Miami-Dade County

One cousin moved to Miami, spawning a family exodus. Now, their reunions are legendary.

“Family Circle” 2019 family reunion planning meeting in March. Back row from left to right: Michael Fields, Thomas Simmons, Leroy Middleton, Quinella Richards, April Richards, Leeah Lewis, William Richards Jr. and Elizabeth W. Wells. Front row: Akhu Black, Meri Black and Barbara J. Richards-Finn.
“Family Circle” 2019 family reunion planning meeting in March. Back row from left to right: Michael Fields, Thomas Simmons, Leroy Middleton, Quinella Richards, April Richards, Leeah Lewis, William Richards Jr. and Elizabeth W. Wells. Front row: Akhu Black, Meri Black and Barbara J. Richards-Finn.

Hard work and family were important to William Richards Sr.

He worked hard all of his life, beginning in Charleston, South Carolina, where outside the Navy yard in the wet winter weather he wished for a warmer climate.

Barbara “Carlotta” Richards-Finn, Richards’ daughter, retold that story and many others at one of the monthly planning meetings for the 2019 family reunion in Miami. Some of her cousins were hearing this history for the first time; others nodded their heads hearing the storied past repeated.

Centuries ago, their relatives were among the enslaved black people brought from West Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and sold to slave holders. The enslaved lived and worked on numerous plantations in Charleston and surrounding areas, including Heyward, Savannah Hill, Newport, Combahee, the Pyne Community (Green Pond) and several other locations.

In 1865, after the Civil War ended and the enslaved were freed, those who remained settled in the neighboring towns of Green Pond and White Hall, South Carolina, located off U.S. 17 between Charleston and Savannah.

Like many others, generations of the Richards family lived through the painful time of slavery and beyond with a strong faith in God and support of family.

The older cousins recalled hearing that a family member traveled from South Carolina to Miami in December 1946 looking for employment. According to family lore: The cousin later returned to South Carolina and exclaimed to relatives: “There is plenty of work in Miami. The city is booming, and the weather is great in the winter and warm year-round.”

That must have been to good news to William Sr., who had disliked the cold since childhood.

The next year he left his family behind and moved to Miami looking for employment. Upon arrival, he found work as a laborer in Miami and never returned to South Carolina.

After working for a while, he sent for his wife Elizabeth. She arrived with their two sons, Moses and William Jr. “Tank,” in 1948. Their daughter Barbara was born in Miami several years later.

Often, William Sr. talked about construction jobs and how he helped dredge rocks for highways while handling dynamite. As a machinist, he stamped and pressed nails at a hardware manufacturing company.

Historically, he was a part of the black male labor force during the first half of the 20th century who helped build Miami for residents and tourists.

William Sr.’s success in Miami was made known to family members in South Carolina. Over time, nearly a dozen followed him and adopted Miami and South Florida as their home.

In 1979, a cousin, Angelyn Richards Cobb, was living in Savannah and employed as a postal worker. Fascinated by Alex Haley’s television mini-series, “Roots,” she became interested in genealogy.

With the help of other family members, she began developing family trees of her grandparents, the late Elijah and Laura Washington Richards. Through the extended family, other trees were created documenting four generations.

In 1981, with the research collected, plans were made for the first national family reunion. It was unique because it included the family surnames of both Angelyn’s paternal grandparents — the Richards, Green, Fields, James, Johnson, Washington, Boles and Gillard families.

Instead of using the traditional one or two surnames for the event’s title, Essie Richards suggested the name “Family Circle” for the national reunion. According to Angelyn’s article in the Family Circle News, “when the first reunion was held in Savannah in 1983, 13 states were represented and 200 were in attendance.”

Inspired by the first reunion, members of the Miami Richards family accepted the challenge to host the reunion two years later. William Richards Sr., his children and other local family members mobilized to make Miami “shine.”

For two years, William Jr., a veteran and air-conditioning mechanic, Moses, a Miami-Dade County bus driver, and Barbara, a government accountant, devoted weekends working alongside their father raising money. While he cooked and sold barbecue ribs at a street stand in Liberty City, Barbara and her brothers sold raffle tickets, sweet potato pies and dinners. They were also street vendors in Coconut Grove at the Goombay Festival.

Known as “Mr. Bill,” their father, William Sr. (b.1916-d.2001), was proud of his ability to keep people coming back for his delicious barbecue ribs. His son, Moses, always the life of the party, organized the fund-raising events, and rallied the cousins to work and to have fun.

A labor of love, they reached their goal. The Miami Richards group raised $5,000 of the $20,000 the entire family contributed to the reunion. As a result of their efforts, when the family checked into the Holiday Inn on 163rd Street for three days of events, the rooms and meals were paid for, with T-shirts, hats, banquets and local bus transportation all included.

The July 1985 reunion in Miami drew more than 200 relatives and friends from Sarasota, Tampa, Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey, Virginia, and South Carolina. The Miami Herald featured the reunion — one of Miami’s largest black family reunions at the time.

The reunion ended with a one-day excursion to Grand Bahamas and thoughts of the next reunion.

In the years ahead biennial reunions were held in Charleston and Walterboro, South Carolina; Atlanta; New York; Tarrytown, New York; and Sarasota. The 1995 reunion in Miami included a cruise to Key West and Cozumel, Mexico.

Moses (b.1942-d.1995) was working hard to make it a success when he suddenly passed away. The cruise honored his many years of making the Miami family reunion so successful.

Plans for the 2019 Richards family reunion in Miami are in full swing.

Committee member Leroy Middleton, a cousin on the Fields side, recently recounted all the good times of the reunions.

“Thanks to cousin Bill for moving to Miami and encouraging our folks to relocate here, too. I enjoy visiting Green Pond and White Hall, but Miami is my home and I welcome our cousins.”