Liberty City Building Gets Historic Designation
By Deserae del Campo
The Miami Historic and Environmental Preservation Board has voted unanimously to preserve a 1947 structure that is the home of a charitable organization supporting the African-American community.
The Number 1 Pallbearers Association of America building, 801 NW 62nd St. in Liberty City, represents a part of Miami’s African-American community during a time when racial policies excluded blacks from obtaining funeral insurance.
"There was a great impact from this group during times of racial segregation," said Ellen Uguccioni, historian and consultant with Janus Research. "The association provided a real need in the African-American community, and very few know about what they did."
According to a report submitted to preservation board members, the Pallbearers Association "was created in an area of segregation … with a mission to provide financial support for members and assistance to other black families who could not afford medical care or a funeral."
Members of the group met in the Masonic-style lodge house in Overtown until they were displaced by the construction of Interstate 95 in the early 1960s.
The organization then moved the building to its current location in Liberty City, also known as Model City.
Now the association has fewer members, historic preservation documents state, and many are elderly. When a member dies, the surviving members donate $300 to his family.
During the association’s peak, there were 18 lodges with members across Florida including six in Miami and one in Hallandale.
The building is an example of Art Moderne architecture, a descendent of the Art Deco style, which is one reason the board voted the building historic.
According to city officials, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the Pallbearers Association building during the Civil Rights era.
"If Mr. King did speak at the association anytime during the late 1950s or 1960s, the association did not record it, and there is no account of it in the Black Archives," said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder of the Black Archives of South Florida, "but that does not mean it didn’t happen."