At least 200 Black towns and communities had been formed across the United States by 1888. According to a Washington Post article, several of these towns were modeled after Black communities founded during the American Revolution and during the antebellum period, which lasted from the late 1700s until 1860.
Some settlements vanished completely as time passed. Others were confiscated to create schools – for whites only — after being destroyed by lakes or natural parks. Railroad Shop Colored Addition, founded in 1917 in Miami’s Allapattah district, was one such Black community. According to WLRN, Railroad Shop was made up of Black laborers who built and serviced local rails and trains.
When the Black community of Railroad Shop was founded, Miami had only been a city for around 21 years. The all-Black hamlet was surrounded by an all-White neighborhood that stretched from Northwest 46 Street north to 50th Street and from Northwest 12th Avenue to 14th Avenue.
Many White areas in the United States were close to Black people who worked as their domestic staff. Their African-American neighbors may come to their homes and look after their children or cook for them. However, as the country progressed and technology began to take over jobs previously performed by people, these White neighbors began to believe they no longer required their Black neighbors.
In Railroad Shop, for example, the White community exploited its connections to get rid of its Black neighbors who they considered to be too close to them. “White neighbors complained to the City of Miami and pushed the Miami-Dade County School Board until both organizations intervened to confiscate the black-owned land through eminent domain,” according to WLRN.
On August 1, 1947, 35 Black families were asked to leave Railroad Shop by white police officers. It was raining, and the officers, some of whom were armed with shotguns, forced the Black families out into the rain, many of whom had nowhere else to go. After learning that the Dade School Board desired the land for a school — a Whites-only school — they were evicted with no warning. The mayor of Miami also planned to construct a park for the nearby White neighborhoods.
Before the eviction, historians stated that the Miami government officials worked tirelessly to lower the neighborhood’s worth in order to finally take it over. According to the Miami Herald, several people retaliated against the government by hiring a Black attorney to take on the School Board and City Hall. In July 1947, however, a judge granted “immediate possession of the land.” As a result, the city was able to take the remaining residences and use them to construct a park and a fire station.
Families were offered around $150 per lot by government authorities, but others pushed for more. Families that were adamant about keeping their homes had to pay the county to relocate them. According to The Miami Herald, a few people also paid to have their homes relocated to other parts of Miami or to the Carver Ranches area of Broward County.
Although little is known about what happened to the Black families who resided in the Railroad Shop Colored Addition, there are some memorials commemorating the community. According to WLRN, Lenora Braynon Smith Elementary and Georgia Ayers Middle School in Allapattah have been renamed after former Railroad Shop residents.
Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall, whose family was evicted from their home by the Miami-Dade County School Board, now serves on the board that confiscated her family’s property. She ran for and won a seat on the school board. She has been on the school board for the past ten years.