The First Five: A Reflection On the Pioneering Efforts of the First Five Negro Patrolmen In Miami

By Tricia Williamson |Photography by Craig Harley

When the United States entered the Second World War, Blacks were extensively recruited to serve in primarily menial roles the Armed Forces. Following the war, Black soldiers returned to Miami causing the Black population to swell, contributing to the need for greater law enforcement opportunities in the historically Black neighborhoods.

In 1944, the City’s Black population had reached 43,187, with most living in the Central Negro District, formerly called “Colored Town.” In a feverish lobbying effort, leaders of the newly created Negro Citizens League finally convinced the City that a Black police presence was essential. Don D. Rosenfelder, Director of the Public Safety Department responsible for police services, began his recruitment of the men who would become the first Black policemen by asking Black leaders to nominate suitable candidates. There was so much resistance from Whites that the training of the Black officers was achieved “under extreme secrecy.” On September 1, 1944, five African-American men made history when they were sworn in as the City of Miami’s first Black police officers. They were: Ralph White, Moody Hall, Clyde Lee, Edward Kimball, and John Milledge. These pioneering men, however, were not referred to as “officers” as were their White counterparts, but instead, as “patrolmen.” These patrolmen were assigned to the “Central Negro District,” an area that included parts of Liberty City and Colored Town (Overtown). The newly created Black police force became a division independent of the White police force, and first operated from the office of dentist Ira P. Davis at 1036 SW 2nd Avenue. The patrolmen were allowed to arrest only African Americans, and had no authority over Whites. There was no job security or retirement benefits, as the patrolmen were not classified as civil service personnel like their White counterparts.

One year later, the number of Black patrolmen had grown to 15 and they were assigned to the historically Black areas of Coconut Grove. The men were given a prescribed route to travel between Overtown and Coconut Grove that would keep them from interacting with Whites as much as possible.
They were directed to clear crowded sidewalks, stop all gambling and profanity, confiscate weapons as well as stop and frisk suspicious people or known troublemakers. As a result, violent crimes in Black areas were reduced by fifty percent.
In the current era, where universal civil rights is accepted as an inviolate principal, it is profoundly important to recognize the time in our history when the segregation of races was the order of the day. The Black Police Precinct and Courthouse remains as a testament to those pioneering African American police officers who, under the most egregious of circumstances, made significant strides in attaining equality, and who distinguished themselves both in their once limited locality and the entire city, and went on to influence national policy. |P|

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THE HISTORIC LYRIC THEATRE

By Tricia Williamson

Lyric Theater History Built in 1913, the Lyric Theater quickly became a major entertainment center for blacks in Miami. The 400- seat theater was built, owned and operated by Geder Walker, an enterprising Georgian who came to Miami prior to 1900. The theater anchored the district known as “Little Broadway,” an area alive with hotels, restaurants and nightclubs frequented by black and white tourists and residents. It served the community as a movie and vaudeville theater for almost fifty years, and was a symbol of black economic influence – free of discrimination – and a source of pride and culture within Overtown.

An actual Ku Klux Klan cross in the archives of the Historic Lyric Theatre. One could still smell the soot from the burnt cloth that was used to wrap this symbol of racial hate.

Photo credit: PANACHE Magazine

An actual Ku Klux Klan cross in the archives of the Historic Lyric Theatre. One could still smell the soot from the burnt cloth that was used to wrap this symbol of racial hate.

After his death in 1919, Walker’s wife Henrietta continued to operate the Lyric which was also used as a community auditorium. School children and civic groups performed on its state and special events such as commencement ceremonies were held there. Visiting luminaries like Mary McCloud Bethune, Ethel Waters, and the Fisk Jubilee Singers lectured and sang at the Lyric. The Lyric continued to operate as a movie theater until 1959 when it became a church of the General Assembly of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith. When Overtown began to deteriorate in the 1960′s the Lyric Theater closed and would remain shuttered for decades.

The Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc. acquired the Lyric Theater in 1988. By 1989, the Theater, the lone surviving building in “Little Broadway,” was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and Phase 1 of restoration of the former showplace began. In 2000, after extensive rehabilitation, the newly restored Lyric Theater opened once again to audiences. In 2004, Phase 2 of reconstruction was completed, with the construction of a new lobby, box office, concession area and offices for the theater. Phase 3, expansion of the Lyric Theater, is currently underway and includes construction of: a studio theater/meeting space, additional wing space and a fly loft for the stage itself, a catering kitchen, a loading dock, a scene shop, archival administration offices, exhibition space, and other backstage operational areas. The theater officially reopened to the public in February 2014.

Renamed the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex, it is now the oldest legitimate theater in Miami. Adjacent to the central downtown business district of Miami, it is an anchor site of the Historic Overtown Folklife Village. Just as in Overtown’s glory days during the early part of the 20th century, the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater is poised to once again become, in the 21st century, a symbol of black economic influence, as well as a social gathering place – free of discrimination – and a source of pride and culture within Overtown.|P|

The Miami Broward Carnival

By Tricia Williamson | Photography by Craig Harley

Traditional Carnival is a festive season which occurs immediately before Lent, usually in February or March. In South Florida, Miami Broward One Carnival (MBOC) celebrations begin the week before Columbus Day in October. It kicks off with the MBOC Junior Carnival on the Sunday before Carnival Sunday, followed by the Kings, Queens and Individuals Show and Competition and the Steelband Panorama competition on Friday of Columbus Day weekend. The official MBOC J’Ouvert is held on Saturday morning of Columbus Day weekend and the carnival celebrations peak with the parade and concert on Carnival Sunday, the day before the 2nd Monday of October.