Community Voices

Garth Reeves Sr. to talk about battles of the Civil Rights era

Garth C. Reeves Sr., publisher emeritus of The Miami Times.
Garth C. Reeves Sr., publisher emeritus of The Miami Times. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

A newspaper columnist, managing editor and publisher for more than five decades, Garth C. Reeves Sr. lived through the Civil Rights era of the 1950s, exposing the inequality and shining a light on the battles fought in South Florida.

Starting in high school, returning from World War II and until his retirement in 1994, Reeves held every position at the Miami Times, his only employer. The Times is the oldest and largest black-owned newspaper in the Southeastern United States.

On Sunday, Sept. 18, Reeves, publisher emeritus of the Miami Times, will be featured in ICONS, a conversation highlighting his role in black media during this period.

Derek Davis, curator of the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale, will host the event. Davis, a former executive director at The Black Archives/Lyric Theater, had worked as a Miami Times reporter. The free event will take place at 5 p.m. at The Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex, 819 NW Second Ave.

Traditionally, newspaper editors and publishers are not expected to make news, but the black press is the exception. In a recent conversation, Reeves, now 97, spoke candidly: “ Over the years we represented ourselves in our own image—and today — we are still doing it. We fight our community’s fights without sacrificing integrity in any way.”

Over decades his editorials included calling the riots of 1980 and 1989 protests since they focused on the people’s many years of frustration, decrying police brutality, calling for the dismissal of certain elected officials and endorsing causes and candidates. For many, the Miami Times became the conscience of the black community.

Equal to his editorials were his actions and contributions to many worthy organizations.

Reeves provides scholarships for students attending his alma maters, Booker T. Washington High School and Florida A&M University. He has donated significant financial support for The Black Archives/Lyric Theater and the Omega Activity Center. Many student interns began their journalism careers under his “tutelage.”

A life member of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People, Sigma Psi Phi Fraternity, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and a founding member of Miami’s Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, he received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Miami, Barry University and Florida Memorial University.

Reeves was the first black person to serve on numerous local boards of directors, including United Way, Barry University, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Boy Scouts. At Miami-Dade College, he was chairman of the governing board and a building on the north campus bears his name.

Recognized nationally in 2011 by the National Newspaper Publishers Association’s (NNPA), he received the Legacy of Excellence Award for his many years of leadership and the John B. Russwurm Award, which recognized the Miami Times as the top black newspaper in the country. In 2016, he received the Global Lifetime Achievement Award.

Born in Nassau, Bahamas, and a product of Miami’s Colored Town/Overtown and Liberty City, Reeves came from humble beginnings. Reeves’ father, H. E. S. Reeves, a Bahamian of Jamaican ancestry, started the paper.

His father, Henry Louis Reeves — Garth Reeves’ grandfather — received his formal training in Jamaica, where he was born. In 1888, Henry Louis emmigrated to Nassau, Bahamas, where he married and started a family. He and his wife had nine children, one of whom was H.E.S. Reeves, Garth’s father.

H.E.S. was a printer by trade. Near the turn of the 20th century, he and his wife relocated to Miami seeking better opportunities for their four daughters and son, Garth.

Initially, H.E.S. worked with Colored Town/Overtown’s already established newspaper, The Miami Sun, which began during World War I, but closed after eight months when newsprint was no longer available.

On Sept. 1, 1923, H.E.S. founded the Miami Times. Garth was 4 at the time. This year, the newspaper is celebrating 94 years of continuous publishing.

“We have never missed an issue and we have managed to get out a paper every week,” Garth says today.

According to Garth, his father began printing the paper with a small hand press that printed one page at a time. Papers were folded and prepared for sale in the living room and the kitchen. His mother held everything together at home while the dad kept the business going. A homemaker, she supported her husband’s efforts to provide the community with a newspaper.

He did. As the founding printer, editor and publisher, H. E. S. (Henry Ethelbert Sigismund) Reeves’ desire for a newspaer established a legacy that continues through his son Garth, his late grandson, Garth C. Jr., granddaughter Rachel, great grandson Garth Basil and other family members working over time in various positions.

During the Jim Crow Era, black people throughout the South were limited by custom and law in every phase of life, including not being “allowed” to participate in services for which they paid taxes. Garth Reeves was involved in at least two major incidents that made life better for black people in Miami Dade-County.

In the 1940s, blacks were not allowed to play at city-owned golf courses. Reeves and several other black golfers organized a group, hired two local black attorneys — the G.E. Graves and John D. Johnson, both now deceased — to research the situation, and filed a lawsuit against the city. Rice v. City of Miami went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled the city could not continue to take tax money to build and maintain golf courses and deny use to all residents.

The other incident involved the beaches, which were not open to blacks in the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1950s, there were 28 beaches throughout Miami-Dade County and only one, Virginia Key, was open to black people.

The late Rev. Theodore R. Gibson, then president of Miami’s NAACP, Garth Reeves and others expressed concern. The group met with county officials but received no response. What the group did to integrate Crandon Park and Miami-Dade County’s other beaches may surprise the audience. At the ICONS talk they will hear firsthand from one who helped organize the event, Garth C. Reeves. Sr.

Sponsored by The Black Archives/Lyric Theater, ICONS is a free quarterly Q & A series with leading community scholars and personalities on significant moments that impact the South Florida community.

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

If you go

▪ On Sunday, Sept. 18, Garth Reeves Sr., publisher emeritus of the Miami Times, will be featured in ICONS, a conversation highlighting his role in black media during the Civil Rights movement. The host will be Derek Davis, curator at the Old Dillard Museum in Fort Lauderdale.

The free event will take place at The Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex, 819 NW Second Ave. Doors open at 4 p.m.; the talk stars at 5 p.m.

For more information, call 786.708-4610.

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