urban-league-org_web.jpgFlorida International University

Here’s what blacks could not do in Miami when the Urban League’s local chapter opened its doors in 1943:

• Sit in the front of the bus
• Be in Miami Beach after 6 p.m. unless carrying a special pass
• Eat in any downtown restaurants
• Go to a beach except for the “colored only” stretch of sand on Virginia Key, and that only after a struggle.

“Blacks in Miami from 1943 to 1964 were considered second-class residents,” said T. Willard Fair, president/CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami.
That has all changed and for anyone born after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 it may all seem like ancient history. But, as the League marked its 67th anniversary Saturday, they represented change of major proportions.

About 100 League members, volunteers and employees past and present, those who benefited from the League’s efforts and its friends celebrated their achievements and contemplated the future at a luncheon at the League’s offices at 8500 NW 25th Ave. in Liberty City.

“Once an Urban Leaguer, always an Urban Leaguer,” said Fair, who himself was honored at the luncheon for his 47 years of service to the organization.
Over the decades, the League recruited and placed Mary Beth Wilcox, the first black flight attendant to work for Eastern Airlines, who attended the luncheon;  the first black sales clerks in downtown department stores such as  Burdines and Jordan Marsh; the first black employee at Southeast Bank; the first blacks to work at Florida Power & Light; the first black telephone operators at then Southern Bell; and the first blacks to work for the Florida Highway Patrol.

The League created the first minority procurement program for Miami-Dade County, ran the county’s  first home ownership program for blacks, built or rehabilitated thousands of affordable housing units, created the first home ownership programs for Liberty City residents and became one of that community’s largest employers.

“A lot of people don’t know the history of the Miami Urban League,” said Armando “Mandy” Llanes, a League board member who first joined the organization 27 years ago and also serves as chairman of Hialeah Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

But even as Urban League stalwarts remembered what they’ve done, they bemoaned what they view as the failure of those who came after them to make use what they achieved.

“What you’re seeing here are the senior senior citizens,” said Georgia Ayers, a veteran Liberty City activist who was among seven women whom Fair especially honored Saturday.

“People today don’t appreciate what we women went through in the Fifties and Sixties. We went through hell for them and they aren’t taking advantage,” Ayers said.

The other women whom Fair recognized were Katrina Wilson-Davis, Adele Dillard, Eufala Frazier, Carolyn Jones, Gladys Taylor and  Maxine Thurston.

Jessica De Leon may be reached at jdele002@fiu.edu.

ACHIEVEMENT: Nancy Dawkins, left, chats with Gevene Dods on being a pioneer flight attendant with now defunct Eastern Airlines, during a celebration at the Urban League of Greater Miami on Saturday.