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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
TELL THE STORY
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
(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 also...we...it 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
us...so 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
over...to 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 finished...by 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
(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
(Mr. Milford): Where did the other members of your family
(Ms. Osborne): Okay, the...my 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 the...no
(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
(Ms. Osborne): No because people pretty stayed, stayed in
place. Umm, the residents in our commu...in 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
(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 too...like 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 things...so 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.