Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Sunlight Beauty Academy, Fisher Island, Overtown and Cuba: What's the Connection?

God is good all the time and all the time God is good. What's the purpose of that statement today? Well, I had an epiphany this morning and I'm gonna share it with you.

While driving to work, I flipped my radio from WMBM to the Beat to Hot 105. I hadn't listened to 105 and the Tom Joyner Morning Show on the ride in to work in weeks. I'd somewhat switched to the Beat and the Steve Harvey Morning Show. Anyhoo, when I switched to Tom Joyner this morning, the subject was the Black History Moment. I find that information interesting but this morning Tom Joyner mentioned the Sunlight Beauty School in Miami. What? What's the Sunlight Beauty School?

Well, without going into all the detail, the bottomline is that the Sunlight Beauty Academy was started by David and Lurel Julius back in 1937. What? I know David and Lurel Julius. Those are my sorority sister, Gloria's parents. I knew they were prominent folk in the community but I never knew their personal danger and sacrifice as they broke the law and learned a professional trade --- cosmetology. Now that's still not the reason for the post but hang in here while I connect the dots.

As the Juliuses set out to establish their business which later grew into several schools throughout the U.S. and in Jamaica, their first school was financed with the assistance of Miami's first Black millionaire --- D.A. Dorsey. What? D.A. Dorsey is Stephana's grandfather. Steph is married to my high school friend, William --- how could I just learn of this today? I mean I knew the school was named after him, a street in Overtown and a park but in no way had his accomplishments been shared with me. If I didn't know, surely too many others were as ignorant as I.

After quick conversations and a little research I would learn more of D.A. Dorsey. As amazed as I was when I visited the magnificent Deering Estate in South Dade, I was stunned by the accomplishments of D.A. Dorsey and the number of people he helped. Hopefully this Blogging Black Miami will be used to share the rich history of Blacks in Miami, initiate intelligent discussion and ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of Blacks in Miami.


With no more than a fourth grade education, Dorsey, a black man, came to Miami-Dade County in 1896 to work on the railroad. He settled in Miami’s "Colored Town" now known as Overtown. A carpenter by trade, Dorsey helped build the railroad that brought transportation to Miami and soon responded to the need for housing for black workers. He became a Notary Public and according to the 1914 City Directory, was "the only colored dealer." He purchased lots and built rental workforce houses.

The value of the land he purchased increased quickly as Miami expanded, and Dorsey's fortune grew as well. Eventually Dorsey amassed the largest real estate empire owned to date by a black man in Miami-Dade County. His holdings included Fisher Island as well as other properties throughout Dade and Broward counties. He also owned properties in Cuba and the Bahamas. He became Miami’s first black millionaire.

D.A. Dorsey provide land for a park and donated land for a library and school with the stipulation that each be used for the "colored race." To honor his memory the park, school, and library are named for this benefactor. Well respected as a businessman and civic leader, Dorsey was Chairman of the Colored Trustee Board for the county school system.

The Dorsey House was acquired in 1990 by The Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc. It is listed on the U.S. Secretary of Interior’s National Register of Historic Places. Following federal guidelines the reconstruction of the original house was completed in 1995.

Related links:

Dorsey House

D.A. Dorsey Educational Center

Black Beauty

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