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Black History Month: Dana Dorsey came to Miami, became a millionaire

Black History Month: Dana Dorsey came to Miami, became a millionaire
Black History Month: Dana Dorsey came to Miami, became a millionaire 03:39

MIAMI -  Being Black in Miami was a difficult challenge in the days of Jim Crow. Earlier in the 20th Century, an even more difficult task was getting ahead was all but impossible but one black Miami man not only became successful he became a millionaire.

"I think we need to know who he is, who he was, and appreciate him. Not just Black people, but everybody needs to understand he was a millionaire," said historian Enid Pinkney.

Pinkney is talking about Dana Albert Dorsey who arrived in Miami in 1896.

"Dana Dorsey, a carpenter, comes from Georgia with the proverbial $5 dollars in his pocket to Miami to take a job with the railroad. Carpenters were in short supply, guys with a skill like that, and he worked with FEC that brought him down here. He started making money and set some aside for investment in land. He would buy a chunk of land for $25-30 dollars and as a carpenter he would build the building, sort of like the shotgun houses, and then sell those buildings and he just accumulated a fortune." said historian Paul George.

"It's a huge name. For a man who saw a need for his people to have housing," said Dorothy Fields, found of the Black Archives.

Over the years, Dorsey used his wealth, and donated land and buildings, for the betterment of Miami's Black population. The former carpenter-turned-developer opened the Dorsey Hotel, established the Negro Savings Bank, donated land for a library, a high school, and purchased what is known today as Fisher Island.

Yes, Fisher Island.

Dorsey at one time owned what is now called Fisher Island, these days some say the most valuable real estate in the world.

"He wanted to build a Black resort there. He had great vision and by this time, 1919, he was a man of wealth, and yet the discrimination did him in, in terms of getting that done," said George.

The South Florida 'Powers That Be' did not like the idea of a Black beach much less a resort. After almost two years of ownership, Dorsey sold the island to Miami Beach Pioneer Carl Fisher. It was years later, in 1945, four years after Dorsey's death, Virginia Key was opened to Black swimmers.

Dorsey sold the historic Dorsey Baseball Park and surrounding land to the City of Miami. Across the street is the library he donated to the Black community, a few blocks west is Dorsey Boulevard which runs through the heart of Overtown. D. A. Dorsey Technical College serves the local population.

So beloved, Dana Dorsey, so well remembered, his restored home sits in the heart of Overtown for all to see where Miami's first Black millionaire lived.

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