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Pearl City a gem in early Boca Raton

As Addison Mizner spread pink across the horizon, as the glitterati made Boca Raton a tropical paradise, people lived and raised families and died in a modest three-block area called Pearl City.

It was formed in 1915, a decade before Boca Raton was incorporated and the Boca Raton Resort and Club opened.

Henry Flagler’s land agent in Boca Raton created a three-block subdivision with three streets: Ruby, Pearl and Sapphire.

Original settlers worked on large, white-owned farms or operated small subsistence farms.

Probable explanations for the neighborhood’s name: for the first black child born in the community; for the subdivision’s major street; or for the Hawaiian Pearl pineapple, which was processed in a shed on the site.

Ebenezer Baptist Church was organized in November 1918. The previous year, pioneer Alex Hughes helped get the area its first black school. The African Methodist Church formed in 1919. A Boca Raton park named for Hughes was dedicated in February 1972; he died in January 1977.

Eventually, the small black community spread beyond the original three-block area near Federal Highway and Glades Road to include about another eight blocks to the north.

A bust of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands along Glades Road between Federal Highway and Northeast First Avenue.

For the 1990 oral history Pearl City, Florida: A Black Community Remembers, Florida Atlantic University Professors Arthur S. Evans and David Lee interviewed 26 elderly pioneers and researched the neighborhood’s past.

“Living in Pearl City was all right,” the late pioneer Q.J. “Bud” Jackson said in 2000. “That’s all we knew anyway. We lived in what you called ‘colored town.’ That’s all there was. We were used to that.”

Jackson, a landscaping supervisor for the city for 28 years, had moved into Pearl City about 1936; his father bought three lots for $75 each. About a year later, Jackson was only 12 or 13 when he got a job operating a newfangled automatic dishwasher at the Boca Raton Resort and Club.

Read more about the history of Pearl City here.

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Long term Pearl city residents Ossie M. Stevens, left, and Nora Simmons watch a slide show at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church anniversary celebration in 2002. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

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Posted in Black Palm Beach Blog and Eliot Kleinberg and Flashback blog August 12, 2010 at 8:46 am.

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