Liberty City

By Paul S. George

Stretching from Northwest 7th Avenue to Northwest 27th Avenue, in an east-west direction, and from State Road 112 to roughly 79th Street, from south to north, Liberty City is the largest African American neighborhood in Miami. In the mid-1920s, amid Greater Miami’s real estate boom, Floyd W. Davis, a white developer with large holdings in the area, built a small, isolated Black subdivision west of Northwest 17th Avenue and south of Northwest 62nd Street. Davis called it Liberty City; as historians have observed, Liberty City was part of an effort to relocate residents of congested Colored Town, located on the edge downtown, to the city’s outskirts as downtown expanded.

Liberty City grew slowly until the opening, in 1937, of Liberty Square, lying immediately northeast of it. One of the oldest public housing projects in the United States, Liberty Square spread over 120 acres of land, and offered 243 Black families attractive apartments, recreational areas, and landscaped grounds. White concern over the Black presence there prompted the construction of a segregation wall along its eastern perimeter in the late 1930s.

Liberty Square thrived in the early post-World War II era before entering a period of decline in the 1960s. By then Liberty City had expanded to include not only Liberty Square but neighborhoods on all sides of the original settlement. Liberty City contained a downtown of stores, churches and a movie theater on Northwest 15th Avenue, north of N.W. 62nd Street, now Martin Luther King Boulevard.

One of the most noteworthy additions to the expansion of Liberty City was Orchard Villa. A white neighborhood till the 1960s, Orchard Villa stretches from the south side of Northwest 62nd Street to Northwest 54th Street. It added a large amounted of housing stock to Liberty City’s inventory, but it also hosts the “concrete monsters” or cramped, subpar apartments characteristic of that neighborhood.

Liberty City has faced formidable challenges, ranging from widespread poverty to inadequate housing to rising crime rates along with race riots in 1968 and 1980. But the community has seen many changes of a positive nature in recent years highlighted by a revitalized Liberty Square, rebuilt from the ground up, as well as new housing and additional green space in other areas prompting a surge of optimism over its future prospects.