Experience Historic Overtown

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Jackson Soul Food

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Mural by Purvis Young

lyric

The Historic Lyric Theater

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Performers at Overtown Performance Arts Center

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Miami is home to more than 20 thriving neighborhoods, each one defined by a distinct personality and unique culture. With something to offer everyone, it’s easy to see why this Florida city has become an epicenter of art, music, culture, travel, and so much more. One of Miami’s most well-known neighborhoods is Overtown, a diverse community that’s considered part of the city’s historic heart.

Historic Overtown: A Brief History

No description of Overtown would be complete without at least a brief dive into the community’s history, which dates back to the 1890s. Overtown is one of Miami’s oldest continuously-populated neighborhoods, coming in second only to Coconut Grove.

Many people don’t know that Overtown’s founding was a direct result of the Jim Crow Laws, which put segregation into practice in a number of ways, including the establishment of specific neighborhoods for African-American residents. Initially built to serve as a home for African-American railroad workers employed by tycoon Henry Flagler, over the decades, Overtown evolved into a hub for African-American culture, music and business.

By the 1950s, the Overtown neighborhood was considered a Miami hotspot, famous for its nightlife scene that hosted iconic performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole. Well-known names like Zora Neale Hurston and Jackie Robinson were also part of the community, offering an array of unique contributions that shaped the neighborhood.

After a short pause in development, Overtown began the revitalization process and has continued to grow and evolve through today and beyond. Community gardens, historic buildings, cultural centers, and so much more have been created and preserved to honor the distinct past of Overtown, Miami.

What Makes Historic Overtown Unique

The vibrant spirit of Overtown that defined it in its past still lives on today, making it one of Miami’s must-visit communities. The diverse population, historic roots and thriving arts and culture scene have come together to make this neighborhood unlike any other part of Miami, offering up a one-of-a-kind experience for locals and tourists alike. Whether you’re interested in exploring the community’s history, enjoying the best soul food in Florida, or diving into the local culture, there’s no shortage of things to see and do in Overtown.

Highlights of Historic Overtown

Planning to check out Overtown for yourself? Here are just a few of the many highlights you won’t want to miss:

The Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex

Founded and constructed by Georgia native, Geder Walker, in the year 1913, this historic theater has welcomed a star-studded list of cultural icons to its stage. Among the performers who have had audiences at the Lyric Theater are Billie Holiday, Sammie Davis Jr., Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and Josephine Baker. The Lyric Theater is part of The Black Archives, which also owns and operates an array of other important historic landmarks in and around the area. Events at the theater are ever-changing, featuring a variety of cultural and art experiences including the monthly Lyric Live, which showcases local talents in a one-of-a-kind interactive performance event.

Performing Arts Center (PAC)

Formerly the site of the historic Ebenezer Methodist Church, the Overtown Performing Arts Center is a welcoming place where you can attend a wide variety of special events and performances. The PAC’s calendar has featured everything from a soul food pop-up restaurant to an open art gallery, giving the community a place to gather and enjoy the best of Overtown.

Dorsey House Hotel

A historic home honoring former resident D.A. Dorsey, this 1920s building is now operating as a museum. You can learn about the home’s history and the Dorsey family, led by one of the community’s most well-known African-American businessmen of the 20th century.

The Ward Rooming House

This 1925 rooming house opened its doors to both Blacks and Seminole Indians, who were typically unable to find welcoming accommodations in Downtown Miami during the first half of the 20th century. Now a historic landmark, the Ward Rooming House stands as a symbol of the long-held values of the Overtown community.

The Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church

As one of the oldest churches in Miami, the Greater Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church has seen over a century of historic events pass by its doors. The building’s distinct architectural style and stunning stained glass windows make it impossible to miss this icon of Overtown.

Things to Do in Historic Overtown

Once you’ve checked off neighborhood highlights listed above, there’s still plenty more to do in Overtown:

  • Enjoy an authentic soul food meal at Jackson Soul Food, a local favorite that has served famous patrons like Nat King Cole and Lebron James.
  • Experience local art on foot by taking a walk around the community to see the Purvis Young Murals, a collection of vibrant street artworks created in the 1970s. Artist Purvis Young arrived in the Overtown community in 1971, bringing with him the artistic influences of Detroit’s and Chicago’s famous mural artists, as well as iconic inspirations such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt. Each of Young’s murals seeks to depict raw yet poignant images of life on the street, social unrest and other thought-provoking subjects using stunning visuals and bold, vibrant colors.
  • Stroll through the Historic Overtown Folklife Village, located between 8th and 10th streets on Northwest 2nd and 3rd Avenues. Recent redevelopments have brought a variety of local retailers to the district, specifically those offering unique fares inspired by Harlem Renaissance, West Africa and the Caribbean. The Folklife Village is host to many beloved Overtown events, including Folklife Fridays, an open-air market that takes place the first Friday of every month. Local vendors can be found selling everything from traditional cuisine and handmade jewelry to clothing and books, with the market running from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and including a celebratory Happy Hour.
  • If you want more Overtown history, visit the Black Police Precinct & Courthouse Museum or the Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. At the museum, you can learn about Miami’s first black policemen, who served and protected the Overtown community during the 1940s. Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church is yet another of Overtown’s respected historic landmarks, serving as a meeting place for Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights leaders and other important organizations since its founding in 1896.
  • Book a spot on the Historic Overtown Walking Tour and Tasting, where you can experience the neighborhood’s past, present and future. A local guide will take you through the neighborhood’s most notable landmarks on foot, with your experience ending at one of Overtown’s adored soul food restaurants.
  • Attend the Urban Film Festival, a three-day event that focuses on educating, showcasing and celebrating local talents who share culturally-driven stories and experiences. The festival includes educational workshops, networking opportunities and more to help bolster the exposure of emerging artists.

Plan a Visit to Miami's Historic Overtown Neighborhood

Whether you’re a Miami local or just planning a visit, experiencing the vibrant, one-of-a-kind community of Overtown is a definite must. Add this historic Miami neighborhood to your list and come see all that Overtown has to offer.

Explore Miami's History and Heritage

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