FORT LAUDERDALE — James D. Bradley remembers a time when black businesses boomed in Fort Lauderdale, and his family owned several of them.
In 1943, his father opened Bradley’s Bar and Grill, “a beer and wine joint,” he said, at 1415 NW 5th St.
In 1945, his father opened a package store, and in 1950, a nightclub, Sunrise Clover Club, at 2690 NW Sunrise Blvd.
“Everybody went there,” he said of Bradley’s Bar and Grill. “And (jazz great) Cannonball [Adderley] would frequent the Sunrise Clover Club. At the time, Bradley’s was the only one like it in town and stayed open until 2 a.m.”
On his 80th birthday on Oct. 6, the security monitor and resident oral historian at Old Dillard Museum will be honored with a special celebration.
Bradley is a 1948 graduate of Dillard High School – whose old location is the current site of the museum – and calls Fort Lauderdale his home. After serving in the Korean War and later traveling stateside, he said he’d never considered living in any other place.
“He’s done so much in terms of bringing history to the museum,” said Derek Davis, the museum’s curator. “He was instrumental in providing the theme for our jazz room and has great historical contacts.”
Davis said Bradley’s contributions and loyalty not only to the museum but also to the community must be recognized, “and we are excited about doing so.”
Old Fort Lauderdale
During a recent interview with the South Florida Times, Bradley reminisced about Fort Lauderdale, its early days, and the changes that time has forced on the city and its residences.
Bradley’s father, from Rochelle, Fla., relocated to Fort Lauderdale in 1921. His mother, from Live Oak, Fla., arrived in 1925.
“My father was the only black iceman in the area until 1943,” Bradley said. “He moved on to owning businesses after that.”
His father’s route, Bradley said, was from the CSX railroad tracks on the west, and the FEC railroad tracks on the east.
“He couldn’t leave Colored Town,” he said.
The family comprised eight boys and one girl.
“And that was with my father and mother,” Bradley said. “My father had a bunch more; he’d been married three times.”
The Bradleys lived on the corner of 4th Street near the CSX tracks until 1939, when they moved to 1408 NW 6th Street, across from what was then Provident Hospital.
“We still own the property,” Bradley said.
Growing up, it wasn’t tough getting an education, Bradley said. But it was tough finding a school.
“You couldn’t go to just any school, you were limited. That was a letdown.”
At that time, Bradley said, “the educational system was okay until they threatened to close the schools so the black kids could harvest the crops. That was a no-no.”
In 1923, the School Board awarded a contract for the construction of a new “Colored School” at 1001 NW 4th Street in Fort Lauderdale. Land for the school was purchased from Fort Lauderdale pioneers Frank and Ivy Stranahan for one dollar.
The school was named Fort Lauderdale Colored School until 1930, Bradley said. “That’s when it was named for [Dr. James Hardy] Dillard School. [Dr. Joseph A.] Ely, at the time, was principal. He saw to it that it was done.”
Dr. Dillard was an educator and philanthropist dedicated to improving rural schools for black students.
According to the book, My Soul is a Witness: a History of Black Fort Lauderdale by Deborah Work, nothing angered black people in Fort Lauderdale during segregation more than the practices concerning schools.
As of 1910, each town in Broward County had a black school of two or three rooms. Books and desks were described as “tattered hand-me-downs.” None of the schools went beyond the eighth grade; some were only open three months each year.
“When high school classes were added,” Bradley said, “Dillard was the only high school for black students in all of Broward County.”
According to Davis, in 1930, the two-story concrete structure, which cost $13,954.24 to build, was renamed Dillard High School. Surrounding buildings on the property were named Dillard Elementary School.
In 1937, Bradley said, Dillard, under its then-principal Clarence C. Walker, became a high school.
Walker’s mission, Davis added, was to bring black schools up to grade 12.
“He was requested by many black schools to help out, change the curriculum. That was his claim to fame.”
The high school’s first graduating class was in 1938.
The Old Dillard Museum, site of the original Colored School, at 1009 N.W. 4th Street in Fort Lauderdale, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1991. The original building was closer to the corner, Bradley said.
It opened its doors in 1924 as the first school built for blacks in Broward County. It was renamed Dillard High School in 1930. The school became overcrowded, and the new Dillard High was built on Northwest 11th Street in 1950.
When Dillard moved to its present location at 2501 NW 11th Street in Fort Lauderdale, Bradley said, “you didn’t see a white teacher until 1970, when the schools became integrated.”
Since 1990, the former Dillard High School building has housed The Old Dillard Museum. Owned and operated by the Broward County school district, the museum features exhibits focused on black history in Broward, and serves as a center for cultural events.
Black businesses remembered
Although black businesses thrived during segregation, Bradley said, they began to die out after integration, as blacks who could afford to move into white areas did so.
“You could go anywhere at that time and it was just hard for a small business to keep up unless you had a night club. Grocery stores and supermarkets were very competitive,” he said.
The businesses and the buildings owned by Bradley’s father were closed and demolished in 1976.
“Urban renewal took over,” he said, “and they built homes.”
Back then, Bradley said, “we owned everything. Now we support everything. Ninety-five percent of the black businesses and the families who owned them died out. There are no black businesses like there once was on Sistrunk.”
But a few places like Skinner’s Grill and Roy Mizell & Kurtz Funeral Home, he noted, are still there.
“On 6th Street,” Bradley said, “Willie Walker’s youngest son still runs the grocery store that opened in 1938. It’s still going strong.”
The Victory Theater stood on the corner of 5th Avenue and 6th Street, he said. “They played shoot-em-ups (Westerns) and we enjoyed them. We could sit anywhere.”
Bradley met his wife, Alice, in 1952 while stationed at Fort Benning, Ga. She had just finished high school and was living in Sparta.
Bradley admitted that back then, he had “lady friends,” but never to the point where he thought of getting married. “It was the farthest thing from my mind. I was too young. I was 23.”
The couple married the next year, and later moved to Fort Lauderdale, where they ran a daycare center out of their home.
“I came back because Fort Lauderdale is home,” Bradley said. “My family was here, my brothers and sisters.”
The Bradleys have two daughters and one son.
Bradley worked at First National Bank, now Bank of America, from 1954 to 1994, when he retired.
“I started as a messenger, and in 1964, when blacks had the opportunity to advance, I moved into the coin vault,” he said.
He said he has no plans to retire from the museum.
“I’m proud of this place being on the National Register of Historical Places,” he said, “and more proud to be a part of it.”
Photo by Rochelle Oliver. James D. Bradley