People walk past pieces of Liberty City history every day without knowing it. Concrete slabs that line the sidewalk along Northwest 12th Avenue north of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard were once 8-foot tall segregation walls.
During the Jim Crow era, the walls were built to separate blacks from whites. Decades later, the slabs are still a mystery because it’s unclear who approved the construction of the walls.
Leonardo Jackson, 17, is among the few young people in the neighborhood who recently learned the history of the walls.
“I was shocked. And, I was kind of disappointed in myself to have something so historic and important to the black community’s culture right here in my own community and I didn’t even know about it,” Jackson said.
The 17-year-old is a student at William H. Turner Technical High School. He lives near the cement barriers that represented the racist laws that existed at the time they were built.
Historian Timothy Barber, Executive Director at The Black Archives of South Florida, has researched the walls for years.
“Liberty City was an all-white suburb that blacks did not live in,” explained Barber.
That changed in the 1940s when the federal government built the Liberty Square Housing Project on the outskirts of the suburb. It was the second housing project built in the U.S.
Barber said the white residents were not happy about their new black neighbors.
“They did not want to look out their doors and see black people in their neighborhood. So, for some reason, as they built Liberty Square the wall went up as well,” Barber explained.
The historian said there’s no official record of the construction or demolition of the wall.
“When you pull the federal architectural plans for Liberty City — the wall doesn’t exist. You go to the city to try to get plans for the wall — it doesn’t exist,” Barber said.
He added that he’s had a hard time even finding media clippings on the walls.
NBC 6 Jawan Strader asked Barber why he thinks there’s no record of the walls.
The historian said, “I think just like all of history in America and what America did to people of color, to black people over the period of time — it’s a black eye to it.”
The remnants of the walls have been designated as a historic monument in the City of Miami.
This summer, a student project called Wall-In plans to create art out of the ugly past. It’s led by Moonlight playwright and Liberty City native Tarell Alvin McCraney. He teamed up with Arts For Learning Miami and lead artist Chat Traveiso.
“This project is meant to have young people involved in naming their history in understanding the past, but also having a hand creating and shaping the future,” said Traveiso.
Jackson has participated in the program, which he said allowed him to trace the walls and conceptualize the structure of the slabs.
“It’s put me on that path of all the other black people whose eyes are a little bit more open to the history and to what’s actually going on in their own community,” Jackson said.
He and two dozen students will create an art installation that will tell the story of the now low-lying barriers. The program is housed in Liberty City’s African Heritage Cultural Center.