Activate Overtown

Tactical Urbanism is a community-led approach that uses short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions—like pop-up parks, art installations, and sidewalk decals—to catalyze long-term change to neighborhood safety and connectivity.

Here is a South Florida example that could easily be implemented in Jacksonville’s neighborhoods to encourage walking while highlighting lost and forgotten local history. The story of Miami’s Historic Overtown is similar to Jacksonville’s LaVilla. Overtown was established in 1896 and grew to become known as a “Little Broadway” or “Harlem of the South”. During the mid-20th century, the neighborhood was decimated by the construction of Interstate 95, Interstate 395 and SR 836. This is a story I know while through my own family history, as my grandmother’s house was razed in the process, leading to her family relocating north to an area now known as Model City.

Activate Overtown, an initiative by Going Overtown and Urban Health Partnerships (UHP) , is a project focused on empowering and activating the community through the creation of changes in public space. The initiative includes the installation of sidewalk decals and markers to create a 25-minute and 45-minute walking path that highlight important parts of the neighborhood’s past and present while providing ways for residents to engage in shaping the neighborhood’s future.

Here is a brief virtual walking tour of this tactical urbanism project that was implemented in Winter 2020.

Dana A. Dorsey House

Miami’s first black millionaire, Dana Albert Dorsey, built this white frame vernacular home for his wife in 1915. Dorsey amassed a real estate empire while developing Overtown as the center of Miami’s Black community—helping to organize South Florida’s first Black bank and Miami’s first Black high school, and donating the land for the city park and the first Black library in the city.

Dorsey even owned the land that is now the wealthiest community in Miami: Fisher Island. Timothy Barber, executive director of the Black Archives, spoke to WLRN’s Nadege Green about Dorsey’s experience with the property in a 2019 interview:

“He wanted to build a colored resort because during this time of Jim Crow, blacks were not allowed to even swim in the beach, get in the water. So his whole purpose was to establish a black resort because he knew that, just like there were wealthy white people, there were wealthy black people. And I’d like to thank the Miami Daily Metropolis for putting it on the front page and it says, “Negro Buys 1/3 of the Keys To Erect A Colored Resort.”

And that was the alarm sent out to let them know, “Hey while you’re sleeping, there’s a wealthy black man that’s about to change the face of our area”—or their area at the time. There were some issues where he could not build and expand Fisher Island. One, I know notably, was that it was on the east side of a railroad tracks and we know that [Henry] Flagler designated the east side of the railroad tracks for white people on the west side for black people.

And I think it was very difficult for Dorsey to get the people and the manpower that he needed to get over to the island on a regular basis to get this island prepared for a resort that he then sold the island to Carl Fisher.”

The Dana A. Dorsey House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc., founded in 1977 by Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, is a nonprofit manuscript and photographic repository for the legacies of Miami’s black community. As owners of the D.A. Dorsey House, the group completed a restoration of the House to serve as a community resource center in 1995.


Ward Rooming House

Built in 1925, the Ward Rooming House opened its doors to both out-of-town Blacks and Native Americans, who were typically unable to find welcoming accommodations in Downtown Miami during the first half of the 20th century.

Excerpt from the Miami Affordability Project Historic Properties Dataset, prepared by UM Office of Civic and Community Engagement:

“The property is linked to Shaddrack Ward, who arrived to Miami from Key West in 1894. Built in 1925, the structure has Conch and Mediterranean Revival influences. The building’s porches and symmetry are elements of the Conch style—an architectural style that can be traced to Key West and the Bahamas. The structure’s Mediterranean Revival influences can be seen in the ornamental brackets along the arches of each bay as well as the stucco finish. The Rooming House was frequently occupied by Bahamian immigrants and is historically significant because of its association with the early African-American community of Overtown.”

The building has been restored, and now serves as the Ward Rooming House Gallery, under the curatorial direction of Hampton Art Lovers. The gallery hosts exhibitions that include works from Maya Angelou’s personal collection, sculptures and artwork of Elizabeth Catlett, and the photography of Phillip Shung.


Clyde Killens Pool Hall and Recreational Center

Built in 1954, the billiards hall was owned and operated by club promoter and musician, Clyde Killens. The Clyde Killens’ Pool Hall was located on Overtown’s major entertainment corridor, NW 2nd Avenue. Frequenters in the old days included Muhammad Ali, then a young Cassius Clay; boxer Archie Moore; Flip Wilson. In a 1990 interview with the Miami Herald, Clyde Killens shared: “It was the classiest operation around,” said Killens. “Always someone big in there.”

The building is now the site of the Marcus Samuelson restaurant, Red Rooster.


Located in the heart of Overtown, Red Rooster serves comfort food celebrating the roots of American cuisine and the diverse culinary traditions of the neighborhood.

At Red Rooster we want to share the story of Overtown with our guests, and offer a platform to celebrate local artists, musicians and culinary talents. We embrace today’s Overtown with a spirit of inclusiveness and community by hiring our family of staff from within the community; inspiring better eating through buying from local purveyors.

The Pool Hall, a lounge experience at Red Rooster Overtown, will offer a brand-new entertainment destination in the upstairs area of Clyde Killen’s iconic pool hall. The speakeasy vibe will emulate the rich nightlife of Overtown during the fifties and early sixties where many superstars such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin and many more performed at the Historic Lyric Theater and then would convene across the street to enjoy late night music and drinks. The Pool Hall will be a place to create memorable nights with unique programming, live music and world-renowned cuisine from Chef Marcus Samuelsson. Open Friday - Sunday 9pm - 3am


Little Broadway

Overtown’s 2nd Avenue Corridor of music halls, restaurants, hotels, and entertainment venues came to be known as ‘Little Broadway’ in the 1920s. On this street, you’d find Rockland Palace, the Ritz Theater, The Harlem Square Club, Clyde Killens’ Pool Hall, Odell’s Bar & Grill, and The Mary Elizabeth Hotel & Birdland Fiesta. It wasn’t uncommon to pass right by Nat King Cole, Bojangles, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, or Ella Fitzgerald when walking the street.

Residents would often see Mary MCloud Bethune visiting her son who ran the Pharmacy store located in the Mary Elizabeth Hotel. The likes of Langston Hughes read poetry in the Lyric Theater and made appearances at Mr. Zion Baptist Church, W.E.B. Dubois would always seek hotel accommodations in “Miami’s Little Broadway” between trips in and out of the country.

Because of the extensive nightlife, permanent residents of color in Miami established businesses which were sustained economically by the Broadway feel.


S.H. Johnson X-Ray Clinic

Dr. Samuel H. Johnson constructed the X-Ray Clinic in 1939. Johnson arrived in Miami as a child in 1903 and eventually became the first black radiologist in South Florida. Black residents were denied access to x-ray facilities at Miami’s City Hospital, and Johnson created his clinic to serve the area’s black population.

Dr. Johnson’s brother, John, practiced law from the X-Ray Clinic between 1947 and 1955; in 1949, he hosted Thurgood Marshall, then legal counsel for the NAACP, at the clinic. Dr. Johnson continued to operate the clinic until 1967. He donated his former office building to the Black Archives in 1981. The X-Ray Clinic is an example of Streamline Modernestyle architecture, which can be seen in the building’s rounded corners, horizontal band of windows, use of glass block, and central relief details. The building is an excellent example of 1930s Miami architecture, and an important historical site reflecting the city’s history of segregation and black activism.