A few short miles away from Miami’s world-famous South Beach, there’s a little-known historic gem — the Hampton House Motel. Once dubbed, the “first luxury hotel for Negros in the South,” this Negro Motorist Green Book establishment was the epitome of Black excellence in Miami, Florida in the 1960s.
I’ve traveled the world on a quest to learn as much as I can about the histories of Black and Brown people across the globe. As a native Miamian, Black History buff, and journalist I’m ashamed to admit how little I knew about the rich history of the Hampton House Motel right in my backyard. To me, the Hampton House Motel was the “Hamps” a rundown, low-income housing complex where some of my family members once lived. It wasn’t until the Hampton House was slated for demolition that I learned it had some historical significance.
After doing a little research, I decided to schedule a tour and was blown away by the depth and breadth of Black history associated with the Hampton House.
THE HAMPTON HOUSE LEGACY
In the 1960s, the Hampton House Motel was the gathering place for not only the local movers and shakers but also for larger-than-life performers, musicians, socialites, and politicians. Within the walls of this famed motel, a prominent preacher practiced one of the greatest speeches in history and a young fighter became “the Champ.”
The motel originally opened in 1954 as the Booker Terrace Motel. Situated on a 5-acre tract of land, it included 50 hotel rooms, 96 one-bedroom apartments, 48 two-bedroom apartments, a 24-hour restaurant, and a nightclub. In 1961, Booker Terrace was purchased, renovated, and renamed the Hampton House Motel and rebranded as “The Social Center of the South.”
Listed in Victor Green’s “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” the Hampton House Motel was one of Miami’s premier facilities for Black travelers during segregation. It was a chic resort with a pool, maître d’ service, valet parking, and a 24-hour restaurant and lounge where some of the best jazz musicians performed before integrated crowds.
During its heyday, the luxury motel hosted a number of famous artists like:
Aretha Franklin Marvin Gaye
Count Basie Sarah Vaughn
Dinah Washington Sammy Davis, Jr.
Dizzy Gillespie Duke Ellington
Ella Fitzgerald Flip Wilson
Frank Sinatra James Brown
THE EPICENTER OF POLITICAL & SOCIAL CHANGE
In addition to being the hottest place to see and be seen, the Hampton House Motel was also the epicenter of political and social change in Miami. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would meet with local civil rights leaders at the Hampton House Motel when he was in Miami. The Motel also became the hub for the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E) and on numerous occasions, Dr. King, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X all stayed at the Hampton House with their families.
The guide informed us that no conversation about the Civil Rights Movement is complete without a reference to Miami’s Hampton House Motel, during our tour. In a documentary, Miami Civil Rights Activist A. D. Moore said that three years before Dr. King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington, DC, he rehearsed it at the Hampton House Motel in Miami. According to our docent, it’s believed that Malcolm X (Ali’s mentor and friend) proselytized him to the Nation of Islam during their stays at the motel.
In 1964, Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali) beat Sonny Liston in Miami Beach. That feat made Clay, at 22 years old, the youngest boxer to ever take the heavyweight title from a reigning champion. But even as a celebrity athlete, Jim Crow Laws prevented the man who coined the term GOAT—”The Greatest of All Time”—from staying at any hotel in Miami Beach. The Champ returned to the Hampton House Motel to celebrate his victory by enjoying a large bowl of ice cream with friends.
The night of the famous fight has been reimagined by Hollywood in the film, “One Night in Miami“. The movie is about a fictional meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke at the Hampton House Motel, the night of the Ali/Liston fight.
DECLINE AFTER DESEGREGATION
During desegregation, Black folks started to patronize other establishments which resulted in the resort losing most of its clientele. The Hampton House Motel officially closed its doors in 1976. It remained closed from 1976 to the early 2000s. A shadow of its former glory, the neglected building became dilapidated, a tree sprouted up in the same pool where Dr. King had once swum. In 2001, a group of activists raised awareness about the rich history of the once-famed motel, mobilized the community, and was successful in getting the Miami-Dade County Historic Preservation Board to designate the Hampton House Motel as a historical landmark.
THE HAMPTON HOUSE MOTEL TODAY
It took more than a decade for the building to be preserved. During that time, a group of experts painstakingly worked to incorporate wall paneling, railings, fixtures, and furniture. The Historic Hampton House Motel reopened in 2015 after three guest rooms, the lobby, café, patio, and pool had been restored.
The Historic Hampton House Motel is a historic site and cultural institution. Today, it operates as a museum and cultural center that provides tours and rents space. Although this landmark was saved from the wrecking ball, we still need to do our part to support it and preserve our history. The tours are $5 for adults and kids are free. Call (305) 638-5800 to schedule a tour.
The Historic Hampton House Motel is located at 4240 NW 27th Avenue, Miami, FL, less than 5 miles from Miami International Airport. For more information on tours visit Historic Hampton House.
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