One of Miami’s oldest treasures and little-known historical landmarks with some of Miami’s most historically renowned people are buried in the Miami City Cemetery, which is seriously neglected and continually desecrated.
The City of Miami Cemetery is the oldest cemetery and is the first and only municipal cemetery in Miami-Dade County. The Miami City Cemetery is the final resting place of some of Miami's first pioneers. Yes, Miami had pioneers, too. During elections, we hear commissioners state how important history preservation is to them, yet they do nothing when they are in office or have the mayor’s ear. Matter of fact, some want even respond.
If you’re a real history buff, you may have taken the Annual Ghost Tour hosted by Miami Museum’s Resident Historian, Dr. Paul George, which is highly recommended. The Cemetery, founded in 1897, also holds special significance because it is a looking glass into the diversity of Miami, long before Miami was home to the rich and famous of Hollywood and Latin America.
Who is buried in the Miami Cemetery?
Some of the most prominent residents buried in the cemetery include:
Julia Tuttle, the “Mother of Miami”. She was one of the only women to found a city in the US. The new super popular multi-floor downtown cafeteria Julia & Henry’s bears her name. Imagine if people eating in the cafeteria knew her burial site was so close by.
Richard E.S. Toomey, “The Soldier Poet” was Miami’s first black attorney. Preserving Black History has a month, but Mr. Toomey’s gravesite looks as if he’s the town villain. Full list of black historical burials in the Miami Cemetery.
Dr. James Jackson, Miami’s first physician, is probably spinning in his grave at the unsanitary conditions.
Jack Tigertail the first Native American to be buried in the cemetery. Streets in Coconut Grove are named after him.
Theodore Gibson was a prominent member of Miami’s Civil Rights Movement. Where are today’s civil rights advocates?
William M. Burdine, Founder of Burdine’s department stores, certainly didn’t become the department store legend with untidiness.
Who Manages The Miami Cemetery?
This is not a new topic, and I don’t want to revisit the great history of Miami altogether. Read more about the Miami City Cemetery’s prominent residents in the Miami History Blog, The Magic City.
My story is about something other than Miami's history but why so little is being done despite continual requests and public outrage.
When I started to investigate this topic, I had read mistakenly that the cemetery was under the management of the Dade Heritage Trust and owned by the Burdine family. Christine Rupp, Executive Director of the Dade Heritage Trust, shed some light on the ownership and maintenance background of the landmark's future.
Who Owns The Miami Cemetery?
The City of Miami and the City’s Parks Department own the cemetery, not the Burdine family. Despite not being under its purview, the Trust has absorbed some maintenance costs over the years. It conducted a Survey of the City of Miami Cemetery in 2020 with funding from the Florida Department of State, Division of Historical Resources.
Great care was taken in conducting the survey and documenting the gravestones. The completed report outlines the monuments, materials, and the level of care on a sliding scale. Still, most notably, are the next steps for care and recommendations for ongoing use and maintenance, which have not resulted in any significant action as of this article. Ms. Napp expressed that the Cemetery had excellent tourism potential.
Is the City of Miami Commission Neglecting The Miami Cemetery?
Believe it or not, the Miami City Commission is responsible for taking care of this cemetery and like a lot of other things in the City, the cemetery is not the first priority if a priority at all. Miami Independent received a call from a citizen Brian Turner so we began investigating the issue.
Brian Turner is a Veterans’ advocate, historian, preservationist, and a member of the Sons of the American Legion. He contacted me for assistance when he felt he had reached a dead end after contacting multiple City Commissioners.
Mr. Turner first contacted former District 2 Commissioner Ken Russell when he was still in office over his concerns that Antifa had vandalized the Confederate War Memorial in August 2020. Commissioner Russell and his staff were very responsive and successfully repaired the fence. Sadly, not much has been done since Commissioner Russell resigned in December of 2022. Mr. Turner wants surveillance cameras to help curtail the vandalism and homeless who regularly trespass and litter the cemetery.
The City of Miami has cameras installed to protect other memorials, such as the Bay of Bigs Memorial in Little Havana and they even have cameras in the closed Domino Park in Coconut Grove. When the initial vandalism took place, the Guardians of American History offered a reward to find the vandals, but the criminals were never identified due to the lack of surveillance.
Mr. Turner contacted Commissioner Sabina Covo's office by phone and email with his proposition, with no response. In his last attempt, he copied Miami’s sitting Commissioners to see if he could elicit an answer, but nothing was heard back.
Miami’s greenspaces and parks are touted as a top priority for Commission Sabina Covo, whose district includes part of the Miami City Cemetery. When I reached out to her office to ask why the Dade Heritage Trust’s recommendations are not being implemented, they didn’t acknowledge that anyone had contacted them and said the cemetery was not in her district but rather pointed figures saying that the Dade Heritage Trust was part of the County and that the cemetery was in district 5.
I’m not sure why who did the audit of a Miami City property is relevant, but the cemetery is in both districts. In addition, Mr. Turner's last plea to the City of Miami to manage the neglected, historic space was sent to the entire Commission, but none of the Commissioners responded.
What Will a New Miami District 2 Commissioner Do With Miami Cemetery?
Candidate for Miami Commission in District 2, Christi Tasker seems to have a fresh set of eyes and hands on approach to the Miami parks and historical places, parks and properties. In her Virtual Town Hall on TuesdayTasker says she recently did an unofficial audit of many of the parks in the district for her weekly. She was equally concerned about the Commission's neglect of the Miami City Cemetery and the drop in maintenance and lack of equity in some of the city's most underserved areas.
Christi Tasker responded to Miami Independent for comment, saying, “My district is full of green spaces and historical places that have been ignored or outright closed. I have begun auditing and walking all cemeteries and parks myself to create a list of what each one needs with an estimation of each cost. Some need attention to detail, and others, such as Billy Rolle Domino Park, must be cleaned up and reopened. Some parks on Biscayne Bay are missing basic waste receptacles. HOAs with city property adjoining their properties are cutting and maintaining the City property; otherwise, the grass becomes overgrown and unusable. Suppose the City Manager tries to tell me there’s no budget remaining for these clean-up efforts to provide these basic services. In that case, I plan to cut the fat in City Hall and within my in-office staff. Hiring landscapers & cleaners to clean up the parks, Miami Cemetery and Charlotte Jane Memorial Park Cemetery must be done, and I can do and oversee communications myself. To get these parks and cemeteries in tip-top shape even faster, I will involve organizations and community service groups and invite the surrounding communities through clean-up days, during which I will also be present.”
The Miami Independent endorsed Christi Tasker for her strong leadership skills and common-sense solutions for City of Miami residents. Considering a lot of the Miami issues in District 2 revolve around parks and history, we also liked that Christi is also a preservationist and historian.
Christi’s mom, Pamela Davis Reeves, lived in Miami as a child, before her father was deployed to serve the U.S. Army overseas.
Ms. Davis-Reeves said, “Christi was raised in an 1800s home on the historic register, so she grew up preserving. We both learned a lot from my dad. He was a U.S. Army Attaché who loved preserving antique cars as a hobby. With her grandfather by her side, Christi would get on her hands and knees to refinish things like hardwood floors in our store. At age 23, she oversaw an entire transition of a historical residence, converting it to a Commercial property, all while keeping all visual aesthetics. Christi does whatever it takes to get the job done and knows how to do it. And from what I see, cleaning up these parks will be among the simpler things she’s done in life. I look forward to seeing these parks cleaned up and back to good use for future generations to create memories that I have as a child. My dad taking me to our parks on Sunday afternoons is one of my fondest memories.”
Miami Independent journalists and I feel confident Christi will not disappoint us when preserving Miami’s history, the Miami Cemetery, and other historic properties. Visit Christi’s website to report any Miami District 2 issues you may be aware of: Christi4Miami.com
Follow Christi on social media at @Christi4Miami on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and her other social media sites.