Residents voice on opinions on Lemon City vs. Little Haiti
Gigi Tinsley | 11/14/2013, 9 a.m.
Residents of Liberty City and surrounding areas have flooded The Miami Times with telephone calls that expressed their concerns about the possibility of there being a name change for Lemon City. As one caller said, “to do so would push aside the fact that the people who lived, slaved and died in that area and let them be forgotten and dismissed,” stated Courtney Demerritte, the great-grandson of Elizabeth and Rodney Ferguson who lived in Lemon City in the 30s and 40s.
Community activist Georgia Jones Ayes said, “Black Americans were living in Lemon City first. Why weren’t we brought to the table when the discussion went on? To be clear, I have nothing against the Haitian community. We’re all black and are all trying to live and maintain our culture, heritage and legacies. But we can’t forget that Blacks went through hell back then and much of the struggle continues today.”
The forgotten roots of Lemon City
Lemon City was developed in the late 1800s for farmers of color to live as close to where they worked, as possible. Some families trace their roots back to that community, like Ayers, whose grandmother moved into Lemon City in 1897. The area had many lemon groves, hence the town’s eventual name. While it was a small town, it had its own
railway depot on the Florida East Coast Railway and its own cemetery, where only Blacks were buried from 1911 to 1925.
In 2009, Lemon City took front page status when a once-forgotten grave was discovered and bones were dug up by a developer planning to build a complex named Village Carver. The cemetery is now called Village and a special service was held to designate the spot as an historical site.
Interestingly, Lemon City was a pioneer community and within it, there were three other distinct communities: Boles Town, Knightsville and Nazarine. Nazarene was the area where the cemetery was located. The Blacks, mostly Bahamians, did most of the hardest and dangerous work performed in the area and many of them died from incidents and accidents in which they were involved.
The city of Miami was to the south of Lemon City and was looking for more property to add to its town. In 1925, Miami annexed Lemon City along with the town of Little River on the north side, and Buena Vista along with other historical communities to help in their expansion of Miami from 13 to 43 square miles.
Many of the pioneering Black churches had their beginning in Lemon City, including Mt. Tabor Missionary Baptist Church, St. James A.M.E. Church and The Ridgeway Church of God of Prophecy.
Dr. Enid Pinkney, a longtime historian and archivist said, “I was very upset when the scattered bones of 525 individuals were found in that grave site.”
She discovered that like Ayers, she has a number of relatives that were buried in the Lemon City Cemetery.