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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Ccuo[e 6e"tr te4etl'
THE BLACK ARCHIVES PUBLIC FORUM AT JOSEPH CALEB CENTER
August 7, 1997
(Mr. Derrick Davis): Public Forum in our Series called "Tell
the Story." In this series we are gathering information about
Overtown and the effect that the transportation systems had on that
community. So the information we are gathering is trying to
capture what Overtown was like before the transportation system
came through, what happened during the period of the building of
the transportation systems and now what Overtown is like. A lot of
the times when we say the transportation systems, I know I'm from
the Overtown area and a lot of times we don't relate some of the
Urban Renewal projects over there to transformation but they were
all tied together; they were all happening around the same time.
So while a lot of people think when they moved it wasn't because of
1-95, that was all a part of that system that was happening with
HUD coming in. So if you were living in Overtown between ah...or
had to move out of Overtown between 1967 and 1970 it was because of
transportation systems and later on then the 1-95 transportation
system and then later on there was the 1-395 and then there was the
Metro-rail so there have been a lot of transportation things that
have come into the Overtown area. In all the discussions we find
out that even though a lot of them came through the area there is
still very little access for the people of Overtown to these
transportation systems and now to document some of that information
about it, to talk about what was there, to talk about what effect
it had on you, to talk about even the sense of community in
Overtown, what made a community, what were some of the things that
were lost that could not be recaptured as businesses moved out.
So we are trying to get that the information and present it in such
a way that in future transportation projects we will be able to
talk with facts about what needs to be done to rebuild that
As I said in some of the other forums, when we were leaving up
out of Overtown and they kept telling us it would be rebuilt, it
would be made into a city again. What was left out is, if you
really want it to be a city again, you're going to have to rebuild
it. The Black community is going to have to get together and say
that we want to have a city here again, we want to have these
elements in this city and so if we don't band together and start
gathering some of the facts about what we want, we lost and what we
desire to have there again, nothing is going to happen so we want
this to be a part of the process of trying to document what we had,
what we lost and what we would like have rebuilt in that area.
To talk a little bit about the whole process that we are going
through and I know you see a lot of microphones around here, the
microphones are for recording the conversation. To be an oral
history, you have to record what is being said, you have to
transcribe what is being said, you have to review those transcripts
to make sure the information is correct. Once you go through that
process you change conversation into history so that's what we are
doing. So the microphones are not made to make...amplify our
voices, they're made so the recorder over there will have...will be
documenting what you're saying, they will be transcribing what is
being said, it will be reviewed and it will become a part a the
collection at the Black Archives and it will be used by Florida
International University in a study that they are doing. They are
doing a study that they have been commissioned by the Metro-
Planning Organization to study the impact of transportation systems
on Overtown. They are looking at all the statistics about the
business that were there. They're looking at the censor's track on
the size of the families that were there; they're looking at the
maps...the aerial maps of the area to see where the houses were;
looking at the zoning maps that it took to get all of that
information about Overtown and all of that, including the
conversation that we're having will be developed into a report to
the Metro-Planning Organization and then to the Florida Department
of Transportation to let them know what happened to that community
and we've been getting wonderful information. The public forums
that we're having are part of individual one-on-one interviews that
we're having with individuals from the community. So all of this
information we will gather together to help us to rebuild Overtown
and to see what was lost in that area.
Today we have some business people from...business persons
from the community, that Overtown community to lead us in
conversation. Remember our leaders, the people we have presenting
are to help lead us in a conversation because we want to hear from
everyone if we get a chance to talk about the impact of
transportation, to talk about what the community was like because
you know, since were there sometimes we forget that others don't
know. People that come to Miami, they have no idea, they have no
clue of what was in that city, they just hear people saying, oh I
use to love Overtown and now it's...you know, what is it? So
unless you tell us these facts and give us, future generations will
come and will be totally lost, even their knowledge of what it was
will be lost. So we are collecting information and we have members
from the business community to help jar some of your memory, they
might name a place that you remember. Sometime they might falter
in their memory and you might be able to help them remember some
facts but we are trying to help gather this information to help
build a community for our future.
As a part of the work that we're doing, we have taken some
students from the community and we trained them in oral history
techniques and they're out doing studies and right now I would like
to ask the Black Archive coordinator to present some of the
students and the community members who are going out gathering this
information on one-on-one interviews. Ms. Stephanie Wanza.
(Ms. Stephanie Wanza): Good Evening.
(The Public): Good Evening.
(Ms. Wanza): I'm Stephanie Wanza. I'm the program
coordinator here at the Black Archives and we have 5 interviewers
who are assisting us on this project, "Tell the Story" and at this
time I would like to have them come forth. Let me introduce them
one by one. This is Devon Williams. This is Alice Milford, Mr.
Philip Kelly, Ms. Yvonne Daily and Ms. Electra Ford. We all are
interviewing past and present residents of Overtown at this time.
Our interviews are being held at the Culmer Center, here at the
Caleb Center and the Black Archives conference room and we also
hold interviews by appointment. So if anyone is interested in
being interviewed, please contact me, Mr. Davis or Dr. Fields at
the end for those who may be interested in participating in the
"Tell the Story" project.
Okay, now I'm going to ask everyone to introduce themselves
and say why they are interested in participating in the project.
(Mr. Devon Williams): My name is Devon Williams and I am a
college student and an Overtown resident. The reason why I am
interested in this program because I'm interested in the past. The
tells...can tell you a lot, for instance where the future is going,
what can you do the change what happened in the past, what's going
to happen in the future. I believe that if you don't know your
past, you won't know your future; that's very important to me, and
also for some reason I always felt like...when I came to Miami and
I moved to Overtown that it wasn't...that wasn't the way it use to
be...the way I met it, that wasn't the way it use to be and in the
recent months I'm really learning what it use to be and I hope that
whatever I get from this program I can take back and hopefully
bring back something maybe 10 times better than what it use to be,
that's the reason why.
(Allen Smith): My name is Allen Smith and I'm also a college
student and the reason why I'm interested in working in this
program is because i think it is very important to know ah...when
I moved to Overtown, I heard a lot of negative things about
Overtown. First of all before I moved to Overtown I use to stay in
Opa Locka and North Miami. I moved from Chicago, I came down here
and I heard a lot of negative things about Overtown and when I got
to move down there and met some of the people and talked to some of
the residence there you know it not like ah...it was stereotyped.
(Mr. Davis???): Speak a little louder so they can hear you.
(Allen): It was pretty stereotyped with negative stuff of
things that you hear about Overtown and once I down there I found
out it's not what i thought it was or what people were saying about
it and it had a lot of nice people. You met some close-knit
families and how people got along and they cared and loved the
families and inspire of all the stuff that was going on it was
still a nice community and with this program also doing like the
first interview I've learned a lot about the history and the past
of Overtown, how it use to be a very great progressive
neighborhood, progressive community and I hope to learn a lot more.
(Mr. Philip Kelly): My name is Philip Kelly and I just
graduated from high school about to be a Bethune Cookman Wild Cat.
(Dr. Fields?): Speak a little louder.
(???Female): Speak up.
(Mr. Kelly): I'm in the program to hopefully talk to the
elders that you know...that has lived in the Overtown area so that
they can teach me about how it was and about I can improve it and
hopefully that I can come back one day and just do that.
(Mr. Davis???): I just ask if you could move forward because
it will be easier for us to hear since our mikes are just for
recording purpose, if we could get everyone to come closer to the
front, it will help a lot with being able to hear the speakers.
(Dr. Fields): Tell them the mikes are not for amplifying the
(Mr. Davis???): Right the mikes don't amplify the voices,
they are just for recording purposes so that's why we have to have
them stand back here so that the mikes only pick up in the pattern
here so they stay in here so that them up on the mikes but they are
picking them up to go into the recorder, not amplification so
thanks for holding up.
(Ms. Yvonne Daily): My name is Yvonne Daily, I am from
assented you know I'm Jamaican, I'm not African-American but I
became acquainted with this project through the Students Support
Services of Florida Memorial College where I was a student until
two weeks ago, I graduated and I'm always interested in Black
history and whatever happens to the people who are of African
descent is always my interest and I thought during these interviews
and working along with this research team I will be able to find
out more about the residence of Miami and Overtown. As a matter of
interest, we were just driving through and my son said to me, "Oh
this reminds me of Spanish Town, Jamaica (laughter) so you see
wherever we go, wherever there are Black people, it's just the same
and I think it's going to be...so far I see that it is very
interesting all the time being, hearing and seeing, so far, is very
informative and I think I'm going to learn a whole lot from this
(Ms. Electra Ford): Good evening. My name is Electra Ford,
I'm a citizen of Dade County, I've partially spent my latter
growing-up years living in Overtown. I also worked Overtown with
the Poverty Program, formerly known as the Economic Opportunity
Program, some of you may know it as EOPI. I enjoyed the cultural
process that Overtown possess. It is a tremendous loss to our
community and I'm enjoying the privilege of having been selected to
do "Tell the Story" which is going to record our history, part of
which I have lived among the people. I am a living testimony of
what it was like to have lived in Overtown and I'm disappointed in
how Overtown is today. However, I am hopeful that after we
complete this project, some of the things that I knew in the past
concerning Overtown will be restored and hopefully we will have a
part of our cultural that we can claim as our very own again as we
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, thank you everyone (handclapping). Okay.
We will be having interviews, let me reiterate one more time until
about the 22nd of this month, of August. If anyone again is
interested, please let me know or Dr. Fields. Now I turn the
program over to Dr. Fields.
(Dr. Fields): Thank you. We are quite encouraged by the
talent that you see here, the individuals who were selected as
interviewers. There were a number of people who wanted to
participate and we did go through a selection process and we are
very pleased and we are very happy with those who were selected.
They had skills, that's one of the reasons they were selected and
they are very flexible and they are developing other skills that
hopefully will help them as they move through their careers.
Again, to the interviewers we do appreciate the time and effort
that you're giving to this project and to Stephanie Wanza who is
our project coordinator, we give great thanks. She has come to us
in just a few months ago and has hit the ground running and we are
delighted to have her especially in this project which is so very
important and which was a pop-up which is her term that describes
this project that kind of fell into our laps when we were already
in the middle of a number of other things and so it takes flexible
team headed by Derrick Davis and supported by Diane Hicks in order
for this to happen. We are please to have all of you here this
evening with the thunderstorms looming overhead, we are going to
move the program right along so that we all get home before the
flood comes. We are pleased to have you come and you'll get a
chance to express yourselves and we certainly hope that you will.
We have asked business people to come. We have talked with M.
F. Lee Range and she did give us some feedback two Sunday's ago
when we had our post centennial tea at the Church of Prophecy...God
and Prophecy but she is a business person, an active business
person. She had a business in Overtown, it then moved to Liberty
City and now...one place in Liberty City...and now it is in a
second location in Liberty City and she is about the business
today. She had several services to conduct so she was not able to
be here. We are pleased with the panel that we have. Two other
individuals that were in business in Overtown and when we asked
Mrs. Theodora White Cooper, she said, "Humm...I guess I can
remember," and we know she can and she will because she does all
the time at the Archives, she's on our Board of Directors and
Trustees and we'll be pleased to hear from her as she talks about
the kind of business that she engaged in and how or if it was
effective because we don't mean to project and to say what isn't if
that's not the way it was for you, we want to know firsthand, did
the transportation system effect your business, was your family
effected and we want to know firsthand. We are going to begin
though with Dr. Braynon, a pioneer dentist in Overtown, in Miami,
Dade County. As we chatted in the back, he was telling me that he
was one of the organizer of the Black Dental Association in the
50's and he has a written history that he is going to share with
us. So Dr. Braynon we welcome you and we ask you if you would'
begin and tell us about your business in Overtown and businesses
generally in Overtown when you established in the 50's and what
(Dr. Braynon): Thank you. Good evening. I'm going to tell
you a little bit about Overtown. I have to confess that I am not
a native. I was not born in Overtown, I was born in Railroad Shop.
I don't know if you where that is. Railroad Shop is a small Black
community that's located where the Allapattah Elementary School is
located now and they built those schools primarily to get the Black
folks out of that area. It was a small area with a few Black
families. They tried to intimidate them, they tried to buy them
out and they couldn't so they got together with the school board,
the school board condemned the land that belonged to the Black
families and that's how they built those schools. So that sent us
to Overtown. In fact, we had left just before that occurred, they
condemned that area in 1947, I believe.
(Dr. Fields): August 1st.
(Dr. Braynon): August 1st?
(Dr. Fields): Yes, 50 years this month.
(Dr. Braynon): Okay, and we moved...my family moved to
Overtown in 1937. We moved there because my father opened a small
grocery store in 1936 up the street from Mrs. Thomas and so
I...I've had quite a bit of experience with the business in the
Overtown area long before I came back in 1956. In fact, my father
operated a small grocery store there, starting in 1936 and it was
quite an experience when we sold a nickel's worth of sugar, a
nickel's worth of rice...everything and everybody was happy and my
father made money. From that small grocery store, he sent 4 of us
to college, three to Howard University at the same time, just my
mother and father and they worked long hours and that was what
motivated me to go to college to get out of that grocery store
(laughter). When I was in college, a student at Fisk University,
I'd think about that grocery store and I'd get up in the middle of
the night and start reading because I knew if I flunked out I was
going to be back in that grocery store and I did not want to do
that because they worked from sun up to sun down. But it made a
decent living and we were very proud of the store, all of us, 4
children. I have a brother who is an attorney, he's retiring this
year. I retired last year, my sister, a pharmacist, retired two
years ago, and I have a younger sister who is a teacher who is
retiring next year. But I left the grocery store because of the
long hours and I ended up at Howard University and I looked around
and my brother and sister entered Howard University and I told
them, I said, "This is the reason I left home, to get away from you
all," and they followed me to Howard. But it worked well, we all
graduated and came back here to live and to practice. When I left
here I had absolutely no intentions of ever coming back to Miami.
Segregation was at its height, I guess if you could say that,
because I guess it was at its height all of the time. It was rigid
all of the time and I never intended to come back but I went to
college, I completed my college work and I came home for a year and
I decided I would go back to study dentistry. I did and I
completed my work, I went into the military. When I went into the
military, they sent me to Japan and when I came back from Japan I
was getting out so I had no place else to go. I thought while I
was in the military I would be able to look around and find me a
nice city up north to practice in but I didn't have that
opportunity so I had to come back home and I am extremely happy
that I did because I have enjoyed it. I was able to open my office
on Second Avenue, Northwest Second Avenue and that was like a dream
for me because Second Avenue was the mecca. It was the center of
everything in Black Miami, for many years. When I came back it was
difficult at time to find an office on Second Avenue, in 1956. It
was lined thriving businesses, predominately Black. Everything
that you would need in a community was on Second Avenue and they
were predominately Black businesses. But I did find a spot near...
on the corner of Sixth Street and Second Avenue and I opened my
dental office there and it went very well for me. I was pleased
and honored to be on Second Avenue and I stayed there for 10 years
before moving to the Liberty City area but my parents' business, as
I said, they opened in 1936 and they moved around 1966, they
operated on Seventeenth Street until 1966, then they moved to
Seventeenth Avenue and Fifty-Fifth Street and we built a building
there and they had the grocery store on one side and my dental
office was on the other side and that was again sought of a
disappointment for me because I went to college because the grocery
store hours were so long but by this time, when we were together,
they had been in business so long that they could their hours back
and at 5:00 they would be going home and I would just getting ready
to go to work. So I told them, they kind of cheated me, they cut
the hours after I left and got training in something else but it
worked well. They operated their business for 54 years. My mother
and father worked together everyday for 54 years and they were able
to retire and lived for several years. They both are now deceased
but they lived for several years after retiring. So it was a very
pleasant experience for my family being in the Overtown and for me
growing up in the Overtown. I feel it was an ideal community. I
have two boys and I would give anything to have had them to live
under the circumstance that I lived under, to grow up in the
community I grew up on 5th Court and Fifteenth Street. My boys
grew up in North Miami Beach and it was a big difference from the
area that I grew up, the friendship and the love of the neighbors
that we had experienced. So I felt a great loss that we had to
leave the Overtown area. I went... where the schools are modern
and all that but I would have been very happy for my boys to have
graduated from Booker T. Washington High School just as I did, just
as my brother and sisters did but, of course, that wasn't possible.
But it was an ideal community. I enjoyed being there in that
community, I'm proud of it and I certainly hope that one day it
will return, not to the state that it was in but it would improve
over what it is now. It's looked upon now as something strictly
negative and that is not the Overtown that I knew. The Overtown
that I grew up in wherein people could walk anywhere they wanted
to. Everything was on Second Avenue. Everything was on Second
Avenue. Young ladies, anywhere they lived in that area, they could
walk to the activities on Second Avenue without being bothered, it
was done routinely. Of course, we know that is not possible now.
My family did not lock the front door of the house. I was a
college student before they got around to having a key to lock the
front door. Normally when we left, you closed the front door and
when everybody was in at night, you put the night latch on. But
other than that, you just closed the door, had no problem. My
father's business, they broke in maybe twice in about 20 or 30
years. He was robbed several times after he moved to the Liberty
City area now but the Overtown area, it fact, there were businesses
broken into but they were never robbed or held up at gun point but
this did happen down on Second Ave...Seventeenth Street, several at
least twice so I don't know if I've provided you with any
information but I hope that you at least got the feel that I'm a
very proud product of the Overtown area and I also want to mention
the fact that my family had quite a bit of experience in being
displaced for when they moved from the Overtown area, this was the
third time my family had been displaced in Dade County. My father
was originally from the Bahamas and they settled in what was called
South Miami but it was really an area near Southwest Eighth Street
and Twelfth Avenue which you now know as Little Havana. Well there
were Black people living in that area prior to about 1923 because
they built the house in Railroad Shop and moved in there in 1924
and they stayed there and my part of the family moved to Overtown
and they were displaced there so that was the third time so we are
quite experienced in moving around the community. But overall it's
been a very pleasant experience.
(Dr. Fields): Let me ask you, why did you and your family
move from Overtown? You said you moved your business in a...10
years after you established it, about '66?
(Dr. Braynon): Yes. When I opened my office, Second Avenue
was still a thriving business area but 10 years later it had began
to decline and it was not a good place for a business.
(Dr. Fields): Any reason, do you have any guess as to why it
(Dr. Braynon): Well at that time many of the longstanding
homeowners had moved and the...
(Dr. Fields): Do you know why?
(Dr. Braynon): Well they were being displaced, I think they
called it Urban Renewal. Initially, they were tearing down a lot
of the properties and they were buying a lot of the homes and it
was just not a good area.
(Dr. Fields): Were you aware of the transportation system at
(Dr. Braynon): As I can recall there was more talk about
Urban Renewal than about the highway. I don't remember too much
about it. I'm sure they talked about it but that was of kind of
slipped in that they were going to build a high...even to build a
highway, no one had any idea it was going to do what it did. They
said they're going to build a highway through but no one knew it
was going to destroy the community as it did.
(Dr. Fields): Any last words? I know you are going to have
to leave early and we are sorry about that (laughter).
(Dr. Braynon): I am too but I have another program that I'm
part of and I've got to go to.
(Dr. Fields): I see.
(Dr. Braynon): But I'm elated to have this opportunity to
share my views on what it was like growing up in the Overtown area,
what it was like going to a rigidly segregated school which was a
good school. I left here, as all the others, we were prepared to
make it anywhere we went and most did. All those that wanted to
(Dr. Fields): Let me ask you one last question, that is
before you moved were you aware of public meetings where you could
go and voice your opinion as to whether or not the community was
being destroyed? What was your sense at that time? Were there
public meetings that you were aware of?
(Dr. Braynon): Yes, there were, I don't remember too much
about them for some reason but I'm certain that there were some
(Dr. Fields): Well, thank you very much and we do appreciate
the interview that you gave us earlier today and this evening you
have added some information which will certainly help us with the
study. Thank you very much (handclapping).
(Dr. Braynon): So sorry I have to leave but I must. Thanks.
(Dr. Fields): Here's your umbrella.
(Dr. Fields): Ms. Theodora Cooper- White, White-Cooper
(laughter) is someone that I've known for a very long time and I
started knowing her because of her business. She is what we call
in the community a hairdresser, a beautician. When she retired,
she retired as a teacher from one of the elementary schools so she
has had quite a career change but we've asked her tonight to share
with us some of her experiences as a business person in the early
community and to give us a sense of what the community was like and
to help us better understand business in Overtown, Colored Town
between '45 and 1970.
(Mrs. White-Cooper): Thank you Ms. Fields, Dr. Fields. My
name is Theodora Virginia White-Cooper. I like to say all of it.
I was born in Overtown in the Christian Hospital that was located
on First Place between Twelfth Street and Thirteen Street and my
parents lived in the...in Dr. Chatman's...one of his houses across
the street from the Christian Hospital and I've always felt very
sentimental about that area because my parents lived there before
I was born and then I was born in Christian Hospital across the
street and then later I came back to live in that area for a short
period of time.
As Mrs. Fields, Dr. Fields said, I did become a beautician a
couple of years after I graduated from high school. I was suppose
to attend college but I was so into dressing hair and I was
somewhat fascinated with dressing hair because I had a couple of
teachers who were beauticians and they kept trying to encourage me
to go to Atlanta, Georgia to Apex Beauty College and it seemed
somewhat fascinating but my mother still kept saying, "You're going
to college to become a teacher." My whole family said that because
I am the oldest sibling in my immediate family and my mother
thought that I should set that ah good example for the other
children. Well, so to be, as it was, I did get into dressing hair
and I worked for Mrs. Trilla Taylor who had a beauty shop on what
they called the "main drag" Second Avenue between Ninth...Eighth
and Ninth Street and I worked for Mrs. Trilla Taylor who had a
beauty shop there in Miami, she had one in Fort Lauderdale and she
had one in West Palm Beach and, of course she had 6 of us working
for her because she and her husband just went up and down the...,
in fact, up and down Florida trying to find other places and having
other people work for her. Of course, by being the only single
person working for her in Miami, she chose me to be the one to run
up and down the road when somebody was out of a beauty shop and ill
in Fort Lauderdale. She would call me and say, "Baby, the bus
leaves at such and such an hour and someone will be there to pick
you up to take you to the shop in Fort Lauderdale," and then I knew
nothing to say but, "Yes." So sometimes I would go in, spend a
week or two or however, whatever length of time it took for that
person to be replaced or either come back. And then there were
times when I would go to West Palm Beach and finally, I ah...when
she let me stay in Miami, for several weeks, I was very happily
because I was involved in church activities and other social
activities and so I really wanted to be in Miami. So finally after
working for Mrs. Trilla Taylor for I guess about 4 or 5 years I
became a little tired of having to pull out and go from one place
to the other so I went on a vacation, not realizing that I would
stay away about a couple of years. So after I went on vacation to
New York, I stayed there for a couple of years and then I went to
Connecticut and finally I came back home and Mrs. Taylor hadn't
found anyone who would run up and down like I did (laughter) so she
said, "Baby, we're going to sell this beauty shop to you and I said
to myself, "Oh no, I, I knew that she was just sought of putting me
on, you know. But ah I really decided I would accept it with my
mother's encouragement so I bought Trilla's beauty salon and it
became Theodora's Beauty Salon and I guess I thought I was a real
lady then, a grown lady as we called them at that time. But after
buying the beauty shop and having 5 other operators working for me,
they really didn't consider me the owner or the boss of the shop,
they sought of bossed me around and then there was a restaurant,
the Palm Cafeteria...Palm Cafe a couple of doors down from the
beauty shop and that person was someone that knew me from infancy.
So when I wasn't too busy in the beauty shop she would have me come
down and be the cashier so it still meant that I really didn't get
a grip on trying to be, I guess what I wanted to be...so I stayed
in the beauty shop and worked there and, of course, Dr. Fields was
one of my customers. She was a little girl, very nice quiet little
girl and when she came to the beauty shop, she was very, very nice
and never complained about anything. After shampooing her hair, I
would put her under the drier and would have to stand there and
hold her head because she was always sleeping and after getting her
hair dried I always had to put her across my lap in order to
straighten her hair. It was delightful having her and several
other children there and I guess that was the only time that I
actually got a chance to be the grown lady because just working in
there with the people who were working for me, they just
disregarded me as a full adult.
So I worked in the beauty shop and I had many, many customers
and I enjoyed it and finally I decided that I was going to leave
the beauty shop and go back to New York and, of course, during that
particular time, I enjoyed Miami, the ah Second Avenue because we
had a lot of Black owned businesses. The Lyric Theater at that
particular time was a very nice place to go and we had the Rockland
Place which I could attend at that time because I was over 20. We
had the Black owned drugstore, Lewis' Drugstore, and we had Judge
Thomases' office upstairs, over the drugstore and we had the
dentist, Dr. Muriel's office. In fact, all of Second Avenue was
actually owned by Black people and we had Polite's Restaurant down
there and we had the poolrooms, we had barber shops, Nat Barn's
Barbershop and we had Dr. Sawyer's office down on Seventh Street
end and the very famous Mary Elizabeth Hotel and we
had...um...what's that man's name, he's a TV...he was our what?
(Dr. Fields): Ed O'dell.
(Mrs. White-Cooper): We had Ed O'dell's father's restaurant
and bar. We had several Black businesses...in fact, I think most
of the businesses were owned by Black people other than the Boston
Chop House and the Chinese Restaurant and, of course, finally
businesses began going down because some people died and the other
race of people bought those businesses and it just seemed like
businesses were going down in that area. So after I left Second
Avenue, I moved to Liberty City with my family and I opened another
beauty shop out in Liberty City but it was never like Second
Avenue. I enjoyed Second Avenue as a girl, not going into any of
the big business places other than restaurants and the theaters but
um, I can say that I hope that one day it will develop and be a
very interesting and enjoyable area for us to attend.
(Dr. Fields): Thank you Mrs. Cooper, I'll ask you the same
question as I asked Dr. Braynon, why did you move your beauty shop
from Overtown to Liberty City? About what period of time was that?
(Mrs. White-Cooper): That was ah...I really closed the beauty
shop um...during the early 50's. I moved the beauty shop because
Mr. Oscar Howard, a Black man who owned the building passed away
and I think his business was bought by the other race of people and
other businesses began opening in that area so I moved to Liberty
City...and transportation, well transportation was pretty good
because we had the jitneys but I'll tell you one thing, we use to
even walk from Overtown to Liberty City but, you know, it was fun
doing that but ah when we were with a group but not when you had to
go to work.
(Dr. Fields): Was it privately owned or was that owned by the
(Mrs. White-Cooper): No the jitneys were owned by different
private individuals and most...I knew some of those people because
Mr. Walter...ah, I can't really recall some of those names but they
were owned by families.
(Dr. Fields): Did you know of a transportation system within
Overtown that was government run?
(Mrs. White-Cooper): No, I don't recall...
(Dr. Fields): Was there a bus system?
(Mrs. White-Cooper): Oh yes, yes, yes. Oh yes because they
had gotten rid of the streetcar and they did have the bus system...
TAPE #1 SIDE TWO
(Mrs. White-Cooper): ...jitneys...
(Dr. Fields): Were you effected by Urban Renewal at all?
(Mrs. White-Cooper): Yes, I was effected by Urban Renewal
because, excuse me, working in the beauty shop, urban renewal meant
Black People removal and most of the Blacks that owned several
places in Overtown...business places went out of business because
the umm...people were moving out and buying homes and they really
didn't have the apartments like they do today so those people were
moving, excuse me, out of the city into Brown Sub area and Liberty
City so that meant the Black businesses were failing.
(Dr. Fields): Where were you living at the time? How long
did you live in Overtown?
(Mrs. White-Cooper): I lived in Overtown, oh from 1922 until
1957, I think it was and I lived on Eleventh Street before moving
to Liberty City... on Eleventh Street and near Third Avenue, right
behind Ebenezer Methodist Church.
(Dr. Fields): And why did you move your family from Overtown
to Liberty City.
(Mrs. White-Cooper): I moved my family because um...most of
the people were moving out in this area. It was a better area for
Black people because the houses were not...those places that we
rented over there, were not...were not really repaired and taken
care properly because I think those people knew that we were going
to not be in that area and they were, the Black people were selling
their homes to other races of people and my family had already
bought out in Liberty City so we moved out here. Of course, before
I moved out here, I moved into your family's...your grandmother's
home for a period of time because I got married and I moved out
from my parents and moved into your grandmother's home and then
later we moved...I moved with my parents.
(Dr. Fields): About what year was that because we moved in
(Mrs. White-Cooper): You moved in 1948?
(Dr. Fields): Yes.
(Mrs. White-Cooper): Well in 1948, I...I moved...I can't
really recall now...
(Dr. Fields): So it was late 40's early 50's?
(Mrs. White-Cooper): Yes, late 40's early 50's.
(Dr. Fields): Ah, well, we thank you very much and you have
certainly given us some new information and you have, in fact, re-
enforced information that we have heard from many others. Let's
give her a thank you (handclapping).
(Dr. Fields): It has worked very well for us to begin with a
panel of individuals who have from their own experiences shared
with us information about this situation and now we come to our
open forum and we invite individuals to please go to the microphone
and to tell your story and help us better understand what happened.
Mrs. Thomas may we start with you, would you please tell us
since you helped us name this program "Tell the Story"? Would you
tell us something about what it was like to in Overtown and, of
course, your husband was an attorney and so he had a business and
we would just like to hear some words from you.
(Mrs. Thomas): I was just about to eat.
(Dr. Fields): I noticed (laughter).
(Mrs. Thomas): Seriously, I have to go a serve a notice at
6:30 and it's already past. I didn't know that I would have to do
this, I was looking forward to the interview Monday.
(Dr. Fields): Oh, arlright so you prefer waiting?
(Mrs. Thomas): I prefer waiting, I have to catch this person
and serve this notice, if you all will excuse me this is real
(Dr. Fields): Okay, yes (laughter). Gwen Walters would you
begin our public forum and talk about your family's living in
Overtown and your business...was your business ever in Overtown?
(Mrs. Gwen Walters): My father, Raymond Hasty, ran Hasty
Transfer from 1924 until 1951 when we moved to the Brownsville area
and, of course, you know daddy moved all the people who needed to
be moved from area to the other. He took the college students'
trunks to the train station because that was our mode of
transportation and also I remember when I was in high school, the
high school classes use to have straw rides. My dad had an open
truck and that was such a big deal to get in the back of that truck
and ride down to Coconut Grove and that's when we had the parties
and the dances.
(Dr. Fields): Your husband was a pharmacist...and did he
start his business in Overtown?
(Mrs. Walters): My husband worked in Overtown, he was a
pharmacist at Economy Drugstore but he opened the Brownsville Drug
Store in 1950. My mother had a beauty shop, in fact, my mother was
the first student enrolled in the Sunlight Beauty School and my dad
took the garage...we had a home on Northwest Fifth Court between
Nineteenth and Twentieth Street, he took the garage and made that
into a beauty shop and my mother was able to operate her business
and I think she operated that from 1936 until we moved in the
Brownsville area in 1951.
(Dr. Fields): Do you know why your family moved from
(Mrs. Walters): Well, I'm thinking now because of...well
we...we all talked and my husband had been...in fact he had a
conversation Mr. David Julius. He came to Economy Drugstore and he
was saying to my husband, you know there is a need for a drugstore
in the Brown Sub area and we were all talking about it and then we
started looking around and sure enough we were able to get some
property on Northwest Twenty-Seventh Avenue and Forty-Seventh
Street. So then we heard there were a lot of talks about Urban
Renewal, you know this type of a thing so we finally decided that
ah...in fact, in 1951, we were able to build a home in the Brown
Sub area and that's how we happened to leave. So it was between
19...well the Brownsville Drugstore opened in the Brownsville area
in 1950 and we moved our home in 1951.
(Dr. Fields): So that was long before the transportation
system came in?
(Mrs. Walters): Yes.
(Dr. Fields): Were you aware of any expansion or development
with transportation and I don't mean to lead you on but simply to
ask of your awareness or lack of?
(Mrs. Walters): Not that I could recall. I remember the
transportation Overtown because as a girl we would have to walk
from Nineteenth Street to Third Avenue to catch the trolley and
after they removed the streetcars then we would have to walk down
there to catch the bus on Third Avenue or the jitney.
(Dr. Fields): Alright, okay. Thank you very much.
(Dr. Fields): Mrs. Eneith Curtiss-Johnson Pinkney would you
please go to the microphone and I know you're being interviewed but
there may be some new information or something that you want to
repeat about your family's living Overtown and subsequent having to
(Mrs. Johnson Pinkney): Thank you. I was born at 1827
Northwest Fifth Court and Dr. Braynon was a neighbor and so was
Mrs. Walters. In fact, Mrs. Walters' mother was my beautician and
we grew up in that neighbor and, in fact, some people...some of my
friends called it the Bal Harbor of Overtown because of the
families that lived on Fifth Court, the Coin family, the
Butterfield family and there were a lot families that owned their
own homes and we were just like family. We weren't like neighbors,
we were like family, we looked out for each other and we went to
the Church of God of Prophecy which was, at that time, located on
Fifth Court and Seventeenth Street. One of the interesting things
about the church, was that um a lot of white people use to come,
the tourist...use to come to church because they liked the music
and they liked whatever else was going on there, they seemed to
like it and they would come with their, chauffeured driven
limousines and fellows would see to it that they were okay. Some
of my friends made money watching the limousines and then we would
have to get up out of our seats to give the White people a seat
because the ushers wanted to make them feel comfortable and at home
and so they would always go the children and say you have to get
up, put us over in one section of the church so that the tourist
could come in and see us have worship service.
One of the things...another thing that I'm very proud of, I
know that Dr. Braynon talked about...school but one of the things
that I always look back on are the teachers that I had. They were
really...I knew that they were interested in me and they just went
out of their way. If something happened that they didn't like, my
brother did...I usually didn't get in trouble but if my brother got
in trouble, they would come to the house and report it to my
parents and let my parents know. Of course, my parents lived on
premises but my grandmother was there and my parents had to get my
grandmother to come and live with us because they lived on Miami
Beach and we couldn't go to school on Miami Beach so we had to have
my aunt and my grandmother in the house with us. But, you know,
people like Ms. Marie Roberts and Mamie Williams just past, she
lived on Fifth Court also and when we...there would be school
activities, they would...especially Ms. Mamie Williams, she would
walk me home. If she took me to an activity at school at night,
she would walk me home, saw that I got home and then she would
walk. You could walk in Overtown then. She'd go back home to her
house and um one of the things my father always said and I couldn't
understand why he kept saying that. But he kept saying, "The White
people wanted to move the Black people from Overtown and I didn't
know where he got that from. But just recently I read a book by a
Dr. Mall, I think he's from Florida State University or...I don't
know but anyway he wrote a book about...
(Dr. Fields): Florida University, Raymond Mall.
(Mrs. Johnson Pinkney): Yes.
(Dr. Fields): Yes.
(Mrs. Johnson Pinkney): Yes. I was reading something that he
said and it's in print that the White people wanted to move Black
people from Overtown because it was an extension of Overtown and he
even called Mr. Merrick's name of Coral Gables, that he was one of
the persons that wanted the Blacks to move from Overtown. So then
I said, you know, my father was giving us information but we
didn't...I didn't believe it until I saw it in print and um that
should have given us a hint of trying to save our community. But
when they told us about the Urban Renewal, that was the reason that
we moved. The house that I was born in was going to have to be
taken away because of Urban Renewal and so we would...
(Dr. Fields): About what year was that?
(Mrs. Johnson Pinkney): Ah that...I think that...that was like
in the 50's that we moved and we moved...we moved from Overtown to
the Brown Sub area.
(Dr. Fields): How were you...how was the family notified?
(Mrs. Johnson Pinkney): Well you know...it seems...you asked
about a meeting or something before. I don't recall any meetings
being held to notify us. I think from what I can remember, there
might have been a letter telling us what was going to happen but
there wasn't anything where we met and had any say about it. We
were just told what was going to happen and back then we just
decided, I guess we gotta do whatever they say. So...
(Dr. Fields): And were you paid very much for your property?
(Mrs. Johnson Pinkney): What I remember that we got for...we
had...we had...which was worth a lot to us...because we had three
bedrooms, living room, kitchen, dinning room and another thing, we
had an inside toilet because there was a time when there were
outhouses in Overtown and then the city passed an ordinance that
the toilets had to be connected to the house and what most people
did was put it on the back porch but we had it inside, we put our
on the inside. But from what I can...I think they...we...they got
about something like $10,000 which really was anything for the
(Dr. Fields): Thank you very much.
Denise Kelly-Johnson is a current member of Overtown. Would
you tell us why you and your husband stay and moved to Overtown?
(Mrs. Denise Kelly Johnson): Well I kind of think that
transportation brought us back to Overtown if you will. I came to
Miami in 1988, after I got married and my husband grew up in Miami
but my husband didn't grow up in Overtown. He lived in Liberty
City for awhile and then the family moved to North Miami Beach and
that's where he went to high school and that's where his mother
continues to live now but he spent most of his time in Miami. So
after we got married and I came here we started looking around for
some place to live and this was right around the time that in the
Overtown area, I guess there was more Urban Renewal or more
redevelopment what at least would appear to be some kind of serious
effort to begin the redevelopment of Overtown and there was a
condominium complex that was constructed called Poinciana Village
and one day I just happened to be driving down the street because
I worked for the Custom Service, that's a little bit on the south
end of downtown, just happened to be driving up the street on the
way to the expressway to go home in north Dade and saw this complex
and there was this sign. So when I had a day off I went by. I
remember the day, it was Veteran's day in 1989. I went by the
office, that was downtown and the developer took me into a unit
that was being built, the unit on the fourth floor that is now
occupied by the Sawyer family and, you know, said well this is what
we're trying to do in this area. I went home and told Stan, "Think
I found some...and it seems to be affordable." I said, "I think I
found us a place. I think I found someplace that we can buy,"
because we had started to look...we were looking to buy a house.
So we bought a condominium in Poinciana Village in Overtown. It's
on Seventh Street and Second Avenue and after we...it wasn't really
until we moved there that we really...that we both learned
something about...start to learn about the area that we live in.
We found out from people who go to church with us, from people
we've met through friends and family what Overtown use to be and
found out that it was vibrant community and its...coming from some
area but I know that there are things going on in terms of
redevelopment and because I'm on Board of Directors of the Black
Archives I know what we're doing with the Lyric Theater. I know
about our plans for the area and what we want to do to try and
redevelop it, to bring it back to what it use to be, to show what,
you know, what our history is because I think it is important as,
you know, all the interviews have said, we need to know our
history, we need to know about...something about where we are,
where we use to be and where we're going and it's a very
interesting place to be now and I'm glad I'm there (handclapping).
(Dr. Fields): Thank you for your comments.
I took the liberty of calling on these people because I know
them and I know they have a story but I know you have a story too
and there may be someone over here who would like to say something
if you would we'd like to hear it at this time.
I think all of the interviewers have spoken. Yes, okay,
Well if there are no more comments, then I'll turn the program
over to our Executive Director, Mr. Derrick Davis.
(Mr. Derrick Davis): First of all let me just thank everyone
for coming out tonight and being with us and gathering more of this
history...just to announce that we have one more public session in
the process and that will be on the Twelfth which is next Tuesday
and that will be held at Booker T. Washington, the time will be the
same about 5:00 with refreshment and we will go to about 8:00 or
whenever we run out of conversation, we'll stop and so we invite
you to come and we invite you that if you know someone from this
conversation, if you thought of someone who should be involved in
the process, either from that public session or wants to contact us
about having a private one-on-one interview about Overtown and the
transportation systems or, you know, it says the transportation
system but most Black people from the community think of it as
Urban Renewal. Almost everyone that we talk have never...it just
doesn't connect that there was a transportation system behind the
Urban Renewal Process that had made a lot of people move from the
Overtown area. So if you know someone who was a part of any... no
matter what walk of life they were in doing there...I mean if they
were a street cleaner or if they were a politician, if they knew
anything about the life or experienced any of the things that went
on during that time please let them get in contact with us so we
can set up an interview with them and to gather some of that
Another project that we're assisting with is talking about the
missing history of Black nurses and midwives in Miami. I would
like Christine to stand, she is working on a project to gather
information about Black nurses, can we reach into the community to
help fill the void? So what she is saying, she wants to reach into
the community to help fill the void about the information about the
Black midwives and nurses in the Miami community. She's searching
them out and she's doing a oral history project similar to ours
which she is gathering information. Now her study is talking about
nursing in general but she felt that to do this and to leave out
the history of the Black nurses would be a travesty so she's asking
for...to reach out into the community and find out and fill this
void about the information of the Blacks who were part of the
medical treatment and assistance of patients in the area. So the
project is entitled Black Nurses and Midwives in Miami from 1896 to
1960 and Christine Ardolan is the historian who is conducting
interviews which is sponsored by the Black Archives and the Florida
Council...Florida Humanities Council and she's looking for people
who know anything about it if you were delivered by a Midwife, do
you have any relationships or relation, you know, people in your
families who were midwives, did you know any personally, did you
know personally of a midwife and what about some of the nurses, diS
you know any of the early nurses that worked at Jackson Memorial
Hospital or Christian Hospital or in public health and private duty
nurses. So if you do, please contact Christine at the Black
Archives, 636-2390 or you can call Christine at 460-6398. So thank
you very much, if you have any help that you can give her in that
project to gather that information about the Black nurses.
(Dr. Fields): We adjourn.
(Mr. Davis): Thank you for coming, there are still some
refreshments, you are welcome to them but we adjourn for the night.