Miami Times publisher Garth Reeves Sr., ‘conscience of the black community,’ dies at 100

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This story was updated to include information on funeral services.

Garth C. Reeves Sr., publisher emeritus of The Miami Times and a voice for the aspirations of African Americans in Miami for most of the past century, died on Monday.

He had turned 100 on Feb. 12.

The Miami Times was the only job publisher emeritus Garth C. Reeves Sr. ever had, aside from serving in the Army during World War II. He was proud of that distinction. Reeves’ energy in running the landmark black-owned paper would impact the lives of countless families in South Florida. He’d found his life’s calling — to serve as a voice for the black community. He knew no better job.

‘A warrior for the community’

“He was a warrior for the community and he was always fighting with his pen trying to make things right,” said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, the founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida.

“He was not afraid and he was not intimidated. He was dedicated to uplifting the race and he was not afraid to throw rocks and hide his hands to get the power structure’s attention to the difficulties and the inequalities of the black community. He dedicated his life to that,” said Fields.

“He was a true pillar and trailblazer for the African American community,” Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Audrey M. Edmondson said in a statement.

“As an outstanding journalist and publisher of The Miami Times, he provided a platform for the black voices of Miami. My thoughts and prayers are with the family and all those whose lives he touched,” Edmondson said.

Reeves, who oversaw the black-owned paper his father initially printed one page at a time on a small hand press in a modest Miami home upon its founding in 1923, and who kept it in the family as it evolved into its digital edition today, died two months after his daughter, Rachel, passed. She was the publisher of The Miami Times, assuming the mantle of leadership from her father and grandfather.

Rachel Reeves, The Miami Times publisher who built on the family dynasty, dies at 69

Garth Reeves Sr., a tall man with a graceful style and an easy laugh, balanced the roles of activist and capitalist through nearly eight tumultuous decades of Miami-Dade history.

“Mr. Reeves led a remarkable life promoting equality and civil rights as a veteran, journalist, community activist, and as owner of The Miami Times,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez in a statement.

Earlier this year, Suarez said, the City of Miami Commission honored Reeves on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

“We will continue to rejoice over his life marked by his many incredible accomplishments and the profound impact he made to drive our community forward as a more inclusive and equitable place for all,” Suarez said.

“He was an icon on many levels. Great journalist, business and community leader, just to name a few,” Edwin O’Dell, a former WTVJ journalist and communications director at Jackson Health System, wrote on Facebook “Proud to say that he was also a family friend. A huge loss for South Florida. The passing of an era.”

In September 2016, Reeves was still using his voice to detail his role, and the paper’s position, in the media mix. “Over the years we represented ourselves in our own image — and today — we are still doing it. We fight our community’s fights without sacrificing integrity in any way,” Reeves told the Miami Herald as he headlined a discussion at The Black Archives at the Historic Lyric Theater Cultural Arts Complex.

In the world of media, where editors and publishers generally aren’t expected to be the news, “the black press is the exception,” wrote Jenkins in a 2016 column for the Herald.

Garth Reeves and his father, Henry Reeves, The Miami Times, mid-1940s
Garth Reeves and his father, Henry Reeves, The Miami Times, mid-1940s

“Probably because he was from a business family and they were independent,” Jenkins said Tuesday.

‘Conscience of the black community’

Reeves’ editorials used different terminology compared to the mainstream media to describe the 1980 McDuffie riots and again in 1989 when violence erupted in Miami after a Hispanic cop shot and killed a young black man in Liberty City. The Miami Herald called it “civil unrest” in 1989. “We called them protests,” Reeves said in 1999 of The Miami Times’ editorial policy.

Reeves opted for words like “rebellion” and “protests” in The Miami Times because he felt they better focused on a community’s years of frustration in decrying police brutality. In its pages, he called for the dismissal of certain elected officials and endorsed causes and candidates. “For many, the Miami Times became the conscience of the black community,” Fields, the historian, wrote.

Reeves, a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and founding member of Miami’s Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, matched his editorials with actions.

Garth Reeves, publisher of The Miami Times, in February 1996.
Garth Reeves, publisher of The Miami Times, in February 1996.

Reeves provided scholarships for students to attend his alma maters, Booker T. Washington High School and Florida A&M University. He donated to The Black Archives/Lyric Theater. He received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Miami, Barry University, Florida Memorial University, and, in 2017, from Florida A&M University.

The honor from his Florida A&M alma mater meant a great deal to Reeves, said his friend, former Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence Jr.

Reeves, Fields noted, was the first black individual to serve on numerous local boards of directors, including United Way, Barry University, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and the Boy Scouts. At Miami Dade College, he was chairman of the governing board. The north campus features Garth C. Reeves Hall.

“Garth Reeves was a pillar and an icon of the Miami community,” said Eduardo Padrón, who stepped down earlier this year as president of Miami Dade College. “When he spoke everyone listened. He was the voice of justice and fairness. His impact on Miami Dade College as chairman of the board of trustees was immense. He ensured that MDC was the door of opportunity for everyone but especially for the underserved.”

Top black newspaper in the country

In 2011, Reeves was recognized by the National Newspaper Publishers Association with the Legacy of Excellence Award and the John B. Russwurm Award, which recognized The Miami Times as the top black newspaper in the country. In August 2017, Reeves was inducted into The National Association of Black Journalists’ 2017 Hall of Fame class.

“These valiant soldiers without swords not only excelled in their chosen field, they also brought others along with them. We stand on their shoulders,” Sarah Glover, NABJ president at the time, said in announcing the award.

“I have admired the organization since it started. Black journalists and the black press are up against formidable foes and we have to keep fighting and not give up. It makes you feel good when you are recognized by your peers and, being in the business, at 98, I feel good,” he told The Miami Times.

Also in 2017: City and county leaders designed Northwest Sixth Street as Garth C. Reeves Way.

The street sign that designated a portion of Northwest Sixth Street in Overtown as Garth C. Reeves Way, in a ceremony held on Nov. 3, 2017.
The street sign that designated a portion of Northwest Sixth Street in Overtown as Garth C. Reeves Way, in a ceremony held on Nov. 3, 2017.

“The world is so interesting today. That’s why I wish I could live another 10 years,” Reeves said at the time.

Reeves championed moving forward, which gave a community much to look back on.

As a civil rights leader in the 1950s, Reeves was among the first to swim at Crandon Park in defiance of laws that barred blacks from a beach designated whites only.

As a political crusader who published the dominant black-owned paper in Miami-Dade, the oldest and largest black-owned newspaper in the Southeastern United States, he used his position to galvanize African Americans to make their interests felt at the polls.

As a successful businessman, he gained entrée to a good-old-boy world of money and power.

The paper was the foundation of Reeves’ small fortune. He invested profits from it in real estate and bank stock. He owned 5 percent of downtown Miami’s Bayside Marketplace.

Reeves’ father, Henry E.S. Reeves, a master printer from the Bahamas, founded The Times on Sept. 1, 1923. He passed it on to his only son when he died in 1970.

“For decades, nay generations, Garth Reeves pushed hard — in print and in person — for basic justice and decency. We were blessed to have his typewriter and his voice for so very long,” said Lawrence, chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida.

“This man is truly a legend in South Florida history,” said Delrish Moss on a Facebook post Monday night. “For more than a century, he has made huge contributions on so many fronts, most notably, he has given the black community a voice like no other. I was privileged, for a time, to write a weekly contribution to the Miami Times, thanks in great part to Mr. Reeves and his daughter who preceded him in death.”

Moss, Florida International University’s law enforcement captain, was previously chief of police for the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri and a former major with the Miami Police Department.

Thanks to Reeves, Moss said, “South Florida got to hear another side of my voice.”

A product of Overtown, Liberty City

Reeves, born Feb. 12, 1919, in Nassau, and a product of Miami’s Overtown and Liberty City since he was 4 months old, held every position at the paper from the time he was in high school to his retirement in 1994. His daughter, Rachel, succeeded him as publisher and chief executive officer.

Garth Reeves with his family at their first home in Miami.
Garth Reeves with his family at their first home in Miami.

“It was easy for me because my dad had already started a business,” Reeves Sr. said in an interview in 1987. “We haven’t had that continuity of family business in the black community.”

After the civil rights gains of the 1960s, Reeves committed himself to the idea that success in business was key to black progress.

“Most people respect money. As long as you don’t have it, you’re not going to get respect,” he had said.

He cultivated a style that set shopkeeper and corporate executive at ease. In print, he was occasionally a firebrand. In person, he was disarmingly smooth. He often gave credit to his mother for helping shape his style.

“My mother always said, ‘You do not pick a fight you cannot win.’ ” After serving in a segregated Army during World War II and returning home, dispirited, he gave his mother a list of cities he would prefer to live in rather than Miami.

“She said, ‘Anywhere you go, you’re gonna find the same kind of people and you’ll always be black.’ She said that I’m not a person to run from something. If something isn’t right, then I ought to fix it,” he wrote in a Miami Stories feature for the Miami Herald in 2013.

Reeves kept his own anger about the slow progress of blacks carefully in check. By way of explanation, he would quote from a biography of the Louisiana Kingfish, Huey Long, who climbed from humble origins to become the most powerful governor in the state’s history.

“Huey Long said, ‘I’ll kiss your ass today if I can kick it tomorrow,’ ” Reeves recalled.

Recalling hurtful times

For a man who said he wasn’t angry, Reeves vividly recalled the hurts of a black lifetime lived in Miami-Dade County.

“Let me tell you a little story,” he would say.

It was the summer of 1935. He could not rise in the Boy Scouts because there was no public pool where a black youth could take the swimming test. He and some buddies sold candy and newspapers so they could go to a scout camp for blacks in Jacksonville. They were proud, he said, because they “beat the white man.”

“Let me tell you another little story,” he said. It was 1935 again. He and some classmates were walking home from a party late one night. They were a little rowdy. A white cop stopped them at the corner of Northwest Second Avenue and 11th Street.

He told the young men to line up and turn their heads to the right. Then he slapped them in a row, bop, bop, bop, bop, and shooed them home. Remembering the absurdity of that humiliation, Reeves spread his hands open and laughed heartily, but with bitterness.

“This is terrible, but you lived with it.”

Shaking off the memories, he refused to talk any more about the terrible things “white people have done to me.”

“My mother told me hate destroys people. If someone hurts you, move on,” he said.

When Reeves got out of the service and returned to Miami in 1946, his father, Henry E. Sigismund Reeves, was running The Times. A teetotaler, a disciplinarian, and an Episcopalian churchman, the elder Reeves was an old-fashioned leader.

He opposed the new tactics the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was using to fight segregation in Montgomery, Alabama. Bus boycotts were not for Miami, he argued in his column. His son wasn’t so patient.

“He thought you could talk out things sitting around a table,” the son said. “I didn’t want to take all that time waiting on change.”

Challenging segregation on the golf course

Reeves challenged segregation laws with personal acts of civil disobedience. In 1949, blacks were only allowed to play golf on Monday, the day the sprinklers were on.

Reeves showed up at a Miami golf course to play on a Wednesday. He and several other blacks sued for access to the fairways since their tax dollars helped in upkeep of the courses, too. They won after a seven-year battle in the courts.

John Johnson was one of the few black attorneys in Miami in the 1940s and became the second black judge to serve in the area. In an old photo are, from left, Garth Reeves, publisher of The Miami Times; Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become a Supreme Court justice; John Johnson; and G.E. Graves discussing the desegregation of the Miami Springs golf course in 1949.
John Johnson was one of the few black attorneys in Miami in the 1940s and became the second black judge to serve in the area. In an old photo are, from left, Garth Reeves, publisher of The Miami Times; Thurgood Marshall, who would go on to become a Supreme Court justice; John Johnson; and G.E. Graves discussing the desegregation of the Miami Springs golf course in 1949.

In 1957, Reeves was one of the first to integrate Dade County beaches. He and other black leaders collected their old tax bills for a meeting with white officials. “We’re law-abiding, tax-paying citizens,” they said, “and we’re going swimming this afternoon at Crandon Park.”

When Reeves got to the park, policemen with “snarling faces” lined the road, but the black men took a dip unmolested.

“From that day we swam at all the beaches,” Reeves said.

“These are the two things I’m most proud of,” Reeves wrote in 2013. “It taught me a lesson that you just gotta push and do your homework.”

Reeves found his writing voice in the 1960s when he became managing editor of The Times. Under his leadership, the paper preached the power of the vote.

At the same time, Reeves was networking with the downtown business establishment. He joined the predominantly white Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in 1968. He became deeply involved in the United Way, Boy Scouts and other philanthropies that downtown business executives saw as a test of civic commitment.

“That’s the way you meet people, doing civic work. They’re more willing to help you, when you’re helping the community,” he explained.

Garth C. Reeves, publisher emeritus, and his daughter, Rachel Reeves, the publisher of The Miami Times, as the newspaper celebrated its 75th birthday in 1998.
Garth C. Reeves, publisher emeritus, and his daughter, Rachel Reeves, the publisher of The Miami Times, as the newspaper celebrated its 75th birthday in 1998.

Reeves’ ties paid off for him personally. He made a bundle speculating on land in Kendall, he said.

“I’ve gotten some good information from white gatherings that led me to good investments that have made me good money,” he said.

Galvanizing blacks at the polls

In 1970, it was white business leaders who needed him. The Chamber was leading a campaign for a historic $129 million bond issue. They pitched the case to Reeves: Build sewers and streets, sidewalks and parks, a convention center and a city hall, and blacks will benefit.

Reeves gave the issue prominent coverage in The Times. The late and legendary Liberty City powerbroker Charles Hadley organized get-out-the-vote efforts in black precincts. When the results were tallied, blacks went heavily for the bonds.

“Not since the late Robert King High first ran for governor in 1964 have Miami’s black precincts voted in such a lopsided manner as they did in Tuesday’s bond election,” The Herald reported at the time.

Miami lawyer Bill Colson, a Chamber leader who co-chaired the bond campaign, said the projects would not have been approved without Reeves. “He was a tiger with it,” Colson said.

Again in 1977, The Times galvanized black voters.

The Rev. Theodore Gibson, the only African American on the Miami City Commission, had been forced into a runoff by Joe Carollo. Reeves ran a big headline in red warning blacks that the seat would be lost unless they voted.

“I knew I had to have a headline that would grab the black people and scare them a little,” he said.

In the runoff, black turnout was 50 percent higher than it had been in the primary. Gibson won.

That same year, Reeves stepped from the pages of The Times into the corridors of power. He organized the members of a fraternity of black professionals to pressure the school board to name Johnny Jones the first black Dade school superintendent. Jones was a local education administrator who lived in Reeves’ neighborhood.

“Garth was the strategist who put the whole thing together,” said former Deputy County Manager Dewey Knight at the time. “There was a lot of behind-the-scenes work talking to school board members.”

Reeves said the lobbying was necessary.

“In the newspaper business, sometimes you help people get elected. Somewhere down the line you might pick up the phone and say this guy is a good choice,” Reeves said. “If I thought Johnny could have gotten it without my phone calls, I never would have done it.”

When Jones was later accused of ordering gold plumbing fixtures for his home at public expense, The Times left the hard questions to others. Jones was the underdog, Reeves said.

“When you get everyone beating up on the black guy, you wonder if the black newspaper should join them,” he said.

Years of advocacy and deal-making made Reeves an elder statesman of the black community. His lifetime brought him personal wealth, but little peace of mind.

He was frustrated that blacks had not matched the economic success of whites and Cuban Americans who built fortunes from nothing in less than a decade.

“My greatest disappointment is that a larger number of us haven’t moved ahead,” he said. “I thought we’d have a hell of a lot more black millionaires by now.”

But he did not give up. “It’s a battle, but I’ll be 92 years old on February 12th and I haven’t given up,” Reeves said in 2011 for a Miami Herald story celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He’d met King in the 1960s.

“It’s a great thing to have a holiday named for a black person, and I continue to marvel at that,” he said. “I never thought I’d live to see a black man president of this country. I’ve seen so much negativity and denial in this country, and it’s amazing, the things that are happening today. Thank God.”

Reeves’ son Garth Jr. predeceased him at age 30 of colon cancer in 1982. Reeves’ survivors include his grandson, Garth Basil, who is now running The Miami Times.

According to the paper, funeral services will be 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Historic Saint Agnes’ Episcopal Church of Miami, 1750 NW Third Ave., Miami.

Former Miami Herald reporter Celia W. Dugger contributed to this obituary.

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