Interview with Herman Dorsett, August 21, 1997

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Interview with Herman Dorsett, August 21, 1997
Dorsett, Herman ( Interviewee )
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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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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 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, 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-

Third Avenues.


(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

your jobs?


(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

the University.

(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,

you know.

(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 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

own car.

(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

the community.

(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,

barber shops.

(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 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

Thirteenth Street.


(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, 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.


(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

community change?

(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

your opinion?

(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 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


of I-95?

(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

that time?

(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 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

those day.

(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

public officials?

(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

beautification programs?

(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 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

African-American community?

(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.