(📸: Opening of the Haitian Center at 4841 N.W. 2nd Avenue. From left, Pat Baussen (volunteer), Vera Weiss (attorney), Reverend Gérard Jean-Juste, Reverend Don Olson, and Bernard Adolpit (volunteer). Miami News Collection, HistoryMiami Museum. 29 September 1980.)
Between 1972 and 1977, over 200,000 Haitian immigrants arrived in South Florida. In order to help their community in a time of need, Reverend Gérard Jean-Juste — a Roman Catholic priest and rector of Saint Claire’s Church in Port-au-Prince, Haiti — created the Haitian Refugee Center. Father Jean-Juste moved to Miami in the 1970s and founded the Haitian Refugee Center to assist refugees who were facing violations of due process. The organization offered legal assistance to refugees in addition to hosting Saturday night meetings to brief them on legal developments as they happened. The group also occasionally organized demonstrations throughout South Florida.
In 1975, the National Council of Churches established Haitian Refugee Concerns, with the intention of organizing Haitian migrants and community support groups. The two organizations merged, and by the middle of 1978 a solely Haitian-led group, Combit Liberté, was created and became the primary political voice of Miami’s Haitian refugees.
The legal services rendered by the HRC were critical to the formation of Miami’s Haitian community. The legal assistance provided by the organization slowed the U.S. government’s efforts to repress the flow of Haitians to South Florida. Without those legal victories, it’s likely that the U.S. government would have succeeded in its efforts and Miami’s bustling Haitian community would not exist today.
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