City celebrates 89th birthday with pioneers, celebs
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
On May 14, 1926 at 8 p.m., 28 registered voters met in a firehouse to sign the charter for the town of Opa-locka. Exactly 89 years to the date, more than 200 residents, business owners, dignitaries, neighboring community members and others reflected on the now city of Opa-locka’s past during a program at the Sherbondy Village Auditorium.
Longtime residents of the South Florida city were part of a free birthday celebration the evening of May 14 of “Opatishawockalocka,’’ which was shortened to Opa-locka. It means “big island covered by many trees in the swamp,” originally named by the Seminole Indians, according to Dr. Alwyn Nicholas in his book, “A Brief History of Opa-locka.’’ The city occupies 4.2 square miles in the northwestern area of Miami-Dade County.
The city, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was developed based on the Arabian Nights theme, which is evident by the large collection of Moorish architecture throughout the city and with street names like Sabur, Sultan, Ali Baba, Sharazad, Aladdin and Sesame.
Small but tall
At the May 14 semi-formal event, the current of Opa-locka’s 13 mayors, Mayor Myra L Taylor, gave a brief “History at Heart,” highlighting significant dates, locations, events and people that shaped Opa-locka into the city which it has become over time.
“Can anything good come out of Opa-locka,” Taylor asked, at which the crowd affirmed with applause and affirmative yells! “We are small, but we are tall,” she responded.
“We have over 16,000 residents, 2,000 businesses and we are propelling ourselves from ‘Great to Grand,’ like the (Old School Band) OSG band sang, ‘Ain’t no stopping us now!’ We have stability, fortitude and longevity.”
Attending the celebration were Opa-locka pioneer citizens – Mrs. Vera Johnson, Mrs. Shirley Bodwell and Deacon Elliot Flanders – who were born in 1926 and have been in the city since it was formed.
Also present were former NFL Atlanta Falcons player Joel Williams and playwright Leroy Meadows, who are from the city. Making an appearance as well were actors Dorothy Morrison and Jo Marie Payton (“Family Matters”). Payton revealed that she lived in Opa-locka from age 3 to 24. She refers to the 4.2 square-mile community as her “little big city!”
Payton boasted that she has always been proud to say that she is from the City of Opa-locka and maintains it on her resume.