“When white folks said you had to move, you had to find somewhere to move to. And so we looked for houses,” said Dorothy Graham, 97, whose family left Overtown and settled in Liberty City.
Graham said the families did not receive any moving costs from the government to offset their expenses. Some former Overtown residents still visit the neighborhood. A group of Booker T. Washington Senior High alumni meet once a month at Jackson’s Soul Food, reminiscing over bowls of boiled fish and grits. Booker T., built in 1926 , served as a cultural hub as well as school. When performers visited Overtown, the school’s auditorium doubled as a concert hall.
The trip down memory lane can be emotional.
“When you go over there now, and see how the place you have fond memories of no longer exists and to see the condition it’s in now, it makes you sad,” said General “Hoss” White, 70.
Recently, White took a walk through Overtown. He pointed to an empty lot on Northwest Third Avenue that once housed the Modern Theater. A vacant swath beneath the I-95 overpass was once a popular strip mall with shoe stores and clothing boutiques.
“I try to educate people and tell them, ‘Overtown to us, Overtown was a mecca.’ What you see now is not what we grew up with,” he said.
Today, mostly low-income renters call the neighborhood home. Overtown has struggled with high crime and high unemployment rates, though efforts by the city and nonprofits groups have sought to stem some of those issues.
When White reaches the area where he grew up — around Fifth Place between 18th and 19th Streets — he sees apartment buildings and the highway overhead.
The neighborhood he grew up in?
“It doesn’t exist,” he said. “Excuse me if I’m getting a little teary eyed. We may not be able to come back to show our grandchildren what used to be because it’s no longer here. But people still need to what was Overtown was.”