Interview with Bernice Sawyer, August 25, 1997

Material Information

Interview with Bernice Sawyer, August 25, 1997
Wanza, Stephanie ( Interviewer )
Sawyer, Bernice ( Interviewee )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
Overtown (Miami, Fla.)
African Americans ( fast )
Florida--Miami ( fast )
Florida History ( local )
Overtown Oral History Collection ( local )

Record Information

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


This item has the following downloads:

Full Text


This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of

Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.

This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be

For all other permissions and requests, contact the
the University of Florida

August 25, 1997

(Ms. Stephanie Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza, I am at the

home of Mr. and Mrs. Bill and Bernice Sawyer. Today's date is

August 25, 1997. This is Side #1 of Tape #1.

This is Stephanie Wanza and I'm interviewing Mrs. Bernice

Sawyer. How are you doing today Mrs. Sawyer?

(Mrs. Bernice Sawyer): Just fine, how are you?

(Ms. Wanza): Fine. Okay umm we are going to begin on as set

of questions regarding family life. The first question is, where

were your parents born?


(Mrs. Sawyer): My parents were born in the Bahamas. One was

born Roxianne, Eleuthera and the other one in South End Long

Island. (Ms. Wanza): Okay, did your parents ever live in


(Mrs. Sawyer): Yes, in fact ah we bought the lot that they,

that they was a grocery store and they met in the store so

eventually when I married my husband, the property was for sale and

we bought it.

(Ms. Wanza): What years did they live in Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, it must have been...

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, I was asking what years did your parents

live in Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): They lived there all, all of my life until my

mother died.

(Ms. Wanza): So around what year was that?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well I think daddy here

in 1908 or something and would commute back and forth...

(Ms. Wanza): In 18...?

(Mrs. Sawyer): 1908.

(Ms. Wanza): 19, 1908, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): And then ah I was born in 1921 and my parents

married two years prior to that time so they must have gotten

married in 1918 no 1919.

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum, so they, they were here from 1921 up


(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, they were here before that, my father was

here very early.

(Ms. Wanza): So from 19, 1908...

(Mrs. Sawyer): Un hun. Ah daddy ah helped to build the

Panama Canal and when that was complete he went to Mexico, from

Mexico he went to Dania where my uncle was who was working with ah,

ah, you know what that man, the railroad man?

(Ms. Wanza): Flagler?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, and he worked with him all his life and

ah, then Daddy lived in Dania and came to Miami, he wanted to

go...he had bought property in Dania but Mama didn't want to live

in Dania so he started living down here.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, so he was here from 1908, 'til, until he


(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah.

(Ms. Wanza): And what year did he past?

(Mrs. Sawyer): In 1960...when was that Bill, 1969?

(Mr. Sawyer): I think it was '69.

(Ms. Wanza): From 1908 until 1969, okay. What sort of jobs

did your parents have?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well my mother was a teacher and then when I

was born, he made her stop working and umm he worked, he was a

surveyor and a land and he help to build roads in

Nine Hawk Dynamo, Modella and all...the Redlands and

place like that he, would go and build them and he always said

Second Avenue was the best built road in Miami at that time, which

was made of cement and not ah asphalt like the other roads and

they'd later on, in later years he worked from the Ronie


(Ms. Wanza): At the...?

(Mrs. Sawyer): At the Ronie Plaza Hotel.

(Ms. Wanza): Ronie Plaza?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ronie Plaza Hotel on Miami Beach.

(Ms. Wanza): Oh, okay. Umm let me see, where were your

grandparents born?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, my grandparents mother's parents

were born in Eleuthera and my grandfather was born in South End,

Long Island also.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): My grand daddy was in government, my father's

daddy and so was my mother's grandfather, he was the magistrate for

the whole island of Eleuthera.

(Ms. Wanza): And your grandmothers, did they work or were

they house...?

(Mrs. Sawyer): They were housewives.

(Ms. Wanza): Housewives, okay.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, umm did your grandparents ever live in


(Mrs. Sawyer): No, just to visit.

(Ms. Wanza): Just to visit, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): My grandparents...

(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe what it was like growing up

in your parents' household?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, yes it was nice because a lot of

children lived, you know in the neighborhood and you had a lot fun

playing with weren' could go from gate to gate if

your parents weren't home but if they were home in the afternoons,

we always met a the Newbold's house. Mrs. Newbold had a lot of

children and I was so jealous because they had sisters and brothers

and I didn't have anybody, you know...and ah, but ah she was a

wonderful person and she was a mother to everybody and we all

enjoyed going to her house, it was always very, very pleasant.

(Ms. Wanza): The next set of questions are regarding

employment between 1945 and 1970, could you describe the types of

jobs you had during that time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): It was 1940?

(Ms. Wanza): '45.

(Mrs. Sawyer): 1945 I worked in the government ah, for 4

years and the navy department, I worked with ah research and

clerical and Johnny Carmichael and they were dealing with atomic

research and in my department we had about 6 scientist so it was

very, very interesting, you know meeting those people and observing

their work habits and their dedication to what finally became, they

called it then Operations Crossroad but we didn't know, we just had

to be sworn in confidentially and later on we found out it was

atomic research that we were working on.

(Ms. Wanza): And from, from that job what job did you go to?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well when the war was over, I came to North

Carolina and I began working as a teacher and ah father became ill

so I had to come to Miami and got a job teaching here and worked

there until 19, 1983 was when I retired.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, you retired as were a teacher?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm hum.

(Ms. Wanza): Let me see, what kind of hours did you work?

(Mrs. Sawyer): When I worked in the navy, we worked everyday

because it was a terrible war and everyone was just more or less

dedicated and we worked on Sundays too and we had a lot of wealthy

who worked there, a dollar a year girls and they worked too, just

like we did for a salary and everyone was trying to win the war to

enable their loved ones to come home.

(Ms. Wanza): And when you were teaching, what hours did you

work? Regular teaching hours?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Regular teaching hours.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay so like from 7 to 3, 8 to 3?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Longer than that because I had...there was a

time I was having school, I was in charge of schools and

(Ms. Wanza): So it would be, what, what would your hours be?

(Mrs. Sawyer): The regular working hours and then on.

(Ms. Wanza): When from 9 to 5?

(Mrs. Sawyer): No, we worked, I think, I don't think it was

8 or 8:30, something like that to school and then after

school ah you'd work like, you know some days I'd have to stay to

work on the newspaper, my students helped.

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum, okay. How did you find your jobs?

(Mrs. Sawyer): I was suppose to work at Shaw University and

then ah I was looking for a better paying job so the NYA was paying

more than Shaw so I went there and I got there I didn't like it so

I went downtown, took another test, I past that and I went to


(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum. You had the job with the navy in


(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, It was very, very

exciting, you know. It was an education in itself.

(Ms. Wanza): When you were teaching down here did you teach

in a school in Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): No, I worked in Goulds and then I went to

Carver. I worked at Carver and after I went to Carver, I went to

the Beach. I hadn't planned to come home and so, when I came it

was almost time for school to open so that was the only available

job and I didn't know how I vas going to get down there because I

didn't have car and I didn't even know how to drive but

arrangements were made and I got to the place where I really liked

it there. Children were so beautiful then. Carver's children were

nice to.

(Ms. Wanza): How did you get to work?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well I finally learned how to drive and

me a car.

(Ms. Wanza): So you drove to work?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm hum.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, and prior to, prior to that?

(Ms. Wanza): I ah, we went by car.

(Ms. Wanza): Oh, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Because ah see Goulds is a long ways from

Miami then. There was just a two, two lane highway. But I had

these friends who worked in the same place.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, it was just my father. My uncle was

carpenter and he fact a lot of members of my family,

male members were carpenters and they worked for themselves.

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

to Miami from the Caribbean including Cuba, Haiti and other

countries. Did those immigrants competed with Overtown residents

for jobs? Do you believe they competed with them?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm at first no but then finally, Yes ma'am.

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

Overtown from out of town?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yes. A lot of people came here from Georgia

and North Carolina, other places. Ah Overtown at one time grew by

leaps and bounds and ah this particular area was the center of

everything as far as entertainment was concerned and then they

began to build more churches and eventually some people ah, Mr.

Kelly would sell lots very cheaply and they would buy those lots

and then save enough money to build a home in Liberty City and

places like that. That were a few people in Liberty City all the

time like the Greens and some other old timers but for the most

part, the people migrated from Miami into the Liberty City area in

later years.

(Ms. Wanza): Where did the umm people who came from outside

of Overtown live in Overtown? Was there a specific area in

Overtown where they lived?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well it was in the area because you

know you had your Negro area, you couldn't live in the White

section then so they would live wherever they could find a place to

live. Some of them would build homes.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well some of the worked on the railroad.

Some...a lot of the women did domestic work and ah, other jobs like industries where there were industries they had

but a lot of them worked on Miami Beach too because see you had to

make that "Season" because in the summer there wasn't very much

worK In Miami so usually during the winter months ah you worked two

jobs and then in the summer, you would be able to live.

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

business ownership. What kind of business did you and Mr. Sawyer


(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, ah, you mean when I married Bill?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Bill had ah two nightclubs, he had the hotel,


(Ms. Wanza): Okay, I see. Where was the business located?

(Mrs. Sawyer): On Northwest Seventh Street and Second Avenue.

The hotel didn't even exist until ever since 1925 but he worked

with his father and umm they made an addition to the hotel so that

it became the largest Negro owned hotel in the South because the

hotel had 88 rooms. It was the first one with an elevator and


(Ms. Wanza): And was the name of the hotel?

(Mrs. Sawyer): The Mary Elizabeth.

(Ms. Wanza): Mary Elizabeth, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): And also he ah, we had talked about hotels not

having a water system to prevent fires, Dr. Sawyer had all of that

in his hotel. So, I remember once I went downtown and left my

daughter at home, she was a baby and the hotel was on fire, but

thank God nothing happened because that sprinkler system saved the

day, yeah.

(Ms. Wanza): Who were his employees?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Here?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum at the hotel and at the, at the


(Mrs. Sawyer): Who are my employees?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm...Leonard, Leonard Taylor, wasn't it Bill?

(Mr. Sawyer): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): He was an excellent bartender. Who was

Charles' last name?

(Mr. Sawyer): I don't remember Charles' last name.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, I had a picture. I had a picture, I wish

I could find it, of the hotel, it's a lot of people, they had

maids, ah, bartenders, barmaids.

(Ms. Wanza): How did you find your employees?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well my mother-in-law took care of that and

Bill because she...cause I wouldn't be in Bill's __ I

know they would they would have to references.

(Ms. Wanza): Who were your customers?

(Mrs. Sawyer): All of Miami. At that time, believe it or

not, you could walk anywhere you wanted to walk in Miami at night

and nobody bothered you and ah, my husband had a 5:00 o'clock

licenses and people on the Beach closed at 1:00 so when they

closed...and the, and the people who working on the Beach could not

live on Beach so they lived over here so when they came home, they

would come to the Mary Elizabeth and continuing partying there and

so we had customers from everywhere. They would come down to the

Mary Elizabeth. We never had any type of incident. The Whites

would be mingling with the Black and they would have fun, you know,

dancing and eating and just having a good time and nobody...there

was never an incident and so as a result of that relationship, I

was able to meet a lot of celebrities that I did not know before.

Ah Jackie Robinson lived here, Duke Ellington lived here, Joe

Louis. My glass is chiming, I sorry.

(Ms. Wanza): So you said Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington and

who else?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Joe Louis.

(Ms. Wanza): Joe Louis.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm, all of them, Louie Armstrong

(Ms. Wanza): A lot of them, Louie Armstrong.

(Mrs. Sawyer): I didn't know who Louie Armstrong was and I

was just...I had just learned how to drive and I was trying to get

in the door, in the, in the gate and so he was right behind me and

I guess he was trying to wait and I was taking so long so then he

was tail ending me and I thought, you know, because he was right up

on me and I was afraid anyway, I hopped out the car and I said,

"can't you see I don't know how to drive and you keep tailing me."

So he said, he got out of car and bowed and said, "I'm sorry ma'am

and so I finally got the car in the gate and that night, my husband

had a habit of always calling down to meet celebrities, you know,

and so when I got in the office, there he was and I was so

embarrassed, we both had to laugh, you know, and he said well Bill,

all I can tell is this, she, she certainly knows how to fuss. So he

started calling me until he died, "Mom Sawyer."

(Ms. Wanza): Who was do you consider your main competition?

Who was your main competition in terms of business?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, you know Bill was a funny man. He

believed that business added meant more business for everybody so

sometimes if the man at the Sir John didn't have enough chairs or

if he needed something Bill would let him have it and ah he got

along with all of them. It was a enough for everybody to share a

piece of the pie. He was never bitter towards any of them.

(Ms. Wanza): Did you ever move close to the businesses?

(Mrs. Sawyer): We had to live down there, we didn't have any

places, in inner places that's all. I moved down here and I lived

in a hotel. I didn't like it because where I lived it was still

country, 10:00 o'clock at night everybody was in the bed. On

Second Avenue, everybody was just getting started to have a good

time and I had to go to work the next morning, I...many nights I

sat up by the window crying because I couldn't sleep but then I got

use to it.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm was the location of the businesses every


(Mrs. Sawyer): No.

(Ms. Wanza): Alright. The next set of questions are

regarding neighborhood life between 1945 and 1970, could you

describe your place of residence?

(Mrs. Sawyer): 1945, ah well I lived at the hotel and it was

interesting to me because it was a different type of neighborhood

from the neighborhood I had been brought up in. Where I lived was

kind of folks in the country but here, you know, more like city

life and ah it was nice.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): We lived in a hotel and then ah later on...

(Ms. Wanza): But who, who was in the household, who lived


(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, my mother-in-law had her place and we

lived there, we had our place and ah...

(Ms. Wanza): So it was you, Mr. Sawyer...

(Mrs. Sawyer): ... and his mother.

(Ms. Wanza): And his mother, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): And later on when my daughter was born, she

was there. Then we built a place across the street, a motel across

the street and then when she was 3 years old, we moved over there.

(Ms. Wanza): Could you describe the street where you lived?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, it's where I am now, just across the

street, where the parking lot is, that was where our motel was.

(Ms. Wanza): Who were your neighbors?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, now...Mrs. Bessie Davis. She was Mrs.

Slader, Cecil Sweden, ah Mrs. Mitchell and that's about, I think

that's all it was from the second floor down you had people living

but see it was businesses there on Second Avenue.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Mrs. Mitchell's husband had a cab company, she

was a house work. Mrs. Bessie Slader was a teacher and her husband

was an insurance man. Cecil was a businessman, he had his own

business. On the other side there were just storefronts, lawyer's

office, doctor's office and a haberdashery store, a grocery store,

a dry cleaning store.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, what happened to those neighbors?

(Mrs. Sawyer): They were all displaced when 1-95 came along.

Everybody had to move.

(Ms. Wanza): When did they leave?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, let me see, whenever, ah they came ah and

said they had X number of days to be out and gone and they had to


(Ms. Wanza): Okay, where did they go?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Various and sundry places, some of them did

not receive enough compensation for their businesses to start


(Ms. Wanza): So what areas did they move?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Some of them moved to the Liberty area, some

of them did not go into business anymore and it was just a

devastation as far as this area is concerned.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay. Could you describe the main business

areas you went to in Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yes, you had, you know, Overtown was more or

less self-sufficient. You had a drugstore, you had a laundry mats,

you had, at that time, Miami Times was located down here. You had

grocery stores, you had ah ten cent stores, you had another

drugstore, you had doctors' offices, ah and a little hospital so it

was more or less self-sufficient. You didn't have to go downtown

if you didn't want to, you could find what you wanted right here in

this area. You had ah service station, we had the first service

station here on Eighth Street and Second Avenue in the area,

restaurants, all kinds of, Oh God, go to Cop Suey and get all

shrimp fried rice and an order of shrimp for a dollar, shrimp fried

rice for fifty cents (laughter).

(Ms. Wanza): (Laughter)... for one dollar.

(Mrs. Sawyer): For one dollar, I mean big shrimp too and

shrimp fried rice and the shrimp on the side.

(Ms. Wanza): That's good, could you describe where they


(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, they had bars too, all kinds of bars,

restaurants, had some small hotels.

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


(Mrs. Sawyer): Where did we buy...oh my father, was his

father, he had a grocery store and he believed in wholesale

groceries, he believed in buying in bulk so he usually shopped at

a wholesale house and then he would, you know, little things that

he wanted at the corner stores. The bulk things he bought from the

wholesale house that was a part of my...and I do that to this day.

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

barber shop or beauty shop?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm hum. We went to...daddy went to Mr. Smith

on Seventeenth Street and where was that by St. Anges Church. Bill

went to ah Teddy Parkers...ah what was his name Bill? Mr. Valdez,

he went to Mr. Valdez. Daddy always went to Mr. Smith.

(Ms. Wanza): And where did you go to the beauty shop?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well at mean when I was growing up?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): I didn't go to the beauty shop (laughter).

You know the first time I had my hair...ah went to the beauty shop?

When I was getting ready to graduate from high school (laughter)

and ah after that when I came back home to live, I went to I think

at that time I went to Mrs. Perry's beauty shop and that was where

I went and after that time when I came back home, I went to Opal


(Ms. Wanza): Okay, let me see...could you describe where your

family went to the drugstore?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, yeah, Economy drugstore.

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


(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, let's see, the man use to come by and pick

up the clothes. There was a dry cleaning place on Twentieth

Street, on Twentieth Street and Fifth Place there was a dry

cleaning place.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, could you describe the churches your

family attended?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm hun, we went to St. Agnes and ah the...St.

Mary's Wesleyan Church it was called.

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

entertainment such as theater's, bars, restaurants, (excuse me)

sporting events? Now I know you owned two nightclubs in the hotel,

did you mainly stay there or did you go to other...

(Mrs. Sawyer): No, I worked. I didn't really deal with them

and before that I wasn't at home but after I came home and I got

married, I...well I wouldn't have to go out for entertainment I

could work and have entertainment at the same time because all the

big bands would be there.

(Ms. Wanza): So you mainly went, you know, at the hotel they

had everything.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Sometimes they had a special show, you might

go to the Beach or something like that when it got to the place

where you could go like Sammy Davis or some them had a show

(Ms. Wanza): When someone in your family got sick where did

they go to the doctor's office?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Dr. Sawyer was my daddy's doctor. Dr. Chatman

was my mother's doctor, my doctor and ah, oh you had to go to

Christian Hospital, you didn't have any other place to go,

Christian Hospital.

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

businesses in Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): How long?

(Ms. Wanza): Un hun.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, we always patronized them.

(Ms. Wanza): Up until now?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, yeah, whatever is there. What is here?

Nothing. I still shop at ah the one on Sixteenth Street.

(Ms. Wanza): The grocery store?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah,

(Ms. Wanza): Umm so, you never stopped shopping or going to

entertainment outside of Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): No.

(Ms. Wanza): No, okay.

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

the main things that made Overtown a community?

(Mrs. Sawyer): From?

(Ms. Wanza): 1945 to 1970 that made Overtown a community.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well at that time you had your hotels and your

restaurants and all the various businesses until you had the demise

of them and then gradually everybody had to go elsewhere. There

were riots.

(Ms. Wanza): Riots.

(Mrs. Sawyer): After the riots, that's really when things

went haywire.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well a lot of people began to look down on

Overtown after that time, they would always say, how can you live

down there and rear a child? And I told them I was rearing my

child in the street, I was rearing her in my home. So we continued

to live down here, we never did move. We just moved from the

hotel, you know across the street from the hotel. We never did

move until we had to move and we through the last to

leave and the first to come back. We came back

(Mr. Sawyer): we never did leave.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, I told her we never did leave.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): It has just gone down hill.

(Ms. Wanza): In what ways?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, you don't have any businesses around to

amount to anything now and ah the sole survivors for the most part

have been ah the churches and ah people come to church on Sunday

and pack in the churches but for the most part, it's not like it

use to be.

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

1-95. When and how did you first hear about the building of I-95?

(Mrs. Sawyer): When they...we received communication telling

us that ah we had to move and go elsewhere.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): So many people said they were not going to

move but they had to.

(Ms. V&bza): And when did you receive this?

(Mrs. Sawyer): That was in the '50s.

(Ms. Wanza): In the '50s, the late '50s?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm hum.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, where were you...

(Mrs. Sawyer): No it wasn't, it couldn't been in the late

'50s. It was about middle '50s.

(Ms. Wanza): Mid-50s?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm hum.

(Ms. Wanza): And where were you living at that time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): All, well at the time I was married and umm I

was living down here but my father was still in the home place, he

continued to live there until, you know, he had to move.

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

that time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): We owned.

(Ms. Wanza): Owned, okay. What kind of a reaction was there

to the news that an expressway would come through Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Everybody felt very sadly about it cause you

see people had been there ever since they were young, they had

raised their children and they were comfortably situation in their

little homes and they had to be uprooted and placed in foreign

surroundings and they didn't like it at all but they couldn't do

anything about it so many of them you know, they had closed the

stores and everything and now they just had to go wherever they

could find a place and they didn't give them enough money to make

a down payment on anything else so they just had to do the best

they could. It was a sad time.

(Ms. Wanza): Did you discuss 1-95 with any of your neighbors?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, everybody felt badly about it. (Ms.

Wanza): Did you attend a meeting where it was discussed or

sign a petition or discuss the issue with public officials?

(Ms. Wanza): Not at that time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): It just ah, I met once with Judge Cune and he

told me I had to go, take that offer, you might get less the next

time. I ah...

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

expressway on you?

(Mrs. Sawyer): I still, when I pass by...there are two

avocado pear trees that I planted in the yard and I always look

over there and say, there are my trees (laughter) they are still

standing, that part of it was not developed, it's just there and I

think that must be a fence between that part of Sixth Place where

some of the old timers still live. They didn't take Sixth Place

some of the old neighbors are still living there.

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


(Mrs. Sawyer): I took my daddy out there one night, he wanted

to see the place, so we drove out there and then we went in the

neighbors yard on Sixth Place and then we could look over into our

yard and he said, they've destroyed the whole place (laughter), he

felt sadly about it too.

(Ms. Wanza): So what was it like when it was being

constructed, was it noisy or disruptive to the community or...

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, we were all gone then, you know I, I

imagine it was noisy.

(Ms. Wanza): And where were you living?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Right down here.

(Ms. Wanza): Oh, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): See, they didn't, they didn't move...what they

did, I understand they were suppose to have moved this area first,

but they didn't do that, they started out on Twenty-First Terrace

and then they moved down to this area.

(Ms. Wanza): What did the community get from public officials

in return for 1-95 going through Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): They didn't get anything but a little bit

money that couldn't even help them in getting something else but ah

when they got ready to move down here, we had formed the...Ann

Maria Adker, living, she use to keep up with things and we went

from door to door and told all the people to come down to ah the

meeting that night, on Third Street and we did and we protested and

so they were getting to ready to build a housing center over here

on Fifth Avenue...Sixth Avenue and Fifth Street so we were able to

get a lot of the places over there for the people who had to move

from this area which was a blessing because it had been allocated

for housing and the people were not aware of it so we found out

about it and we got to...and they were able to go there and some of

them are still living there and living comfortably. It's a nice

project. On Fifth Street and Fifth Avenue, Fourth Avenue and I

think it goes from Fifty-Sixth Street, yes, Fourth Avenue and Fifth

Avenue so a lot of the people who lived in my building were able to

go there.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well there is no business, you know, no

business, not many people to trade, very few businesses here. You

don't have as many consumers as you once had.

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

moving because of 1-95. Okay umm the first question is when did

you decide to change your place of residence.

(Mrs. Sawyer): I was preparing to move and I had just made a

list of all the things I was going to take with me and put the

other things in storage and I had an automobile accident so I moved

to the hospital and I was there for about 6 months, my husband

still lived there and so he lived there until I got out of the

hospital and so that why I say we were the last to move and the

first to come back and ah when I came out the hospital then I had

to find...but everything, all my clothes and everything had been

stolen, (laughter) so when I came out of the hospital, I use to

call them my Salvation Army cloths because ah, they had to send to

my relatives and friends to get some clothes for me to come home,

I didn't have anything.

(Ms. Wanza): Well who, where, where were your clothes left?

(Mrs. Sawyer): In my, in my building and see my husband was

blind and those people had themselves a good time.

(Ms. Wanza): In the building and somebody came and...

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, see my husband was blind and those

people had themselves a good time. I lost so much but that was

that, I started life out a new, thank God I'm still here.

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum, okay. Why do you think it was

appropriate to change your place of residence?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Because they thought they wanted it I guess.

They said it was for housing but nothing that much has been done

about it.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, to whom did you sell your property?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Sold it to the city.

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


(Mrs. Sawyer): I had to. It was considered as being eminent


(Ms. Wanza): Were you fairly compensated?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Not really

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, they had to give us more time because my

husband was blind and I was, I was in the hospital seriously ill,

in fact I was in a coma, so they were nice, they gave us time to


(Ms. Wanza): So around about how much time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): About how much time, about a year? Yeah.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm, where we were living was made into a

parking lot for the Arena.

(Ms. Wanza): Where did you relocate?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Across the street where I am now. This is our

property too.

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

compared to your former residence and I know you said you owned the


(Mrs. Sawyer): Well it's a different arrangement now, we, we

just bought a place over here, that's all.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, it was...found out that it was

available, and they were going to build on it so we, we decided husband never wanted to leave this area.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, alright, I'm going to end Side #1 of Tape

#1, this is Stephanie Wanza and I will be continuing on Side #2 of

Tape #1. I'm interviewing Mrs. Bernice Sawyer, I'm at her home.

Today's date is August 25, 1997.

(Ms. Wanza): This is Stephanie Wanza, I'm at the home of Mr.

and Mrs. Bernice Sawyer, Mr. and Mrs. Bill Sawyer and I'm

interviewing .laughter) Mrs. Bernice Sawyer. This is Side #2 of

Tape #1. Today's date is August 25, 1997.

We left off on a set of questions, umm, regarding moving

because of 1-95 and we are beginning on the set of questions umm

regarding whether or not the interviewee lived in a house or an

apartment taken by the state. So the first question is...taken or

taken up under eminent domain. What year did you move? Do you


(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, well we moved, given instructions to move

in 1986.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): But I went to the hospital in '86, so really

someone else had to...Bill when did you start living here? When I

got out of the hospital? It was have been '87. It was '87.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, who informed you that you had to move?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah the city officials. We filed a class

action suit and everything and it didn't do any good.

(Ms. Wanza): What were you paid for your home by the state?

(Mrs. Sawyer): I really don't know, now.

(Ms. Wanza): Were you fairly compensated?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, not really.

(Ms. Wanza): Not really, okay. How long were you given to


(Mrs. Sawyer): Well actually I told you ah...

(Mrs. Wanza): About one year.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, about a year.

(Ms. Wanza): Umm, did you receive any relocation money?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yes.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay and where did you re...

(Mrs. Sawyer): Where, for the properties down here?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Because that's when I found out about it.

Before that, you didn't receive one cent out there on Twenty-First

Terrace where my father lived.

(Ms. Wanza): And where did you relocate?


(Mrs. Sawyer): No.

(Ms. Wanza): No.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, did you discuss it with your neighbors?

(Mrs. Sawyer): No.

(Ms. Wanza): No, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Umm, what the community able to get from

public officials 395 and 836 going through Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, the area in which I lived that was

affiliated with 395, they received a very, very minimal amount of

money, not even enough to get another house. Most of them went to

projects or they paid down along with some other help they might

have gotten some advantage to get another house.

(Ms. Wanza): How did 395 and 836 affect the community?

(Mrs. Sawyer): It raped it as far everything was concerned.

(Ms. Wanza): It ah really bought about the loss of negro

businesses. Some people never recovered, they just gave up.

(Ms. Wanza): The next set of questions are regarding public

housing. When and how did you first hear about the building of

public housing?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, well by that time we had ah formulated the

Overtown Advisory Board and Ann Marie Adker would attend all the

meetings and she was able to come back and keep us informed on what

was happening and so whenever she heard about anything that would

ah assist in the community, then she would inform us and then we

would try to get together and do something about it.

(Ms. Wanza): Who was this person? What was this person's


(Mrs. Sawyer): Ann Marie Adker.

(Ms. Wanza): (Sneeze), I'm sorry. Umm and do you remember

about what year you first heard about public housing?.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Like the public housing on Fifth Avenue?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, Bill do you remember when that was, that

public housing, when we heard about it?

(Mr. Sawyer): I can't remember exactly.

(Mrs. Sawyer): But ah the people who lived in my building

were able to get it.

(Ms. Wanza): Un hun. So was it was it like in the '50s or


(Mrs. Sawyer): It was in the '60s.

(Ms. Wanza): In the '60s, okay.

(Mrs. Sawyer): When you heard about it and they didn't do it,

you know it gradually came about. It was ah...they had to be sold

and then this was this...there was a class action

All of it took time.

(Ms. Wanza): Where were you living at that time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Right across the street where the Arena

parking lot is now. We had a motel there.

(Ms. Wanza): Did you discuss, well what type of umm...let me

ask this question first. What kind of reaction was there to the

news that public housing would be built in Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, they were glad to know that they would

have some place to go and umm, several others worked with the

people and got all the papers and everything that they needed and

they were able to get a nice place to live.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, did you discuss the issues with your


(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, yes and I tried my best to help people to

get what they were suppose to have and the neighbors were able to

get a little compensation, too, for moving expense which made it


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

discussed or sign a petition or discuss the issue with public


(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh yes, oh yes.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, and umm, what, what came about?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well that's when they gave them compensation

for moving and most of them saw to it that these people who were

taken...whose homes had been taken, would abe allowed choice to

move into that project.

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

housing on you?

(Mrs. Sawyer): At the time those places looked so nice, I was

hoping I would be able to get in one but I wasn't. It was real


(Ms. Wanza): What was it like when public housing was being


(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, people who, you know had to make up

their minds to move and some of them did it with mixed emotions but

they were able to get into a nice place.

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

officials in return for public housing going through Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): What did they get from it?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum, what did they get from it?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Let's see, how would I phrase that? I guess

they received some comments and applause for helping making it

possible for them to have a nice place to live and to be in a nice

clean area and they were asked to try to please help to keep it

that way and some of them have. I haven't notice it recently

because I don't get around much but at one time, they planted

flowers, they made it nice.

(Ms. Wanza): How did public housing (cough, excuse me) affect

the community?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well, in that particular area it seems to be

alright but in other places, in some areas, it has been abused and

ah...but in other places they try to keep it nice. I think the one

on Seventeenth Street is kept pretty nice, is it not? And they

have a park and they have swimming facility for the children and

it's nice.

(Ms. Wanza): The next set of questions will be regarding

Metro-rail. When and how did you first hear about the building of


(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah through the Overtown Advisory Board and

meetings that the city officials began to have

(Ms. Wanza): And do you remember around what year that was?

Was it in the '70s or '80s?

(Mrs. Sawyer): It must have been in the early '80s, I think,

I'm not sure.

(Ms. Wanza): Where were you living during that time?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Right here at the motel, on ah Seventh Street

and ah... Seventh Street and ah maybe Second, on Second Avenue.

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

Metro-rail would come through Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Some people didn't like it because they said

it would make it too noisy but ah they planted a lot of trees in

that area so it would serve as a prevention of noise making and ah

it's really a pretty area now. All those trees and other things

that they placed there served as buffers against the noise so it

doesn't bother me.

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yes.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, did attend a meeting where it was

discussed or sign a petition or discuss the issue with public


(Mrs. Sawyer): Yes.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay and what came about in those meetings?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well it has been a Godsend to people who do

not have their own transportation and ah it's a convenience that's

enjoyed by many people.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay so I know you just told me that umm at

first a station was not planned to come through Overtown, how...

(Mrs. Sawyer): That was ah not to have an Overtown Station.


(Ms. Wanza): Not to have an Overtown Station, how...can you

explain that process. How did we come about getting...

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well it was discussed and ah finally the

Overtown Advisory Board and others helped to, helped them change

their minds about it. The decision was made to have it.

(Ms. Wanza): So it had to be through persuasion that the

station came into Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, they didn't think that it would be


(Ms. Wanza): Okay, let me see, umm what was the most

important impact of Metro-rail on you?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well it provided a, ah place of

beautification, it's nice.

(Ms. Wanza): Let me see, what was it like when Metro-rail was

being constructed?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Oh, hectic.

(Ms. Wanza): Hectic?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah.

(Ms. Wanza): In what way, well, you know everything is torn

up and everything is moved about and what have you.

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

officials in return for Metro-rail running through Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well those people who owned property in that

area were

(Ms. Wanza): How did Metro-rail affect the community as a


(Mrs. Sawyer): I think it has helped.

(Ms. Wanza): In what way?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well you have your buses and then you can get

to and from where you have to go in a short period of time and that

was especially good for the people who worked way down in the

southwest areas and what have you and I think you can get on a

Metro-rail and get there in about 10 or 15 minutes, can't you?

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum.

(Mrs. Sawyer): You avoid the delays of buses.

(Ms. Wanza): That's true. Okay the next and last set of

questions are regarding the future of Overtown. What are the most

important misconceptions about Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): So many things that we thought would happen in

this area have not happened and so most of us are disillusioned.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay, we were talking about the most important

misconceptions about Overtown.

(Mrs. Sawyer): Yeah, ah we thought by this time there would

have been more housing, facilities in the area and a lot of people

would have been able to ah come back, who wanted to come back and

we thought that there would have been more businesses because of

change but it hasn't been.

(Ms. Wanza): So what do you think were the most important

misconceptions, what people think is or...

(Mrs. Sawyer): People thoBght that they would be ah...have ah

housing and more businesses when they returned to the area but it

hasn't happened.

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

most about Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Overtown has many problems that no one seems

to have any answers or solutions.

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

such as transportation programs, attractions, job creation or

beautification programs to improve Overtown?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Job creation, beautification and homes.

(Ms. Wanza): Homes?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, homes that would allow them to purchase

because of government assistance because it seems as though when

you have something of your own, you have more of a desire to

preserve it and to keep it nice.

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

and Downtown Miami?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Well downtown was always the hub for Overtown

after so many businesses were no longer in existence so let it be

the hub again.

(Ms. Wanza): Okay. When you have visitors from out of town

where do you take them the culture and history of Dade County's

African American community?

(Mrs. Sawyer): Ah, a lot of them go to the Archives, they go

to the Caleb Center, ah they go to the, you know they ride the

Metro-rail and ah they go the library downtown, they go to Miami

Beach and places like that.

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

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

(Mrs. Sawyer): More stressing of Negro culture and umm

appreciation of what Overtown once was and try to bring it back

like it was. Beautify it and something that would build self-

esteem that is dearly lacking now in the minds of many of children.

They feel as though, they live in Overtown they can't rise above

that ah...earmark and they, they don't feel secure, where ah...they

don't have the pride that we had. We ah, for instance, I remember

as a child going to school, they had what we knew as Armistice Day

and we'd have our little flags and we'd march down to the church,

it was just a basement then and our leaders would talk to us and

tell us things about life in general and what could be done to

improve you as an individual, we need more of that. There was more

of a togetherness then than we have now and ah, when they'd have

programs, everybody would come and they'd be nice and clean and all

dressed up and what have you and whatever. They had...they were

more sure of themselves than they are now.

(Ms. Wanza): Umm hum. Okay, so this is going to end our

interview. Umm this is Stephanie Wanza and I've just interviewed

Mrs. Bernice Sawyer. Today's date is August 25, 1997. This is

Side #2 of Tape #1. The interview session has now ended.

Full Text
xml record header identifier 2009-02-02setSpec [UFDC_OAI_SET]metadata oai_dc:dc xmlns:oai_dc http:www.openarchives.orgOAI2.0oai_dc xmlns:dc http:purl.orgdcelements1.1 xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.openarchives.orgOAI2.0oai_dc.xsd dc:title Bernice Sawyerdc:creator Wanza, Stephaniedc:publisher Stephanie Wanzadc:date 1997dc:type Bookdc:identifier University of Floridadc:language English