Garth C. Reeves, 100, Activist Newspaper Publisher, Is Dead
He advanced the cause of civil rights through the venerable Miami Times, the city’s most influential black newspaper, which his father founded in 1923.
Garth C. Reeves at the offices of The Miami Times in 1998. His Bahamian immigrant father founded the newspaper in 1923.Credit…A. Enrique Valentin/South Florida Sun Sentinel
· Nov. 28, 2019
MIAMI — Garth C. Reeves, the publisher emeritus of The Miami Times, the city’s most influential black newspaper, which he used to advance the cause of civil rights, died on Monday in Aventura, Fla. He was 100.
His grandson, Garth Basil Reeves III, the newspaper’s current publisher and Mr. Reeves’s only survivor, said the cause was pneumonia. He said his grandfather’s health had been in decline since the death of his daughter, Rachel J. Reeves, at 69 in September.
The elder Mr. Reeves, whose Bahamian immigrant father founded The Miami Times, a weekly, in 1923, embraced his roles as newspaperman, business owner and activist. In columns (some written by Mr. Reeves) and editorials, The Times wrote with forceful clarity about racial issues and championed — and challenged — local politicians over their promises to black voters. His efforts helped desegregate Miami’s public golf courses and beaches.
“I’d like to see our news continue to fight for the rights of the people in our community and never to become complacent and feel that the struggle is over,” Mr. Reeves said in an interview published by his newspaper in 2007, some 14 years after he had handed the reins to his daughter.
In a city where longtime residents frequently bemoan a lack of civic leadership, Mr. Reeves was an exception, said Dorothy Jenkins Fields, a historian who, with Mr. Reeves’s help, established the Black Archives, a repository that showcases the black experience in the city since its incorporation in 1896. She noted that he turned The Miami Times into the oldest black-owned business in town.
“He was not intimidated by the white community,” Ms. Fields said. “The fact is that they were a family business, supported by the community, so they could do things that others could not do.”
Mr. Reeves in 2017. His efforts helped desegregate the city’s public golf courses and beaches.Credit…Emily Michot/Miami Herald
Garth Coleridge Reeves was born on Feb. 12, 1919, in Nassau, the Bahamas, to Rachel Cooper and Henry Ethelbert Sigismund Reeves. His parents moved to the Overtown neighborhood of Miami — then known as “Colored Town” and home to some of the city’s oldest Bahamian settlers — when Garth was 4 months old. His father ran The Miami Times from 1923 until his death in 1970.
Mr. Reeves graduated from Florida A&M University and served in the Army in World War II. He embraced the cause of civil rights when, returning by ship from the war, he could not disembark with white soldiers but had to use a separate gangplank.
“He started to use the newspaper as a vehicle to express the kind of disgust he felt when he got back and nothing had changed,” said Mohamed Hamaludin, who was managing editor of The Times under Mr. Reeves for 15 years.
Mr. Reeves was working in the newspaper’s printing business when he and other young black men went to court in 1949 to challenge a city policy that allowed black people to play on Miami’s public golf courses only once a week — on Mondays, when the greens were watered. The case dragged on until 1958, but the city ultimately lost.
The next year, to challenge a Miami-Dade County policy under which black people could use only one public beach, in Virginia Key, Mr. Reeves and a friend went to a whites-only beach in Crandon Park, on the north end of Key Biscayne. Ignoring police threats, they waded into the water, but the police made no move to arrest them.
News of the men’s defiance of the color line and the lack of a police response inspired other black Miamians to begin using whatever beach they pleased.
Garth Basil Reeves III, who is 30, said his grandfather had instilled in him the values of advocacy journalism at a young age.
“Other children were told they could be astronauts or the president,” Mr. Reeves said in an interview. “I was told that I had a role to play in this community.”
The elder Mr. Reeves handed the paper to his son, Garth Reeves Jr., in 1980. But his son died of colon cancer at age 30, two years later, so the elder Mr. Reeves returned to the helm. His daughter, who had not been groomed as his successor — Mr. Reeves admitted that he had perhaps been a “chauvinist” — eventually took over.
At her funeral, Mr. Reeves, a century old, walked from the car to the front pew of the church and then back out, behind his daughter’s coffin.
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.
Patricia Mazzei is the Miami bureau chief, covering Florida and Puerto Rico. Before joining The Times, she was the political writer for The Miami Herald. She was born and raised in Venezuela, and is bilingual in Spanish. @PatriciaMazzei • Facebook
A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 1, 2019, Section A, Page 30 of the New York edition with the headline: Garth C. Reeves, 100, Activist and Newspaper Publisher. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe