A smile curled on Gladstone Taylor Jr.’s face as he stood near the stone monument that bears his father’s name in the heart of Richmond Heights.
He knelt down to take a closer look at his dad’s and 25 other names chiseled into the rock and sewn into the fabric of this area’s history. These are the names of the first 26 homeowners who founded Richmond Heights, a predominantly African-American community created in 1949 for black veterans of World War II.
“I felt kind of soft inside,” Taylor said after visiting the monument. “It’s not just that it’s my father’s name. It’s my name and my son’s name that’s going to be there forever.”
Gladstone Taylor Sr. passed away in 1992.
As this South Dade community, just west of Palmetto Bay and south of East Kendall, approaches its 65th anniversary, the Richmond Heights Middle School is celebrating its 50th anniversary this weekend. Events will include a talent show, outdoor activities and a discussion with the authors of a new book that chronicles the history of Richmond Heights.
“Miami’s Richmond Heights,” written by natives Patricia Harper Garrett and her daughter Jessica Garrett Modkins, was recently released as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series. The book features interviews with community members and images of family photos, documents and other artifacts from the neighborhood.
Modkins said Friday that she and her mother had originally conceived of the project as a documentary to preserve the history of the neighborhood where she grew up.
They created a Facebook page where locals could share their stories and pictures. After seeing such a strong, positive reaction, she knew what she had.
“From that moment I knew,” she said. “It had to be a book.”
Residents such as Taylor and his wife Bobbie Tatman Taylor, who met in high school while growing up in Richmond Heights, have already read the book and appreciate the history lessons in it.
“There were some things I didn’t know,” Taylor said, like the origin of F.C. Martin Elementary’s name. It’s named after Frank Crawford Martin, the white World War II pilot who purchased the land where Richmond Heights stands and helped develop it. At the time, Florida was still racially segregated by law.
Linda Hankerson Shivers, 66, lives in the same home she grew up in on Lincoln Boulevard, the community’s main road. She remembers an idyllic childhood growing up.
“It was a safe community,” she said. “Everybody took care of everybody.”
She said the community has remained comfortable and tight-knit through the years. Like many residents, she shared her experiences with Garrett and Modkins as they gathered interviews and pictures from around Richmond Heights.
Modkins said she cherishes the time spent gathering material for the book, when she would hear residents sharing their memories of Richmond Heights.
“It really makes me feel really warm and fuzzy all over,” she said. “The book’s purpose was to spark those memories and be a convesation-starter for all those people. Their little neighborhood has now been placed in history.”