The community of Overtown is one of the oldest neighborhoods within the original boundaries of the City of Miami. Adjacent to downtown Miami, Overtown is bordered on the north by N.W. 22st Street, to the south by N.W. 6th Street, the east by N.W. 1st Avenue and on the west by 1-95.
Segregated by both custom and laws, it began as “Colored Town” at the turn of the 20th century. The area was assigned and limited to African-American workers who built and serviced the railroad, streets and hotels. The success of Miami’s pioneer tourist industry depended on the labor of African American workers from the Bahamas and the Southern states. For more than 50 years, they were the primary work force in Miami.
When the decision was made to incorporate Miami as a city in 1896, African-American men were used as voters, but later disenfranchised. Since the required number of Anglo male registered voters did not participate, African-American and Bahamian male registered voters were used to reach the number required by state law to form a new city, making up one-third of the men who stood for the incorporation of the City of Miami. After helping Miami become a city, the African-American incorporators lost their civil rights to existing public policy. Residents of Overtown in the late 1800s were subject to Black Codes, which, in the 20th century, became Jim Crow laws, restricting the civil rights of black people in every phase of life throughout the South.
During the 1920s, Overtown was home to one of the first black millionaires in the South, D. A. Dorsey (who once owned Fisher Island). Community organizing and mobilization during the era led to the emergence of Northwest Second Avenue and the surrounding neighborhood, once-called the "Little Broadway" of the South. By the 1940s, Overtown hosted hundreds of black-owned businesses, ranging from libraries and social organizations to a hospital and popular nightclubs. Overtown served as an entertainment hub for African-American artists such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole. By the 1970’s Overtown experienced an economic decline forcing businesses to close. This lead to the construction of two expressways that geographically divided the community.
After decades of stagnant conditions, Overtown began to revitalize in the late 90’s and early 2000’s as The City of Miami has designated NW 3rd Avenue Business Corridor as “The Historic Overtown Business Corridor” wherein the City partnered with the Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency to begin façade improvements along the commercial corridor. The corridor and its surrounding area is currently well known for restaurants including People’s BBQ, Jackson’s Soul Food, House of Wings, Lil Greenhouse and Two Guy’s Restaurant. The community is also home to the 9th Street Pedestrian Mall, Overtown Youth Center, the Black Police Precinct, the Culmer Center and the Historic Lyric Theatre—which houses the Black Archives.
Currently, the Overtown NET office is housed within the redeveloped Overtown Shopping Plaza with franchise businesses such as Regions Bank and Metro PCS. Overtown is now on the threshold of becoming a destination of choice for South Florida residents. During the next few years, approximately 2,000 housing units will be built in the neighborhood with access the high speed public transit system. The Overtown NET continues to work with community partners to encourage economic development, improve housing conditions, strengthen existing businesses and promote cultural pride.