Edison - Liberty City

Celebrating two pioneering women who made a big difference in Miami’s black community

Ernestine Bellamy with her daughter, Joy Bellamy Lofton, at Ernestine’s 100th birthday party celebration at Miami Shores Country Club, December 2016. She is now 102.
Ernestine Bellamy with her daughter, Joy Bellamy Lofton, at Ernestine’s 100th birthday party celebration at Miami Shores Country Club, December 2016. She is now 102.

For 20 years, Ernestine and Joseph Bellamy Sr. owned and operated Family Affair, a take-out and catering service located across the street from Miami Edison Middle and Senior High on Northwest 62nd Street and Second Avenue.

A popular “go to” place for individuals and groups seeking Southern and Caribbean “soul food,” it was a successful black-owned business in Liberty City. Bellamy was a former chef at First National Bank of Miami and the Hampton House in Brownsville. After his retirement in 1971, he and his wife opened the business and operated it with their family until his death.

In a recent interview, at the age of 102, his widow shared the one golden rule she made for Mother’s Day: “All gifts must be personal; they couldn’t be anything for the house.”

Once, that rule was overlooked when the youngest children proudly presented her with a set of pots and pans. She explained that Mother’s Day is a day for mothers and the gift should only be something for her to enjoy. It was a reminder to her husband, who knew about the gift selection but ignored her rule just one time!

Born Dec. 4, 1916, in Boston, Georgia, Ernestine migrated to Miami in 1939. She lived with her aunt and uncle, Pearlie and David Bell, and joined their church, Mount Tabor Baptist. They lived in Liberty City’s James E. Scott Public Housing Project, the same neighborhood she and her husband met and married.

“We had six boys and when another child was on the way, preparation was made to deliver the seventh baby boy. When the nurse told me it was a girl I shouted, ‘Name her Joy!”’ Mrs. Bellamy recalled.

Growing up with six brothers was a great experience for Joy. In the family business, her brothers shopped for food, took orders and helped cook. She managed the business records.

Several years ago, Joy relocated her mother to Atlanta to live with her and her husband, Jerome Lofton. Certified motorcycle instructors, the Loftons teach for the State of Georgia and the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Recently, Joy and her mother flew to Miami to attend the 118th anniversary celebration of the founding of Mount Tabor Baptist Church. It was held at its new location, Northwest Seventh Avenue and 105th Street. Rev. John Taylor Jr. was the program chairperson, Rev. John F. White II was the speaker. The choir was outstanding.

Mrs. Bellamy was delighted to meet old and new members. She was inspired by the portrait gallery located in the church’s vestibule. The permanent collection of oil paintings by a local artist, Charles Rackley, depicts church pioneers, along with Rev. George McRae and other early pastors.

The current pastor, Reverend Wendell H. Paris Jr., is featured. One of the portraits highlights the late Josephine Dillard Powell Vickers, 1895-1991. At the turn of the 20th century, her family settled in Miami’s Lemon City, now renamed Little Haiti.

Mount Tabor was organized in 1901 adjacent to Lemon City in Bolestown. One of the youngest members in the congregation, she became the church’s “mascot.” As the community grew, so did the church with Mrs. Powell participating in nearly all activities.

In 1910, she married Richard Henry Powell and to that union six children were born. Most of the children and later grandchildren who remained in Miami continued their memberships and traditions at Mount Tabor.

Celebrating Mother’s Day was and remains a cherished tradition at the church. Longtime members Gussie Ervin and Juanita Lane recall the early days when at churches throughout our community, children and adults wore a red corsage or boutonniere if their mother was alive and a white one if she was deceased.

Some continue this practice for Father’s Day.

According to Mount Tabor’s Mother’s Day chairperson, Frankie Legree Jr., in recent times the men of the church host a luncheon for the women the Saturday before Mother’s Day. This year, the church family recognized the church’s “mascot,” the late Josephine Dillard Powell Vickers, on the anniversary of her 124th birthday.

She was born May 12, 1895, 124 years from last Sunday’s Mother’s Day.

Ernestine Bellamy will remain with family in Atlanta. When asked to describe the most memorable Mother’s Day, her daughter responded: “Each year with mom is most memorable for I am truly blessed to be able to celebrate another one with her.”

Oh Joy!

Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Ph.D., is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida.Send feedback to djf@bellsouth.net.