black history month

By Kitty Oliver, Author/Oral Historian

Over the last 100 years Greater Fort Lauderdale has mushroomed from a sparsely-inhabited farming community to a center of international tourism, and history has always co-existed comfortably with transformation and change. As anthropologist Dr. Niara Sudarkasa, retired president of Lincoln University and Fort Lauderdale native, reflected: "The area has such a proud and diverse cultural heritage with people from the African Diaspora and settlers have come now from all over the Americas, and elsewhere." Greater Fort Lauderdale charmed early arrivals as a place of transition and discovery just as it continues to lure residents and visitors today.

Broward County celebrates Black History Month

preserving family and community history

The African American Research Library and Cultural Center provides educational tours and genealogical resources for visitors. The library is also nationally noted for programs that preserve and share history in innovative ways.  A Disneyworld-quality animatronics display, unveiled in 2015, has become a major attraction for multicultural travelers, including family reunions. They are greeted by a lifelike robotic simulation of the library’s founder, Samuel Morrison, who narrates the ever-evolving story of the library and the surrounding historic Sistrunk community.    

The library’s gallery features revolving exhibits year-round. Some showcase talented international artists from throughout the African Diaspora. Others put a creative spotlight on contributions of sometimes overlooked historical organizations. Photographs and artwork on the Negro Baseball League are on view through Feb. 7. 

A three-week archival exhibit on the history of Blacks in the sport of tennis is planned as a salute to the American Tennis Association,  the country’s oldest Black sports organization, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in Greater Fort Lauderdale July 31-Aug. 5, 2016. The ATA plans to make its permanent home in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area. 

“The Research Library plays a valuable role in our tourism initiatives and the cultural life of the African American community and we see this tennis exhibit as further expanding our commitment and support,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

gems of diversity in central broward county 

Broward County is fast becoming the most diverse area in the country.  Central Broward, just west of downtown Fort Lauderdale and the beaches, has a robust multicultural mix of African American, Caribbean and Hispanic cultures. The Westfield Mall, in the heart of this Greater Fort Lauderdale area, has become a popular gathering place for diverse cultures offering affordable family-friendly vacation fun.

The Westfield Mall presents an array of artistic and cultural activities around the theme, “Where Community Celebrates Culture,” capitalizing on the richness of heritages in the African Diaspora and the homelands of Caribbean and Hispanic residents.

Caribbean Heritage Month will be celebrated with a showcase of high-end and aspiring international designers during Caribbean Style Week June 22-25. A year-round art gallery features revolving exhibits by promising local artists. 

The mall was transformed by a $40 million facelift creating a 12-screen Regal movie theater and amenities such as an updated dining court, a stylish café-style family lounge, a play space for youngsters and five new dine-in restaurants.

In addition to shopping, Central Broward has become a tourism hub with convenient hotels and conference spaces, entertainment and other amenities. The Central Regional Park features a new theater and offers a myriad of recreational activities including cricket, rugby, soccer, and Australian Rules football. Central Broward is an area of inter-generational appeal where many different people can feel at home.


gems of diversity in miramar

Miramar is a family-oriented community with an upscale Caribbean flavor - a cultural heartbeat of Greater Fort Lauderdale tucked away in Southwestern Broward County. The Miramar Cultural Center bustles with a year-round array of multicultural offerings in professional theater, music, classical and contemporary arts, and international cultural presentations as well as special events.

A photographic collective of President Barack Obama by Chief Official White House photographer Pete Souza is on display in the Ansin Gallery through Feb. 29.

Miramar officials have also expressed interest in and identified a location for a home for the American Tennis Association, the oldest Black sports organization in the country, which turns 100 this year.  The ATA will celebrate its Centennial during the 99th National Championships in Fort Lauderdale July 31-Aug. 5, attracting players, tennis enthusiasts and families from around the U.S. and the Caribbean.

The organization is proposing to build a training facility, launch youth development programs, and create a Tennis Hall of Fame for historical preservation based in Southwestern Broward.

Miramar is considered one of the up and coming cities for multicultural tourism in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area, says Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development. The ArtsPark is home to the international UniverSoul Circus in February. The city is also a central venue for housing visitors to the three-day Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival in March, Performances at a new 500-seat amphitheater will bring more tourism to the community. “It’s one of our leading cities, one of the most highlighted and integral boroughs in the area,” said Tucker.


business and cultural relationships

Relationships make Greater Fort Lauderdale a leader in attracting socially-conscious African American and Caribbean travelers to the area. Tourism aligns with cultural and economic development to offer memorable experiences for visitors who come for conferences. 

Fort Lauderdale has hosted some of the country’s most prominent African American organizations including 100 Black Men of America, the National Association of Black Accountants, and the National Urban League in 2015, while also forging alliances between those groups and local communities.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives will bring its national conference to the area in 2019.  The group is already developing a relationship with Fort Lauderdale by presenting a symposium for executives in February.

The Regional Cluster of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority will convene in Fort Lauderdale in March.  The Deltas have an ongoing relationship with Fort Lauderdale. In previous years national officers celebrated the organization’s 100th anniversary and they made racial history in one of the lead boats in the Winterfest Boat Parade. The sorority will play a role in this year’s Jazz in the Gardens Music Festival.Thousands of multicultural visitors will fill local hotels for the three-day event March 18-20 at Sun Life Stadium in neighboring Miami Gardens. The lineup of performers includes Aretha Franklin, Najee, Kool and the Gang, Fred Hammond, Regina Belle and Usher.

According to Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, “We want people to recognize that we’re not just the ocean but about community and relationships, which is thrusting Broward County into the national and international spotlight.”


black enterprise summit

Black Enterprise magazine brings its annual Women of Power Summit back to Greater  Fort Lauderdale March 9-12  after sponsoring a record-breaking event in 2015.  Close to 1,000 business managers and entrepreneurs converged on the Hilton Diplomat Hotel in Hollywood last year and organizers expect to draw as many in 2016.

Speakers for 2016 include Ohio Congresswoman the Hon. Joyce Beatty and NBA Executive Vice President and Chef Marketing Officer Pam El, as well as top executives of Estee Lauder, BET and Public Broadcasting. Actress, singer, and author Vanessa L. Williams will be the Legacy Honoree and singer Johnny Gill will perform.


fort lauderdale celebrates the american tennis association at 100

The American Tennis Association, the oldest Black sports organization in the U.S., celebrates its landmark 100th anniversary in 2016 in alliance with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The 100th anniversary will be the highlight of the 99th National Championships in Fort Lauderdale July 31-Aug. 5, 2016.  The annual competition, started a year after the ATA’s founding, has become a signature event in the area, heralded as a Black Tennis Summer Family Reunion event promoting fun and togetherness.  The ATA plans to make its permanent home in Greater Fort Lauderdale.

The tournaments and special activities for adults and youth will draw thousands of tennis players and enthusiasts from major cities around the U.S. and the Caribbean.

Discover 100 years of Black sports history and help kick off the next century in Greater Fort Lauderdale, the top destination for multicultural travelers.  Plan your next family reunion, group meeting or vacation during the upcoming ATA National Championships in 2016 in Greater Fort Lauderdale. For more information, visit


100 years of black tennis

For 100 years the American Tennis Association has provided a social network for amateur players and training and experience for young talent before they turn pro. The organization has produced some of the country’s top Black tennis talent on the court and as celebrated coaches while also opening the door for contemporary young Black stars such as Serena and Venus Williams.  

The ATA will celebrate its 100th anniversary in Fort Lauderdale July 31-Aug. 2 as part of the 99th National Championships.   The annual competition draws amateur tournament players from 8 to 80, tennis fans, as well as family reunions and vacationers who come to enjoy the activities surrounding the event.

A three-week exhibit on the history of tennis will run at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale as a salute to the ATA this summer. Meanwhile, plans are in discussion to create a permanent home for the tennis organization in Miramar that will provide a training facility for developing young talent and a Tennis Hall of Fame with historical memorabilia.   


black greeks align with ATA at 100

Throughout its 100-year history the American Tennis Association has been closely aligned with prominent African American Greek organizations. Pioneer Althea Gibson, who broke racial barriers in the sport, was a Soror of Alpha Kappa Alpha. Arthur Ashe, Grand Slam winner and Wimbledon and U.S. Open Champion, was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi.

The ATA is turning 100 this year. The group will celebrate its Centennial in Fort Lauderdale during the 99th National Championships July 31-Aug. 5.  The annual competition will bring thousands of players and tennis enthusiasts from major cities around the U.S. and the Caribbean for what is being billed as a Black Tennis Summer Family Reunion event.  

Greek organizations will be involved in the celebration and the ATA’s relationship with Greek organizations is continuing into the next 100 years.

The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau and the ATA have engaged the National Pan-Hellenic Council in a tennis tourism initiative supported by local chapters. African American Greek sororities and fraternities in the U.S are pledging support for the ATA’s plan for a permanent home in Greater Fort Lauderdale with a center for training, youth development programs, and preservation of the history of Blacks in tennis.

“Greeks see the ATA project as an opportunity to gain exposure and fundraise for scholarships and mentorships while promoting the CVB’s economic development and tourism initiative which continues to draw the meetings of nationally-prominent, influential Black groups to the area,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development for the CVB.


early history and change

(Courtesy of : My Soul Is a Witness: A History of Black Fort Lauderdale , Donning Publishers, 2001; African Americans Remember , Bonnet House,Inc., 1999, Voices of America: Race and Change in Hollywood, Florida (Arcadia Publishing 2000.)

Black settlers, workers, educational leaders, and activists have played significant roles in Greater Fort Lauderdale's evolution, often facing formidable obstacles. They are the area's pioneer multicultural residents. Black men served aboard Spanish ships that first explored the Florida coast in the 1500s and 1600s. Later, runaway slaves carved out a refuge in what was considered uninhabitable land until Florida became a state in 1821, and they served in the United States Army as scouts and interpreters. They also fought alongside Seminoles during the Second Seminole War of the 1830s and 1840s when Major William Lauderdale led a detachment to battle the Native American Indian warriors and capture their farmlands. A Black cook, whose name is unknown, was the only companion of young Ohioan Frank Stranahan aside from Seminole traders when he opened an overnight camp and ferry crossing in the late 1890s. The Stranahan Trading Post on the New River in what would become downtown Fort Lauderdale became a South Florida landmark. The Stranahan House was restored and now offers public tours.

Black workers helped build the extension of Henry Flagler's railroad from Jacksonville to Miami and clear the way for development of the area. They worked side-by-side with White settlers from Pompano Beach south to Hallandale as farmers growing tomatoes and other vegetables and packing and shipping them off to market. After Fort Lauderdale was incorporated in 1910, however, segregation became entrenched as the area began to grow, and Black residents were proscribed to areas west of the tracks. Still, historic photographs record a robust community life by the 1930s as more Blacks moved in from other parts of the South changing the largely rural area.

landmark places - then and now

A few Blacks actually lived on the beach during those days on the stretch of wealthy property which now lies between the upscale Galleria Mall and Fort Lauderdale beach. The Bonnet House Museum and Birch State Park, at the foot of Sunrise Boulevard, were once winter vacation homes for two wealthy Midwestern families and the year-round Black caretakers who raised children there. Their link to the mainland was Dillard Colored School, a primary school that provided the only educational opportunity for  Blacks in Fort Lauderdale. When grades 9-12 were eventually added, it became the only high school for Blacks in Broward County until the 1950s. The Old Dillard Museum is now an historical landmark which honors the school and the Fort Lauderdale neighborhood surrounding it became the heartbeat of the county's largest and most vibrant Black community. A few reminders remain of sites of interest that have significance today:

  • The North Fork of the New River, Samuel Delevoe Park, NW 27th Ave. and Sistrunk Blvd. One of two branches of the historic New River in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Once a site for community barbeques and picnicking when Blacks had limited access to the area's beaches. The North Fork is one of the last vestiges of Fort Lauderdale in its natural state, a rare habitat now dotted by new pricey residences. The river snakes northward through the changing neighborhood to what is today the Swap Shop, a popular shopping bazaar. Point of interest: Neighborhood fishing and ecological canoe rides along the river.
  • John U. Lloyd State Park and Recreation Area, Dania Beach - Once the "Negro" or "colored" beach, established in the 1950s. Patrons had to rely on the county to provide a ferry from Port Everglades across the Intracoastal to the site once or twice a year until a road was finally built in 1965. The area was turned into a state park in 1970, and draws thousands of hikers and campers each year. Point of interest: A movement underway to memorialize the site's historic role in African American history. 
  • Sistrunk Boulevard-Runs between Andrews Ave. and NW 27th Ave. The street is best known historically as the site of Provident Hospital, the only medical facility for Blacks from 1938 to the mid-1960s and a shopping district. It is named for Dr. James Sistrunk, the first black doctor to stay in the community. Plans are underway for revitalization as a pedestrian attraction. Point of Interest: Betty's Soul Food Restaurant and Barbeque where politicians, celebrities, and everyday folks enjoy hefty portions of soul food. A second location is planned in South Florida on the east side of town. Special Collections, the African American Research Library and Cultural Center - Sistrunk Blvd. and NW 27th Avenue. The second-floor Special Collections area houses rare artifacts, oral histories, and other information on the African American and Caribbean history in Broward County. 

growth and diversity

Broward now leads the nation in attracting Black residents in large part because of the influx of Caribbean immigrants from Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad. Since the 1990s, Hispanics have become the fastest growing ethnic group, comprising over 15% of the population. People from South and Central America and the Caribbean have made a definitive mark. The success of the Vilariño family is an example. They came from Cuba during the Mariel Boat Lift of 1980 and founded Las Vegas Restaurant, a hot spot of family-style Cuban cuisine that  now has five locations in Broward. New threads of cultural diversity are woven throughout Greater Fort Lauderdale, and some history, too:

  • South Broward - Liberia, a Hollywood community near the Oakwood Shopping Plaza is a Bahamian-influenced community noted for its Caribbean roots and intertwined families from the islands. Now, a sign signals entrance to the neighborhood and oral histories have been collected. Several churches and houses bear distinctive marks of Bahamian construction and craftsmanship. Point of interest: High-end relaxation and spas for the upscale traveler at beachfront property a few miles south.
  • Central Broward - The city of Lauderhill, once home to cow pastures and a dairy, became a sports center with the late comedian Jackie Gleason's Golf Classic at Inverrary in the 1970s. Now, the new municipal park and multi-purpose stadium hosts international cricket matches, Australia rules football, rugby, and soccer. Plans are underway for the International Gospel Complex for Preservation and Education, and an entertainment and commercial district. Point of interest: Popular with family reunions because of the reasonably-priced hotels, access to sporting and cultural events, and mid-point location between beach to the east and Everglades to the west.
  • Western Broward-The city of Weston, incorporated in 1996, was named one of America's best small cities by Money magazine, and it is also one of the most affluent, drawing high-profile residents and visitors. Forty percent of the population is Hispanic and there is a sizeable Brazilian population as well. (A prominent Brazilian business community is also located in the northern Broward area of Pompano Beach). Point of interest: Draws international travelers who enjoy high-end cultural and recreational activities and resort-spa experiences in a relaxed pastoral setting with the international shopping of Sawgrass Mills and the eco-tourism of the Everglades just a few minutes away.
  • New to Southwestern Broward-Opening of the Cultural Center/Arts Park, a cultural jewel in the city of Miramar, featuring nationally renowned performing artists in concert, award winning theatrical productions, classical and pops music, and family fun.

In Greater Fort Lauderdale, the past is always a present day experience.

(Kitty Oliver is an educator, television producer, author, and founder of the Race and Change Oral History Collection; visit