Interview with Leona Cooper

INTERVIEWEE: Leona Cooper
INTERVIEWER: Alex Lichtenstein
DATE: November 1, 2010
TRANSCRIBER: Eva Reyes Cisnero
TRANSCRIBED: November 3, 2010
INTERVIEW LENGTH: 43:13

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AL: Interview with Leona Cooper, Coral Gables, Florida. November 1st, 2010

AL: Oh, Mrs. Cooper why don’t we start by you describing the circumstances under which you emigrated to Miami from the Bahamas.

LC: Well, the story is my mom decided, she, my parents divorced when I was eleven and my father joined the U.S. Navy, and moved to the States and then my mom re-married to a gentleman who was born in Coconut Grove.  But he grew up in the Bahamas and they married and then he was drafted to the Army.  And they were bringing American citizens from foreign countries to join the Army here, and so she decided, “well, we’ll all move there, if he has to join the army”, so we came; and I came with my mother under protest, because at 14 you don’t want to leave your friends and school mates.

AL: And this was in 1946

LC: 1946. As a matter of fact, it was late November because we were practicing for a Christmas play and I had the lead part, so it was difficult­–you know. I was just on my way to stardom.
But, anyway, we moved and we went to a little town up the road someplace here called Hallandale, and it was depressing (laughs) ‘cause it was unlike what I thought the U.S. should be–

AL: How long did you spend in Hallandale?

LC: Well, I stayed there probably for nine months.  I went to their little Junior High School there, which went to ninth grade, and then they decided I was too far advanced for the school, so they sent me a school in Fort Lauderdale, named Dillard High School. And that seemed to be a little bit behind too, so they told me that I needed to come to Miami and go to Booker T. Washington because it was an accredited High School.
So, I came down to Miami and I went to Booker T. and I was ready for graduation, and of course I was only 15 so they said, “you know, it’s too young for you to graduate, so why don’t you stay another semester or two, so you can get caught up so you can go to the University”. But I wasn’t happy about that, but I did stay and they gave me this opportunity to learn medical technology from a laboratory in Downtown Miami called Doctors Clinical Laboratory. It was an accredited laboratory by the College of American Pathologists and all of that. So, I got this wonderful education while I was in High School.

AL: Now did you settle at Coral Gables at that point or were you–

LC: Not at that point.

AL: –coming down from Hallandale?

LC: So, so in 1949, I graduated from Booker T. Washington but in the end of–about the middle of 40s–no about December of ‘48 we moved to Coconut Grove. And it was a little bit of a transition from Coconut Grove to moving here, because Coconut Grove was only a block away from here so, um then I met my husband and we were–

AL: And he was from this neighborhood in Coral Gables?

LC: He was born at 200 Washington. 2-0-1 Washington Drive in Coral Gables. And then we were married in 1950 and we lived in the Grove up until 1977.

AL: Oh! I see. Okay.

LC: And then we moved to this address.

AL: And can you– This address is 200 Washington Ave.–

LC: 200

AL: –in Coral Gables–

LC: exactly

AL: –it’s the Southeast Corner of Coral Gables, right next to Coconut Grove.

LC: Exactly, one block away.

AL: But your husband grew up in this neighborhood.

LC: My husband was born in this neighborhood, 1929.  And then– so then– my two older children were already grown up and out of College, but the younger ones lived here uh and both graduated from Coral Gables High School.

AL: And when this neighborhood was established in Coral Gables, it was always a Bahamian neighborhood. Is that correct or not?

LC: Well, there were some people from the Southeast part of the U.S., from Georgia, or South Carolina, etc., but the majority of the people were Bahamians. Who um moved here at the behest, and the encouragement of George Merrick. George Merrick, you see, had Bahamian people that worked for him, and showed him mostly how to deal with the topography ‘cause you know this is very–

AL: with the rock

LC: –rocky, and they showed him how to grow grapefruit and that was his big industry to begin with.  And that’s the way they made a living, was growing grapefruit and other citrus fruit.  And they also showed him how to use the rock. And if you know anything about his house, in Coral Gables, when they um, firmed the house up they chopped coral rock and they made the blocks for that house out of the coral rock.  And the Bahamian people were the ones who taught him how to do that.

AL: So, he then set aside a tract for Bahamians and African-Americans to live in Coral Gables?

LC: Well, he didn’t quite do it that way. The African-Americans and Bahamians lived over in a place called Katie Biscayne, which is exactly where Doctors Hospital is now. And that was the name of the little settlement. And his– He was a smart guy.  He told them if they would move here, he would give them paved streets, 'cause you know it there wasn’t paved streets back then, and he will give them plumbing. Of course the plumbing wasn’t all that great because it was water, and if you didn’t use it at early in the morning––

AL: It ran out.

LC: No, it didn’t run out. It got very hot from the sun because the pipes were not that far underground. But, he also decided to build the school for the children. And he didn’t built here first. It was somewhere over in uh, the other side of this area. And then he decided that–that would probably not be acceptable, because we are talking about the uh 20’s.

AL: Well this is my question, so it was quite clear that blacks could not live in the rest of Coral Gables. That this neighborhood was their little corner of Coral Gables–

LC: Right

AL: –but the rest was not.

LC: Right. Except for the area where they originally started out, which was over by the Doctors Hospital.

AL: And the University.

LC: So, then they needed a school. There was a lady, her name was Flora MacFarlane, who was a good friend of Merrick, who used to teach children. And she taught black children as well as white children. But then, he um knew that pretty soon, you know the population was gonna grow, and they need a school. He had an uncle, or cousin or somebody named Phineas, uh I think his last name was Fink [Phineas E. Paist], if you look at that up. And um they designed the school that is next door.

AL: The Carver. George Washington Carver School.

LC: And that was designed by his cousin and built by George Merrick. These streets were already designed and all the parks  we have in this neighborhood were designed at that time, which was the very early 20’s.

AL: In the 1920’s. And what was the neighborhood like when you first met your husband in the 40’s and 50’s?

LC: Well, it was more um, it was very crowded, because back then the City fathers didn’t pay too much attention. And they would let friends of theirs come in and build little shacks, as many as they could get on a lot, and rent to people. So it was pretty crowded–

AL: So, they were a lot of renters in this part.

LC: A lot of renters, but a lot of homeowners. But what they were building on, were places that were designated as parks. There is a park right out front, right here on Grand Avenue, that’s called Lola B. Walker Pioneers Park. That used to be covered with little tenement things. And then, we have a park right here that’s called the um–I’ll think of her name in a minute. She is one of the original members of the community. That was covered with houses. There is another park that used to be called Washington Park, and now is named for my husband, it is called the William Alexander Cooper Park and that used to be covered with these little rental(??) houses.

AL: Until when? And do you recall?

LC: Until about the early um, actually,‘70s

AL: Wow. And why when you settled down, did you choose to live, or why did people in general choose to live just a few blocks away in Coconut Grove as opposed to this neighborhood in Coral Gables?

LC: Because that neighborhood is older. The majority of the people came over probably in the late, in the early ‘20s–

AL: From the Bahamas.

LC: –from the Bahamas. And it has always been that because uh the black people, particularly from the Bahamas, lived between Coconut Grove and Key West. If you got sick at any time, even the people that lived here, you would get a boat out of, probably around where the city hall is in Miami, and you would take a boat down to Key West to go to the doctor.

AL: Huh. Because there were no facilities here, or–?

LC: No, there were no facilities here. And the black and the white people went to Key West to go to the doctor. That was the way it was. Key West was already more um, uh into doing things that Miami, I guess, you know until–

AL: Right, it was more of a developed city.

LC: Yes, it was more developed.

AL: Now in this neighborhood you suggested that there were both Bahamians and African-Americans who had migrated to Miami for work from the Southeast. Did those two groups get along?

LC: They got along fine. And some of the people that came from the Southeast, came with Flagler to help build the railroad. And they got along fine. Now, there were some social differences, because back even at the time that I was a teenager, uh you didn’t married outside of your uh group.

AL: Right. So, Bahamians still married Bahamians–
 
LC: And the people from–

AL: –and African-Americans still married African-Americans.

LC: And if you did, it was like frowned upon.  It was sort of like when black and whites started marrying. It was almost that bad.

AL: But people were able to live in the same neighborhood without frictions–

LC: Exactly. Exactly they did.
AL: –if that line were not crossed. And they went to school together.

LC: Now, the average Bahamian, the religion they followed would be Episcopalian or AME. They weren’t–

AL: African Methodist Episcopal

LC: Right. There weren’t that many Baptists uh in the African, uh, in the Bahamian community.

AL: But the African-Americans from Georgia, were–

LC: Right, they were mostly Baptist.  They have different types of Baptist, I guess missionaries, first-born, whatever they called themselves, and um, but they all lived peacefully together.

AL: And you were involved with the Catholic community.

LC: Yeah well, I am what they call a Cradle Catholic. I have been a Catholic since I was 6 weeks old, so, you know. But there weren’t that many blacks in this community that were Catholic either. So, I was a little bit of an outsider on that point. But I did attend the Episcopal Church for 18 years. I never became a member but that’s my husband’s religion(??)–

AL: And that’s the church nearby.

LC: And that’s Christ Episcopal where my husband was baptized and where he was buried. Really, yeah. As a matter of fact, that’s where I meet him, was at that church, at the baptism of _____(??) (laughs)

AL: In the 1940’s

LC: I met him in 1948. Yes, yes.

AL: And this neighborhood here, what kind of work did the people who lived in this neighborhood do?

LC: Some, most of them were domestic workers.  The men were gardeners, you know, they worked at largest states.  As you know, that Coconut Grove had most of the wealthy people in the world. They were like really wealthy. Coral Gables no, but Coconut Grove yes! You had the Graham, the uh, the man that invented the telephone. They all lived here in Coconut grove. We had some of the richest people ever, that lived here in this area.

AL: And was there a black professional class living in this neighborhood as well?

LC:  You–from this community, from this community, which is the Golden Gate side of it, and the other side of Grand Avenue, is what we call the MacFarlane homestead.

AL: And that’s in Coral Gables or Coconut Grove?

LC: That’s in Coral Gables

AL: That’s still Coral Gables.

LC: That particular area is the area that my husband and I saw to it that it became registered on the National Register of the Historic Places.

AL: Ah! It’s not this neighborhood, that’s across, on the other side, of North of Grand Avenue.

LC: Because there were too many um, houses missing from this area. Because remember there were those little shacks and everything got torn down and the park that we restored. But over on that side most of the original houses remain. So in order for it not to be gentrified, uh in order for it not be taken over by the big developing thing that was going on, we would either gonna have to put up a tree somewhere and put some birds in it and call it a bird––
AL: Sanctuary
LC: (laughs) or we were gonna have to have that area declared, um you know, historic, or placed on the National Register for Historic Places.
Of course we got protests. We got protests even from some of the people in the community because once that happens then––
 AL: You can’t touch it, right? You can’t develop it.

LC:––you know––

AL: What was the rationale for its historical designation?

LC: Rationale was most of the homes were original, and they were in good condition, and most of the people that lived there were born there.

AL: And was that a Bahamian––

LC: Yes

AL: ––neighborhood as well?

LC: Yes, yes

AL: But their parents had emigrated from the Bahamas––

LC: Yes, correct.

AL: ––and the people that were living there were born there.

LC: And so that happened.  We got this place registered on the National Register for Historic Places, I think in about ‘90, um, probably about ‘95. I mean––I’m not exact with that––I have to look.

AL: And why did you eventually decided to move from the Grove in the ‘70s, now we’re talking, to Golden Gate Coral Gables?

LC: Because my mother in Law was still alive and not well. My husband and I had planned to move to Howard. I don’t know if you know where Howard is. But Howard is down there by um, I guess that’s Kendall too, part of Kendall but it’s like uh––

AL: Oh! Howard Drive.

LC: And we had five half-acre lots and we were going to build there and then we thought about it––you know the transport––going up and down the highway and going to work da da da––So, some developer came here, and with the houses that were taken out, they built these houses. This one and the one next door, and some more.

AL: Replacing the shacks, or replacing the––

LC: Oh the homes, this was a––there was a home here. But my mother in law not being well, we decided we’d buy this house so we would be just across the street, so we could look after her. And that was the reason we moved here  because I was still working. My husband only worked––my husband worked for the postal service. And he probably worked outside of Coconut Grove for the Post Office maybe less than 6 months, and he was transferred to the Coconut Grove Post Office. So, why would we wanna live in Howard and come up to Coconut Grove Post Office.

AL: When he could walk to work, from here I guess.

LC: (laugh) I mean, you know, it was the strategy we used for that, plus the neighborhood we liked.

AL: What do you like about the neighborhood?

LC: The neighborhood we knew everybody and we had relatives that lived here.  It was home.

AL: So, it was a stable neighborhood overall?

LC: My husband was president of the PTA for a while there and, you know, chair of the Boosters Club. We were very involved with everything in this community.

AL: Why do think it was such a stable neighborhood which, I would say, can be somewhat unusual in Miami.

LC: That is unusual. This is in unusual neighborhood. As a matter of fact like I'm telling you, there are a lot of people that live here were born here. My sister-in-law, who lives across in 2-0-1, her name is Leona too by the way.

AL: I saw that, in the paper Leona Cooper, and Leona Baker Cooper or Leona Cooper Baker. That is your sister-in-law.

LC: Yes, my sister in law. So it’s just that kind of community. I mean we knew everybody and everybody knew us. We had cousins, and we had cousins all over the neighborhood. Uh you know, and that was the way it was.

AL: And how is that neighborhood regarded or treated by the City of Coral Gables over the years.

LC: The City of Coral Gables wasn't always as uh, as uh as nice as it could have been. Let's say that they had some problems with us. But I had problems with them. My husband and I determined that there were some things that, um we knew that if he attempted to do to make the change, being a black male, he wouldn't be listened to. But it’s funny about the white male and a black woman. If I went before the commission and I asked them for something, it’s hard pressed for them to tell me no.

AL: And what were some of the issues?

LC: The issue. Well I'll tell you one immediate issue was one night––I was the Director of Microbiology for the Veterans Administration Hospital for 39 years, and um, it was important that I got to work, right, and it was important that I had a phone connection. A fire broke out on Florida Avenue in the MacFarlane Homestead, but I didn't know there was a fire but I knew that my phone went dead. So, I got in my car and we have a house over here in the Grove, on Charles Terrace. And my daughters, two of my daughters were living there, so I got in the car and I drove over there to find out if they were out their phone service. So, on my way back I saw a Coral Gables police officer standing at the corner and I noticed there was some activity like with a fire truck. So, I asked him, you know, "what was the problem?"  He said, this house had caught fire.  So I told him that my phone was out––and he said, “Oh, you know because I think the box on the light poll, you know, got disconnected because of the fire. So, um but it went on for a couple of days. And then I wanted to know why weren’t we getting the phone service back. Investigating further, they couldn't get the fire out really, because the water mains were too narrow. They had not been changed since Merrick brought the water over here. So, I told my husband, “I tell you what. I'm going to call the Mayor, George Corrigan.” And I knew him because we sat on a Board together then at the Science Museum. So, I called him on the phone and I told him it was very important that I saw him and every department head that he had, which would be fire, police, you know public works, city manager, and we were gonna come and we were bringing the neighborhood. Well, I wasn't sure about that yet but you know–(laughs)

AL: Alright

LC: ––but you know you have to play–– So I told my husband, “We’ll get a lot of people, even if I have to pay some people to go with me.” But anyway, no, the neighbors were quite willing. And we went out there and we had this meeting and we gave them our what-for. But out of that––

AL: And what were you asking for? I mean, what was––

LC:  We wanted the water mains.

AL: The larger, newer water mains, to service the neighborhood.

LC: We wanted the infrastructure totally redone.

AL: Which had been done in the rest of the city by that time.
LC: Oh please. Of course the streets were too narrow for sidewalks, we know that. We only have two sidewalks in this neighborhood and that is one in this side of the street and the one, on that side of the street. Because when this neighborhood was built there was no, um nothing to say you couldn’t build it––

AL: There was no code.

LC: There was no, nothing. You just did what you wanted to do. Nobody really cared. As a matter of fact, the fire department, the day of that fire, had a problem finding the address of that house because Coral Gables didn't have the street markers like they did in other neighborhoods.

AL: Wow.

LC: They were City of Miami

AL: When was this, roughly?

LC: That was––um––let’s see, that would have been like about '89, '90.

AL: Okay, so late.

LC: Yes, yeah. And then I thought about that. I said you know, you know, no wonder they didn't know that this was Coral Gables. Sometimes you would call the police and they would say, “Oh that’s not in Coral Gables".

AL: For this neighborhood, for this block––?

LC: Or any block of the people that lived in this area. So, we needed to get that ironed out. And so we made lots and lots of trips to the City Hall. We did lots of things that we told them that they had to do. Some things were slower that others to get done. But we weren't going to go away, and that’s why a lot of people know me and my husband, because we decided, "Now is a time for the change".

AL: And roughly, how many people live in this neighborhood––in, let’s say the Golden Gate area?

LC: In the Golden Gates area––

AL: Several hundred?

LC: No, no, no. I would say, maybe 100. Yes, maybe 100. But years ago used to be a lot more than that, because, remember we had all those shacks, that were there on Grand, right here, next to my mother-in-law’s house right there. And then the whole park over there for the uh, little park that’s here in the center.

AL: ––were covered in tenements?

LC: Yes, in tenements, yes

AL: And it was the neighborhood always so physically cut off from the rest of Coral Gables?

LC: As a matter of fact––

AL: Because it is certainly now.

LC: As a matter of fact, on LeJeune Road, which is right there––

AL: Just to the, to the West.

LC: ––there used to be a row of pine trees that blanked this area. So, that as you drove down LeJeune Road, you would not be able to see this community.

AL: And none of the streets really run through, when you have to come off of US-1 onto Grand Avenue, as if you are going to go into Coconut Grove, because it is behind the school––

LC: Well Grand Avenue was always open, but the other streets were closed off.

AL: Yes

LC: And so, you would not have known that they were back here. As a matter of fact, there was one Mayor they had, what was his name, I don't remember now, be he had a son and he dated a girl. And so, one day I told her that I live in the Gables, and so she was dating this guy and he said, "Oh no, no, no, that is not”––and his father was the Mayor, he said “That’s not Coral Gables."––

AL: That's Coconut Grove.

LC: That's Coconut Grove– (laugh)

AL: And when––Have, they always had the Coral Gables famous street signs, which are there at the bottom of the side walk––?

LC: Now that happened––

AL: That's new.

LC: That happened right at the time when we got the infrastructure and all that. And we said well, what's the problem?

AL: We’re part of Coral Gables, don’t we get the––And the notorious Coral Gables, code enforcement, which people love and also complain about. Was that enforced in this neighborhood—?

LC: Well, they never came here.

AL: They never came here–

LC: They never came here.

AL: The inspector’s never came here.

LC: They never came here. And so, I said to them nice, they would––you know,  about to be very nasty now. Are they gonna tell the people at the Saint Mary Baptist Church, that they couldn't park on the lawn, and they couldn't park here, and they couldn't park there? Well when that church was built, there were no restrictions that you had to have a certain number of parking places.  They let them build the church, because back then, probably, people walked to church anyway. It was just like with the school here, I got into a fight with that one too. But when you read back in the records, it said that it was not necessary to have a parking, because most of the people––

AL: ––walked to church.

LC: ––walked to church or walked to school. Okay, so not to worry. That’s what they do. They ride a bicycle or they walk, you know. And, had the nerve to put it on record on that way. Yes.

AL: And––go ahead––

LC: No––

AL: What sort of commercial life was there connected to this community?

LC: Well, there was a little store here on LeJeune that you would have to walk through some people’s yards or whatever and get to it. I think his name was Ray. He has a store there. Across the street here on Grand, there was a service station run by a black family, then there were some more of those houses and then there was another two-story house that underneath was a Beauty Parlor and a Barber shop and people lived upstairs––

AL: Owned by black––?

LC: Right, and then there was another one that was another little store. And then there was a Royal Poinciana, which the building is still there, but the house that was next door to that building is not longer there, because those people always lived in that house. It was the Smith family, and they worked for George Merrick. And they owned the little building there that’s called the Royal Poinciana. It was a place where everybody hung out, and they could never––because back in that time, black people could not get a liquor license, so they could only sell beer and wine. But of course, I'm sure that they had whatever they wanted to, because nobody never ever came to check them out (laugh). And then, on the corner of Jefferson and Grand, there was a Chinese Market called Joe's Market. And then as you crossed over there were all those tenements and then there was a store, that is still sits there, but it’s now a church. And it was owned by Blumenthal. It was Blumenthal’s Market. It was a place where you could call up Blumenthal and have your groceries delivered. And they would deliver it by bicycle, and it was one those things. It was just that everything was all here: the barbershop, the beauty shop, the dry cleaners, the service station––

AL: But most of it owned by black people?

LC: Yes

AL: Except for Blumenthal’s and the Chinese place–

LC: Except for Blumenthal and Joe's Market, and Ray's store was also white.

AL: And was this a safe neighborhood? Was it regarded as a safe neighborhood?

LC: Yes, definitely. The police never had to come, and it’s still is a safe neighborhood. They have less police calls from this neighborhood than they probably have from Gables by the Sea.

AL: Very interesting.

LC: I belong to Crime Watch for Coral Gables. My husband chaired the Crime Watch for Coral Gables for many, many years. That’s how come we have all this junk around here that they bestowed on him.  They would tell you that it’s very seldom that you have to call the police.

AL: Because it was a very tight-knit neighborhood. Everybody knows everybody else’s business and watches out for everyone.

LC: Oh yes, definitely. If you walk in this neighborhood, we need to know who you are.

AL: Yes, right. And what happened here in 1980 during the riots?

LC: Wow. Why you heard something?

AL: No.
 
LC: Oh, you’re just asking me.

AL: I'm just asking.

LC: Oh, okay. (laughs)

AL: Plenty of stuff happened in Coconut Grove, I know, just down the block, so.

LC: You know, during the––You know during the, not the McDuffie one. I'm talking about the one that––

AL: Well, there is 1968, and there is 1980.

LC: Yeah. Then there was that one when this young man was ridding down second or third Ave in Overtown and got shot by a police and then, dadada. And they decided to close off US-1 and Grand Avenue, so that white people would not come to this neighborhood. Now, that probably was something that they shouldn't have done. I don't think so. Because, now what you’re doing is you are telling me that I have to be on curfew, I can't go out of my house, and I can't leave my house, I have to go to work. I have an important job. I was the Director of Microbiology of the Veterans Hospital and the veterans need to have people to do their work––

AL: But your neighborhood is sealed off.

LC: And my neighborhood is sealed off. So, I called up the Chief of Police. And his––what was  his name, the silly old man? But anyway, I called him up and I asked him, "What's the problem?” And he says “oh, no no no no. You–– “ So, then a very good friend of mine, she is now, and was then, was the Mayor. Her name was Dorothy Thomson. She was the first woman Mayor we had in Coral Gables. So she said to me, something that was silly, and she said to me, “Leona, can’t you find another way to meander out of the neighborhood?" I'm not meandering out of anywhere. I'm leaving this neighborhood to get to my employment. And I want that crazy Chief of Police of yours to tell those kids that he’s got dressed in police clothes to get out of my way.  And that was the end of that subject. I mean, I really made a big stink. I'm just cleaning it up for you but––

AL: (laughs)

LC: But, I mean those are the kind of things that––

AL: And when was this?  Do you remember exactly when this was? You can roughly––

LC: If I could remember exactly when that, that incident happened, that must have been sometime in about sometime  80’––I mean '85, '86––

AL: Yeah, yeah. Late, again late in the––long after the Civil Rights Movement.

LC: Oh, yeah.

AL: And what sort of civil rights activism was there in this community?

LC: In this community, the original Homeowners Association, which my husband––we started up after we moved here. They, were very active with what they called Slum Clearance, which was with a woman named [Thelma] Gibson, and Elizabeth Verrick

AL: Verrick. Elizabeth Verrick.

LC: So, they became active with them, even though that was a Miami thing. But the two communities were always sort of married together, and they work very hard for voter’s registration etc., etc..  I worked with a lady, who was a very good friend of mine, and her mother delivered my husband, as a matter of fact she was the midwife of the community. Her name was Verneka Silva, and she was AP here at Carver and then later at Coral Gables High. But back in the days when she was here, we established a program for senior citizens and for teenagers. And we called our group the Coconut Grove Youth Council and the Coconut Grove Senior Citizens. So, at that time––That was further back than the '80s. That was probably in the early––the late '60s I guess. We decided we were gonna teach the kids more about the political ways that we should probably follow like voting, and endorsing candidates for office. So, the first person we took on was to help Athalie Range, to become the first black Commissioner for the City of Miami. And the reason you’d say, " Why Miami?,”  well see the church that we all attended was in Miami. And a lot of the kids that we dealt with were from Coconut Grove, which is Miami. So, we put our wind behind her sails. And, as a matter of fact, I was thinking about it the other day. I was trying to think the Dick Fincher’s name. He was the man that owned the Oldsmobile Company, which is now owned by Braman. And uh we were thinking, "what could we do to motivate people to go out to vote for Athalie?" And so, we had this committee. And you know, the men used to think that they were always in charge and so they say, "What can we do to do that?“  So I said, “I think we should have a tickertape parade for her, so we can get the people interested and they come out and see her go down the street and dadada.” So they said, "How we gonna do that?"  I said, “Well you know, this  Dick Fincher Oldsmobile, they give their cars every Orange Bowl season, to the Orange Bowl Queens, and Court, and so on and so forth. So, I’m gonna call them up.” But, of course they laughed  me out of the room and they thought “He’s not gonna give you his cars.”  I said,  “I bet you she is going to.”  So I did. I called him up on the phone and acted as if we were old friends. And I said, “Oh, hi Dick, how are you doing?" and he said, "Oh great, who's this?” and I said, "This is Leona Cooper", and he said, "How are you doing?” Because he was a politician, he didn't care. So, I told him what I wanted and I told him who Athalie Range was, and of course he’d heard, because by that time he was in the State House too. So, he knew about other people who were endeavoring to get in to politics. So, I told him what I needed and he said, “Well, how many cars do you need?” and I said,  “How many do you think you could give me?” And he gave us probably about 6 of his beautiful––

AL: Wow, but you rode in a tickertape parade?

LC: Well I didn't ride in it, but the students––I mean the children that we had and some other people, along with Mrs. Range of course. And we had this parade that started at that Plaza––uh––Hibiscus Street that came all the way down and then turned around and went back to um––

AL: Now, did she win?

LC: That time she didn’t, but soon after Kennedy, who was on the Commission ­­––and we have Kennedy Park here in Coconut Grove that’s named for him––did something bad. And so, they (??) him out, and so, since she got the highest number of votes next––

AL: She got in.

LC: So, she got in.

AL: And was there a NAACP chapter present––

LC: Yes.

AL: ––presence in this community or in Coconut Grove, next door?

LC: Well, we were members of the NAACP. And the same woman whose name is Verneka Silva, again, their pastor and my husband's pastor was Canon Gibson. You’ve heard of Theodore R. Gibson?

AL: Yes, I have.

LC: He was the president of the NAACP. And So, I was a member, like everybody. It was just a 5-dollar a year membership. But Verneka and I were people that would go out and try to get other people to join. We would go to these little churches and sit there and try to encourage people––

AL: So, the church in many ways was the heart of––a way to organize people?

LC: Yes. So, Verneka and I would go there, and try to talk to them and ask them to become members. Sometimes we didn't get a member but, you know, we kept trying. So, yes, we were involved in the NAACP. Yes.

AL: And when was that, roughly?

LC: That would have been, let’s see, that would have been '50s.

AL: In the '50s. So, before Gibson is told he has to turn over the membership list.

LC: Oh yeah, by the––what was his name, [Senator Estes] Kefauver? Came to Miami––

AL: No, wasn't Kefauver–Kefauver was a good guy.

LC: The other––

AL: It’s Charlie Johns, from the Johns committee. No, Kefauver was one of the few that was in favor of the civil right in the '50s.

LC: And that was when they came and they told him––

AL: ––you have to turn over the list, and he refused.

LC: He walked out. He just told them, you know "forget it."

AL: Were people afraid for their jobs in this community, if those lists did get public?

LC: I don't think so, because the kind of jobs that most people did were domestic work.

AL: Right.

LC: These women were not gonna give up their maid, give me a break.

AL: Exactly.

LC: They would have to iron some clothes, and cook some dinners, and do some––no, no, no. So, that was not a problem.

AL: What do you see, as we wrap up––what did you see as kind of, the future of this neighborhood? Will it remain a black neighborhood? Should it remain a black neighborhood?

LC: Well, we don't wanna say that, no. But, this neighborhood has changed, because right across the street, in 2-0-5, is a white man. There is a house that’s vacant next door, and more than likely a white person will buy it, and we have other houses. As a matter of fact, the house were the principal of Carver, who was the first principal of Carver, her name is Frances S. Tucker––they built the house there, so they could be close to the school––is owned by a white family. As a matter of fact, when she came to be the principal here, Carver was not called Carver at that time, it was Coconut Grove Training School or whatever. The people that lived at this property, they had a garage. Mrs. Tucker lived on the campus of Carver, but they didn't have a place to park their car, so they used to park their car over here. And of course the people that lived here were so happy for the principal to park her car in their yard, that they let her use their garage. And she lived in a little house, right on the side of the school. Because back in the day, I guess, when they brought people into town to be principals of schools, they provided them with a place to live. So, they have a house––they had a house down there, and the end of this block.

AL: So, this is an integrated–––racially integrated neighborhood?

LC: Now.

AL: Now.

LC: Now it is. Yes. And of course, you know the school is almost 80% white.

AL: Yes, right, because of the magnet program.

LC: Because––and they’re both "A" schools.

AL: And, did this neighborhood begin to change when black people began to find that they were able to move elsewhere in the County?

LC: Yes.

AL: Once racial integration began––

LC: Yes, it did.

AL: ––people began to move out.

LC: And some of them moved before that, because you remember there was this gentleman that built a lot of houses in the area called Richmond Heights.

AL: Richmond Heights, right. So, lots of people from here moved out there.

LC: And a lot of people moved to Opa-Locka, because it was a big transition of people moving there, because the homes that were available. Yes, that's true. Now, our aim also when we started working, my husband and I started working and we wanted to make the area historical, and of course, you know, the county has given us this plot of land that is right there on the corner between US-1 and halfway of Grand, right here. We were going to be hoping to by now have the Bahamian Village built.

AL: Hum–

LC: Where we would have shops and different things to bring back the neighborhood. We were hoping that we would be able to bring some of the young people back. Because this community, as a poor as it was––almost, I would say  70% of the people that grew up in this neighborhood are professionals. There is a scholarship in Coral Gables, called the William A. Cooper, which is my husband, and the Donald R. Hopkins Scholarship that provides a scholarship every year for someone from this community or the MacFarlane area, for assistance to go to College. Well, Donald um… Hopkins––

AL: Donald Hopkins
 
LC: Donald Hopkins is the gentleman that works with Carter, in the Carter Foundation. He is the one that is responsible for the eradication of smallpox and he was born in the MacFarlane Homestead over on (??)––

AL: And did he have one of these scholarships?

LC: Well, his name––

AL: Oh, his name is in the scholarship.

LC: No, he went to College which was through the Ford Foundation. Ford Foundation used to give a test every year to black students and if you won that––you usually took it when you were in the 10th grade. So, Donald matriculated to College from the 10th grade. He never graduated from high school, because he went directly from the 10th grade. And he attended medical school and undergrad at the University of Chicago, where he now lives. He lives there, but he went––never served in the military because he was in the health thing and went to Africa and that’s when he did his work with smallpox and still works with the Carter Foundation.

AL: So, your hope would be to see this neighborhood persist in it’s historic––

LC: And some of the people comeback

AL: ––tight-knit community.

LC: I doubt it seriously that we'll get too many of them to come back.

AL: But you’d anchor it with a new commercial establishment. With the Bahamian Village.

LC: Exactly.

AL: It’s a very nice idea.

LC: My husband was born '29, so he graduated class '46 from Carver, and you do the math, people are dying, you know. So, people from his era maybe not, I don't know how much the other people who moved away enforced that they would like to have their kids to come back––

AL: So you want to find a younger generation to carry on the historic nature of this neighborhood.

LC: It would be nice, it would be nice. It’s a dream

AL: Thank you very much. Terrific Interview.

LC: Sure.