Black Boca | Miami Herald

Pearl City, Boca Raton, Florida, photographed in 2010.

Pearl City, Boca Raton, Florida, photographed in 2010.

Photo by Infrogmation (modern) from New Orleans, Wikimedia Commons

When you think of Boca Raton, Florida, it’s easy to imagine a wealthy retirement community where silver-haired celebrities from the 1970s like Gabe Kaplan, aka Mr. Cotter in the sitcom of the same name Welcome back, Cotter, Standing in front of the over 65 crowd performs. And in fact, you wouldn’t be far from reality. I actually attended that comedy show with my mother, a long-retired Dominican woman, at Century Village in Boca Raton, where she lives. However, if this is your only impression of Boca, you may want to take a closer look during your next visit.

Recently lost my mind when driving through Boca, I missed a turn and found myself in a residential neighborhood, and with the Martin Luther King memorial to my left, I moved into a black historic neighborhood known as Pearl City. I later learned that Pearl City is a historic black neighborhood, the oldest community in Boca Raton, in fact, predating the city’s founding. Founded when all areas of Boca were countryside and woodland, one of the founders of Pearl City was Alex Hughes, who built his home there in 1914. He later helped establish the first school in Pearl City by applying for one to the Board of Public Instructions in West Palm Beach. He was told that if he could have eight children as students they would send a teacher. He did just that, and thus helped establish Rodman Elementary School in 1923.

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Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Boca Raton, Florida. Wikimedia Commons

Most of the original residents of Pearl City were farmers and farm workers who left other southern states such as Georgia and South Carolina in search of economic opportunities. The men often hunted and hunted rabbits, quails, possums, and sea turtles, which were abundant in the area at the time, to supplement food for their families. From the late 1920s through the 1940s, the Boca Hotel and Club, and a US Army air base, brought a range of higher-paying services and military jobs to the region.

Although Pearl City is a small community, consisting of three blocks of radius, two churches were established there: Macedonia AME and Ebenezer Baptist, and their construction was completed in 1920 and 1921, respectively. As the main social institutions of the community, the early residents of Pearl City divided their time between the two, gathering en masse on the first and third Sundays at the Ebenezer Baptist and on the second and fourth Sundays in AME Macedonia. Throughout the 20th century, The Pearl City has remained a tight-knit community where people look out for and support each other through good times and bad.

In the latter part of the 20th century, when Boca Raton began to develop into a vibrant city of over 100,000 people, many of whom boasted great wealth, Pearl City was repeatedly sought after for improvement. All efforts so far were unsuccessful as the residents of Pearl City steadfastly stuck to their possessions and neighborhoods. In the mid-eighties Oral history project entitled “The City of the Pearl: An Analysis of Folk History,” It was done for the Boca Raton Historical Society and Museum with some of the early community members.

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The distinctive architecture of Boca Raton, Florida. Wikimedia Commons

In the post, long-time Pearl City resident Louis Adolphus Martin, who died at the age of 93 earlier this year, said: “They have tried to get us out of here as hard as they can… They have told us a million times that This is the property we choose and for all of you to live on while you can sell it for commercial purposes and make all that money off of it, but what do we tell them? This is the house and the property chosen for us.”

The document is a fascinating, first-hand account of the life of the Pearl City for most of the 20th century. A local non-profit organization known as tablet It is currently working to designate The Pearl City as a National Historic District to further protect it from redevelopment.

This story was created by wrap, A journalistic brand that focuses on the best stories in Black travel in partnership with McClatchy’s The Charlotte Observer and the Miami Herald. Detour’s approach to travel and storytelling seeks to tell previously unreported or overlooked narratives by departing from the usual ways framed in Eurocentrism. The A-list wrap team consists of award-winning journalists, writers, historians, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers.


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