Miami-Dade County

Black history museum endorsed in Miami-Dade

Dennis Moss, the Miami-Dade County commissioner backing a proposed black history museum in Miami.
Dennis Moss, the Miami-Dade County commissioner backing a proposed black history museum in Miami. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Miami-Dade commissioners approved pursuing a new black history museum on Tuesday, but not before floating the idea of combining it with a proposed Cuban exile museum.

The idea was backed by the two most powerful people on the dais: Rebeca Sosa, the Cuban-born chairwoman of the commission, and Carlos Gimenez, the Cuban-born mayor of the county. It drew opposition from backers of each museum and wasn’t officially endorsed, but it added another wrinkle to a debate that continues to touch on the dicey topic of ethnic heritage in Miami-Dade County.

“My father and grandfather were here, working in the agriculture fields of this community, prior to anyone else coming into this community,” said Dennis Moss, the senior African-American commissioner and sponsor of the black history museum plan. “That’s a story that needs to be told.”

Commissioners unanimously backed the Moss resolution, which merely instructs Gimenez’s staff to prepare a plan for how to bring a black history museum into reality.

Moss suggested using property-tax dollars to build it as long as voters approved, the same funding source behind Miami’s new waterfront art and science museums. The Moss resolution named two preferred waterfront sites controlled by Miami: Museum Park, home to the new Pérez Art Museum Miami and the under-construction Frost Science Museum, and Watson Island, home to the Miami Children’s Museum.

This summer, commissioners gave similar instructions to Gimenez for a Cuban exile museum, but with a definitive site that the county controls: Parcel B, waterfront land behind the AmericanAirlines Arena, which had been promised as a park site but never converted into one. Organizers of the Cuban museum vowed not to seek public dollars.

Sosa first broached the idea of adding the black history museum to the Cuban museum site. “I would love to see them all together,” she said. “I would love to see a platform where the children can go from one to the other.” Gimenez agreed: “Being a Cuban exile, I’ll tell you it’s all part of the history of Miami…. My personal thoughts are we should put all our efforts into one museum that tells all our stories, instead of dividing it and telling different stories in different places.”

Miami-Dade already subsidizes History Miami, a downtown museum dedicated to historical exhibits. Backers of the Cuban exile and black history museums described both entities as important tributes to key ethnic communities in Miami.

In a statement sent via text, Nicolás Gutiérrez Jr., a leader in the Cuban museum effort, said the group would “of course be willing to listen” to a proposal of combining the facilities. But he added that “my initial personal impression is that it would do a disservice to both of our proposed museums, and in fact comes across as grossly condescending as in ‘let’s just lump these two minorities together in the same place.’”

Also on Tuesday, commissioners:

▪ Banned high-wattage lighting systems for new residential pools in Miami-Dade. The rule change followed the April 13 death of a 7-year-old boy while swimming in his family’s pool in North Miami. Calder Sloan, now known as “Mr. Awesome” from a family nickname, was electrocuted in the water, and the new rules require the same kind of low-wattage lighting for home pools that are already required in commercial pools.

▪ Renamed the Opa-locka Executive Airport the Miami Opa-locka Executive Airport. The change comes after last month’s vote to rebrand the county’s Kendall-Tamiami Airport as the Miami Executive Airport.

▪ Approved construction of a new mental-health facility at 2200 NW 7th Ave. as alternative to the county jail’s psychiatric unit.