LITTLE HAITI (CBSMiami) — February is Black History Month and this week, CBS4 News turns to a local researcher who is quietly working to preserve Haitian history and culture because that too is a part of South Florida’s story.
From the 1950s to the 80’s, large numbers of Haitians left the island because of political conflicts and economic hardships. Many blamed the father and son Duvalier dictatorship. Thousands of refugees found a home in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.
“I wanted to show the Haitian presence from the beginning up to the present,” Retired Educator Marvin Ellis said.
Ellis was born and raised in Miami but he has spent decades immersing himself in Miami’s Haitian community.
CBS4’s Ty Russell recently visited with him at the Black Archives History and Research Foundation in Overtown where he is sharing his collection of Haitian culture, a special piece of the city’s black history.
“I was a teacher at Miami Edison Middle School which is the hub of the community. This is where all of the children from Haiti were going,” Ellis said.
Soon after that, the surrounding areas became known as Little Haiti, the center of political activism and demonstrations to bring awareness about life on the island.
“Miami is like the second capital of Haitian culture,” Ellis said.
The now retired educator took his camera and snapped pictures from the streets to inside churches where voodoo ceremonies took place.
“I wanted to actually show voodoo is a religious faith system, just like any other religion. It’s not what’s portrayed in the movies about sticking pins in dolls and this other foolishness,” he said.
Ellis, who earned degrees in Spanish and French, spent so much time in Little Haiti, he picked up a new language.
“I’ve learned to speak Creole,” he said.
Ellis hopes his contribution will help get rid of stereotypes portraying communities of color as crime-filled with dysfunctional families.
“There’s so much negativity out there about different culture groups,” Ellis said.
Ellis then took a dive researching his family’s history in South Florida and beyond. He has even reached out to people, who initially did not know Ellis was their relative.
“Learn your history. Learn your personal family history,” Ellis said.
From all of the research taken over the years, he wanted to show different ways how people come together.
“I wanted to portray that, what brings us or unites us together,” Ellis said.
In order to add to the black archives, Ellis is leaning on families in Miami for help.
“We need to know our history of today. What happens today is the history for tomorrow and future generations,” Ellis said.
For more details on his collection in Miami, you can head to The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida.