The Black Archives History & Research Foundation of South Florida will celebrate 43 years of preserving South Florida’s black history with a special preview of the Historic Lyric Theater’s restoration at 11 am on the institution’s anniversary, Tuesday, November 17. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the theater is the last remaining original structure from Miami’s “Little Broadway”/ “Harlem of the South” era during segregation.

The doors of the Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater closed to the public in March due to Covid-19, and the sudden lack of activity brought to light a termite infestation on the stage, which required emergency repair. Executive Director Timothy A. Barber took the unexpected circumstances as an opportunity to not only demolish and rebuild the stage, but evolved the project into a full blown auditorium restoration – – returning the historic space to the opulence and grandeur of the original 1913 playhouse.

With funding from the Southeast Overtown Park West Community Redevelopment Agency, Miami-Dade County, and manpower from laborers from the Overtown community, the project is now finished.

“Geder Walker, the black businessman who built the Lyric Theater was a well-traveled man and when he decided to construct this building in Miami’s Colored Town, he did so with the beautiful and grand opera houses and theaters from Europe in mind,” said Barber. “Over the years, the theater has seen many different iterations, but the interior we are presenting today more closely resembles the magnificence that the original theater was hailed by 1915 newspapers as, ‘the most beautiful and costly playhouse owned by colored people in all of the Southland.’ What better birthday gift for the Black Archives, than to return this iconic space to its original character?”

Like many cultural institutions throughout the nation, the Black Archives has had to pivot from public in-person events to virtual events due to the coronavirus pandemic. For the last nine months, they have been presenting thoughtfully curated online programming, from live black history trivia shows and children’s story time, to panels on race, religion, and social justice. While the date for the next fully public event is tentatively slated for February 2021, Barber says he didn’t want to lose the significance of this anniversary among all of this year’s chaos.

“Although this year has been a difficult year for many of us, I am personally grateful for how far the Black Archives has come in its 43 years,” said Barber. “So we are inviting people to join us virtually on Nov. 17 as we unveil the theater with a vintage jazz performance by Melton Mustafa and the Melton Mustafa Orchestra.

In order to practice social distancing, the in-person viewing will be closed to only Black Archives board members, endowment donors, and media, with virtual viewing available to the general public via Zoom.

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