I first met Georgia Ayers during the May 1980 riots over the killing of a young black insurance agent named Arthur McDuffie. We were at a meeting with the then state attorney Janet Reno, senior police staff and a horde of reporters as the city burned from the night before.
It was a contentious meeting until Georgia stood up and virtually ordered all of us back into the streets. “It’s Sunday morning,” she roared. “They are getting up to go back into the streets and we are here arguing! Get those black (peacekeeper) armbands on and hit the streets,” which, of course, we all did. She had done the same thing during the 1968 riot in Liberty City that left a black child shot and four black men dead.
That was Georgia. She was not accustomed to asking. She was accustomed to telling. For most of her life, this lioness of the street prowled the jails, back alleys and drug dens of Miami-Dade rescuing her cubs; successfully pulling a few back into the safety of the den she called The Alternative Program, which she founded decades ago.
My old friend died this past week and with her went a nearly forgotten part of black Miami-Dade County history which in her case stretches back to Lemon City (now called Little Haiti) and the 1880s. Fortunately, she entrusted me with her family’s historic documents and photographs which are now a part of the Dunn Collection on black Florida history at Florida International University.
My main role with Georgia was to try to rein her in sometimes. In this, I was a miserable failure. Late on any given night, not to exclude Sundays, my phone would ring and it would be Georgia saying, “I am gon’ cuss every last one of them out, Doc.” She would rail. “I’m tired of them messing with my program.”
The “them” changed from time to time, but to Georgia “them” was anybody or anything that threatened her program. And, yes, she would cuss them out, Georgia’s fur would be up; her lips curled and her fangs prominently displayed. It was best not to fool with a mama lioness and few dared. She usually got what she wanted.
The lioness sleeps tonight. Thank you, Georgia, from a grateful community! Well done.
Marvin Dunn, Palmetto Bay