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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
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TO TELL.THE STORY
T. WILLARD FAIR
August 28, 1997
(Mr. Devon Williams): This is Devon Williams. Today date is
August 28, 1997. I am interviewing Mr. T. Willard Fair at the
Urban League on the historical impact of transportation and
relocation on Overtown.
The first set of questions I'm going to be asking Mr. Willard
Fair is regarding family life.
First question: Where were your parents born?
(Mr. T. Willard Fair): My parents were born were born ah in
Charlotte, North Carolina and.Waynesboro, South Carolina, mother,
(Mr. Williams): Ah did they ever live in Overtown?
(Mr. Fair): No.
(Mr. Williams): Okay, the next set of questions I will be
asking Mr. T. Willard Fair are regarding employment from 1945 and
1970 and the -first question is ah describe jobs you, you had.
(Mr. Fair): I've always worked as the President and Chief
Executive Officer of the Urban League of Greater Miami for the past
32 years and approximately 3 months and the remaining portion of
that time I was working for the Urban League but in another
(Knock on door and interruption.)
(Mr. Williams): Okay, we were talking about employment from
1945 to 1970 and you mentioned for the last 32 years...
(Mr. Fair): I've worked for the Urban League of Greater
(Mr. Williams): Ah were was that job held?
(Mr. Fair): 395 Northwest First Street, right on the southern
fringe of Overtown.
(Mr. Williams): What years did you have that job?
(Mr. Fair): From 1963 up until now.
(Mr. Williams): What kind of hours did you work, do you work?
(Mr. Fair): Oh, about...between 60 and 70 hours a week back
in those days. Ah those days meaning from 1963 up until around
1975 and then from 1975 until now may be between 50 and 60 hours.
(Mr. Williams): When and why did you leave this job?
(Mr. Fair): Haven't left it, I'm still here.
(Mr. Williams): You never left it, you are still here.
(Mr. Fair): Yeah.
(Mr. Williams): How did you find work?
(Mr. Fair): Well I came here out of graduate school, in
response to a- vacancy that they had ah at the Urban League of
Greater Miami. I found it by making a visit to the local Urban
League in my home town, Winston-Salem.
(Mr. Williams): Where did the other members of your family
(Mr. Fair): All my family members, mother and father worked
for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. Ah sisters and brothers worked
ah for the tobacco company and several of them were self-employed
with their own business.
(Mr. Williams): Okay, were any of those businesses ah
(Mr. Fair): No, all of my relationship to Overtown has not
been as a resident, has been as the head of an agency whose primary
constituency resided in Overtown and who, therefore, had an active
role of response to what happened in overtown vis-a-vis the coming
of the expressway and the Urban Renewal program. Ah when I came ah
to the Miami affiliate, one of the reasons why I took the job is
that the current president of the affiliate made it very clear to
me that things were changing nationwide in response to what had
happened in the civil rights movement and that as new jobs became
available ah the only two agencies in Black America that had
allowed Blacks to get any administrative experience was the YMCA
movement and the Urban League. He, therefore summarized correctly
that as those new jobs came available, the only persons in the
Black community that would not only have the degrees but
correspondingly some english and experience would be persons who
headed up those two institutions and, therefore, he predicted that
there would be a great migration at the top of many Blacks of the
first time going and leaving and taking those good jobs. He was
right because when I came here, in less than 6 months he left the
Urban League of Greater Miami to become the Deputy Director for the
Dade County Urban Renewal program and as a result of his leaving ah
I was promoted to be the President of the agency. Ah when Urban
Renewal and the expressway came through ah it began to impact on
the stability of Overtown prior to coming of Urban Renewal and the
expressway, the Negro Central District ah was that portion of Dade
County where over 70% of all the Blacks in Dade County lived. Ah
when you begin to have Urban Renewal ah and ah transportation
development of the system called 1-95, ah it displaced a lot of
families. The only place that they could go was northwest because
south and southwest was already occupied by the White community and
south east was occupied by the downtown business district called
downtown Miami. So the only undeveloped areas in the community was
northwest and as a result of that, Blacks who lived and worked and
owned businesses in the Negro Central District began to move. We
had the first contract from the Dade County Department of Urban
Renewal to assist them ah in the relocation efforts of the families
out of the Negro Central District called Overtown. We also had a
contract for what they called Citizenship Participation in the
'ftrban Renewal and Relocation process. We were very intimately
involved ah in working with the government and working with the
community ah to make sure that those persons who owned businesses
ah got fair treatment in terms of relocation costs, make sure those
families who had to sell ah also got fair market value for their
homes and many since they go more than the homes were worth but
simply because of the fact that Urban Renewal was coming, the
government was able to pay a higher price ah for the properties so
that was our intimate involvement in the activities of Overtown.
(Mr. Williams): Do you think they were fairly compensated?
(Mr. Fair): Oh! Without a doubt. With a doubt, yes. Ah as
I said some were overly compensated ah but they were in the cat
bird's seat, they had property that was in the right-away ah the
Black community was already upset about it becoming "Negro removal"
and as a result they were a little leery about eminent domain and
when the folks said they would give me 2,000 more, they really
didn't argue about it.
(Mr. Williams): Okay. Being as you were a community based
organization over there, maybe you can answer this question.
(Mr. Fair): Umm hum.
(Mr. Williams): Beginning in the late 1950's many immigrants
moved to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other
countries. Did those immigrants compete with Overtown residents
(Mr. Fair): 1950's no. Ah the immigrants who came in the
'50s ah from Haiti or from the Bahamas or even the few that may
have come Cuba, first of all they were not the poor immigrants.
They were immigrants who had already the capacity to be competitive
in a labor market and as a result they didn't stop in Overtown, ah
they have come through Miami but when on to Chicago and New York
and other places and that is evident by the fact that when you look
at the number of, quote, middle class successful immigrants in this
town with exception of the Cubans, especially the Haitians ah it is
persons who have been in this country 15 to 20 years who have
migrated to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and other places north
who now see another market of their own in this community and have
migrated back down here in this community. So you didn't see ah a
significant number of the poor people from Haiti or from Jamaica or
from Nassau or from Cuba ah at all, not in the '50s. You began to
see that real exodus in the later part of the '60s.
(Mr. Williams): Do you recall people moving into the area
from out of town?
(Mr. Fair): In the initial part of the '50s and the '60s, if
you came to Miami as a Black person very...that was place that you
stayed, you know, once again that was the Negro Central District
and that's where you lived when you came to Miami as things began
to be dismantled in response to integration, ah then the outward
migration from Overtown began to be visibly accordingly so when you
look at Overtown in the '50 up until probably the latter part of
the '60s, ah you stayed in Overtown or in proximity thereto.
(Mr. Williams): What sorts of jobs did they have? Those
people coming in.
S (Mr. Fair): Service related jobs. Umm hotels, motels, maids,
bartenders, waiters, ah pullman car porters, umm those were the
bulk of the jobs because this is a tourist industry ah and so you
had those gaps. You had the service jobs and then you had those
Black professionals who primarily were teachers who worked in the
Colored schools ah and then you had another layer called doctors,
lawyers, preachers and funeral home directors but the bulk of the
people were related to some kind of service job. Most of the women
were maids, most of the men were involved as waiters ah as lawn
maintenance men or some other kind of service job.
(Mr. Williams): The next set of questions I will be asking
Mr. T. Willard Fair are concerning the organization for which you
work for. Ah the Urban League. My first question is what kind of
organization was it?
(Mr. Fair): Social service agency, ah defined with the
express purpose of working with ah Dade County's disadvantaged
population called the Negro community to improve their quality of
life, ah focusing on the quality of life indices calls housing,
education, employment, health, welfare.
(Mr. Williams): Where was the organization located?
(Mr. Fair): 395 Northwest First Street. Ah when I came here,
founded in 1943 ah operated out of the basement of Mt. Zion Baptist
Church for many years, ah located on Third Avenue and about Seventh
(Mr. Williams): Who were your clients?
(Mr. Fair): Primarily the unemployed persons in Overtown, ah
-the children who attended Booker T. Washington ah Senior High
School, ah corporate Miami in terms of providing job opportunities
for that particular community.
(Mr. Williams): And who were your employees
(Mr. Fair): My employee at that time were actually two
people, secretary ah and an associate director for employment. Ah
as we left Overtown, moved...probably left Overtown to come to
Liberty City, we probably had about 25 people on our staff.
(Mr. Williams): When and why did you move the organization?
(Mr. Fair): Because the people that we were serving had to
(Mr. Williams): Where did you relocate to?
(Mr. Fair): We relocated at 7800 Northwest Seventh Avenue.
(Mr. Williams): How successful was your relocation?
(Mr. Fair): We went from a staff of 25 to a staff of 500, a
budget of less than ah $500,000 to a budget of almost $5,000,000.
(Mr. Williams): The next set of questions are going to be
regarding 1-95. When and how did you first hear about the building
(Mr. Fair): I don't recall ah when or how. Ah clearly given
our mission, I'm pretty sure that we would be one of the first
agencies ah to be involved and notified of it but if I recall, I
heard about it for the first time when I got interviewed to get my
job, that was in 1963.
(Mr. Williams): Umm do you remember what kind of reaction was
-there to the news that the expressway would come through Overtown?
(Mr. Fair): No, I don't.
(Mr. Williams): The next set of questions I will be asking
you are regarding public housing. The first question: When and
how did you first hear about the building of public housing?
(Mr. Fair): I built the first public housing in Overtown in
1972. Ah approximately 300 units called Town Park Village, North
and South. I'm very proud of that, that's one of the things that
I want to always remember about my contributions ah to this
community. Ah it was the first new public housing and in the area
that was significant because it was new construction. Ah it
provided 300 plus units of affordable decent housing for some
families who did not have the ability to relocate to into single
family homes because they simply were not available in the Liberty
City community and as a result it would have created some other
kinds of unacceptable living conditions of people doubling up with
parent members, children sleeping 3 and 4 to a room, etc. So we
did provide decent, affordable, safe housing intercoursing the
needs of the families that we were serving. The very most
important thing though is that we built it ah with an all Black
labor force. Ah and back in those days, we were not talking about
set asides or treatment, ah we simply decided that,
that's what we were going to do so I had a Black general contractor
that I recruited out of Jacksonville, everybody told me I couldn't
find a Black general contractor, that I was going to have find a
'White general contractor. I did it with a Black general
contractor. I organized the Minority of Contractors Association,
I poured together minority contractors, Black contractors all over
state, here in this community and based out of that organization
80% of all of, the major mechanicals, that carpentry, electrician
and plumbing went to Blacks. Ah I built a viable Minority
Contractors Asspciation and we began to do millions of dollars
worth of work simply because we did that job on time, within budget
with an all Black contracting force in 1972. Twenty-five years
(Mr. Williams): Okay the next question, still is regarding
public housing, ah what was the community able to get from public
officials in return for public housing going through Overtown?
(Mr. Fair): Well I don't think the community was able to get
anything from public officials. That was not negotiable ah the
decision had been made, that is that we are going to be part of the
mammoth, nationwide connecting program called building expressways
and it was happening all over the country so it was not just
happening in Miami, ah here was federal money in the Department of
Transportation, ah and big time cities were able to apply for that
money and begin to build the systems in cooperation with the state
and with the federal government so it was not something that the
citizens could say well ah, if y'all do this for us, ah we will let
y'all come through. What we attempted to do once again was to make
sure that as, we as a community responded to ah the need for us to
develop an expressway system. You know and that's, that's part of
-progress. It has nothing to do with Blackness or poverty or
location. It just so happens that once again, what it speaks to is
the mistake that the system made in terms of practicing racism
because what happens is that the core of all major cities, Harlem
in New York,-okay, Buttermilk Bottom in Atlanta and Albany Street
in Atlanta all of those centers are less than a half mile from the
heart of the city which is called the downtown. What White people
did was, is they let all of their service help stay close to
downtown and then they leap frogged over them out to the suburbia
area away from downtown so when you got ready to connect up a
system, the system has got to take you to some place and that some
place is the heart of the city and that's in Chicago, that's in New
York, that's in L.A. and that's where Black folks are. So had they
not been racists when it came time to build the system, the same
kind of relocation problems that were...we had in Overtown, those
would have been perpetrated on White people whoever was living
close to downtown, that's the difference in the whole process, you
know and we have to look at in that context so it wasn't about
race, it was about where you were located because of race. When it
expedient and in the best interest of the larger community to build
its connective system called highways and byways and roadways at
this whole point. So I mean that's an important piece of analysis
that we ought to keep in focus as we talk about Overtown.
(Mr. Williams): So then in essence you're saying that it
wasn't really a coincidence that in most of these major ah cities,
including Miami, the highways and byways or the connecting pieces
-just so happened to be close to these Black ah....
(Mr. Fair): And that was just, once again, that was a by-
product of racism. Okay, ah but if, once again, if you get ready
to connect up your system for goods and services, your commerce is
here, your commerce is downtown, okay. That's where your commerce
is. So if you are talking about a system, now you want this system
to take you either to your commerce or take your goods to where
they need to be and the goods is either to your airport or to your
rail system. Back in those days it was primarily your rail system.
So we lived in those cores because of racism and that's how we got
impacted, not because they were trying to get rid of us but we
stood in the way of progress, basically what they have done to us,
prior to the appropriateness of the progress.
(Mr. Williams): Overall, how did public housing affect the
(Mr. Fair): Probably we wrote the definition of the role of
public housing ah in the '60s.
We wrote that definition and in so doing (sneeze, excuse) we
allowed public housing to be engaged with welfare reform to be
become a permanent albatross around the necks of Black people and
as a result they never developed any incentive to move beyond that.
So it was an adverse, negative impact on people simply because we
decided that forever we wanted to poor and they decided since we
made a decision, they would.forever provide us with subsidized
(Mr. Williams): The next set of questions I will be asking
"you are regarding Metro-rail. When and how did you first hear
about the building of Metro-rail?
(Mr. Fair): Don't recall the specifics at all ah probably
heard about at one of my chamber of commerce meetings because at
that time I was very active in what was called the New World Center
Action Committee in Downtown Miami headed up by Alva Chatman of the
Knight Ridder Newspaper chain. That is probably where I first
heard about and as usual got involved in how it was going to impact
on my community. There was a great deal of debate about how we
were going to pay for it so there was a public referendum before
the people. Ah as is always the case in this town, ah folks who
stand to make all of the money, figure out a way to get it passed
and the formula is that you can tell every community what it's
going to do for them. I was intimately involved in trying to find
what would be the benefits of the Black community for supporting
the referendum. My notion was that we should have negotiated for
those things that we could easily obtain because we had capacity.
However, I lost out on that so we got caught up in negotiating for
building the system. I wanted to negotiate for operating and
maintaining the system. I had just built some houses and I knew
that our capacity to build a building was one thing but our
capacity ah to build a Metro-rail system was very limited. We had
no heavy equipment owners in this community that could move 4 tons
of concrete and steel, ah we.didn't have that kind of capacity in
our community so it didn't make any sense for us to sit down at a
-table and say we will support Metro-rail if y'all give us the
"construction piece. They said oh yeah, fine. They knew we
couldn't do that but the maintenance piece, the operating of the
system, the keeping the bathrooms clean, the lawn contract for
landscaping at the system, ah the security needs at the system, the
jobs that were related to operating the buses themselves, etc. into
the system. To me, those jobs that we could easily fill and go
forward. I have never ridden the Metro-rail because that is the
only thing in my 35 years in this town that I felt that I was
betrayed by the system. Then the Metropolitan Dade Country
Transportation Director was a fellow by the name of John Dyer, the
County Manager was a fellow by the name of Mayor Sterheim ah they
came and said if y'all do certain things then we will reward the
Black community accordingly ah after it is all over and the certain
things was to go out and tell the Black-community that it was in
our best interest ah to support the referendum. Ah so I did that
I organized and ran on behalf of the referendum ah the mobilization
of the Black community out of an office right there on Seventh
Avenue and Sixty-Second Street in what is now called the MLK
Building. Ah it was our vote that we push the referendum over hump
and made it victorious but they didn't deliver to me what they
promised what they were going to deliver so in my own individual
way of protesting, I have never ridden the Metro-rail and never
(Mr. Williams): What was the community able to get from
public officials in return for Metro-rail...
(Mr. Fair): NOTHING!
(Mr. Williams): ...going through...
(Mr. Fair): ...empty promises.
(Mr. Wil-liams): Okay you kind of mentioned those servicing
(Mr. Fair): They didn't get those, see that's, that's what I
wanted on the front end. A couple of folks got a little piece here
and a little piece there but you can get that just basically on
your merit. The issue becomes given something with that magnitude,
you ought to negotiate more than something just for me and you at
this point so they didn't get anything.
(Mr. Williams): As a community?
(Mr. Fair): As a community. They built a station, they built
stations in our neighborhood but I don't see that as...you got to
have a station where the ridership is and who is going to be more
dependent on the Metro-rail than poor people, you know so you're
not doing me no favor. You, it's the economics of the system when
you build a station where you know that these people have no cars
and, therefore, they are more liable to be users of the system.
Why don't you build a station, if you are going to build the
station in my neighborhood, then give me the contract to maintain
the station so I can get some jobs out of my neighborhood, you know
for the landscaping as I said earlier, for the bathrooms and all
the stuff that goes along. It's a lot of money that could be made
just for the maintenance of the station and just think if we had
-the contract to maintain, provide security and other services for
all the stations that are in our neighborhood, that's what I was
trying to get at.
(Mr. Williams): So overall how did public...how did the
Metro-rail..,excuse me. Overall, how did the Metro-rail affect the
(Mr. Fair): They didn't...I guess it probably affected the
community both positively and negatively. Ah at that time Mayor
Maurice Ferray was the mayor and he was developing on a very rapid
rate Downtown Miami, our skyscrapers were going up left and right
and he was espousing the vision of being the gateway to the South
Americas ah and there is a notion that if you are going to be a
first-class world city there are certain things that you have to
have, you know and one of those things is that you have got to have
a rapid transit system to move all these people in and out and
downtown and all ports east, west, north and south so ah it was
part of his vision to add that piece on to making us a world class
city, that's a positive, that probably a positive. The issue is,
is that he misread what he was, that he was in south Florida, that
people in south Florida were not use to riding on a rail system.
They were use to riding on a railroad or road system and as a
result they have never been able to mount the ridership that's
needed to make the system pay for itself at this point and that's
the negative because it's a drain right now on the system, called
the general budget of the county.
(Mr. Williams): The next set of questions I will be asking,
finally regarding the future of Overtown. First question: What
-'are the most, what are the most important and misconceptions about
(Mr. Fair): On behalf of Black folks that it's going to
revert back to what it was. They keep talking about Overtown
coming alive, it is dead, never will be what it should. What they
thought it was going to be because it never should have been what
(Mr. Williams): Never should have been what it was?
(Mr. Fair): No.
(Mr. Williams): And what's that exactly?
(Mr. Fair): Well, it was, it was created out of mistreatment
of Black people (SILENCE...Ha, ha, ha, ha) right?
(Mr. Williams): What do you think public officials most need
to know about Overtown?
(Mr. Fair): Well it's not what they most need to know, it's
what they need to make the community know. It is the most
expensive land in Dade County and for anybody to suggest that it
ought to be continued to be raped in the fashion that it is now
being raped it is totally unfair to the economic future of this
community. Alright, if you look at all of the communities similar
to Overtown and back to what we said earlier, Harlem is 15 minutes
from any place in Manhattan. Any White person who lives in
Westchester, New York who commutes in everyday to the financial
center knows that if he had his drathers he'd want to be at 125 and
Lenox, alright, but we have allowed that to become tarnished and,
.therefore degraded to the extent that it looks like a wasteland but
-the land, is still the most expensive because of one thing,
location, location, location. Overtown is the same place. Alright
you can spit on the seaport, you can spit on the airport, alright,
you can spit on the Performing Arts Trust, alright? It's all right
there in the back door of Overtown, you are going to have the
pavilion called Miami Arena. All of that's in Overtown and it give
credence to the fact that you are not to suppose to in terms of
good economic sense to have a million dollars worth of steel here
and shanties right across the street. Nobody wants to talk about
that, not because it does not make good economic sense but because
it is simply too many Black folks who say that if you talk about it
you are racist and it's too many White folks who say that I don't
want to be called a racist so I just won't talk about it.
(Mr. Williams): What should be done to improve the Overtown
area now such as transportation...
(Mr. Fair): Move all those folks out of Overtown. You can't
even talk about transportation until you decide who is going to be
the occupants in Overtown. The thoroughfares are there. You've got
Fifth Street runs a corridor all the way to the seaport, Alright?
You've got Biscayne Boulevard which runs A1A all the way down to
Key West on the eastern extremity, you got a Seventh Avenue that
takes you all the way up into Broward County and you got east, west
corridors, that allow you to travel over, around and through
anywhere you want to get to .so the transportation system is in
place. What's not in place is the proper use of the land, that's
-all. Why would you want to talk about trying to restore ah
-"Rockland Palace and don't have enough money to put the appropriate
retail commercial outlets to make the entire neighborhood go.
Rockland Palace only makes sense if everything around it is rocking
in terms of economics, not folks sitting on the corner drinking out
of wine bags, not poolrooms, you know with folks hanging outside,
not a dilapidated boarded up building over here on this corner, not
some condos down the street that's been for sale for the last 5
years and only because you can not create enough energy in the
entire community to make it happen and don't tell me it's coming
alive because somebody give you some money to put a walk way from
Third Avenue down to Miami Arena. No, coming alive means that you
see building going up. Alright, people moving, new people moving,
not people on welfare, not people who are down and out, not people
who are on social security, that, that's not what Overtown should
be about. Now if we had smart leadership we could negotiate and
get something done in Overtown but we keep asking White folks to do
the wrong thing.
(Mr. Williams): What should be the relationship between
Overtown and Downtown Miami, you mentioned a little bit of that?
(Mr. Fair): It's, it's the relationship is clear. It's
clear, it is downtown. It is downtown, it is a block from, it is
a stone's throw from, alright so it should compliment...that is the
relationship. It is complimentary. Alright, what happens
downtown, get's supported by Overtown so if you are going to build
between Sixth Street and Fourteenth Street in the next 5 years, two
.billion dollars worth of new construction, two billion dollars
-worth of new construction between Sixth and Fourteenth Street.
You've got the seaport, Maritime Expansion, you got the Performing
Arts Theater, you've got the Miami Arena, that's two billion
dollars worthof construction. Now under normal circumstances that
would trigger auxiliary development on the east side of Biscayne
Boulevard. Under normal circumstances alright because when you
begin to look at that kind of consumer traffic, that kind of steel
going up, you begin to say, okay ah restaurants, convenience
stores, office building, I mean stuff that's started going on but
we still got this great debate about we want Overtown to come alive
again. We are trying to compete and that's not the role of
Overtown it is to compliment and if it's going to compliment, then
it means that the vision has to be complementary.
(Mr. Williams): This is Devon Williams and this is the end of
Side A of the Interview with Mr. T. Willard Fair.