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Miami designates part of Coconut Grove as ‘Little Bahamas’ to honor area’s history

Miami Herald Article

A swath of Miami’s oldest neighborhood has been formally designated “Little Bahamas of Coconut Grove,” a recognition of the historically Black enclave settled by Bahamians in the 19th century even before Miami was incorporated as a city. Miami commissioners voted on Tuesday to mark the area’s cultural and historical importance with the designation, the second time the commission has formally named a neighborhood with boundaries by resolution. In 2016, the city formally designated boundaries for Little Haiti. The naming of the neighborhood comes at a time when the West Grove is under pressure from gentrification that threatens to displace longtime residents, including descendants of Bahamian settlers and early pioneers who came from other states in the American South.

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, told the commission that she was proud to support the resolution, which was introduced by Commissioner Ken Russell. As a Bahamian American, she said she felt it was important to give the area’s heritage and the descendants of Miami’s pioneers the distinction they deserve.

“Today we’re taking a big step towards ensuring the contributions and accomplishments of the Bahamian people are rightfully memorialized,” Wilson said. Wilson also touted $2.2 million in federal funds she helped secure for an arts and culture museum to be built in the West Grove. Russell told the Miami Herald that the city is working with local community advocates on the early planning for the museum.

According to the resolution, the boundaries for Little Bahamas of Coconut Grove are generally McDonald Street to the east, Bird Avenue and U.S. 1 to the north, Brooker Street and Armbrister Park to the west and Franklin Avenue to the south.

Community advocates suggested the designation will spur tourism to the area by highlighting Coconut Grove’s history. “My grandparents ... maternal and paternal, came from the Bahamas,” said Thelma Gibson, who spoke about the history of Bahamians building homes and using dynamite to clear the space needed to build roads. “So I am a Bahamian by birth even though I was born in Coconut Grove 94 years and seven months ago.” The retired nurse and former city commissioner lauded the resolution.

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, a historian who has worked for decades to preserve Miami’s Black history, said the name honors the heritage of many families who still live in the neighborhood and are descendants of the city’s pioneers. “It showcases a cultural heritage of the Bahamian immigrants who helped build Miami, and after arriving in the early 1880s, the Bahamians lived and worked in this area, and were the primary labor force throughout Miami and the region for more than 50 years,” Fields said. Grove activist Linda Williams told commissioners that the Bahamian immigrants were an important group among many Black migrants who settled the area, including people from Georgia, South Carolina and other southern states. She also encouraged the city to think about the bigger issues facing the Grove, particularly with increasing development pressure, and to plan to promote the museum while making sure the existing residents can take part in any success that more tourism might bring. “We’d like to know what the marketing plan is, we’d love to know what the strategy is, and who will still be there to benefit from this designation,” she said. Russell mentioned future legislation that he hopes to bring in his final six months in office to address the affordable housing problems in the Grove. He is running as a Democrat in the primary for Florida’s 27th Congressional District, and he will resign from his commission seat in early 2023 due to Florida’s resign-to-run-law. “We believe this flag should be planted as a sign of what’s to come in the future,” he said. “A pride in a community that will be redeveloped for those who made it, for those who live here now, and for those who would like to return. So our job is not done simply by naming a community and creating a museum. We must create the housing.”