White on Black

A large woman, her big white apron contrasting vividly with her skin, hands us small laminated menus, which are divided straightforwardly into categories: meats, starches, vegetables, desserts. We skip the chicken, the meat loaf, the chitterlings, potatoes, and sandwiches and succumb to the allure of the pork chops. When we've scraped the last of the greens and black-eyed peas off our plates and eaten the last crumb of corn-bread muffin, the only thing we need is an afternoon nap.

This 27-year-old restaurant, at 757 NW 62nd Street, is Liberty City's unofficial city hall, home to the monthly Black Lawyers Association gatherings, as well as frequent - and interracial - meetings of employees from Florida Power & Light and Southern Bell. Before it went belly up, Eastern employees also chose Davis as a meeting spot. "We serve anybody," jokes 54-year-old co-owner Roy Sears. "I won't turn anybody away. I take a lot of time with people, asking 'em questions, what they think of this place or that place. After a while I get to know 'em. People come and go, but they come back."

The restaurant, which bears the name of Roy Sears's stepfather, who died in 1970, isn't listed in the local phone book. They don't have their own telephone, Sears explains; they got rid of it because all the calls were disrupting work in the kitchen. If you dial 759-0877, though, one of the two pay phones in the alcove outside the rest rooms will ring. A waitress will probably answer.

Carinne introduces a stout old man in a navy-blue captain's hat who hobbles to a stop in front of our table. He is Wallace McCall, the unofficial mayor of Liberty City. A deeply religious, unpretentious man, McCall presides over the McCall Community Foundation and is a dedicated volunteer at Miami's inner-city schools. When he meets with leaders from various communities, he tells me, he treats them to a meal at Davis. "I bring them here," he says. "Don't tell me to come downtown to your office. I know you have a million-dollar office. Come see where I live."

Besides, he likes the food. "Every nationality of people has their own food," says McCall. "I don't mean to take anything away from anybody, but that Anglo food, like the kind you get at banquets, I really don't like. They mess up their chicken, pour something over it, call it some fancy name, and charge a fortune. We serve chicken all sorts of ways - boiled, baked, fried - but we serve the best parts, the breast. It's simple and good. Next time you're at a banquet, look around and see how much food people leave on their plate. I know I do. After it's over, I go home and raid my Frigidaire."

Davis cut back its hours shortly after the McDuffie riots of 1980. "We were staying open until eight or nine," says Sears, who now opens at 6:00 a.m. and closes at 6:00 p.m. "When the riots started, everybody had to close down and get out of here after dark. The riots didn't touch none of the black businesses, though. They hit all the others around here but didn't touch us at all. It's cool now."

But the legacy of violence has affected the neighborhood's businesses. "The restaurants here close early because of robbery," McCall laments. "It's not safe. You go in the white man's town and it's safe because there are cops there all the time."

The Golden Glades Exchange in north Dade channels traffic three ways: north to the Florida Turnpike; a wide sweeping turn east to exits for Aventura, an up-scale, mostly white enclave of towering condos and high-priced homes; veering to the west, the turn off I take hooks up with the Palmetto Expressway, one passageway into the black communities of Opa-locka and Carol City.

Not long after midnight on a wet Friday, the parking lot of the aging Carol City Street Shopping Center at NW 183rd Street is deserted except for one patch in a far corner. There, about 50 cars are clustered in front of the Studio One 83 complex, one of the most popular night spots in the black community. In addition to the 2000-capacity hall in which the Miami-Dade NAACP recently held its annual banquet, Studio One 83 also houses two nightclubs.

Andre Williams steps out of Miami Nights' double doors and spots me in the small reception area as the doorman takes my seven dollars and stamps my hand. "You must be Eva," he says with a wry grin, leading me to one of a dozen small tables that fill a platform extending toward the crowded dance floor. Carinne had put me in touch with Williams, a Harvard University graduate who grew up in Miami and whose parents still live in Opa-locka. This summer, before he begins his third year of law school at Vanderbilt, Williams is serving as a summer associate in a downtown-Miami law firm.

Part Two

"The atmosphere is more charged, more lighthearted," Williams says, sipping a fuzzy navel as the music pulses. "In Miami, in other clubs, the atmosphere, the tenor, is different. I was attracted to one white club because they were playing house music. But people were walking around with their Cavariccis and these attitudes, looking bored. It's not conducive to hanging out and partying. I thought, `You've paid ten dollars to get in. Why are you here?' But here," he says, "it's, `Leave your attitudes and preconceptions behind and you'll have a good time.' We put our little idiosyncrasies aside. You just want to be entertained and be around other people who want to be entertained."

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