Village Life

Plaza Path connects Grove neighborhoods

A Walk through the Grove’s Black History

In the past week, City workers rebuilt Plaza Path, a brick walkway that connects the West Grove with the South Grove. For years, the path had gradually deteriorated to a point where it was becoming dangerous. Bricks at the edges had fallen away. Bricks in the middle jutted in disarray. Walking or biking on the buckled path was an accident waiting to happen.
 
The rebuilt path is smooth and even. The newly aligned brick edging is neat and uniform. At either end the openings are marked by large coral boulders. Now, at the beginning of Black History Month, Plaza Path is ready to resume its rightful place in Coconut Grove’s multifaceted history of race relations with a modicum of dignity.
 
Plaza Path has become increasingly popular with Grovites. For its brief length, it leads you through a dense tropical hammock. On one side is Marler Avenue, a one-block street of humble dwellings that marks the southern boundary of Village West. On the other is Loquat Avenue, the northern boundary of the lush, affluent South Grove. Between the two neighborhoods lies the notorious “wall” that for generations separated the Black Grove from its wealthy, mostly white neighbors. Increasingly, with the gentrification of Village West, the line between the two neighborhoods has been blurred even though the wall, in the form of back fences of the homes on Loquat, remains.
 
If Plaza Path could speak, it would have many stories to tell. In the early days of Coconut Grove, race relations were relatively easy-going. Blacks worshipped with whites at Plymouth Church, and Black families walked to the church along Plaza Path. At the beginning of the 20th century, Village West, also known as the Black Grove, evolved as a thriving, autonomous community with its own stores and services, in addition to its numerous churches. Then came a period, during the latter half of the 20th century, when the West Grove fell into neglect and abandonment. Many middle-class Black families sold the properties they inherited from the original settlers and moved away. The community spiraled into decline.
 
Then came gentrification, which is now roaring through Village West like an out-of-control train. To date, efforts to control it have made little impact. The fate of the Grove’s historically Black community with deep roots in the early 19th-century settlements hangs in the balance.
 
Linda Williams, one of the leaders of Village West, remembers the importance of Plaza Path to her family. Her grandmother, mother, and others from the West Grove used to work in the South Grove, and they would walk to their jobs along the pathway. “Most people in Village West walked,” Williams recalls. “Very few had cars. And there was a general understanding that you would stay in the West Grove after sunset, that it was okay to leave from sunrise to sunset.” If Williams’s mother had to work after dark, she recalls, her father would bike to where she worked in the South Grove to escort her home. “We didn’t worry about crime then,” Williams says. “There was an understanding that people were on their way to and from work.”
 
Linda Williams’s memories of these early days recall a Plaza Path that connected two versions of Coconut Grove that have taken on new identities over time. The connection is still there, newly rebuilt and strong. The identities of the communities on either side are still evolving.

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