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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Po0o 12,4 014
TELL THE STORY
NORVELL A.S. HOLYFIELD
August 13, 1997
(Mr. Alex Milford): Good morning I am at the Black Archives
Foundation. Today is August 13, 1997, and I am interviewing,
Norvell, Ms. Norvell Holyfield and its regarding transportation and
relocation of the residents. I'm sorry of the Overtown community.
Ms. Norvell the first set of questions I'm going to ask you is
regarding family life. Where were your parents born.
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah, my parents, my mother was born in
Tifton, Georgia, Inez her maiden name was McDonald. My father
James Roberson ah, he was interviewed yesterday, I believe he was
born in Nashville, Georgia but you can correct that by his
interview and for correction my name is Norvell A.S. Holyfield.
(Mr. Milford): Did your parents ever live in Overtown.
(Ms. Holyfield): Yes, they did. My parents lived in Overtown
and ah I had an aunt that moved from Tifton, Georgia in 1925 and
her home in Miami was more like ah family home when we came to
(Mr. Milford): What years did you live in Overtown?
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah as I said, my Aunt Mae, ah her name was
Mary Vaughn and Charlie Vaughn came to Miami in 1925 and they lived
at 601 Northwest Third Avenue from 1925 until they passed and my
cousin, Aunt Mae's daughter, Girtha Vaugh lived at that home from
1925 until 1968.
(Mr. Milford): What sought of jobs did they have?
(Ms. Holyfield): My Aunt Mae worked at an apartment house as
a maid out in the Southwest section for an Italian family. She
worked there for about 15 years. Ah, Charlie Vaugh, her husband,
was a handy man and ah my cousin Girtha when she became of working
age, one she held, she did laundry. She took in laundry at home
and ah one of the people that she did laundry for was Mr. Silver
and Mr. Silver owned the Lyric Theater. She was around 18 or 19
years when she had this job and ah Mr. Silver would give Girtha's
mother, Aunt Mae $15.00 a week for the laundry and, and the
laundry...when she took in laundry consisted of washing, starching
and ironing and which she proceeded to give me the recipe for
starching...what that meant...it didn't mean like to today get a
can of starch and spray starch clothes.
(Mr. Milford): Where were your grandparents born?
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah my grandparents? let's see my
grandmother...I believe, my mother's mother was born in Tifton,
Georgia and my father's mother and father I believe they were from
Nashville, George also. I'm pretty sure he covered that in his
interview, you can verify it.
(Mr. Milford): Did they live in Overtown also?
(Ms. Holyfield): No they didn't
(Mr. Milford): Do yo remember what sought of jobs your
(Ms. Holyfield): Ummm, my parents...my father was a spotter
in the dry cleaning business. He was very good at what he did. He
did cleaning for the June Taylor dancers, they ah send trunks of
cloths in from New York sometimes just for him to clean the sequin
outfits. Umm, he ah...there was competition to get him to go from
cleaners to cleaners because he was just that good. My mother, she
worked as a maid in different motels or hotels over on the Beach.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe what it was like growing up
in your household?
(Ms. Holyfield): My household, as I say I, I am a product of
the good times of Overtown and by that I meant when Overtown saw
good times and people had good times there. I am the product of a
matriarchal family, headed by women. Umm I grew up going up and
down the railroad track with my grandmother from Pennsylvania to
Miami, to Aunt Mae's house and sometimes to Georgia to other
relatives. Umm when I would get to Miami, I could see my father.
My father he had a family. He had a wife, Mamie Roberson and she
accepted me so I could go visit my father and stay with them. But
my family consisted mostly of my mother, my grandmother and my
aunts and in my house on 601 Northwest Third Avenue across the
street from the Sir John Hotel it was a lot of activity going on
all the time.
My Aunt Mae she like to set by the window and smoke cigarettes
and people would say, you could see the cigarette smoke just coming
out of the window but you couldn't see her. My...she played bolita
which was a sort of number game or something they played and she'd
hit numbers, they said everyday Aunt Mae would have at least 3 of
those numbers. Umm she would rent out a room to a Mr...I believe
his name was Frank, he worked on the railroad so there were comings
and going of people all the time and I was a little girl sort of in
the middle looking everything going on around me.
(Ms. Milford): The next set of questions are regarding
employment between 1945 and 1970. Could you describe the types of
jobs you had during that time?
(Ms. Holyfield): Okay, this relates to Overtown. I was born
in '50 so from '45 to '50 eliminates me. From ah...I lived in
Overtown, I would say from the time I was born until I was school
age and was going back and forth so by the time I was school age I
had to stabilized so I could go to school by then I was...I went,
my first years in Perry, Florida and from there I went to
South...Greenville, South Carolina and I went from elementary
school to around 10th grade in South Carolina and then I went to
Pittsburgh so ah, I moved back to Miami in '88 so I didn't work in
Miami in the '70 because I didn't even get back here until 1 '88.
(Mr. Milford): Where did the other members of your family
(Ms. Holyfield): Okay, umm as I said earlier my Aunt Mae who
lived here from 1925 until her death, she was a maid at an
apartment house out in the Southwest section for an Italian family
and she worked there for about 15 years and her husband Charlie was
a handyman. Umm my Cousin Girtha, she took in laundry for Mr.
Silver who owned the Lyric Theater and for some other people and
she earned around $15.00 a week and later on, she was about 20
years old when she started working on the Beach for the Sandler
family and she worked there for about 20 something years. My
mother, she was a maid at various hotels and motels on the Beach
and as I said my father he worked at various dry cleaning
establishments which he gave the names of in his interview.
My dad also has a brother and his wife, Aunt Lucille an Uncle
Sam Roberson, they lived on 1668 Northwest Sixth Avenue where they
rented from 1949 until 1962. Uncle Sam was a plumber and Aunt
Lucille was a housewife. She said her neighbors were Mr. and Mrs.
Bryant, Reverend and Sister Golatte. Reverend Golatte, was
affiliated with the pentecostal Church of God and Christ.
Oh, also I had an uncle, James McDonald and he was known as
Jimmy and he was a bartender in ah, let's see the various bars. He
worked at the Fourteenth Street Bar, he was a bartender in the
Harlem Square and he was also a bartender in the Rockland Palace.
(Ms. Milford): Beginning in the late '50s many immigrants
moved to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other
countries. Did those immigrants competed with Overtown residents
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah, from...I don't know much about that. I
did ask my cousin about her neighbors and she said most of her
neighbors were American and a few, very few were Bahamians, were
from the Bahamas so I, I don't have much information on the
competition in the work field.
(Ms. Holyfield): No I don't. But my dad says that when they
started to build up Miami Beach, there was a boom in Miami and
Black people came to Miami from Georgia, New Orleans and everywhere
for jobs. He said they came to clear away the palm trees and the
land to build homes and hotels, the railroad, etc. He said Black
women that were working as maid in Georgia for $2.50 a week could
come to Miami and work for $5.00 to $7.00 a week. He said this
took place after Julia Tuttle told Henry Flagler to come on down
and bring his checkbook and he came and started the boom.
(Ms. Milford): The next set of questions is regarding
neighborhood life between 1945 and 1970. Could you describe your
place of residence, the area, the street?
(Ms. Holyfield): Yes, umm, umm the house that I use to come
to on Sixth Street and Third Avenue it was located at 601,
Northwest Third Avenue, it was a two-story building and it was
painted green and the Vaughns, my relatives lived on the first
floor. Mabelle Williams ran a rooming house upstairs. Ms.
Williams had about 6 rooms upstairs. The bathroom was outside on
the back porch. Our...where we lived downstairs had a bathroom on
the porch also. The bathroom on the porch upstairs was closed in
on the porch and one downs was half closed in. My relatives had
three rooms and a living and a kitchen. The front door was right
on Third Avenue. A man, a gentile, White man by the name of Siegel
had a row of houses across the street on Sixth Street and on Fifth
Terrace. Umm and there were about 10 20 families that lived in
the front and in the back. We were talking about the house that my
relatives lived in so I guess I'll stop there.
(Ms. Holyfield): Umm, my Aunt Mae and her husband Charlie
Vaugh until his death and then which I didn't know him, he was
around when I was born, but it was my Aunt Mae, when I came along,
my Cousin Girtha and she was born July 2, 1915, my mom, my
grandmother would come down and stay for months at a time and umm
the, the gentleman that my Aunt Mae...his name was Frank Jackson,
he was pullman porter and my Aunt Mae rented a room to him so there
were certain times that he would be there in the household. Let's
see, that was it.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe the street where you lived?
(Ms. Holyfield): As I said before a Mr. Siegel had a row of
houses across the street and on Sixth Street and on Fifth Terrace
and it was, just row houses, well a row of houses and most of the
neighbors were American and a few were from the Bahamas and my
Cousin Girtha remembered those houses being there from the time she
was a little girl until around 1960 when they tore those houses
down and built the Sir John Motel and Nightclub with a big swimming
pool. Umm, let's see, I believe that's it.
(Mr. Milford): Your neighbors, do you remember where they
(Ms. Holyfield): Okay ah most of the people in the
neighborhood around the 1940's the men in that neighbor, the
majority worked on the railroad as pullmen porters and some worked
on the tracks, the railroad tracks and some washed the train cars
and some men worked for ah White people in their furniture stores,
making deliveries and others were cooks and dishwashers in the
(Mr. Milford): Do you remember what happened to those
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah no, they, they were all...all these
houses that I spoke of earlier, my cousin said they were all given
eviction notices, she said that umm, on Christmas Eve in 1968 that
ah...Oh, okay she moved in 1969 but she said the inspector, a city
inspector told the rent man that they had to moved and she
mentioned her neighbors, Willie and Dotty Pearl and actually from
Third Avenue to Seventh Street had to move and that everything was
torn down in a matter of six months even the store. So I don't'
know what happened after that because she went on her way. One of
her employers, the Sandler family bought a house on Forty-Eighth
and Sixth Avenue and she moved out in three days and I think it was
a devastating thing to her traumatic because even to talk to her
today about it the way she says when I say, well what happened umm,
umm after you left, what, what, did they start tearing down
immediately and she would say, I don't know, I didn't go back over
there so I think people were so traumatized, sometimes you just
continue to move on in your new pattern and you don't go back
because it's so painful, you don't connect with what happened to
people and what was going on.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know where these people went?
(Ms. Holyfield): No, I don't know.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe the main business areas you
went to in Overtown?
(Ms. Holyfield): Okay, the main business area I'm told by my
family, my mother, my father and my cousin was Second Avenue. That
was the main drag and second avenue at that time I'm told ah had
drugstores, a drugstore, Lewis', ah on Sixth Street where we lived
at one time that was the jitney stop and a lot of people caught the
jitney there and the jitney was run by individual people umm.
Second Avenue was lined with the Rockland Palace where my uncle
worked. Clyde Killings had a night club, the Fiesta he also had
worked there. I understand that there was a sidewalk cafe where
families could sit and eat dinner. There was Nu-way photo shop at
939 Northwest Second Avenue where everybody went to get there
pictures taken. There was ah, ah fish market between Sixth and
Seventh on Third Avenue and there a Blue Moon Cafe which was more
like a beer joint and there was a grocery store right on the corner
of Seventh Avenue. Ah, let's see or...and there was a grocery
store on Sixth Street and Second Avenue.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe the grocery store where the
family bought groceries?
(Ms. Holyfield): No I couldn't I would have to talk to them
and find out.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family went to
the barber, the beauty shop or drugstore?
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah my mom explained to me that she use
to...the term she used is bootleg hair in Pittsburgh so when she
came to Miami, she did her own hair, now my Cousin Girtha had a
friend named James Henry and he was known as Honey and he had a
beauty on Seventh Street between Third Avenue and Second Avenue
right on the corner of Third Avenue.
(Mr. Milford): Could describe where your family went to the
(Ms. Holyfield): There was Lewis' Drugstore.
(Mr. Milford): Was a there a cleaners, a neighborhood
(Ms. Holyfield): Yes it was, I believe it was called Barnes'
Cleaners on Second Avenue.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe the churches your family
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah, there was an Ebenezer Church, its still
on the corner of Eleventh Street and Third Avenue, my mother said
frequented and took me there as a baby and my Cousin Girtha said
she went to Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family went for
entertainment such as theaters, bars restaurants or sporting
(Ms. Holyfield): Yeah. There was the Lyric Theater and ah
there was...the Ritz...the Lyric and Ritz Theaters and ah that's
where they went and as I said my family was the good time crowd, my
mother was nicknamed "Pittsburgh", Miss Pitts when she came in town
and my uncle was a bartender so they did the whole strip. They
went to the Rockland Palace and as my dad said, Thursday Night was
the maid's night off so that maids that worked on the Beach had the
night off and so that was the night to get out and get to the
Rockland Palace because the crowd would be there then. Ah, there
was the Fiesta Bar, there was the Fourteenth Street Bar located on
Fourteenth Street and Third Avenue right on the corner. The Cuban
bar was out on Twentieth Street which was frequented by a lady
named Baby Gates, my mom said she was the first Black lady to own
and drive a Cadillac in Overtown. There was the Harlem Square and
these were places that relatives frequented and worked in.
As far as sports, my dad said, all Black baseball teams like
the Homestead Grays out of Homestead, Pennsylvania and the Kansas
City Royals us to come there and play because Blacks couldn't play
in the major leagues with the Whites.
(Mr. Milford): When someone in your family go sick, where did
they go to the doctor's office?
(Ms. Holyfield): My dad said he went to Dr. Sawyer, my mom
said she went to Dr. Thomas a White doctor who delivered me at
Christian Hospital and my Cousin Girtha said she went to Jackson
(Mr. Milford): How long did you continue to patronize those
(Ms. Holyfield): My dad said he patronized these business
until he left Overtown because he had no choice. My mom patronized
them until she when back up North to Pittsburgh and my Cousin
Girtha patronized them until she had to move out of Overtown also.
(Mr. Milford): When did you begin or your family to shop or
go to entertainment outside of Overtown?
(Ms. Holyfield) : Ummm, when, when 1-95 came through and
things started to change then ah my family moved out, my dad moved
to Liberty City. Things changed, businesses dropped and they
longer existed and the neighborhood environment changed and so at
that point which I would say around the mid to late 60's.
(Mr. Milford): How has Overtown changed since 1970?
(Ms. Holyfield): Overtown is a depressed area compared to the
line up of the past of Second Avenue being a main drag with places
ah restaurants, ah...and as one person said restaurants with linen
tablecloths which says there was class there, the drugstores, the
cleaners, bank. Ah...all these businesses now to go now Second
Avenue and you have City Parking Lots that are the Arena, you have
vacant lots filled with grass and weeds, you dilapidated buildings,
you have a few mom and pop stores, you have a liquor store and
these...you have the Arab owned mom and pop neighborhood stores,
umm these are the businesses there today. You have an influx of
people that have been left out of the system. They do not function
in the system. They have psychological problems, they have drug
problems, one would say they are not productive in the system or
the corporate world. This is their home, ummm it's city blocks
that these people live in, they literally sleep on these streets,
they get up on these streets and they are like parasites that
function on these streets, this is their area, this is where they
have...this is their space within this world and in this city that
have been...that has been left and allotted to them until they're
pushed somewhere else. Ah, I see Overtown and I, I feel that I
have been robbed, not to be a part of something that was viable.
I have been robbed of my heritage to be a part of that and what I'm
faced with today is a dilemma that I don't have the answer to how
to solve the situation but when I look at reality, this is what I
see. Ah, this is a situation that has been created. This is a
cess pool now, a dumping ground and it just seems like to me that
it's a situation that there are people downtown that write words on
paper that have plans in drawers that are just waiting out the
situation in Overtown and that's how I see Overtown.
(Mr. Milford) 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?
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah, I'll take that back to my relatives. Ah
that came as I said when they ask...told my Cousin Girtha that her
home...the city inspector said that the home was ah could not be
repaired and it was a hazard and she had to move out. This was
1969 and they tore down that house and a Mr. Bernie Frank that's
who she rented the house from but she...at that time his son was in
charge of the business and he sent a process server ah to my
Cousin's home on Christmas Eve, 1969 around 6:30 p.m. and they
served her with an eviction notice that she had thirty days to get
out a house that she's been in since 1925. Ah so it was during
that time that she learned of 1-95 coming through and about six
months later or so they started building she said.
(Mr. Milford): Does your family member, do you remember what
kind of reaction there was in the news that the expressway would
come through Overtown?
(Ms. Holyfield): No, I don't know.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know if they discussed it with their
(Ms. Holyfield): No, well...no I don't know.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know if they discussed it with their
(Ms. Holyfield): No, well...no I don't know.
(Mr. Milford): Were there any meetings or petitions?
(Ms. Holyfield): I don't...I have no idea.
(Mr. Milford): What was the most important impact of the
expressway on your family?
(Ms. Holyfield): The fact that it broke up a community. The
fact that these people were surviving and thriving and flourishing
without 1-95. It did nothing to improve their way of life. It
totally disperses them and traumatized them and they've never
recovered from it. It was a vehicle for other people to go around
through and over the top of my people.
(Mr. Milford) What was the community able to get from public
officials in return for 1-95 going through Overtown?
(Mr. Milford): Nothing. They were told you have to go and my
people were not homeowners so when you have a class of people that
don't the finances to own and they are renting...every time you
move that, that group of people from one area to another and you
don't make any means to help them or give them some type of stipend
or some type of means of uplifting themselves, they're already
living day to day, this is their life, they live day to day. They
don't have a big deposit in the bank...oh honey, we're going to
move tomorrow...we've got thirty days to move and ummm...so we will
just go ahead and do this but you have disrupted their lives, there
are already in the bottom of the melting pot and when you totally
disrupt their lives like that you take them even a step down
further so they didn't give these people that were renting
anything. They didn't even give them you know an opinion of you
know, we've got some public housing over here, we're going to let
you live here for so many months until you get on your feet. They
gave them nothing, they just told them you have to go.
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions, I'm going to ask
you is regarding relocation because 1-95. I understand your family
had to move due to 1-95 coming through. Do you remember to whom or
do you know, do you have any information on whom did they sell
their property to?
(Ms. Holyfield): Well, that, that's....ah like I said my
aunt, they and my cousin they rented from this Mr. Bernie Franks
and it was his property so I would be believe that...and the city
inspector came and told him to tell everybody they have to go and
they tore these house down so it would probably be in some public
record somewhere who this Mr. Frank, umm you know sold his property
to let them tear these buildings down.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know if they were fairly compensated?
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah, I don't know what they gave Mr. Frank.
(Mr. Milford): How long were they given to pack up and leave?
(Ms. Holyfield): Ah, my cousin said she had thirty days to
leave a home she lived in from 1925 to 1969.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know what happened to the property
after it was sold?
(Ms. Holyfield): No other than they tore down all the houses.
No I'm not sure but I believe that the City of Miami Police
Department sets there today.
(Ms. Holyfield): She moved to 4801 Northwest Sixth Avenue.
Her former employer bought a house, more or less as a tax deduction
and moved her into that house. At that time she was having trouble
with her knees and she was in a wheelchair and to this day she is
still in a wheel chair.
(Mr. Milford): Do you know what the mortgage or rent in the
new place compared to the former residence was like?
(Ms. Holyfield): No, I would have to find that out from her
because she does have to pay some type of rent I believe.
(Mr. Milford): Was the neighborhood she moved in her new
location different or similar to the neighborhood from where she
(Ms. Holyfield): It was totally different, it was totally
different, it was a residence...where you, where she lived was
right around the corner from Second Avenue and as they say jump
right up on the "Avenue" and a jitney station was across the street
at one time and the people in the back and you ran in and out of
each other's house and then eventually when they had built the Sir
John there was activity up and down the streets all night long,
this was a quiet residential neighborhood and even though through
the years she had made friends and she has neighbors, the sense of
community is not the same, the closeness is not the same.
(Mr. Milford): The next set of questions is regarding
residents relocation due to the house being taken by the State
under eminent domain. Do you remember the year or know the year
that your family moved...1969 was the last that we lived in that
house. My dad moved around 1963 and he built a house in Liberty
City and that's where he lives today.
(Mr. Milford): Who informed them that they had to move?
(Ms. Holyfield): My cousin said it was a process server sent
by Bernie Franks's son who was the person she paid the rent to and
ah he said that the city inspector informed him that they had to
(Mr. Milford): Was it an eviction?
(Ms. Holyfield): It was an eviction.
(Mr. Milford): What relocation money did you receive?
(Ms. Holyfield): None.
(Mr. Milford): Ms. Holyfield, this last set of questions
regarding the future of the Overtown area, umm what are the most
important misconceptions about Overtown?
(Ms. Holyfield): I don't...ah...I really can't say there are
misconceptions about Overtown because if you're thinking the worse,
it is true. So it's not a misconception to me. Ah, if you say
there is crime in Overtown it is true but that's not to say that's
it's not balanced off by there are good families there,
opportunities can be made to happen there, that is true but there
is no misconception that is crime, that there are underprivileged
people there and that there is a problem there. It is not a
misconception that 1-95 and these transportation systems that
rolled through there did damage to Overtown, that is not a
misconception, it is a fact.
(Mr. Milford): What do you think public officials need to
know most about Overtown?
(Ms. Holyfield): They need to know that there is a number of
Black people at this time, that we are aware of a political
machine. We are aware of words on paper and what they mean, ah we
are aware of conjunctions that connect sentences with if, for, but
also, that they make meanings change. Public officials need to
know that we aware and that we are educated enough to fight for
what is ours and that we will take a stand for what is our to
preserve our history in Overtown.
(Mr. Milford): What should be done to improve the Overtown
area now such as transportation projects, attractions, job creation
or beautification programs?
(Ms. Holyfield): The major thing on my mind for Overtown's
improvement...social services I believe because to me ah, I say
Overtown is still struggling with trauma, suffering from pain.
Once we realize what has been done to u and recognize the truth and
deal with it, ah we need rehabilitation. I don't understand how
you can beautify something until you rehabilitate it and then the
beauty comes from the rehabilitation but I don't understand how I
can plant shrubby or I can build a building or I can throw paint on
it and say I've beautified something and I have not healed the sore
within that problem because the problem, the crime, the psychotic
things that go on will ooze from underneath that paint, will come
from underneath and around that brush to be seen so to me there are
social problems, there are social programs that need to go through
Overtown and clean up our problem and then let's beautify. I
cannot understand how you throw me a bone and say, I can, I
can...ah refurbish the Lyric Theater and then tell me there is a
city plan somewhere saying the zoning area right next door to the
Lyric Theater is for a 40-story office building. It blows my mind.
What you're feeding me out of one hand and what you're doing with
the other hand. Ah, we have problems in Overtown, these are issues
we need to address and not be lured an lulled again by false
statements and little trinkets that you hold out ah, ah to say,
well see they're doing something for me. Fine let me take those
trinkets then. Let me take them and use them to my benefit but also
on the other hand let me delve deep into what's going on, on the
other side of the piece of paper besides the flip side that you're
showing me, let me flip it over and find out what's going on.
(Mr. Milford): What should be the relationship between
Overtown and Downtown Miami?
(Ms. Holyfield): The relationship should be that the same
corporate mind that downtown deals with its peers, it should deal
with Overtown on the same level, that it should give Overtown the
same respect, that it should give...let Overtown hold the position
of, of it's value, that they know it's value to be and deal with
us, the Black community on that level, not to plaque us and ah,
just know, well let's keep them quiet and offer this and that but
deal with on that level at that corporate position that you are
dealing on downtown, deal with me on the same level that you deal
with Little Havana and the opportunities, deal with Overtown with
(Mr. Milford): When you have visitors from out of town, where
do you take them to show them culture and history of Dade County's
(Ms. Holyfield): Overtown, I take them straight down Eleventh
to Second Avenue, make a right turn and I take them right over to
Eleventh Terrace and Tenth and take them straight to the crime and
let them see the people on the corners and let them see the people
underneath the bridges, on Miami Avenue sleeping. I take them over
by the waterfront and I let them see the people that, that sleep
over there and do a little fishing and bath in the water. I let
them see all of that.
(Mr. Milford): Could you describe in your own words what kind
of community you would like for Overtown to be in the future?
(Ms. Holyfield): I would like for Overtown to be a viable
business community again. I would like for Overtown to supersede
Liberty City's business area, Opa Locka's business area because
even those...I would like to see them do better but because of
Overtown, what it once was, we need to bring it up to standards, we
need to make it best Black ah, ah, area in Miami and I think we
even need to go further than that and look at other Black
neighborhoods that have been robbed and raped across the nation and
maybe even network and see what we can do to help each other and
bring up our standards.
(Ms. Holyfield): I would like to read some of the things I
jotted down, I spoke with my Cousin Girtha Mae Vaugh on August 11th
and I also called my mother Inez ah, her name now is Adkins and
these are some of the things that they told me about Overtown.
My aunt, Mary Vaughn and her husband Charlie Vaughn came to
Miami around 1925 and had one daughter Girtha Mae Vaughn and they
lived at 601 N.W. Third Avenue from 1925 until 1968 or '69. My
Cousin Girtha was the last person in that residence. My Cousin
Girtha was born in Tifton, Georgia, the family home and she came to
Miami at age 14. She was born July 2, 1915. Girtha who is 82 as
of 1997, attended to Booker T. Washington High. She said to me
there was a fish market between Six Street and Seventh on Third
Avenue and the Blue Moon Cafe. The Blue Moon was more like beer
joint and a grocery store was right on the corner of Seventh Street
and their was a grocery store on Sixth Street and Second Avenue.
My Aunt Mae, Mary Vaughn worked at an apartment house out in
the Southwest section for an Italian family. She worked for them
for about 15 years and her husband Charlie Vaughn was a handyman.
The house they in was located at 601 N.W. Third Avenue was a
two-story building, it was painted light green. The Vaughn family
lived on the first floor. Mabelle Williams ran a rooming house
upstairs. Ms. Williams had about 6 rooms upstairs. The bathroom
was outside on the back porch. The roomers had a bathroom on the
porch upstairs, that's the same bathroom and it was closed in but
the Vaugh family had one downstairs on the back porch and it was
half enclosed. The Vaugh family had three rooms and a living and
a kitchen. The front door was right on Third Avenue.
A White man by the name Siegel had a row of house across the
street on Sixth Street and on Fifth Terrace. There were houses in
the front and the back and there were anywhere from 10 20
families at any given time that lived around in the front and the
back. Most of the neighbors were American and a few, very few at
that time were from the Bahamas. My cousin can remember those
houses being there from the time she was a little girl until around
1960 when they tore those house down and built the Sir John Motel
and Nightclub, with a big swimming pool.
(Mr. Milford): This is Alex Milford, this is August, on
August 13, 1997, we are at the Black Archives Foundation and this
concludes Side #1 of the interview with Ms. Norvell Holyfield on
relocation and transportation of the Overtown residents.
TAPE #1 SIDE #2
(Mr. Milford): This is Alex Milford and I am interviewing Ms.
Norvell Holyfield and this is Side #2 of the Interview and Ms.
Holyfield is going to continue with her history on Overtown.
Around the 1940's the men in this neighbor a majority worked
on the railroad as pullmen porters, some worked on the track and
some washed the train cars. Other men worked in furniture stores
making deliveries, these were not Black owned furniture stores.
My Cousin Girtha around the age of 18 or 19 she took in
laundry for Mr. Silver and Mr. Silver owned the Lyric Theater she
said. He would deliver the cloths to Aunt Mae and Girtha would do
them and then he would pay Aunt Mae around $15.00 for a weeks
laundry and then Aunt Mae would take care of Girtha out that, buy
her clothing and whatever she wanted. Doing the laundry included
washing, starching and ironing. She would take a pot of water and
put on the stove and let it come to a boil and take a box of Argo
starch and mix it up in a small pot and pour it in the boiling
water on the stove and you would have to stir it real fast to keep
it from lumping. And then you'd take the shirt ah the collar, one
side of bosom, the buttonhole side and pull them together the
sleeve didn't starch, just the cuffs. First of all you would have
to wait and let this starch cool down and you would dip this into
the starch and now you would wring it out and hang up outside until
dry. Then you have to sprinkle these clothes with water and roll
them up let set for an hour or two before you could iron them.
That's the difference between today and using a can of spray starch
Sometimes Mr. Silver would give my cousin passes for the theater.
Girtha would also go out to the Rockland Place to have fun in her
When she was 20 years old she started working on the Beach and
she worked there for the Sandler family for 20 something odd years.
Girtha would get the jitney to work and some of the jitney drivers
would have to have a permit to drive a jitney on the Beach. She
didn't have to live in, she came home every day. She cleaned,
cooked and took care of the children. She wore a uniform. When
there was company in the family household she wore white but during
regular work she wore blue with an apron.
My cousin and her friend Molly would go out on Saturday and
they would start at Second Avenue and Eighth Street at the Rockland
Palace and work their down to Clyde Killings' Nightclub on Eleventh
Street and Second Avenue. They would hit the streets around 8:00
at night and the clubs would start jumping when the bands started
When the Sir John came along in 1960, Girtha said, the
baseball boys would be there. You could look right out of Aunt
Mae's side door or the window and right into the Sir John. There
would be limousines pulling up all times of the time and women in
satin gowns and men in tuxedos and the White people frequented the
Sir John also.
My Aunt Mae rented a room to Frank Jackson who was a pullman
porter on the Silver Meter. He would go from Miami to New York and
then he would go back to Jacksonville and then he would stop off in
Jacksonville which was his home and he would catch the next train
coming to Miami and would stay in Miami overnight. He would leave
Miami to go home, back to Jacksonville, stay overnight and leave
the next morning going to New York. He would come to Aunt Mae's
with his uniform on. He a white shirt and gray suit and bow tie
and a gray cap. There were also men at the train station to help
you with you luggage and they were called...they wore a red caps
and would yell out, "Hey Red Cap" and they would come to help you
would tip them.
1969, '69 I believe ah, they tore the house down at 601
Northwest Avenue. The inspector, the city inspector told the rent
man that these people had to move. Willy and Dotty Pearl and the
people from Third Avenue to Seventh Street had to move. They even
tore down the store. Mr. Bernie Frank's son was the rent man
because Mr. Frank had died and his son took over. His son sent a
process servers to Aunt Mae's house, Aunt Mae had passed by now but
Girtha was there. It was Christmas Eve, 1969, around 6:30 pm they
served my cousin with an eviction notice that she had thirty days
to move from her home that she had lived in since 1925. Thank
goodness the family she worked for on the Beach for years bought a
house for her and she moved within three days. All of these house
were being rented and everyone felt they had no other alternative
but to move. They started tearing the houses down six or seven
months later. And not long afterward they tore down the Sir John.
My Uncle Jimmy, James McDonald worked as a bartender for the
Rockland Palace and he also worked in Clyde Killings' Nightclub,
The Fiesta. He was a bartender, he was a ladies man. My mom says
he also worked the Fourteenth Street Bar and the Cuban Bar out on
Twentieth Street and he also worked at the Harlem Square.
My mom Inez McDonald came to Miami in 1934 or '35 and attended
an elementary school here, we're not sure if it was Dunbar or not.
She around 10 or 11 years old. She went back to Pittsburgh in
1936. She married August 22, 1938 and she was 16 that married ended
the same year. She came back to Miami in 1945, she came by was the
Champion. It was a train that came out of New York to Washington to
Miami. My mom would get the Pennsylvanian out of Pittsburgh and
connect in Washington to the Champion and head on down to Miami. My
mom was and still is a gorgeous lady and at that time you had these
pullmen porter men and if they liked these young ladies that were
gorgeous, these ladies had the right wink and a gorgeous smile,
they could ride up and down the railroad line and just enjoy life.
So my mother, she was one of these good time girls and she rolled
on into Miami and she met my dad. She came to visit my Aunt Mae
and she was visiting friends that lived behind Aunt Mae, Thelma
Clay and her husband and this was during a time when Mrs. Thelma's
husband had ah, he had whipped her up pretty good and the girls
were consoling Mrs. Thelma and my dad was hanging out with Ms.
Thelma's husband and they were talking and from that my mother and
father started to have a conversation and they started to go out.
So I had asked my mom what days did you party, what days did you go
out? and she said, you went out everyday, there no certain day to
go out in Miami. So when she wasn't hanging out with my dad she and
her friend Louise, who was Mrs. Thelma' sister they would go to
work on the Beach by Jitney and they would come home, my mom worked
on Forty-First Street as a maid in the Orleans Hotel. Aunt Mae's
house was right across the street from the jitney station before
the Sir John was built. So my mom would meet with her friend
Louise right over there at the jitney station and they would start
from there and stop in the Rockland Palace in the middle of Second
Avenue and then they would work their way down to Reno Bar because
the club didn't open up until later on so you would go home and
come out later to the Fiesta Club. Mr. Killings and Mr. Perry were
businessmen and they had their little special reserved tables there
and you were considered special if you could get you a seat at one
of these tables. They also had floor shows every night. At that
time my uncle Jimmy was working at the Fourteenth Street Bar. My
mom dated Gene, he would go up and down in the Glades and deliver
liquor to people that didn't have bars and come back to Miami and
Gene would work from his car and in the bar loading up liquor from
the Fourteenth Street Bar where my Uncle Jimmy worked and then he
would go and start making stops again all the way from Miami to Key
West delivering this liquor.
As far as hairdressers, my mom bootlegged hair in Pittsburgh
so she did her own hair in Miami and transportation, they walked
everywhere except to Liberty City and at that time jitneys were the
thing, hardly anybody had a car. She said Sammy Davis use to come
down and bring his wife and he would put on shows at the Sir John,
and all the big time bands would come down. They use to have big
dances at the Rockland Palace every Sunday.
Fats, was a neighbor and he had a boy that would go down the
road and bring back moonshine, named Roy but my mom said her and
her friends didn't deal with moonshine, she and Louise were known
as the Gordon Gin Twins.
She said there was a Black police officer by the Kimbell that
was well known and eventually he became a bouncer in nightclubs and
then a lifeguard on the Beach which was a segregated beach you had
to get on a boat to get to the beach.
There were no Blacks on the Miami Beach accept to work and the
gentiles stopped at Sixteenth Street on the Beach, there were only
My mom was rooming with a woman by the name of Annie Lee
Edwards house on Eleventh Terrace it was a two-story where they use
have poke keno games and black jack, Annie Lee's house was on the
same side of Second Avenue Christian Hospital.
Everybody went to Nu-way photo shop to get their pictures
taken Mr. Neumann's wife, it was a neighborhood story that his
wife killed him.
My Aunt Mae was known as the woman in the house on the corner,
Sixth Street and Aunt Mae had a little history herself. She had
killed her husband Uncle Charlie, they had a run in and he had said
the first one that gets to the gun fire it and she did. Although,
my mom said Aunt Mae said don't every kill anybody because you
never get over. But aunt Mae ran into uncle Johnnie and my mom
said Aunt Mae was a character and there was a time when Aunt Mae's
car had stalled across the street car tracks and she got out and
left the car there and Uncle Johnny told her to go get car and she
said let the street car conductor move it his darn self and she
went and got in the bed. Aunt Mae would set and play numbers all
day long, they had something called Bolita.
There was a sidewalk cafe right on Second Avenue, and there
was Mr. Perry's Flower Shop on Second Avenue and at that time the
bands played Harry Belafonte say the Banana Boat Song, there was
a song Sly Mango Flying Home by Lionel Hampton and my mom and my
Uncle Jimmy would frequent the Twentieth Street Bar.
These are the things that I have been told by my family about
Overtown. To me Overtown had families that were the substance, the
meat, starch of Overtown and to me my family was the spice, the
salt the pepper that gave the seasoning and that's the end of my
(Mr. Milford): My name is Alex Milford, today is August 13,
1997, and we are at the Black Archives Foundation and this
concludes the interview with Ms. Norvell Holyfield on relocation
and the transportation on the Overtown community. Ms. Norvell I
want to thank you for your time and your history was very
(Ms. Holyfield): Thank you.