Miami-Dade commissioners unanimously approved renaming the county’s “Dixie” highways after Harriet Tubman, replacing a name branded as celebrating a racist legacy with the name of a legendary liberator of Americans subjected to slavery.
The resolution by Commissioner Dennis Moss officially creates Harriet Tubman Highway out of stretches of road currently named Old Dixie Highway in South Dade and West Dixie Highway in Northeast Dade.
The Dixie Highway name remains on U.S. 1 in South Dade, which is part of a federal network of north-south highways but is controlled by Florida. County lawyers have drafted state legislation to replace “Dixie” with “Harriet Tubman” on Florida roads in Miami-Dade, and the Moss resolution instructs the county’s lobbying team in Tallahassee to pursue the change.
Tubman is history’s most famous conductor of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses and hideaways used to ferry enslaved Americans away from slave-holding states and to freedom. Many routes went north to Canada, but the coast of present-day Miami-Dade was also an embarkation point to freedom in the Bahamas.
“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Commissioner Rebeca Sosa said before the vote. Commissioner Joe Martinez said he received calls from constituents opposing the change, pointing to costs in swapping out signs and for businesses with new addresses. Martinez said the symbolism of “Dixie” should trump those concerns. “If it is offensive to a section of our community, then it should be offensive to all of us,” he said.
Barbara Jordan, one of four black commissioners on the 13-member board, recalled the days after integration in Dade County in the 1960s, when her older brother was transferred to South Dade High, home of the Rebels. For band uniforms, Jordan said, the students wore the blue and gray colors of Confederate soldiers and played “Dixie” before games.
“He came home to my mother and said, ‘I’m going to get an F. I cannot put on the rebel uniform, salute the rebel flag and play the song,’” Jordan recalled. “She said, ‘You do what you have to do.’”
This story was written by Miami Herald staff writer Douglas Hanks.