Community Voices

A piece of Brownsville’s past celebrated as a cornerstone of future

2016 Historic Hampton House Home Grown Achievers, from left: Ellis B. Rowe, Martha A. Welters and J. D. Patterson Jr., standing with framed photo of the late Muhammad Ali.
2016 Historic Hampton House Home Grown Achievers, from left: Ellis B. Rowe, Martha A. Welters and J. D. Patterson Jr., standing with framed photo of the late Muhammad Ali. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

“There is no place like home” was the collective sentiment expressed by the three honorees at the banquet on Saturday, June 25 in Miami’s Brownsville community. Sponsored by the Hampton House Community Trust, Inc. the 2016 banquet honored former residents who returned to the area helping raise funds for the Hampton House Motel, a historic site in Brownsville at 4240 NW 27th Ave.

In the 1920s, during the era of Jim Crow, Brownsville was a farming development platted by a black man, W. L Brown. Originally called Brown’s Sub (division), it was renamed Brownsville by the residents of the community where homeownership was a cornerstone. At that time racial segregation restricted the area, by custom and law, to black people only.

Families relocated to Brownsville from Miami’s Overtown and other local neighborhoods as well as from the southern states. Some immigrated from the West Indies. In the 1950s and 1960s. This year’s honorees, Martha A. Welters, J. D. Patterson, and Ellis B. Rowe, spent their formative years in a suburban area of unincorporated Miami-Dade County.

Martha Welters, retired registered pharmacist, fondly remembers growing up with two brothers in Brownsville’s well-knit, close and caring neighborhood. Their parents were the late Warren W. Welters Sr., a registered pharmacist and for 46 years owner of Brownsville Drugstore at 4634 NW 27th Ave., and Gwendolyn Heastie Welters, educator, activist and community volunteer.

A graduate of Clark College and Florida A&M University, Martha followed in the father’s footsteps. She became a registered pharmacist, assistant director at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, and often assisted in the family’s neighborhood store. She volunteers with projects through The Links, Incorporated of Greater Miami, the Adreinne Arsht Center, AARP, and the Miami Dolphins Foundation/AARP.

J. D. Patterson Jr., retired director of the Miami-Dade Police Department, spent his entire childhood in Brownsville. He attended Bethune Elementary School, located just one block west of the Hampton House. He remembers the closeness of the neighbors and a neighborhood filled with churches, small businesses including grocery stores, garage, barber shop, television repair, hospital, and college trained tailor, the late Roger Williams, who made custom clothes.

A graduate of Miami Jackson Senior High School, Patterson earned degrees from Barry University and the University of Miami. Hired as a police officer, he served in the Miami-Dade Police Department in most of its sworn ranks. In 2013 he was appointed and served as the director and sheriff of the police department until February 2016. His community service includes 5000 Role Models, March of Dimes, Walk America, United Way, NAACP, and church.

Ellis B. Rowe, a senior business executive in several corporations, grew up in Miami’s Liberty City. He attended schools in Brownsville: Floral Heights Elementary and Brownsville Junior High School. He attended high school out of state, graduating from Andover Phillips Academy- Andover, MA. He earned a bacherlor’s degree in mathematics at Dartmouth College and a MBA in Finance and Marketing at West Coast University.

With business skills and an entrepreneurial spirit Rowe has held executive positions in numerous industries including global vice president of human resources in McLean, Virginia,A and global president of drinks, electronics, and pet care in West Chester, Pennsylvania. He stated, “Starting from the bottom of the organization, I reached the highest level possible, which was a role model for other black, women and Latino managers in business.”

Rowe received a lifetime award from Dartmouth College for his contributions as an alumni volunteer for more than 30 years. In Jacksonville and New Jersey he supports several youth foundations and is a major contributor to the A Better Chance program.

Former Brownsville residents Welters and Patterson; and student Rowe had successful careers. They returned to Brownsville to support efforts of those leading the Hampton House restoration.

It is ironic that as each honoree reminisced about Brownsville, they noted growing up that they only saw the outside of the Hampton House building. Historically, a motel, bar and lounge, it was thought not suitable for children and teenagers. But we were curious.

Yes, I was one of the neighborhood teenagers with a box camera wishing to take pictures. Either walking by or riding in cars driven by adult family members we would stretch our necks hoping to see celebrities walking in or out. It never happened on my watch. Nevertheless, from the media and buzz in the community, the celebrities made themselves known.

It was a time of segregation when black entertainers performed in nightclubs in Miami Beach but were not allowed to live or eat in hotels there. As a result, the Hampton House lounge featured black entertainers on stage. Sam Cooke, Patti LaBelle, Aretha Franklin, Sam and Dave, and Nat King Cole, to name a few. Sports professionals including Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali and black golfers were frequent visitors. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others nationally involved in the Civil Rights Movement took refuge there.

Once a fully functioning motel with 52 rooms in its heyday, the Hampton House closed as lodging and entertainment opportunities opened following the passage of civil rights legislation. The facility was shuttered, abandoned, and scheduled for demolition.

The plight of the Hampton House was made known at a meeting by Dade Heritage Trust member Kathy Hersh. The African American Committee of DHT chaired by Enid Pinkney embraced the challenge. The Hampton House Community Trust was incorporated. Pinkney, a retired educator, Brownsville resident and preservation volunteer became the founding president/CEO with other community volunteers serving as staff and board of directors.

Over time the structure was saved from destruction, designated a historic site, received state grants and Miami-Dade County General Obligation Bond funds for restoration. The Hampton House Board has the opportunity and responsibility to determine the best adaptive reuses for this designated site through strategic planning and succession management.

At the banquet’s end, the honorees gave support to help save Brownsville’s Historic Hampton House to become fully operational again, this time to commercial enterprises and cultural spaces for residents, tourists and visitors of all ages.

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.

  Comments