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Arva Moore Parks (1939-2020) was a historian, author, preservationist, and community leader from Miami, Florida. She authored numerous books on Miami and Florida history including, "Miami: The Magic City" (1981), "The Forgotten Frontier: Florida Through the Lens of Ralph Middleton Munroe" (2004), "Miami: Then and Now," and "Coconut Grove" (2010). In her long and distinguished career, Parks served on numerous boards and commissions and undertook many roles. As well as acting as the president of Arva Parks & Company and Centennial Press, Parks was previously the Acting Director and Chief Curator of the Coral Gables Museum and served as Chair of the Board; she chaired the Southern Region of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Board of Advisors and the Florida Endowment for the Humanities, and has been involved with the Florida International Women’s Forum. Parks was also one of the first women to be on the Orange Bowl Committee, which led her to be an early female member of the University of Miami Board of Trustees. Serving in these many capacities garnered multiple honors for Parks; the State of Florida and City of Miami inducted her into the Women’s Hall of Fame and the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce named her the Robert B. Knight “Citizen of the Year” and gave her the first George Merrick Award of Excellence. In addition, the Florida Historical Society honored her as the Caroline B. Rossitter “Outstanding Woman in Florida History.”
Born to a mother from Kentucky and a father from Georgia who moved to Miami during the Great Depression in the 1930s, Parks’ life began in a house in an area previously known as Riverside - now, Little Havana. While she attended the local Riverside Elementary School – which was walking distance from her home – Parks and her family attended a church in downtown Miami (one of four in that area); the church functioned as a gathering place for people from all over the city. While she made many friends and connections, Parks’ experiences that resulted from her time at the church would also eventually turn out to influence the textures of her scholarly output. Parks relates, “Because of these friends, I always saw Miami as a whole and not just as a sum of many parts” (Miami Stories); though her friends were scattered all over Miami’s various neighborhoods, because she was able to experience spaces of intersection, borders that segmented different enclaves of the city appeared less delineated. The experiential knowledge Parks accrued about Miami was augmented by the influence of her father; she states, “I got my sense of history and my passion for Miami from my father. He always had his nose in a history book, taught me historical facts, a love for the constitution and took me around and told me things about Miami” (“Miami Stories”). Unsurprisingly, Parks’ first career was as a history teacher.
After attending Florida State University from 1956 to 1958 and graduating from University of Florida in 1960 with a Bachelor’s degree, Parks taught American History and Government at Miami Edison Senior High School – her alma mater – the first year it was integrated. In addition, in the immediate aftermath of the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s Park witnessed the mass arrival of Cuban refugees into Miami as many Cuban children, sent to Miami alone through Operation Pedro Pan, ended up in her classroom. After leaving Miami Edison, Parks went on to teach at the Everglades School for Girls as well as the University of Miami; in 1971 she also got her Master’s degree in History from the University of Miami. Since 1970, Parks was a freelance research historian; her research endeavors were predominantly coupled with preservation and heritage initiatives and projects, such as her work to preserve the Miami Biltmore Hotel. In 1996, she was also awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Barry University.
Throughout her career, Parks’ attention to the role of place and space in the formation of individuals is equally met by her sensitivity toward questions of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Though she described the church’s utility in enabling her to view Miami and its peoples as a whole, it must not be glazed over that when Parks was a child the city was still heavily segregated under Jim Crow law, prompting Martin Luther King Jr.’s oft-quoted comment that Sunday morning was the most segregated hour of the American week. Hence, observing the social geographies of space and not discriminating against people because of the locations they occupy within said spaces is something she learned from her father as a young girl. Parks relates, “My family was ethnically Southern … When it came to race, however, they were unlike most others who lived in then-segregated Miami. I was taught to respect everyone regardless of their race, religion, gender, or ethnicity” (“Miami Stories”). With regards to her own writing practice she relates, “When I write about Miami, I always include everyone in the story” (“Miami Stories”); that is, her focus is not limited to chronicling the lives of the privileged or socially visible few; this perspective, however, is evident in excess of the scope of Parks’ writerly career.
In 2010, alongside eminent historian and archivist Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields - who, among her many accolades, founded Miami’s The Black Archives, History and Research Foundation - Parks participated in the documentary "Parallel Lives."1 The film follows the lives of the two historians growing up in Miami from the 1940s onwards; though both women are of the same generation, grew up in the same city, and would turn out to become historians and friends, the film’s focus is on how, despite the numerous parallels between their lives, their social realities were vastly different because Parks was white and Fields is black. Parallel Lives marked an important juncture in Parks’ career as a historian because it evidenced her self-reflexive praxis with regards to her work; it is not conventional within scholarly contexts for historians to extensively discuss themselves as historical subjects implicated in their own work, thus, Fields’ and Parks’ documentary is emblematic of an important yet common mode of historiographical pedagogy. Parks’ endeavors in the area of racial, ethnic, and gender relations is evidenced by the numerous and diverse awards she has received for her work; she has been honored by The Black Archives, Cuban Women’s Club, the Dade County and City of Miami Commissions on the Status of Women, and Temple Israel, among others.
UGrow Fellow for the Department of Manuscripts and Archives Management, 2019-2020
1. Parallel Lives. Produced by Mark Baker, performances by Dorothy Jenkins Fields and Arva Moore Parks and narration by Julia Yarbough. WPBT2; Community Television Foundation of South Florida, 2010.
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Parks, Arva Moore. “Miami Stories: Historian and Author Arva Moore Parks Shares Her Own Tale.” Miami Herald, 12 Nov. 2015.