Harriet Tubman Highway finally saw the light of day in South Florida on Saturday after years of local voices calling for the removal of the name Dixie Highway, one of the state’s most well-known roads.
At the renaming ceremony near Vizcaya Metrorail Station, Florida legislatures and local commissioners and council members spoke about the weight that comes with the change of a name.
“Some have said, ‘Get over it.’ If there was a Fidel Castro Highway in Miami-Dade, would we say ‘Get over it’?” Former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Dennis Moss said at the ceremony. “It would not just be no, it would be hell no. ... The time is always right to do something right.”
The American hero’s name written in strong lettering on a freshly planted sign marked a turning page in history for communities of color and a lesson to be reminded of what Tubman fought hard against, speakers told the crowd.
“We can not forget slavery,” Florida State Rep. Dotie Joseph said. “We can not forget the ramifications of it.”
The move to honor Tubman as the new name of Dixie Highway began about two years ago with a question from a then-high school sophomore to her activist grandfather.
On a drive with her grandfather Modesto Abety, Isabella Banos heard the computerized voice of a GPS system declare “Turn right on South Dixie Highway.”
“Why is it named Dixie Highway?” Banos asked her grandfather.
That question and the research that followed is what moved her and Abety to began waging a war to remove Dixie from street signs across Florida, Banos said.
“It’s been a long journey,” Banos said. “To see all of this in fruition and finally see my first sign, I can’t describe the feeling. I’m just so happy my question turned into something this significant.”
Banos wrote an essay for the Miami Times in 2019 calling for the county to rename Dixie Highway after Tubman. Abety sent an email to Moss and the other 12 commissioners with a draft resolution to change the name as well.
At the time in commission meetings to discuss whether they would remove Dixie, Moss explained its history.
“Dixie Highway was named for the Dixie states ... . The Dixie states seceded from the Union because they wanted to continue the inhumane institution of slavery.”
Months of city and county meetings ultimately found success. All 10 cities and Miami-Dade County that West Dixie, Old Dixie and South Dixie Highway run through have passed resolutions to remove Dixie road signs.
However, today there are still many more areas of the more-than-5,000-mile highway that run’s through Florida and other southern states that will keep the Dixie name. A change to the rest of Florida’s Dixie Highway would take an approval from the state legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“There is still a lot of work to be done in this, but to stand here today and have the sign unveiled on U.S. 1 that says Harriet Tubman Highway, many of us probably thought this would never happen,” Moss said.