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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
TELL THE STORY
August 26, 1997
(Ms. Stephanie Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza. I'm
here at the Black Archives and I will be interviewing Mr. Billy
Rolle. Today's date is August 26, 1997. This is Side #1 of Tape
#1. Okay, we are going to begin the interview now. How are you
doing.this morning Mr. Rolle?
(Mr. Rolle): Alright, how you doing, pretty good.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. The first set of questions I'll be
asking are regarding family life. Where were your parents born?
(Mr. Rolle): They were born in the Bahamas.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, did your parents ever live in Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, no, just, just commuted from here to Coconut
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Umm, what sort of jobs did your parents
(Mr. Rolle): Ah domestic job. My mother was seamstress, she
sewed and she worked day jobs and my father was a butler, a
chauffeur, he did every thing, he was a cook and he (laughter)
drove car, took care yard.
(Ms. Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza, I just began the
interview with Mr. umm Billy Rolle and Mrs. Yvonne Daily will now
be taking over the interview.
(Ms. Yvonne Daily): This is Yvonne Daily, I've just taken
over the interview from umm, Ms. Wanza. I'm interviewing Mr. Billy
Rolle and I'm continuing with the questions on family life. This
is the fifth question.
Mr. Rolle where were your grandparents born?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, in the Bahamas.
(Ms. Daily): Did they live in Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): No, they commuted Overtown but they lived in
(Ms. Daily): What years did they live there?
(Mr. Rolle): In Coconut Grove?
(Ms. Daily): Umm hum.
(Mr. Rolle): Umm from the early 1900's until the late '60,
until they passed away, yeah.
(Ms. Daily): What sort of jobs did they have?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, my grandmother was ah, she was a domestic
worker. She worked in ah housekeeping and my grandfather was a
carpenter, he built houses.
(Ms. Daily): What...could you describe what it was like
growing up in your parent's household?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, it was a very strict upbringing, you know
in the Bahamas, they, they went to school so far and after 8th
grade and 14 years they were through with your education unless
they were, had a lot of money or was really heavy educated so that
they could continue because the Bahamian style education. So when
they came here they wanted for their children to be educated so
they can carry on wants they get something they didn't get really
and ah that's what sparked them to work hard to getting on but it
was heavy segregation here.
(Ms. Daily): The next set of questions are regarding
employment from 1945 to 1970. Describe the jobs you had between
1945 and 1970 that a period
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, well I was a student. I did part time work
for the City of Miami. I did...I worked in grocery stores, I
worked in restaurants, dishwasher, but I went to school in part '46
and ah I came and started teaching in 1950 although it was still
segregated here and through that time, you mention '45 to '70, I
taught all through those years in segregated schools and ah, were
able to instill in the students that, that information that my
teachers instilled in me so we lived segregated but we did most
things in our cities or inter-cities in that they did the other
part of town and they did a good job of it because they built
churches, they built, they carried on schools, they had tailor
shops, they had they own business and ah all for...not a whole lot,
they still made it and that's why we were able to do better than my
grandparents, our parents did because they saw that we got an
education. They worked hard to get us going and then we came back
and to do the same thing with the children that were coming up so
that was the work that I did, teaching and then playing music in
clubs in Overtown.
(Ms. Daily): Where were those jobs?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, the jobs were at, at the clubs and ah the
club they had famous, Rockland Palace, Harlem Square, Lyric
Theater, Reno Bar, Mary Elizabeth and they were ah, about 10 12
palace that you can work as a musician, now a lot of people worked
right in the area without even leaving the area to catch the bus or
anything else, they weren't even a strong Liberty City then but ah
they were right in Overtown and everything was bustling there. You
worked as a shoe shine boy or a waitress or, or cleaning up the
clubs or in a grocery store like mom and pop stores but there were
enough work right there to carry you on. So that what happened
with...ah before integration, you worked right there in the area
and you had the means to purchase whatever you needed from doing
the work. You learned work ethics and you learned work habits and
that's why our parents wanted us to be educated because you get use
to working and earning without even having any racial overtone
because we didn't come in contact with the other races that much.
We lived in our own area, schools, churches, social activities and
we went downtown to pay taxes and do other things but then for the
most part, we lived in our area and ah it was dignified.
(Ms. Daily): You mention teaching, what are some of the
schools are where some of the schools that you taught?
(Mr. Rolle): Well, I taught in Coconut Grove, I taught in
south, in Perrine, Homestead, Goulds, down in the farmer area but
I lived in Coconut Grove and I later worked in Booker T. Washington
as an assistant principal and which was a strong school for
everything cause the school was the center of the entire
educational system and the social system at that time. Everything
happened in the auditorium, we learned to sing, you had plays, you
had ah amateur shows, and you had good talent coming out because
you were able to display your talent in the schools, that was the
center of attraction, education, that why Booker T. was so greatly
thought of and ah back then in the area, in Overtown area.
(Ms. Daily): What years did you have those jobs? I think you
said that already.
(Mr. Rolle): In, in ah from '50 after I came back from school
I worked in most of those clubs and playing music for the dances,
club dances and ah affairs that the people could have fun socially
on the week so they enable them to, to go to work and didn't have
to entertain themselves without any problem and that was where the
people really let of steam after 5 or 6 days of work, they came to
the club, they had fun and they were able to go back, go to work
Monday, refreshed. Sort of like recreating (laughter) your body
here. Recreation and then back to work.
(Ms. Daily): What kind of hours did you work?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, when I was teaching during that time within
that same rim from '45 to '70, I taught from '50 to '83 really when
we were having regular schools hours...that 8:30 to 3:30 and then
if you worked at night you worked from 8:00 to 12:00 or from 10:00
to 2:00 in the morning which is a complete line of work because
most people did...they duel jobs. They had a regular job and then
they worked at ah maybe at waitresses or bartenders if they worked
anything or maybe they worked as a tailor or shoe repair but they
had a trade and they had their educational job but there were a lot
ah apprentice jobs and you learned from a guy who was a shoemaker
on Second Avenue, or a tailor on Third Avenue and worked the
theater because there were about 4 theaters in the Overtown area
that you could work as...ah you could do concessions or you could
do ticket taking or you could even run the movie projectors when
you learn that from apprenticeships so there jobs right in the area
that you ran the movie when they were here.
(Ms. Daily): So your hours then were varied or...?
(Mr. Rolle): Varied, yeah.
(Ms. Daily): You have set hours?
(Mr. Rolle): Yeah, the morning hours, you had set hours when
you worked in, in a place like the school or downtown to the bank,
you know. Ah whatever jobs you had downtown then in the afternoon,
you worked in the afternoon, you came back if you had a second job
and ah most of the work was done, well in and out I would say...in
your area and then if you could'get to your job back then through
transportation you'd work and find out where the better work was
and come back into your area.
(Ms. Daily): When and why did you leave those jobs?
(Ms. Daily): Well I stayed on the teaching job for 33 years,
just retired...retirement age came and then on the night work, it
just...the clubs just started closing after the "urban removal" I
would say and then the clubs start closing and the shops closing
and the tailor shops start closing, restaurants start closing so
there wasn't much work after that and that was after, you know when
they start moving people out and sort of eminent domain, taking
they houses and having them move further north (laughter) and they
just use that for their area.
(Ms. Daily): How did you find work?
(Mr. Rolle): Through employment offices that's set up in the
local area and through newspaper want ads and ah the most popular
where you go the employment office and then they would put you to
work for a small fee and ah they had domestic work and some semi,
semi-skilled labor and ah they were doing a lot building during
that time so you did ah...you found some work that you could do
because you were use to working because they had some strict laws
to, loitering, you know couldn't be seen around, hanging around
just doing nothing like they do now, you had to go and work and
then there was a reason for having to have a job because you just
(Ms. Daily): How did you get to work?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, public transportation. It was the bus,
there weren't many cars back then but then they were...ah the bus
runnings, the buses, ah local bus runs and then the jitney system
and a few taxicabs because you couldn't ride in the other taxicab
back there but you could ride in the, in the Magic City Cabs which
was in Overtown and they took you from your area to the work and
they had the...the public transportation took from here to most of
work was on the Beach and people worked over there and that was
whole lot of people worked to Miami Beach because they were the
hotels and there was a lot of housekeeping jobs and ah marking jobs
or jobs that you working around the hotel, baggage carriers and
whatnot, bellhops what we would say and men worked over there.
(Ms. Daily): Where did the other members of your family work?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah some worked in local stores, ah the mom and
pop stores, some worked in the laundries that were here, you know
there were a lot of...two or three different ah laundries that the
ladies worked in and the men they make them fold sheets and all
this kind of thing. Ah, then we were close to downtown so you
could almost walk to work from this area and the men usually used
the bicycle transportation because they Bahamian style and they
came from the Caribbean island style and couldn't afford an
automobile so they rode the bicycles most places to get to work.
(Ms. Daily): 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. Rolle): Yeah. I would say they did because ah, they,
they had, we had no competition before they came in and ah cause
they were enough worXf for unskilled laborers, skilled laborers as
you take a trade, you can, you can work but then I would say it put
a little pressure on the local residents at that time.
(Ms. Daily): Do you recall people moving into the area from
out of town?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, they were moving, in, in different
sections, not that much Overtown, in the parameter of, of, I would
say Overtown from Northwest Sixth to Twentieth Street back or
either from Second over to Twenty-Seventh Avenue. They moved out,
most of them moved in different areas where some of their people
were, maybe the Haitians and the Cubans and they, they kind of
settled in the area where they felt comfortable but you, you don't
find many right in the Overtown area unless you find the ones who
come in, who lay around with the one's of us who were Overtown
laying around, they hang around, now that, crew is in the area but
the ones who want to find a place to live, they felt comfortable
living with their people and they were further out like Second
Avenue, you know the Haitians are out around Fifty-Fourth or up to
Eighty-Fifth or further out, that's where you find most of those
people because that's where their business are, they live in Haiti
and other little areas where they felt comfortable.
(Ms. Daily): Do you umm, where were they from?
(Mr. Rolle): Well from different places like Jamaica and
Haiti and ah Cuba, Nicaragua, Puerto Rican, because they live in
say different parts of town now. Puerto Ricans in maybe Winwood
and some right over here in the other area, in the ah Second Avenue
from Twentieth Street to Thirty-Sixth and what not there is a strip
over there and ah most of the Cubans, you know lived in little
Havana but they dispersed away from Overtown because ah, well after
the housing left then it wasn't many places to go because they
moved out in Liberty City and different other places, Carol City,
Opa Locka, anywhere where they can find housing.
(Ms. Daily): Were there other people moving in from other
areas in the United States?
(Mr. Rolle): Were there other people?
(Ms. Daily): Umm hum, from different other places other than
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, I, I would say they would come to the next
largest city where things were a little more liberal from where
they came from. If they were in the southern area and migrated to
Miami because it seemed to be a liberal town and we had the people
from Southern United States coming in, Georgia, South Carolina,
North Carolina, Alabama and North Florida, they came in here for a
better life like the people coming from the island and the other
countries, they come to biggest city to find more work where the
hotels are where the, where the industry's urban area is moving and
then they move and maybe it crowds a lot of cities out because the
work is better. Our people came from the Bahamas after they came
from the islands into Nassau, then they came from Nassau into, into
Miami for a better life, you see, because there were more work and
some didn't like it, some went back because they lived on they
islands where they had they own, they beaches and the water and the
fishing but a lot of them stayed the opportunities were greater for
their children educationally.
(Ms. Dai-ly): Where did they live in Overtown, these people?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, right in those sections that I, that I
mentioned mainly from Fifth to Twentieth north, south and from ah
east to west like from Second over to Twenty-Seventh and that's
basically where, where that district, you know, was, that's where
they stayed because when you passed Twenty-Second, you were going,
you know, a long way and it was kind of wood up there and there
weren't too much over that way, now it extends all the way down to
Liberty City and to Eightieth Street now with a district, ah, ah
yes but then at that time that was the parameter from ah, like I
say the, where the police station is to Twentieth Street, you know
going north and from Second avenue going ah from east to west to
say to ah Twenty-Seventh Avenue, you didn't get that far over
because when you get this far over you were in Brownsville, that
was just another, another section but that's the way it was.
(Ms. Daily): What sort of jobs did they have?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, well ah most of the Bahamians came that, at
that time, they were, they were...most of them...they were builders
and they had trades and they, a lot of them owned their business
because that was their trade from where they came from. They had
they, they mom and pop businesses right connected to their houses
and they sold and they cooked pies and they ah, that kind of work,
they...men did most craft work, the ones who were tailors, they
kept they trade, the one that were shoe repair people, they kept
that up but they did a whole lot with a little bit of money, they
were highly segregated. They saved they money in the post office
because there-weren't banks so they did a whole lot but what, what
we say we have now, it's wide open with them and you get ready to
made a loan, the paper so thick 'til...but they did build churches
and help build roads and build businesses and houses, you know
their own homes because they were use to owning their homes where
they came from just like your people in Jamaica, they had their
people...places on the island so they wanted to do the same thing.
They didn't do a whole lot of renting and what not, they wanted to
own their own. I guess that were their forte and this what they
(Ms. Daily): How about the other people who moved from other
southern states and...?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm some of them chimed in and they were the
ones little less educated when they came in and they were coming in
this area to find ah refuse sort of like the people coming from
Cuba or somewhere else. They just wanted to get away from that
plantation mentality and once they got here, they were a little
free, they had more freedom. Sometime they didn't do well because
they a little more liberal here in some leader on the job, some
came to find work for their people and ah, they just thought it was
so much better here than from, from whence they came because they
came off a like a plantation kind of philosophy and ah this was,
this was better and sometime people, people come into rooming house
or an apartment and they so much than what they came from with
running water and facilities and they'll stop there but the people
came before they didn't stop there because they were use to owning
their own on the islands (laughter) and this is what prompt them to
still maintain ownership but when people came off a plantation they
never had a house. They stayed on the plantation they came in
here, not all of them were like that because some of them were, had
some good minds, some of them, they stayed and educated the people
but the one's came here looking for a better life and to keep that
segregated style up for them, the police offered them the...they
came into, into Miami and Overtown and a lot of them did good, did
good and a lot of them thought this was much better than they came
from so they squatted and didn't do a whole lot but except that the
freedom, I would say.
(Ms. Daily): The next set of questions will be regarding
businesses, whether you or your parents owned? What kind of
business did you own?
(Mr. Rolle): I owned a business ah back in the early '60s ah
music store. I sold instruments and I taught music because I had
a degree in music because ah in the area we needed teachers that
you didn't get in the high school and you needed private, private
teachers and that the people came round like they did in the
island, they taught you for twenty-five cent a lesson, piano lesson
cause if they had the knowledge, they passed that onto the students
so I did some of the same thing when I ah came out and well in
music too I sold instruments and I taught the people instruments
and I had a lady that could teach piano. That's the kind of
business, you know, we were doing but the other mom and pop stores
were there but I as far as I'm concerned, I was in the, still in
the teaching business.
(Ms. Daily): Where was your business located?
(Mr. Rolle): Mine was in Coconut Grove, Grand Avenue but I
had students from, from all around.
(Ms. Daily): Who were your employees if you had any?
(Mr. Rolle): No, I had ah musicians as employees and some
non-musicians they were doing...just sales people in the store.
(Ms. Daily): How did you find employees?
(Mr. Rolle): Well, umm personal knowledge and knowing people
that came up and can play, ladies that can play piano in the church
or they taught music in school and I used them for Saturdays of
teaching girls and boys how to play the piano. I taught the
instruments and they taught the piano lessons.
(Ms. Daily): Who were your customers?
(Mr. Rolle): Customers were youth from, from the area and
students from school who needed to learn to play music.
(Ms. Daily): Whom did you consider your main competition?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, basically, there weren't too many people
going out of the area to take music lessons so ah, as far as
competition and teaching you just needed more teachers in that area
for, for the students that needed to take lessons, you see and they
weren't putting up many public places for music students or any
other students for trade or skills.
(Ms. Daily): When and why did you move or close the business?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, I, I closed the business because the need
were a little lack when they, when integration came about, when
they started closing the high schools in our, in our areas and the
kids started going to other areas to go to high school, the
interest and motivation sort of lessened to be to play an
instrument because if we had a high school band in my area, Carver
High School and you needed, you might have 140 Black students in
the band. When they integrated with the other schools, ah they
were less demand for students, you know and they didn't feel like,
felt like it wasn't for them because they saw mostly White kids in
the band (laughter) so that's what the tough part there and it
just, just stop by...stopped going in the band and start channeling
in different areas and then plus they, they start requiring
aptitudes and we would have kids come in our band and teach them
when they got there because the public schools' job were to ah
educate all students no matter what line they were but they started
getting competition from kids from
in the Gables and those kids were starting earlier because they had
the benefit of University of Miami teachers, they had professors or
professional who had retired in the area, they had a lot of
teachers and we didn't have but so many teachers so when some of
those kids would meet up with those students they were 3 or 4 years
ahead before they even got started.
(We need, we need to leave at 11:30, I told them).
(Ms. Daily): I think we will soon be finished. Okay, could
you...how success...did you relocate the business?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah no, after the high schools were, were ah
dissolved and they weren't, weren't no lot of need for it and ah
they weren't demand to get into the band program so that's what
happened to it I was strictly doing band because I was a band
major. I did ah strictly music and I did choral music also but
basically I was a band major.
(Ms. Daily): So you didn't relocate?
(Mr. Rolle): No, I did some private lessons at the house but
I didn't relocate the business.
(Ms. Daily): Regarding neighborhood life between 1945 and
1970, could you describe your place of residence?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, because I lived in two areas. I lived in
the Cityof Miami, in the Coconut Grove area and then I lived in
Richmond Heights for 10 years during that time from ah '51 to '61
and I, live I...like the people lived from here, they got a chance
for home ownership and they were building homes out of the area,
Opa Locka or Richmond Heights ah Cutler Ridge and then being a
veteran, I was also a veteran, I did housing for veterans and it
was cheaper to go that way, 27.50 a month down and 27.50 a month
for a house, a three-one house, three bedrooms, (laughter) one
bath, carport so you had to go for that although you was down the
road about 18 miles and it was out to Opa Locka for about 15 miles
but you had to take that chance in going out there and coming back
in and that's how a lot of people got out of here and started the
ownership and started a better life because they out, they didn't
build in the intercity because they had taken all those, those
homes away with the highways and the byways and the oil leaking
down on the people, you know so they went out for purity and for,
for a better life.
(Ms. Daily): Who lived in your household?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm children, I had three children.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe the street where you lived?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, ah, regular neighborhood housing, you had
the regular three bedroom, one bath and some of them were frame
houses, and you had the, they use to have the families there, you
had you and your wife and your children and the grandmother or the
grandfather because after they were old you took them in and then
they sought raised them together and you had the ah, umm, the
mother-wit or the, the psychology of the older people life and how
they came and then helped the children as they went on to want to
be better or do better things in their life.
(Ms. Daily): Who were your neighbors?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah the neighbors were people like myself, they
would always ah, in a staunch Bahamian neighborhood and they had
unwritten discipline rules and laws that you went by, you know.
Places you didn't go, some food you did eat, that you didn't beg or
you didn't go unkept because that was the rules of, the community
and you didn't break those rules.
(Ms. Daily): Where did they work?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm, they worked in neighboring town, right
across from the way from where they lived. They one with the White
areas as, like I said, domestics, you know they worked as cooks and
servants and butlers and that wasn't far from where they lived
because that's the town right next to the...that abuts the White
area and you -live in the other area, this is clean one now but
that's way you did it cause you had your churches and your schools
and you went to work because that were the work was, you see, they
can afford to pay.
(Ms. Daily): What happened to those neighbors?
(Mr. Rolle): The neighbors are there, you mean where they
worked you mean?
(Ms. Daily): Umm hum...what umm...are they still there or
have they left?
(Mr. Rolle): Are the neighbors, your, your neighbors?
(Ms. Daily): Where are they now?
(Mr. Rolle): They, usually...they, they leave because most of
the children don't come back in the area anymore because of what it
is for our area because it's not what it was before they left and
they can't find the work so they just...they go to school in
Tallahassee or Gainesville, they just live in that area because
it's different from here because a lot of other things have changed
with the influx of a lot of new people. If they would come in and
stay back and did what you did, then like, like we had to do and we
keep the philosophy as to home ownership and schools and education
and ah living on your own other than welfare but ah with the influx
of everything else is doing so I might as well do it so your
neighbor's children start doing different, not going and getting
education so they can be on their own. This girl next door gets
food stamps and get a welfare check, well I'll go have me a baby
and I'll do the same thing (laughter) but that was their philosophy
which is different from ours back there.
(Ms. Daily): When did they leave?
(Mr. Rolle): When?
(Ms. Daily): The neighbors?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah I think when, after integration because
things weren't quite like, like you thought they might be and it
didn't work out for you because the schools were different and you
were meeting new people. It's like slavery from back then, people
would come in meeting people different from their tribes and what
not and they, they looked like them and they weren't them because
they spoke a different language and they kind of slowed them down
when they got into other people and they, they didn't think they
need to speak that proper or whatever good English and the teachers
got to be the same way, they weren't fair in that, they taught the
ones who really, they liked, they didn't teach the rest in
integration, that happened to us.
(Ms. Daily): Where did they go?
(Mr. Rolle): Back there? Well, that, that's during
segregation, a lot of people left our area to go to northern cities
so it was more liberal, you see. Yeah.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe the main business areas you
went to in Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): The main business areas? Okay. Ah, the clubs
and some clothing stores, some shoe stores, some hat stores and we
shopped right in Overtown, right there, Dooby's and ah Ritz
Theater, Modern Theater, Lyric Theater. Ah you went to the
different shoe shops and the different tailors because they had a
reputation of turning out good suits, custom tailors and they were
the shops you went to because they were right on the avenue and
they were well kept and they were skilled people.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family bought
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, other than the mom and pop stores, they had
a few of the major chain stores in the area that was a little above
Miami Grocery and A&P, Piggly Wiggly, stores that like that, that
you could get, was a little cheaper and that's where they shopped
for a little grocery.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family went the
barber shop or the beauty shop?
(Mr. Rolle): Well, right down the street and ah they have a
place in every little town they call "The Avenue" and then they
were located on the avenue, like here Second and Third Avenue were
the areas they were, the barber shops and the beauty parlors and
they were kind of known because that was another business that they
trained too, like beauty schools, like Sunlight Beauty School and
now like you get to work and then they opened they own shops, that
was a business, barber schools, things like that, that they don't
(Ms. Daily): I think they do.
(Mr. Rolle): Hun? Yeah some of them they have still but they
missing what they needed.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family went to the
(Mr. Rolle): Yeah. The neighborhood drugstore. People's
Drugs, Economy Drugs and ah you get the prescriptions and
everything you know.
(Ms. Daily): Whom these owned?
(Mr. Rolle): They were Black owned then. The pharmacist
owned the drug store then, they did alright.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family went to the
(Mr. Rolle): Yeah, the same thing in the ave...neighborhood
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe the churches your family
(Mr. Rolle): Tnat my family attended?
(Ms. Daily): Umm, hum.
(Mr. Rolle): It was catholic, umm episcopal and we went to
this church in Coconut Grove, Christ Episcopal Church. Sometime
they came to St. Agnes and we interchange, you know, with the
services but there baptist churches and methodist church, Church of
God Prophecy they existed and then they had their way but then we
went to the same schools which means there was no different thing.
You had to go to catholic school, you were catholic. Methodist
school and baptist we ended up to the same school Booker Washington
but then you had you same religion, educationally you learned the
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family went for
entertainment such as theaters, bars, restaurants or sporting
(Mr. Rolle): Yeah. In our area, in the area of Miami,
Overtown, we had an influx of clubs, entertainment and you had
bands coming in and you had entertainment coming in, you had road
shows coming in because, you know, it was a good town, you could
make money out of those places. This is where they went, cabarets.
(Ms. Daily): When someone in your family got sick where did
they go to the doctor's office?
(Mr. Rolle): In the neighborhood. The dentist, the doctor
was right there.
(Ms. Daily): How long did you continue to patronize those
(Mr. Rolle): As long as they stayed open and still use my
same kind of doctor, family doctor, they got the son of the doctor
now, umm hum.
(Ms. Daily): When did you begin to shop or go to
entertainment outside of Overtown or out of town?
(Mr. Rolle): When they, when they started closing the clubs
in Overtown and they started letting you go down to the hotel and
the entertainment spots in the hotel.
(Ms. Daily): During the period from 1945 to 1970, what were
the main things that made Overtown a community?
(Mr. Rolle): The main things?
(Ms. Daily): Umm hum.
(Mr. Rolle): The attractions of the businesses, you know,
clothing stores, entertainment things, restaurants and you had ah
good top flight, clean businesses so we used the businesses right
in our area. Everybody knew everybody, it was friendly and they
know it was safe, the streets was safe and everything else.
(Ms. Daily): How and when did that sense of community change?
(Mr. Rolle): Ahh, when they started Urban Renewal, when they
were moving people out and they start breaking people up.
(Ms. Daily): How has Overtown changed since 1970?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm, great because nobody's...nobody lives in
Overtown, no businesses are there, churches exist because go out
but they come back into the churches but they go back home to
schools and businesses outside of the area and they just died
there. The churches are struggling to stay open and that's the
(Ms. Daily): Now regarding 1-95. I'll ask you some questions
on that. When and how did you first hear about the building of I-
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, in the papers, in meeting, in the Herald and
then ah I was on a committee there where they keep[t mentioning,
you know, what they would do and how good it would be for the
people. Some leaders bought it and some did buy it but then they
sort of went over them by the leaders who didn't stick it.
(Ms. Daily): Where were you living?
(Mr. Rolle): I was living in Coconut Grove but I was
commuting to Coconut Grove for work.
(Ms. Daily): Okay. What kind of reaction was there the to
the news that the expressway would come through Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): Negative, but they were told that they couldn't
do anything about it and that was fraud'too.
(Ms. Daily): Did you discuss it with your neighbors?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes. Talked about it and they were showing you
a way it would be better for you but it really wasn't better for
you but then they were trying to convenience you that it was and
eventually it wasn't.
(Ms. Daily): Did you attend a meeting where it was discussed
or sign a petition or discuss the issue with public officials?
(Mr. Rolle): Sure. It didn't do any good because it was like
a like a national program and every city and town did the same
thing. It could be Jacksonville, it could be Virginia, it could be
wherever, they did the same thing in the same kind of neighborhoods
because it was umm nationally put up to do that.
(Ms. Daily): What was the most important impact of the
expressway on you?
(Mr. Rolle): Impact?
(Ms. Daily): Umm hum.
(Mr. Rolle): Well it would get you to and from but then it
still took away your, your lovely intercity.
(Ms. Daily): What was it like when the expressway was being
(Mr. Rolle): Chaos.
(Ms. Daily): What was the community able to get from public
officials in return for 1-95 going through Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): Promises only. Nothing concrete. Pay offs to
certain people to get to the rest of the people that this was good
for you and it really wasn't.
(Ms. Daily): How did 1-95 affect the community?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah it just was overwhelming and it was just,
just took over...took over what they had, umm hum.
(Ms. Daily): Alright, I'm going down to the questions
regarding 1-395 and State Road 836. Do you know anything?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes, about it just bypass roads to go over your
area, that's what it was, umm hum.
(Ms. Daily): Okay. When and how did you first hear about the
building of 1-395 and State Road 836.
(Mr. Rolle): Through the news media and television and where
were you living then.
(Mr. Rolle): I was living in Coconut Grove.
(Ms. Daily): What kind of reaction was there to the news that
those expressway would come through Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): It was chaos but then the people you had,
leaders, leadership was ah not like it was way back when we had the
businesses, wasn't quite as strong because there were men who held
up situations like Father Culmer, those people, they would stand
for it but as it went on then those people had gotten older and
weaker and the new leadership umm, just I think gave in, they caved
in, they weren't strong as the old leadership although it was
segregation, these people just held they ground because this was
their ah boulevard, they, they, this was area and their town, the
businessmen and the clergy and they just didn't give us, you see,
but after they broke you down and weakened you just like in
segregation, they broke you down and say well it would be better
for you and then you finally gave in and it wasn't better for you
but then they made you believe it was... just ruin the whole
(Ms. Daily): What was the community was able to get from
public officials in return for 1-395 and State Road 836 going
(Mr. Rolle): Some people were paid off but then for the most
part, the residents got nothing except booted out.
(Ms. Daily): How did these two highways affect the community?
(Mr. Rolle): Greatly because nobody was coming through and
there were no jobs for the people there and ah, they just were
bypassed by just going over you period. You paid the 6.70 after
95, 836 and go from one area to the other, you know the east and
the west and north and south, the others going around the corner,
so you got nothing, you got chance...didn't get a chance to stop to
buy gas, didn't stop to buy anything from any of the stores. They
just spin on the highways and you lost all that.
(Ms. Daily): Now regarding public housing. When and how did
you first hear about the building of public housing?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm after World War II when they started saying
this would be better for you, you know and build a bunch up in a
certain thing and this is going to better for you, the government
owned it and it would be cheaper and what not. In some cases it
was with the Liberty City project. Other places it wasn't because
it was too much, too much crowding you, jamming you.
(Ms. Daily): And were you still living in Coconut Grove?
(Mr. Rolle): I was still living in Coconut Grove, well you
know we, we did Liberty City ah Overtown and the Grove. We did a
whole run, we were pretty close in the affect.
(Ms. Daily): Okay and did you rent or own that place?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah in the late, in the later years we owned it
and after I got out of school in '51, we owned it since then.
(Ms. Daily): What was the community...
TAPE #1 SIDE #1
(Ms. Daily): This is Yvonne Daily and this is a continuance
of the interview with Mr. Billy Rolle. Okay Mr. Rolle, what was
the community able to get from public officials in return for
public housing going through Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, a few people got jobs from this but for the
most part, ah it didn't help a whole a lot because it wasn't, to
me, it wasn't managed like it should have been. If it was highly
managed and kept going, ah, it could, it could have been really
good because it just kind of turn it loose with public housing, it
just, it just left. They did everything they wanted and then
without any regards to family living.
(Ms. Daily): How did public housing affect the community?
(Mr. Rolle): Ah, like I said before it was demanding it was
poor and it just it just so at a stable, that was it, everything
was crowded into one and you got a lot light people there and you
need to have a pretty good mixture, the one's can do and the one's
who can't, you can't put a lot of the one's who don't want to do
together, you have nobody, no models, no role models, you see.
(Ms. Daily): Now regarding Metro-rail. When and how did you
first hear about the building of Metro-rail?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm through the same ear, media, conferences.
(Ms. Daily): What kind of reaction was to the news that
Metro-Rail would come through Overtown.
(Mr. Rolle): Well they thought that they would gain from that
but then like you said, it didn't really benefit the people because
they didn't need that to get where they were going.
(Ms. Daily): Did you attend a meeting where it was discussed
or sign a petition or discuss the issue with public officials?
(Mr. Rolle): I discussed the meeting because I was one of the
public officials at that time on the County Advisory Board, City of
Miami and we discussed it and discussed and they and brought it to
you and showed you maps and everything. I never did go for it
because I know what it would do.
(Ms. Daily): Did you discuss it with your neighbors?
(Mr. Rolle): Yes.
(Ms. Daily): What was the most important impact of that, of
the Metro-rail on you?
(Mr. Rolle): At that time it didn't have much impact on me
because I was doing my own private transportation. It helps now
for the people who really need to get too and from but then I don't
know what kind of impact it would have on getting them to and from
work since this run like it's running and not like the New York and
the Washington situations, you know you just straight area and then
you can't get to different annexes, that's the only thing.
(Ms. Daily): What was the community able to get from public
officials in return for Metro-rail going through Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): Like a few people benefitted and then for the
most part the rest of them didn't, they just took the land because
they had to have it and that was the mandate from, I guess from the
(Ms. Daily): Okay, Now, regarding the future of the Overtown
area, what are the most important misconceptions about Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): People are wild and they are unkept and they
lazy, won't work ana that's what they feel it is. Uneducated but
then the people that made it that way and you got live it and the
people that's down there can't get out, you just can't get out now,
there's no motivation to get out now. There is no motivation to
get them out.
(Ms. Daily): What do you think public officials most need to
know about Overtown?
(Mr. Rolle): Umm, that the people are human and are given the
history and do some of the things that were done by there, they can
probably recapture some of that but you have to start with the
young make them a part of being right there and doing it because
you got the crew coming back from colleges coming back int he area
with good minds and good knowledge to redo it and give them
positions to do it and funds.
(Ms. Daily): What should be done to improve the Overtown area
now such as transportation projects, attractions, job creation or
(Mr. Rolle): Good housing and good schools and the main
thing, good, good trade schools because that's the basis of it, if
you're educated you can do wonders. If I didn't get an education
I would be like the guys at the Camillus but then you are made to
be, you get you an education and then you can...with that kind of
skill you can make it, need saleable skills down here.
(Ms. Daily): What should be the relationship between Overtown
and Downtown Miami?
(Ms. Daily): Ah, they should be able to provide a enough jobs
to take care of some the people within. Jobs, again you need
skills and you get skills through education early, not when they
get 24 and 25 because if they don't have it then, that's not your
best worker because see then they'll never get it. They'll do
something for that but he can't hold a job because he just tired.
You got to start the guy at 14 and 15 and the work effort, it's got
to be good, you know to hold a job, you just can't say you can work
there because he won't be there.
(Ms. Daily): When you have visitors from out of town, where
do you take them to show them the culture and history of Dade
County's African-American community?
(Mr. Rolle): A few places in Coconut Grove and ah, the few
places that's left Overtown, the Lyric Theater, but then it's not
much else, everything is knocked down.
(Ms. Daily): Could you describe in your own words what kind
of community you would like Overtown to be in the future?
(Mr. Rolle): Yeah. Ah, a friendly neighborhood with good
schools, good churches, good businesses and the basics, the basic
of it is the good schools really, if you are educated you can
always find a way to do. Everybody won't go to college but then if
you got a saleable skill you will do something other have your hand
out. That, that's the key to it, education so whether than try and
give a guy 3 and 4 chance, work on that little guy preventive
without him getting into anything and I, like I said, if you don't
do it through the 3 R's, you're going to lost.
(Ms. Daily): Thank you Mr. Rolle for your time, and I'm sorry
we are so pressed for time.
(Mr. Rolle): Alrighty, yeah okay. I got to get this....he's
(Ms. Daily): You have been helpful.
(Mr. Rolle): Okay, well ah anytime, I like to share, I'll
share with you on my. This is...let me get my pen.
(Ms. Daily): This is Yvonne Daily and today's date is August
26, 1997. I'm just finished with umm...interview with Mr. Billy