There Goes The Neighborhood

Part Two

"So about fifteen to twenty families moved over there where the squatters were. Some of them moved into these three-room shotgun shacks -- you could stand on the porch and shoot right straight on through the house -- and they would get an extra lot next to it. Many people, instead of doing that, built a house on both lots. This was the way to get the people from Katie Biscayne back to this side. Coral Gables was developing so fast and it was nothing but white people; they didn't want the blacks there. On the other side of Golden Gate, to the north of Grand Avenue, that area developed with Mundy, Rice, and Merrick selling off property. On the other side of the railroad tracks, across U.S. 1, that's where the railroad workers lived. Everyone seemed to want to work on the railroad because they were paying so much money.

"You can't tell it no more, but the strange thing is that for the most part, people from Georgia and other places lived on the west side of Douglas and Bahamians lived on the east side. It was an unspoken thing, you know. There's still a house on Douglas Road, the Blue Chip, where everybody from Georgia would come in and get a room. There was another place called Black Bottom, at Percival and Short. Nobody lived over there except people who were dead stuck for housing and couldn't get none in no other place. These were people low on the totem pole.

"All these settlements took some time to merge. One was Sweeting Town, started by John D. Sweeting on 27th Street and Douglas Road, which back then was called Station Road because it went right by the railroad tracks. Another settlement for black people was Fort Lonesome, out there by the Tamiami Trail. At the time it was considered part of the Grove. That was Mr. Tom Ben's -- he also owned apartments out here on Thomas. Mr. Ben, he made the best moonshine in the Grove. In his yard they had a coconut tree, and the boys had put strips of wood on it and they would climb the tree and watch for the revenuers, because when the revenuers came, they would break up the moonshine still. He made the best moonshine.

"There was another colored settlement called Keboe, where there's a vacant lot on Hibiscus and Grand Avenue. These people came from England to the Bahamas and left the Bahamas and came to America. I was told that they were strange-looking and -acting people, very fair-complexioned, and they stayed to themselves. That was Stirrup's property, and they were working for him. Somehow or another, the settlement caught fire and burned one night and they left. Just like they came, that's the same way they disappeared, into nothingness. Nobody seemed to know how they got where they were going or nothing. They just vanished.

"All the business, everything was right here on Charles Avenue. Old Man Joe Major had a bicycle shop. Old Man Stirrup had a grocery store. There was a soda shop and an ice cream parlor. And then they had a cleaners, belonged to Old Man Summons. He died last year; I didn't even know it. Father Culmer had a pressing club -- a cleaners -- before he was a priest. He also was an organist at Christ Episcopal Church. After that he got married and moved to Overtown and he became a priest at St. Agnes.

"Silas Rayford had the first theater, in a tent, and they looked at what the white people had discarded. That was in 1924. In '28 and '29, after they finally began to get better pictures, all the little bad boys who didn't have any money would sneak in under the side and the big boys who were going to school would sit there and read out loud what was being said. Miriam Peavy's husband used to play the piano, and he'd be reeling and rocking and rolling, but lightly so the children could hear what was being read.

"It was quite a time over here. They had dances up in Stirrup Hall, and boxing at the corner of Charles and Hibiscus. Then on the holidays, you knew that we weren't going to work for you two days before the holidays. Two days before a holiday, you can forget it; you wouldn't see a black face until next week. We couldn't go to the beach like the white folks, because we'd black that water up, muddy it all up. So we had house parties, and during the holidays, everybody walked from house to house, greeting and sitting down and talking. They had bands that played in the streets, and parades, and we used to go out to dances. We didn't miss a dance for nothing. Oh Lord, when Louis Armstrong or some of those other big orchestra players came to town, you could forget it. We'd go out to Harlem Square and Rockland Palace in Overtown, and everybody who was somebody was in their new outfits, wanting to be seen by a lot of people. There'd be all the colors and the big-band sound. It was really something.

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