By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
"When people were married once upon a time, they would march. One woman lived on William Avenue and she marched in her wedding gown from her house all the way around Hibiscus with her wedding party. They used to walk in the streets from their house to the church or wherever it was they was going to get married. They walked the streets with someone holding their gown. You would look out the window and see the whole wedding party go by. One time two sisters got married -- they lived down on Charles Avenue -- and they walked from across the street to their house and got married on the front porch. The street was blocked off. Then they had a party, and all the food you would want.
"People here were never wanting for food to eat. One man used to have a killing of the hogs once a year. Old Man Counts had the hogs, and they would have a butchering night. Nathan Sands would kill the pigs, and he would go around and find out who wanted what part of the hog and they would clean out the chitlins and the children would make balloons out of them. There also was a crab hole, back there on Franklin where some town houses are now, and anyone could go back there and get some of those land crabs to eat if they liked them. When I came here, everybody had chickens and ducks in their yards. But everyone would lock them up when the gypsies would come. They would have a child in the yard, someone watching the clothes on the line.
"See, they used to have gypsies back there on Franklin in the wintertime. They would winter here and steal everything they could. Every year the gypsies would come down with all this jewelry on and tell all kinds of lies in great big cars; I don't know where they got those cars. Even back to the early Twenties, you had gypsies. Most of the time they stayed on Franklin, any place they could find a vacant lot.
"Back then this part of Coconut Grove was separated from the white part. There was actually a wall, all the way down from Douglas west to where the water plant is. But after you, meaning the whites, started sending your children over here to school, you had to break the wall down so they could come in from Kumquat Avenue. But it's a one-way street going from the white part to the black part. All they've done is knock out part of it for the cars to come through, that's all. The other part is still there."
Walls to keep out the blacks didn't stop the whites from devising ways to take over the area for themselves. In 1936 the county commission approved a plan to relocate blacks from the Grove to three "model towns" in southern, central, and northern Dade, with cooperation from the City of Miami. "But when the younger black men returned from the military training camps and from fighting the war," says Armbrister, "it was a different kind of attitude, because they were not going to be treated like the older blacks had been treated. The younger ones had seen how other people in other places were living and the blacks in those other places were not taking this kind of stuff off the whites that we were taking here. The young ones, they put an end to that right quick."
In the Sixties, the city, county, and federal governments proposed various public projects in Coconut Grove. Black residents again started to buzz about losing their community, about being relocated in the same way blacks in Overtown were moved to make way for Interstate 95. But unlike Overtown, where most people were tenants, Grove residents owned the land and were well organized. In the mid-Sixties, they formed the Coconut Grove Homeowners and Tenants Association and successfully blocked many of these "improvements."
"In a way things haven't really changed that much. Going back a long way, people have thought there's something wrong here that needs to be fixed. They sit up there just like the county commission when it would tell us [the late County Commissioner Theodore] Gibson was our leader because he was the commissioner. But he was supported by you, not us. They would point out that his wife, Thelma Gibson, is a leading citizen of the Grove and she does this and she does that -- but she hadn't been doing it. Look at Father Theophilus Pollard. He was the black priest of Christ Episcopal Church and he and Miss Etta Clark founded St. Alban's Day Nursery. You know they don't give Father Pollard, neither Miss Etta Clark, credit for founding the St. Alban's Day Nursery.
"During the middle Thirties war clouds began to build up in Germany and the women had no place to leave their children while they worked. They had to leave them with old people who most of the time were too tired to take care of themselves, much less somebody else. So Miss Clark and Father Pollard got a grant from WPA -- that was the Works Progress Administration during Roosevelt -- in 1938 to open St. Alban's, and they hired other people to come in and do the cooking and the cleaning, and they hired teachers.