Things to Do in Historic Overtown

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By: Shayne Benowitz

Historic Overtown's History

At the turn of the century, Historic Overtown became a Black diaspora community of people from the South, the Bahamas, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean who arrived in Miami to work on oil tycoon Henry Flagler’s railroad. During its heyday in the 1930s through the 1950s, Historic Overtown’s boom was like the Harlem Renaissance and the area was nicknamed Little Broadway. It was the place where stars like Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker not only performed, but also spent the night because of segregation laws. They headed “over town” after performing at nightclubs on Miami Beach. Today, Historic Overtown’s spirit lives on through its music, art and soul food, which you can discover by following our insider’s guide.

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Where To Stroll & Explore

Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater

Once called “the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all the Southland” by Miami Metropolis newspaper, the Lyric Theater in Historic Overtown was built by Georgia native Geder Walker in 1913. Through the years, countless legendary performers graced the stage, including Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sammie Davis Junior, Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday. The Lyric re-opened its doors during Black History Month in February 2014, reclaiming its title as the oldest operating theater in Miami. Under the stewardship of The Black Archives, it’s now a part of The Black Archives Lyric Theater Welcome Center Complex with the expanded goal to create a vibrant social gathering hub in Historic Overtown.

    Purvis Young Murals

    Purvis Young arrived in Historic Overtown in 1971 and began painting scenes inspired by life on the streets and his daily observations. While Young’s work is often classified as folk art, his style of mixing bold, saturated colors and a lack of landscape resonate deeper to the contemporary art movements of Fauvism and Abstract Expressionism. He has cited the works of Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, El Greco and Picasso amongst his influences. Painting on found materials, his subjects are African Americans depicted as angels in chains or without homes, pregnant women, wild horses, scenes of social unrest, funerals and lynchings. They’re at once both raw and hopeful. He passed away in 2010 at age 67, but his art lives on in the streets of Historic Overtown.

      Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum

      The Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum building was the headquarters for Miami’s first Black policemen who patrolled Historic Overtown, starting in the 1940s. It was also the municipal court where Black defendants were tried, usually before a Black judge. Today, the building is a museum dedicated to this unique time in history and is packed with artifacts, documents, video and oral history.

        Where To Eat & Drink

        Jackson Soul Food

        Established in 1946, Jackson Soul Food has some of the best authentic Southern comfort soul food in all of Miami. Enthusiasts over the years include the late Nat King Cole, as well as Trick Daddy, Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. Pull up a chair in the spacious and welcoming dining room for breakfast or lunch and go for classics like fried catfish and biscuits, oxtail, collard greens or liver and onions. And save room for a slice of peach cobbler—it’s so worth it!

          CHAT Black Heritage & Lunch Tour

          Learn about the history of Historic Overtown and Miami’s other heritage neighborhoods with a professionally guided tour that includes sampling the cuisine of these cultures. Cultural Heritage Alliance Tours organizes a Black Heritage Tour + Lunch Experience through Historic Overtown, Little Haiti, Coconut Grove Village West and Little Havana. You’ll learn about the neighborhoods through their history, people, food and art. The tour concludes with a lunch of Caribbean soul food.

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