Anything But a Slum: Miami-Overtown Before I-95/395

June 19, 2024 – September 15, 2024

Anything but a Slum: Miami-Overtown Before I-95/395 brings together photography, archival video and audio, and historical artifacts to highlight the quiet joys of living within this tight-knit Black community, in the decades before major highway construction irreparably altered its social fabric. Famous figures like Nat King Cole, Joe Louis, and Sam Cooke appear, performing and relaxing in these long gone, intimate, local settings that Miami’s Black police officers resolutely protected.

Collected from a range of local, state, and national archives, the items in this exhibition recall how Overtown used to be a major hub for Black tourism, boasting one of the most enviable cultural ecosystems in the nation. They also speak to how residents participated in the larger pre-Civil Rights era phenomenon of Black Americans nurturing their under-resourced neighborhoods into significant cultural hubs, à la Harlem and Tulsa.

At its base, Anything but a Slum is a homegrown cultural history. It questions the justifications that public policy and infrastructure development have employed over generations, in order to hinder Black Americans from obtaining, keeping, and passing on material wealth in the country’s major urban centers. The exhibition also endeavors to show how fragile memory is in respect to local Black geographies: it challenges the widespread perception that Overtown and other Black neighborhoods have always been slums. By presenting a narrative of Overtown as a site of Black collective pleasure, Anything but a Slum calls attention to the external, systematic forces that set out to create conditions of concentrated, racialized poverty in the very heart of Magic City.

University of Chicago Press Book Image from A World More Concrete by NDB Connolly. Property of Black Archives Model Cities Collection. Captured by The City of Miami Tourism Bureau

Dj “Jockey Jack” Gibson (left) posing for a promotional picture in his WFEC jockey attire on a bicycle with R&B singer Ruth Brown (center), and boxing champion Joe Louis (right), at the Lord Calvert Hotel ca. 1953]. Indiana University Archives of African American Music and Culture, SC 14 Jack Gibson Collection.