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Where is Liberty City?

Published: Friday, February 22, 1991
Section: LOCAL
Page: 1B


Herald Staff Writer

  At Charles Drew Elementary, a four-time winner of Dade Meritorious School honors, there's a long list of teachers who want to work there. But principal Fred Morley still remembers the one who got away.

  "I interviewed a teacher who seemed so happy with our school," recalled Morley. "I think she was about to take the job until my assistant principal came in and said, 'Welcome to Liberty City.' That was the last we saw of her."

  The ironic thing, Morley said Thursday, is that he doesn't even consider his school in Liberty City.

  He said the incident two years ago highlighted two chronic problems for the area: "There are too many people out there who don't know where Liberty City is. And they definitely don't know what Liberty City is about."

Indeed, there are no official boundaries for Liberty City because it has never been an incorporated municipality.

  When the late developer Alonzo Kelly built a subdivision called Liberty City Homesite Estate in the 1920s, it ran from Northwest 12th to 17th avenues and 67th to 71st streets. Over the years, more blacks moved into the neighborhood and its borders became more fuzzy, eventually drifting across the city limits into unincorporated Dade.

  Even more troubling than the boundary dispute is the image problem. Though Liberty City has a number of stately homes and hard-working residents, the images held by some people outside the area are of crime, crack and poverty. All three can be found in Liberty City, just like many other neighborhoods around Dade County.

  Residents are concerned that Liberty City is remembered as the riot-torn ghetto that gained national notoriety in 1980. And the stigma continues to haunt it and the surrounding neighborhoods.

  "It's unfortunate that we are all lumped together," said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, founder of the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida. "People just have look at what's happening in the community to see that things are not as they used to be."

  A group of Charles Drew sixth-graders did just that in a class project titled "The Boundaries of Liberty City." According to their report, the boundaries are from Northwest 62nd Street to Northwest 73rd Terrace and from 12th to 19th avenues. That's slightly bigger than the original Liberty City Homesite Estate.

  In addition, it puts their school, at 1775 NW 60th St., just south of Liberty City, in a neighborhood called Normandy Park.

  The students came up with the boundaries after interviewing Wallace McCall, nicknamed by residents "the Mayor of Liberty City," and black pioneer Caroline Morley, their principal's mother.

  Others in the black community, including Fields, agree with their findings.

"Traditionally, those were the boundaries that blacks had to live in because of restricted clauses in deeds," she said. "Blacks were prohibited from moving to other neighborhoods."

  In the late 1930s, the city erected The Wall along 12th Avenue between 62nd and 67th streets as a way of separating the black housing projects from the white neighborhoods just to the east. Remnants of The Wall still stand.

  "There is a great deal of history about Liberty City that people don't know," said Morley, who was instrumental in turning around the school's image in the late 1970s. "So many people are just ignorant about the neighborhood."

Morley said one of the biggest misconceptions about Liberty City is its size. Often, any place between Northwest 36th and 79th streets and between Interstate 95 and Northwest 27th Avenue has been called Liberty City.

  Those boundaries actually cover several neighborhoods, including Liberty City, Allapattah, Edison Center, Earlington Heights, Floral Park, Normandy Park, West Little River and Brownsville.

  "It's easier to put a handle on it by labeling everything Liberty City," said Fields. "But is that fair to the residents of all these other neighborhoods?"

  Shirley Jackson, 34, doesn't think so. What's worse, she said, the negative perceptions that dog Liberty City are unfair to the people who live and work there.

  "People think that all of the residents in Liberty City have low morale, are on welfare and think nothing about their community," said Jackson. "I lived there for six years and I saw none of that."

  Though Jackson has since moved a couple miles east to Little River, she says she has a special respect for the residents of Liberty City.







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