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New collection at Richter examines history of Grove

Coconut Grove has evolved in the last 50 years and the University of Miami is now sharing the city’s history with students and faculty.

With 5,000 negatives of every picture he took of Coconut Grove during the 1950s and 1960s, local activist and Board of Trustees emeritus member Bob Simms documented the community before and after segregation.

The “Bob Simms Collection,” which documents his life and work in the community, went on display at the Otto G. Richter Library on Feb. 15 and will remain until the end of March.

There are six display cases set up on the first floor of Richter, including a compilation of photographs called “Glory of the Grove.” The displays also present documents that chronicle Simms’ family history as well as his activism and work in the community as a teacher at George Washington Carver High School and later as executive director of the Community Relations Board.

The archives include father Harry Simms’ degree from Tuskegee Institute and campaign material from his daughter Leah Simms, who was the first African-American female to serve as a judge in Florida.

The display, which took the library two months to plan, is meant to strengthen younger generations by preserving the history of the Grove community.

“I’ve saved [the photographs] because it is my firm belief that the young people in the Grove ain’t got a clue who they are,” Bob Simms said at the exhibit’s opening event.

Robert Moore, a professor in the School of Education, was also present at the opening event and has been a close family friend of the Simms. He believes that the historical and social significance of the collection is relevant.

“Students need to know the growth of Miami,” he said. “[The exhibit] is a place where people can see and remember.”

Alumni and former students of Simms from George Washington Carver High School also attended the opening event wearing their school shirts.

Retired teacher Patricia Harper Garre, who graduated with the class of 1963, said that growing up “we never felt the segregation, because we just felt we were good as anyone else.” She gives credit to people like Bob Simms who functioned as a “motivator” to students.

“You can’t understand what makes me tick unless you understand all of me,” Simms said. “In the collection you have all of me.”

Farah Dosani may be contacted at f.dosani1@umiami.edu.

March 20, 2008

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