- Faith & Family
Miami’s getaway resorts and pristine beaches may be one of the top choices for tourists today, but in years past, segregation kept both Black visitors and Black Miamians locked out. In fact, racial segregation, formerly the law of the land, extended to every facet of life. As the Black population surged in the 1940s, religious and community leaders demanded police presence and protection in Miami’s two overcrowded Black communities of Liberty City and Overtown.
In 1944, the first Black patrolmen were sworn in as “emergency policemen” and assigned to what was then referred to as the Central Negro District. In 1950, the Negro Police Precinct and Courthouse was established in Overtown, operating as a separate station house and municipal court for Blacks.
It remained in operation until 1963 but still stands — now as an historical monument and education museum where all can learn about the struggles and triumphs of Miami’s “first Negro policemen.”
Last week, the City of Miami Negro/Black Police Officers Precinct and Museum [480 NW 11th Street], under the direction of newly-elected Museum president, Dr. Thomas K. Pinder, Ph.D., held an open house for the community. He says this is “just the beginning of programs and special events that will share this important piece of history with the youth of today and tomorrow.”
“After our members decided that we needed to operate separately from the Black Officers Retired Association, I was chosen to oversee the Museum,” he said. “What’s most important is that our children know about this place and the significant role that Black officers played when segregation was still operating in Miami and throughout the U.S. The more we understand our history and our struggles, the better we can prepare and empower our children for the future.”
Clarence Dickson, 78, was the first Black police chief for the City of Miami and was first hired in 1944. He says prior to the precinct being built for Blacks, they were forced to meet in places ranging from an apartment room to a dentist’s office.
“We weren’t allowed to meet with the rest of the police in their downtown headquarters,” he said. “But thanks to continued pressure from the Black community, we finally got a place of our own.”
Dickson says there were about 40 policemen when the doors of the Black precinct first opened. He was also one of the first men allowed to attend the Police Academy and to sit with white officers to take examinations for promotion. He would rise up the ranks and retire after 30 years of service. He adds that 40 were in his class when it began in 1960 — only 13 finished.
“I failed the test twice and saw others who were much smarter than me bomb out,” he said. “You could only take the test three times. I figured I wouldn’t pass. But after one of my fellow officers told me that everyone was depending on me to succeed, I buckled down — failure was no longer an option.”
Other officers that shared their compelling stories during the program included: Jesse Hill, 84, retired sergeant, who was sent to the precinct in the early 1950s and was one of the first Black detectives; James Stubbs, 78, who served in the armed forces before joining the police department; Archie McKay, 87, retired lieutenant, who has the distinction of being the oldest living Black police officer and recalls “being called nigger as frequently as one runs water for drinking”; Pinder, Museum president and retired sergeant; Otis Davis, retired lieutenant; Davie Madison, retired captain; and Officer Leroy Smith.
For more information or for a tour call 305-329-2513.
By D. Kevin McNeir