I strongly oppose the effort to change the name of historic Lemon City to Little Haiti.
Lemon City is Miami’s oldest community. The result of the effort to change the name would be to erase the earliest beginnings of what became Miami. Lemon City was a thriving agricultural community established right after the Civil War. A few white farmers, primarily from South Carolina, brought black workers with them to the area just north of present-day Miami.
There were numerous citrus groves and tomato fields in the area. Lemon City had a doctor, a post office and a number of small businesses strung out along what is now Northeast 2nd Avenue above 54th Street.
The old Lemon City post office, one of the oldest buildings in Miami, still stands on Northeast 2nd Avenue. Knight’s saw mill was located on the bay in Lemon City and operated from 1894 to 1906. A number of blacks worked there and lived along Saw Mill Road, which is now Northwest 62nd Street (also called Martin Luther King Boulevard).
There were three black settlements in Lemon City: Nazarene, Knightsville and Boles Town. Nazarene was bounded by Northeast 71st Street to the north, Northeast 3rd Avenue to the east and Northeast 2nd Avenue to the west. The south boundary was never determined. Knightsville occupied five acres.
The tiny community consisted of small lots on pineland reaching west up the ridge from Northeast 2nd Avenue at 68th Street on opposite sides of a sand road about two blocks long which ended in a rock pit. Boles Town was named for Elijah Boles, a black man who came from Lake City. It was located just west of present day Miami Avenue at about 57th Street.
Both Mount Tabor Baptist Church and St James AME Church, major churches in Liberty City today, were initially established in Lemon City. Among the pioneer black families in Lemon City were the Wards, the Barnes the Fords and the Sharpes. The grandparents of Miami’s legendary activist Georgia Jones Ayers were also among the early settlers.
African-American history in Miami is difficult enough as it is to document and protect. The evolving ethnic conflict between African Americans, who do not want the name changed, and Haitian-Americans, who do, will have to be decided by the Miami City Commission.
I understand and appreciate the longing Haitian Americans have for their own neighborhood designation, but basically we were there first. Haitians arrived in the 1980s, a mere blink on the historical record. What is to happen if in 40 years another ethnic group, say Mexicans, populate the area? Name change to Little Mexico? The Miami City Commission should do the right thing and leave history alone.
Marvin Dunn, Palmetto Bay