By Emmanuel George
Guest columnist for Hy-Lo News, Emmanuel George curated 6 little known Black History facts about his beloved home town of Broward County. He has a full list of 28 Black History Facts that you can read on his Facebook here. In no particular order, below are Broward County’s Black history.
1. A family of Black excellence: The Collins family
Richard Collins moved to Dania from Miami in 1911 and opened a grocery store by the name of “Collins Bros.” The store is still located on the corner of 5th avenue in Danie in Broward County. This store was ahead of its time, which adorned neon lights, and supplied shoppers with shopping carts. You can compare it to a Publix or Whole Foods of the black community during that time. Richard let his wife Leola Collins manage the store while he was away farming or shelling rock. South Broward high school was once farm land and Richard Collins owned it., Richard also owned several businesses from Liberty City to Fort Lauderdale and white folks were intimidated by the success of a black man. In a time where it was overtly seen to look at Black people as inferior, white people did several things to hinder him from continued success so he ended up giving away the land where South Broward High School sits today. Leola Collins was an Eastern star and involved with the American Red Cross. She provided food to residents in need and was also the secretary and treasurer of the Provident Hospital. She was also very helpful with the kids in the community and her focus was education. When she passed, Collins elementary was built in her honor. Richard and Leola had three sons that carried on their tradition of hard work, entrepreneurship, business and community. Their son, William Collins, became a maintenance painter in local schools, Vincent Collins opened an accounting firm, and Marcellus Collins, who passed away last December, served the community as a teacher, founded the Dania housing authority, was the treasurer of the Provident Hospital, member of the Dania Negro Chamber of commerce and the Broward Civic Improvement Association. Many of their offspring continue their legacy today. Collins Bros grocery store was recently leased and will reopen as a daycare. The Collins family still owns the majority of the property on 5th Avenue, which is the former Black business district in Danie.
2. A trip down memory lane in Carver Ranches.
The Bowles-Strachan house is now a landmark in the city of West Park also known as Carver Ranches. This home was one of the first four model homes built for the Carver Ranches subdivision. The Strachan family was one of the first families in the community. Ethelyn Bowles moved to unincorporated Broward and purchased the shotgun home. During the time, two white men were selling the land exclusively to African Americans that lived in the Liberty City and Overtown area who wanted to move. Ethelyn had a son named Theodore “Lucky” Strachan who grew up to be a prominent pioneer in that community living and he there all of his life. Prior to him passing in 2006 his daughter Cynthia questioned him about the Bowles and Strachan family’s Bahamian root. These questions led Cynthia to interview several pioneers in the community, covering stories from the 1940s and 1950s. Her research included oral histories, photographs and archival antique belongings, all of which were covered in her book “Promises from the Palmetto Bush, the genesis of Carver Ranches.” Cynthia then went on to write and produce a musical based on the book titled “Their Story is our Story.” In 2009, her home became a historical landmark in the city of West Park. Today the home is a local black history museum that covers The Ranches rich history. For those interested in going back in time to see a glimpse of what the community was like for Black people during that time, I highly suggest you schedule a trip to this museum.
3. Education and activism: The life and sacrifices of Blanche Ely.
Mrs. Blanche Ely was born January 4,1904 and graduated from Florida A&M University. She also received a Master’s degree from Columbia University. Mrs. Ely became principal of Ely High School in 1951 which was originally named “Pompano Colored School” and later named “Pompano Negro High School.” Mrs. Ely “played no games” with her students and staff. She was strict and conservative and didn’t allow school dances, started faculty meetings with a prayer, prohibited teachers from smoking on campus and would give short sermons when handing out each paycheck. Norbert Williams, who taught at Ely High School in the 1960s, accounted for Mrs. Ely’s behavior and rules. She was a leader who emphasized programs and groomed young teachers to continue her work. She also secured funding for the migrant housing project where Markham Elementary school was built. Additionally, Ely Estates which is a housing project for low income families was an initiative she advocated for as well. Mrs. Ely is credited with birthing the education renaissance in Broward county from the implementation of Pompano Migrant School (Today known as Golden acres), Coleman Elementary, Markham Elementary and Sanders Elementary. Blanche Ely passed away in 1993 and is buried in forest lawn cemetery in Pompano. Her home is now a black historical museum displaying the rich history of Northwest Pompano.
4. Dania’s Dirty Little Secret
Westlawn Memorial is where many Liberia and Danie (Dania) residents put their loved ones to rest. This gravesite is home to many pioneers such as Leola Collins, Richard Collins, “street legends” and many more. In recent years there has been a push to remove confederate street names in Hollywood, but what if I told you that east of Hollywood in Dania Beach stood a secret that only the locals may know. A once integrated cemetery where black and white people would bury their loved ones then became segregated by the train tracks. White people didn’t want their loved ones to be buried next to black people’s loved ones due to “fear of their spirits integrating from beyond the grave” said former black residents. What some white Dania residents did at the time was sickening. They ended up making it mandatory for black people to dig up their loved ones and move them across the west side of the tracks, some black folks did not know where their loved ones were moved to due to white folks digging up black dead bodies and doing who knows what with them. It is one of the racist stories that many people do not talk about due to the trauma and pain it inflicted upon Danie and Liberia Black residents.
5. “Don’t shoot me”—The tragedy and unrest of Willie “Junebug” McDonald.
Willie “Junebug” McDonald was only 20 years old in 1980. He was a Deerfield Beach High school basketball star who was trying to find himself in life. On April 3,1980, Junebug and several of his friends were shooting dice at Westside Park when an unmarked police car pulled up causing the crew shooting dice to disperse. Junebug was caught briefly after with Officer Douglas R. Williams on top of him. Officer Williams .357 Magnum fired and the bullet pierced Junebug’s neck and lungs killing him instantly. According to Officer Williams his finger slipped on the trigger due to the rain outside. He would later say Junebug knocked his hand, some witnesses say he was face down when he was killed, other witnesses said Junebug pleaded “Don’t shoot me.” After his murder, there was a lot of unrest in Deerfield. In anger, frustration and sadness, locals smashed 2 police officer’s windows and many protests were held to call for Justice for McDonald. In November of 1980, Officer Williams was acquitted of 2nd degree murder by an all-white jury that deliberated for only an hour and a half. Officer Williams ended up quitting the Deerfield police department and would relocate to Coral Springs where he would continue his work as an officer and then becoming a detective. He’s now working once a week as a patrol officer. In later years, it was revealed that Officer Williams and Junebug both went to school together, both played high school basketball for Deerfield High and it was Junebug that took his starting spot on the team. Could this small instance have played a role in Williams motive to kill Junebug? Quite possibly. However, the tragedy of Willie “Junebug” McDonald showcases the consistency of justice not being served for unarmed black men being killed by police, from Jimmy Lee Span, Arthur Mcduffie, Jermaine Mcbean, and Corey Jones, the injustice continues here in South Florida. The more we think things change, the more they stay the same. Rest in Power Junebug.
6. Black love, activism, and tragedy: The story of Samuel and Lois Delevoe
Samuel Delevoe was born march 04 1936. His family moved to Liberia when he was a child and he attended Attucks High School. When he was just a teenager, Delevoe fought in the Korean war. After serving his time in the military, he went back to finish his schooling Dillard High School. In 1959, Samuel fell in love and married Lois Delevoe. She describes him as a loving family man and as a provider. Samuel Delevoe became one of the first black police officers in Fort Lauderdale and vowed to bridge the gap between the black community and the police force. Through being a community advocate, Delevoe became the president of Broward County Minority Builders, President of the Black Coalition of Broward County and was a member of HOPE. He was also one of the main organizers that brought peace to the community dissolving several conflicts during the riots in Fort Lauderdale. In 1968, Samuel Delevoe became a street minister and also focused more on entrepreneurship. Many young people looked to him for guidance and motivation. He also would help people who were going through rough times financially. When talking about Samuel Delevoe, we must always acknowledge his wife Dr. Lois Delevoe. She was a thriving entrepreneur in her own right. She was the first black woman in Broward County to open up Black Credit Union. She also started “clean sweep,” which was a community clean up that brought together city officials, black business owners and international entertainers like James Brown. She also owned a thrift shop and opened a facility to accommodate people who were homeless. In 1977, tragedy struck when an irate yardman went into the real estate office Samuel Delevoe was in and a confrontation broke out due to the yardman stealing from Mr. Delevoe. Samuel and Lois Delevoe were both shot. Lois was shot in the arm but Samuel’s wound ended up killing him. She stood in the streets for 10 minutes screaming for help. The Delevoes had 2 sons and the city of Fort Lauderdale honored him by naming “Samuel Delevoe Park” after him. Lois Delevoe is still active by teaching in the Dade and Broward county schools. She’s even taught at a few of the South Florida colleges. The Delevoes have made their mark as one of the premier families of Black Broward through their contributions to their community and for their work we are forever grateful.
7. The legend of “The million Dollar Palms” Club in Hallandale.
The mid 1950s gave birth to “The Million Dollar Palms”. The Palms of Hallandale was located on Foster road, east of MLK Jr Blvd and was revered as the premiere black club in Florida outside of the Sir John Hotel in Overtown. The Palms was known by black artists worldwide. It was also an integral part of the Chitterling Circuit” where James Brown, Bobby Blue Bland, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin, The impressions, Little Richie, Etta James, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye and countless others would frequent. Many celebs such as Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Muhammad Ali, would also visit the Palms. James Brown’s name is synonymous with the Palms because got into several fights there, survived a shootout and some of his dance moves he got from some of the locals. His hit song “Try me” was inspired during his visits to the Palms. I wonder what happened to him to make him create the song. It must have been one hell of an experience. Another wild story locals tell is that Marvin Gaye and Etta James were hanging out in Hallandale outside of the Palms one night. Gaye ended up getting in a tussle with a girl named “Titty Tassel Toni.” The two ended up in mud puddle that they were pushed into. According to Etta James, “Titty Tassel Toni” and Gaye were intimate a few times and the fight happened because Gaye refused to perform oral sex on her.
Sadly though the Palms was short lived venture due to drugs flooding the community where the Palms was located. The owner of the Palms was also murdered outside of his home over a previous debt that wasn’t tied to the nightclub. Meyer Lansky and the mob basically controlled the area where Gulfstream Park is located today and several properties in Hollywood. A lot of their chauffeurs and runners were black men that lived in Hallandale. Several murders happened inside and outside of the Palms due to mob ties with Meyer Lansky. Prostitution also began to run rampant in the Palms and people were shooting heroin inside the club. The Palms became so dangerous that the bouncers would give club goers protection if they went inside unarmed. What was once a place where icons would frequent began to lose it’s appeal and the Palms was demolished in the early 1970s. Today, there area bout seven homes sitting on property where the Palms was located. That shows you how big of a club it was.
8. Sistrunk’s Cultural Epicenter: The Victory Theater
Today the property located on 541 NW 5th avenue near Sistrunk Blvd in Fort Lauderdale may just be an empty field, but this empty field has a rich story and history behind it. That history has much to do with the Victory Theater that was located there. This theater was the first A/C ventilated movie theater in Black Broward County. Movies like “Gone With the Wind” and “Casablanca” and lit up the movie screens there. The Victory Theater was the marquee movie theater in Broward for black folks in the county. Even though Hallandale, Liberia, Danie, and Pompano had movie theaters of their own, the victory was the main place people would frequent. You could go catch a movie with your date, then after that a few doors down you could go to the Windsor club to see the likes of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, BB King, and count Basie performing in front of a packed crowd. Additionally, the Victory Theater also provided locals a place to meet up and hangout together for dance marathons, fashion shows, talent shows and concerts. The end of segregation marked the end of this cultural epicenter as more movie theaters were more accessible due to integration. In 1976, the building was converted into a church. Then in 1989, the city of Fort Lauderdale purchased the property through eminent domain and demolished it to make way for a new development project. There were plans to bring back The Victory Theater but to no avail. Now the land is just an empty field. Always remember the empty lots an fields in Black communities have a deeper story.