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Three women of color overlooked in SoFlo history

As we started digging during women’s history month into the stories of those who helped to shape the Magic City, we noticed that pretty much all the women getting shoutouts were white. Same went for the history books.

So we asked you for suggestions of women who the history books missed. Thanks to everyone who sent them in! Below is a look at three of the many women of color who helped make Miami the city it is today. 

Annie Coleman

Annie Coleman moved to Overtown in 1922 with her husband, Rev. James Coleman. Back then it was called “Colored Town” and there were no amenities – no paved streets, no parks, no library. Annie wanted to change that. She organized the Overtown Women’s Club, which became a branch of the YMCA and focused on neighborhood improvements.

She also started a neighborhood library in a surplus building on her own property and was part of the effort to desegregate Miami’s beaches. With several affluent, justice-minded white women, she formed the Friendship Garden Club, a women’s club focused on neighborhood improvement projects.

It became one of Miami’s first interracial committees and, with white women in the club using their privilege to amplify the group’s demands, soon moved beyond beautification projects. The club led the charge to allow blacks to serve as policemen in Miami. It took about seven years, but in 1944, five black men were added to the local police force. Today there’s a housing complex named after her: Annie Coleman Gardens.

Sources: AT&T Miami-Dade County African-American History Calendars via the Black Archives, “The Struggle for Black Freedom in Miami,” Miami Herald. Thanks to Sylvia Gurinsky for the suggestion.

Conchita Espinosa

 Conchita was an accomplished Cuban pianist and leading arts educator. In 1933, when she was 19 years old, she founded “La Academia Musical Conchita Espinosa” in Havana. When the Cuban Revolution went down, the school had 450 students, but the Castro regime shut down the school and Conchita immigrated to the U.S.

In 1963, she once again opened her own school with a focus on the arts. The private Conchita Espinosa Academy began in the garage of a Little Havana home, although it eventually got too big for the space and moved into a full-fledged school building in 1984.

The City of Miami and Miami-Dade County have both created “Conchita Espinosa Day” proclamations, and the street outside her school is named after her as well. Her daughter, Maribel Diaz, runs the school today, and the administration remains almost entirely female.

Source: Conchita Espinosa Academy website. Thanks to Hilda Alvarez Strang for the suggestion.

Florence Gaskins

Florence Gaskins paved the way for all the female businesswomen who came after her. She moved from Jacksonville to Dade County in 1896, just as the railroad reached the area. She began working as a laundry woman, collecting clothing from the whites-only hotels and bringing it back to Overtown to be washed by hand by neighborhood women she hired. (Back then, tourists frequently wore only white. They called it “Palm Beach white.”)

With the profits, she moved into real estate, opened a private school, and even organized a Junior Red Cross chapter for Overtown kids that was dubbed the “Black Cross.” She also established South Florida’s first black employment agency.

Sources: AT&T Miami-Dade County African-American History Calendars via the Black Archives, “Black Miami in the Twentieth Century.” Thanks to Sylvia Gurinsky for the suggestion.