Edison - Liberty City

Remembering when Liberty Square was one of the best places for blacks to live

When the first buildings of the old Liberty Square Housing Project started being demolished, I had a surge of sadness, but at the same time, I was hopeful that the new homes would serve as a place where happy memories would be made — just as moving into Liberty Square was for us back in 1952.

On Tuesday, the ribbon was cut, signifying the opening of the first new apartment homes gracing the area along Northwest 67th Street between 14th and 15th avenues, south to about 65th Street. The buildings are modern and the area around the buildings is beautifully landscaped.

When my mom moved us into the Liberty Square Housing Projects, the complex was already 14 years old, and one of the best places for blacks to live in the city. We had been told the projects were built in 1938, the year I was born, and were the oldest of their kind in the country. However, some people argued that the projects in Atlanta were a year older. Anyway, that didn’t matter to us. What mattered was, we were home.

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Aerial view of the first phase of the Liberty Square redevelopment in Miami’s Liberty City on Monday, July 1, 2019. Liberty Square, one of the oldest public housing developments in the U.S., will eventually include 1,455 new units, from public housing to market-rate. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Mom had been on the waiting list for more than two years, when she was notified there was a place for us. So on that spring day in early April, we moved into the tiny, one-bedroom apartment at 1305 NW 65th St., two months after my 14th birthday. That was a happy time for us. Mom and I shared the bedroom — which she furnished with twin beds covered with matching spreads of a pretty floral pattern, matching curtains and a fluffy, light green throw rug on the concrete floor between the beds.

My brother Adam, slept on a daybed in the living room that served as his bedroom at night. The living room floor was covered with a pretty linoleum and it was my job to mop and wax it every Saturday, before going to a movie at the Liberty Theater, which we youngsters dubbed “The Shack.”

Mom had dusty pink slip covers made for the daybed and the curtains and chairs were covered in a matching plaid. Between the two chairs, Mom had placed an old desk someone had given her. It held our family pictures and the record player. And some nights, the desk was where the three of us would sit around and sing our favorite songs from the old hymnal Mom kept on the desk. There was also an eat-in kitchen, where I learned to cook, with my brother as my sampler.

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HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson shakes hands with Michael Liu, the director of Miami-Dade Public Housing and Community Development, during the grand opening of the first phase of the Liberty Square redevelopment in Miami’s Liberty City on Monday, July 1, 2019. When it first opened, Liberty Square was one of the top housing projects for black families in the country, but then it fell on hard times. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

At Christmastime, the city of Miami Police Department blocked off 65th Street from 14th to 13th avenues and that became our skating rink for the two weeks we were out of school for the holidays. Early on Christmas morning, just before the skaters hit the street, the Shepherds Parade would wind its way through the neighborhood, heralding Christmas had come. We took delight in running behind the parade in our pajamas, getting back home just in time to put on our dungarees (you call them jeans) and plaid shirts, and our Union #5 skates to take to the “rink.”

Liberty Square back then was a place where professional blacks lived. There were teachers and nurses and social workers, all living side by side with day workers and maids. It was a village, where parents looked out for each other’s children. It was a place to give the people who lived there the opportunity to strive for something of their own — to own their own homes. Many of them did just that.

The Liberty Square was where I got married, with the neighborhood women cooking early in the morning for the reception. Mom borrowed chairs from Range Funeral Home and placed them on the grass in front of the apartment. All my friends came, dressed in their Sunday best. The late Tina Barry, one of Mom’s best friends and the mother of the Rev. Richard M. Barry, made my bouquet. It was a beautiful wedding.

As a young couple, my late husband Jimmy and I moved to an apartment a few blocks away. When our first son was born, I went back to stay with Mom for two weeks, learning how to be a mother. When Rick was nine days old, Tina Barry took him for his first walk to “introduce” him to the sun. She told me it was an old Bahamian custom. I thought it was beautiful.

The years passed. Older people died and children grew up, graduated high school. Some went to college. Others joined the Army or simply moved away. A new crop of blacks moved into Liberty Square who didn’t seem to have the same appreciation for the complex as we had in earlier years. Lawns were not well kept any more. Drugs became a mammoth problem and the projects got a new name by its newest inhabitants: “Pork ‘n Beans Project.”

For years, the conditions seemed to get worse. Children playing innocently on their porch, or simply walking to the store to buy candy, were killed by drive-by shooters.

Many churches in the area, used to having morning and evening worship on Sundays, now had only one service — in the morning. The churches that still had evening services cut the service time from two to one hour.

Now, with the opening of the $46 million first phase of the new Liberty Square, there is renewed hope. In an article in The Miami Herald about the new housing complex, Miami Dade Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said, “This will be a renaissance of a part of Miami-Dade County that was once an epicenter for the black community… I know what it was like…”

And so do I.

Looking for volunteers

Are you a retiree, with too much time on your hands? If so, you are just the person the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater (BAHLT) is looking for to be a volunteer.

By becoming a BAHLT Volunteer, you will learn so much about the theater, as well as about the surrounding Overtown community. In its heyday, the theater was one of the neighborhood’s landmarks. Located almost next door to the old Rockland Palace Nightclub and just down the street from the Harlem Square Gardens nightclub, the theater grew up during an era when Overtown was dubbed “Little Harlem.”

The Strip (Northwest Second Avenue) was where everything happened, and anybody who was anybody was sure to be seen. On Sundays, the Historic Greater Bethel AME Methodist Church, a few steps away on Northwest Eighth Street, was one of the houses of worship the people attended to get their spiritual refills.

If you want to learn more about the theater, and the historic neighborhood it calls home, give a call to the Black Archives at 786-708-4610.

Looking for docents

Speaking of being a volunteer, the Historic Hampton House Community Trust is looking for Docents who are willing to be trained to tell the Hampton House story, and serve as a tour guide to children during the rest of the summer.

If this interests you, call the Hampton House at 305-638-5800 or send an email to: trust@historichampton.net.

Black psychologists’ convention

The Association of Black Psychologists will have its 51st International Convention in Orlando July 24-27 at The Rosen Centre Hotel, 9840 International Dr. It’s theme is. “Afrikan Psychology and Afrifuturism: Psychological Liberation and Spiritual Illumination.”

The convention’s program will include continuing education units and general professional development opportunities for attendees.

The convention will include Mbongis on Thursday and Friday. Mbongi is a Congolese word that means “The Learning Circle.” There will be drumming circles, African dancing, the opportunity to learn Chicago-style Steppin’ and a party to mark the close of the convention.

For registration and information, go to the website, abpsi.org.

Booker T. Washington reunion

The Class of 1949 from Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School will celebrate its 70th class reunion on July 21, with a church service at 9:30 a.m. at the Church of the Incarnation, followed at noon with lunch at the Miami Shores Country Club, 10000 Biscayne Blvd.

“Our class of 239 was one of the largest at that time,” said Winnie Beacham, a past class president. “Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for black students to drop out of high school to go to work or to join the armed services. Today, there are about 30 members left.”

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The Class of 1949 from Booker T. Washington Junior/Senior High School will celebrate its 70th class reunion on July 21, with a church service at 9:30 a.m. at the Church of the Incarnation, followed at noon with lunch at the Miami Shores Country Club, 10000 Biscayne Blvd. Roberto Koltun Miami Herald file photo

Percy Oliver is the current class president.

Beacham said former BTW Tornadoes are welcome to join the milestone celebration reunion. The cost of the lunch is $50 per person. If you go, call Beacham at 305-333-8312 by Monday (July 8) to make reservations.