"Black History Month 2012"
During the late 1940s, Fort Lauderdale's black community battled racial prejudice and segregation. Despite this pressure, a vibrant culture, rich in tradition and entrepreneurship flourished.
“We recreated what Fifth Avenue actually looked like,” said Elaina Norlin, regional library manager. When planning for the exhibit’s topic, the Friends of ARRLCC met last year with about 90 elders in the community. “They said that the ’40s was an era they felt a kinship with,” Norlin said. “It was their advice and we followed. We identified the storefronts and then began to ask for particular artifacts from that era.”
The exhibit recreates a walk down Northwest Fifth Avenue between Second and Sixth streets, an area affectionately called ‘Short Fifth,’ in a model display of businesses from the 1948-1949 Fort Lauderdale city directory. The businesses include the Victory Theater, Club Windsor, Royal Palm Grocery, Harvey’s Shoe Shop and the dental office of Dr. J.L. Bass. There is also a 3D replica of the avenue as depicted by the city plat map and directory, a model of a 1940s-style classroom and home. A 1949 Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle and a 1941 Lincoln Continental Cabriolet on loan from the Elliott Museum in Stuart, Fla. are also on display.
Presented in honor of AARLCC’s 10-year anniversary, the exhibit will run through October 31. Programs dedicated to the ’40s and the 10-year anniversary gala will be held, Norlin said, and beginning in February, the Victory Theater display will feature weekly matinees from the era.
‘SHOPPED IN OUR AREA’
Fifth Avenue really stared to flourish in the 1930s, said James Bradley, Old Dillard Museum’s oral historian. “That’s when the night clubs came. The area was all businesses and everybody wanted to be there.”
Things were different then, Bradley, 82, said. “You had to own in order to have. That’s how it worked. There were so many entrepreneurs in Fort Lauderdale during those years, and they made Fifth Avenue the mecca of black Fort Lauderdale.”
The area “Was filled with barbershops, beauty parlors, restaurants, a grocery store, drug store, funeral home,” Bradley said. “We even had our first black taxi. I mean there were two or three white grocery stores and other places to shop south of Broward (Boulevard), but we shopped in our area.”
CAME FROM ALL OVER
The black stores gave credit, Bradley said, “and the white stores did not. There were stores in our area like Piggly Wiggly, Margaret Ann and A&P, but still we had our own.”
Bradley described Friday nights on the avenue as “really jumping. Club Windsor, Crystal Palace, Odells … blacks came from Pompano, Dania, Deerfield, Hallandale, all over the place. And (in that area) the entertainers could stay at the Hill Hotel on Seventh Avenue. They were not allowed to stay in white hotels, even if they performed there.”
Lifelong Fort Lauderdale resident Margaret Haynie-Birch recalled Dr. Bass being her first employer. “I was writing checks for all of his bills — he had everything come to his office. That was something I had just learned from my business teacher, Mrs. Goodrum, over at Dillard High School.”
Bass’ office was on the second floor of Tasty Luncheonette. Florence Cohen, a lifelong Fort Lauderdale resident, recalled being a patient of Dr. Bass around the early 50s. “He was the first dentist I ever went to. Everybody black in Fort Lauderdale eventually became one of his patients. I remember him as being a nice man.”
Cohen, now in her 70s, said that on weekends “Fifth Avenue was the place to be. It was the main strip and everybody hung out there. The Blue Flame, Crystal Palace; before I had my kids I was there with my friends too.”
EVEN ON SUNDAYS
Tasty Luncheonette was owned by Willie Freeman, Cohen recalled. It was a “place for the best food on Fifth Avenue. Willie was real professional looking and a wonderful cook. I don’t know anybody who didn’t eat there during those times.”
Everything a person could want was on Fifth Avenue, Cohen said. “Even on Sundays you could dress up and go out early and have a real nice time. And now there is no place here like it for people to enjoy.”
George Burrows Jr., 58, experienced his first haircut at George’s Barber Shop. “My dad took me there, and George McCray was my barber.” Burrows’ father, George Burrows Sr., president and CEO of Burrows Electric, was the first licensed black electrician in Broward County.
WHERE PARENTS MET
Burrows shared that he and his father also frequented Tasty Luncheonette. “I used to ride with him during the day and we’d stop there for lunch. In fact, my parents met there. That was a time when we really supported black businesses.”
Zarlene Scott, 76, and Vann Laramore, 69, both lifelong Fort Lauderdale residents, frequented the Victory Theater. “I remember the man who ran the films, Bobby Scott,” said Scott, who is no relation. “His mother was Geneva Scott, who owned Geneva Scott’s Nursery in St. John’s Church on Fifth Avenue. We had everything then.”
The Victory was the first and only theater for blacks, Laramore said. “There was not even a white theater we were allowed in, so the Victory was all we had.”
‘OUR OWN THING’
Fifth Avenue and all its businesses began to diminish after the start of integration. It was then that people could go and shop where they wanted, Bradley said. “Folks started running down to Las Olas, places on the beach and on Federal Highway. The crowds died down,” he said. “And a lot of businesses just could not compete once we began to spread our money around. I don’t think things will ever be the way they were.”
Haynie-Birch agreed, adding that integration “destroyed the black community. We feel that the white man’s ice is colder. But we forget that we survived because we did our own thing.”
OUTSIDE THE BOX
By the time integration came, the entrepreneurs were older, Haynie-Birch explained. “Their kids grew up and moved outside of the box we had been placed in. There was white flight. Areas west opened up, homes were being built. And these kids had absolutely no interest in continuing their parent’s business.”
“And that was the downfall,” she said.
Laramore and Scott added that they “don’t think we’ll ever get that back. The days of so many black entrepreneurs in Fort Lauderdale are gone.”
Cynthia Roby may be reached at CynthiaRoby@bellsouth.net
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Fabulous Forties on the Avenue
WHEN: Exhibits through October 31. Library hours: Monday and Wednesday, noon-8 p.m., all other days, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
WHERE: African-American Research Library and Cultural Center, 2650 Sistrunk Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
COST: Free and open to the public.