North Dade’s unknown Tubman Highway

By John Dorschner

Miami Web News

While most Dixie highways in Miami-Dade are still in the midst of a struggle to be rebranded, a stretch of 3.5 miles in North Dade has officially been renamed Harriet Tubman Highway for more than a year — and almost no one knows it.

The reason: The signs from NE 163rd to NE 215th streets still read West Dixie. No mention of Tubman, the revered conductor of the Underground Railroad.

To make it more complex, West Dixie has already been named for others. In North Miami, just north of 125th, it’s the Phares Duverne Highway, honoring a Haitian journalist who died in 2015. In North Miami Beach, at 163rd St., it’s Ben Laurenzo Way, named after the founder of the nearby Laurenzo’s Italian Specialty Food Market. And at 190th Street, West Dixie is dubbed also Coach Blatch Street, named for Gregory Blatch, who for decades sold doughnuts and held dances and other fund-raisers to take kids at nearby Ojus Elementary School on trips.

Confusing? Let’s back up:

In February 2020, the Miami-Dade County Commission unanimously passed a resolution to get rid of the Dixie name on local streets. The resolution decried “Dixie’s toxic history [that] runs deeply through the veins of this country, as its racist roots date back to the 19th century and the deplorable comedic movement of blackface minstrels and would become the rallying cry and unofficial anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War as they fought to uphold an institution that enslaved and tortured countless African Americans.”

All the commissioners — including several conservative Cuban-Americans — voted to rename the Dixie highways after Tubman, the fierce anti-slavery activist.

The rub: South Dixie is a state highway. So is West Dixie from NE 119th to NE 163rd St. That means name changes require approval from the Republican-controlled Legislature. Still, in 2020, the Legislature passed — and the governor signed — a bill that approved the Dixie-Tubman swap and about 20 other roads throughout the state to make them “memorial highways.”

That meant Tubman’s name would be added to the Dixie name — if approved by the 10 municipalities that had parts of the Dixie highways.

All did — except toney Coral Gables. Earlier this year, commissioners said they were concerned that supporting Tubman would lead to cascading political correctness, including getting rid of the name of Gables founder George Merrick, whom was being decried by University of Miami students as a racist.

And so the Florida Department of Transportation decreed that the whole state-road stretch of Dixie in southern and northern Dade was deprived of the Tubman honoring.

Lost in all this public and media discussion was that the northernmost portion of West Dixie was a county, not state, road. Miami-Dade didn’t need any approval to dump the Dixie name from this stretch and rename it for Tubman.

Indeed, that’s exactly what was said in the 2020 resolution introduced by then-Commissioner Dennis Moss. The commission approved “renaming that portion of West Dixie Highway from Northeast 163rd St. to Northeast 215th Street as ‘Harriet Tubman Highway.’”

So it’s a done deal. Why haven’t the signs changed? The county office of traffic signals and signs and the mayor’s office didn’t respond by the time of publication.

Truth is, while South Dixie is a bustling highway in affluent suburbs, West Dixie is an oft-ignored road of small-business strip malls (housing tax services, immigration services, cell phone repairs, clinics, pawn shops, laundromats, small restaurants and convenience stores) and many auto repair places.

This week, the new mayor of Coral Gables told the Miami Herald that the city was going to reconsider the Tubman designation and was likely to approve it.

Still, getting rid of the Dixie name entirely would require more legislative action, and many conservatives statewide still embrace the Confederacy and/or don’t want to be viewed as embracing Black Lives Matter.

In fact, before the Tubman-Dixie proposal exposed intense political divides in the Trump vs. BLM era, politicians generally have had no trouble giving West Dixie additional names. In 2017, the state legislature approved the Duverne name in North Miami. Coach Blatch Street and Ben Laurenzo Way were both approved by Miami-Dade Commission resolutions.

Just to add a final complication: There’s a completely ignored East Dixie Highway in northeast Dade that looks like it’s either in Aventura or unincorporated Dade County. No one has attempted to deal with that one.

A Miami journalist for a half-century dedicated to peace, equality and environmental protection. Author of Verdict on Trial, available on Amazon.