Tourism & Cruises

New visitor center gives Overtown its own landmark in history

YEARS IN THE MAKING: Dorothy Fields shouts ‘Hip, hip, hooray!’ after the ceremonial opening Monday of the Historic Overtown Visitor Center in Miami.
YEARS IN THE MAKING: Dorothy Fields shouts ‘Hip, hip, hooray!’ after the ceremonial opening Monday of the Historic Overtown Visitor Center in Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

When a Tampa jury acquitted four white Metro-Dade police officers in the 1980 beating death of black insurance salesman Arthur McDuffie, igniting riots in Miami that killed 18, injured hundreds and caused $100 million in damages, Dorothy Fields stared at the ashes in Overtown and saw a phoenix rising.

Her vision: Teach people about the rich heritage of Miami’s black communities, from the laborers who laid the railroad tracks of Henry Flagler to Overtown’s storied musical heritage to the sacred spaces of the churches, some of which predate the city of Miami’s 1896 founding.

On Monday, Fields’ quest came to fruition with the opening of the Historic Overtown Visitor Center, a partnership between the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“Hip, hip, hooray,’’ said Fields, historian, author and founder of the Black Archives.

The visitor center details six Overtown landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Greater Bethel AME Church; Mount Zion Baptist Church; St. John Baptist Church; the Lyric Theater; the Cola Nip Bottling Co.; and the D.A. Dorsey House, home of Miami’s first black millionaire.

The center, open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, is part of the newly renovated historic Lyric Theater and Welcome Center Complex, 819 NW Second Ave. In its prime, the Lyric Theater hosted top performing artists, from R&B legend Aretha Franklin to opera star Marian Anderson and poet Langston Hughes.

The project is a key part of the tourism bureau’s campaign to raise awareness of Miami’s multicultural neighborhoods. The Big Bus’ uptown loop tour now stops at the Lyric Theater and plans are under way to develop similar visitor centers in Little Haiti and the West Grove. On Saturday, Timothy Barber, executive director of the Black Archives, will narrate a Big Bus tour of Overtown, Coconut Grove, Lemon City/Little Haiti and Liberty City.

Said Fields: “It’s all coming together.’’

If you go

What: The Overtown Visitor Center, 819 Second Ave., Miami. The center is part of the Historic Lyric Theater and Welcome Center Complex. The Visitor Center will showcase the history of Overtown and provide information about attractions, points of interest and upcoming events in Miami’s multicultural neighborhoods.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays

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