Elgin Jones, South Florida Times (Miami), May 15, 2009
A historic motel that served as a haven for black entertainers during segregation is now at the center of a racial-discrimination protest.
The Hampton House Motel, in Miami’s predominantly black Brownsville section, was one of the places where famous black recording artists stayed during segregation after performing for all-white audiences on the beach. The performers were not allowed to stay in predominantly white hotels.
Miami-Dade County is restoring and renovating Hampton House after it fell into disrepair over the years. But ironically, the construction work on the black historic site does not include any black contractors, subcontractors or laborers.
“Jobs for blacks in Miami are becoming an endangered species,” said Ken Knight, an activist and president of the Hadley Park/Model Cities
Homeowners Association in the Brownsville community. “The Hampton House belongs to the black community, and the black community should be the people who rebuild that particular site. This is our heritage.”
Knight is leading a battle to get blacks hired to perform work on the restoration of the historic black motel and nightclub, work that is being mostly performed with the use of tax dollars.
Knight is adamant that those involved in the project are brushing him off because they are uncomfortable discussing the issue, but some acknowledge the point he is trying to make.
Enid Pinkney, the founding president and CEO of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust, Inc., a non-profit organization formed in 2002, is charged with restoring the motel to its glory days.
Pinkney said the company is only doing the structural stabilization. She said the major portion of the project has yet to go out to bid, and she hopes black contractors will be informed and will participate in that process.
She also said the work requires special skills.
“We have to have workers who have specific training on historic sites,” she said. “They must know how to recognize what should be preserved, and what can be thrown out. The people who are working there right now have to have certain qualifications that will not endanger the application that we have [with the Department of the Interior].”
The Hampton House Motel, called Booker Terrace during segregation, is located at 4200 NW 27 Avenue. It opened its doors in 1954, and quickly became a haven for some of the country’s most notable black athletes, musicians, movie stars and civil rights leaders.
At the time, black people were allowed to perform at white establishments, before all-white audiences, but they were prohibited from staying at motels or frequenting nightclubs on the east side of the railroad tracks or the beach. After completing their performances, many headed to the Hampton House to rest, and party.