Thursday, February 28, 2013

U.S. Post Office Named for Jesse McCrary

U.S. Post Office Named for Jesse McCrary
Story & photographs by José E. Pérez

A Miami area post office opened some 50 years ago during the Kennedy Administration has taken on special significance for South Florida’s history when the building was officially named for a pace-setting attorney, politician and civil rights activist.

The Little River Post Office at 140 NE 84th St. was dedicated to the memory of Jesse James McCrary Jr. during a ceremony in which family and friends recalled the legacy of the man who died in 2007 at age 70.

“I view this as recognition for his service to the community,” said his widow Margaret McCrary. Her husband, she said, had been “a wonderful, wonderful husband and a very dedicated and caring father.”

She was joined by the couple’s daughter his daughter Jessica McCrary Campbell and her husband Donovan Campbell for the ribbon cutting ceremony and installation of a plaque to mark the occasion. A painting of McCrary was displayed at the outdoor ceremony.

The dedication came two years after President Barack Obama signed a law enabling the renaming of the building. Congressional approval is required for naming of federal buildings. Then Congressman Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., sponsored the enabling legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2010.

Meek called McCrary “one of the outstanding barristers of our time.” His successor in Congress, Frederica Wilson praised him for “the tireless efforts” to make it possible.

McCrary was “a wonderful, wonderful local legend,” Wilson said at the dedication ceremony Friday.

He was “a brilliant man,” added Jo Ann Feindt, U.S.P.S. Vice President of Area Operations for the Southern Area.

The honor of having the post office named after McCrary is “a huge, huge tribute to the family,” said Feindt.

Born in the small town of Blitchton, Florida, McCrary graduated from Howard Academy in Ocala and attended Florida A&M University, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree. He argued cases before the U.S. Supreme Court; he did not lose any cases before the Florida Supreme Court.

H. T. Smith, a close friend and trusted colleague of McCrary’s, said that he “was one of the greatest trailblazers in civil rights.”   Smith pointed out that McCrary was responsible for “opening opportunities for Black lawyers and judges in Florida.”

He was a pioneer, as Florida’s first black assistant attorney general, and as the first black Florida secretary of state since Reconstruction and a judge for the state Industrial Claims Commission.

McCrary was also the first black lawyer to represent Miami-Dade County Public Schools, one of the largest public school systems in the country.    

“Jesse really was engaged in a lot of the cases that defended, protected, and expanding the rights of Blacks and other minorities,” said Smith.

During the ceremony, students from the Jesse J. McCrary Elementary School, 514 NW 77th St., Miami, named after him, sang a song written by music teacher Rosena Norelus, which says, in part, “We are one of the best public schools.” 

As to what will happen to the post office in a time when the U.S. Postal Service is coping with billions of dollars in deficits, Feindt promised that “we won’t be closing this post office.” In 2011, the Edison Branch Post Office was closed after almost 60 years of service.

In her remarks, Wilson quoted from a poem that McCrary (who Smith called “a spell-binding speaker”) often enjoyed reciting:  “A Bag of Tools” by R. L. Sharpe.  Also known as “Isn’t It Strange,” the poem speaks of how “to each is given a bag of tools/a shapeless mass and a Book of Rules.”  The verse closes with a choice for the reader, to be “a stumbling block or a stepping stone.”  Wilson, Meek, and others in attendance at the ceremony, all echoed the sentiment expressed by Smith.  “Jesse McCrary lived the life of a stepping stone for others.”

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Story of Rosewood Lives On in South Florida

"Rosewood's Memory Still Lives in South Florida"
by José Pérez

Janie Black is a mild-mannered woman who works at a community center in North Miami-Dade County. She is something of a matriarch for the many, young and old, who offer her a smiling greeting. By initial appearances, Black is quietly enjoying her golden years. Black, however, is on a mission.
Born Janie Bradley in the early years of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal era, Black has dedicated her spare moments to telling the story of what happened in what was supposed to be her hometown 90 years ago.  
Black is the daughter of Nada Bradley, who as a young boy in January 1923, saw his world turned into flames when his community was literally burned to cinders.  
Bradley lived in Rosewood, the African-American community in Levy County that was literally wiped off the map after January 1923 when hundreds of rampaging whites, responding to a white woman’s disputed claim of abuse by a black man, converged for murderous attacks and combed the countryside while survivors hid in the woods and swamps.
As a descendent of the survivors of the Rosewood Massacre, Black does not shy away from questions about the town, its people, and what happened during those cold winter nights so many years ago. For her, opportunities to talk and teach others what happened in Rosewood are welcomed.  
Black participated in a conference in Orlando last November that focused on the tragedy, for example, and locally has spoken to students at Holmes and Coral Park Elementary schools, Ruben Dario Middle School, and more.
“Our side of the family always talked about Rosewood,” says Black. This had a lot to do with the fact that many of her relatives stayed in places such as Otter Creek, which is in the immediate vicinity of Rosewood, she said. 
In fact, her father never left Levy County, even becoming deputized by the local sheriff at one point. He was the only black man she knew with a gun in Otter Creek, said Black, adding, “Jim Crow didn’t apply to me because of my father’s status” as a trusted employee of one of the larger employers in the area.


Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, when Black was about six years old, she moved to Miami to live with her paternal grandfather John Wesley Bradley, who left Rosewood after the massacre. Black’s grandmother was Virginia Carrier, sister-in-law of Sarah Carrier, who was killed when a mob of white vigilantes attacked her house trying to kill her son Sylvester.
Black’s aunt Lee Ruth Davis, who was a child in Rosewood when the attacks started, first “broke” the story” about Rosewood. Gary Moore of the St Petersburg Times contacted Davis in the early 1980s for a story about Rosewood that would eventually be printed in 1982. 
“It upset her,” said Black. “It made her nervous that people could find out” who she was and where she was living.
The reaction was not unique, Black says, as many survivors changed towns and some even changed their names. Lonnie Carrier, for example, was a little boy when he witnessed the explosion of rage and death. What he saw shook him so deeply that he changed his name from Carrier to Carroll. Black explained that Carroll, as a cousin of Sylvester Carrier who killed some of the men attacking his home, feared reprisals.  
Moore’s article created a new awareness and interest in what happened to Rosewood.  About a year after the St. Petersburg Times’ Rosewood exposé appeared, the late Ed Bradley told the story on the CBS News "60 Minutes" program. Bradley’s father, Ed Sr., also was a Rosewood survivor, says Black.
“Ruth was the first that would talk about it” publicly, says Black. Black said her aunt ironically was first contacted by Moore during the height of the riots after African-American motorcyclist Arthur McDuffy died from injuries at the hands of white police offers during a 1979 traffic stop in Miami, where Davis had settled by then.
Even though she had always known about Rosewood, and traveled frequently to the area to visit with her family in places such as Otter Creek and Cedar Key, Black was frustrated with how time and nature worked to hide the place where her family had once lived. 
 “I had trouble finding Rosewood through the brush and that bothered me,” she said.
From the desire to be able to “find” Rosewood, some members of the families decided to organize their efforts. The Rosewood Foundation was established in 1995 as a way to keep the memory of what happened alive. 
Among those who established the foundation was the late Annette Goins Shakir, whose father Arnett T. Goins was a cousin of Black’s father. Goins Shakir was one of those who drafted the concept that gave birth to what has become the Traveling Rosewood Exhibit which is permanently based on the campus of historic Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, where she was an alumnus and professor.  


For Black, the exhibit at Bethune-Cookman, speaking tours and even field trips to Rosewood and Cedar Key are necessary to help keep the memory alive, especially with only one survivor still living. “It was being denied,” says Black who has encountered some lingering hostility from a few white residents still living there.
For her, however, there is no bitterness. “‘Don’t be bitter — that happened before your time’” says Black. “That is what I was taught.” Her family made it a point, she says, to show her “that not everyone is bad.”
She notes the example of John Wright, the town’s lone white resident at the time of the attacks. “My grandfather was a neighbor of Mr. Wright who hid children,” says Black. “There was never any animosity.”
Natisha Hawkins, a junior at Krop Senior High School, said she did not know very much about Rosewood. “I heard the name ‘Rosewood’ but I didn’t know the story,” she said. As to whether someone like her would see any connection with what happened at Rosewood given the generations that have passed since 1923, “I think it is relevant,” she said.


She sees the recent killing of Trayvon Martin, a former classmate of hers, and the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, as proof that the lessons of Rosewood still have not been fully learned in the United States. The time and distance removed from Rosewood “doesn’t mean it can’t happen again,” she observed.   
 Still, “A positive impact can be made if students make (the Rosewood Massacre) known,” Hawkins said. “It might help inspire positive change.”
Kelvin Williams, a math and science teacher at Krop who has worked with Black on Rosewood initiatives, noted the importance of young people such as Hawkins knowing about Rosewood and helping survivors such as Black tell the story. “I am a firm believer in understanding the past to affect the mindset of the future,” says Williams.   
Black is grateful for such support. “We need to give proper due to the people that were there,” she says. “They need to be mentioned, recognized.”
The task of telling the story of what happened to her family and their neighbors 12 years before she was born is a duty for her.  “If they give me two minutes, I will tell them about Rosewood.”

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Local Writers, Students Help Sunrise Launch 'Little Free Library'

"Sunrise Gives Residents the Gift of Books via the ‘Little Free Library’"
by José Pérez

The City of Sunrise recently launched the Little Free Library initiative, a program designed to make books more accessible to more people in the community.    City leaders, local educators, students, and neighbors came to the Sunrise Village Multipurpose Center in City Park for a ribbon-cutting to celebrate the Little Free Library project – with a little bit of starpower.

Along with residents, two special guests joined the ribbon-cutting.   Noted author Edwidge Danticat made a surprise appearance at the event, which was a special treat for Ashley Jones, an aspiring poet who is a student at Florida International University’s MFA program, who was also invited by organizers to read some of her poems to the children during a “Sidewalk Story Time.”     Jones was surprised and thrilled to get a chance to meet and read her work on the same program as Danticat.  “I can’t believe I’m here,” Jones said rather bashfully.

Danticat, who read to the children from her children’s book Eight Days, was supportive and understanding of Jones.  “We’re both storytellers,” said Danticat, pointing out that the only difference is that one tells her stories in prose while the other tells her stories in verse.   Jones agreed, sharing that “the way that I communicate is by putting my truest feelings out there.”  This she says comes from her appreciation of good stories she grew up with.  “If I read something that touched me I was glad about that,” said the native of Birmingham, Alabama.  This experience was familiar to Danticat.  “My first writing teachers were storytellers,” she said.

Sunrise’s Little Free Libraries were brought to life by local high school students who participate in the Sunrise Leadership Academy (SLA).    The SLA meets each month to learn more about leadership, policy, and more.   The Little Free Library project was a special one for the SLA students and Miami-based artist G.G. who's been working with the students.  “It’s a great program,” said Camilo Isaza, a student at Western High School, “I’m grateful to be a part of it.”

For Sunrise Mayor Michael J Ryan, the event was “a celebration of the power of an idea.”

“The power of literacy,” said Ryan, is that reading a good book “takes us on an adventure.” 

That idea was shared and embodied by both Danticat and Jones, two artists with a love for the power of their craft to touch people – especially when the writer and her audience can share the same physical space.  “When you see the faces,” said Danticat, “you see that the magic of the story is still possible.” This was evident by the contagious laughter from the children as Jones read a charming ode she wrote to the quirks of the grade school lunch forgotten by so many adults.

 A good story will take the reader to “a place you never imagined,” said Danticat, who talked about the wonder of what she called “the willingness to disbelieve” on the part of a reader, allowing him- or herself to be transported, to be “dissolved into the world of the story.”   This, in fact, is the theme of Eight Days, a story about a little boy who used his imagination to escape the fear and confinement of being trapped under rubble after Port-au-Prince’s deadly 2010 earthquake.

Although in her early twenties, Jones saw another side of the magic of storytelling:  nostalgic time travel.   For her, a good story can transport a reader back to “a world of memories” carried upon “lyrical thoughts.”

Danticat and Jones also reveled in the opportunity to be present in the ribbon-cutting for Sunrise’s Little Free Libraries.  “I like outeach,” said Jones. “It is a chance to be a part of something to put back.”  Danticat said that being at the ribbon-cutting was “acknowledging what it would have meant for me as a girl” to have a writer read his or her own story in person.

The first Little Free Library was started in Wisconsin just four years ago.  The idea is simple:  “Take a book, leave a book.”   With the creation of four Little Free Library locations in Sunrise, that city joins communities in Mexico, Haiti, India, Lithuania and more where people can walk up to an old newspaper box and check out a book in exchange for another one.   

Organizers say that that the titles available at Sunrise’s Little Free Libraries will rotate.   For the launch of the program, readers can look forward to works by writers such as Julia Alvarez, David Chabon, Dan Gutman, Sandra Cisneros, Sandra Boynton, and, of course, Danticat herself.  Smartly-designed booklets of Jones’ poems were given away as gifts to those in attendance.  

Additional information is available at

Friday, February 8, 2013

‘This is our struggle’ – Homeowners take on County Hall, Developers

‘This is our struggle’ – Homeowners take on County Hall, Developers
story & photographs by José Pérez

The battle between homeowners and developers in the North Dade community that surrounds the old Westview Golf Course continues to escalate with litigation pending and stakeholders taking sides.  At issue is an amendment to Miami-Dade County’s Master Plan that was approved by the Board of County Commissioners in December.     For first-term County Commissioner Jean Monestime, who voted in favor of the amendment and whose district includes Westview, and developers Rosal Westview LLC, the plan makes good business sense bringing the promise of economic development to approximately 200 acres of empty and fallow golf course greens and fairways.  Longtime homeowners, however, see the initiative as a well-monied plan to bring warehouses, semi-trucks, and pollution to their front lawns.

After both an administrative challenge and a civil law suit were filed by homeowners last month, each side has hunkered down into trenches of silence with only attorneys and allies speaking about the case.   Monestime, for example, replied to a request for an interview from the South Florida Times via a message from an aide saying that the commissioner would not comment on the matter because of the pending hearings.   So, how long will the relative silence last?    The hearing for the administrative challenge to the Master Plan amendment is tentatively set for the week of April 10, 2013.  That hearing could be pushed back further because the developers have effectively jumped into the ring on the side of Miami-Dade County – after the April date was scheduled.  

The interim between now and April or whenever the State Administrative Tribunal finally hears the case does not look like it be quiet on all fronts.   The local chapter of the NAACP has taken notice of what is going on with Westview situation as part of what newly-installed President Adora Obi Nweze feels is a series of attacks on residents and homeowners in Miami-Dade on the part of developers.  “We are very concerned about the number of Black neighborhoods being affected,” Nweze says.  “We are watching the movement.”

In fact, both Nweze and attorney Greg Samms, a member of the Golf Park Homeowners’ Association, confirm that the NAACP is supporting the homeowners of the Westview area.   

Hoping to level the playing field, the homeowners have reached out to stakeholders like State Representative Cynthia Stafford.    “As a resident, I would be very concerned if a warehouse was going to be built near my home,” says Stafford who spoke about the serious problems that occur “when you change the character of a neighborhood.”   A protégé of Carrie Meek and – thanks to recent redistricting – the legislator that represents the Westview residents in Tallahassee, Stafford’s biggest concerns are the environment, infrastructure, and what she calls “peace and enjoyment” as but a few examples of the “myriad of issues that come with the changing of the character of a neighborhood.”

The worries about the environmental impact are shared by residents, the NAACP, and the elder statesman of local architecture and planning, Ronald E. Frazier.

Frazier says that planners and developers can “draw a pretty picture on a plan” but those plans do not always match the reality of how those plans are executed.   He points that while Rosal Westview’s plans call for buffering and other measures to mitigate negative impact on the residents, “that does not stop carbon dioxide, the volume of traffic noise, or the glare of security lights.”  

The big question about the future of the Westview area for Frazier is – regardless of which decision is handed down when all is said and done – “will [the area] be stabilized by this?”  This question about the future of Westview as a healthy middle class neighborhood is raised often.   If people are forced to leave their homes, Frazier asks, “what kind of negative impact will that have?”  Nweze adds that the proposed change will almost certainly result in “property values going down.”

“It is dashing oil and hot water on the American dream,” she says.

In an interview before the legal challenges were filed by the homeowners, Robert Kemp, who has owned his home facing the golf course for forty years, echoed that fear.  “We are afraid we are not going to get a return on our investment,” said Kemp. “Some people can’t move – we have to fight.”

“My professional opinion,” says Frazier, “is that this is the worst instance of spot and incompatible land use and zoning that I have ever seen.”  

A longtime resident of the Westview area, United States Congressperson Federica Wilson expressed her views on the issue via a written statement.   While validating the concerns of her neighbors, Wilson appears to regard the change to the use of the old golf course as a fait accompli.   “The developer was able to secure the change in the zoning laws that he sought,” in spite of what she called an “impasse” between the residents and Rosal Westview.  

Wilson charged the parties responsible for any changes in the Master Plan with making sure that the neighborhood’s standard of living is protected and it also “benefits from the financial gains that accompany” those changes.  

But there will be at least few more months, if not more, before any one knows what those changes will be.

“Everything is on hold,” says Samms, until all legal actions are “resolved.”

“We won’t succumb to the county commission’s outrageous decision.” Still, as plaintiffs in the administrative challenge and the civil suit in circuit court, the burden of proof will be on the homeowners.

Miami-Dade County Attorney Dennis Kerbel says that the homeowners “will have to show that the amendment is not in compliance with state law.”

The fight is a hard one for people like Kemp and Samms.  Samms is the only lawyer among them and all are trying hard to keep fighting what they believe is a good fight.   “We’re willing to dig in and fight as long as we have to,” declares Samms. “This is our struggle.”