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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
4 0C300 03
TELL THE STORY
(Mr. Alex Milford): My name is Alex Milford. Today is August
the 15, 1997. I'm at the Culmer Center and I am interviewing...is
(Miss Jackie Bell): Miss.
(Mr. Milford): Miss Jackie Bell for the history of relocation
and transportation with the Overtown community.
Ah, Miss Bell the first set of questions I'm going to ask you
is regarding family life. Where were your parents born?
(Miss Bell): My father was born in Dublin, Georgia. My
mother was born in Locust Grove, Georgia.
(Mr. Milford): Did they ever live in Overtown?
(Miss Bell): Yes.
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember what years they lived in
(Miss Bell): Ah my father came back here in about ah '39,
(Mr. Milford): What sort of jobs did they have?
(Miss Bell): My father was an in engineer.
(Mr. Milford): Where were your grandparents born?
(Miss Bell): My grandparents comes from Georgia as well but
my great grandfather came to Miami, was one of the engineers on the
(Mr. Milford): Did they live in Overtown also?
(Miss Bell): Yes. In, in I guess Black Quarters what they
use to call it.
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember what years they lived there?
(Miss Bell): Ah that was in the early, early, late 1800's, I
think. When the first, railroad came through.
(Mr. Milford): What sort of jobs did they have, your
(Miss Bell): My grandparents, my grand...my daddy's daddy was
an engineer as well and they designed roads, airports ah worked
with, you know, work on the design, the, the engineering division
and my father worked for Eastern Airline.
(Mr. Milford): Could describe what it was like growing up in
your parents' household?
(Miss Bell): Yeah. I grew up in a household of four children
and my birth was fourteen years between my middle sister and myself
and I grew up in a house where there was a lot of fun, of lot of
class. My mother was a registered nurse who did not have to go out
to work and belonged to all of the things was Black culture
society, the garden clubs, the tea clubs, the bridge clubs and I
grew up watching my mom and my father being truly fantastic people
with making sure that we understood what education meant, making
sure that we understand who we are and just really a very, very
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions is regarding
employment from 1945 to 1970. Can you describe the jobs that you
(Miss Bell): Me?
(Mr. Milford): Umm hum.
(Miss Bell): I, from '45 to '70 I was a kid in school.
(Mr. Milford): Where did the other members of your family
(Miss Bell): I just told you my father worked for Eastern, my
brother after he came out of service, worked for Eastern. My two
older sisters, one of them was a professor at Wayne State
University in Detroit where she had gone to school. My middle
sister did not work, her husband was a preacher and was a minister
of a large church in Kehokee, Florida.
(Mr. Milford): Beginning in the late 1950's many immigrants
moved to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other
countries. Did those immigrants competed with Overtown residents
(Miss Bell): Yes. I'm sure they did. I'm sure they did. In
fact, I'm sure they, they took most of the jobs that this community
had, had because they worked cheaper, you know, and when a new
immigrant comes to down they stick together and certainly I can say
that I saw from the hotel industry, just the hotel industry, Blacks
who worked in the hotel industry lost those jobs. Ah Blacks who
worked in the lower level of hospitals and, and this community was
employed basically in that perspective because we were Black and we
were not on the top of the list in employment anyway. The only top
of the list employment that we ever had and it was segregated was
being a school teacher, a doctor or a lawyer.
(Mr. Milford): Do you recall people moving into the area from
out of town?
(Miss Bell): Well see this community was destroyed in between
those time you are talking about, okay? There was a transition
from home ownership, business to apartment dwelling as you now see
outside and certainly ah, ah becau...you didn't see the Hispanic
community moving in but you began to see the Haiti community moving
in because the Bahamian and the American Blacks who had migrated
here in the early years was migrating away from Overtown because of
what had happened.
(Mr. Milford): These people, do you remember what sort of
jobs they had?
(Miss Bell): Who people?
(Mr. Milford): The ones that were moving...
(Miss Bell): In?
(Mr. Milford): Yeah.
(Miss Bell): Well they were now taking the position that
Blacks had held in, in the hospital industry, in the hotel industry
and, and more the subservient kind of jobs. Okay, they were coming
in on entry level that we had been in for years and we were being
displaced because they could pay them less.
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions I'm going to ask you
is regarding business, family owned business. What kind of
business did you or your family own?
(Miss Bell): My father owned a fencing company.
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember where your business was
(Miss Bell): Yes, out of the house.
(Mr. Milford): Who were your employees?
(Miss Bell): My mommy ran the business from inside. My dad
did (laughter) most of the fence work and he had, he had some other
fellows who worked with him but this was...he started this more on
a part-time base.
(Mr. Milford): Who were your customers?
(Miss Bell): Everybody who moved to Richmond Heights in the
early days and all the people who lived around us.
(Mr. Milford): Whom did you consider your main competition?
(Miss Bell): Didn't.
(Mr. Milford): When and why did you move or close the
(Miss Bell): My dad and mom got old and didn't want to do it
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions that I'm going to
ask you is regarding neighborhood life between '45 and '70.
(Miss Bell): I can tell you that we moved in '49 and we moved
ah to, it isn't Liberty City and it was never Liberty City. It was
way out in Paravilla Heights and we moved into basically the same
kind of a neighborhood, home ownership neighborhood and I don't
think I, I don't think my life changed from neighborhood to the
other, okay. We lived in a house over here and we lived in a
house...we moved to another house.
(Mr. Milford): Who lived in your household when you were in
(Miss Bell): My mother, my father and myself because my
brothers and sisters were in school and married because, I, after
all I am fourteen years younger than my sister that I was next to.
(Mr. Milford): Can you describe the street where you lived?
(Miss Bell): Yeah. Nice little street combined with a lot of
houses and nice family people going to church, children going to
schools and folks going to work and when we moved from Overtown to
Liberty City, we had the same thing...ah not that it was Paravilla
Heights but we had the same thing, you know, ah fun, ah nice
neighbors and nice neighborhood, nice people. Yeah there was some
bad folks. We always have bad folks but we had...it was a nice
neighborhood. Ah over here was some apartments next door and we
called them apartments but they were just little outhouses that had
what we not consider as a duplex, we didn't call them duplex them
and I'm trying to remember what did we call them? But as you moved
up and moved out, were the little wooden house was two, two houses,
you moved out Liberty City and you moved...the design of it was
(Mr. Milford): Who were your neighbors?
(Miss Bell): Ah Miss Sapp...where Overtown?
(Mr. Milford): Overtown?
(Miss Bell): The Sharps. Down the streets was the Braynons
the Bushes, the Thompsons, ah the Gators, the Vickers.
(Mr. Milford): Where did they work?
(Miss Bell): Yeah, the Gators was teachers, the Sharps ah was
umm, the late, the mother was ah worked in the hotel industry, umm
ah Thompsons' drove taxes, the Braynons had a little store.
(Mr. Milford): Do you recall what happened to those
(Miss Bell): They had to move because of Urban Removal and I-
95 and all of that stupid stuff, oh that's not the proper
word...all of that kind of stuff.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know where they went?
(Miss Bell): Yeah, the Sharps and Thompsons died. Umm the
daughter lives in Silver Springs Maryland...no in Columbia Maryland
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe the main business areas
that you went to in Overtown?
(Miss Bell): Yeah, Second Avenue, Third Avenue and then there
was little business in between, little stores that people had. The
main drag was Second and Third Avenue but there was businesses all
along the streets in people houses or little businesses that they
built, a little shed, you know, or little cement shed connected to
their homes, yeah.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family bought
(Miss Bell): I think we bought from, I believe we bought from
Tip Top. I believe that was the main grocery store, Tip Top. That
was over on Fifth Street, I believe, down by the railroad track on
the other side of the railroad track but then when we moved out to
Paravilla Heights, there was a couple little stores on Sixty-Second
and about Sixty-Second and about Twenty-Second Avenue, I believe.
One was Carls on one side and one was Materials on the other.
Carls was a real big grocery store that I can remember. That was
when I recall became very, you know, grow up kid and understand
what the difference in food market were, you know.
(Mr. Milford): Can you describe where your family went to the
barber or beauty shop?
(Miss Bell): I don't, I don't umm...my mom went to Opal King,
so did I. I don't remember where My dad went to the barber shop.
I think my dad went to the barber shop on Second Avenue. I believe
it was Atlantic Barber Shop cause the fellows came from Georgia as
well as we did. Charlie...I could see they face, can't remember
(Mr. Milford): Can you describe the drugstore that you guys
(Miss Bell): Yeah, we use to could...the family have a...it
was called People's on Second Avenue. The family have a...it's
still in Overtown, got the barbecue place, yeah.
(Mr. Milford): Could you tell me where your family went to
the cleaners or the churches they attended?
(Miss Bell): Oh yeah, we still, I still go to the same
church, it's called New Hope in Liberty City.
(Mr. Milford): Can you describe where your family went for
entertainment such as theaters, bars, restaurants or sporting
(Miss Bell): I think my ah, I think where the Lyric Theater
is now, use to be a theater and ah I think there was a club. I
think they use to go out to eat to a place that was owned by
somebody named O'Dell, a beautiful place on Second Avenue and I
believe about Ninth...was it Ninth Street, Seventh Street,
somewhere around up there where the Mary Elizabeth was and my mom
belonged to all of the social clubs at that time so, you know, that
was a part of entertainment for them as well.
(Mr. Milford): When someone in your family got sick where did
they go to the doctor's office?
(Miss Bell): I think there was a...hump, a Dr. Fraizer. We
were asking about the doctor.
(Mr. Milford): Right.
(Miss Bell): I know my mom went to a Dr. named Aubrey Warren
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember how long did you guys continue
to patronize those businesses?
(Miss Bell): All their lives.
(Mr. Milford): When did you begin to shop or go to
entertainment outside of Overtown?
(Miss Bell): Well I don't think my parents ever did. I think
it happened when, in my life time because see you have to remember
ah up until about 1959, it was real segregation and, and the Black
community that's when we began to lose our economics after
integration came along.
(Mr. Milford): During the period from 1945 to 1970, what were
the main things that made Overtown a community?
(Miss Bell): It started to tear up as a community probably in
about '48, '49, okay and it had it's migration from then on and as
the years passed and more and more people were removed because of
ah 1-95 and Urban Removal, it began to deteriorate it but it really
didn't loose it's total until probably the '70s.
(Mr. Milford): Umm Miss Bell the next set of questions I'm
going to ask you is regarding 1-95. When and how did you first
hear about the building of I-95?
(Miss Bell): I don't know, I was too young. My parents knew
(Mr. Milford): Where were you living at the time?
(Miss Bell): On Sixth Avenue between Fifteenth and Eighteenth
Street, somewhere in between there...I can't, you know because it
wasn't streets going through and forth, it was a long street and
you know the address were I think our address was 17 something,
something, 16 something.
(Mr. Milford): Did you rent or own the place you lived in at
(Miss Bell): We owned.
(Mr. Milford): What kind of reaction was there to the news
that the expressway would come through Overtown?
(Miss Bell): Violent, but not until it was too late. At
first I have been told or heard that people didn't know what was
actually happening and they was promised an awful lot of things
that did not happen. For instance, they were promised they could
move back when...and they were shown all kinds of fabulous designs
and stuff of what this community would be like.
(Miss Bell): No, but they didn't have no choice.
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember to whom they sold they sold
(Miss Bell): No.
(Mr. Milford): Where they fairly compensated?
(Miss Bell): Yeah and, and I say yeah, I doubt it. I doubt
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember how long they were given to
pack up to leave?
(Miss Bell): No, that I don't know. I guess you say I'm not
making very good but I was really, you know.
(Mr. Milford): You're doing fine. Do you remember to the
property after it was sold?
(Miss Bell): Yeah, the expressway is sitting on it.
(Mr. Milford): Where did your family relocate?
(Miss Bell): To Paravilla Heights, 68th Street and Twenty-
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember what the mortgage or rent in
the new place was compared to Overtown?
(Miss Bell): Oh please! I don't know.
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember how your parents decided on
how to choose Paravilla, the new place of residence?
(Miss Bell): Yeah, I remember us going looking for a lot of
places and my mother wanted to live way out, okay and as we moved
from over here, White folks moved from the neighborhoods and
because of that we still was segregated. We had to find something
within a Black community to live in and because this community was
where we could find a house, that's where daddy bought. You
couldn't buy in Coral Gables, you couldn't buy on Miami Beach and
you really only could buy wherever Blacks was, was moving to or had
already been there prior to you moving in that neighborhood and as
I said, as we moved from Overtown, the White people moved further.
Where Allapattah was White then passed ah, I think past Forty-First
Street maybe Forty, yeah about Forty, about Forty-First Street was
where we could buy. We couldn't buy closest to downtown now, okay.
We couldn't buy in what is called Winwood, because that still was
all White but they had ah let a few people like Frank La gree and
those, they had let them buy a few spots so once we started to
being...they started to...let me...because what, what is happened
is that wherever we have bought a house, if the neighborhood was
White everybody start selling the house, okay, so you were able to
get into a neighborhood because of one other Black had been able to
get in or you might have been the first Black and then all the
other White Folks, (laughter) they started burning cross and stuff
on your lawn, okay so it have never been the sweetest angle for us
to move from one neighborhood to the other so it has been basically
and, and believe it or not, it's almost still that way, okay. Ah,
and the little street we found to move on that was half way
comfortable, the old White man had died and his wife just wanted to
get rid of the house, I heard in the later years, okay and when we
moved there then all the White folks around us started moving but
they were quiet, they didn't do no tar and feathering, okay, they,
they were all old anyhow, okay and then we moved and then the Sapps
got a chance to move next door, you know so it's been funny thing.
It happened in Overtown. We had one little section down by the
railroad tracks that was called Colored Town and as, as we grew a
little more and few more people started migrating and then it begin
to move down the street, okay. Cause not all the time was Black
people in Overtown, you know. They talk about, I mean, you know
Overtown had been a wonderful mecca to have grown up in for the
history that you have heard because it was the epitome of a
thriving Black community with all of the economics that the world
had at the time that had nothing to do with whether you were Black
or White, okay. It had something to do with every service that you
needed was here, okay, cause I remember the gentleman who use to
make my daddy's suits on Second Avenue and about Ninth...between
Ninth and Tenth Street and the Ingrams, Mrs. Ingram use to make all
my mama clothes and mine but, but we don't do that now. So it has
been a gigantic change for this community from a community of Black
businesses for Black people to a community with no businesses for
Black people so I think what happened in the Urban Removal in '95
and then with the Metro-rail have a brain drain on the Black
community and total separation. Because the more you moved, the
less you patronized the businesses that was there and the more you
moved, the more White businesses you became exposed to because they
didn't move as far as their residential community did, see. So you
went from Blacks doing business with Blacks to Blacks doing
business with others and at one of the most prevalent little stores
that was in the Black community that, that probably gotten put out
of business as we moved to was the Chinese. There were a lot of
china mens who had a lot of stores, lot of little grocery stores
throughout our community so that lost as well because as we moved,
as I said, we inherited the White business that was in the
community that did not move as fast as they their...as I said their
bedroom population and as they did move out, was no Black
businesses established and the chinese didn't move as we moved
either. Seems like they kind of lost out too cause now I don't see
any chinese businesses in our community. Now it's the..where the
Arabs as they called them have moved in where the chinese use to
(Mr. Milford): Was the neighborhood in your new location
different or similar to the neighborhood from which you moved?
(Miss Bell): Very different. Very standard I should say.
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions regarding removal of
your home or your parents' home umm taken by the state of ah under
(Miss Bell): Yes.
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember what year you moved?
(Miss Bell): I think it was '49.
(Mr. Milford): Who informed you that you had to move?
(Miss Bell): I's sure that, they didn't inform my parents,
okay. I sure my parents were informed like all the other families.
(Mr. Milford): Were you evicted so to speak?
(Miss Bell): I don't think so.
(Mr. Milford): Did your parents receive, your family receive
relocation money to move?
(Miss Bell): I, I can't answer that because I was too little
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions I'm going to ask you
is regarding the future of Overtown.
(Miss Bell): Good.
(Mr. Milford): What are the most important misconceptions
(Miss Bell): Is that it has a lot of crime, okay.
(Mr. Milford): What do you think public officials most need
to know about Overtown?
(Miss Bell): That it was a thriving community and that it
should be redeveloped and it should be redeveloped both
commercially as well as residential and that no, I don't think it
should be a bedroom community and what I see is happening, that,
that is all that they are looking at is a bedroom community to
support whatever happens downtown and around it.
(Mr. Milford): What should be done to improve the Overtown
area now such as transportation projects, attractions, job creation
or beautification programs?
(Miss Bell): All of the above.
(Mr. Milford): What should be the relationship between
Overtown and Downtown Miami?
(Miss Bell): It is a community as well as downtown and
downtown should ah...and if you're talking about downtown
businesses, no Overtown can not and should not be built like
Flagler Street. It should be redeveloped as a thriving economic
community, the same as if you would have built Kendall or any of
the other outlaying neighborhoods, Miami Lakes, okay. No, we don't
have exactly that much land, it wasn't a cow pasture, okay but
along Second and Third Avenue, whatever is redeveloped should be
redeveloped with the commercial on the bottom and residential on
the top and it can happen because it has happened in every other
neighborhood, okay and it's not likely we're going to get a lot of
single family dwellings in and around it anymore and the reason for
that is the cost, the cost of land is prohibited and it is, we are
talking Twenty-First Century and Twenty-First Century seemed to
have become townhouse, oh no I should not say that, that is not the
proper word, ah cohabitation, a lot of houses built together like
condominiums, some of the townhouse, okay. So we know that, that
is what the future looks like but also that not because the future
look like that, it is that as well as a commercial is intricately
involved and Overtown should have something as other communities
that relate to its historicalness, okay and some kind of an
(Mr. Milford): When you have visitors from out of town, where
do take them to show them the culture and history of Dade County's
(Miss Bell): You don't. That was why point, why should have
some historicalness to it, something that talk shows that there
were people here one time and these are the kinds of things that
(Mr. Milford): This is Alex Milford, today is August 15,
1997. I'm at the Culmer Center with Miss Jackie Bell and this
concludes the interview on the relocation and transportation of
Overtown and umm Miss Bell I want to thank you for your time in
sharing the history with us.
(Miss Bell): You are welcome, can I tell who I am?
(Mr. Milford): Sure.
(Miss Bell): Jackie Bell, I am the Executive Director of New
Washington Heights Community Development Corporation in Overtown.
It is the oldest community development corporation in the State of
Florida. I thank you.