Historic Sistrunk Boulevard – Soul Of America
By Don Valentine
For Broward County, the Black cultural oasis is inarguably the Sistrunk Boulevard community. The Sistrunk Business Corridor (Sistrunk Blvd) is named after Broward County’s first Black physician, Dr. James Sistrunk, born in 1891. To his credit, he persevered through the Jim Crow era and garnered an M.D. degree.
He practiced for 25 years and collaborated with Dr. Von Mizell to found Provident Hospital. This was the first Black hospital in Broward County. A library is named for Dr. Mizell. In Pompano, Ely High School is named for legendary educator Mrs. Blanche Ely. In Dania Beach, Collins Elementary proudly bears the name of Mrs. Collins.
Mrs. Leola Collins was a force in establishing the Provident Hospital on Northwest Sixth Avenue in Fort Lauderdale. Provident Hospital was located where the Dr. Von D. Mizell branch library now stands.
The earliest recorded Black settlers in Broward County migrated from Georgia, South Carolina, and the Bahamas. Many were railroad workers who helped build a rail extension from the north in 1896. Note: Blacks first arrived as slaves of Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon. That dates back to 1593.
For convenience, the Black migrant escaped slaves settled in shanties along the railroad tracks in Fort Lauderdale. After the tracks and stations were completed, many remained to work in other endeavors. This was at the time of Fort Lauderdale’s incorporation as a city in 1911.
During this era of segregation, a close-knit Black community emerged to provide living essentials: a Black church, newspaper [known as the Westside Gazette], shops, a theater, restaurants, and professional services. As the first Black church in the area, Piney Grove Baptist takes on more importance relative to the other institutions since it opened before the Civil Rights Movement. Today, that historic church is known as First Baptist Church Piney Grove. Mount Olive Baptist Church and Mount Hermon AME Church are cultural institutions with rich histories as well. African Americans lived closer to Downtown Fort Lauderdale than today’s Sistrunk Business Corridor.
Dania Beach was once a farming community that employed many Black workers. Just east of Dania Beach, John Lloyd Beach State Park was home to the once segregated Colored Beach. Today, a memorial to that beach and those times remain.
In early 1960, the Greater Fort Lauderdale business community targeted Whites for winter retreats and retirement homes. The county mandated an order to keep the county’s beach free of Negroes. Thus, Blacks had to reside on the Westside of the railroad tracks. For more information go to Fort Lauderdale History – Soul Of America Travel. https://www.soulofamerica.com