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An outdoor photo of a stilt walker dressed in blue on the street with trees and a blue sky in the background interacting with participants of the Goombay Festival in Miami
Stilt walkers interact with festival patrons during Goombay 2022, Miami. The 2024 Goombay Festival is at the heart of the Community Collections Grant project, Documenting Goombay and Little Bahamas of Coconut Grove, of Florida International University. Photo courtesy of Mikeya Brown. Used with permission.

Catching-up with Community Collections Grant Recipients: Documenting Goombay and Little Bahamas of Coconut Grove, Miami

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The following is a guest post by Aarti Mehta-Kroll, co-leader of the 2024 American Folklife Center Community Collections Grant project, Documenting Goombay and Little Bahamas of Coconut Grove. This post is part of the Of the People blog series featuring awardees of the American Folklife Center’s Community Collections Grants program. The Community Collections Grants program of the American Folklife Center is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, which seeks to create new opportunities for more Americans to engage with the Library of Congress and to add their perspectives to the Library’s collections, allowing the national library to share a more inclusive American story. Read more about the 2024 Community Collections Grants recipients here.

An up close photo of a Goombay Festival souvenir fan flat on a brown table
A Goombay Festival souvenir fan. Photo courtesy of project co-leader Dr. Valerie Patterson. Used with permission.

Our project will be documenting the annual Goombay Festival that has taken place in Coconut Grove since 1976. To understand the significance of this event, which celebrates the transnational linkages between Miami and the Bahamas, it’s important to know about the history of the neighborhood in which it takes place.

Coconut Grove is the oldest, continuously inhabited area in Miami, predating the establishment of the city of Miami itself. It was founded by an eclectic group of adventurers, homesteaders and Bahamians who were undaunted by the untouched wilderness that characterized the area in late 1800s. The Bahamians were skilled at farming in what at first sight appeared to be unforgiving terrain. Using their knowledge of similar topographies in the Bahamas, they planted fruits, vegetables, and herbs that they brought with them from the islands along with recipes that they later shared with African Americans who migrated from Georgia and the Carolinas. In the 1920s, the Bahamians familiarity with coral rock led to many working as stonemasons who played an essential role in building the city of Coral Gables as well as estates such as Villa Vizcaya.

An up close photo of a green and yellow a booklet about Bahamian Folk Medicine from the 1989 Goombay Festival
Pictured above is a booklet about Bahamian Folk Medicine that was commissioned by the Florida Endowment of the Humanities and the Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival in 1989. Photo courtesy of Dr. Valerie Patterson. Used with permission.

While Bahamians and Black Americans eventually lived in the communities of Perrine, Overtown, South Miami, and later Richmond Heights, the settlement that includes neighborhoods that connect parts of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables (henceforth “the Grove”) was a focal point of the Black and Bahamian community of Miami. This was partly because for many years, this neighborhood’s school, George Washington Carver, was the only school open to Black children in this region. Desegregation diminished the centrality of this neighborhood in people’s day-to-day lives, but not their cultural imagination. In 1976, a group of Black and White Grove residents collaborated to bring Goombay, a festival celebrating Bahamian dance, music, and culture, to the neighborhood. Goombay has traditionally taken place along Grand Avenue, what was once the main commercial artery of the Black community of the Grove. Lined with businesses that included restaurants, grocery stores, tailors, shoeshines, bars, and a movie theater, it fostered entrepreneurship and allowed residents to meet their day to day needs by patronizing local vendors.

Junkanoo performers make their way down Grand Avenue with blue sky and big puffy white clouds in the background
Junkanoo performers make their way down Grand Avenue during Goombay 2023. Photo courtesy of Aarti Mehta-Kroll. Used with permission.

Successive waves of urban renewal, disinvestment, civic neglect and most recently, gentrification have led to this once thriving street becoming dotted by vacant lots and just a few surviving businesses. In many ways, it mirrors the changes in the broader community where hundreds of families have been pushed out through the mechanisms of displacement mentioned above. However, during the two days of Goombay, this street and the entire neighborhood comes alive with music, people, the smell of traditional Bahamian foods, such as conch fritters, conch salad, and cracked conch, and the sense of elation as individuals and families return to the Grove and reclaim it as their own.

During prior celebrations of Goombay, our team from Florida International University has participated in the festivities recording interviews with community elders, and working with local historian Leona Cooper-Baker to display her vintage collection of Goombay posters. As recipients of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress Community Collections Grant, we will be expanding our engagement at the festival. In the weeks leading up to Goombay we will be recording oral histories with members of the planning committee, learning what it takes to organize one of the biggest block parties of the year. During Goombay, members of our team and groups of volunteers will be taking photos and videos, doing interviews with festival patrons, junkanoo performers, and vendors, as we aim to capture the spirit of the festival. We are also working to recruit a generationally diverse group of community members to take photographs capturing their individual experience of Goombay. This year the festival will take place from May 31st to June 2nd, on Grand Avenue in Coconut Grove, Miami. If you can make it, do come join the festivities!

A photo from inside a festival tent with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson is pictured at Elizabeth Virrick Park, Miami during Goombay 2022, honoring individuals who served as members of the Goombay Planning Committee.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (in gold hat) is pictured at Elizabeth Virrick Park, Miami during Goombay 2022, honoring individuals who served as members of the Goombay Planning Committee. Photo courtesy of Mikeya Brown. Used with permission.

Comments (5)

  1. Great article! Can’t wait!

  2. Stop by our booth for a 3 generation photo. “Conch Salad Chris” we will be flying a Bahamian flag. The best conch salad and conch fritters recipe from Grand Bahama…8 Mile Rock.

  3. Wonderful project!

  4. Thank you for including the Bahamian contributions to the creation of Vizcaya. We also have a series of stories collected in Coconut Grove at the 2023 Goombay festival. Participants shared their experiences of the event, as well as their thoughts on Coconut Grove and the changes it has faced.

  5. i remember the early days with william rolle at the helm, along with many other influential members of the community

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