|South Florida’s Black history “The Black Grove”|
|Thursday, 02 February 2012 12:27|
The history of South Florida intimately intertwines with America's Black history. In honor of Black History Month, the National Weekly will highlight and celebrate the pioneering Black communities of South Florida, as they struggled with harsh climates and strict segregation to create a legacy that would inspire generations. This week we will focus on Coconut Grove, one of the region's earliest Black communities.
Named after the Coconut Grove post office built by Dr. Horace Porter in 1873, Coconut Grove is the oldest continuously inhabited community of South Florida. Originally an independent city, Coconut Grove was annexed to the City of Miami in 1925.
Today's Coconut Grove is a local hotspot of boutiques, top-rated restaurants and night clubs. Yet underneath the newly sprung, glittering store fronts, Coconut Grove still keeps remnants of its pioneering Black Bahamian settlers, which gave birth to a thriving Black community.
Coconut Grove – the Bahamian connection
In 1882, English immigrant Charles Peacock built Florida's first hotel, the Bay View Inn, which later was renamed the Peacock Inn. Black Bahamian laborers were imported to build the hotel, who established Coconut Grove's Black community in the town's western region.
Charles Avenue, once known as Evangelist Street, became the main hub of Black life. The area, which boomed with additional Bahamian migrants and Blacks from the northern regions of America, was known as the "Black Grove" after 1927 to distinguish it from the eastern region settled by a growing white population.
The city still bears evidence of its Black history, which includes:
• The E.W.F. Stirrup House: Built in 1897, the house was the residence of Bahamian migrant E.W.F. Stirrup, who was the first Black developer in Coconut Grove. He built over 100 homes in the community.
• The Odd Fellows Hall/United Christian Church of Christ: In 1897, this church housed the first Black library, literary and fraternal society in South Florida, and became the focal point for community meetings.
• The Mariah Brown House: The first home on then Evangelist Street, the house was owned by Mariah Brown, a Bahamian who worked for the Peacock family. Several of her relatives followed her to Coconut Grove from the Bahamas.
• The Coconut Grove Cemetery: This Charles Street cemetery, adjoining the Charlotte Jane Memorial Cemetery named in honor of the wife of E.W.F Stirrup, was first used as a graveyard in the early 1900s. The cemetery was created by the Coconut Grove Colored Cemetery Association and several Bahamian nationals and Black South Florida pioneers are buried there. The cemetery also holds an iconic place in America's entertainment history – as the filming location for the graveyard scenes in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video.
• Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church: Now known as St. James Baptist Church, it is the oldest church in Coconut Grove's Black community, and was also the first Baptist church in Miami. The church was relocated to Douglas Road from its original site on Charles Ave.
Other historical Black churches in the community are the Christ Episcopal Church on Hibiscus Street and the Greater St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on St. Thomas Avenue.
Among the outstanding historic figures of the "Black Grove" were the Reverend Canon Theodore Gibson (1915-1982) and his wife Thelma. Reverend Gibson was the rector of the Christ Episcopal Church, a civil rights and community activist, and a former City of Miami commissioner. His wife, an educator, has been one of the Grove's most ardent community activists for mental and physical health, culture and charity service. She also served the City of Miami Commission in 1997.
Coconut Grove's Bahamian roots are honored every year during June's Goombay Festival. The popular festival includes parades, music, dance, costume bands, live performances and Bahamian cuisine.
Sources for this article includes: www.miamiandbeaches.com
For more features on Florida's historic Black communities, follow the links below.
|Last Updated on Friday, 24 February 2012 17:20|