• Gravity Magazine

From Then To Now: Black Women Who Changed Miami

As we all know, the US school system is very lacking in its education of Black history. While our history books talk about slavery and the civil rights movement, they fail to mention the multitude of Black people who have contributed to history. In particular, they leave out the phenomenal Black women who have positively impacted both the Black community and the entire country. In the wake of Black History Month and in lieu of Women’s History Month, here are six Black women whose contributions have made Miami a better place to be.

1. M. Athalie Range

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

M. Athalie Range was the first Black woman to be elected to the Miami Board of Commissioners in 1965. In addition, after being appointed as Secretary of Community Affairs in 1970, she also became the first woman to head a Florida state agency. During her time in these roles, Range was a fierce advocate for the oppressed, amplifying voices that often went unheard. She was vital in the improvement of Black schools and communities; she contributed in the integration of a local elementary school and single-handedly improved trash collection, among other achievements. Her actions and contributions have earned Range more than 125 awards and honors at the local, state, and national levels— what a display of Black excellence.

2. Thelma Harris

Courtesy of Miami-Dade Police Department.

Thelma Harris was the first Black woman to become a police officer in Miami-Dade county and the first Black female deputy sheriff in the entire state of Florida. Appointed to serve in 1962, Harris served the Miami-Dade community for 20 years before her retirement in 1982. Her initial achievement paved the way for many more Black women in her place. A UM alum, Harris’ community involvement did not end with the police force, she was also a member of the Mount Hermon AME Church in Miami and a soprano vocalist in the Miami Oratorio Society.

3. Thelma Gibson

Courtesy of The New Tropic.

Thelma Gibson’s list of achievements is long and impressive: she founded the first Miami-Dade’s Women’s Chamber of Commerce, the Theodore Roosevelt Gibson Memorial Fund, and was the first Black Assistant Supervisor of Nursing in the Dade County Health Department. In her career that spans over 50 years, she has been an advocate for mental and physical health, education, community building, professional leadership, and volunteer service. Gibson is a large proponent of equity, and her work has provided assistance to impoverished families and fostered a sense of community among multi-ethnic groups in Miami.

4. Marleine Bastien

Courtesy of University of Miami Library.

Marleine Bastien is a clinical social worker and the Executive Director of the Family Action Network Movement (FANM), a group that provides assistance to Haitian women, families, and the Black and brown community as a whole. One of her biggest achievements was prompting Congress to pass the Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act (HRIFA) in 1998, a law that allowed nationals of Haiti to stay in the United States and eventually become permanent residents. A leading human rights activist, Bastien has been a strong fighter for equality and freedom for Black people in South Florida, and her impact still benefits Miami today.

5. Bea Hines

Courtesy of The Miami Herald.

Bea Hines was the first Black female journalist at The Miami Herald. At the beginning of her career, Black people were rarely in the news; if they were, the view was almost always negative. As a Herald reporter, her aim was to portray the Black community in a positive light. Being the only Black female journalist in the room meant Hines faced much adversity and pushback, but still she persevered. Through her reporting, Hines was able to show how Black people were multifaceted and deserving of the same empathy given to lighter-skinned people. Additionally, she has worked to unify all of Black Miami, including those in the Haitian, Jamaican, African, and Barbadian communities.

6. Dorothy Jenkins Fields

Courtesy of The Miami Herald.

While serving as a librarian with the Miami-Dade County public schools, Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields was assigned to create a curriculum about Black history in Miami, but was unable to find information. After this experience, she set out to gather information about Miami’s rich Black history, compiling centuries of African-American culture and history. As the founder of Miami’s Black Archives, Fields has dedicated her life to preserving Black history. Her work has led to the careful preservation of Black heritage and restored various Black landmarks in South Florida, such as the Lyric Theater.

Regardless of race, we should all know and learn about Black history. Knowing our history allows us to appreciate those who came before us, the trailblazers who paved the way for our own endeavours. It’s no coincidence that we’re writing about the first Black female Miami Herald reporter in the first Black magazine here at UM. Each of these women has made Miami a better place for those within the Black community and outside of it. By learning about these important figures, we can honor them, celebrate them, and continue their legacy.

REPORTER: Layomi Adeojo

THE CITY, Gravity Magazine, 2021.

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