Dana Albert Dorsey became Miami, Florida’s first Black millionaire in America in the late 1900s.
His story isn’t widely told in history books but now, some historians are working hard to document the businessman’s legacy. The bustling real estate mogul built a massive wealth fortress by acquiring land and real estate throughout Miami.
Dorsey dared to do the unthinkable at a time when segregation prevented many African Americans from investing their money into wealth-producing assets, but that didn’t stop him.
The Black entrepreneur was born in Quitman, Georgia in 1872. According to the D.A. Dorsey Technical College website, Dorsey’s relatives were sharecroppers. When he was of age, he moved to Palatka, Florida for a brief period before setting off to Miami in 1896.
While working for Henry M. Flagler’s Florida First East Coast Railroad Company as a Carpenter, Dorsey began to realize that there were limited housing options for Black people in the area.
Hoping to provide a solution, the real estate mogul purchased his first parcel of land. Historians believe that Dorsey made his first purchase in a neighborhood called Overtown, which is just northwest of Downtown Miami. Experts say he acquired the land for a mere $25.00.
Dorsey began constructing rental homes on the land, and soon after, his portfolio expanded.
Records at the County Recorder’s office indicate that the icon purchased Miami’s Fisher Island in 1918 from Herman B. Walker. Dorsey wanted to turn the 21-acre island into a private resort for Black people.
“..During this time of Jim Crow, blacks were not allowed to even swim in the beach or get in the water. So his whole purpose was to establish a black resort because he knew that, just like there were wealthy white people, there were wealthy black people,” WLRN’s Nadege Green said of Dorsey’s mission.
Unfortunately, the real estate titan encountered a few roadblocks while attempting to create his Black oasis for the community.
“There were some issues where he could not build and expand Fisher Island. One, I know notably was that it was on the east side of a railroad tracks and we know that [Henry] Flagler designated the east side of the railroad tracks for white people on the west side for black people,” Green explained, adding:
“I think it was very difficult for Dorsey to get the people and the manpower that he needed to get over to the island on a regular basis to get this island prepared.”
After owning the island for a year and a half, Dorsey sold the property to Alton Beach Company in 1919, but by that time, he had already amassed a sizeable real estate portfolio.
The entrepreneur built a house for his wife Rebecca in Overtown that still stands tall today as a historical landmark. He also donated land to create the first park for African American people in Miami. Today, the area is known as Dorsey Park. Additionally, D.A. Dorsey Technical College now sits in honor of the businessman. The campus was once home to Miami’s first Black high school, which Dorsey donated to regularly.