In case you don’t know the back story, here’s a quick summary:
Overtown was the hot spot and a mecca for Black millionaires like D.A. Dorsey and the who’s who in Black entertainment. It’s where celebrities like Ella Fitzgerald, Josephine Baker, and even Jackie Robinson dined, lodged, and entertained when Black people were prohibited from staying at Miami Beach hotels that they were being paid to perform in. Overtown had become a safe zone for these entertainers, and because of that, it thrived with Black intellectuals, successful Black businesses and a culture that became known as the Harlem of the South.
That is until the 1950’s and 1960’s when the construction of I-95 and the 826 crisscrossed through Overtown, in the middle of a thriving economy that evolved in spite of racial barriers. The highways ripped right through the heart of the community and paved the way for the deprivation of Overtown and adjacent Black neighborhoods like Liberty City.
In spite of the history of inequity, the dust has finally settled and the rose that grew from concrete is now one of the most sought-after communities for developers, big box retailers, a major transportation hub, and millennials. With Wynwood’s arts community and the Downtown business center within steps, Jackson Health/UM Hospital to its west, and the beach just a hop and skip away, it’s all finally coming back full circle for Overtown thanks to smart master planning by the Southeast Overtown Park West CRA.
What Overtown was, what it became, and how it’s being transformed is reason enough to explore the neighborhood. Here are three things to know about Overtown’s legacy and the new direction it’s taking.
1. A soul food mecca
Overtown has its own ‘Restaurant Row.’ It’s along Northwest Third Avenue between 7th and 10th Streets. Lil Greenhouse Grill just opened this year. Jackson Soul Food and People’s have been mainstays, both of which are undergoing renovations. Meanwhile, Sweet Butter Southern Cuisine has been popping up with a Southern themed dinner show. Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster is coming down from Harlem. And there’s neighborhood spots like House of Wings.
Lil Greenhouse Grill – 1300 NW 3rd Ave
Jackson Soul Food – 950 NW 3rd Ave
People’s BBQ – 360 NW 8th St
House of Wings – 1039 NW 3rd Ave
2. Arts & culture hot spot
Thanks to Soul Basel, Overtown is where you go for a soulful Miami Art Week experience with art exhibitions from the Caribbean and African diaspora. There’s also the annual block party known as the Overtown Music & Arts Festival, which will return this year on July 15, and Lyric Live every first Friday at the Historic Lyric Theater for an Apollo-style amateur night event.
3. Historical landmark
If you didn’t know that there was a Black Police Precinct and Courthouse in Miami, then that would be a good starting point for you to learn about the culture of this community. It’s now a museum memorializing the history of Black police officers and judges in Miami. There’s also the D.A. Dorsey House named after Miami’s first Black millionaire and former owner of Fisher Island.
Also, check out the old Ebenezer Methodist Church, which was recently transformed into a performance venue now known as the Overtown Performing Arts Center.
The Historic Lyric Theater has also been transformed but kept its original ticket window.
Black Police Precinct and Courthouse – 480 NW 11th St
D.A. Dorsey House – 250 NW 9th St
Historic Lyric Theater – 819 NW 2nd Ave
Overtown Performing Arts Center – 1074 NW 3rd Ave