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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
TELL THE STORY
August 19, 1997
(Mrs. Electra R. Ford): Electra R. Ford interviewer, this
interview is transpiring at the Black Archives office. Today is
Tuesday, August 19, 1997. It is now approximately 10:00 a.m. I
will be interviewing Mrs. Rachel Culmer Williams, a former Overtown
resident. This is Side A of the Tape. The first set of questions
I will be asking will be concerning family life in Overtown.
Mrs. Williams, for historical records, could you kindly tell
me where were your parent's born?
(Mrs. Rachel Culmer Williams): My parents were born in the
Bahamas, Cat Island, in the Bahamas.
(Mrs. Ford): Did they ever at anytime live in Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): Yes they did for quite a while because I was
born in Overtown and that was in 1918.
(Mrs. Ford): For the record could you give us the address or
some direction as to where this particular residence was located?
(Mrs. Williams): It was located at 1992 Northwest Third
Avenue, that was close to Twentieth Street, Northwest.
(Mrs. Ford): What years did they live in Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): Well, they were living in Overtown when I
was born, that I said was 1918 and there were two children born
there before I was so they were living there for quite some time.
(Mrs. Ford): What kind of jobs did they have?
(Mrs. Williams): My dad was, at first, he was employed at the
Royal Palm rce Company, that was one of his first jobs and then
later on he worked at the Afro-American Insurance Company.
(Mrs. Ford): So they were, did...was your mother employed or
was she a housewife?
(Mrs. Williams): My mother was a housewife part time and she
did some ah sewing, dressmaking.
(Mrs. Ford): For our historical records could you kindly tell
us ah the method that your parents used to find work?
(Mrs. Williams): Well as I said, my dad was employed as an
insurance agent for the Afro-American Insurance Company and he was
doing that when, at my birth and until his death.
(Mrs. Ford): Where did the other members of your family work?
(Mrs. Williams): Well most of...we were in school at that
time. All of us were of school age and we were attending school so
my dad was really the bread winner of the family, 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 for jobs?
(Mrs. Williams): They did. The influx was great and, and
jobs began to get scarce.
(Mrs. Ford): Mrs. Williams for the record, our next set of
questions will be regarding neighborhood life between 1945 and
1970's. We would like for you to describe to us for the record
what it was like living in Overtown. Could you tell us about the
house that you lived in, in Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): I lived in a house that was built by my
parents. There were 3 bedrooms, there was a kitchen, there was no
dinning room because we ate in the kitchen. There was a living
room, there was a dinning room, I'm sorry. The dinning room and
the living room was connected and there was a bath, one bath, there
was a front porch and a back porch which we played on most of the
time. Ah, we had many, many trees in our yard, mangoes, such as
mangoes or sapodilla trees ah sugar apple trees, lime trees,
grapefruit trees, pears trees, they were all in our yard. We had
double lots and the lot ran from Third Avenue clear through to
(Mrs. Ford): Could you tell us the household members that
lived in the home as you grew up?
(Mrs. Williams): During the years, now you said between '45,
1945 and 1970 I was employed at Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School
as a Secretary and I worked there until about 1957. As I child I
grew up in the house, there were 6 of us, there were 4 boys and 2
girls. My sister's name was Muriel and we all attended Dunbar
Elementary School located on Twentieth Street and Fifth Avenue. We
entered Dunbar School in the first grade and there were ah 6 grades
that we had to complete and all of us went through Dunbar
Elementary School until at the completion of 6th grade we were then
transferred to Booker T. Washington High School. Ah...
(Mrs. Ford): Who were your neighbor when you lived Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): We had ah, a large neighborhood. Everybody
knew everybody else and so there was no problem finding friends to
visit or friends to come and play with you. We all went to Dunbar
School, my parents, my father was the only working person and he ah
collected insurance and-he came home about two or three times a day
and expected us, if school was out to be at home on the porch or in
the yard playing among ourselves. He didn't allow us to wonder
around the neighborhood too much but we did. Everybody was very
friendly and it was like a large family.
(Mrs. Ford): Do you remember the names of any of your
neighbors of the children that you grew up with?
(Mrs. Williams): We had the Sands family that lived right
down the street from us. We had the Carries, we had the ah, the ah
Culmers, there was another set of Culmers that lived on the corner
from us and there were 4 girls in that family. We played together
quite frequently and next door, right next door to us was the
principal at one time of Dunbar School whose name was Hiriam Fleet
and Hiriam Fleet had 2 daughters and we were inseparable. We ah
made things together, we went to school together then we ah...we
got together and formed a little ah show, ah show, we had show, we
gave a show for the neighborhood children every Saturday night. We
danced, we made our costumes and the boys made the music and it was
usually drum music and they had a horn, a kind of horn that they
blew and the children in our neighborhood, the parents brought
those children to our show every Saturday night. Now Professor
Fleet, he had took time out to...between our two houses, they were
side by, he made ah benches for the children to sit on. He built
us a stage to perform on and the parents would bring those children
there every Saturday night before they went shopping and I think
they gave, they paid something like two cents or three cents for
the children to come in and during the week, we made costumes from
paper, sometimes we made them for cloth. Hiramma was the oldest
girl and she did all of the sewing and we would do all the pinning
and the basing. We had a regular performance and we did it every
Saturday night and every Saturday night all those parents would
come and bring their children and we would be performing when they
came back town, they would come and pick them up and when we would
finish we would ah, we had one of the girls that would collect the
money on the door, when we got through doing that, we would divvy,
divide the money among ourselves and every Saturday night we would
go down to Fifteenth Street. We would walk all the way from Third
Avenue and Twentieth Street to Fifteenth Street because there was
store up there that sold donuts and we would walk down there to
purchase these donuts and walk back home but we performed every
Saturday night. We would practice during the week, we had jokes
that we told, solos that we sang and we danced together. I forgot
about that but that was one of the highlights of our, of my
childhood and I can remember that so vividly now because it was
(Mrs. Ford): Mrs. Williams do you remember where any of your
(Mrs. Williams): Now most of them, most of the people in the
neighborhood did ah day work, most of them. Ah the men...there
were two men in our neighborhood who worked at a cleaning, pressing
place and they worked there oh 6 days a week. Ah there was, were
in our neighborhood who took in sewing, they did ah dressmaking
along 'with my sister and my mother and the others ah took in
bundles, washing and ironing and the people would bring them and
pick them up. They would wash them at home.
(Mrs. Ford): What happened to those neighbors?
(Mrs. Williams): Some of them passed away and others moved
out of the area when ah Urban Renewal came about ah some of
them...we, we were forced out. All of the people in our
neighborhood who owned their homes, those were the first ones that
the city served notice on and they had to move. Of course, my
father owned his...our home. The Terries, the Hodges, the Sands,
the ah, the ah Rosses that lived nearest to Nineteenth Street all
of the West side of Third Avenue were home owners. All of the east
side of Third Avenue was owned by one Jew and they were shotgun
houses, they had a name for those houses because they were 3 room
houses and you could stand at the front and look out the back door
but the rooms were there. He owned the whole block on the east
side, were 3 room houses and when ah Urban Renewal came about the
home owners were the first ones to have to move and umm Mr. Frank
was his name. Mr. Frank kept those 3 room homes, houses there
until, oh I guess way up in the '60s and, and then the city bought
all of his land and we sold it as a whole parcel.
(Mrs. Ford): Okay, when did these neighbors move out of the
(Mrs. Williams): We started moving out in 1957.
(Mrs. Ford): Do you remember where they moved to?
(Mrs. Williams): Well I, I moved into ah Tenth Avenue and
Fifty-Six Street, across Fifty-Fourth Street-and it's not Liberty
City but everything that goes beyond Overtown, they call it Liberty
City but it was Grunden Park and my address was then 5610 Northwest
Fifty-Six Street and I'm living there today. Some of them moved
into Brown Sub, some of them moved into Broward, some of them went
to Richmond Heights, some of them went to Mary Martin, they were
just spread, we were just threw asunder, some of them left Miami
but we were never close enough to keep in touch.
(Mrs. Ford): Could you describe the main businesses you shop
(Mrs. Williams): We shopped, we had food stores, we had
clothing stores, we had the movies, the Ritz Theater, the Lyric
Theater, the Sky Dome, the...we had several ah theaters, they were
not owned by Blacks but they were in our area. We had ah
drugstores and the drugstores were owned by Blacks. The one that
I worked in for quite a while was owned, known as the Economy
Drugstore and'it was owned by E. A. Wood, Dr. E. A. Wood and it was
located on Eleventh Street and Third Avenue. We had doctors'
offices, Dr. Farmer, Dr. Lowery, Dr. Fraizer, Dr. Chatman, Dr. umm,
Dentist, ah Muriel, Dr. I can't think of that man's name at the
moment, but most of our shopping was done within the neighborhood.
We even had dime stores located in the ah Overtown area.
(Mrs. Ford): Okay, umm where did your family shop for their
(Mrs. Williams): I don't remember the name of the shop but
the store but it was within our area and it was located on
Sixteenth Street and Third Avenue and my dad did most of his
shopping there. There were no Winn Dixies and Publixes in the area
at the time. They were small owned if they were not owned by
Blacks, they were owned by ah, not Cubans but ah...
(Mrs. Ford): Chinese?
(Mrs. Williams): Chinese, yeah. Chinese and ah Jewish but
they weren't, there were not any large chain stores at the time.
Mr. Smith who was Black man had a thriving grocery and meat store
on Third Avenue. There were bars you know, ah there were barber
shops, there cleaners that were owned by Blacks.
(Mrs. Ford): Can you recall when the A&P and Tip Top
Supermarkets became popular?
(Mrs. Williams): They were popular at that time. At the same
time they were popular, they were loc...umm Tip Top was the nearest
one to us was located on Fifth Street ah and across Second Avenue,
that was Tip Top, that was in that area. A&P was located on
Seventh Avenue Northwest and about Twenty-Second Street, now we
would go there on the weekends to shop but during the week we could
all of our shopping within the area.
(Mrs. Ford): Would you describe those two stores as
(Mrs. Williams): Yes, because they, they had just about, it
contain about everything that you would need, household items, as
well as meats, grocery or some hard, hardware materials, they had,
just ah...yeah I would consider them as supermarkets.
(Mrs. Ford): Could you describe where your family went to the
beauty shop or to the barber shop?
(Mrs. Williams): My family went to the beauty shop on Third
Avenue and Eleventh Street and it was owned by Mrs. Stevens. Then
some of us went to a beauty shop on Thirteenth Street that was
owned by the Williams but the Sunlight Beauty School was the most
thriving beauty, pop...beauty corporation in the city because they
trained Black Women to be beauticians awd they did that for a
number of years. Julius ah, David Julius, I think that's I'm not
sure, whether it was David Julius and his wife but they were the
first beauticians who trained Blacks.
(Mrs. Ford): What was the cost to have your hair done at ah,
the beauty shop or the beauty school?
(Mrs. Williams): It was cheaper to go to the beauty school
than it was to go to a self-contained shop and many of us...because
they used student work and many of us went to Sunlight Beauty
School to get our hair done.
(Mrs. Ford): Can you remember where your family went to the
(Mrs. Williams): We patronized the People's Drugstore on
Second Avenue and Eleventh Street or Economy Drugstore that was on
Third Avenue and Eleventh Street and there was another drugstore,
the Lewis Drugstore that was up...located up on Sixth, Sixth Street
and Second Avenue and we had many other little drugstores also.
(Mrs. Ford): Okay, can you tell us where your family had
their clothes dry cleaned?
(Mrs. Williams): I, I spoke about having some of our
neighbors who worked at cleaning plants, they would come and pick
up our clothing and I don't recall the name of the cleaners that
they worked for but they into the area and they picked up our
clothing and took them out to be cleaned and then there were
cleaning establishments in our city. There was one on Seventeenth
Street that we patronized a lot and I don't recall the owners name
but he lived at that time in Coconut Grove.
(Mrs. Ford): Can you reflect on what it was like to attend
church with your family as a child?
(Mrs. Williams): Oh yes! Every Sunday. Every Sunday we went
to Sunday school first, no we didn't, we went to church first, we
had church in the morning, early morning church, at 3:00 we had
sunday school and then we came back to church at around 7:00 then
if we didn't attend our own church, ah my sister was a little older
than I was and we would always go down to visit Bethel's church
because they had a young people's service league and they would
have visiting singers and speakers to come there. My church was
St. Agnes Episcopal Church and it was right down the street from me
on Third Avenue and it's still there and it's a thriving, the most
thriving episcopal church Overtown at the moment and it's located
still on Third Avenue and Seventeenth Street, between Seventeenth
and Eighteen, we went there for service two times a day on Sunday
and then Sunday School and BYP in the afternoons and we all went
together. My dad was a catechist. He read ah, he read the lessons
for the church and right now they are, they are called lay
ministers and they read the lessons and assist the minister in his
(Mrs. Ford): When you mention the church Bethel are you
referring to Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church?
(Mrs. Williams): Greater Bethel, Greater Bethel A.M.E.
(Mrs. Ford): Which is the historical church located on
Northwest Eight Street between Second and Third Avenue?
(Mrs. Williams): Yes that is the, the one and Kelsey Farr,
who was an undertaker. I forgot to mention the undertakers, we had
quite a few of them in the city but he was one of the most popular
ones. Kelsey Farr had an undertaking establishing and he was also
superintendent or president of the young folks league at Bethel,
Greater Bethel A.M.E. Church. Then we had ah Francis Funeral Home
and his was a thriving business, then we had B. Solomon's Funeral
Home, his was a thriving business. He was located on Sixteenth
Street just off Third Avenue and then we had Newbolds Funeral
establishment,,he was located on Sixth Avenue, close to Fourteenth
Street, on our way to Booker T. Washington High School, we passed
his place and...
(Mrs. Ford): Could you describe where your family went for
entertainment such as theaters, bars, restaurants or sporting
(Mrs. Williams): Okay, there was ah, ah, restaurant that was
run by O'Dell, Jack O'Dell, it was located on Second Avenue and
Sixth Street, we would go there evenings for ah, ah dinner. There
was the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, and they served dinner, they had a
restaurant portioned there. We would go there, we would go to ah
Joe...Little Joe's had ah an establishment on Second Avenue and
sometime we would go there for food, there was Salina's that was
located on Second Avenue and that was really, really where most
Black folk went for eating and entertainment. We would go to the
Elks Rest, there was one up on Eleventh Street an Third Avenue and
you went there for entertainment, dances, usually it would be a
planned affair up there or nightly entertainment and then there was
ah Clyde Killens, had the Four Corners, it was located on Second
Avenue and Eleventh Terrace that was later on they had ah the ah
Rockland Palace which was very, very popular, everybody went there
because any clubs were having dances, it would either be at the
Rockland Palace or the Harlem Square. The Harlem Square was
located on Tenth Street and Second Avenue. Those were two main
places that clubs gave entertainment or visiting bands came and
whenever they came it was, if it was not to be at the Harlem
Square, it would be at the Rockland Palace or, the Reno Bar was
there too, they didn't visit that so often but it was...it was,
there were other, little, you know smaller establishments along the
way, I can't recall right at the moment.
(Mrs. Ford): As we reflect back in memory, if I mention the
Orange Blossom Classic Parade, its football game and festive
events, could you tell me what comes to mind?
(Mrs. Williams): Well ah the Orange Blossom Classic Parade
came from my college, Florida A&M College so whenever they came to
town, the town was turned upside down. There was shopping for
weeks, preparations for outfits, ah friends and family and children
coming home from college, ah family coming from other places to be
there. It was ah, it was just like ohhh! a holiday, it really was
a holiday weekend. We dressed, we had parades, we ah, we ummmm, we
stayed out all night long.
(Mrs. Ford): Can you recall as a child what it was like to
see the Shepherds or the Junketnew Parade?
(Mrs. Williams): Yes I can. Early Christmas morning,
after...we went to service first and after midnight mass then the
Shepherds came out, they all came out every Christmas. After
midnight mass we did not go home, we joined the Shepherd, because
they came down Third Avenue or Second Avenue, we knew they were
going to go that way so we would just join them and we would
process all night. We would go down Third Avenue to Second Avenue,
excuse me, around Second Avenue back down Third Avenue and usually
we ended out ah near Twentieth Street, they would go to the
U.N.I.A. Hall, and it use to be on Nineteenth Street and Fourth
Avenue and there we would, it would be like daybreak then and then
we would go to breakfast sometime at different places or
restaurants but I did, I thought the Shepherds was one of the
greatest, events that...the Orange Blossom Classic and ah, what
else can I say?
(Mrs. Ford): Was this an exciting time for the neighborhood?
(Mrs. Williams): The neighborhood woke up and it was alive.
Everybody had something to do or something to add. We had brought
pompons and flowers and fruits and hats and...
(Mrs. Ford): ...and celebrated.
(Mrs. Williams): Yes. You know I failed to rem...to tell you
about the trolley that stopped at our door on Third Avenue, the
trolley car ran straight down Third Avenue and it stopped at
Twentieth Street, right just in front of where we lived and we
would sit out there and watch the trolley, ah the conductor as he
got out because he would have to get out and turn, take the ah, the
what? The wheel that connected to the line, the trolley line, he
would have to turn it around and he would start back and some
nights when he was alone, he would tells us come on and get on, get
on, I'll bring you back and we would ride to the end of line, we
would go down to Flagler Street and turn around. I think they use
to go even into Coconut Grove but it was right in the center of the
street and ah I had a little nephew that waited for the conductor
to come back cause he always say, well come on and ride and he
would ride. We didn't have cars then so we walked most of the
places that we went. We walked, if it was 2:00 in morning after we
left a dance, if we didn't want to take a cab. Now the cab guys
knew most of us that lived over there, the girls, women and they
would wait for us, they'd say come on we'll take you home and we
would refuse to ride cause we wanted to (laughter) walk and then we
took the trolley cars, wherever...when we were going to town, if
wanted to we would ride the trolley, and I think then it must have
been ten cents or something like that but it was not expensive and
then I wanted to say another thing. When the ah Society Cabs
organized, it was organized by a Black fellow, his name was
Green, ah Dr. Green, Dr. Sawyer and Dr. Seeds. Dr. Seeds was an
eye, ear, nose and throat specialist and the reason why I vividly
remember him is because when I got this lick in my eye, my mother
took me to Dr. Seeds and he was located across the river, so it
must of, it was down kind of on the south end...
(Mrs. Ford): Do you recall Dr. Henry?
(Mrs. Williams): Dr...Oh! Dr. Henry was my doctor, I don't
see how I could miss him. Dr. Henry, ah, Aubrey Henry and ah...
(Mrs. Ford): What about Dr. Davis?
(Mrs. Williams): Dr. Davis, yes and...
(Mrs. Ford): Dr. Hawkins?
(Mrs. Williams): and Dr. Hawkins, I said Dr. Muriel. I'm
still forgetting somebody. Dr. Patterson, he came later, Dr.
Patterson, Dr. Styles, Dr. Shirley. Ah, let's see...all of those
doctors were within our reach.
(Mrs. Ford): How long did you continue to patronize
(Mrs. Williams): Well, until, until ah, now they didn't all
move away in '57 like I had to move so they were there, we'd, we'd
go back to them as long as they were there. I would visit Dr.
Hawkins. I would visit Dr. Henry cause he stayed on Third, ah
Second Avenue for quite some time, Dr. Davis did the same. Ah Dr.
Chatman stayed, Dr. Sawyer, Dr. Chatman moved, a dentist moved to
Fourteenth Street at one time before he moved out here to Seventh
Avenue, we would, I would go back over there to them. Oh it was
quite some time. We patronized our Black medical doctors for, for
a long time when Medicare and stuff like that came in.
(Mrs. Ford): When did you begin to shop or to go ah attend
entertainment outside of the Overtown area?
(Mrs. Williams): I imagine ah, umm I guess in the early '60s.
(Mrs. Ford): Would you say integration play a role?
(Mrs. Williams): Terrible role, yes. Integration was
terrible for us so far as educating our young children were
concerned because when we integrated the schools, I'm speaking
about, especially now, we ah, we got, we got from the White race
all of it, the...most of their poor teachers and the best of the
best Black teachers were shipped out first. They were sent one
here and one there and you know, spreaded all over the ah city and
then we got the influx of the Cubans who came and they couldn't
speak to our kids and they placed them in...can you imagine a Cuban
being in a kindergarten, just came from Cuba. Anyway, not only
Cuba but the Whites that came to us did absolutely nothing for our
children and if you don't believe it, look at them today. They
came here and stayed as long as they can stay and get that...get
paid and as soon as they were here long enough to ask for a
transfer, they were shipped out. Integration was terrible for us
so far as educational advancement is concerned.
(Mrs. Ford): During the period from 1945 or earlier, to 1970,
what were the main things that made Overtown a great community?
(Mrs. Williams): The fact that we were self contained. We
had everything that we needed within our reach and within our
range, we didn't have to, you didn't have to own a car to get
around, you could get around without even owning a car-. After that
you were thrown so far apart. Another thing that made us so great,
we did things together, we knew what was happening in the area, we
did things to benefit our children. You know children is the
growth of any city, any race and if we were able to control them
because you know I wouldn't go to school and misbehave, the teacher
didn't have to call me mother, she had to pass her house to go home
and, and we knew that if we did anything in school, the teacher was
going to punish us and that wasn't going to be the end because your
mother was going to know about it, your father was going to know
about it. The next day they would be in school, why can't you do
this? It helped to give our children a good foundation. It helped
them to have pride in whatever they did because if they were going
to appear on programs and we had so many of those, even if a child
was shy or couldn't speak, she would learn because the teacher
would keep pushing her out there. They were concerned about us.
They were concerned if we came to school and we didn't look the
best...you could do better than that...and they'd instill pride in
us, they instilled caring and loving and you can't...a child misses
affection, he didn't have to stand off and...donrt touch me
because...Then we had, if we had any place to go, we can go, we
planned it and did it on our own. We patronized each other if were
doing anything that called for needing assistance. If anybody was
ill, everybody came to your rescue if you had ah sickness, we came
then rallied around you, death we rallied around you. Now, when
our friends die, it's days before we know they died because we so
scattered. How and when did this sense of community and the
cohesiveness change among our people that lived Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): It changed, as I said, the first thing they
did Overtown was to condemn homeowners properties, the people who
owned homes, they got them out first. After the people who owned
homes were scattered here and there then everything that came into
Overtown was transit, they came in overnight, they came in to rent
and when you're renting, you have no sense of place, you have no
sense of being and so the transits that they have Overtown, they
did care about what it looked like or how it looked they weren't
interested in keeping their places up and finally, they just,
drifters just drift in and out, they slept up under the overpass,
they slept on the sidewalks and there was no sense of place, there
was no sense of home because nobody Overtown when we left owned
anything, they were rending then they put up all those 5 story
apartments buildings and then the dirt piled off, they never
cleaned anyth-ing, they didn't know what a street sweeper was. When
we were Overtown, the street sweeper came in twice a day. He came
in early, early in the morning and he came back and they swept
through the main thoroughfares, at least it kept those clean and
then we, we owned places so we kept our own places, surroundings
clean. When they separated us, got the home owners out that was
(Mrs. Ford): When you were a child do you recall anyone
sleeping under underpasses, or sleeping on somebody's porch?
(Mrs. Williams): Owww, no, no, no! We had, we had too much
pride for that and then the people that were in Overtown, they had
homes to go to but I was appalled when I saw people sleeping under
the expressway and the overpass and you know what? The city did
nothing to prevent and most of those people now, out there in the
street, they don't have to be there but for number one, they don't
want to abide by any rules, no regulations, leave me alone and so
I pass them now because I realize, they don't, they don't all have
to be there but they found out that they could do this so they did
it. It was a sad day, a very, very sad day.
(Mrs. Ford): How has Overtown changed since 1970 in your
(Mrs. Williams): It has gotten, it's dirtier, and there is no
pride anywhere Overtown, they are trying now to, and they really
are not trying to build it up. The plans, the plans were made a
long time ago, it is just gone down. There is nothing Overtown,
nothing, not even a good, not even a good store and it's months as
the city has paid those people to go in there and put stores up.
They get all the benefits of no taxes, low taxes, cut on this and
cut on that but their hearts are not in it and they don't stay
there. It's terrible.
(Mrs. Ford): I'm going to ask you some questions, Mrs.
Williams, regarding 1-95. You mentioned earlier in your interview
that you moved in 1957?
(Mrs. Williams): '57.
(Mrs. Ford): Was this because you had heard that 1-95 was
going to come through or that you had actually been given ah, an
eviction notice or notice to move because of eminent domain which
meant that the state was going to actually purchase your property
where you lived?
(Mrs. Williams): I was given a notice and I was, I was
evicted. We were evicted, they sent us an eviction notice and a
check for $7,000.00 for two double lots and at the time, we were
not educated to the point to know that we didn't have to take that,
we didn't and most of us got these checks from the city and we
thought we just had to move. We really didn't have to move, we
could have fought them but at the time that, that happened my
father was dead and my mother was trying to send us to college or
was I in college...I was in college, no, no, no, I was not in
college but my brother was in college and she was trying to help
them and she didn't know what to do and we were...this was
something new to us. We didn't know anything about fighting city
hall or...so we moved in 1957 when we got the eviction notice, they
were talking about 1-95 having to come through there, we...
(Mrs. Ford): I am Electra Ford. This concludes Side A. I am
interviewing Mrs. Rachel Culmer Williams. Today is August 19, 1997.
This interview will continue on Side B.
I am Electra R. Ford, the Interviewer. Today is Tuesday,
August 19, 1997. I am interviewing Rachel Culmer Williams at the
Black Archives Office. We are now on Side B of the Tape. We will
continue to discuss the questions regarding 1-95. Questions number
Mrs. Williams when you were requested to move, were you the
owner of the home at that time? Did you rent or own the place you
lived at that time?
(Mrs. Williams): My parents owned the place that we were
(Mrs. Ford): What kind of reaction was there to the news that
the expressway would come through Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): Panic, we panicked because we didn't know
where...what we were going to do or where we were going but we
received we received this statement from the city and it said that
we were being evicted and we would have relocate and they were
giving us a lousy $7,000.00 for two lots that went from street to
street. My mother didn't...she just...she was ecstatic, she didn't
know what to do and ah the only thing that could think of at the
that is that we would have to find to some place to live only
because we did not know to what extent we could rebuild. But since
1-95 was coming in there, we just ah decided to find something else
and, of course, we went to Grunden Park which is just this side of
(Mrs. Ford): Could you describe what was said about the
expressway at the time?
(Mrs. Williams): Oh, they thought it was going to be ah...it
would be ah...it had to be convenient because the traffic was so
heavy and it was going to come through our area, that was the
understanding that we had when we left.
(Mrs. Ford): What affect do you 1-95 had...would have had on
(Mrs. Williams): Well it, it tore it asunder and it really is
just, it ruined Overtown, it just ruined all of the people who
lived in Overtown were just thrown to the winds and there were
several times after that, that they attempted to ah say they were
going to have to add something to it and attempted to finish
destroying the people, the ah residents Overtown.
(Mrs. Ford): Did you discuss it with your neighbors?
(Mrs. Williams): We did, we did and all of us were, were
upset but we had the checks in our hands so we were really trying
to move out fast and the hurtful part about it was the Carries had
about three lots on Third Avenue and they had recently built a new
home, they had one, they had one home that they were living in and
they had recently rebuilt that home and they moved them out and the
ah Fannings down the street had...there homes were recently built
and they moved them out but they let the ah little shotgun houses
on the east side of the street remain there and they stayed there
until Mr. Frank, who was a Jew owned all those shotgun houses, they
stayed there until he got ready to sell to the city.
(Mrs. Ford): Did you or your neighbors attend a meeting where
it was discussed, sign a petition to discuss the issue with the
(Mrs. Williams): Not to my knowledge, not to my knowledge.
(Mrs. Ford): What was the most important impact of the
expressway on you?
(Mrs. Williams): The fact that we had lost all of ah, what is
it I want to say...we lost all of ah, ah...we lost the pride that
we had and, and where we were. We lost our stability, we lost our
neighbors and friends that we...some I have not seen since then.
(Mrs. Ford): What was it like when the expressway was being
(Mrs. Williams): Well it wasn't immediately in my path but ah
and I don't know that, that many of our people were employed at
that time for that but I, I didn't see too much of the ah
(Mrs. Ford): What was the community able to get from the
public officials in return for 1-95 going through Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): Nothing.
(Mrs. Ford): How did 1-95 affect the community?
(Mrs. Williams): It tore, like I said it tore them asunder.
(Mrs. Ford): Mrs. Williams, the set of questions I will be
asking you, if the interviewer decided to move because of 1-95 and
you have stated for the record that you did have to move because of
eminent domain- proceedings for 1-95, when did you decide to change
your place of residence?
(Mrs. Williams): That was in '57 when we got the notice,
other than that we never thought about leaving the area but when we
got the notice it was so upsetting until, we just panicked.
(Mrs. Ford): Why, why did you think it was appropriate to
change your place of residence?
(Mrs. Williams): It was appropriate at all and it was not by
choice. It was just by being evicted.
(Mrs. Ford): To whom did you sell your property?
(Mrs. Williams): We didn't sell it, they took it. The city.
We didn't sell the property, the city took it and gave us the
amount that they wanted us to have. That's what they did to
everybody. They said they evaluated the land but they did not.
(Mrs. Ford): Do you feel that you were fairly compensated?
(Mrs. Williams): No. We were not.
(Mrs. Ford): How long were you given to pack up and get out?
(Mrs. Williams): At this moment I don't quite remember. I
don't remember just how long we were given.
(Mrs. Ford): What happened to the property after it had been
acquired by eminent domain?
(Mrs. Williams): Eminent domain put them all together and
sold them to White folk as tracts of land. That's what they did.
(Mrs. Ford): And where did you move?
(Mrs. Williams): We moved to Grunden Park which was ah
located on ah Tenth Avenue and Fifty-Fourth Street, Fifty-Sixth
(Mrs. Ford): What was the mortgage in your new place compared
to your former residence?
(Mrs. Williams): Well the residence that we were in, I never
knew what was paid on that because I think when I came into the
world, they my dad owned that property. Well when I moved, when we
moved out to Grunden Park, ah was it the FHA? FHA took the
mortgage and it was ah, it was a low mortgage that we had to
pay...ah...umm remember that now but it was lower than
umm, you if we were getting it from somewhere else. FHA took the
mortgage and it was given to Constitution Life Insurance Company.
(Mrs. Ford): How did you choose your new residence?
(Mrs. Williams): Well I looked for something that I wanted.
I wanted yard space and we had a nice yard, front and back and
there were 3 bedrooms, dinning room, ah and ah kitchen and since
then I, we've renovated and added to, to make it comfortable for
(Mrs. Ford): Was the neighborhood, in your new location
different from, different from or similar to the neighborhood from
which you moved?
(Mrs. Williams): It was a little different in that the lots
were, the individual lots were larger and they were home owners,
home owners instead of some renters and some home owners, they were
(Mrs. Ford): Were the neighbors friendly and easy to
socialize with-as the situation was Overtown or, or describe for us
what it was like having new neighbors elsewhere.
(Mrs. Williams): New neighbors, some of them were, were
White. Some of them were... we was integrated but not to the
point, point that ah we knew each other because I was new in the
neighborhood and they were trying to get out.
(Mrs. Ford): Mrs. Williams, the next set of questions I will
be asking you will be, if interviewee lived in a house or apartment
that was taken by the state under eminent domain and you have
stated for records that you did live in a house in Overtown that
had been purchased by the City of Miami for, under the eminent
domain proceedings, please respond to the following question. Ah
what year did you move from Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): We moved in 1957.
(Mrs. Ford): And informed you that you had to move?
(Mrs. Williams): The City of Miami by letter.
(Mrs. Williams): What were you paid for your home by the
(Mrs. Williams): $7,000.00
(Mrs. Ford): And were you fairly compensated?
(Mrs. Williams): No! Because we had ah two lots and they ran
from street to street and the city knew they couldn't buy two lots
as large as that.
(Mrs. Ford): Were you evicted?
(Mrs. Williams): No, not, well told. They really...they
didn't put us out, we moved out. You know what I's saying, they
gave us a chance to move out but they evicted us when they sent the
(Mrs. Ford): Mrs. Williams the last set of questions that I
will be asking you will be regarding the future of the Overtown
area. In your own words, please tell us what are the most
important misconceptions or misunderstandings about life in
(Mrs. Williams): The city itself is not being fair with us
even in reorganizing Overtown. The future for Overtown still looks
a bit dim because nobody will come out and say, yes you're going to
do...we gonna do this, we have plans for Overtown but I...the city
is not going along with them. They are not saying they are not but
they are not helping us fulfill those plans because they are still
trying to put some, some pathway from the airport to the, to the
Bayside and they want to bring it right through the heart of
Overtown again and, and Overtown i already split up. The future
looks dim to me. However we are working on the Eighth Street ah,
ah, hump...we are working on the Overtown mall...
(Mrs. Ford): Is that an improvement committee?
(Mrs. Williams): Yes. The Lyric Theater, the Black Archives
is trying to, to complete the Lyric Theater as well as to develop
the Folk Life Village and ah I don't know how well that's going to
go but we do have some plans that will make it home like again but
we need the ah, we need the support of the city.
(Mrs. Ford): What do you think public officials most need to
know about the Overtown life?
(Mrs. Williams): They need to know what we expect. We expect
the same thing that other people expect for their living
conditions. We need stores, we need shops, we need ah...we need
conveniences and they can help us and...by way of putting those
convenience into place and ah we are doing the best, we're doing
well except for, they just are not straight with us. My ah church,
St. Agnes Church is ah, we have plans for the Rainbow Village
that's on Twentieth Street. Our church was responsible for
building a day care center for the Rainbow Village, that's a part
of Overtown and it's located ah around Twentieth Street and
Seventeenth, Twenty-Second Street, and ah we're working with that,
well we expect HUD to help us in some way to obtain those
properties because we wanted to put ah livers, a village for livers
who live there. I don't know how successful Father Barry is going
to be but he is working on that project right now.
(Mrs. Ford): What should be done to improve the Overtown area
now, such as transportation projects?
(Mrs. Williams): They need to put a good... put in the city
need to put in a good transportation ah, ah means of
transportation. If we have ah...they have jitneys and what not but
it'll take you so long to get where you are going. They need to
have some means of getting where you need to go in a reasonable
amount of time and, and transportation is one of the biggest
problems and then they need to clean up the ah sleepers under the
bridge. They've done some good with that, I noticed but they are
still, the city need to do something that ah will keep them from
coming, returning. They built a place but they can't make them
live in it.
(Mrs. Ford): Would you address the needs for tourist
attractions in Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): Yes, we are working on that and we are going
to do that through the completion of the Lyric Theater, we will be
able to present shows and attractions and if we get the Folk-Life
Village going where we intend to put in museums to show the public
what we can do over here, we are working on that. We have already
cleared the Dorsey House and the Chatman House which is a museum,
it's located over there with the Booker T. Washington High School.
Then we want to do some other things on Ninth Street. Between Ninth
Street and Eight Street, it's where the Archives, plan to do the,
their Folk-Life Village especially for a tourist attraction.
(Mrs. Ford): Would you elaborate on the possibility of job
development and how do you think it would affect life in Overtown?
(Mrs. Williams): If they can develop more jobs, I think it
would, it would behoove the people who have moved out because it
didn't have jobs at that time, if they are able to find jobs
Overtown, I think it would be to their advantage to move back or
come back to area. In planning, in doing the planning for the
Folk-Life Village, I keep harping on that because that is one means
of supplying jobs because whatever, whatever we put in there has to
be run by humans and we plan to use them, ah use ah people, employ
people to do those things.
(Mrs. Ford): Would you address the possibility of a
beautification program for Overtown and how do you think it might
benefit the area?
(Mrs. Williams): I think ah, ah everybody likes beauty and i-f
we just umm made it our business to do a little, plan...preplanning
and cleaning up some of the garbage that's in the streets now.
Even now it would help, together with Mt. Zion which is another
historical church, Bethel's Church which is right on the back of
the...right in the mist of the Folk-Life Village and they are doing
tieir best and then they have the apartments across the street,
Sawyers' Apartments and they are pretty well kept. I think that
will encourage people to come back into the area.
(Mrs. Ford): In your opinion what should be the relationship
between Overtown and Downtown Miami?
(Mrs. Williams): You can't separate them because they are
right there together and I think ah Downtown Miami should pave the
way so that an entrance will be into Overtown and then give us some
ah garbage cleaning up and give us some street cleaning. If they
us the services that we need, I think Overtown will fly some day.
(Mrs. Ford): When you have visitors from out of town, where
do you take them to show them culture and history of Dade County
African-American or Black community?
(Mrs. Williams): You have to take them if you are going to
show them anything, you have to take them Overtown somewhere.
(Mrs. Ford): Could you describe in your own words what kind
of community you would like Overtown to be in the future?
(Mrs. Williams): I would like for Overtown to be a thriving,
self-supporting living area for the young people of Dade County but
you know, it's going to have to be attractive and we are going to
have to make it so.
(Mrs. Ford): Mrs. Williams on that note we conclude this
interview. I want to thank you so very kindly for your time and
your patience in giving us such a detailed amount of information
regarding ah life in Overtown as you knew it and your ideas for the
future of Overtown. I am concluding this interview. I am Electra
R. Ford. The interview is being held at the Black Archives
conference room ah Mrs. Rachel Culmer Williams is the interviewee.
Today is Tuesday, August 19, 1997.