A 7alle of iJwo Women
Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Mlaijoric 1larris Carr
Segment: Elizabeth Virrick's work in Coconut Grove's black community
Source: Interview with Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Videotaped at the Douglas House in Coconut Grove,
June 16, 1983.
Length of Segment: 00:04:53
Transcript and audio recording are copyright 1983-2009 Florida International University.
MSD: In fact, we had bi-racial committees and the wonderful work that Elizabeth Virrick has always
done. I was on her original committee; well it was originally Coconut Grove Committee for Slum
Clearance, which was trying to improve the conditions in the part of town that was then called Colored
Town. And we found that there were little houses, but they didn't have running water in them, and they
had privies in the backyard and wells, and the white people's laundry was being done in the backyards
of those houses, with water that was polluted from these backyard privies. Elizabeth found this out and
she formed the Committee for Coconut Grove, the Committee for Slum Clearance, and it took us two
years to get a referendum, which would make the City of Miami pass an ordinance that said that every
house in the city had to have running water and inside toilets. An inside toilet; at least one. They had
never even had an ordinance to that effect. White people would build houses for the negroes to rent
that had no toilets or running water in them, and you could imagine the conditions. So...
Interviewer: What year was that?
MSD: Well, it would be a little hard for me to say. It was after the First World War, and I can't
remember, Elizabeth Virrick and her husband owned an apartment house backing up to the black area,
and that's how she knew about it. And I can't remember exactly when that was, because I can't
remember whether it was before'26 when I built this house. I'd rather think it was before '26. I think it
may have been in the '20s. I'd have to ask her to remember about that. She's kept the work up, you
see, all this time. Well, I had said to her, when she said we're going to have to go into this business of
getting water mains. There were no water mains in the black area, and we had to have the water mains
made. Well first, we had to get this referendum ordering, making the law that there must be running
water and a toilet in every house everywhere, not just in the black areas, but everywhere in town. And I
said to her, well Elizabeth, when you get that one we get that, because I was going to help her with that
however I could. I said, you're going to have to set up a fund, by which the black people can borrow
money to have the water mains have water come into the houses and build bathtubs. I may have been
down here because I knew about that, because I had a lovely black woman working for me who had a
little grandson, and I knew they didn't have any running water, so then again, I don't know if it was
before '26 or not. And I said well, they, you've got to have a fund from which they could borrow. And
she said, "well you'd better come on the committee and do things about that" and I said, "I'd be glad
to." So, in the two years in which we got the referendum, by that time, we set up a fund with the help
of some banks and private people backing them, so that the people who didn't have running water in
the houses and inside toilets and sinks could borrow, and did. And you know, in the years after that, we
loaned them this money without charging them interest, and every cent was paid back. Every cent. It
took several years for some of the people to do it, but before we were through, neither the Coconut
Grove Bank, which helped us a great deal, or the private people would go on their notes ever lost a cent
on that. It was wonderful. The people were so glad to get running water, so glad not to have these
nasty dirt, backyard privies, you know, and all that, and polluted wells; glad to have city running water.
We never lost a cent, every cent was paid back.