Interviewer: James A. DeVinney
Production Team: A
Interview Date: Month 0, 1900
Camera Rolls: 1066-1068
Sound Rolls: 128
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Georgia Ayers, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on Month 0, 1900, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.
We hear a lot from others about Overtown and they say it was a marvelous place. How do you remember it?
I remember Overtown as being my world ah, whatever fun or whatever I anticipated as enjoying life I'd look to Overtown. That's all Blacks had here in Dade County, was the Ritz Theater, the--well you had three choices: the Ritz, the Harlem, or the modern theater. And, you know, on Saturdays you would leave one and go to the other theater to enjoy whatever life had to offer. Of course I was, in my younger years I couldn't take in the nightbeat, Clyde Killens or the Mary Elizabeth Hotel. But when I got older ah, that's where I went for entertainment and we looked forward to going Overtown 'cause I grew up in an outlying area, a little subdivision. But when we got ready for what's happening, we went to Overtown.
What happened to it?
I will tell you a little story ah, that I heard Governor Graham say after the 1980 disturbances when he made a speech to the Black Lawyers Association. And I was really flabbergasted when I heard these words coming out of his mouth. He said, and I quote, "Like Georgia Ayers said, urban renewal killed Overtown," and that's exactly what happened. But I can recall years ago when I said to the system here that the Whites really wants Overtown because it's just a stone throw from Flagler Street and they wanted to expand. And I said, eventually the Whites are going to do to--to Overtown what they did to the subdivision where I grew up, that they will eventually get it. Now they're to Northwest 8th Street and I think the only thing that's keeping them back is you have the ah, Baptist Church there, Mt. Zion Baptist Church and you have Greater Bethel AME Church, which is the church that I grew up in the early '30s. Ah, they have those two monuments to Blacks there and they just don't know how to confront the system or to confront the Black community to go further s--north, to expand the downtown area. They have taken everything but the, up to those two churches. They've taken the Mary Elizabeth, the Sir John, the ah, old Nightbeat which was part of the Sir John Hotel. Ah, they have the Carver Hotel which uh was--in my opinion, ah, should have not been taken away from Blacks , but that's just a building standing there that's, it's nothing there. Urban renewal and the need for Whites to expand. And I'll go further than that. Since the Latin ah, populations in Dade County, they are looking to expand downtown for the say, South American businesses to come into the county. And I resent it, but being a poor Black there's nothing I can do about it but try and roll with the punches and try to make this community better for everybody. Since it's here you can't change it. So I remember the old slogan that ah, God grant me the serenity to accept the change whatever it may be. And that's the way I try to deal with--but I don't like it.
What was it like when they drove the I-95 through Overtown?
Well it was terrible. It--what happened to those that lived in Overtown was the second coming of the--White establishment and replacing Blacks for growth for Whites. I don't want to go back, but we were displaced, but I say we, my neighborhood was the first displacement of Black people ah, some 40 years ago. And that fortunately for Overtown they did have places for them to go, they did give them some sort of subsidies so that they can find other housing. They did ah, replace those persons who didn't have a place to stay in what we call emergency centers, emergency housing centers. But ah, it wasn't a quite a surprise to me because I had lived through it from the divis--colored subdivision where I came from . The system itself perpetuates on displacing Blacks. It's common knowledge anywhere you go in the United States. They say that we're going to do urban renewal, we're going to make things better for you, but I don't know of anyone that can make things better for Black folk when they rebuild it, they rebuild it so the Blacks that were living there don't have the economic ah, push, the economic ah, knowwithall[SIC] to get back into that same area. If a man is on ah, and most, this is what's all, in Overtown most of those people are living on a s--ah, subsidized income or on, they're retired and they have their old retirement checks coming in. And their retirement checks cannot certainly pay for the housing that's being replaced over there when the monthly payments are 5 to 600 dollars per month, when that's all that person is getting in ,in his monthly check. So they can't say that they're replacing or they're building up Overtown for the replacement of these people. It, they don't, the two don't jive.
Georgia tell me about how your family was affected directly by the I-95 building.
The downtown establishment decided that they wanted to make commuting for the haves that lives in the south and the north end, more convenient for the haves to come downtown. So they decided to build that we call I-95 or the expressway. And by doing so, ah, they, in order to get downtown they had to come through Overtown so that meant, and this is, I'll tell you what we said, "The niggers had to go." So they came out and talked to all of the, ah, property owners and told them by eminent domain, this property is needed to build this expressway, you know, growth is coming on and sometimes some people lose and invariably it's Blacks that lose. Few Whites were displaced too but Overtown was destroyed because of urban renewal and because of the expressway. My mother-in-law, well, matter of fact my husband was born in Overtown on Second Avenue and 7th Street. And now Second Avenue, 7th Street is really downtown. Ah, that's where, right across the street from where the Post Office is. But, as I said, my mother-in-law, just on this past Saturday, ah, because she's older now and she's senile. She doesn't like where she is. She thinks that she's living elsewhere. She told my husband she wants to go home. She wants to go to her house on Sixth Court. Well the expressway now covers Sixth Court so in her life, my father-in-law worked for the railroad company all those years to build their house for them. But because, as I said, the downtown establishment and the powers to be felt that needed, ah, a quicker way for the haves to get downtown. They decided to misplace my entire husband, my husband's entire family because all of his family members had to be removed. And he was born Overtown, for the 95 expressway.
Let's talk about that period in 1980, the time that Mr. McDuffie was killed. How did you feel when those, ah, those men were acquitted and where you ,you and what happened?
I was angry as hell, I was at home and we were expecting the acquittal to come back because the trial was over. My children are not that keen about me and what I do because I do speak out and what comes up most of the time will come out. We were waiting for the verdict. And my children, my baby daughter took my car and left the house with it so when the verdict came back, ah, I had, there were, I have a lot of friends in both the City of Miami Police Department and Metro Police Department. And someone called me and say, Georgia, ah, we are looking for you. You know, they're asking where are you. We're downtown at the Justice Building. And I said, dog gone it, my daughter took my car and left me and I know why she did that, to keep me from coming there. So I called my nephew and he came to pick me up and as soon as I got downtown in front of the Metro Building, the Police Station rather which is on 14th Street, I met Mama Range, that's Athney Range and she said, Georgia we need a bullhorn because we're losing control over the crowd. But at that moment, very seriously, I was frightened. Someone had thrown a rock and had broken the door leading into the police headquarters and I saw cars parked in strategic places with their trunks up. And I said, this is strange. All of these cars are breaking down in these areas. These people should have known better. At that moment I didn't think what was happening. Those people came downtown prepared with Molotov Cocktail bombs in the trunks of their cars. They came to destroy. It was a rumor that this was going to happen but I said, "Oh, probably this would not happen, not another 1968." Well this was more planned than '68 was and while I stood there evaluating what I thought I saw but then I realized almost that that's not what I think I see, this is happening. We are losing today. This Saturday is going to explode. And sure enough, I went inside the police station. I told the White officer that was sitting there, I think it's best that you get off the desk and let some Blacks come there. About that some moment a White City of Miami police officer came by in a car. He was terrified. I mean fear was all in his face. And instead of stopping, he put his foot on the gas tank and ran over a Black person and then pandemonium broke loose, ah, all was lost. There was no coming back. You just had to deal with it. And what know, we dealt with it for about four, five days. We lost 18 people, ah 19 with the death of McDuffie, during that, ah, civil disorder. Ah, it's, I never want to go through anything like that again.
Matter of fact McDuffie dated my daughter-in-law. That's where my son took her, for the lack of a better word, from McDuffie.
Tell me something about the media coverage of the trial of McDuffie. What was your response or reaction to that?
My response was anger. So was every, every other American should have been angry to stand and see White police officers describing in detail the brutal way that they beat McDuffie until they just beat him to unconsciousness and then to turn around and lie about it. Then, on the trial, on the, on the, on the media which was, in a way was good because we knew what happened. But in a way was bad because Blacks registered in their minds what the cops had done to McDuffie and then for the racist people in Tampa to exonerate that man leaves one to just dislike the criminal justice system in its entirety and to dislike Whites. How can a White person in their own mind, just exonerate police officers who stood up and said, "Yes we beat him this. Yes, my partner did this." And then lie about it. People have not forgotten that the McDuffie incident will be in the hearts and minds of people throughout the world because the coverage of McDuffie's riot went everywhere. They haven't forgotten it. They haven't forgotten it now. And if anything else were to come up, they still, you will never forget that. Incidentally the officer, and I take pride in doing this, Charles Veverka that brought it on, he was the officer that pulled McDuffie off of the, ah, motorbike. He will never, ever work for a police department in Dade County. I saw fit, I saw to that. He will never. As a matter of fact, I'm hap--that's one time I'm pleased with the media because it's recorded in our local papers here that I said that I was, ah, vindictive and that's the one time that I'm glad I was vindictive. I got back at him. And I'm happy of it.
Back again to the rally that night. Were there any White people there?
At the rally?
Of course, McDuffie's rally?
Oh yes. One media person was there from the Miami Herald, this poor little, beautiful White girl. I kept telling her, Sweetheart, she was came, some came from Miami Beach some came from all over Dade County. Whites, liberal minded Whites, everybody, after viewing what happened on the screen, the police officers going into the detail with the, a kell[SIC] light, how they kicked the, and, and broke up the motorbike to make it appear that McDuffie was in a, in the, in an accident. All of those people, if you have any heart whatsoever, you would denounce anything like that. So the Whites came to support the cause of poor people, Black people. But in the heat of a riot, whether it's Ku Klux Klans against White or Blacks against Ku Klux Klans against Black or White, Blacks against White, when a race riot comes in, I don't care if a White is my best friend, I will tell him, you take cover for right now because you may be my best friend but other Blacks don't see you. All they see is a White man. And you are not safe. And this same Miami Herald reporter, I tried to tell her, "Sweetheart, you need to leave and go back because you're in trouble." "Oh, no, I came all the way over here and I'm marching and furthermore, I'm covering the story." I say, "Honey, to hell with the story right now, you better get your butt from out of there right now." To make a long story short, she was so glad when I carried her to the sanctuary of Dade County Jail to save her life.
Did you remember, do you remember something about, oh cut.
Tell me that heated battle story.
Well, it's common knowledge here in, in Miami, when it gets to dealing with the police, most people will, ah, call on me. Senator Carrie Meek who is our first, ah, Black senator in the State of Florida and Bea Hines who is one of our leading Miami Herald reporters, ah, decided that they would ride with me. Well Senator Meek rode with me and Bea Hines said she would follow, so that if she got them, she can back to the Herald with the story. We went up into an area where I saw, ah, the police really reacting with some Black youth. Impulsively I move and when we stopped there was really a huge crowd and Bea said to me, ah, well she had gotten out of her car and came to the car where Senator Meek and I were and she said, Georgia, I don't, Senator Meek said, "Georgia, I don't think you should get involved." And Bea said, "Georgia, no. I mean you just don't walk into the-- " I said, "Let me tell you all, this one damned thing. If you can't stand the heat get out of my kitchen because I'm going there." And I went into the crowd where the scuffle was going on and one of the police attempted to grab me and I let him, well I didn't touch him physical, but my mouth gave him a mouth full and he goes back to the police radio and radios that we have Georgia Ayers out here. She's a shit stirrer. And I went on down to the police station and they called him and called me in and I told them, Yes, but you all stir more shit up it than I do. If the policeman hadn't killed that young man we would not be out here right now stirring shit.
Tell me about the prosecution of the McDuffie murderers. Did the State's Attorneys office here bungle that case?
Not in my opinion they didn't, ah, as a matter of fact I just spoke with the prosecutor, George Yoss, when yesterday we were in court together and, ah, George presented the facts as they were given to him from the A form. You have to remember that the first introduction of anything into the criminal justice, criminal justice system comes from the A form, that is the arrest form. And if you recall, you're not from Miami, but if you recall that, ah, it was White police officers themselves, some of the hierarchy that brought to the fact that something was wrong with the A form, the medical examiners office and the lieutenants and captains got together and they said that McDuffie's death is something wrong with it. And it was the police department themselves that brought out the fact that he was murdered. It wasn't an automobile accident or motorcycle accident, as the police officer tried to make it. The State Attorney's office gets its reports from that A form. From that point on they go back and investigate what actually happened. It wasn't the State Attorney's fault. It was the White racism in Tampa, Florida that exonerated the McDuffie killers. I feel that way about it as a person that works with the courts every day. Now, some Blacks may not feel that way. They think maybe the State Attorney's office, but the State presented what they, got from the A form and after they went back and investigated that case. I do know that Janet Reno is one of the most honorable State Attorneys that will ever be anywhere in the world, she is that kind of person. And I do know that she goes to the fullest extent to prosecute any case that comes before her. But you have to remember, Janet Reno, if it were left up to her, the case would not have gone to Tampa, it would have been tried here. But you have to remember also that it is up to the, ah, attorney that's, for the defense to move the change of venue as he sees would be best for his client. So you have two factions there, the defense side and the State side. The third faction and the final faction that comes in, the judge didn't hear the case. He heard it but it wasn't his, up to him, to say guilty or not guilty, it was White racism that prevails throughout the nation, when a White police officer kills a Black they put it to the point where it was justifiable homicide.
Let's go now to the aftermath. You were on something called the Dade County Revitalization Board?
Yes. The Dade, well it's the, after the disturbances, our Governor decided he would put together a group of citizens, ah, to deal with the aftermath of the riots and to come up with an economic base giving, ah, they put some monies, $100,000 out to those persons who can qualify to come up with some, to build up Dade County economically. And there were eleven, ah, persons appointed to that Board, six Blacks and five Whites. It was a try but, ah, nothing, it didn't materialize as what we had hoped it to be, there are about four of those CBCs still standing, that each of those CBCs were given $100,000 seed money to build an economic base in the county, in the city rather, and only, about four of them, was $100,000 a drop in the bucket, to talk about building up your community where millions were lost during the riots and you're going to give a person a $100,000, that's not even a drop in the bucket.
But the literature suggests that there was millions poured into this community.
I don't know where the hell it went. You tell me where did it go. It certainly didn't reach the level. I know because I served, I was the Governor's appointee to all eleven Boards. And I'd like to know where, there were two, in all fairness, there were two, ah, one in particular I know, the director was, ah, tried, well convicted and went to jail for misappropriation, but that was less than $500,000 that he was tried for. And if millions came into Dade County, I don't know where it went and I was the Governor's appointee to all eleven of those CBCs and if it went, Blacks didn't get it.
Go back now and tell me that chain story again
Go back now and give me that chain story from the rally.
Well, the rally that we had in front of the, ah, Justice Building, supposedly to have had in front of the Justice Building, got out of hand, because as I told you, Blacks came prepared to burn. They were angry because of, ah, the police officers being exonerated and they didn't want to kill so they burned. At one point I confronted the, some police officers, I said, "I hear those guys are going over to get the State building." The cops say, "Let it burn. I, I don't care about that." Then, at that moment I saw this Miami Herald reporter come up and she was complaining about her chain. Someone snatched her chain. I said, Sweetheart, you're worrying about a damn chain, you better worry about your life, who care about a chain. But, I'm trying to find a police officer to tell him. I said, You better get your ass out of here, baby, because the chain is secondary. And, Well, I'm not going anywhere. To make a long story short, I finally escorted her into the Dade County jail because that was the safest place to be, in the Dade County jail. We had to go there because we couldn't get out of the area. The police had cordoned off the area because they had broken the window in the police station and that's com., I mean that's defiance of the law when you attack the police station. So, they called in a police officer from the other municipalities and they, ah, just blocked off that entire area. And I had to stay in the jail myself, oh, about five or six hours because police were shooting at everything that moved. At that point they, ah, bombed the, firebombed the Graham Building, which was named after Governor Bob Graham, the State Building, there were some cars that had the county tag on them under the expressway, they torched them and every car that looked like it might have been an official car, anything to do with the system, they were burned. And, ah, when we were given clearance to go home, that same White child, because she was a child to me, that I tried to get to leave early, I had to take her home.
Take me back now to Overtown, people who are left there, the academics called them the underclass, what do you--
Underclass, the system, if they are underclass it's what the system perceive them to be. They are human beings. They are people that need a place to eat, live and sleep, just like everybody else. They have grown all Overtown because the system has not provided for them a better way of life. They didn't kill Overtown. Urban renewal killed Overtown. Those families are living on their properties that most of it has been condemned and the system is just sitting there waiting for them to lose it so they can lap it up and build apartments the way that they're doing over there right now. I passed there yesterday and saw the space there where the, Mary Elizabeth used to be, and it grieves me to see, they say they're pulling, putting an apartment there. And those apartments I guarantee you, the rent will be at least 700 dollars per month to stay there. Those people that live in Overtown, don't get that amount of money to pay for rent. So they don't care about those people. If the system could take all of those folk from Overtown and put them in the wilderness someplace, they will build for them out there, but they got people like myself and other community people here, who will die before we see them taking Overtown without a good fight.
Is that the price we have to pay for integration?
That's the, you know, what, what integration? You still see Blacks living in a, ah, general location. We don't have integration. We have the desire to move, if we had the money to move, other places and, what will happen is, you have the same White flight. And the other thing that's happening in Dade County now, Blacks used to be the minority. Blacks are no longer minorities in Dade County. Anglo-Whites are the minority in Dade County. Dade County is a Latin community, controlled by Latins.
How do most Blacks feel about the Latin presence?
Just like the Whites feel about it. I don't hate anyone. But I do know that, ah, Latins own this community. I do know that Latins control it. If you go downtown right now, and you hear an Anglo voice, it's shocking. "Oh, you mean, you people are still around." And that's what some of the Whites are saying. They may not say it openly but that's what they said to me, some of my good White friends like some of my best friends are White. That old cliche, Whites used to say, "Well my best friends are Black." Whites dislike the fact that they cannot go downtown and confront a sales person in the store and me no speakee[SIC] English. They got to call someone to interpret. They say that but they don't, they feel it but they don't want to come out and openly say it. I'm saying it because it's the truth. I still love everybody. Some of my best friends are White. Some of my best friends are Black. Some of my worst enemies are White. Some of my worst enemies are Black, Latin, or whatever. I love people. But the facts of life is that's what's happening in Dade County and across the nation today.
What do you hope for your community? How is it going to survive as a minority?
All of my life, sir. I'm 60 years old. I have been fighting for survival against racism, oppression, economically and every other way. I am fighting for a better way of life for my children. I understand now, for a fact, that my children don't have to drink in the Black fountains as I did. When they go downtown, they don't have to go in the back and set in the back to try on a pair of shoes. They don't have to buy a hat and take it home because they cannot try it on. We have integration as far as the White man says it's there. My thing is to take what you have, make something of it and never be satisfied.