By John Dorschner
TEN days after the formal ceremony celebrating the road — and more than four months after the Harriet Tubman Highway became a legal entity on state roads in Miami-Dade — the name of the great anti-slavery activist remains shrouded in black plastic on West Dixie.
Why is she forgotten by the Florida Department of Transportation, which is responsible for unwrapping her sign?
Perhaps it’s just bureaucratic oversight.
Perhaps it’s because West Dixie is a perpetually ignored road 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. It’s a funky road that has virtually never gotten attention from journalists.
Or perhaps, think some Tubman supporters, it’s that FDOT is ultimately controlled by a Republican governor and a Republican Legislature that don’t really give a damn about the heroine conductor of the Underground Railroad.
The sign is at West Dixie and NE 119th Street. There’s another one at West Dixie and NE 163rd, similarly ignored.
Here’s the background, if you haven’t been following this:
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.
One irony was that FDOT had to cover the sign 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
So now there’s no reason — legal or political — for Tubman to be hidden under black plastic, but still it is — a forgotten abolitionist on a forgotten stretch of highway, a sad testimony to community indifference.
What’s more, the Dixie stretches that are county road and legally now Harriet Tubman Highway. Still, the county hasn’t bothered to change the street signs.