Refusing to blame “the man,” or play the race card as other black politicians caught doing misdeeds sometimes do, former city of Miami commissioner Miller J. Dawkins acknowledged that he was wrong, served his time and moved on with his life.
That life came to an end on Aug. 2 at the University of Miami Hospital.
Surrounded by family and friends, Dawkins succumbed to leukemia and diabetes, according to close friend and Omega Psi Phi fraternity brother, T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami.
Born in Tampa on March 10, 1925, Dawkins earned degrees from Florida Memorial College and the University of North Colorado. A U.S. Merchant Marine veteran, he was a community organizer with the Model Cities program in Miami, and director of special programs for Miami-Dade Community College before beginning his political career.
Dawkins was first elected to the commission in 1981. Fifteen years later, Miller’s involvement in the FBI's Operation Greenpalm sting led to his 1996 resignation.
News clips show that Dawkins accompanied by his lawyer, the late Jesse McCrary, and Fair, as he entered the federal courthouse in downtown Miami to plead guilty to accepting bribes for influencing a city contract.
During the federal corruption probe that also brought down other city leaders, Dawkins was recorded taking a $30,000 bribe and later demanding more. He offered a tearful apology to the judge before pleading guilty to bribery, corruption and conspiracy for his part in trying to wring money from Unisys, a city vendor, for $200,000. Dawkins was sentenced to 27 months.
Fair said that while others questioned his decision to stand by his friend during one of the darkest hours of Dawkins’ life, for Fair, it was never a question.
“He certainly did not need somebody that he thought was his genuine friend…to be chickenhearted when he needed somebody to stand with him,” Fair said, adding that the loyalty went both ways.
“I only had to defend him one time, he had to defend me every day, I just thought about that,” the oft-times controversial Fair said with a hearty chuckle. “I can think of 10,000 times when he had to defend me.”
Fair said he visited his friend often during Dawkins’ incarceration that began in June 1997 at the Miami-Dade County Federal Correctional Institution in West Kendall. However, his memories of Dawkins also include brighter days, particularly Saturdays.
“We had fun every Saturday. We would go to George Adams’ house and get some Popeye’s chicken, some BBQ, some Heinekens’ for George, some Western champagne for me and some big orange soda for Miller. And we would just relive the week and plan the next week. And then in the rest of the time…gossiping about folks,” shared Fair, who said that he is planning Dawkins’ funeral and memorial services.
When asked what he’d miss most about Dawkins, Fair responded, “him.”
Attorney George Knox said Dawkins “was elected at a time when it was necessary to fight among his colleagues. At the time, commissioners were elected city wide and not by district. Parks were well equipped and streets were maintained, all of those things were attributed to his effectiveness as a public official.”
Known for being an outspoken and often combative commissioner, Knox said Dawkins was “very constructive, especially at a time when you had to scramble and scrape for your constituents. He understood that you have to know how to bargain when you’re trying to reach consensus.”
Dawkins was instrumental in Liberty City’s Charles Hadley Park getting the Olympic-sized swimming pool that bears his name, as well as the park’s Carrie Meek Senior and Cultural Center, among other accomplishments.
Miami Dade Human Services Division Director Richard Harris said he recalls meeting Dawkins, his neighbor at the time, when Harris was in the third grade.
[Some friends and I] were fighting in an alley behind [Dawkins‘] house. All of a sudden out of nowhere we see these rocks passing by our heads and somebody with some expletive language telling us in no uncertain terms that we shouldn’t be there,” recalled Harris, also a fraternity brother of Dawkins.
Harris said he’ll remember Dawkins’ hearty laugh and his devotion to Omega Psi Phi.
“He was a true fraternity brother, always doing things on behalf of the fraternity. Always doing things to improve us as a body, as black men.”
In addition to his wife Nancy, a retired teacher, Dawkins is survived by a sister and two grandchildren.
A community celebration will take place on Sunday, Aug. 8 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Poitier Funeral Home, 2321 NW 62 St. in Liberty City. The Omega Psi Phi fraternity will host its Omega Memorial service at the fraternity’s headquarters, 15600 NW 42 Ave. in Miami Gardens.
A funeral service will take place at noon on Aug. 10 at New Birth Baptist Church, 2300 NW 135th St.