Overtown was not always called that. Growing up in Miami, we referred to our location by street numbers rather than by destination. You lived on Seventh Street or whatever the number was. We did have named areas such as Opa-locka, Liberty City and Coconut Grove but I do not remember hearing of Overtown until many years later. My family lived on the south end and this was good for walking downtown, but very tiresome when it came to schools and the majority of our friends.
My brother and I began our education at a small wooden house across Third Avenue, where the owner had built a shed over a cement slab. I stayed there until the teacher went before the school board and appealed my case to go directly to third grade because she was not accredited. I was tested and admitted to Douglass primary school. Thankfully, it was near the high school, so the big kids in the neighborhood walked me there daily. I graduated from Booker T. Washington High School.
Our houses were all wood and mostly three rooms. When my uncle next door had electric wiring installed, he allowed us to run an extension cord through the back window and we had an electric refrigerator! Before then, the ice man brought a large block of ice that sat in the top of the ice box for cooling. We had kerosene lamps for lighting and kerosene for cooking.
Baths were taken in tin tubs in the kitchen because there was no room in the tiny cubicle on the back porch where the toilet was. The kitchen sink was the only sink. Being within walking distance of downtown was a treat. Some Saturday mornings we were given permission to go downtown.
The 5-and-10-cent stores were our destination. McCory’s, Kresge and Woolworth were our stores. However, we were not allowed to sit at a counter and eat or try on clothes. We were still happy children. Our churches were definitely our sanctuaries. We worshiped, socialized, studied and learned how to live in our society. Each year Dorsey High (Northwestern) and Booker T. Washington played a football game that excited the whole community.
The parade was second only to the one that was hosted by FAMU. That was the venerated Orange Bowl Classic and black people came from far and near to see the parade and attend the game. The finest clothes were bought and the hairdos were highly accentuated for this event. Some very famous people attended, performed on the Beach and then came back to sleep and stay in our area because they were not allowed to stay in the Beach hotels.
Our daddy had a car and from time to time he would take us for a ride on Collins Avenue to look at the hotels. Mama was scared to death for us to go but Daddy promised to drive slowly and not look directly at anyone. We only wanted to see the big, beautiful, glitzy hotels and refresh our dreams of one day going in to sleep and not work. We mostly shopped in the stores around us.
From time to time on Saturday, the trucks of Native Americans would come in to shop. We were always afraid of the “Indians” because of their dress and the fact they were so silent. We stood outside on the sidewalk until they left the stores. If we went over to the poultry market, we were given free chicken feet if they were available.
The first TV I ever saw was mind-boggling to me. I could not understand where the images came from and the fact that the owner had also bought a sheet of multi-colored cellophane to give it color further confused me. Even our hotels, The St. John, The Mary Elizabeth and the new Carver did not have such a marvelous invention as a TV. Things have changed. Only the good aroma of the barbecue place remains the same.
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