Interview with Bennie Osborne, 1997-08-20

Material Information

Interview with Bennie Osborne, 1997-08-20
Alex Milford ( Interviewer )
Osborne, Bennie ( 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:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
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
Rights Management:
Made available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International license:
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August 20, 1997

(Mr. Milford): My name is Alex Milford. Today is August 20,

1997. I'm at the office of Ms. Benny Osborne and I'm interviewing

her on the relocation and history of the Overtown for the Black


Ms. Osborne, the first set of questions I'm going to ask you

is regarding family life. Where were your parents born?

(Ms. Osborne): Waynesboro, Georgia.

(Mr. Milford): Did they ever live in Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): No.

(Mr. Milford): What sort of jobs did they have?

(Ms. Osborne): They were migrants.

(Mr. Milford): Where were your grandparents born?

(Ms. Osborne): Ah, also in Georgia.

(Mr. Milford): Did they live in Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): No. I'm the first generation in our family to

umm live in Overtown.

(Mr. Milford): Do you remember where you lived in Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): Yes, I lived on umm...I think the address was

like 1530 Northwest First Court.

(Mr. Milford): Ah what years did you live in Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): I lived there from '69 to probably about 1974

or '75.

(Mr. Milford): Who lived in your household?

(Ms. Osborne): My other two sisters, myself and, and



(Mr. Milford): Do you remember who your neighbors were?

(Ms. Osborne): No, I just remember one name of one guy. I

can't remember the name of others. I just remember the one guy

because sometime he would look after the children for us.

(Mr. Milford): Do you remember where he worked?

(Ms. Osborne): Walter didn't work. Walter was elderly and he

was retired so I never saw Walter working at all.

(Mr. Milford): What happened to your neighbor?

(Ms. Osborne): Well, basically we moved away, so after we

moved away, we obviously lost touch with umm, with everybody

because we lived in two apartment complexes that were facing each

other and there must have been about let me see 5, 10, must have

been about 20 families in those two complexes.

(Mr. Milford): You don't know where he went?

(Ms. Osborne): No, he died.

(Mr. Milford): Could you describe the main business areas you

went to in Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): Oh. Umm, the, the main area. There wasn't

any, I mean we just visited the umm, we had the corner stores which

were owned by I think even then they were Arabs or Korean or

something but I know they weren't Black business owners umm and

that was really the only business that was in our community, you

know. Everything else, we had to leave out so umm there really

wasn't that I'm aware of.

(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family bought



(Ms. Osborne): Yeah, we did two things, we either bought from

the little corner store or we would go to I think it was Winn Dixie

that we went to that was on umm, let me see if I was on First

Court, I think it was off of Fourteenth Street, Seventh Avenue,

over in there, there was a Winn Dixie that I recall that we would

umm go to. We would catch a cab because we didn't have

transportation and we didn't do that on the city bus but we used

the cab when we went grocery shopping.

(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family went to

the barber or beauty shop?

(Ms. Osborne): During that time, I don't think we were even

able to afford to go to the ah beauty shop. Umm, humm, I can't

quite remember on that one because, umm I wasn't working. I was,

I was staying home with the chil... with the ah two, two babies and

my two sisters worked and they worked at South Shore Hospital. Umm

I know we didn't go to beauty shops and that was not a part of the


(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family went to

the drugstore or neighborhood cleaners?

(Ms. Osborne): Ah, the drugstore...I don't seem like I'm very

helpful with this survey. Umm, the drugstore...usually what we

would do, the way we would get our medication from...cause we took

the children to Dr. Dazelle Simpson which I think her office was on

Fifty-Fourth Street because it's the same location where the Miami

Times' office is? Well, Simpson was across the street so we would


go there and I think there was a pharmacy nearby where we would get

the prescriptions filled prior to heading back home.

(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where your family went to


(Ms. Osborne): There was one church that was on the corner of

the block where we lived. Ah, and it was a Black baptist church,

I don't remember the name of it but that was the church that umm we

attended when we were there.

(Mr. Milford): Do you remember what years those where?

(Ms. Osborne): That's what I'm saying, that was from the year

'69 through about '74.

(Mr. Milford): Could you describe where you went for

entertainment such as theater's, bars...?

(Ms. Osborne): There was umm...there was umm, right on

Fifteenth Street because I think that's right when the expressway,

1-95 or whatever, there was a theater that was right on that little

block, must have been First Avenue, umm and we would go there and

that was probably the bulk of it in terms of that. If we had

company or someone with transportation, we would ride sometime to

Seaquarium but that was, that was not frequent at all. So no, so

we didn't much, we didn't get that much into entertainment. Ah

later on, I guess toward ah '72, '71 when we finally did get

transportation, we would go to the umm drive-in, there was, I think

it was called Thunder Bird Drive In that was off of...right over

there near Northside Shopping Center where the Diary Queen is,

there was a drive in there...we would go there with the children.


(Mr. Milford): How long did you continue to patronize those


(Ms. Osborne): Umm, those businesses? They really, talking

about there really wasn't anything in our community to patronize.

Umm because we didn't...I don't recall us using the cleaners so if

we did that, I don't know where. Umm we just went to the little

corner grocery store, umm and anything else that we did in terms of

spending money or something, we did it outside the, outside of


(Mr. Milford): There were any majorly local restaurants or

places you meet for sporting events?

(Ms. Osborne): no, umm, they just only...we just, when we'd

go to the restaurant, there were a couple of Ma & Pa restaurants

that were also on the same street where the theater was and there

was also even a doctor's office there because I remember now that

I think about it, I went, I took my daughter to that doctor for a

physical because she was going to be attending Headstart. That was

also located there in our area. But those were the little

restaurants we would go to or we would go to...or we would go

to...there was I guess a couple of Churches or something like that,

chicken places that we would go to.

(Mr. Milford): When did you begin to shop or go to

entertainment outside of Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): Umm, I can't remember. Oh, I think the first

time we did that must...I probably was about '74 or something like

that because that's when we attended probably the first Florida A&M


game, The Classic, that was in the Orange Bowl. I think that was

probably around '72, '72 or '73 probably somewhere around that


(Mr. Milford): During the period from to 1970 what were the

main things that made Overtown a community?

(Ms. Osborne): Oh, everybody...the...the people were just so

warm. It was like a family umm and it was like an extended family

because umm like I said, if we needed to walk down to the corner

store cause we had two little ones at the house, my sister and I

and if we needed to walk down the corner store and the baby was in

there sleeping or something, Walter would just sit in front of our

door, on the porch and he would listen out for them iand that was

basically how everybody, everybody was. Ah, we had someone there

who was was a real mixed group. Ah, we had someone

there who was an evangelist, umm and when we were having problems

with babies and stuff, or sick or what have you, she would pray for

them. Ah, we had a homosexual couple that was in the building

facing us. We had somebody who was a heavy alcoholic, umm next to it was a variety of people but everybody was just real down

to earth, homey type people, they remind you of the people from the

country and stuff where everybody looked out for everybody so it

was that kind of think. You didn't have to worry about locking

everything up so it was, it was nice, it was nice.

(Mr. Milford): And how and when did that sense of community


(Ms. Osborne): Ah, well I would think that it changed after


we moved out because as we stayed there in Overtown with all of the

families that we had gotten to know, that sense of family and

closeness continued. Ah, once we left there and moved to the

Liberty City area, umm and this was right in back of Jumbo's which

is on Seventy-Fifth Street and I think that's Liberty City, you

know sometimes these boundaries get confusing. It was at that

point that the sense of community changed because you were no

longer this gathering of everybody living in such close proximity

because at that point, we moved from this complex this two-story

complex to a duplex so there...we were like on one side and there

was this other family on the other that sometimes was friendly and

sometimes was not so from that point on, that sense'of community

was no longer with us.

(Mr. Milford): Ms. Osborne, the next set of questions, I'm

going to ask is regarding employment from '45 to '70 or from the

time that you lived there in Overtown.

Can you describe the jobs that you had?

(Ms. Osborne): Umm when I first...I was on welfare umm when

I was there in '69. I was pregnant, umm so I was on welfare

probably for about maybe a year or less and then I got a job

working at Burdine's Department as a stock clerk. Umm, and I did

that for I guess about six months or something like that and then

I applied for admission to Florida Atlantic University cause they

had a branch over on Miami Beach so I would catch the bus and I

would go there and I applied ah aid and I got aid so I worked in

the...the library at the campus as the student assistant.


(Mr. Milford): Do you remember the years?

(Ms. Osborne): Ah, not...let me see...I was at FAU probably

from '71 to '73 probably something like that. '71 to '73 because

then in '73 when they closed down because FIU opened up and took

most of the students that were attending there then I transferred FIU and that was in '73 to '74 that I was a student

assistant here. Umm how far do you want me to go in terms of work


(Mr. Milford): Seven years is fine.

(Ms. Osborne): Okay. So then by the time I the

time I graduated in '74 and got my bachelors, that was like March,

I was hired here, umm that following month, to work at the

university in a temporary capacity and I've been here since.

(Mr. Milford): That's Florida International South right?

(Ms. Osborne): Florida International University.

(Mr. Milford): Do you remember when and why you left those

prior jobs?

(Ms. Osborne): Umm well yeah, I just told you. Umm those

other jobs were temporary student type jobs. This is the first

time I've had a permanent job and I've been on this all my life.

I've never...I've never changed so from '74 to now, I've been on

the one job and I'm going...this is my 25th year of being here at

the university.

(Mr. Milford): Where did the other members of your family


(Ms. Osborne): Okay, two sisters worked at South


Shore Hospital. Umm, cause the first...when we came over from

Pohokie, Florida...ah the first sister, she came over '68 and she

got...she was the one who got this apartment so then that's when I

came over in '69 and then the other sister came over, I think

probably in '71 or 72 umm and those two, I stayed home but those,

they worked at South Shore Hospital. Ah, one of them first was

working as a domestic umm in some of the hotel, I forget what hotel

and then ah, then the other sister who had training at the hospital

in Pohokie, as a respiratory therapist, the she was able to get on

at the South Shore Hospital as a therapist and then she got secured

employed for the other one at the hospital but she was working in

the custodial department of the hospital.

(Mr. Milford): Beginning in the late 1950's you had many

immigrants moved to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti

and other countries. Did those immigrants compete with Overtown

residents for jobs?

(Ms. Osborne): What time period are you talking about?

(Mr. Milford): Beginning

(Ms. Osborne): Well I, I don't know that because I was not,

I was not a part of the discussions that we were having. I

umm...we didn't see that and in the community that we lived in, it

was all Black Americans that lived there so our whole circle was

umm, ah Black Americans.

(Mr. Milford): Do you recall people moving into area from out

of town?

(Ms. Osborne): No because people pretty stayed, stayed in


place. Umm, the residents in our our block, did not,

did not change during the time that we were there.

(Mr. Milford): Ms. Osborne, this next set of questions I'm

going to ask you is regarding the future of the Overtown area.

What are the most misconceptions about Overtown?

(Ms. Osborne): Well I don't know what are the...I guess one

thing is that people tend to think that people live in Overtown

because financially they are not able to live any place else. Umm

I found that, that's not necessarily true. People sometimes live

where they feel most comfortable. Umm, there are houses, that

are...are decent homes that are there. Umm then some people at one

point when they bought their homes because that was the only place

they could buy homes, they just was not ready to, to pack up and go

some place else so you had people who were...I think were retired

teachers and what have you who ah, who decided that they wanted to

stay there. Umm so when people assume that everybody is there,

they are poor, they are in the project, they are, they are

criminals and all of this other kind of foolishness, that is

because they really don't know the complexity of who's where they

are and why they are there.

(Mr. Milford): What do you think public officials most need

to know most about Overtown?

(Mr. Milford): They, they need to know that these are people

who have the same interest, some of the same interest and concerns

and desires as it relates to their families as people any place

else. Umm and they tend to be discounted because they don't


consider them to be politically astute umm in that they are not

somebody that they really try to go out there and cultivate in

terms of trying to get them to vote for them and all of that. So

they, they are seen more like a noisome umm rather than a

population who should be listened to and umm and, and served, they

are just discounted.

(Mr. Milford): What should be done to improve the Overtown

area now such as transportation projects, attractions, job creation

or beautification programs.

(Ms. Osborne): But see since I don't, since I don't live

there, I, I have no idea what the needs are and I, I guess I

couldn't be that presumptuous to, to try to say what the needs are

because I'm not there. Umm, but I, I just would think that

whatever they are talking about doing, they need to make every

effort to actually get out there and communicate with the residents

to find out what it is they need and not just make some assumptions

about what people need and what people's wants are. You know, they

just need to be...they just really need to be involved in the


(Mr. Milford): What should be the relationship between

Overtown and Downtown Miami you think?

(Ms. Osborne): I hate being in positions where it seems like

we are always begging. Umm, we are always begging everybody, you

know, we've gone from White folks for fairness to now we are

begging the Cuban community for fairness. We need to, we need to

do what we need to do to take care of ourselves politically so that


we are not always having to beg people ah for whatever, you know,

so this whole thing with the City of Miami and the Commissioner and

it's just, it's just such a turn off and it's just so discouraging

to see that umm we are fighting these same battles that we thought

we had won in the '60s but we got some new parties that, that's a

part of the battle now and we don't do what we need to do.

(Mr. Milford): When you have visitors from out of town, where

do you take them to show them culture and history of Dade County's

African-American community?

(Ms. Osborne): I don't. Because when they come they want to

go to, they tend to want to go to the umm the beaches, they want to

the malls, umm, umm, if there is a concert or something, take them

a place, they want to go to that. I've never taken anybody to see

any of the cultural aspects of Miami.

(Mr. Milford): Could you describe in your own words what kind

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

(Ms. Osborne): I would like Overtown to be just like, like

any place else. Umm, a place...see that's just it, when people

talk about what kind of community you want, I mean you, you're not

limited to Overtown because there is so much danger everywhere. Ah

it doesn't matter whether you, whether you're living in public

housing, or you're living in these mansion, you know, Versace just,

just proved that because usually people talking about I want to

live in a good, safe community. What's a good safe community? You

know, violence is every place umm but I just would like for, for

Overtown to umm to someday rise above this awful negative image


that is out there and I don't know that Overtown can rise above its

image no more than Black Americans can ever rise above the negative

image that we have about us because the media has a way

perpetuating the negatives in our communities as well as with us

and umm down playing the positives so I'm sure there are a lot of

positive stories there are there in Overtown but they get, they

get...make the 6:00 o'clock new because they'd rather see the blood

and guts and all of this other craziness. Umm so, you know, like

I said, until we reach a point we can...where we are able to, to ao

stuff to blow our...toot our own horn, our own radio stations, our

own tv stations, I mean, you got X number of Hispanic tv stations,

you don't have any Black ones, we just have so much that we need to

do umm and if you're not a position to tell your own story

positively, then you are at the mercy of other people who decide

what they want to tell and how they want to show it so...and

we...sometime we do a good job at helping them portray those

negative images and it don't matter whether it's Overtown, Liberty

City, Carol City or wherever, you know, sometime we can be our own

worse enemies ah, you know, and that's just how I feel

about it. Umm I, I think, you know a part of our problem is that

we are all going in, you know, there's like so many battles and so

many much to be done that if we could ever just get

together and, and come together without need for protecting my turf

kind, kind of thing I mean because you got all of these little

separate organizations that are supposedly working on "the cause"

and often time you're tripping over each other and because you try


to do so much on all of the different issues, as Black leaders or

whomever we tend to get so burnt out and then we just throw in the

towel and we end up not really getting anything accomplished. If

we could ever reach the point where we can say, okay, we are going

to come together and this is the big picture, this is what needs to

be done. Okay, if we can get a group dealing with this and a group

dealing with this and a group dealing with that and whatever comes

across my, my table or whatever the case is, that'll, that's

involved something over here, then I'll channel that there so now

we are not all being pulled so...pulled to our limits trying to

work on everything and then you get burnt out and then you end up

not doing anything and then you just fade away and just say hey,

forget it, I change the world, I'm just going to worry about trying

to get mine and then everybody else worry about trying to get

theirs. Umm and that, that's the point where I think we are, we

are at such a disadvantage and we just get so upset with the other

groups, basically Hispanics or Cubans rather who, who are able to

come together and do what they need to do because we won't. If we

did...if we took care of business the way they take care of

business, we wouldn't be sitting around now begging for

representation, you know, or we wouldn't be sitting around begging

for nobody to give us economic handouts because we would be at the

table where the decisions are being made, you know, so it's just a


(Mr. Milford): My name is Alex Milford and I'm at the office

of Ms. Osborne at Florida International University and this will


conclude the interview with Ms. Osborne on Tape #1, Side #1, Ms.

Osborne, I want to thank you for your time and for sharing your

history with us.

(Ms. Osborne): You are quite welcome.