Changing Times

For more than 80 years the Miami Times has been the voice of the black community, but fewer and fewer people are listening

Critics observe that the Miami Times under her leadership has not embraced a diversifying Miami. This is reflected in the names that end up in print, the same handful of aging African-American leaders who've been circulating for decades. Are there no leaders under the age of 40? "If you go out in the hood, the average person looks at the obituary section; that and the church part of it is really a staple," asserts Overtown resident and activist Henry Crespo, who wrote a column for the Miami Times in the mid-Nineties, ran for office a couple of times, and helped lead an unsuccessful campaign to recall Art Teele from his city commission seat. "Everything else is the same -- the same people, the same stuff. As we're moving forward, you have to roll with the times. There are new minds out there, and they're stuck on something from 30 years ago."

Leo Casino, another Overtown activist, believes the paper is geared toward the black establishment and not the underclass. "I know we have an unwritten rule to not criticize blacks," he says, "but their support of Art Teele? Given his damage to the community? Look at the articles they've written. They're geared toward the upper class of blacks -- the politicians and the movers and shakers."

The 40-year-old Crespo is a bit of an anomaly in the black community. Where many whisper their discontent in closed circles, he is willing to challenge Reeves directly. "Look, sister, I don't think this is right," he remembers telling her after the paper made an issue of him being Cuban. "There are a lot of leaders out there other than the same old guard. You say I'm Cuban, but you Bahamian. You a phony just like me."

The racial tension just under the glittery surface of 
paradise became 
evident during the 1980 riots sparked by the acquittal 
of Miami police in 
the beating death of black motorist Arthur McDuffie
The racial tension just under the glittery surface of paradise became evident during the 1980 riots sparked by the acquittal of Miami police in the beating death of black motorist Arthur McDuffie

Reeves's apparent discomfort with non-African Americans extends beyond Crespo. Former reporter Luis Gomez says that after he left the Times, he heard from former colleagues that Reeves didn't like him because he's not black. "I have no way of knowing if that was true," he says.

Another former reporter, Hansen Sinclair, notes, "I'm Jamaican. She made many comments I don't want to get into."

Two other former reporters, both African Americans, say that on more than one occasion Reeves directed them to exclude whites from coverage, especially in photographs. "She would say, 'I don't want to see no white people on the front of my paper,'" one of them relates.

Apparently this edict occasionally extends even to advertisers. Susan Root, owner of African Village Gifts in North Miami Beach, experienced this last year, when, without warning, the ads she'd been running in the paper for several years disappeared. Root, 53 years old, is white. When she called to inquire about it, she was told by two Miami Times employees that they'd dropped her ad because she was white. "People said, 'If I was you, I wouldn't do business with them again,'" Root recalls. "I felt it wasn't right. Discrimination is wrong no matter who it's against. I've been involved in the black community my whole life."

Root fought for three months to get her ads back in, even calling friends in the local NAACP, and her pastor, Bishop Victor T. Curry. Eventually this worked, but she also complained to the county's Community Relations Board. "When I got back to my store the night I testified, I got a phone call from somebody in the community," she recounts. "She said, 'I think it's a disgrace what a sister will do to a sister, and I'm coming to your store to shop.'"

A couple of years ago, one of Rachel Reeves's cousins, April Young, tried to inject new life into the paper. Young, a serious and intelligent woman, had graduated from Princeton University and returned to Miami. Because she was between jobs, she offered her services as an editor to the family institution. "She had an attitude of 'We can turn the paper around,'" says a former reporter who worked there. "She had a flow chart and everything. She wanted to bring order to it." Young lasted only a few months, leaving, sources say, because she realized she couldn't have the effect she intended. Young herself declines comment: "You understand, it's family."

Neither Garth nor Rachel Reeves would consent to an interview for this story. Garth Reeves did not return numerous messages. New Times had one exchange with his daughter. "What kind of story are you doing?" she asked suspiciously. "What is it New Times wants to tell corporate Miami about the Miami Times?"

New Times wanted to write a story about the Times and how it has evolved as the community has changed. After all, New Times hadn't reported on the paper since 1989. It wouldn't be a PR piece, but it would be fair.

"Well, if you're not going to do a PR piece, why should I talk to you?" she replied. "Do your story. What can I say to you? You make me feel very uncomfortable. New Times does not do positive stories. If you are going to try to hurt the Miami Times in this community, I won't talk to you. Now, if you want to do something positive --"

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