Little Haiti or Lemon City?


This Miami Herald article explores the subjective location of “Little Haiti,” a place with no formal boundaries (although it is roughly located from 38th Street to 79th Street between Interstate 95 and the Florida East Coast Railway in Miami) and the controversy over its adopted name and the original, Lemon City, an area pioneered by Bahamians decades before the arrival of the newcomers.

Haitian rights activist Gepsie Metellus walks along Miami’s Northeast Second Avenue at 59th Terrace, pointing to the colorful Caribbean marketplace, an open-air center under renovation that is supposed to be a showcase of Haiti’s culture. “This,” she says, arms spread wide, “is Little Haiti.”

Less than two blocks away, Miami businessman Peter Ehrlich stands in front of one of his many warehouses in the neighborhood — which to him, he stresses, is not Little Haiti, but historic Lemon City. [. . .] “Nobody has a true definition of Little Haiti because there are no formal boundaries. It’s pretty subjective,” said historian and Miami Dade College professor Paul George.

The issue of what is and what is not Little Haiti — an area broadly defined by the city as running from 38th Street to 79th Street between Interstate 95 and the Florida East Coast Railway — is expected to come before Miami city commissioners Thursday as they contemplate setting official boundaries for a cultural or neighborhood conservation district. Proponents of setting Little Haiti’s boundaries on maps and official city registries acknowledge that any officially designated area is likely to be much smaller. They say Little Haiti’s southern and northern borders are really 54th and 82nd streets.

Whatever the boundaries are, the desire to officially establish the name Little Haiti has sparked a backlash and reignited old ethnic tensions and cultural divisions. “Every day you hear of a new group encroaching into what we know as Little Haiti,” said Marleine Bastien, a Haitian activist pushing for the designation. “These groups moved into Little Haiti, so I don’t understand why they don’t want it to be named Little Haiti anymore.” Opponents of the plan argue there is no need to make Little Haiti official. The designation, they say, will endanger the character of neighborhoods encompassed by the area known as Little Haiti, including Lemon City, Little River and Buena Vista, and could make the area less attractive to potential investors. “Names do matter,” Ehrlich said.

The debate over what to call the area has been going on for years, but the controversy has been reignited by a push from City Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones — whose district includes Little Haiti — for a study to determine which area should be officially recognized by that name. [. . .]

Georgia Ayers, a descendant of the Bahamians who pioneered Lemon City, has long taken exception to the name Little Haiti. Ayers, an outspoken African-American activist, has spent years campaigning to restore the name Lemon City. [. . .] Ayers accuses Haitian activists of disrespecting Lemon City’s history by trying to force another name onto the historic community that gave birth to Miami’s first school, the Lemon City School, and one of its early markets, Rockmoor Grocery, which later became the first Winn-Dixie grocery store. [. . .]

Little Haiti gained its name as Haitian migrants, fleeing the regime of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, began to populate the neighborhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s. When Haitian pioneer Viter Juste wrote a letter to the Miami Herald calling the area “Little Port-au-Prince,” the newspaper headlined the letter Little Haiti. The name stuck.

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5 thoughts on “Little Haiti or Lemon City?

  1. The City of Miami was incorporated in 1896 yet the history of Lemon City goes back to 1850. Now Lemon City is one of many historic neighborhoods within Miami. People should study Miami’s history and they should respect Miami’s historic neighborhoods.

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