Interview with Davis Dorsett, August 29, 1997

Material Information

Interview with Davis Dorsett, August 29, 1997
Dorsett, Davis ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
African Americans -- Florida
Overtown Oral History Collection ( local )
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This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Overtown Collection' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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August 29, 1997

(Ms. Yvonne Daily): I am Yvonne Daily and I'm interviewing

Mrs. Doris Dorsette. Today's date is August 29, 1997. Mrs.

Dorsette the first set of questions, interview questions I'll ask

you will be regarding I'll family life. Ah where were your parents


(Mrs. Doris Dorsette): My mother was born in Key West and my

father was born in Nassau.

(Ms. Daily): Did they ever live in Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Yes.

(Ms. Daily): Where in Overtown did they live.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm Brace Court and Tenth Street. Brace

Court and Tenth Street.

(Ms. Daily): What years did they live in Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, what year? I don't know because all

her children was born Overtown and they've been here, in Miami, a

long, long time but I don't know, you know, just how long that's


(Ms. Daily): Okay, what sort of jobs did they have?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well my father, my father use to work for

Swift & Company and then my mother, she did laundry work.

(Ms. Daily): Where were your grandparents born?

(Mrs. Dorsette): My grandparents? Umm, in the Bahamas, I

think. Somewhere in the Bahamas [laughter].

(Ms. Daily): Did they ever live in Overtown?


(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah.

(Ms. Daily): What years did they live in Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I can't recall the year, the year they lived

in Overtown.

(Ms. Daily): Do you know where in Overtown they lived?

(Ms. Daily): Umm, well on Eighth Street.

(Ms. Daily): What sort of jobs did they have?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm I don't remember my grandmother. I

don't know what kind of work she did, I think she was a housewife.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe what it was like growing up

in your parents' household?

(Mrs. Dorsette): What was?

(Ms. Daily): What was life like growing up in your parents'


(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh! Well it was worthwhile being when they

see that it was stead forth and fed us, and clothes us, and they

did the very best they could for us.

(Ms. Daily): Now, regarding employment between the years 1945

and 1970, did you--describe what jobs you had between those years?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, ah beautician.

(Ms. Daily): You were teaching?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Beautician.

(Ms. Daily): Beautician.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm hum.

(Ms. Daily): Okay. Now where did you do your job, where did

you have your job, where were those jobs?


(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, I have worked on Seventh Street and

Second Avenue and then I worked on Eighth Street, Third Avenue and

then Eleventh Street--between Eleventh, between Eleventh and Tenth

Street and Second Avenue, that was the last place I worked.

(Ms. Daily): Okay, do you remember the names of those


(Mrs. Dorsette): The shop that I worked in?

(Ms. Daily): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Dorsette): I worked in umm Opal King, Opal King, I

don't know and Overstreet, and Katherine Bass, and Katherine Bass,

and--did I say Francis Overstreet and then the last place I worked

was Helen Beauty Salon, Helen McClain on Tenth Street, between

Tenth and Eleventh Street, that was the last place I worked. I

retired right from there.

(Ms. Daily): What years did you have those jobs?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, well I worked from the time that I had

finished beauty culture from, I think '48 up until '97.f

(Ms. Daily): Ah, what kind of hours did you work?

(Ms. Daily): Umm, what kind? Some times 8, 8 hours, some

times 6, you know, different hours I worked.

(Ms. Daily): At what time did you go to work, at what time

did you?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, 9:00 o'clock and I worked until maybe

5:00 o'clock.

(Ms. Daily): When and why did you leave those jobs?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well, let me see--cause one of the, some of


the places they wasn't remodeling and I could do better to other

places than the places I was.

(Ms. Daily): How did you find work?

(Mrs. Dorsette): How did I find work? Well, after I graduate

from the Sunlight Beauty School, and then I got a job to work in

any beauty salon that I wanted to work in.

(Ms. Daily): Ah but when you change jobs, ah how did you know

about the next one that you go onto?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm--

(Ms. Daily): Was it advertised or did somebody tell you that

they needed somebody or--

(Mrs. Dorsette): No, and one of the places I was working in,

well they stripped ah--they took everything out, I had to move from

there because I worked on Third Avenue and Eighth Street.

(Ms. Daily): Why did they do that ?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I don't know. They robbed the place and

took everything out so we had to move from there and then another

place we worked, they broke in on us. They broke in and took all

our tools just about. Almost left us destituted. That was the

last place I worked.

(Ms. Daily): Where did the other members of your family work?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, well let me see. Three of my sons work

at the post office. I had three sons work at the post office and

then my daughter, she was doing housework and then Richard, he was

on special education and my other daughter, she left and went to

New York, she work, she work at a bank.


(Ms. Daily): And that's it?

(Mrs. Dorsette): That's all I can recall right now.

(Ms. Daily): Beginning in the late 1950's--

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm?

(Ms. Daily): Beginning in the late 1950's, many immigrants

moved to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other

countries. Did those immigrants compete with Overtown residents

for jobs?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Not that I know of.

(Ms. Daily): Do you recall people moving into the area from

out of town? Other parts of the United States perhaps?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No.

(Ms. Daily): Let's go--I'm going to go on to ask you if you

ever owned a business?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No, I never owned no business.

(Ms. Daily): Now, regarding neighborhood life between 1945

and 1970, I'm going to ask you some questions. Ah so regarding

neighborhood life between those years 1945 and 1970, could you

describe your place of residence?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Ninth Street and First Avenue. Ninth

Street--Tenth Street and First Avenue.

(Ms. Daily): What was it like living on--what, what was your

house like or where you lived in, the placed that you lived in?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, the place that I have lived 918

Northwest First Avenue and the next place I lived was 1000

Northwest First Avenue.


(Ms. Daily): And what was it like?

(Mrs. Dorsette): It was an apartment, I--

(Ms. Daily): Who lived in your household?

(Mrs. Dorsette): My husband and I and some of my children.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe the street where you lived?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Where I lived?

(Ms. Daily): Umm, the place that you lived then umm 9--1000

First Street and--

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, Tenth Street?

(Ms. Daily): Yeah

(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah. Tenth Street, First Court, it was a


(Ms. Daily): What was the street like?

(Mrs. Dorsette): What was the street like?

(Ms. Daily): Umm hum. Do you remember what it was like back

in those days?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well the street was nice, didn't have no

crime or nothing. Everything went on nicely, didn't have no

trouble. Everybody was nice and friendly and everybody--if our

children did anything and if the neighbor was to get at them or

spank them, well we wouldn't get angry about it because we were

glad they did that, you know. Cause that's the way, how we lived.

(Ms. Daily): Who were your neighbors?

(Mrs. Dorsette): The Johnsons, Ida Johnson, Ida Johnson, let

me see, I'm trying to see if Sandy Johnson was living round that

side. I think Sandy Johnson and the McKellar, Dorothy McKellar, I


mean Dorothy Jenkins and Roberta Thompson, all I could remember.

(Ms. Daily): Where did they work?

(Mrs. Dorsette): They was professional, some was teacher and

one was a doctor.

(Ms. Daily): What happened to those neighbors?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, well, Sandy Johnson, he died and Elaine

Johnson Addley, she passed away, and Dolly Jenkins, she moved out

on the outskirts of town and also Roberta. That's all I could


(Ms. Daily): When did they leave?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I don't know, can't remember when they would


(Ms. Daily): Do you know where they went?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Ah, some went out in Brown Sub. Some went

out in Brown Sub to live.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe the main business areas you

went to in Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): The main street business? Business like


(Ms. Daily): Ah all the regular businesses--

(Mrs. Dorsette): Hum?

(Ms. Daily): You know places where you'd shop or do business.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh.

(Ms. Daily): The lawyers, the doctors, the--all those places.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, oh yes. Well I have went to Dr. Muriel,

he's a dentist on Second Avenue and Tenth Street. I have went to


Dr. Muriel and I have went to Sam D. Johnson and--

(Ms. Daily): Where did you buy, did you have special area for

doing your shopping, for you know to take care of your needs, home

needs and personal needs? When you wanted to buy, where did you

go, when you wanted to shop?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh. Well, when I wanted to shop--I used to

shop around in the neighborhood, some in the neighborhood, you

know, then I would shop way out.

(Ms. Daily): Umm, could you describe where your family bought


(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, let's see they had bought up that big

supermarket like the Tip Top grocery. Umm, umm, that's all I can

remember around the neighborhood.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe--well you were a beautician

so you--wherever you worked you would have your hair done.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah, right.

(Ms. Daily): But where--I don't know if you do barbering too

but where did your husband go to the barber shop?

(Mrs. Dorsette): My husband use to go on Second Avenue and--

Second Avenue and Tenth Street and then he use to go on Seventh

Avenue and Sixty-Second Street.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family went to the


(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah. We had the People Drugstore and Dr.

Lewis, People's Drugstore, Dr. Lewis.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where your family went to the



(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, ah, they had a cleaners on Second

Avenue and Tenth Street, I can't remember the name now but they had

one there, to the cleaners.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe the churches your family


(Mrs. Dorsette): My mother attended Ebenezer Methodist Church

and also my father.

(Ms. Daily): Could you describe where you went for

entertainment such as theaters, bars, restaurants,

sporting events?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Naw, they didn't go anywhere, stayed at


(Ms. Daily): When someone in your family got sick where did

they go to the doctor's office? Where did they go to the doctor's

office, I'm sorry.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well, they had, let me see, Dr. Johnson,

Kenneth Johnson.

(Ms. Daily): Where was he located?

(Mrs. Dorsette): He was on Eleventh Street and Second Avenue,

I think Third Avenue. I think it was down the street on Third

Avenue. Got bad, we had went to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

(Ms. Daily): How long did you continue to patronize,

patronize those businesses, the ones that we've spoken about so


(Mrs. Dorsette): How long?


(Ms. Daily): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well I patronized as long as I had to go to

them, I patronized them.

(Ms. Daily): When did you begin to shop or go to

entertainment outside of Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm when I was Overtown, I use to go to the

supermarket, Quik Check and which is Winn Dixie, I use to go there.

(Ms. Daily): When did you--when you started going to Winn

Dixie or whatever the name was before [laughter] Oh Lawdy, I don't


(Ms. Daily): During the period from 1945 to 1970 what were

the main things that made Overtown a community? You said it was a

very nice--

(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah, it was a very nice place, you could

umm go out late at night, nobody bother you or nothing happened,

didn't have no robbers or nobody breaking in your house or nothing

like that. You could leave yoqr doors open, go anywhere you wanted

to go and the neighbors and all, they protect you and nobody bother

you. You could walk any hours at night, have your pocketbook,

nobody snatched your pocketbook or nothing. Could leave your

windows open, go anywhere you want to go and nobody would go there

to rob you. They as the good old days [laugher].

(Ms. Daily): How and when did that sense of community change?

When did all of that change and how did it change?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, well some different people start coming

Overtown from different places and they getting mixed up and ah


I love mama--what different organization of people from different

countries and stuff come around, they all got all mixed up.

(Ms. Daily): Umm 1970, umm have you noticed a great change in


(Mrs. Dorsette): It wasn't, it wasn't too bad. It just start

getting worse, here about oh, I guess maybe about 8 or 10 years

when it start getting so rough but other than that, it would be

nice. Until they start with the dope and ah smoking and all that

stuff, it began to get rough. People sleeping out in the streets

and all that.

(Ms. Daily): Now, regarding 1-95, umm when was the first

time you about 1-95 and how did you hear about it?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, let's see, let's see. I don't know.

It was different changes they had made since they had 1-95 and

since they, destroyed a lot of the homes and stuff left everything

destituted. People had to move out and everything like that.

(Ms. Daily): How did you hear about it? Who told you that,

you know, that was going to happen?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No one told me.

(Ms. Daily): Can you remember what year you heard about it?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Un hun.

(Ms. Daily): Where were you living when you, when umm you

knew of I-95?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Ahhh, let's see. I don't know whether I was

on, living on Ninth Street off of Second Avenue or somewhere along

in there, I don't know.


(Ms. Daily): Did you rent or own your own place at that time?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Did what?

(Ms. Daily): Did you rent or own or own your place at that

(Mrs. Dorsette): No, no I always rent.

(Ms. Daily): What kind of a reaction was there to the news

that the expressway would pass through Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I don't know, they had taken a lot of the

people's homes to clear away for Overtown so, I don't know a lot of

people had to move out--they take, take their homes and ah--

(Ms. Daily): How did people feel about this?

(Mrs. Dorsette): They didn't feel good at all cause they had

lovely homes and they had to leave it, they took it so they didn't

feel good about it.

(Ms. Daily): Were they angry or --

(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah, they were, they wasn't pleased with it

at all.

(Ms. Daily): Did you discuss it with your neighbors?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Hun?

(Ms. Daily): Did you discuss it with your neighbors?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, well we had talked about different

things happening and all.

(Ms. Daily): Did you attend a meeting where it was discussed

or sign a petition or discuss the issue with public officials?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well, you could attend some of the meetings.

I use to attend some of them.


(Ms. Daily): What was the meeting like? Did they say any--

(Mrs. Dorsette): About the discussing of what's going on and

what we should do and all such as that.

(Ms. Daily): Did they say what's--did they try to tell you

how--who were at this meeting, were they the public officials who

were building this expressway or was it just umm the neighbors and

Black town meeting or so.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh no, I think it was the public.

(Ms. Daily): The public?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I don't know.

(Ms. Daily): Okay. Umm, what was the most important impact

of the expressway on you? How did it affect you.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, let's see now, the expressway, they put

you all the way out the way, you had to be going all around, a lot

of streets you couldn't go on and they just was bad, it was rough.

(Ms. Daily): What was it like when the expressway was being


(Mrs. Dorsette): Where was the last place?

(Ms. Daily): What was it like? What conditions existed while

they were building the expressway?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, umm it was kind of rough, wasn't good at

all, it looked bad, it was rough.

(Ms. Daily): How, meaning, could you get around or couldn't

you get around, no?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No. Sometimes you had to go all out of the

way for different routes to get to where you going. It was



(Ms. Daily): What was the community able to get from public

officials in return for 1-95 going through Overtown? Those people

who were building the expressway and were responsible for it, was

the umm community able to get anything in return for them umm up-

moving, them and uprooting them the way they did?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I think, I think, I think some of them got

something for it. I don't know, I don't. I think some of them got

a return from it.

(Ms. Daily): How did 1-95 affect the community? Was it the

same community as before? How did it affect, good or bad?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well it was kind of bad, I guess, for some

of the people and it wasn't--just put you all out of the way.

(Ms. Daily): Let me ask you a question, did you decide to

move because of I-95?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No.

(Ms. Daily): Your moving had nothing to do with I-95?

(Ms. Daily): Umm, well did you ever live in a house or an

apartment that was taken by the state under eminent domain?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No I always live in an apartment.

(Ms. Daily): Yeah, but umm did they take it for any reason?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm hum, umm hum, no they didn't take it.

(Ms. Daily): Regarding I--do you know about 1-395, another

expressway that's attached to the I-95?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Un hun?

(Ms. Daily): Do you know about State Road 836?


(Mrs. Dorsette): No, no, I don't know nothing about all that?

(Ms. Daily): How about public housing, do you know much about

public housing?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm, well some of it was good and some

people that pay less rent.

(Ms. Daily): How did you first hear about public housing?

Can't recall?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh Lawdy! All that? Some more questions?

(Ms. Daily): Just some more, umm just two more. Now

regarding the Metrorail. When and how did you first hear about the

building of Metrorail.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh Lawdy, because I think I rode it once or

twice, that's all because I was afraid [laughter]. Yeah, I don't

go on the Metrorail.

(Ms. Daily): Next I'm going to ask you some questions are

regarding the future of Overtown and this is our last set of

questions. What are the most important misconceptions about


(Mrs. Dorsette): Overtown? Overtown was a nice place to

live. The people was nice and quiet and friendly, they always

would give you a helping hand. Didn't have any trouble, they'd

come to your aid if you need them.

(Ms. Daily): Yeah.

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm hum.

(Ms. Daily): Do you think people have wrong ideas about

Overtown, that they have been told wrong things or negative things


about Overtown?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No.

(Ms. Daily): You don't think people, take for example, the

news media or so--

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well, now Overtown, since all this dope and

stuff going around it make it kind of bad because Overtown had

never been like that until here lately when they started with the

dope and all the people sleeping out in the street and all that.

(Ms. Daily): But regardless of all of that, would you say

that Overtown is totally bad?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Is what?

(Ms. Daily): Would you say that Overtown is totally bad

although there is dope and all that happening over there now?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No, it's not totally bad.

(Ms. Daily): So there are some good things about Overtown--

(Mrs. Dorsette): Un hum, there are some good people right, un

hun. Overtown is still good.

(Ms. Daily): Do you think there are some things that the

public officials downtown should know about Overtown? What are

they, what good, what things you think they should really know?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well they could know if the people are

comfortable Overtown and that they have places to stay before they

build up so many places, apartment buildings and all that and they

knocked some people away from their home, what they had.

(Ms. Daily): What do you think can be done to make Overtown

look good again, ah, umm--okay, yes, what do you think could be


done to make it be nice, be a nice place as it use to be or as near

nice as it use to be? What do you think they could do?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm hum. Well I hope Overtown will come

back alive like it has been and get all these drug addicts away and

build up some nice homes for the people. Build some nice homes and

they live like they should be and not be sleeping all out in the

streets and all like that because Overtown use to be a nice place

to live. I live over here all my life until I moved out here.

(Ms. Daily): So umm do you think, what kind of jobs do you

think they should have? Do you think they should have jobs over

there, create some jobs for those people along with the housing?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah, I think they should have, give them a

job, give them some place to stay, you know, so they wouldn't have

to be sleeping all out in the streets and all like that and kind of

make theta feel happy.

(Ms. Daily): Do you think there should be the relationship

between Overtown and Downtown Miami? Do you think they should be

closely related or what do you think should happen?

(Mrs. Dorsette): No I think they should leave it open.

(Ms. Daily): Now, when you have visitors from out of town, where

do you take them to show them, you know, the culture and the

history of Dade County umm African-American community?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Umm hum. Well, I don't have no

transportation, nothing to take them around, other people, you know

take them around, you know, to the different part of the city.

(Ms. Daily): Do you make suggestions as to where they should


take them?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well--

(Ms. Daily): Like, you know, you say take them to the Lyric

Theater or them where? Where do you tell them to take them?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Oh, no.

(Ms. Daily): You have no particular place that you tell them

to take them? A special place?

(Mrs. Dorsette): Well ride out in Liberty City or Brown Sub.

In some part of Miami it's all right, way out, you know, outskirts

of town but right in the city, okay.

(Ms. Daily): Now, what would you like Overtown to be in the

future, what kind of community would you like Overtown to be in the

future, you have something in your mind, you know, you really like

to see Overtown looking like that?

(Mrs. Dorsette): I would like Overtown to come back alive

like it has been and have all the stores and the people to walk the

street without anybody bothering them or snatching they pocketbook

and have a nice home like they have before they tore everything

away and I would like for it to come back alive, if possible cause

we still have a lot things over here, a lot of churches,

Greater Bethel A.M ah Greater Bethel A.M.E., that's my church and

we doing all we could to help the people and we cloth them, we feed

them, we do everything for them and so forth.

(Ms. Daily): Thank you Mrs. Dorsette, sorry. Thank you Mrs.


(Mrs. Dorsette): Yeah.


(Ms. Daily): Umm this completes the interview with Mrs. Doris

Dorsette. This is Yvonne Daily, today's date is August 29, 1997.