Former police precinct preserves history

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By Gabrielle Roach, JSHOP Reporter

MIAMI —  No sirens. No motors. Just two wheels.

Bicycles, similar to the ones that a school boy would ride, were once the only transportation issued to Miami’s first five black police officers.

In 1944, the country was in the throes of World War II. Many of Miami’s white police officers are away at battle and the Overtown community of Miami, a historically African American area, yearned for police officers that look like them.

Only then, did the city of Miami turn its attention to the potential of black men to solve crimes.

The stories of those first black police officers in the city are still being told in the original Black Precinct & Courthouse in Overtown, which has since been converted to a museum. Located at 480 NW 11th St., it tells the stories of The First Five black patrolmen of Miami and the many who followed.

“I’m just trying to ensure that most of the visitors to this area know the history of Overtown before it actually changes — to make sure that everybody knows about this one little place in Miami,” said Lt. James Marshall, who gives tours at the museum and serves as its interim president.

The First Five black patrolmen of Miami were appointed during a time of segregation, in 1944, when the city’s Police Department would not let black people go through the police academy, Marshall said. The team consisted of John Mildege, Clyde Lee, Edward Kimball, Moody Hall and Ralph White, who first worked out of a negro dentist office their headquarters and later a one-bedroom apartment. They fought crime around the Overtown community.

The city’s black precinct was built in 1950. It closed 13 years later, in 1963, after Miami’s Police Department was forced to forced integrate.

The museum’s mission is to “acquire, preserve, display and promote collections of a historical nature that will be of educational value to the preservation of African American history as it relates to the struggles and accomplishments of Black Police Officers in Overtown.”

Ashia Manning, who lives in Texas and visited the museum earlier this week, said she believes the museum is important for black people because “we need to know the obstacles that were overcome by people that had to break down barriers, just so that we can live as freely as we do now.”

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