes close to or across from the housing project as this was an attractive place to live. M. Athalie Range who became the most powerful black women in the county in the 1960s, lived in the housing project with her young family for a short time. The county is planning to demolish this project and construct a new one from scratch. It will be home to more than 800 families.[6]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.48.


1 Dunn Collection, FIU
2 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.55.
3, 4 Dunn, p.2.
5 Dunn, p.4.
6 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.48.