Miami Beach

Black in Time

Locals thankful for 80th birthdays, students’ gratitude, and the Booker T. football team


Special to The Miami Herald

In 1621 the residents of Plymouth Colony gathered to give thanks for their harvest in the New World. The actual day for the national celebration has a storied past. According to records at the National Archives, the nation celebrated its first Thanksgiving under its new Constitution in 1789. Then, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln made the traditional Thanksgiving celebration a nationwide holiday to be commemorated each year on the fourth Thursday of November. He later changed it to the last Thursday of November.

A national debate started in 1939 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the holiday to the third Thursday of November for the purpose of helping the economy recover from the Depression. After much discussion, in 1941, Congress passed and President Roosevelt approved a joint house resolution establishing, by law, the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

This year on Thursday, Nov. 28, Thanksgiving Day, families and friends throughout the nation will gather and special dinners will be served. Thanks will be given and grateful acknowledgment made for benefits received throughout the year. Some in our community will give thanks for milestone birthdays, for a book of published essays from grateful students, and for a winning football team.

Becoming 80 years old is a reason to give thanks, said Liberty City resident Lena Canty and Miami Gardens resident Doris Harden. Both are independent, in good health, and active in church and community. Each organized a birthday party for herself and invited relatives and friends from near and far.

In September, Canty, a retired hat maker, greeted cousins from Nassau, Bahamas, and entertained nearly 100 guests at the Miami Shores Community Church Parish Hall.

The women wore elegant attire with "fashionable hats." Each table was decorated with hats made by Canty, known in the community as "the hat lady." Canty said this party was her way of "giving thanks for God’s many blessings for eight decades of life."

In October, Harden, a retired teacher, entertained more than 100 guests, including cousins from Tampa and St. Petersburg, at the First Baptist Church of Bunche Park. She was serenaded with a trumpet selection by her cousin, Winston Scott, a retired Navy captain and astronaut.

A Coconut Grove native, Scott attended Carver Middle School and graduated from Coral Gables Senior High. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Florida State University and a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He enjoys music and each year gives thanks for various opportunities on the ground and past achievements in space.

Earlier this year, former Miami resident and Booker T. Washington Junior and Senior High School graduate Patricia Worthy Oyeshiku, published a collection of essays written by her former students. Titled To Mrs. O With Love, in the book students recall stories of their experiences in high school and how Oyeshiku positively impacted their lives. They express gratefulness to her for helping them become productive citizens.

Oyeshiku is herself accomplished. She is a former Peace Corps worker in Brazil, the 1981 California Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year finalist, and winner of the National Council of Negro Women’s 1997 Excellence in Teaching Award. An English teacher in San Diego from 1970 until retirement in 2000 she periodically returns to her roots in Miami’s Overtown and Liberty City, visiting family and friends.

Oyeshiku’s alma mater, Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, also has plenty to be thankful for this year. The football team ranked No. 1 in USA Today’s preseason poll and became the No. 1 high school team in the nation. The students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni are thankful for the team and the coaches. Chances are, at some Thanksgiving dinners, this winning team will be remembered, too.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to

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