By THEO KARANTSALIS
The Miami Herald
When Army Col. Frank C. Martin bought 3,000 acres of dry pineland west of U.S. 1 back in the 1940s, he had special plans for a large parcel near the naval air station.
“Richmond Heights was the first planned black community in the country,” said George L. Baldwin, 81, who heads the Richmond Heights Neighborhood Crime Watch.
Martin, who was white, led black troops during World War II. He was so impressed by his troops’ commitment and service to the country that he bought and portioned off a 1.6 square-mile chunk of land for them. Back then, there were few opportunities for blacks to buy decent homes in the segregated South.
Six decades later, the community of 9,000 wants to honor the pioneering veterans who instilled a legacy of civic duty and pride in its residents.
Baldwin and his crime watch team hatched a plan to build a monument more than a decade ago but logistics and red tape held them back. They got a big burst of motivation a few years ago when African Americans who served during World War II were honored nationally.
They broke ground about two weeks ago. Baldwin added that his team couldn’t have done it without help from Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis C. Moss.
The $140,000 county-funded memorial will rest on a triangular green space nestled between Lincoln Blvd. and Madison St., according to Dinizulu “Gene” Tinney, an artist who hosts exhibits at the African Cultural Arts Center in Liberty City.
“One side will list the names of the 26 pioneers,” said Tinney. “The other side will feature a six-foot by seven-foot slab of granite that shows a map of Richmond Heights with the following inscription: Historic planned community for African American veterans of World War II by Col. Frank C. Martin, 1949.”
Tinney credits the county’s Art in Public Places program for enhancing Richmond Height’s artistic and civic pride.
For decades, pride has been reflected on every street as each one has been named after famous African Americans who have impacted the neighborhood. For example, at the national level, there is Jackie Robinson Street, George Washington Carver Drive and Booker T. Washington Boulevard, among others. Closer to home, tribute is paid along Herbert Ammons Avenue (a community teacher); Theodore R. Gibson Drive (a civil rights activist) and Olivia L. Edwards Boulevard (a drug store owner who also ran a book store).
The only non-African American listed on the memorial is Frank Martin, who is fondly remembered by pioneer families as the “father” of Richmond Heights. When he died, in 1951, the local elementary school was named after him. The Martin Memorial African Methodist Episcopalian church also bears his name.
“My husband has great ideas, lovely ideas, for Richmond Heights,” said Mary Martin, in a 1971 Miami News article. “It was the people of the community who insisted the school be named after the white man who made it possible for them to have their own homes.”
The Miami News was an afternoon newspaper that folded in 1988.
The unveiling of the Richmond Heights monument is expected to take place around Memorial Day weekend.
“We will honor the past and show our commitment for the future,” said Tinney, who expects a large turnout to pay tribute to the area’s black veterans and pioneers.
“It is about heritage and purpose.”
CIVIC PRIDE: George L. Baldwin, president of Richmond Heights Neighborhood Crime Watch, studies plans to build a pioneers monument with Dinizulu “Gene” Tinney, the proejct's designer. (THEO KARANTSALIS/FOR THE MIAMI HERALD)
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/03/30/v-print/2723581/richmond-heights-to-get-monument.html#storylink=cpy