Miami Pioneers & Natives Of Dade • www.mpnod.org
Meetings begin at 2:30pm at the Central Christian Church of Coral Gables at 222 Menores Avenue.
We welcome one and all to join us for our monthly historical programs and special events.
We usually meet on the first Sunday of each month except for July and August, or on holiday weekends.
Please bring $1 donation to cover the cost of the room. We very much appreciate those who can provide refreshments such as cookies, crackers, brownies, etc.
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MP/NOD Member Ruth Greenfield Honored In Documentary For Civic Activism
On October 9th and 10th at 8:00pm and October 12th at 4:00pm, Steve Waxman’s provocative film “Instruments of Change” will be aired on WLRN-TV Channel 17.
It’s a documentary about integration through the arts in Miami beginning with MP/NOD member Ruth Greenfield opening the Fine Arts Conservatory “for all” in 1951. It stars teachers, students and parents from both sides of the tracks, now in prominent careers throughout the community and the nation.
The Greenfield family especially thanks three civic activists. Sara Case, who after hearing about the Conservatory and its aftermath apprised Laurie Schecter, who with her sister Julie, commissioned Steve to create this authentic portrayal of the arts’ herculean role in desegregating South Florida.
Ruth W. Greenfield is a musician and teacher who, through music, broke racial barriers and brought together black and white students, taught by black and white teachers. This pioneering color-blind approach was considered scandalous at the time, but was a breath of fresh air in the then-segregated society.
She was born in Key West, Florida, in 1923, and grew up in Miami since she was six months old. While growing up, she was unaware of the pervasive segregation of the time, except when visiting her grandparents in Spring Garden. Across the railroad tracks from there was the neighborhood then called Colored Town, and now called Overtown. This town seemed like a strange other world, in which black people had a servile role, doing laundry for white people.
She began studying piano at age 5, and later studied with Mana-Zucca, who moved from New York to Miami. She graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1941, then studied for two years at the University of Miami, then obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. While studying with the renowned pianist Artur Schnabel, she broke more racial taboos by dating a classmate who was a young black man from Jamaica. She returned to the University of Miami again to teach piano.
She later left Miami for Paris, France, in 1949, in order to study composition with Nadia Boulanger, the teacher of such luminaries as Aaron Copland and Astor Piazzolla. Paris of that time was refreshingly integrated, with integration considered as the norm. She married Arnold Greenfield there, who was an attorney and friend of her brother from Miami. He enjoyed painting and cooking and listening to his wife play the piano. Her maid of honor was a black pianist from Tennessee.
Upon returning to segregated Miami, she wanted to do something about the situation. She founded the Fine Arts Conservatory in 1951, along with Tally Brown. The school moved between black and white neighborhoods, holding classes in such locations as private homes, a Masonic lodge, a YMCA and the most notorious location, a storage room for caskets in an Overtown funeral home, that reeked of formaldehyde.
Finally in 1961, the conservatory had raised enough money to buy a building that served as its permanent location until it closed in 1978. This was in Liberty City, a white neighborhood around Miami’s 60th Street. The conservatory eventually expanded to six branches throughout Miami. Overtown resident Mary Ford Williams helped found the school, while her son James Ford studied piano at the school.
Ruth Greenfield also continued to teach for 32 years at what is today Miami Dade College, Florida’s first integrated college. In the fall of 2011, the college rededicated its Wolfson Campus auditorium in her honor.