Historic Virginia Key Beach collage

Virginia Key Beach was the weekly gathering spot for Black Miamians until it was closed in 1982.

What’s in a name? The line from William Shakespeare’s Romero and Juliet was about calling a rose another name. Shakespeare contends that the rose would still smell like a rose even it was called something else.

Will calling a museum that was originally referred to as African-American, with a working name of Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Museum, the civil rights museum, the same thing?

Perhaps it might, if it were being built anywhere else in the county. But this museum is proposed to be built at the county’s only beach at which Black people could swim. From 1945 until Jim Crow laws were beaten back, Black people who wanted to wade were only welcomed at that one place. African-Americans and Black people from Caribbean islands such as the Bahamas who were living and working in Dade County at time would be such users.

Now that activists have been questioning why the museum has languished for 15 years, elected officials and other stewards have scrambled to do what they ought to have done years ago. In 2004, the county earmarked bond funds for the museum’s construction but to this day the earth hasn’t been turned for it. The Miami City Commission will vote to accept responsibility of the funds on June 13, after which the county will give the city access to the construction money.

Then there is the created roadblock to the museum: the lack of a clear source of operating funds. Without a plan with a revenue stream that would be a fair assessment. But developing rentable space and restoring and adding attractions would draw more revenue. You have to build it so they can come. Other merchants on the key can’t wait to have the museum because, as they have said, it is one more attraction for people to experience when they come. That way, people will stay longer and perhaps return more frequently.

Despite the Ultra Music Festival debacle on Virginia Key, the museum was a winner. Of Ultra’s user fee paid to Miami, $1 million was turned over to the Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Trust, the caretaker.

This story no one wanted to tell. This wasn’t provocative enough of a headline such as “Throngs walk miles from Ultra Music Festival.” We get it. So we tell our own stories.

We ask the city and the county to right this wrong and build the promised museum. It is really shameful that $20.5 million have been available to create it many moons ago, when $20.5 million would have really built something fabulous. Perhaps the county wants to give the Trust the $20.5 million in today’s dollars. In 2018, it would have been around $26.5 million.

So what’s in a name? In this case, everything. By using the catch-all, civil rights name, it waters down the importance of the place where only people with dark skin could swim. It wasn’t a movement. It was a mandate. Let the history stand. If it were really about civil rights, the city of Miami would not have abandoned the park in 1982. It would not have allowed the history of the place to be lost to the children of Miami and beyond. Everyone would have known we have this storied and honorable piece of land. When people could choose another beach, that was a great moment for all of us. It doesn’t erase the truth of what happened on Virginia Key Beach. We shouldn’t either by diluting the name.

It is time to build a Black museum, so they can come.

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