Interview with Dorothy McKellar, August 4, 1997

Material Information

Interview with Dorothy McKellar, August 4, 1997
Stephanie Wanza ( Interviewer )
McKellar, Dorothy ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Overtown (Miami, Fla.) -- Florida
African Americans -- Florida -- Miami—History
Overtown Oral History Collection ( local )
Spatial Coverage:
Miami-Dade County (Fla.) -- History.
Overtown (Fla.) -- History


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.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Overtown Collection' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of

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AWO aL .4. o


(Ms. Stephanie Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza and I will be

interviewing Ms. Dorothy McKellar, I am in her home. Today's date

is August 4, 1997. Okay Ms. McKellar, I going to start asking you

a few questions regarding your family life.

(Mrs. Dorothy McKellar): Yes.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay and then I'm going to ask you some

questions regarding employment, the Overtown neighborhood, 1-95,

Metro-rail and the future of Overtown and also some other

questions. We'll start out with the family life. Where were your

parents born?

(Mrs. McKellar): My parents were born in the Bahamas, Harbor

Island is the name of the place.

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

(Mrs. McKellar): Oh yes. They left Harbor Island, I'm not

too sure what year and went to Key West and I know that they were

there like 1900 because I have a brother, older brother who was

born in Key West and a sister who was born in Key West; Dr. S.H.

Johnson was the brother and Mrs. Elaine Adderly, the sister, those

two were born in Key West. Then they came to Miami in 1903 and I'm

not too sure where they lived, somewhere near where the Lyric

Theater is now and then from there they moved to a place called 124

Florida Avenue near Tenth Street.

(Ms. Wanza): So what are the years that they lived in


(Mrs. McKellar): What are the years?


(Mrs. Wanza): Yes.

(Mrs. McKellar): You know I really don't know.

(Mrs. Wanza): What sort of jobs did they have?

(Mrs. McKellar): My mother worked, she washed dishes, she did

some of everything, washed clothes and what not on Miami Beach and

she also had a little kindergarten at her house and ah...for the

neighborhood children. Our father was an insurance agent, I don't

know the number of years.

(Ms. Wanza): Where were you grandparents born?

(Mrs. McKellar): As far as I know, they were born in the


(Ms. Wanza): Did they live in Overtown?

(Mrs. McKellar): Yes they lived in Overtown for a while, they

came to Miami, both.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, what sought of jobs did they have?

(Mrs. McKellar): No. They did not work at all because they

were elderly persons.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, when they came, okay. Can you describe

what it was like growing up in your parents household?

(Mrs. McKellar): I'll do the best that I can. There were 7

children in the family plus mother and father and at one an aunt

who was our mother's sister. She came from the Bahamas to help

with the 7 children because we were all very small. You said

something about the household. We've always gotten along, you

know, not like some people, fuss all the time. You didn't do that

and when we would go to school and come back, our mother in


particular would ask us about some of things that went on in school

and ah...(laughter).

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, the next set of questions are regarding

employment from 1945 to 1970 but for you it would be between 1945

and 1948 because you left in '48 right?

(Mrs. McKellar): Yes.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Describe the jobs that you had.

(Mrs. McKellar): Many jobs that I had but at that particular

time in the 40's around '42, I was at Carver...ah in Coconut Grove

teaching physical education but I asked for a transfer because of

our mother's illness and the approaching birth of my daughter.

Then I...well I worked a lot of places. From Carver I came out

here to Floral Heights...with, no, no then to Phyllis Wheatley and

from Phyllis Wheatley, from Floral Heights (laughter) to Liberty

City, from Liberty City to the school on 46th Street, what the name

of that, I've forgotten the name of it.

(Ms. Wanza): Elementary school?

(Mrs. McKellar): Yes, it's elementary and at that particular

time, the principal was Mr. George Balker and I was P.E. there but

I was kind of tired, getting tired of being in the yard so long and

I asked, in fact, I...well I saw on the bulletin board where they

were about to have Head Start and I thought that I would go into

something like that so I was trained in Head Start and from...where

is that...I forgot now on 46th Street I went to Drew Elementary

with Mrs. Ford and it was at that school I retired in 1970 because

of illness.


(Ms. Wanza): What were those jobs but you just answered that

and what years did you have those jobs and you answered that too.

(Mrs. McKellar): Did I have what?

(Ms. Wanza): What years did you have the jobs?

(Mrs. McKellar): Well I started working at Carver in Coconut

Grove in 1934 and I stayed there until 1941 or '42. I don't know

how long I stayed at the others.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay. What kind of hours did you work?

(Mrs. McKellar): What kind of hours? Hum!

(Ms. Wanza): Yeah.

(Mrs. McKellar): From I would say 8:30 to 3:00 or 3:30,

that's a long time ago.

(Ms. Wanza): When and why did you leave these jobs.

(Mrs. McKellar): I left Drew Elementary because that was the

last place where I worked. I was on a sabbatical leave and I was

taking courses at the junior college and several times...oh I was

taking typing upstairs and several times or twice I fell coming

down the stairs and when I went to the doctor...I didn't go the

first time but the second time I fell I went to the doctor and he

told me that I had diabetes. He checked me out and he said, well

if I were you, and I want you to take care of yourself, I would

retire. So I retired in '70.

(Ms. Wanza): And the next one is how did you find work?

(Mrs. McKellar): How did I find work?

(Ms. Wanza): Yes.

(Mrs. McKellar): After I finished college at Florida A&M...I


don't know but I don't know who recommend Mrs. Tucker but she was

my first principal. I don't recall.

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

(Mrs. McKellar): Laughter. As I said, there was 7 of others

and 5 of us are alive now. All of us have been teachers during our

lifetime and we've all worked at different places. I had a brother

and a sister who went to Booker T. and a sister who at one time was

a principal I think in Perrine or something like that and a brother

taught and then later became a principal somewhere in the southwest

section, a brother, X-ray specialist and he taught at Booker T. for

awhile many is that...I'm leaving myself out...I'm

talking about...laughter.

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

(Mrs. McKellar): work...

(Ms. Wanza): So basically they were teachers.

(Mrs. McKellar): Yeah, they were all teachers and a brother

who is next to me also taught at Booker T., science and, of course,

I taught for 30 some odd years.

(Ms. Wanza): Beginning in the late 50's many immigrants moved

to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other

countries. Did those immigrants compete with Overtown residents

for jobs?

(Mrs. McKellar): While we were Overtown, I would say in the

late 30's or 40's, immigrants came from I know the Bahamas and they

lived across the street from where we were and I understand that

they worked because of cheap labor and they would go...a group


would go and another would come back, you know transfer like that.

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

out of town?

(Mrs. McKellar): Do I what?

(Ms. Wanza): do you recall people moving into Overtown from

out of town?

(Mrs. McKellar): From out of town?

(Ms. Wanza): Um hum.

(Mrs. McKellar): Not too often.

(Ms. Wanza): The few people, do you know where they were

from, the few people that came?

(Mrs. McKellar): No.

(Ms. Wanza) : We're going to move on to the next section which

is regarding neighborhood life between 1945 and 1970.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay Ms. McKellar could you describe your place

of residence?

(Mrs. McKellar): Overtown?

(Ms. Wanza): Yes, in Overtown.

(Mrs. McKellar): As far as I can remember, I was born

on...lets see, 124 Florida Avenue, it was called at that particular

time and ah...I remember two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom a

den for the boys, a dinning room and a kitchen and a porch...a

front porch was on the front there was a porch with a swing.

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

(Mrs. McKellar): Well now are you speaking of us as children

or as adults?


(Ms. Wanza): Probably adults, well both, both.

(Mrs. McKellar): As far as I can remember, I know our older

brother went to Florida Memorial in St. Augustine at a very early

age like maybe he he was 6th grade or something like

that and ah...we talking about my...

(Ms. Wanza) : Okay between 1945 and 1948 what was your

household like, who lived in your household?

(Mrs. McKellar): Oh yeah, you said who lived in the house.

Well there were 6 children as far as I can remember, mother and

father and aunt.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, this is your parents' house and you stayed

in your parents house from '45 '48?

(Mrs. McKellar): No. We moved from 124 Florida Avenue and it

was...had an addition to the house and it was turned around some

kind of way and it was 1004 First Court and I'm not too sure what

year it was but later our parents built another house in the same

yard and it was 159 Northwest Tenth Street. That's where we moved

from. Then there was a little office that my brother had on that

same ground.

(Ms. Wanza): Who were your neighbors?

(Mrs. McKellar): Who were our neighbors? We had oh the

Rogers, what do you want me to call names? I couldn't do that too

well. The Rogers...ah I don't remember.

(Ms. Wanza): You don't remember. Okay, could you describe

the street where you lived?

(Mrs. McKellar): Yes I can describe ...For a long time it was


sand and then later paved and we had a sidewalk in front of our

house because we use to play jackstones at night and things like

that and some Saturday nights our mother would tell us to go and

take our bath early and we had to bathe in a tin tub at that time

and because the Klu Klux Klan would march down Tenth Street, they

would come from across the railroad down Tenth Street, I know

Second Avenue and I don't know where they would go from there, all

with hoods.

(Ms. Wanza): Where did your neighbors work?

(Mrs. McKellar): Where did they work?

(Ms. Wanza): Yes.

(Mrs. McKellar): Now Mr. Rogers worked at Swift, I don't know

what you would call it but they would have sausages and things of

that sort and they would ship places and there was Myrtle...I've

forgotten her name but she did laundry work and her grandmother

also worked at the laundry where the Chinamen were there on

Tenth...on Second Avenue, not too far from my home. I'm not too

sure about the other people but across the street, yes, was Mr. Sam

Donovay and he worked on the railroad and then he had a sister-in-

law who lived next door, Georgia Campbell and she had a rooming

house and then there was the Dorsey Hotel right on the corner.

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

(Mrs. McKellar): Well most of them moved from Overtown, some

of them here and some out of town, where I don't know.

(Ms. Wanza): When did they leave?

(Mrs. McKellar): When? I know Georgia Campbell came out here


just before we came so she came in the late 30's or 40's and I

don't know about the other people%

(Ms. Wanza): Where did they go?

(Mrs. McKellar): I really don't know.

(Ms. Wanza): Can you describe the main business areas you

went to in Overtown? The main business areas you went to in


(Mrs. McKellar): You mean in Colored Town?

(Ms. Wanza): Yes.

(Mrs. McKellar): Well the main street was Second Avenue and

I think it's still Second Avenue now. In that era we had Baker

hairdresser, there was a bank sometime ago, grocery stores,

drugstores, you name it we had it.

(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe where your family brought


(Mrs. McKellar): Our family brought groceries

from...sometimes from the...I can't think of the store...I can't

think of the place...some kind of "Top" on Seventh Street...was it

Seventh or Sixth Street but that was...I don't remember.

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

barber shop or beauty shop?

(Mrs. McKellar): We went to the beauty shop across the street

from our home and some of us went there and some went to our

private hairdresser. Now for the barber shop, the brothers went on

62nd Street near 7th Avenue, I wouldn't know the name of the person

who owned the shop.


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


(Mrs. McKellar): We went to the drugstore on Second Avenue

between Tenth and Eleventh Street to Dr. Lewis.

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


(Mrs. McKellar): The cleaners on Tenth Second

Avenue between Tenth and Eleventh Street.

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


(Mrs. McKellar): At the beginning when we were young we all

attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church. As we grew older we selected our

own churches.

(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe where your family went for

entertainment such as theaters, bars, restaurants or sporting


(Mrs. McKellar): Say that again?

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, could you describe where your family went

for entertainment such as theaters, bars, restaurants or sporting


(Mrs. McKellar): We had two theaters that are right there in

on Second Avenue between Eighth and Eleventh Street. One was the

Ritz and the other was the Lyric and restaurant...the restaurant

was run by Shenang, they called her but I've forgotten her name

right now and she was located on Second Avenue between Eighth and

Ninth Street, Willie Lee Johnson was her name and her husband


worked along with her. It was a restaurant that we would go to

sometime. Doctor...

(Ms. Wanza): What's her name, Willie Mae or Willie Lee?

(Mrs. McKellar): Willie Lee, Willie Lee Johnson and Dr.

Fraizer, I don't know his initials but he was one of the doctors

and he was located between Tenth and Eleventh and Second Avenue and

then there was Dr. Sawyer that sometimes our parents would take us

or they would go there, Bill Sawyer's father and then there was Dr.

Chatman. William Chatman, he lived Overtown and at that time, I

think he was on Ninth Street or Eighth Street between Second and

Third Avenue, I'm not too sure.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, so when someone got sick in your family

did they go to these doctors' offices or where...which doctors'

offices did they go to?

(Mrs. McKellar): They would go to the doctor's office and a

long time ago, sometimes the doctor would come to the house.

(Ms. Wanza): Was there one particular doctor?

(Mrs. McKellar): Dr. Fraizer in particular.

(Ms. Wanza): How long did you continue to patronize the

businesses in Overtown?

(Mrs. McKellar): Until we moved out the 40's.

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

entertainment outside of Overtown.

(Mrs. McKellar): Didn't do much entertaining. We didn't go

out of town.

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


the main things that made Overtown a community?

(Mrs. McKellar): Made it a community? There was not there

much of a community I would think because so many of people bad

begun moving to Opa Locka, Liberty City and you know places like


(Ms. Wanza): Okay this is between 1945 and 1970?

(Mrs. McKellar): I should think so.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay. How and when did that sense of community


(Mrs. McKellar): How and when? The community changed when we

were informed that there would be Metro-rail coming through

"Colored Town" they call it...Colored Town...and the Metro-rail

right now goes directly over the house where I was born and I don't

remember just when.

(Ms. Wanza): How has Overtown changed since 1970?

(Mrs. McKellar): I know very little about Overtown now

because I don't go over there but ah...when I have gone, people

that I have seen look like they needed jobs and a home, some...I

remember by the Lyric Theater a woman had a little house built out

of crates and the wearing apparel was not good, I don't know.

(Ms. Wanza): The next set of questions are going to be

regarding 1-95. Okay Mrs. McKellar when and how did you first hear

about the building of I-95?

(Mrs. McKellar): When and how? I had a brother, I have a

brother because he is still alive who, in fact, two brothers heard

about this because a Mrs. Fields had been telling us about it. She


would attend some of the meetings that they would have...White

people would have. So anyway, our older brother told the other

brother who is in real estate to look around and see an area where

we might move so I understand that I...I think the brother whose in

real estate said that he mentioned it to Dr. ...I've forgotten his

name, he had an office on Third Avenue in between Eighth and Ninth

Street...Dr. Lowry, he mentioned it to Dr. Lowry and Dr. Lowry told

him that he knew of someone who was getting ready to move and had

a family who were living more or less together but in separate

houses so that's how we got to come out here. Our mother was in

that large white house and I lived with her, my husband and I and

my daughter and then there was a sister who was...Ms. Adderly who

lived in a house just the same yard, all of this is in the

yard and then this house, the sister was in...what else? (laughter)

(Ms. Wanza): Where were you living when you first heard about

the building of I-95?

(Mrs. McKellar): I was living at 159 Northwest Tenth Street.

(Ms. Wanza): Did you rent or own the place you lived in at

that time.

(Mrs. McKellar): Owned.

(Ms. Wanza): What kind of reaction was there to the news that

the expressway would come through Overtown?

(Mrs. McKellar): Well it wasn't very pleasant because our

parents, I think our father had passed by that time but our mother

was not too happy of having to leave her neighbors who she had

known for years and it wasn't a very good feeling.


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

(Mrs. McKellar): Discuss moving there? I mean I-95?

(Ms. Wanza): The news that the expressway would come through,


(Mrs. McKellar): No. Not that I know of.

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

or sign a petition?

(Mrs. Kellar): Or discuss the issue with public officials?

(Ms. Wanza): I think the older members of the family attended

some of the meetings with a...was speaking of coming through but

not all of them...not all of the meetings.

(Ms. Wanza): What was the most important impact of the

expressway on you?

(Mrs. McKellar): On me (laughter)? Well I saw that my

friends and neighbors were moving out and well I didn't want to

stay there, you know, and then the family was talking about moving

out here and, of course, I mentioned it to my husband and he

thought that we would just go along with the group and at that time

we were living with our husband, daughter and I so we

all got vans and moved out.

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


(Mrs. McKellar): I don't know because I didn't go over there.

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

public officials in return for 1-95 going through Overtown?

(Mrs, McKellar): What was they able to get?


(Ms. Wanza): I don't know whether this would be the correct

answer or not but our home was sold, they gave our mother $10,000

for our good home and it really hurt all of us and she got the

money she called the 7 of us in the house because our father had

passed and gave us each a $1,000 but we were all very sad to have

to move because we had grown to like the community so much.

(Ms. Wanza): How did 1-95 affect the community?

(Mrs. McKellar): Well, 1-95, I would say protected the

community because it's the housing...they didn't help to repair

anything, you know they just let everything go down and it looks

like a ghost town more or less. They didn't do very much help and

they gave you very little for your home.

(Ms. Wanza): When did you decide to change your place of


(Mrs. McKellar): When?

(Ms. Wanza): Yes.

(Mrs. McKellar): 1948.

(Ms. Wanza): Why do you think it was appropriate to change

your place of residence?

(Mrs. McKellar): Why? Well we had to go someplace.

(Ms. Wanza): To whom did you sell the property?

(Mrs. McKellar): To whom did you sell the property? I don't


(Ms. Wanza): Why did you decide to sell the property to the

person or company?

(Mrs. McKellar): I don't know. Well if we didn't sell it,


they were going to take it.

(Ms. Wanza): Were you fairly compensated?

(Mrs. McKellar): No.

(Ms. Wanza): How long...

(Mrs. McKellar): By no means.

(Ms. Wanza): How long were you given to pack up and get out?

(Mrs. McKellar): That I do not remember.

(Ms. Wanza): What happened to the property after you sold it?

(Mrs. McKellar): They demolished the house that we lived in,

159 Tenth Street and build another two-story...our house was just

a flat but they build a two story house and it's there now but they

made us move.

(Ms. Wanza): Where did you relocate?

(Mrs. McKellar): Here at Glennwood Heights some call it

Brownsville. The whole family.

(Ms. Wanza): What was the mortgage or rent in your new place

compared to your former residence?

(Mrs. McKellar): Say that again?

(Ms. Wanza): What was the mortgage or rent in your new place

compared to your former residence?

(Mrs. McKellar): Oh, I wouldn't know, my brother took care of


(Ms. Wanza): How did you choose your new residence?

(Mrs. McKellar): How did you choose it? Well as I said

sometime ago, the real estate brother talked with Dr. ...I've

forgotten his name.



(Ms. Wanza): This is Side "B" of Mrs. Dorothy McKellar's

interview my name is Stephanie Wanza, I'm the interviewer and

today's date is August 4, 1997, we're in Mrs. McKellar's residence.

Okay, we were on question No. 9, actually question No. 10

which is, how did you choose your new residence?

(Mrs. McKellar): I said previously that we have a brother who

is a real estate...was a real estate broker and he talked with one

of the doctors, Dr. Lowry and told him that we had to move and we

were thinking about...wondering where we could find a suitable

place and the family would like to stay together as we were

Overtown and he told us about out here in Glennwood Heights or

Brown Sub.

(Ms. Wanza): Was the neighborhood in your new location

different from or similar to the neighborhood from which you moved?

(Mrs. McKellar): It was different from the neighborhood where

we were because their were a few Whites...there about three

families of Blacks and all the others were Whites and they moved

within a very short time.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, we are going to move on to the next

section which ask questions about your house or apartment being

taken by the state under eminent domain. What year did you move?

(Mrs. McKellar): We moved in 1948.

(Mrs. Wanza): Who informed you that you had to move?

(Mrs. McKellar): I don't know because my parents took care of



Wanza): What were you paid for your home by the State?

(Mrs. McKellar): $10,000.

(Ms. Wanza): Were you fairly compensated?

(Mrs. McKellar): No, by no means.

(Ms. Wanza): How long were you given to pack up and get out?

(Mrs. McKellar): A very short time.

(Ms. Wanza): Were you evicted?

(Mrs. McKellar): No.

(Ms. Wanza): What relocation money did you receive?

(Mrs. McKellar): Laughter. That was in ... I'm going to take

the ????...Not any.

(Ms. Wanza): Where did you relocate?

(Mrs. McKellar): Brown Sub or Glennwood Heights.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, we're going to move on to the next section

and it's regarding 1-395 and State Road 836. We will go through

the questions regarding the future of the Overtown area and we will

disregard the questions about 1-395 and 836.

What are the most important misconceptions about Overtown?

(Mrs. McKellar): I don't know. I really don't know.

(Ms. Wanza): What do you think public officials need to know

most about Overtown?

(Mrs. McKellar): Well I would say that they need to know more

about what has been...we we had in the past and help to rebuild for

the future.

(Ms. Wanza): What should be done to improve the Overtown area

now such as transportation projects, attractions, job creation or


beautification programs?

(Mrs. McKellar): All of that (laughter). All of it.

(Ms. Wanza): What should be the relationship between Overtown

and downtown Miami?

(Mrs. McKellar): The relationship should be mutual. I really

don't know.

(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?

(Mrs. McKellar): Laughter. I don't go no place but there are

members of my family who takes them...where are you speaking, here

in ah...

(Ms. Wanza): In Dade County.

(Mrs. McKellar): In Dade County? Well the courthouse and

(laughter) schools, Bayside and places like that.

(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe in your own words what kind

of community you would like Overtown to be in the future?

(Mrs. McKellar): I would like for Overtown to be like it was

in the past, have stores, amusement places, drugstores, of a

different nature, you know, restaurants and beautiful homes, I

don't know. I don't know.

(Ms. Wanza): This is the end of my interview session with Ms.

Dorothy McKellar. I'm ending the interview on Side "B" I am

Stephanie Wanza the interviewer and I'm ending the interview again

on today's date, August 4, 1997.