Little Havana - Flagami

A night to showcase the black arts community in Miami

Petra Brennan, Carole Ann Taylor and Connie Kinnard, all with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, at the Art of Black Miami event at the Koubek Center in LIttle Havana.
Petra Brennan, Carole Ann Taylor and Connie Kinnard, all with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, at the Art of Black Miami event at the Koubek Center in LIttle Havana.

Koubek Center is one of Miami’s community treasures.

A Mediterranean mansion, it was built in 1929 by Austrian developer John J. Koubeck for his wife, Rose. Following her death, he donated it to the University of Miami.

Located in Little Havana at 2705 SW Third St., it was for numerous decades a satellite campus where the university received arriving Cuban refugees learning English and professionals preparing for board exams. Over time, it became a meeting place for Latin American and political gatherings.

Not widely known is that during the Jim Crow Era, the Koubeck Center was a safe place for interracial meeting. Jim Crow was a time in Miami’s history when white people and black people were threatened with arrest if they gathered in the same room at the same time.

In spite of the threats, from the 1940s-1960s, small groups of white students attending Miami Senior High, located in Little Havana, and black students attending Booker T. Washington Jr/Sr High School, located in Overtown, met together at Koubek Center for occasional evening programs of the Intergroup Youth Council (IYC).

I was one of the students from Overtown.

To avoid possible trouble, our sponsors notified the police in advance of the meetings. The leading sponsors were the National Council of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), Dr. Max Karl, executive director; Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Rev. Edward T. Graham, pastor; and Booker T. Washington High School principal, Charles L. Williams, in collaboration with guidance counselors, Miss Marie Roberts and Mrs. Mamie Williams. The counselors also taught the only Human Relations classes available in Florida at that time.

The IYC meetings were my only contact with white students. (I was a 1960 Booker T. graduate.)

Seated across from the Miami High students, we listened to speakers talk about national and world affairs. There were no conversations between the students from the two schools. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the programs and felt safe on Koubek Center’s hallowed ground.

Today, the Koubek Center continues as a center of activities. Miami-Dade College acquired it in 2011 and holds concerts, theatrical productions and other arts events.

After many decades, I visited the Koubek Center the evening of June 20, 2019, for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Art of Black Miami’s Creative Conversation Series.

Connie Kinnard, vice president, Multicultural Tourism & Development, Greater Miami CVB opened the program:

”This series is another addition to the GMCVB’s platform to showcase the awareness of art and the depth of the subject matter year around. Art of Black Miami has started to have name recognition and make an impact related to elevating multicultural tourism even beyond the Art Basel time frame. It is our goal to use the AOBM channel of showcasing visual and even performing art in Miami to encourage potential visitors and local residents to patronize economically our heritage neighborhoods.”

Rosie Gordon Wallace, founder of the Diaspora Vibe Gallery and the Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, curated the program. Prior to the program, guests had the opportunity to view the art work of Ignacio Font and Juan Erman Gonzalez.

An outstanding performance by the IFE-ILE AFRO-CUBAN Dance Company set the mood for the event. Founded in 1966 by noted choreographer, Neri Torres, the group is recognized for the tribal dances of the Orishas.

The highlight of the evening was a presentation by panelists who spoke on the topic, “Adaptive Identities in Current Times of Change: Linking Diasporic Communities.” Wallace moderated the panel.

Panelist Professor Hilary Jones is an associate professor of history and graduate program director for the African and African Diaspora Studies at Florida International University. Her book, “The Metis of Senegal: Urban Life and Politics in French West Africa” (Indiana University Press, 2013) is the first English language book to examine the making of a biracial community in Senegal’s colonial capital. She earned awards from Fulbright Hays and the Social Science Research Council.

Panelist Professor Patricia J. Saunders, an associate professor of English at the University of Miami, is the co-editor of “Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal.” She is also the author of “Alien Nation and Repatriation: Translating Identity in Anglophone Caribbean Literature” (2007) and co-editor of “Music, Memory, Resistance: Calypso and the Caribbean Literary Imagination“ (2007).

Their talks highlighted poly-cultural voices as they spoke about their research and how their work interfaces with Miami’s diverse communities.

At the end of the program, Petra Brennan, GMCVB director of tourism business enhancement and multicultural programs, talked about the importance of these types of events.

“Linking the past to the present, this conversation exposes how modes of cultural production and consumption are negotiated by African people and people of African descent. To what extent has popular culture shaped the terms of engagement about cultural identity in Miami, Africa, and the Caribbean.”

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

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