By John Dorschner
Finally, four months after it became official, political leaders on Saturday did the formal unveiling of the Harriet Tubman Highway sign on South Dixie.
Several speakers talked about the “name change,” but in fact Dixie Highway still stretches for several dozen miles in north and south Miami-Dade, with dozens of South Dixie and West Dixie signs on the long sections where it’s a state road. Only the Legislature can get rid of the Dixie name, and that Republican-controlled body has yet to show interest in doing so.
Instead, a Harriet Tubman memorial highway was added to the Dixie name. Several speakers praised the legendary conductor of the Underground Railroad who fought against the slavery that was prevalent throughout the land of Dixie.
The ceremony was held at the Vizcaya station of Metrorail on South Dixie. The Tubman sign had been uncovered for quite some time by stealth activists, and the Florida Department of Transportation had recovered it with white plastic so it could be formally unveiled.
At 3 p.m., three hours after the ceremony, the Tubman sign at West Dixie at about NE 119th Street remained covered in black plastic. A highway spokeswoman said it would be uncovered sometime after the formal ceremony.
At the Vizcaya gathering, Dennis Moss, the former county commissioner who spearheaded the effort, told a small group and a bank of photographers that there’s “still work to be done,” to get rid of the Dixie name. He praised the efforts of several who had led the Tubman initiative, including Isabella Banos, who was a high schooler when she started the campaign; her grandfather Mo Abety; and retired judge Tom Petersen, who did much of the legal groundwork.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, who led the push in Tallahassee, said he’d continue to battle for getting rid of the Dixie name, calling the honorary highway name “a precedent that it can and will happen.”
State Rep. Kevin Chambliss praised the “name change” — that will allow drivers to “be driving on Harriet Tubman Highway, not Dixie Highway,” which may be true in the future, but isn’t now.
The Tubman name addition started when Banos started a campaign in 2019, assisted by Abety, former chief executive of The Children’s Trust. Moss’s resolution passed the county commission unanimously in February 2020 to get rid of the Dixie name and replace it with Tubman’s.
The resolution decried “Dixie’s toxic history [that] runs deeply through the veins of this country.”
Several miles on West Dixie Highway in far North Dade are county road, and that stretch is officially Harriet Tubman Highway, though the county has yet to change the signs.
Moss told this reporter after the ceremony that he understood the county had already made the new signs but had been waiting for state action so that the entire Dixie name could be eliminated at once. Now that it’s clear the Legislature won’t act quickly, he expected the new signs would be installed on those areas where the county controls the road.
The memorial designation required the approval of the 10 cities that the road ran through. Nine approved the change immediately, but Coral Gables dragged its feet. Finally, in May the Gables commission approved the change, but it took another four months for the formal ceremony — some weeks for the Gables to formally notify the state of its action, and then many weeks to find a date that fit the schedules of the politicians involved.