|Where the sidewalk ends. If you’re Black, you might want to stop right here.|
Some day you simply must take a stroll southbound on the west side of South Douglas Road in Coconut Grove, Florida. Walk from Grand Avenue past Washington and Thomas Avenues and the Frances S. Tucker Elementary School.
On your left Thomas Avenue jogs and Charles Avenue [on which the E.W.F. Stirrup House anchors the other end of the street, near Main Highway] ends; although Charles has an odd little western dogleg that can’t be seen from SW 37th Ave, aka Douglas. Crossing Charles Terrace, a street that only runs two blocks west and not at all east, you can’t help note the serene, stark beauty of the Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery on your left. While distracted you almost walk into a wooden fence as the sidewalk abruptly ends.
The wooden fence hides a cinder block wall that runs from this point west for two long blocks. The wall was built for one reason and one reason alone: to keep Black Coconut Grove out of White Coconut Grove. The sidewalk ends for one reason. Racism begins.
This wall represents the historic COLOUR LINE that divided the Black backyards on Charles Terrace from the White backyards along Kumquat Avenue. To heighten the sense of segregation, none of the streets along Charles Terrace were allowed to link to Kumquat Avenue or any of the White streets to the south or west.
The Coconut Grove Wall of Shame™ is not unlike the wall in my home town of Detroit known alternatively as The 8 Mile Wall, The Wailing Wall, or the Birwood Wall. A search on the Googalizer for the 8 Mile Wall turns up references, history, as well as tons of images. However, one has to go digging to find any images or references to the Coconut Grove Wall, the history of which is being buried like much of the history of West Grove.
A CAPSULE HISTORY OF THE 8 MILE WALL: Back in the ’40s the Wyoming-8 Mile neighbourhood was mostly farmland; while the city’s northern border was already established at 8 Mile, it hadn’t been developed yet. However, there was already a Black enclave in the area from earlier times. During The War Years Detroit was experiencing a war time boom and housing was desperately needed. Meanwhile, a developer wanted to build in the Wyoming-8 Mile area was having trouble getting Federal Housing Authority loans for the new tract due to the perceived undesirability of the adjacent Black. The developer struck a deal: It would build a 6-foot wall to separate the Whites from the Blacks. The Black folk could have their side of the wall and would be redlined out of the other side of the wall, and a lot of the rest of Detroit, for that matter.
Related: The Detroit Riots
|Pic from Racial, Regional Divide Still Haunt Detroit’s
Progress, an excellent All Things Considered on NPR
The main reason you will find thousands of pictures of the 8 Mile Wall is because parts of it have been reclaimed and decorated with gayly painted scenes of iconic Black historic moments.
The 8 Mile Wall no longer divides Black from White; White Flight has seen to that. Both sides of that wall are now predominately Black in a city that is now almost entirely Black, except for all the new carpetbagging hipsters gentrifying huge swaths of Motown. But, that’s another story for another day.
The Coconut Grove Wall of Shame is of a slightly later vintage. The following comes from a much longer article — about the much longer COLOUR LINE that has West Coconut Grove hemmed in TO THIS VERY DAY. There are two distinct sides to The Wall, as Miami New Times writer Kirk Nielsen called it 15 years ago, when he asked and answered the musical question, “How can you tell where white Coconut Grove ends and black Coconut Grove begins? Just look for the barbed wire.”
In 1946 the Miami Housing Authority approved construction of a 25-acre tract of small single-family homes for low-income blacks on Charles Terrace, west of Douglas Road. By the time the houses were completed in 1949, workers had also erected a concrete block wall along the southern boundary of the new development. As reported by the Miami Herald (and cited by Marvin Dunn in his new book Black Miami in the Twentieth Century), the city planning board required the wall in order to provide “suitable protection” for the white neighborhood. A Florida Supreme Court ruling three years earlier had rendered illegal Dade County’s segregation of black residential districts. But that didn’t stop the city from putting the wall up.
Brown and weathered, the concrete block barrier still runs a quarter-mile, from Douglas Road west to the Carver Middle School parking lot. Six feet tall, higher in some places, it divides the leafy back yards of Kumquat Avenue on one side from the tree-starved lots of Charles Terrace on the other.
Lou-vern Fisher, who moved to Miami with her parents in 1936 from Georgia, bought one of the single-family homes next to the wall with her husband back in 1950. She still lives there, with a daughter, granddaughter, and grandson. “We enjoyin’ the wall,” says the jolly 73-year-old retired maid. “They put it here for a reason. And you know the reason. To keep us from going over there,” she wags a finger, letting off a loud gravelly ha-ha-ha.
|Another section of the Coconut Grove Wall of Shame™ along Charles Terrace|
However, get this: When the same wall became inconvenient for the White folk of Coconut Grove, a small section of it was torn down:
While Father Gibson’s petitioning [in the ’50s and ’60s] failed to inspire city commissioners to topple the wall, the fears of white parents proved far more effective. In 1970, the year Carver Middle School (then Junior High) was racially integrated, the western end of the wall was demolished, allowing a one-lane road to be paved from Kumquat Avenue to the school. White parents had demanded that southern access to drop their kids off because they considered the other route, down Grand Avenue in the black Grove, unsafe.
This isn’t unlike how (at around the same time, in fact) the polluting incinerator nicknamed Old Smoky was only closed when [White] Coral Gables — the town that racism built — started to complain, despite years of complaints from West Grove residents. As I like to tell my followers on Twitter and facebook, “History is complicated.” Racial history even more so. I will will be documenting the Coconut Grove Colour Line more fully as time goes on, but thanks for reading the first inn an ongoing series.
Crank it up!!!
* With apologies to Shel Silverstein