"I HAVEN'T BEEN EVERY-
BUT IT'S ON
ABOUT DR. DOROTHY JENKINS FIELDS
There is no place you can go in Florida’s Miami-Dade County and speak of the history of African Americans without referring to The Black Archives and its founder, Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields. Because of her vision and perseverance, The Black Archives Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex serves as a symbol of pride in South Florida and a legacy for future generations.
Educator, historian, archivist, researcher, and visionary leader, Dr. Fields launched Society Socials & Reunions (SSR) in 2017 as a web portal to support group meeting planners and family reunion organizers.
SSR MISSION & WEBSITE
Society Socials & Reunions (SSR) connects family and class reunion organizers and planners of social, civic and corporate events with high quality and affordable hotels, cruises and Miami’s year-round amazing attractions, beaches, restaurants, nightlife, shopping, tours, entertainment, heritage neighborhoods, and new downtown development.
SSR also provides Legacy Resources, awareness, and access to individuals figuring out their next steps in life as well as preservation strategies for family history and wellness. Dr. Fields is a consultant to the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Hussman Institute for Human Genomics. The project features “Why We Can’t Wait: Alzheimer Disease Impact on the African American Community.”
"COME EXPERIENCE CULTURE, HERITAGE,
Dr.Dorothy Jenkins Fields
A RICH FAMILY HERITAGE FROM THE BAHAMAS TO MIAMI
A native Miamian, Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields was born and grew up in Miami’s Colored Town, now called Overtown.
Before her birth, her maternal grandparents, immigrants from Harbour Island, Bahamas, moved to Key West Florida then to Miami in December 1903. Her grandmother, Ida Ellen Roberts Johnson, was a homemaker and washerwoman. Her grandfather, Samuel D. Johnson, was a sponger in the Bahamas and Key West.
This was the Jim Crow era, a time that separated black people from white people in every phase of life. In Miami, Johnson held odd jobs before becoming an insurance agent. He was a handyman for William Jennings Bryan (a three-time US presidential candidate with a winter home in Miami). Prior to that, Johnson was one of the black laborers who helped build the Deering Estate and, in 1916, helped plant the original flowers at Villa Vizcaya in Coconut Grove https://vizcaya.org/posts/roses.
Over half a century later, in 1998, Johnson's granddaughter, Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields was appointed by the county mayor to serve as a founding member of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust.
In 1903, the Johnson family’s homestead in Colored Town/Overtown included two adjacent properties located two blocks north of the site of the Lyric Theater. Built in 1913, the theater opened with a stage for vaudeville shows and a projection booth to show silent movies.
Despite limited and unstable earnings, the Johnson family educated all seven children through college before the end of World War II. They all began as teachers earning money to help each other with college expenses. By 1945 two uncles became medical doctors (Dr. S. H.Johnson and Dr. J. K. Johnson, Sr.). Dr. S. H. Johnson specialized in radiology and built the first private medical clinic for back people in Miami. The youngest brother became a lawyer. The Honorable John D. Johnson, he became the second black judge in Miami and the fourth in the State of Florida.
The other siblings remained educators in the public school system. Of the seven Dr. Fields’ mother, Dorothy Kathryn Johnson Jenkins McKellar, taught English, Physical Education and Dance; aunt Elaine N. Johnson Adderly taught Home Economics; aunt Roberta Johnson C. Thompson taught Language Arts; and uncle Frederick L. Johnson taught mathematics. He was also an accountant and real estate agent.
This was the first black family in Miami-Dade County, Florida, to have as many as seven children complete college and return to Miami to work in the community until retirement.
In 1998 Dr. Dorothy was appointed as a founding member of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens Trust.
Dr.Dorothy Jenkins Fields
Inspired by the example set by her mother, aunts and uncles Fields earned a BA at Spelman College and MA at the University of Northern Colorado ( at the Miami campus). While at Spelman, she was an exchange student at Smith College in Northampton, MA. She earned Certification in Archives Administration at the Georgia State Emory University Program; and postgraduate studies at the National Archives, Smithsonian Conference for Museum Educators, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Program for Master Teachers at Princeton University.
Fields earned a Ph.D. in Public History and Twentieth Century African American History from The Union Institute, Cincinnati, Ohio. In recognition of her accomplishments, she was awarded honorary degrees from Florida International University, the University of Miami, and Barry University.
RESEARCHING THE HERITAGE OF THE COMMUNITY
In 1974 in preparation for the USA’s Bicentennial, Fields, then a Miami-Dade County Public School Librarian and Reading Teacher, Fields searched the county library system for books written by African Americans. Not only was the search unsuccessful, but she was told that the reason no books about blacks because quoting the county library staff member, ” I guess those people have not thought enough of themselves to write their history.”
In disbelief that anyone would think and make such a statement, Fields was motivated to begin collecting from the pioneers in Colored Town primary sources such as photographs, letters, obituaries, advertisements, and other original material. The evidence documents a thriving business and cultural community self-contained because of racial segregation. The school system accepted the idea for her to write a book in two years. In collaboration with the American Association of University Women, Miami Branch (AAUW), the book, Julia’s Daughters: Women In Dade’s History, was narrated by Marie Anderson, a former Miami Herald women’s editor.The book is dedicated to Julia Tuttle, “the mother of Miami.” The book recognizes the achievements of local women from the Tequesta Indians to many others who were active in the community up to the 1976 Bicentennial celebration.
Fields reported to the downtown administration office and was housed at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida now known as History Miami. There she was the first Education Coordinator, gave tours to school children and trained the Junior League docents. Instead of writing one book, she established an institution from which many books could be written, and films and documentaries made, and research conducted.
Fields’ interest in saving black history for school children took her beyond her responsibilities as an Educational Specialist for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, a wife, and mother. As a volunteer, Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields created and developed The Black Archives, History & Research Foundation of South Florida, Inc. now known as The Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex.
The Black Archives collection began at the Joseph Caleb Community Center in pace provided by Eunice Liberty, president, Miami chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, Dewey Knight, Jr., an assistant county manager; and Leome Culmer, M. Athalie Range, Dr. Gilbert L. Porter, Gwendolyn Welters, Father J. K. Major, Enid Pinkney, Georgiana Bethel, Bea Hines, and other members of The Black Archives Board of Directors and Trustees.
"We can provide awareness and access to places and sites the pioneers help to build."
Dr.Dorothy Jenkins Fields
SAVING THE LYRIC THEATER
Fields saved the Lyric Theater from being demolished, created The Kwanzaa Oratorical and Declamation Contest renamed the Father Gibson Oratorical Contest and currently sponsored by Miami-Dade College, developed and executed the proposal to the National Endowment for the Arts and Florida Humanities Council for a grant to survey historic properties following the 1980 riots resulting in the establishment of the Historic Overtown Folklife Village and Miami-Dade County’s Black Heritage Trail Research resulting in six buildings in Overtown being placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and chaired the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board.
She secured a $10M grant from the Miami-Dade County bond to expand the Lyric’s stage, add dressing rooms, and build a three-story Black Archives and Research Center headquarters and office building adjacent to the theater with a Visitor’s Center in Overtown www.bahlt.org.
Prior to that, a grant of $1 million dollars from the City of Miami was used to restore the original theater and $5 million from the State of Florida was used to build the lobby. Grants from Southeast Overtown Park West (CRA), Miami-Dade County, the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, national grants, memberships, and private donations help sustain and advance operations.
Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields is a contributor to the Miami Times, South Florida’s oldest black newspaper. Since 2008, Fields has been a freelance columnist with the Miami Herald Her monthly column titled, Black In Time, chronicles the black experience in Miami-Dade County from 1896 to the present, and brings it forward.
In 2010, WPLG, South Florida PBS, produced a documentary, “Parallel Lives,” highlighting Fields’ family and career development with her mentor and friend, Historian Arva Moore Parks McCabe. The documentary was in collaboration with the International Women’s Forum (IWF).
Of all that she has achieved, she is most proud of her two accomplished daughters, Katherine Fields Kpehyee Marsh, Esq. (Marcus) and Edda L. Fields-Black, Ph.D. (Samuel W.) and four promising grandchildren.
In partnership with the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields is helping to bring visitors to Miami-Dade County. Her company, Society Socials & Reunions, LLC is Miami’s “go-to” destination company for reunions and events with four or more in the group.
A Miami Begins with Me Customer Service Champion of the GMCVB, Dr. Fields is also a Miami Begins with Me Customer Service Champion of the GMCVB.