Goulds: In a Changing South Florida, this Little City Lives On

Goulds, Florida. A mystifying place just south of Miami, Florida. It’s a mysterious place for the many people who drive past this small section of South Miami, between Cutler Bay and Homestead. Most drive right past or even through Goulds with no idea of the storied history that sits just off US1. One could even use the cliché that if you blink you might miss it. That would mean missing a dynamic city some residents call, “a diamond in the rough”.

The beginnings of Goulds is a story of resilience, hard work, and compassion. Founded around 1900, in those early years the town was known simply as “Goulds Siding”. The name was given to the area after railroad operator Lyman Gould opened a depot in the area of SW 216th Street. Mr. Gould also needed workers and set out to northern Florida to find them. Word of jobs in the south brought many who wanted a better life. Most were from farming backgrounds, and southern Dade County was rich with agriculture. “Back then once the farmers would harvest they would let us go through the fields and take what we liked, everyone ate, nobody went hungry in Goulds”, says life long resident Bettie Lee. There were many species of fruits and vegetables indigenous to the area. Packing houses began sprouting up along Old Dixie Highway to process watermelons, strawberries, and sugar cane among other things. The access that the railroad brought also meant an industrial boom for the area.

In steps Mr. William Randolph. Mr. Randolph was given over 100 acres of land near what is now the intersection of SW 216th Avenue. Randolph is recognized as one of the first black homesteaders in the area. He decided that with the land President William Taft had given him he would empower the blacks that were moving into the area. He either sold or gave away parcels of his land to the black people moving into the area from north Florida. In doing so he created what has grown to become the Goulds we now know. Many of the families that live in Goulds are decedents of those original farming pioneers.

“I’ve lived here now for seventy-six years” says Mrs. Gladys Lee-Briscoe

Next were Mr. Arthur and Polly Mays. Mr. and Mrs. Mays were proponents of education. During the early 1900’s it was necessary that black people create an educational system for the children that came along with their farming parents. The May’s started Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in 1914. The church served as an early school. Mrs. Mays even took on duties as a bus driver to bring children from as far away as Perrine and Homestead to Goulds Elementary and Junior High School, after the couple had purchased an old bread truck. In 1960 Pine Villa Elementary was built, and Mays Junior-Senior High school was established. For nine years it served as secondary education for the community’s children. In 1969 it became Mays Junior High School. Today the school which, bares the names of its founders, has become Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts.

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By the seventies the town had become a flourishing home to well over 7000 residents. Goulds had survived one of the worst hurricanes in American history in 1926 which left much of Dade County severely damaged. Goulds didn’t go without damage of its own, but it survived. Goulds had survived the racial turmoil of the sixties. It was beginning to see the decline of the packing houses that had brought so many of its first residents, yet it still survived. The agricultural industry jobs that many in the towns parents and grandparents had worked to feed and provide for their families were drying up. It was a tough time economically for Goulds but the fighting spirit of its residents was intact and thriving. Some of the toughest times the city would face were still ahead.

“If there was ever a place I can say that I’m proud to be from, that gave me an opportunity and gave me a start, it gave me an area of respect to my elders, to my neighborhood, to the grown folks in my community, to the families, the friends” – Keith “Master Blaster” Miller

The eighties brought along with them the rise of the crack epidemic as well as an influx of immigration that would put the city of Miami in a perilous situation. Drugs had always been a part of the city but it was mostly marijuana. In the early eighties a little known drug called crack cocaine made its way to the community. Violence began to rise, mothers and fathers became addicted, and children in the community suffered because of it. In 1981 the city found itself with an astronomical murder rate, a murder rate so high that by the summer the city had to rent refrigeration trucks to store the dead because the morgue could no longer hold the rising body count. People like Griselda Blanco were making millions of dollars off the sale of Columbian cocaine. That cocaine was making its way into Goulds with devastating effects. Another source of change came in the form of the Mariel Boat lift. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro opened the Cuban port and allowed anyone wishing to leave the communist country, which lies ninety miles off the coast of Florida, to leave. Both average hard-working Cubans and criminals released from Castro’s prison system boarded boats by the thousands and headed to South Florida. The rise in population made it even more difficult to sustain jobs in an already dwindling agricultural industry. All of these factors left the small community of Goulds at a crossroad.

The nineties brought even harder times. In 1992 Hurricane Andrew ripped through Miami. Goulds was one of the hardest hit areas. The category five storm obliterated an already fragile community. Homes, businesses, schools, churches, almost nothing was spared. The little city that fought through so much in the previous eighty years was again in a desperate struggle for its survival. This time it was fighting to maintain its identity. After the storm the city relocated many of its residents. Some chose to leave. Some were forced to leave due to circumstances, and people from all over the city were relocated to homes and housing projects like Chocolate City in Goulds. With the arrival of new residents came new issues. Gone were the long-lasting family ties that once held the community together. In their place came feuds between the old residents of Goulds and the newcomers to the area. Drug battles and gang wars became a very real danger. Even through all of this, Goulds survived.

Places In Goulds

Faces of Goulds

Today the city of Goulds is going through a renaissance. People like Ms. Latoya Byrd are attempting to change the narrative of Goulds being a rough and tumble town, with her news magazine Good News Goulds. Started in 2016, the magazine focuses on showcasing the positive things that are happening in the community. She says, “What’s needed is a change in climate in our conversation. Not just talking about the bad, which is there, but lets start showcasing the good and talking about the good. That’s what Good News Goulds is and that’s kind of how it was born”. Others like commissioner Dennis C. Moss see the development of Goulds economically as a viable way to ensure that the city doesn’t disappear. He, along with others, are spearheading a movement that could turn Goulds and surrounding areas into the third largest city in Miami-Dade county through incorporation. With the help of people like Ms. Latoya Byrd and Mr. Moss, the future of Goulds has the potential to be bright. If the past of the city of Goulds has already proven one thing, it is that this little enclave outside of Miami knows how to survive.

Stay up to date with new happenings in Goulds through Twitter by following #goulds and #GoodNewsGoulds.

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