Muhammad Ali pictured at Hampton House after Sonny Liston fight 1964 – Courtesy: historichamptonhouse.org
As the nation approaches Black History Month and celebrates the lives of the African-American community, beginning with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan 18., Florida Insider is here to detail an iconic gathering place in the African-American community that has long served as a symbol of hope, strength, unity, and friendship— the Historic Hampton House.
Located in Miami-Dade County’s Brownsville neighborhood, this historic motel was the site of multiple African-American gatherings and celebrations such as the post-fight celebration on the night of Muhammad Ali’s upset victory against Sonny Liston, as depicted in Regina King’s new film “One Night in Miami.”
Opened in the mid-1950s by Harry and Florence Markowitz, a white Jewish couple, the 50-room upscale motel with a fitted jazz lounge, 24-hour restaurant, and swimming pool became a hotspot for famous African-Americans visiting the city. The motel rose in popularity thanks largely in part to jazz musicians such as Aretha Franklin and Count Basie, who would perform at nightclubs on South Beach but would later have to leave the area to stay in “colored towns” after their performances. At the time, Brownsville was an affluent, middle-class African-American community that welcomed integration.
The segregation-era motel and lounge hosted several high profile athletes, Civil Rights activists, and influential entertainers on several occasions in the 50s, 60s, and early 70s, but no night is held in such high regard as the one depicted in King’s film. On February 25, 1964, four major Black cultural and political figures converged at the Hampton House: musician Sam Cooke, football star Jim Brown, Malcolm X, and pre-name-change Muhammad Ali in the form of Cassius Clay. While the meeting’s specific content remains unknown, many believe it involved future political action given their strong influence in the Black community.
Aside from the meetings, the motel served primarily as a safe haven for Civil Rights activists in Florida and the Greater Miami area. When he was in town, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a regular at the motel. There, he would organize meetings and strategize with community leaders and activists of the Civil Rights movement to help the push for a desegregated nation. It was three years before he recited his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington D.C., that he first rehearsed it at Hampton House.
The Brownsville neighborhood was the perfect location for such gatherings and community outreach events because of its heavily populated African-American, middle-class community. However, in the late 1960s, residents, and members of the Liberty City community began to relocate to other Miami neighborhoods thanks to the lifting of segregation laws—ultimately compromising the Hampton House’s financial stability and forced its closure in 1976.
As a result of years of squatting, vandalism, homelessness, and drug addicts, the Historic Hampton House faced near extinction in the early 2000s. But thanks to years of lobbying, presentations, and persuasion, the Miami-Dade Historic Preservation Board agreed to invest $6 million to rebuild the dilapidated and run-down building to its former grandeur.
Today, the iconic Hampton House serves as a valuable symbol for the Black community in Florida and remains the sole standing segregated hotel of the Civil Rights era.
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Melissa’s career in writing started more than 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.