By John Dorschner
FINALLY — 11 days after the formal ceremony celebrating the change — and more than four months after it became a legal entity on state roads in Miami-Dade — the name of the great anti-slavery activist Harriet Tubman was unveiled on West Dixie on Wednesday.
At 3:05 p.m., after finishing the removal of the black plastic covering her name at the corner with NE 119th Street, an employee for the Florida Department of Transportation said he’d gotten the order late Tuesday to remove the black plastic. It was too late in the day to do it, so they waited until Wednesday.
They’d first removed the plastic covering Tubman at the northern end of the state road West Dixie Highway, near NE 163rd Street.
“It’s been a while,” he said, referring to the fact that the signs have been installed for months but hidden under a black shroud.
A group of politicians and civic leaders did a formal unveiling of the Harriet Tubman Highway on Saturday, Sept. 18, on South Dixie near the Vizcaya Metrorail Station. A bunch of TV and still photographers showed up. Celebratory speeches were given. The sign was unveiled.
South Dixie runs through the affluent southern suburbs. West Dixie, in North Miami and North Miami Beach, is a funkier, of-ignored stretch consisting of body shops and strip malls offering immigration, tax and cell phone services, along with Haitian churches, a gun shop, a sports bar and a Bible shop.
One irony was that FDOT had to cover the sign at Vizcaya station with white plastic in order to unveil it. Activists long before had ripped off the black plastic.
At that ceremony, I asked two FDOT staffers when the plastic would be removed from the West Dixie signs, which had remained draped in the original black plastic. After the ceremony, they said. I didn’t think to ask how long after the ceremony.
To be clear, the Dixie name remains up throughout Miami-Dade. The Tubman name has been added, as a memorial highway.
If you need the background, here’s a recap:
This saga began in the fall of 2019, when a high schooler, Isabella Banos, wrote a letter to the Miami Times urging that the Dixie name be eliminated on highways in Miami-Dade and the roads renamed after Tubman. Banos’ grandfather,
In February 2020, Commissioner Dennis Moss led a move to do just that. He condemned the Dixie connection with the Confederacy to be “toxic.” The change passed 13–0. That included support from seriously conservative Cuban-Americans.
Some miles of Dixie had their name changed immediately. These were portions controlled by the county, including a stretch of West Dixie from 163rd to the Broward County line. The county decided not to change the signs on this road until the state acted.
The state was involved because many miles of South Dixie and West Dixie are state roads. That meant the name change went to the Legislature, which commissioned a study saying the change would be extremely expensive for governments and businesses, which would need new letterheads and signage and such. Tubman supporters countered that those costs were greatly exaggerated.
State Sen. Shevrin Jones led the charge in Tallahassee. Mo Aberty, grandfather of Banos, and Tom Petersen, a retired judge, assisted with the efforts in Dade.
The end result was a small half-step: The Legislature rejected getting rid of the Dixie name but allowed the adding the name of Harriet Tubman as a memorial highway, an honorary designation of the type that exists on dozens of streets throughout Dade County.
The memorial highway needed the approval of the 10 municipalities that the state road ran through in Miami-Dade. Nine quickly approved. Coral Gables at first rejected it, with commissioner saying they feared a “cancel culture.” If they approved the Tubman name, they complained, perhaps they’d asked to remove the names of historic Gables figures, like founder George Merrick.
After an outcry, the Gables commission approved the move. That was in May. There was a delay in the Gables sending an official notice to FDOT of its move, and then there was another delay in arranging for a time for a ceremony that fit the schedule of various politicians.
Meanwhile, the Dixie stretches that are county road and are legally now Harriet Tubman Highway still have the Dixie name and no hint of Tubman. The county hasn’t bothered to change the street signs.