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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
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TELL THE STORY
DR. HERMAN DORSETT
August 21, 1997
(Ms. Stephanie Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza. I'm at the
office of Dr. Herman Dorsett. I will be interviewing him. Today's
date is August 21, 1997. This is Side #1 of Tape #1. I going to
begin the interview now.
(Ms. Wanza): How are you doing Dr. Dorsett?
(Dr. Herman Dorsett): I'm very well, doing fine thank you.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay we are going to begin with the first set of
questions which are regarding family life. Where were your parents
(Dr. Dorsett): My mother was born in Macon, Georgia, and
father was born in Miami, Florida.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, did they ever live in Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): Both parents lived in Overtown, they were
reared in Overtown.
(Ms. Wanza): What years did they live in Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): Ah, they lived...they moved from Overtown to
Brownsville in 1953 so as I said, my father was born there and I
don't remember the year now but he left Overtown in 1953 with my
mother having been born in Macon. I don't remember when she came to
Miami but they both moved to Brownsville in 1953.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, so from the time that they came to
Overtown umm which was around what time?
(Dr. Dorsett): In the case...
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, so umm we were...we just left of on the
question of what years your parents lived in Overtown.
(Dr. Dorsett): My mother lived in Overtown from approximately
1930 until 1953, my father from 1922 until 1953 so 23 and 31 years
(Ms. Wanza): What sort of jobs did your parents have?
(Dr. Dorsett): My mother died in January of '97 and she had
been retired at that time but she was a beautician for a number of
years having graduated from the Sunlight School of Beauty Culture
in Overtown on Northwest Second Avenue and Tenth Street. She also
was social worker aid with Metro-Dade County for a number of years
and she had been a clerk at a Black-owned business on Northwest
Third Avenue for a few years so those were the positions that I am
aware of that she had.
My father who has been retired for a number of years now,
retired as the Vice President of People's Group of National Banks.
He was in the banking industry for 39 years and had been for quite
a while the only and first Black in Miami to be an officer in a
bank, in a Black owned...in, in a White owned bank. He had been in
the banking industry, as I said, for 39 years and he started as a
runner which meant that he basically delivered documents from one
bank to another and then he...after doing that for a few years he
was promoted to the various ranks within the banking industry. He
had been a director in three of the People's Group National Banks
as well as Vice President so he was on the Board of Directors of
three of them and then full Vice President. He had also worked for
a Black-owned business on Northwest Third Avenue between Tenth and
Eleventh Street so while a teenager and young man. He had worked
up north for ah few years ah but for the most part, in Miami his
full-time adult positions were in banking industry and he worked
part time for another Black business, People's Drugstore which is
owned as ah, which is owned even today by a pharmacist, Mr. Lewis.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, very interesting. Were your
grandparents...where were your grandparents born?
(Dr. Dorsett): My grandfather was from the Bahamas ah and my
grandmother was from Haiti. They met I understand in Innaguaqua
and he brought he over to the United States so she was Haitian and
he was Bahamian.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Did your grandparents ever live in
(Dr. Dorsett): My grandparents did, they lived in Overtown
until 1954, I think it was or '53 or '54, they moved also to
(Ms. Wanza): What years did they live in Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): Ou, I don't remember when they got there but
they had been there for a number of years so I would imagine we are
talking about many, many years. I would imagine 40 years or so in
Overtown, that's my guess.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, what sort of jobs did your grandparents
(Dr. Dorsett): My grandmother whose name was Ida Moss Dorsett
ah was a homemaker, she ah kept the home and reared her six
children while my grandfather ah worked as a clerk at the Turner
Produce Company. He ah owned a business. He, I think if a hauling
business where he transport, transport business for a few years and
ah he retired after illness from the Turner Produce Company which
at time was located on Northwest Twelfth Avenue and about Twenty-
Second Street so those were the two businesses, the two jobs that
I remember him having.
(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe what it was like growing up
in your parents' household?
(Dr. Dorsett): Ah, yes I can. We were a large family. My
grand...paternal grandparents had six children, three girls and
three boys. We lived Overtown on Northwest Thirteenth Street and
First Place and this was a large two-story house that had four
sections to it and it is still standing. Ah my developmental
experience as growing up in Overtown were filled with lots of
happiness, joy, ah play, ah study and lots of exposure and
involvement in cultural events. Ah I attended Phyllis Wheatley
School for six years and ah Booker T. Washington High School for
five years and one year at Dorsey ah Junior High School during the
ah, my eighth grade year. We were involved in a number of
community activities. We were involved in school activities and ah
basically the entire family lived within that single building until
we moved to Brownsville. I think the first of us moved to
Brownsville in 1952 and then others followed and the entire family
lived on the same street, on a single street in Brownsville,
Northwest Forty-Third Terrace, between Thirty-Second and Thirty-
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, the next set of questions are regarding
employment between 1945 to 1970, could you describe the types of
jobs you had during that time?
(Dr. Dorsett): From 19...
(Ms. Wanza): '45.
(Dr. Dorsett): 1945, well I was 5 years old then so I did not
have a full-time professional position until 19...September of 1963
when I was an instruction in english at Miami Northwestern Senior
High School during the '63 '64 school year. From '64 til '66 I
was an instructor in psychology and education at Miami-Dade
Community College North Campus. I was among what we sometimes call
the second wave of Black faculty at Miami-Dade Community College.
From '64 to '66 I returned to graduate school. Ah no, no, let me
back up. From '64 to '66 I worked at Miami-Dade North and from '66
to '69 I returned to graduate school and I earned my doctorate in
1969. From 1969 to '72 I was assistant professor and psychologist
at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and from '72,
July of 1972 I returned to Miami and in late August I joined the
faculty at the Florida International University and I am still a
Professor at Florida International University and I am based at the
University Park also known as the Tamiami or South Campus so I've
been FIU since 1972 and this is ah my 25th year at FIU.
(Ms. Wanza): Good old FIU hun (laughter).
(Dr. Dorsett): Umm hum.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, umm what kind of hours did you work on
(Dr. Dorsett): At FIU, presently I am full-time as I
mentioned. I am normally there umm several days a week. I have a
private practice. I am a licensed psychologist here in the State
of Florida and so in addition to my FIU position, I have a private
practice of psychology. Umm while at Miami-Dade I worked, I guess,
it's been so many years ago, I'm not sure but I'm sure it was like
a 4 or 5 day week and at Temple University a typical 4 day week at
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. When and why did you leave these jobs?
(Dr. Dorsett): Well, as I said I had been at FIU for 25 years
and that's the bulk of my professional career. I left my position
at ah Temple University because I wanted to return hohie. I entered
medical school at Temple University after having earned doctorate
in '69 and dropped out of medical school because it was not what I
wanted to do and so I came back to Miami in '72 to fulfill a part
of my family's plan. My wife and me, at that time, we had two
children and it was always our intention to return to Miami and we
did so in July of '72. Ah, I left Miami-Dade Community College
again to go to graduate school to earn my doctorate and umm this I
did in '66. I left Northwestern because I was there simply for one
year to get some teaching experience under my belt so after that,
of course as I mentioned earlier I went to Miami-Dade and taught
for two years so in summary, one year of public school teaching,
two years of community college teaching and 28 of university
(Ms. Wanza): How did you find your jobs?
(Dr. Dorsett): Interesting, challenging, provocative,
enlightening, sometime controversial but for the most part, I've,
I've enjoyed them all very well. Northwestern was my first time
teaching. I was 23 when I went to Northwestern. I got a chance to
work with students who had been highly motivated as well as those
who are not highly motivated so I enjoy what I do very much. With
that, I wanted to ask you that too. How did you get to find out
what positions were open.
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh, how did I learn about them?
(Ms. Wanza): Yes, how did you learn about your positions?
(Dr. Dorsett): Through the Northwestern position, one of my
aunts who is now deceased umm had friends, she tob was in the
public school system and she referred me to Sam Coin who is now
deceased and he was principal there and he offered me the position.
I was certified in english and in junior college teaching so I
taught english at Northwestern so it was a family referral that I
worked at Northwestern. In terms of Miami-Dade, I don't remember
how I learned about the position accept that I, by that time I had
a masters degree in psychology and really had not prepared myself
to ah teach at the secondary level. I do remember getting
encouragement from people in the community to work at the community
college because there were very, very few Black who were working
there at that time. In terms of the FIU position, I don't remember
how I learned about it but it was through family encouragement that
I applied and of course won the position in July of '72.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. How did you get to work, what mode of
transportation did you take to work?
(Dr. Dorsett): At Northwestern I had a little Ford Falcon
station wagon which I purchased from the bank at which my father
worked, one of his responsibilities was all of the stock and he had
a...I don't remember the year now but a Ford Falcon station wagon,
this was the first car we purchased and then we later bought other
cars but I drove to work at Northwestern. At Temple I took the
train the Philadelphia train system to work most days. At FIU I
(Ms. Wanza): Now, let me back up for a minute. Did you ever
work as a young boy in the Overtown area?
(Dr. Dorsett): Ah yes I worked, not in the Overtown...Oh yes
I did, yeah in Overtown, I worked.
(Ms. Wanza): Because the employment questions they are
regarding now, you know for all of those years but they are
basically trying to get to when you worked, actually worked, even
though I know, you know, you were a youngest and you weren't an
adult at that time, they are trying to get a jest of what it was
like to work in Overtown.
(Dr. Dorsett): Okay, I worked while in junior high, I
believe, at a little grocery store, Pearl's Grocery Store which was
located on the northeast corner of Twelfth Street and Second Avenue
and I was a little part-time youth clerk for Ms. Pearl. I worked
also at another grocery store in our neighborhood, Joe's Market
that was owned by ah Chinese person. Mrs. Pearl was owned by a
Black American woman. Ah Joe's was owned by a Chinese family and
that was located on the northeast corner of Northwest First Place
and Twelfth Street and I worked as a little clean up kind of kid
there and I don't remember any other jobs in Overtown.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, what kind of hours did you work?
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh I'm sure they were after school.
(Ms. Wanza): After school? Okay.
(Dr. Dorsett): Yeah Umm hum.
(Ms. Wanza): Umm years did you work these jobs, back in
junior high, in the '50?
(Dr. Dorsett): I think junior high in the '50s yeah.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay.
(Dr. Dorsett): Well actually it must have been the early '50s
because we were living Overtown then and when we moved to
Brownsville in '53 ah I did not work Overtown, I had jobs in, you
know, in the northern part of town at that time.
(Ms. Wanza): So...and you left these jobs because you left,
you know, the Overtown area...?
(Dr. Dorsett): Yeah, just part time, nickel and dime jobs,
(Ms. Wanza): ...just part time. Okay.
(Ms. Wanza): How did you find your jobs in Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): Interesting, not very challenging but an
opportunity to make a few dollars. At Ms. Pearl's she had me ring
the cash register, learn how to cut meat, ah stock shelves, ah mop
the floor. I can remember even now, those kinds of things. Ah at
Joe's Grocery, I think the most of what I did was to stock shelves
and maybe sweep up. A little cleaning, light cleaning, dusting.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. So did you...it was just like a community
umm think where she would invite kids come the community to come in
and help her out at the store and did your parents or one of your
friends or a friend of family tell you about the job or you don't
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't remember how I got the job but she was
a friend of the family's, yes. In fact, my mother did her hair and
it was close to where we lived so...
(Ms. Wanza): That's probably how.
(Dr. Dorsett): Yeah and I may have asked her if I could help
out cleaning and whatever, yeah.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, umm alright. This next question is
regarding immigrants moving into Miami in the beginning of the late
'50s from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other countries.
Do you think or in your opinion did those immigrants compete with
Overtown residents for jobs in the in the...?
(Dr. Dorsett): In the '50s?
(Ms. Wanza): Yes, in the late '50s.
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't remember any competition in the late
'50s. I finished high school in 1958 and I don't recall many
youngsters during my years who were from those countries. I don't
recall any persons from Haiti ah. I remember one or two, maybe,
lets say fewer than 5 kids at Booker T. Washington who were Afro-
Cubans. I don't remember any kids from other countries and I don't
remember a competitive spirit with those persons.
type positions. I remember a number of people who use to take the
tax...the ah jitneys to work in ah Miami Beach. There was a jitney
stand not from our home on Fourteenth Street and ah First Court.
Ah but the persons that I remember were largely from, you know,
Carolina, Georgia and so on were largely into the domestic classes.
I remember just a few who were of the so called professional class
at that time from those areas. The positions that I remember that
were held largely by ah the so called White collar professional
positions were held largely by persons of Bahamian background, I
could remember very clearly.
(Ms. Wanza): When you were living in Overtown, well I know
when you got to work, how did you get to work when you had your job
at the store?
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh, it was in the neighborhood so I use to
walk, it was just a matter of walking a block or two blocks.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, how did your parents get to work?
(Dr. Dorsett): Ah, my parents had cars. Ah, I remember my
father had a bicycle that he rode to his job that was Downtown
Miami at the Florida National Bank in the DuPont Building. I
remember his having a bicycle, a black bike then and ah they had a
car. I guess the first car I remember was bought maybe around 1946
or '48 or so. There was always a car in the family and ah my aunt
who was the oldest of the six Dorsett children always kept a Buick,
Roadmaster Super Buick and other member of the family had cars.
When we moved to Brownsville each of the sons and daughter had
their own cars, you know with their respective families but when we
lived in Overtown I remember ah being a main family car but ah we
walked basically. My grandfather worked when he was at Turners, at
night, I think he would go in like from 12 to 6 and seemed to me he
rode with some fellows. I don't remember my grandfather ever
driving but he did, he had driven but before I could remember.
That, that's about it.
(Ms. Wanza): That's it and they umm you had cars to go out to
work and you walked because basically it was compacted right?
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh absolutely, it was compact, yeah.
(Ms. Wanza): You know, you could, you could walk to
everywhere that you needed to go to.
(Dr. Dorsett): Yeah, I remember when my mother worked for
Lucky Heart Beauty Products, that was located on Northwest Third
Avenue near Twelfth Avenue and we were on Thirteenth and First so
that was like a 10 minute at the most walk.
(Ms. Wanza): And then like after 95 came through, things
became, become much more spread out so you needed to take...
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh yeah, much more spread out, we had left
Overtown by the time the ah one...ah 1-95 came through. Ah when my
aunts, who were school teachers went to work, they went by car. I
had one aunt who worked at Phyllis Wheatley and she drove to work
ah from, you know, our place Overtown, the other one that lived ah
worked in Perrine and she rode with friends until she bought her
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Let me see, we are going to move on to
the next set of questions which are regarding neighborhood life
between 1945 and 1970. Could you describe your place of residence?
(Dr. Dorsett): We lived until 1953 ah in a large cement,
stucco cement house that had 4 sections to it and ah my
grandparents, my parents and a couple of aunts, we all lived on the
first floor. My aunt who was the eldest of them had the second
floor where she and her husband and family lived and they renteA
rooms on the second floor so it was a hugh house and it had about
10 bedrooms if I remember, maybe about 8 to 10 bedrooms I think.
I think there were 2 bedroom, yeah 2 bedrooms to each section.
(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum, okay. Could you describe the street
where you lived?
(Dr. Dorsett): Umm that particular street had 4 houses that
are still standing that were identical from Northwest First Place
to First Court on Thirteen Street, these were hugh ah homes ah
buildings and the neighborhood also had a church that was right
across the street, that was on the northeast corner, the house, our
house was on the southeast corner and the minister's home was next
to the church. Ah there were private single family homes. Ah in
our neighborhood across the street was Christian Hospital Overtown
on Northwest First Place between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets.
Ah there were single family homes, apartments came up, if I
remember correctly after we left in the early '50s apartments were
being built but for the most part, they were single family homes.
(Ms. Wanza): Who were your neighbors?
(Dr. Dorsett): Our neighbors were, again, working class
people, some professionals, ah we all knew each other, we looked
out for each other, ah the neighbors disciplined each other's
children. Ah we were a close-knit, we ah respected each other, all
of the people that I can recall were working people. Either with
blue collar or white collar or professional positions. I don't
remember any neighbor conflicts or anything like that. There was
a ah, private school that I'm sure has been annotated in the
archives, owned by Mrs. Anderson and that was a block from our
house and I think she went from the cradle role until, I don't know
may be the first or second grades or so but this was owned by a
woman and her family, the Anderson and Buchanan family and in
addition to that, there were public schools, Phyllis Wheatley.which
was 5 blocks north of us. Douglas which was about 4 blocks west of
us, southwest of where we lived and Dunbar was many, many blocks
northwest of where we lived. Booker T. Washington was west of
where we lived. North...1201 ah 1200, I think Northwest Sixth
Avenue so there were schools all around, public schools all around
(Ms. Wanza): Where did your neighbors work?
(Dr. Dorsett): Where did they work?
(Ms. Wanza): Yeah.
(Dr. Dorsett): Umm, I remember one family, ah the gentleman
was a driver, Mr. Brown, he drove for a White family, I don't
remember much about them. Another guy ah, I think he had his own
business, he lived in the city and also in Overtown, ah other
families I can remember had, let's say rooming houses or apartment
buildings and they lived within their own, you know complex. Ah,
others were school teachers and worked with the public school
system. A number of people had their own businesses hauling, you
know transporting, ah various businesses like that, fish markets,
(Ms. Wanza): What happened to those neighbors?
(Dr. Dorsett): Ah what happened to the neighbors?
(Ms. Wanza): Yes.
(Dr. Dorsett): Well they died and some moved out to Liberty
City and Brownsville, ah but they were rather self-sufficient and
they, you know, did their own thing. A number of the people worked
for White families or for...in the White communities.
(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum, okay. When did they begin to leave the
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't know when they left, but we left in
'52 and '53. Ah we had some contact but not much contact. When we
moved to Brownsville, our block consisted of I think 6 houses, 6
homes, 4 of which belonged to us. So our family had the entire
block similar to the Johnson compound in ah Brownsville. We were
at the southern end, Northwest Forty-Third Terrace and the Johnson
were at the North end at that time which was Fifty-Second, Fifty-
Third, near Fifty-Fourth Streets.
(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe the main business areas you
went to in Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh, the main businesses, there was ah Atlantic
Furniture Store from which my bicycle and wagons were bought and we
often, my family bought furniture from there. Leonard's Department
Store which was the forerunner for J. Byrons and Uptons, there were
barber shops, beauty shops, ah mom and pop grocery stores, there
was a realty company, there was a five and ten cent store, a
department store, a radio station, a shoe store, ah several
restaurants, ah several drugstores, Barclay Drugstore, Economy
Drugstore, ice cream parlors; movies, Ritz Theater, ah Capitol
Theater which before it became Capitol was the Harlem Theater, I
think it was. Umm dry good stores, and course, the churches ah one
or two toy stores, ah automotive repair, like a garage, like
service stations. I remember a place that repaired radios on
Northwest Third Avenue, ah doctors' offices, physicians' offices,
lawyers' offices, fish market; hotels, Carver Hotel, Mary Elizabeth
Hotel, ah rooming house, beauty shops, I think I said, a dry
cleaners, where you could take your clothing in one day and get it
the next or may be put in by 10 out by 5 kind of thing. Umm
hardware stores, liquor stores, and we had every...a funeral homes,
a hospital, Christian Hospital. We had everything that we needed
right there in the self-contained Overtown community, insurance
(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe where your family bought
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh, yeah, I remember that very well (excuse
me). My grandmother, Mrs. Dorsett, Ida Dorsett often bought
groceries from Tip Top which was on Northwest Fifth Street near
First Avenue and ah I had a wagons and I would, she and I would
walk from the house at Thirteen Street to Fifth Street and buy
groceries and she would put them in my wagon and I would, you know,
walk with her to, you know back to the house and unload them and so
on. And ah later on, and that was a beautiful experience. I have
some fonds memories about doing that kind of thing with mom. Ah we
would cross the railroad tracks and go from our house to Tip Top
which was a big grocery store, umm I understand, I think I heard
that, that was a forerunner for Winn Dixie from what I understand.
Ah, we also later years in I guess the late '40s early '50s ah
would, Saturday evenings after the sun set, we would, my
grandmother, aunt or aunts and I would head north. Our first stop
would be on First Place and Fifteenth Street to Stewart's Market.
Mr. Stewart, Samuel R. Stewart, ah junior, I think he was, had a
market in which he sold chickens, poultry and fish and my
grandmother would put in her order for the chickens and he would
dress them and we would head north to Shells and then Fredericks.
She would buy some groceries at Shells which at that time was on
northwest Seventh Avenue and Fifty-Eighth Street and then she would
buy other groceries at Fredericks which was on Sixty-Second and
Sixth Avenue and on our way home we would stop back and pick up the
chicken and fish by this time Mr. Stewart had already prepared and
packaged for her so that was a ritual, if you will, that I remember
and we would go after sun set on Saturday because we were Seventh
Day Adventist and according to those religious tenants we were not
able to shop, do commercial stuff until after the sun had set on,
on our sabbath and so that's what I remember of buying groceries
from. There was a store on Northwest Seventh Avenue and Twenty-
Second, Twenty-First Street, ah I can't remember the name of it but
it was on the West side of the Avenue that we occasionally bought
groceries from but for the most part it was Tip Top and then
poultry and fish and Mr. Stewarts and then the major items at
Fredericks and ah Shells. When...
(Ms. Wanza): Were, excuse me, were any of these grocery
stores Black owned?
(Dr. Dorsett): No, neither was Black owned. Mr. Stewart's
market was Black owned, he was a Black business man who, at that
time, lived in Liberty City on Fourteenth Avenue. He was a
business man and his wife was a teacher and they had two children
but Shells was White owned and, of course, Fredericks was White
owned as well.
(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe where your family went to the
barber shop and I know you said your mother was a beautician so she
did...did she do her own hair or...?
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't remember her doing her own hair...
(Ms. Wanza): Did she go to a beauty shop?
(Dr. Dorsett): Some of her colleagues would do it, you know
how the ladies often would help out each other. But I went to a
barber shop on Northwest Third Avenue and Twelfth Street. It was
owned by a distant cousin Mr. Austin Dorsey and he cut my hair for
as many years as I remember, I guess from a little boy until maybe
the time I started going to college and this was in the business
district and this was a Black owned barber shop on Third Avenue and
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Could you describe where your family went
to the drugstore?
(Dr. Dorsett): Drugstore, we went to Barclay's Drugstore on
Northwest Twelfth Street and Third Avenue, to Economic Drugstore on
Northwest Eleventh Street and Third Avenue, we also went to
People's Drugs which was on Northwest Second near Eleventh Street
and years and years earlier we had frequented a...these were 3
Black owned drugstores. Years and years earlier we had frequented
a drugstore on Northwest Second Avenue and Fifth Street but for the
most part we got our prescription medication and other items from
People's, Economy and Barclay drugstores.
(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe where your family went to the
(Dr. Dorsett): Cleaners? Let me see. Oh, I...one cleaner,
cleaning establishment was on Third Avenue between Eleventh Street
and Eleventh Terrace, Johnson I think was the name of it but Levi
Johnson was the proprietor there.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Would you describe...
(Dr. Dorsett): We also, and that was Black owned and there
was also a cleaner, cleaners on Northwest Second Avenue and Sixth
Street that I think was White owned, a lot of their Black...a lot
of Black people worked there but I think this was White owned.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, could you describe where the church or the
churches your family attended?
(Dr. Dorsett): Yes, as I said earlier, we were Seventh Day
Adventist and we attended church on Northwest Fourteenth Terrace
near Fourth Avenue between Third and Fourth Avenues and this church
was located on the south side of the street and this is Bethany
Seventh Day Adventist Church, that is, of course, now torn down and
the other Bethany is now in Brownsville at Northwest Fiftieth
Street near Twenty-Fifth Avenue, 2500 Northwest Fiftieth Street.
That's where my, most of my family attended, my mother attended St.
John's Baptist Church which is still situated at Northwest Third
Avenue and Thirteenth Street.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, I am going to end Side #1 of tape #1 now
we are going to continue on the set of questions regarding
neighborhood life between 1945 and 1970 and we stopped off on the
question, describe the churches that your family attended. We will
continue on Side #2.
TAPE #1 SIDE #2
(Ms. Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza. I'm at the office of
Dr. Herman Dorsett and we are continuing our interview regarding
neighborhood life between 1945 and 1970 and the next question was,
could you describe where you went for entertainment such as
theater's, bars, restaurants, or sporting events?
(Dr. Dorsett): While Overtown, the parts of the family that
did go to nightclubs went to the Harlem Square, the Rockland
Palace, ah the Night Beat, ah Mary Elizabeth Lounge and other
places like that. Most of family did not go to those places for
religious reasons. Ah there were more cultural events in our lives
then nightclubs and that kind of thing. But cultural events for
the most part, we attended in our own community at Booker T.
Washington High School and Phyllis Wheatley and so on. Ah the
enter...the singers came to town, Marian Anderson, I saw Marian
Anderson, Roland Haines, Dorothy Mayland, ah Mrs. Mary McLeod
Bethune. Ah I saw those in our own community at Booker T. The
auditorium there was a major cultural meeting place if you will.
The ah King of Clubs forum was held at the Black churches, Mt. Zion
and Bethel and sometimes at St. John's in which speakers were
brought to town, Martin Luther King, Paul Roberson and others. So
for the most part, the entertainment that we were involved with
came...occurred in our own community. Later on as we go closer and
closer toward desegregation, I remember going outside of the
community to Dade County Auditorium and ah places like'that but for
the most part, our entertainment was in our own communities.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. When you someone in your family got sick,
where did they go to the doctor's office?
(Dr. Dorsett): Doctors' offices again were in Overtown. Dr.
William Alonzo Paterson, Jr. was at Northwest Fourteenth Street
near Fifth Court, one of our family physicians, umm Dr. J.K.
Johnson, Northwest Third Avenue and Eleventh Terrace...another
family physician ah and others but for the most part within the
Black community, we could easily walk to the doctors' office as
well as dentist offices.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. How long did you continue to patronize
the businesses in Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): Until we left in the early 1950's and even
after we had left and moved to the so-called sticks, we still ah
patronized the Black businesses in Overtown though, to a lesser
(Ms. Wanza): When did you begin to shop or go to
entertainment outside of Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): I guess in the late '50s, '58, '59, '60 and so
(Ms. Wanza): During the period from 1945 to 1970, what were
the main things that made Overtown a community?
(Dr. Dorsett): The people, its habits, its' ah culture, its'
umm emphasis on compassion, loving and caring, emphasis on thrift,
caring for one's neighbors, ah hard work, ah adhesion to rigid
religious and christian principles, ah caring for each other as
Black folks. Those were some of the kinds of things that I think
ah guided what we did. There was also the emphasis on getting
ahead in education and going to church and being good and not
letting your family down and making something out of yourself and
helping each other umm, and being somebody. They were lots of the
values that we grew up in the Overtown area. Love thy neighbor.
(Ms. Wanza): (Ms. Wanza): How and when did that sense of
(Dr. Dorsett): I'm not sure, I think I was in college and
living up north when I understand there were significant changes
when the ah 1-95 and other so-called Urban Renewal initiatives
began. Ah but during the times that I was there ah I finished high
school in '58 but by that time we were living in Brownsville cause
4 years, 5 years I was at Booker T. and 1 year at Dorsey in ah
Liberty City and so from those years ah, you know, things were
pretty much centered around the Overtown area and even though you
lived in Brownsville, we still went to school in Overtown so we
either caught the bus or drove into Overtown continuing with our
education accept for one year.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, how has Overtown changed since 1970, in
(Dr. Dorsett): It has changed dramatically. There has been
a massive out-migration, there has been a deterioration physicaJ
mental, social umm in many, many ways, it's been a killing of the
community. There were so many pathological phenomena in Overtown
now that were not there during my formative years that it's
sicking, it really very, very bad. There are a few pockets that
you might say are vital and are so-called positive pockets but for
the most part they are nothing compared to what use to be the case.
There are a few of the Black owned businesses, ah the Black
churches, I carnt think of a single funeral home in Overtown now
which just occurred to me a second ago, they are out in Liberty
City or Carol City or North Dade or whatever but I think there is
a single Black funeral home in Brown...in Overtown now which is
really very sad. Ah there are still the churches, Mt. Zion,
Bethel, St. John's, ah St. Agnes and so on as well as the smaller
churches but I don't think there is a single Black funeral home
Overtown, just phenomenal,
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Alright, the next set of questions are
regarding 1-95. When and how did you first hear about the building
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't remember when I first heard of it. I
had left '58 and came back in '62 ah but after having been in
college and coming home just for summers, there's a lot things that
will occur that you didn't know about. So I don't remember when I
heard about it but I know that Miami Times, a major Black media
often had articles dealing with 1-95 and other developments within
the community but I don't remember the year.
(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum. Okay, and where were you living at
(Dr. Dorsett): When 1-95 came through there?
(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.
(Dr. Dorsett): Do you remember the year that it was opened?
(Ms. Wanza): It was opened, it was let's see, construction
began in the late '50, early '60, I think the mid-'60s, mid to
middle...mid to late '60, they be...you know, they start finishing
(Dr. Dorsett): Well I lived, as I said in Brownsville and
then when I became an adult and was married, we lived in the
Allapattah area for I guess for 2 years or so, 2 or 3 years but I
don't remember...I remember using 1-95 but I don't remember much
about the construction of it. I think I was away in college during
(Ms. Wanza): What kind of reaction was there to the news that
the expressway would come through Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): I remember there being a wide range of
opinions about that expressway. Ah, I remember a lot of
resentment, a lot of people whose homes were uprooted and destroyed
and so on. I think my wife's family home was destroyed ah doing
the Overtown days. They were at 1340 Northwest Fifth Avenue and
that home is no longer there and I would imagine the, the ah
federal government bought out and you know, they were moved to the
Liberty City area. They had property in Liberty City then but
they, you know, kind of took everything to Liberty City. But I
remember a lot of resentment, a lot of confusion, a lot of anger as
to why and this was happening and people feeling that not fair
values were being given to their properties. I can't remember any
positive reaction to this phenomena, I really don't. I remember a
lot of people feeling that, this is a way of bypassing and kind of
corralling the few people that were left in Overtown, you know,
because there were no exits and the one entrance that I recall was
at Eighth Street and Third Avenue but that was the only place you
could enter 1-95 northbound and then southbound it way on I guess
about Third Street that you could enter to go south but there was
a lot of negative energy around then. I don't remember a lot of
positive stuff in the Black community.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Did you discuss 1-95 coming through
Overtown with your neighbors?
(Dr. Dorsett): Well, as I said, during those days, we, we
were not living in Overtown but I do remember a few conversations
but it didn't affect us at that time, not in my family because we
were already out in the so called suburb or the sticks at that
(Ms. Wanza): Did you attend a meeting or do you know anyone
who attended a meeting or signed a petition or discussed the issue
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't remember any of that occurring.
(Ms. Wanza): What was the most important impact of the
expressway on you?
(Dr. Dorsett): On me?
(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.
(Dr. Dorsett): Ah, the most important was negative. I think
it was destruction, a major negative blow toward the Black
community and Metro-Dade County. A major devastating blow toward
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Do you know what it was like when the
expressway was being constructed? I know you said you, at that
time, were out the community but did you hear from anyone what it
was like when it was being constructed.
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't remember hearing much about the
construction process. Ah, I do remember that there was a lot of
inconvenience and dust and stuff like that but people were really,
people from Overtown still had to drive for many blocks to be able
to get out the corded off areas.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. In your opinion, what was the community
able to get from public officials in return for 1-95 going through
(Dr. Dorsett): I don't know what was gotten, really, umm
there were discussions that the one or two politicians, Blacks who
were in organized politics, were involved but what they did and how
they did it, I really don't know. I don't remember many
(Ms. Wanza): How did 1-95 affect the community?
(Dr. Dorsett): Affected it in the sense that it was divided.
It broke the community into many, many pieces, it ah dissipated a
lot the spirit of communiques within Overtown, it led to a lot of
northward migration to, ah you know, the Carol City area, ah
Liberty City, Brownsville, I think it accelerated the growth of
those areas and the decline in Overtown has been, you know, as I
said before, very dramatic and I think it's getting-even worse so
I don't know of anybody...I know of a few families that are still
in Overtown but they may have a business in Overtown and they live
(Ms. Wanza): The next set of questions of questions will
regarding the future of the Overtown area.
Dr. Dorsett, what are the most important misconceptions, do
you think, people have about Overtown today?
(Dr. Dorsett): I think one of the misconceptions is that it
is full of thieves and criminals and murderers and welfare people
and cheats and all of that. Ah I think that's a gross
misconception, there is a lot pathology, social pathology there but
I think in addition to that, there are very large numbers of
hardworking good nice ah beautiful people who live in Overtown.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, what do you think public officials need to
know most about Overtown?
(Dr. Dorsett): That people care. People who live there care,
that they would like to do better if they are not doing very well.
That the educational system needs to be improved, Dunbar, Douglas,
Phyllis Wheatley and the other schools over there need to be vastly
improved, better teachers, etc. like there use to be a marshall
plan, if you would, to revitalize Overtown and not run everything
thought it like the Culmer Station and the other you know...aspects
of the transportation system.
(Ms. Wanza): What do you should...excuse me. What do you
think should be done to improve the Overtown area now such as
transportation systems or projects, attractions, job creation or
(Dr. Dorsett): I think that all of those need to occur. I,
if I had the magic wand, I would start by replacing the small
businesses as well as the medium and large size businesses that are
no longer there. I think there needs to be private business and
industry, private commerce in part of Overtown and the industrial
ah, ah, cars if you will. I think that ah attending to the
factories and businesses and so on would be jobs that people who
live in Overtown are given the jobs as a high-tech and the low-tech
jobs. If there is adequate training, if ah high school, ah Booker
T. Washington which will soon, we hope, be, ah returned to being a
senior high school would serve as a kind of a community meeting
place again for people who want to improve their skills and learn
computer stuff and whatever the wave of the future is going to be
and that there be a tremendous effort to rid the drugs, illegal
drugs in Overtown, I think that has had a, a tremendous negative
impact on what's happening there. Umm I would like to see
opportunities for young professionals to move back into the
community, garden type homes and town house, that kind of thing.
Umm, I'd like to see a mix of people, Black, White, Hispanic or
whatever who would want to live in Overtown, be able to walk to the
Downtown, Brickell Avenue or whatever. Ah, I'd like to see a
replenishment, if you will, of the beauty shops and barber shops
and grocery stores and other businesses and not just the...become
inundated with the liquor stores and the drug trade and all that
kind of thing. So I think a massive infusion in what's happening
with the folk like village and so on. I mean there are good things
happening with the Lyric and all of that and the Dorsey House are
very, very important aspects. I'd like to see a hotel put in
Overtown. I'd like to see maybe one or two more governmental
buildings, you know like the state building and stuff. Umm I'd
like to see medical clwic. They have one or two mini-clinics
there now but those are some of the things I would like to see and
mini-parks where people ah hang and chill for a while and be able
to buy grocery stores...ah groceries. I think that it...I don't
know if that store is still open there in the ah shopping center,
the Culmer Center? Is that grocery store?
(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum. It's open.
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh, it's...okay and I understand it's like
nickel and dime, bare shelves. Ah so those are just
some of the kind...there is a more, most importantly jobs and the
abolition of all that drug trade and that's phenomenal.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. In your opinion, what should be the
relationship between Overtown and Downtown Miami?
(Dr. Dorsett): I wish that the lines that divide the two
areas were blurred much more than they are now. I think the line
exist around Fifth Street and ah, you know, Second Avenue. I wish
those lines were much more blurred than they are now and that there
be some state buildings and city and county buildings other than
the Culmer Center...in addition to the Culmer Center in Overtown.
Ah, that some of the banks, the big banks would put their ah areas,
their places, not just the little corner banking kind of, but the
big mega structures and so on.
(Ms. Wanza): When you have visitors from out of town where do
you take them to show them the culture and history of Dade County's
(Dr. Dorsett): Umm, Overtown, Liberty City, Brownsville,
Coconut Grove, Goulds, Richmond Heights, Homestead, Naranja,
Florida City, Carol City, Opa Locka, ah North Dade, Rolling Oaks,
ah Brownsville. I take them all around, the good and the not so
(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Could you describe in your own words what
kind of community you would like Overtown to be in the future?
(Dr. Dorsett): Oh, good question. I'd like for it to be a
community where people can live together of all races, ethnic
groups, that the old can live and thrive in small places as well as
the 5 and 6 and 7 story building_ __ some businesses, fish
market, ah schools, ah closer harmony between the schools and the
community, middle school and so on. I would like to see a greater
Miami-Dade Community college presence in Overtown. I would like to
see an FIU meaningful presence there. Ah the land is there, I
would like to see more housing, ah affordable housing, similar to
the kind of things that you see on Third Avenue from Twentieth
Street to about Eighteenth Street ah on the east side, those
private homes, I would like to see more of that kind of thing. Ah,
I would like to see greater partnerships between the churches and
the communities that they would build senior citizens complex ah,
moderate income family places, ah like the St. John's CDC which has
the housing complex on Thirteenth Street between Second and Third
Avenues, more stuff like that. Umm, I would like to see corridors
where Black business people started up...incubator centers I think
the, call them for Black businesses. Ah, I would like to see
opportunities for people in the arts and drama to be able to
showcase there talents Overtown so people would come. Ah I want to
see fewer bars and joints, no drugs. I want to see the library
expanded, the Dorsey Library expanded much more than it is. The ah
parks, the swimming pool, I think there is one pool, Dixie as I can
recall Overtown and that's, that's criminal. I would like to see
a lot of things.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, well would you like to add anything else?
(Dr. Dorsett): Well I'm hoping that some aims in this project
are fulfilled and most importantly that the data that are collected
from different people would be used in a way to build a community
and not to manipulate or malign the community and if there is
anyway in which I can share my thoughts or feelings in the future,
feel free to call upon me. It's been good reminiscing about the
good old days.
(Ms. Wanza): Okay, this is Stephanie Wanza and I am ending
the interview session with Dr. Herman Dorsett. This is Side #2 of
Tape #1. Today's date is August 21, 1997.