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The Redevelopment of Gibson Park In A Blighted Historic Black Neighborhood.

Updated on August 10, 2012
Theodore R. Gibson
Theodore R. Gibson

A Flower of Hope Grows In A Blighted Black Community

I was born and raised in Miami back in the 1960’s, so I remember the black pride and sense of community that existed. I remember being five years old riding on the bus sitting directly opposite the bus driver in the front of the bus, and being aware of the fact that I could do that when others before me in the black community could not. Also I remember the sign outside the courthouse downtown by the water fountain that stated “Whites Only” and when it was finally removed. I remember when Muhammed Ali opened up one of his Champ Burger franchises in Coconut Grove and when his biography “The Greatest” was filmed here also. And in this year of the Olympics in Great Britain, I remember the Tinker brother’s bringing home gold to the residents of Coconut Grove were they grew up. I remember what happened to Arthur Mcduffie who was killed by four policemen, and when they were acquitted for his death, by an all white jury, and the three days of riots that ensued as a result.

I left Miami shortly after that to go find my place in the world, and have lived in several other states and also abroad since. I always liked that quote by Horace Greeley “go west young man, go west and find your fortune”. And before I left I would tell my friends that I would probably return years later to find them still standing on the same street corners, doing exactly the same things that they were doing when I left. It was a prophecy I now wished that I had never spoken out loud in the first place, but I have always spoken the truth and what is life without pain and regrets…truth hurts sometimes.

Pioneers of The Black Communities of South Florida

But upon reading a Miami Herald article about the newly renovated, and revitalized Gibson Park being a symbol of hope, and all of the other plans to revitalize the black community in the Overtown section of Miami. I can’t help but think wow! How come it took thirty-two years for this kind of action to take place, I grew up in Coconut Grove in a house that my parents built when I was just a year old and that is still owned by my family today. My parents were of West Indian descent and were of the same mind as people like E.W.F. Stirrup one of the biggest land owners at the time in the area who built not only a home for his own family, but for many other black families some also of West Indian and Bahamian descent.

They like many other blacks of the time cared for their community and the people in it. They helped the White families to understand the nature of the land and how to build their homes to withstand the hurricane seasons and how to get the vegetation and plant life to grow in the coral rock foundations of South Florida.

How The Black Community Fares Today

And as I stroll through the streets of my hometown of Coconut Grove and Overtown today over three decades later, I see the changes that now make my former community look and feel like the International food court in Disney World in Orlando. But I also see the neglected black communities of Miami still living in some -what the same blighted conditions as when I departed nearly three decades ago after the riots. There still exist the proverbial railroad tracks mentality of the past, on the one side there is the new and improved Miami that caters to the South Florida tourist trade where business’s thrive on both tourists dollars and college students from the various schools that surround the area.

But what of the black communities on the other side of the tracks, where are the improvements to their part of the community and to their quality of life, also why should it take nearly three decades to be enacted. The article stated that the action now being undertaken at Gibson Park is a sign of hope to the community of Overtown’s Black residents, but is it really.

How Stereotyping Has Affected Black Americans

There are those who label them are lazy and shiftless and blame their condition on ignorance, crime and drugs, and others who subscribe it to so called entitlements such as ” welfare, food stamps, and government handouts”. This I find to be a total insult to the pride and integrity of the black residents, and to the memory of the black pioneers who’s efforts built these communities in the first place and had no money to begin with when they first arrived.

Today because of U.S. economic conditions, unemployment and the mortgage meltdowns many white families and other ethnic groups also receive these self same entitlements today, so are they too lazy and shiftless.

The Politics of Election Year

Coconut Grove, Overtown and many more of Miami’s black sections were founded and built by such individuals as E.W.F. Stirrup and father Theodore Gibson, and were thriving communities. But thirty-two years after the riots of the 1980’s that heritage is all but ignored as non-existent by those who say they want to improve the area and bring hope to it’s residents by improving conditions and their standard of living. This just sounds like more political rhetoric in an election year made by politicians, and so-called community leaders, and council members trying to make themselves appealing so as to appear to actually be doing something for the people and the community. Really can such statements be made by bold straight- faced politicians looking to simply gain favor, with a smile and a handshake saying that they represent the community so elect me (sic) Remember the old Stevie Wonder song “You Ain’t Done Nothing”.

I personally knew father Theodore Gibson and was an altar boy in his church, I lived just down the street less than a block from the church. I wonder that he isn’t rolling around in his grave at the fact that nothing has changed for the community he served in gods name. I wonder that E.W.F. Stirrup isn’t rolling in his grave also and many of the pioneers who help to build these communities in Miami. So I feel deeply passionate about the changes I see and don’t see and wonder in the name of heaven what is it that creates such apathy in people; I do not advocate the so called idea of entitlements or of giving anyone something for nothing, that they have not earned or worked hard for…but the black residents of Coconut Grove, Overtown, and the many other black communities of Miami, have earned the right long ago to be included in the prosperity that abounds, and not as some sort of hand-out by politicians and government.

Dr. King's Dream and Expectations of The Black Community

They have a legitimate right and claim to be included in the growth and expansion of the Miami’s renaissance and re-development, so that they and their children and their children’s children might also one day contribute back to the community at large just as their fore bearers did. The flower of hope will only grow when this is accomplished, and the lives of those whose outlook on the future is no longer bleak and blighted. Their lives have to be more than poverty, crime and punishment, and although “money answereth all things” as is said in the book of Isaiah, it still can’t buy love, caring, and compassion. You must give first in order to receive, and love and care doesn’t cost anything to give. Give a man fish to eat and you feed him for a day, teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

So why not invest instead in educating the black community to open and become owner's of their businesses that allow for the prosperous growth of both their families and the community at large. Where are the programs and government projects to help build the economic and entrepreneurial community base that would enhance and change the perceptions of both the black community of itself and of those around it, who seek to only lift a finger of accusation to point out the negatives. Rather than give a helping hand (and not handouts) to uplift and improve the conditions of their fellow citizens in the community. Maybe they only seek to be the beneficiaries of the profits and to be accoladed for helping out the blacks in the community with the scraps from their tables as it was in slavery days. Could it be that slavery days have never been over and that the chains are economic, political, and mental fetters instead of physical bonds on the hands and feet. When will we stop dreaming Dr. King's Dream and bring it to waking reality.

Healing The Wounds of The Past

So like the prophets of old crying in the wind…to quote the late Michael Jackson “they don’t really give a damn about us” “time to look at the man in the mirror and make that change”. Cause from what I see when I look at my fellow man isn’t pretty and his concern for his fellow man or community is a lot of “to little, to late” to be of good intent. Many peoples allegiance is to their own selfish needs and wants, and to further fatten their wallets.

The 1979 death of Arthur McDuffie at the hands of white Miami-Dade police officers led to one of the worst race riots in American history.

The black communities of Miami will only be healed after all of its members are considered and cared for so that they to can help to contribute to the wellbeing of themselves and others, “you cant help any one until you can help yourself”. Consequently, the needs of the few do not outweigh the needs of the many. And it should not take three decades more for the solutions to be accomplished and the flowers of hope to grow.

Theodore Gibson Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Theodore Gibson Park Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

Film Trailer - Gibson Park Rededication

Symbol of Hope Or To Little To Late.

Will these efforts by the city or its politicians bring hope to these communities

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Historical Black Communities

Coconut Grove, Florida:
3242 Charles Ave, Miami, FL 33133, USA

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Coconut Grove is the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood of Miami, Florida in Miami-Dade County. Historical Home of E.W.R. Stirrup.

Overtown Miami, Florida:
401 NW 12th St, Miami, FL 33136, USA

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GIbson Park. Overtown, the historic black neighborhood that once was the hub of Miami’s black middle-class.

Carol City, Miami, Florida:
Carol City, FL 33055, USA

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Many people in Miami Gardens blamed the public housing in the area, and around Carol City H.S. of importing crime and recreational drugs into the area

Liberty City, Miami, Florida:
Miami, FL 33150, USA

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In the 1940s and 1950s, the growing Liberty City and adjacent Brownsville thrived as a middle income black community. home to boxer Muhammed Ali.

Little Haiti, Miami, Florida:
Miami, FL 33138, USA

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Little Haiti or La Petite Haïti, traditionally known as Lemon City, is a neighborhood in Miami known as a traditional center for Haitian immigrants

Miami Gardens, Miami Florida:
Miami Gardens, FL, USA

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the late 1960s, many middle and upper income African American and West Indian American families migrated from Miami neighborhoods such as Liberty City

Brownsville, Miami, Florida:
Brownsville, FL, USA

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Brownsville was originally a settlement for White families in the 1920s. Blacks began moving into the neighborhood between the late 1940s and 1950's.

Opa Locka, Miami, Florida:
Opa-locka, FL, USA

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In 2004 Opa-locka had the highest rate of violent crime for any city in the United States.

Richmond Heights, Florida:
Richmond Heights, FL, USA

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Richmond Heights became the standard for developers, nationwide, to provide quality homes for African American’s without skimping on land, materials.

West Perrine, Florida:
West Perrine, FL 33157, USA

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The racial makeup of West Perrine was 18.92% White (8.6% were Non-Hispanic White,) 73.41% African American, 0.28% Native American, 1.20% Asian.


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