Interviewer: Madison Davis Lacy, Jr.
Production Team: A
Interview Date: December 13, 1989
Camera Rolls: 1132-1133
Sound Rolls: 161-162
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Interview with Frank Legree, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on December 13, 1989, 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.
Frank, Overtown in it's heyday. You were a performer there. What was it like then? Tell, make it come alive.
Overtown, oh, during that time, man, Overtown, they had all of the different bands and shows, they had some wonderful musicians, you know. Oh they had some of the baddest musicians. I used to jam a lot, so OK. Even at the Sir John, the Mary Elizabeth, they would have a show, big dancing, you know? All you had to do was just go down Second Avenue, any time that, after seven o'clock. Both sides of the street, all you could see was just people. Everybody was happy, you know? And, ah, they just had shows. They had, we would leave from the Mary Elizabeth, we would go to the Sir John. Leave from the Sir John, we would go down to the Elks which Clyde Killens had. You know, it was always something going on, man, it was swinging. That's all I can say. It was bad.
But what about the business life? You like, you said the business life was hot too. Paint a picture for me.
Oh, well, during that time, you know, well, they, ah, they have the hotels, they have the restaurants, they had clothing stores, they had, everything was right in Overtown. You didn't have to go anyplace. You didn't have to hardly go downtown, like to Flagler or, listen, or some of the big exclusive stores, you know, but for us, the stores here, it was, they had everything right Overtown on Second Avenue, Third Avenue, it was there, you know, and all you had to do, leave from there, you go to Liberty City, it was the same. It was really swinging, it was really all right.
Well now, um, what was your favorite story. You were a musician. Who did you perform with that you liked the most, or what do you remember as a story about somebody that--
Oh, oh, I can, well, there's several I can remember, but, there's one I, I, I really thinks about quite often, is, ah, Dinah Washington. Dinah was in town, you know, and she was supposed to perform with us at the Sir John. We had it all set up. Dinah Washington was going to be at the 5:35. First show starts at eleven o'clock. And this is it. Everybody's glad to see Dinah. They want that. They loved Dinah then. So we had a big band, the place was crowded, we was only charging two dollars during that time, well that was big money, you know, everybody was trying to get there, so we had the place crowded, we was so happy because we got a full house. Where's Dinah? Everybody waited. No Dinah. So someone came up to us, say, "Hey man, like, ah, Dinah's over at the Palms." I said, "The Palms? She's not supposed be there, she's supposed to be here, you know, with us!" No Dinah. But we had one girl that used to sing. She loved the Dinah, she would imitate Dinah like everything, so, we saw that Dinah wasn't going to be there, everybody wanted the show to start, so hey, we just put this girl up and she started singing. And she was wailing the same songs what Dinah sings, you know? All of a sudden, here come Dinah inside and hear this chick. Oh, she was furious, you know? But after all, you know, she came in, she know she was late, she know she was wrong, but she really liked this girl herself and, man, that was a ball. Everybody, you know, forgot about Dinah didn't show, but when Dinah got there, she got up on the stage, she killed it. You know. But it was real funny, you know, ah, it was just one of those things that happened in, in, in the entertaining that I never will forget, you know, never will forget it.
Let's stop down now
All right, um, all right, now, let's start on your story, brother. Tell me, why, what possessed you to buy a house in Liberty City in 1957? Start there.
Well, well, I planned just at first, ah, my mother and my step-father, he passed, he expired. She was living in Tennessee. You know, I was in New York at the time, so when I went there and found out that she wanted to, you know, to leave. Her health wasn't that good, and they suggested that, "Wait, why don't you go to a warmer climate?" You know, and I talked it over with my mother, she said, "Well," you know, "We might as well go back home," which was Miami, you know, so, we come home to Miami. So after getting here, we got into an apartment, you know, and we said, "Well, we'll get out and start looking around to see can we find a comfortable home." Not too expensive because we didn't have the bread, you know. So anyway, we started looking, and finally we went in to a couple called Erikken[SIC] and Zuckerman, which was two lawyers, ah, that had a house, and they said it was in Liberty City and it was on 55th Street, so, "Hey!" All I knew was it's 55th Street, and this was the house. So they agreed to go show it to us, and we went out, we looked at the house, the house looked good. Three bedrooms, one bath, and, ah, it was only $12,500. So this was really what we were looking for, and the house wasn't bad, and, and the neighborhood looked pretty good, so I agreed. So he told us to come in the next day, we'd fill out the papers, which we did, we went in, signed all the papers, got it all straight, I said, "Well, what we'd like to do is is, you know, get the place cleaned up first, and then we'll move in." He said, "No problem." So, we went on and went the next day, scrubbed, got the place looking, my wife was happy, and my mother saw it. She said, "Oh, this is so nice. We were so lucky to get in here." You know, so nobody said anything, one of the neighbors I saw, which was White, the lady came and said, "Y'all going to move in?" I said, "Yes, we trying to get it straight." They were very nice people as far as I'm concerned. No problem at all. So, we got her in the house, and after going into the house, we, ah, I'd say, at least two weeks after we moved in, we were sitting out on the porch one day and then the mailman came to give us a letter. I thought about it, said, "Hey, who know where we live at already?" And when I opened the letter it said, "Nigger, get out!" I said, "Isn't this something?" So we laughed about it, it was nothing, you know, because we didn't pay any attention to it. Except my mother, she said, "Oh, this don't sound too good." I said, "Oh, don't worry about it." I said, "It's just somebody, you know." So anyway, two weeks later, after we received this letter, I came home one night and they called me and said, "Hey, your windows is all knocked out." I said, ["Windows, my pane? You know, the glass?" They said, "Yes.] Somebody threw a brick and knocked the windows out." [You know, so now this is beginning, now I'm getting a little upset from the corner, I said, "I don't know what's going on, but I think I better contact the police, and notify them what have[SIC] happened, you know, here." So I called the police, was the, Chief Headley was the chief of police at that time. And by calling him, he said, "Well, did you see who did it? When it happened?" I said, "No, I wasn't home, but when I come home, then," I said, "I need some protection or something going on, you know." So he said, "There's nothing I can do," you know, he said, "if we catch anybody around there, then we can do anything." I said, "Oh, OK." SO I ran into a friend, which was Dr. Brown and also a fellow named Butterball, which was a Disc J- DJ that I know, I had met, so he told me, he said, "Why don't you talk with father Gibson and Attorney Graves with the NAACP and let them know what happened?" I said, "What good is that going to-?" He said, "Well, hey, talk to them anyway," he said, "because you're new in the neighborhood, you know, and they doing these kind of things, I think you ought to talk to them." So I did. I went and talked with Attorney G.E. Graves, because he said, "Oh", he said, "we're glad to know this," he said, "hey, we want to get with you, we're going to have a meeting." I said, "Meeting about what?" He said, "About your house." I said, "I don't need a meeting, this my house!" You know what I mean? He said, "Oh, no, no," he said, "what we're trying to do is we're trying to find someone, ah, you know, that will stick because we're tired of the way they're doing here. We've been trying to integrate the golf club, the golf course, we've done tried to do this, and we haven't been able to get nothing going. This is the thing what we need, right here, to stand by." I said, "Whatever you want to do, because I'm not going. This is my home, I'm going to stay there, you know?" So this was it. This is the beginning of us going into, to this house. And I was looking for no problems at all because we weren't looking for that. We didn't know anything about what they were trying to call us as Black-busters, blockbusters. I said, "What is that, what you call it?" They say, "Wait, we trying to get in there and, you know, and start, ah, some kind of--" I said, "Not me, this wasn't my idea.] Only thing I wanted was a home for my mother and my family to live. And this is all." [You know, whether it's White, Black, blue, or green, I didn't know. We weren't looking for nothing like this. So, this is the way it happened**
Let's stop down. I'm going to see where we are on this camera roll.
We have about 75 feet. Um, what, about two minutes.
Um, in this two minut-
Right, now, you are, you're, the NAACP has gotten somebody who's going to stake you--
OK, ah, they invited Dr. King down, ah, he came down, right?
Well, what happened, the, ah, Attorney G.E. Graves, which was the attorney for the NAACP, he had invited Dr. King down, him and Father Gibson. So, they was telling him about what has started, what the problem was that I were[SIC] having at this home, so this is when Dr. King called me in with him and the rest of the officials at the NAACP and s- asked me, please, if I would stay, you know, there to the house and wouldn't leave, and they would back me, they would get behind me to see that, I said, "Well, hey, I don't want no violence either," I said, "but let me tell you this: if they try to do anything, that I'm going to use violence." Dr. King said, "No, this is not the way it goes. This is not what we want to do." He said, "Then we'll be acting just as they do." He said, "But we're going to fight them 'til the end. If you are willing to stick, we're willing to stand behind you. And otherwise, I'll tell you this: we'll even pay your house note." Oh, man, now that really struck me. You know, I wanted to go stay there anyway, but, hey, they was willing to do that, seriously, I was glad, you know, that they did, because I didn't really want any trouble, I didn't want to hurt anybody, I didn't want to get hurt, you know, but I just wanted a home for my mother and my kids, you know, to live. So this was it, and after they told me that, this was the beginning of my home.
OK, let's stop down.
Thanks, very good. Very good. I may, um, that was good. I might want to go back at the end of this and get that King question again because it got a little bit bobbled at the beginning, but because you picked it up at the middle, you did real good with it. What, ah, did you hear that answer?
I like the idea that they said it was important to them. Did they, did they, I know why I wanted to follow up. Did they stick with you?
Oh yes, they did. Oh yeah, the stuck the whole--
You know, your hand gestures are fine while you're talking to me, that sound will pick up on the mic, so try not to, you know, hit the table. But it's OK, it's cool. Um, um, all right, now we go to what happened next, and I want you to pick it up with, if it's appropriate to pick up with that story about how, um, sorry, about how, ah, the, ah, picketing starts, or the White Citizens' Council decides that they, you know, they gonna, they call you up and say they gonna kill you. Remember, you, you started telling me about how you had a White informer who went to the meetings and, ah, and, ah, then you worked on yourself all the way into that story about, ah, that night. Now, you know, when you had heard from the informant that they were going to put the cross on your lawn, and you notified the police, and media, and if there is anything that strikes your funny bone about all that, let it rip, I mean, because I'd laugh, but I mean, it was one of those tactics that seemed to have worked.
OK. Mm hmm.
Now, you told me that, ah, somebody threatened you with death at one point, and the White Citizens' Council. Start that story, tell me.
Oh, yeah, that was, ah, what, ah, they called it, Hawthorne, was the White Citizens' Council. They used to have meetings about a block from the home where I was living, and, they would have this White Citizens' Council meeting, or whatever they called it, you know, and they had been to the house trying to make an offer to me, what, you know, "Hey, you want to sell the house?" I told them, "Yeah, I'll sell it," you know. So they come to the house, when they walked up, knocked on the door, you know, they said, "We want to come and see what kind of offer you--" I said, "What you offering for my house?" They said, "Twenty five thousand dollars." I said, "You give me a hundred thousand dollars, I'll move tomorrow," you know. They all said, "I told you he was crazy! I told you he was crazy!" And everybody left, you know. But anyway, ah, we found out that they were having these meetings, so the attorney for the NAACP, G.E. Graves, he found an informer, which was White, to start attending these, these meetings, because they wanted to know what was going on. They had, we'd heard a lot of threats and, by mail and on the phone, but we didn't actually know what they were really doing, you know, at these meetings, so we wanted to find out. And, ah, they would pay him just to go to these meetings. So he went to one meeting and he came back and Dr. King was here at that time. He called all of us over, we went over to Reverend Graham's home, and we sit down and discussed, and this fellow came in, a fellow which I didn't know, and, ah, I had met him for the first time, so he said, ah, "Well, at this meeting they decided that they going to kill you." And, I, you know, "Kill me?" So, ah, he said, "Yes," he said, "they had decided that they were going to shoot the lights out on Fourteenth Avenue, which I was living between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Avenue on 55th St., and they have the street lights. So they had decided that they were going to shoot the lights out on each corner, and they was going to have this big seven-foot cross on a pickup truck, and they was going to come and bring it to my home and put it on the lawn, and after they was supposed to have lit the cross and start burning, this was when they were going to start the shooting. But, before this had happened, we had notified, after finding out all this, we notified Chief Headley of the police and told him, said, "Hey, this man's life, now has been threatened, they talking about what they going to do, and we want to know, what can you do to give him protection at his home?" And he told us, he said, "Well, there's nothing I can do, they haven't did anything, you know, to him, they just only talking, there's nothing we can do." So we decided to go to the media with the dum- I think it was Channel Four, and also the Miami Herald, and we told them what we, information we had, and what they intend to do, and they were glad to hear this, and they told us, "No problem, we'll be there, we gonna see, you know, what was going on." So now, at the meantime, Chief Headley done told us he was not going to be there, you know, but after he find out that we had done went to the television station, and they were going to be there, and the Miami New- ah, Herald was going to be there, so they decided to go ahead and send some police there they self, which we had a, ah, open, ah, place in the front of my house where it was a lot of trees so you could hardly see anyone. And, sure enough, that night, it was supposed to come between nine and ten o'clock. Sure enough, 9:30, we hears this gun goes off, shoots the light out there, shoots the light out on Fifteenth Avenue, a few minutes, and this truck come with four men, four White males, with a seven-foot cross. And they pull up right to my house, just as the informant told us they were going to do, took out the cross, put it up against a tree, and as soon as they got the cross in this tree, they was, the officer was supposed to wait until they light it. But they didn't. They rushed out, grabbed them, and put them under arrest. You know, but if they had waited and, until they had set this afire, they could have gotten more time, but this is what they did, you know, before that, although they did catch them, I'm glad they caught them on my lawn, but I wanted to do something, but they didn't want me to do what I wanted to do, you know.
Well, now the stuff kept going, it kept continuing, I, you know, ah, going on and on and on. How did all this make you feel? How did you bear up under all this shit?
Well, like I said, at, at, at, ah, at this particular point, I have really gotten a- afraid for my family, you know, because it was showing that they were really getting to be violent, and they was threatening to do, to really kill me or my family, you know, so that is, I was more concerned about my family than I was myself. So we decided to get my family out, we went and put them in a room, apartment at least at the Sir John, so they could stay there, and I said, "I will stay at the house myself." Which I did, and the NAACP got some men to, you know, start staying there with me,] but they started this picketing, [you know, and, so they was walking all around with a big sign, "Nigger get out!", "You's a blockbuster, we don't want you in our area," and, ah,] so I didn't just let them walk and walk, so I went outside, got my sprinklers, put it on my lawn, turned the water up as high as I could, you know what I mean, and water coming, they just started running through the water, somebody went and call the police, when the police come, still they got them to carry me to jail** So I goes to jail for turning on the water on people that, I said, "But they was marching in front of my home!" But they carried me to jail, which, I didn't make it in time to do, jury throwed[SIC] it out of court, you know, and I went, then, after then, we had what we'd call a cocktail hour. And we invited all our friends to come over, you know, so they find out that we saw all these cars, and going on Dr. Brown, Father Gibson, everybody was there. And we looked up, we inside, everybody's having a ball, come out, we had four cars with the tires flat on the ground, you know. And it was just something that, ah, I'm, I'm, ah, ah, ah, if I had to do it all over again, I definitely would, you know, but this is something we weren't looking for. We weren't looking for any trouble, you know, and it wasn't really the neighbors that lived right next door, right in that area, it was people that lived way off from there, in Hialeah, in Coral, Coral Gables, you know, and they were, actually, we had one of the fellows, they called him along, that actually worked for Eastern Airline, you know? And, ah, it wasn't the neighbors, it was just the outsiders that was created all the disinformation.
Stop down. That's an interesting twist
So you're dealing with the housing stuff and along comes the school shooting.
Ah, Nah, let me tell you this. We went through all this problem, now things are easing down. You know, on the house--we're still getting a few little prank calls, but we didn't pay any attention because things were going a little smoother, ah, my son at the time was attending a school called "Holmes Elementary," which was 13 to 14 blocks, on the other side of the school which was called Archer Villa, that he had to pass by on the way to Holmes Elementary from the house that we were living. So then they come and say "No Mr. LeGree, your son is not supposed to pass one school to go to another, ah, wait a minute, you going to tell me I have to go through this again?" So he said, this is rule, this is the superintendent of, you know the schools. So I said, well, only thing we can do, we got to transfer him to go to Archer Villa, so I go to Archer Villa that morning to transfer my son; "I'm sorry you can't bring your son here," "What do you mean I can't bring him here, the superintendent told me--" So the principal, he got in and called me and said Mr. Legree lets try and get this thing--I said "whatever, ah, you know my son needs an education," I said, "I didn't ask for this," I said, "they told me to bring my son here to Archer Villa, this is where he's supposed to go, I have all his papers, I'm presenting it to you, now you do what you want to, he's going to stay in school."
All right, now you said we needed integration, start it with integration.
Yeah, well, you know, we needed integration, we needed school, we needed, you know, better schools to go to, and I think, if we decided we wanted to go eat here or go eat there, we should, you know, go there, you know. But, in all that, we had, in the Black area here in Liberty City and, and Overtown, we had so many places, we had the hotels, we had restaurants, we had everything that we wanted, it was so used to of us having things that we wanted, so it was no big thing to us, you know, but we wanted to have the privilege of going where you would like to go. But, when that opened up so that we could go to those places and do those things, that just, just faded the Black businesses out, because you couldn't compete with the big Di- ah, Denny's Restaurant, and you couldn't compete with the hotels, the big hotels, the Eden Roc or the Fontainebleau, you know, or what have you. So, this just killed all of our revenge, so all of a sudden, now they say, "OK, we going to make it possible so the Blacks can have this. We going to tear this down and, ah, and build over a little-- " And they tore down things, but nothing had never been built back again. So now if you could look Overtown, or if you go in Liberty City, this is all you see, the places that were torn down, but there's nothing that has been built, you know, for the Black people. Anytime that we have the, the Black Baptist Convention, or we have the Masonics, which have 30,000 delegates or what have you, who gets any of the pie? We can't get in over the side, because we don't have anything to offer. We don't have no hotels, we don't have no restaurants that is, that can seat 300 people, you know, and, so where have the got to go? They go to the Eden Roc, they have to go to the Hilton, they have to go there. They're making all the money over there, and they say, "In our community," you know, but what about the economics over here. We're not getting into that! We can't get in because we don't have anything to offer. So they got to go in this other area which is surg- integrated, and which is good, we're glad, but look what it did to us over in this area, we don't get none of the pie.
I gotcha. We got roll out. That's good. I got it all. We got it all