Citizens on Watch
January 15th – March 5th, 2021
Photographs from the Delray Beach Historical Society Collection Archive
In 1999, an ambitious national documentary project called “Indivisible” sought to explore how communities across America were volunteering to improve their neighborhoods. Photographers and oral historians from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, in partnership with the Center for Creative Photography and the University of Arizona, set out across communities to understand local solutions to local problems.
Delray Beach was selected as one of the project’s twelve locations which were included in a book about the project titled Local Heroes Changing America. Joan Liftin, director of documentary and photojournalism education at the International Center of Photography, photographed the Delray Beach story. Having worked as a UNICEF photographer in Port-au-Prince, she found her lens focusing on the stories of Delray’s growing Haitian population.
At the time of this project, Haiti was reeling from political unrest and poverty, and thousands of Haitians were seeking new lives in South Florida. The city of Delray Beach soon became home to the largest per capita Haitian population in the United States. Haitian immigrants, fresh from political upheaval and abuses, had little reason to trust local law enforcement. To curb tension, the Delray Beach Police Department initiated community policing programs. The Haitian Citizens Police Academy and Roving Patrol both worked to improve relations between citizens and city officials, giving immigrants the opportunity to secure a more stable future.
Liftin’s photos of the Haitian community from Citizens on Watch make up the Exhibition at Arts Warehouse, alongside a selection of the oral histories that were collected by Florida-based journalist Merle Augustin. They are a reminder of the complexity of Delray Beach and the tenacity of its residents. The interviews displayed weave a personal narrative through the black and white images, ultimately bringing the book to life. The photos are from the Delray Beach Historical Society Archival Collection.