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Title: Oral History Interview with William Fonvielle, August 2, 2002. Interview R-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Fonvielle, William, interviewee
Interview conducted by Taylor, Kieran
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2007
Size of electronic edition: 120 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2007.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2007-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2007-10-29, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with William Fonvielle, August 2, 2002. Interview R-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0174)
Author: Kieran Taylor
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with William Fonvielle, August 2, 2002. Interview R-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series R. Special Research Projects. Southern Oral History Program Collection (R-0174)
Author: William Fonvielle
Description: 119 Mb
Description: 22 p.
Note: Interview conducted on August 2, 2002, by Kieran Taylor; recorded in Savannah, Georgia.
Note: Transcribed by L. Altizer.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series R. Special Research Projects, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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The text has been encoded using the recommendations for Level 4 of the TEI in Libraries Guidelines.
Original grammar and spelling have been preserved.
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Interview with William Fonvielle, August 2, 2002.
Interview R-0174. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Fonvielle, William, interviewee


Interview Participants

    WILLIAM FONVIELLE, interviewee
    KIERAN TAYLOR, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
For the sake of the recording if you could just state your name and maybe where and when you were born.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Okay. William Earl Fonvielle born in 1947 in the Charity Hospital on West Thirty-sixth Street, which is now being renovated or has been renovated into an elderly apartments. So it's a historical marker on West Thirty-sixth Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The old Charity Hospital.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Charity Hospital. That's where I was born.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Tell me a little bit about—let me get a piece of paper real quick and make some notes—but a little bit about your family like going back to your grandfather.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Right. My grandfather and Dr. Moody started this business. It was at the time called the Lee Chemical Company, and they bought the Lee Chemical Company and ran the Lee Chemical Company from 1914 to 1917, and then it was changed to Savannah Pharmacy.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So where was that located?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
It's down where I was telling you, the old building. Yeah, right down there at 719 West Broad. So you're talking about two blocks. This is 916.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What kind of chemicals did the Lee Chemical Company manufacture?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I'm not clear on that. I think what was really happening, it was called the Lee Chemical Company, but they were operating a pharmacy out of it. It was something with the name. So they had to come in and assume the Lee Chemical Company name until whatever had to be straightened before it could become Savannah Pharmacy. That's the understanding that I have.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What kind of training did your grandfather have in chemicals or pharmacy?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Well, he had a pharmacy degree from Howard University. Yeah—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was he Savannah born?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No, he was born in Camilla, Georgia. On that bayou you'll get a, I don't want to quote wrong now. He was run out of Camilla, Georgia in the dark of night. We haven't quite figured out if whether it was because he was an educated Negro, and he talked too much or what. But he had to leave Camilla, and he did a small stint in Albany, and then he kind of migrated into Savannah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was that after he had gone to Howard that he was run out of Camilla?

Page 2
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. Right.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So he was already working as a pharmacist—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
He was a pharmacist.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
In Camilla. But he grew up in Camilla.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Right. So we don't really know what happened there. We're still a little foggy as to—. I think he probably told my grandmother, and she related the story to my aunt, and when my aunt was writing this, think maybe she had forgotten some of the details. That's why, I always say, "Well, let me refer to my notes here" because I have, it's been in print where Earl Fonvielle said this and I'm going like, "I don't remember that." But yeah, he came to Savannah. They started the Savannah Pharmacy and—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you know what his father did by any chance? Was his father educated as well?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, his father was educated, if I'm not mistaken, great grandfather I want to say a carpenter. I'm not clear on that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
At the very least he had a trade.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, he had a trade. Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Did you know your great grandfather?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No, no. He was long gone. See my grandfather died in 1955. I was born in 1947. So I didn't even know him well. I remembered him as being a tall bald guy with a strong voice, and he didn't have much use for children. [unclear] suit and tie every day. My grandmother said he made out the menu for the week every Sunday. So he was strictly business. He worked every day. He came home for lunch, came home for dinner. At that time the store stayed open until midnight. So he would come home for lunch, and he'd go back to the store, and then he'd come home again around five for dinner, and then he would go back to the store and stay until midnight.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So was home close by?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, Thirty-sixth Street.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Okay.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
So we're talking about what, five minutes by car, and I used to walk it all the time. So it was about fifteen minutes, a good little walk.

Page 3
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you grew up on Thirty-sixth Street, which was a place to be for the black community, right?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, it was a fabulous street. Mark Gilbert lived on Thirty-sixth. A lot of people got their start on Thirty-sixth Street. John Lyons who was the real estate guy, a very good friend of my uncle. My grandmother would often say when the dinner bell rang, John came coming, came running and would go "Have some food John." "Yes, thank you." But Thirty-sixth Street was a great street to live on. You knew everybody. Those were the days when you locked the screen door, but it was so hot you dare not shut the door. It was just, it was, my childhood was great. It really was. You look at it now, you would never think. The old home house—which I sold when my aunt died because it was not mine. It belonged to the four grandchildren, and I was one of four—has been well kept. If you go down on Benchey Road and you look to your left on Thirty-sixth, you'll see this big white house with a fence, a low fence around it. That's the old home house. So my grandfather built that house, if I'm not mistaken in 1944, yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So not, so I guess you wouldn't have been born.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No. No. That was, my grandmother and grandfather lived at 913 and we lived at 917. So we lived like two doors down.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was there ever any question for your father as to whether he'd be a pharmacist?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
He was a pharmacist.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Right, but was that sort of almost pre-ordained?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I think so. Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear] he kind of came up in the pharmacy.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
He did and but then he didn't have a chance to run the store because he died the year—. Well, he got shot in the store in a robbery. He was killed, not this—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Here or this—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Down the street. I was sitting out front in the store with my grandmother, and two guys came in, and he was having problems. He was so nervous opening the register and the guy shot him. I remember it was like it was yesterday, and he was lying on the floor saying, "Call Mac." Mac was his friend, Dr. MacDoo and he said, "Call Mac." Of course the ambulance came and took him away, and four

Page 4
days later he died of infection. Probably if they, if he had been shot and the same thing occurred today, he could have saved him, but back in those days, he died at Charity Hospital.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
How long ago was this?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
1955. My grandfather died in '54, and my father died in '55. So he never got a chance to run the store on his own. I guess what maybe eight or nine months.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you were just uh—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I was eight years old. Right. I saw him get killed.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Who took over the store at that point?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That was when my aunt came back. She was a pharmacist working in Atlanta, and it was almost like, there was nobody else. There was nobody else. So she came back. When my father died, my mother moved to Macon and left me here with my grandmother, and my grandmother asked, here's a woman that's single, three kids, and she had very severe back problems. So she was not working. She moved to Macon to live with her mother and father and took my two sisters and left me here. At the time I thought that was the worst thing in the world, but as it turned out it was probably the best thing in the world. But I swore I would never work, come back here and work after seeing my father get killed. As fate would have it—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So as a child then did you work in the pharmacy?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Did I work in the pharmacy. At eight years old, I was delivering on Saturdays. It just goes to show you how the times have changed here. I was eight years old, and I'd have to be up to this store going places at eight o'clock Saturday morning, and I would work until one. I would ride, shoot. I would go down as far as Forty-fifth Street. I'd go up here. [unclear] and Frogtown. I'd go there. At eight years old and collect money on my bike. I thought that was the worst thing in the world.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Can you imagine a child delivering drugs—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
At eight years old, never. I can't even imagine a child knowing how to get around the city on a bicycle at eight years old, but I knew because back in those days you knew the city. Hell, you walked the city. If you were lucky, you got on a bus every now and then. In high school, I walked to high school. Back and forth.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you don't ever remember being bothered by any—nobody ever tried to shake you down?

Page 5
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Never. Never. My biggest problem was when I'd go out delivering, I'd stop and play. That was the eight-year-old coming out. They would come looking for me because I would be somewhere playing baseball or something. But no, never, never got robbed or anything like that. In those days, that's what I'm saying, it's just so different. I recall, I'm not old. I'm fifty-five. I just recall those days like yesterday and then I look at what's going on now. It's horrible. In the afternoons I bring my car around front not because it's dark because these guys will rob you in broad daylight. So I just park right in front of the store. So I have some visibility. But it's just different. It's just real different.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, tell me a little bit about the street.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
The street was—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'm you're living out at Thirty-sixth.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Thirty-sixth.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And working—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Working down here at 719, and the street all up in here, nothing but businesses. Right across the street was McLaughlin's Market. You had I don't know how many restaurants. You had the bars. You had the fish market, the undertakers. It was a booming street. Everybody traded, all black people traded on West Broad. You see because at that time they didn't want you in the white grocery stores. I mean, you could go in the Jewish grocery stores, of course. They were always being about the dollars. So they had Weiners. Anybody could go in Weiners as long as you had money. But basically you had to shop in the black community. In terms of pharmacies, I remember they had Elliot's Cut Rate, and you couldn't go in the front door. They had a section in the back for quote colored people. So it meant that black folks had to shop in the black community. As a result all black businesses prospered. You knew everybody, and of course, credit was the big thing because everybody wanted to have food and what have you, and if they ran out of money, of course, until payday. So that was just like cash because you knew they were going to pay. Now you dare not take a chance on letting somebody have some medicine and say I'll pay you on payday. You'll never see them again.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So even, so the pharmacy you could get a line of credit.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Oh yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've heard of that with the grocery stores.

Page 6
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
We had shoot, I would, now when we moved down here, I was in high school because that was 1963, and I was off at my freshman year in college. I came back to see the new store, and I remember my aunt asking me would I get the accounts and file them correctly, and at that time I think we brought from down there like two hundred accounts. Every month she would write the bills out and mail them. Then, of course, automation came along, and then we got a copier machine so we could run the bills, but up until I have three accounts now, two doctors and an undertaker. I bill them twice a year, but up until about five years ago, I still had accounts, but it got to the point where it just wasn't worth it. People would forget, and you'd have to call them, and it just got to be, I think five years ago when I closed out the credit thing, it had about thirty accounts. I just said this is too much for so little. So I closed it out.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I suppose also with the price of drugs now there's just nothing there.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That's the thing. You can't carry anybody with the price of drugs. The average drug now that you dispense, the average drug is fifty dollars a bottle. That's just on an average. Hell, most of them are a hundred dollars. You still have your cheaper drugs that bring the price down, but it's unbelievable, and every time they come in the door, you've got a price increase. To be truthful, I don't know how I'm existing. People say, "Well, how do you stay down there," and I go, "By the grace of God." It is tough, real tough. I'm not ashamed to say it on my W-2 last year, I made five thousand dollars. That meant I made five thousand dollars out of here. Of course, I have other interests and things that kept me going, but had it not been, I could not have survived working for Savannah Pharmacy.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's [unclear] poverty.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. I think I would, it's two things that stopped me from selling this store. One, there is a need in this community because the closest pharmacy is Broughton, CVS at Broughton and Bull. Secondly, the legacy. Those are the only two things that stopped me from selling this store because it's just not a money making venture anymore. I put so much of my inheritance in here until sometimes I look in the mirror and how foolish can you be, but I'm able to pay people, and I'm able to carve out a little for myself.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But you're, a lot of it's almost inertia at this point?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. Nothing like it used to be. I mean, we used to make money. I was cleaning out my office because I'm just like my aunt. She's a packrat, and so am I. I looked around, and I said some of this

Page 7
stuff's got to go. Of course, you don't want to throw anything without looking to see what it is. I ran across the books for 1961, '62, '63 and '64. Man, they were making money back in those days. We had a fountain that was generating a hundred dollars a day.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That was at the old store.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
When we brought the fountain, we brought the fountain from the old store down here. It used to be over here where all the space back there is. That, the fountain used to be here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That was ice cream—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Ice cream, sodas, shakes yeah and knick-knacks. But as time went on that too, it just wasn't profitable.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You couldn't make money off the ice cream?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
See we made ice cream down here because we had the whole set up. That was a separate, see we had ten thousand square feet. We had three thousand square feet for the ice cream. We had walk in coolers. It was a big business, but when the white man saw how much money that was being made from this ice cream, all of a sudden we couldn't get the ingredients anymore like the flavoring and the cream that we needed. So we had to stop making ice cream because we couldn't get the stuff. There again, we knew what was going on. But what could we do? Racism put us out of the ice cream business. So we bought ice cream when we came down here, but it still was a good quality of ice cream, and we did real well with it. But then you had your thirty-one flavors and what have you coming in, and everybody up and down, Starvin' Marvin, everybody had a little ice cream thing. Then Sundays was our biggest day because kids used to go to church. Now kids don't go to church anymore. On any given Sunday, I guess we would have probably a hundred kids come in here. You see. That equates into dollars. If you were to have a fountain in here now, you'd be doing good to have twenty kids come in here. Then the churches, see, everybody gets greedy. The churches start selling doughnuts and sodas and everything. Don't go over there. You can buy it right here. Everything works against you. So we finally did away with the fountain. We sold it for fifty dollars, and the guy took it out of here, Bradley the packrat. He came and got it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I suppose that he too was having a captive market with that money I guess from the manufacturing jobs.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Exactly. Exactly.

Page 8
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So these businesses were sustainable.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. I mean, like I said these businesses were, everybody dealt with him. Everything was profitable. But then you've got, I never thought I'd live to see the day when black folk would go to white mortuaries. I'm going, you know hey. I never thought I'd see the day when white mortuaries would advertise on black radio and what have you trying to attract black business. White company bought Williams and Williams over on east side, a white chain. I can't think of the name of it, but so things do change.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Williams is the mortuary?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. It's called Williams and Williams, but it's owned by a big white chain.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Okay. So as a teen you were, let's see, you were born in '47. So what does that make you in 1960, you'd have been thirteen.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Thirteen, fourteen.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you have any recollections of the big, the protests down on Broughton?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Basically I think I was gone.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear]
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
See they integrated the schools in what, '63 or '64. I was gone. I wasn't here for the big protests and such. I was gone. It was right after that. I remember coming home and taking part in a march on Broughton street down by Woolworth's, but for the most part I wasn't even here for the mass meetings and all that stuff. I was gone.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So where did you go to school? You went away.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I went to Florida A and M. Then I got too happy down there, and I went transferred to Miles College, which is a small black church college in Birmingham, Alabama. That was an experience because when I got down there, the Klan was still riding, and we had Klan watches. Students were staying up all night. You had shifts on the front of the college because they were always burning crosses or throwing bombs. That was a hell of an experience for me. To look at Birmingham now, it's unbelievable. I was there when they bombed Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Bombingham.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, that's what we called it, Bombingham.

Page 9
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This is, this might be a long shot, but there was a student at Miles about the same time who had no arms or legs. Would you remember any student like that? He was kind of a campus leader as well. I'm blanking on his name. I should—he wrote a book later about it.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No, he must've—it was either after or before because I would've known him—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It was pretty small.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Because I was president of student body. No, I don't recall anybody like that. But I didn't, now that's where I really participated in civil rights—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
In Birmingham.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
In Birmingham, yeah, because we marched, we sat in. We did it all. It was very scary down there because I used, I used to say this is a different brand of white folks in Birmingham than it was in Georgia because we never left campus unless there were five of us or more, five or more. That was the slogan, five or more. Don't even think about leaving campus without five or more. We had a Krystal say a mile away. Birmingham sits in this subdivision—I mean, Miles sits in a subdivision in Birmingham called Smithfield. Right on the tip of Smithfield was a Krystal. They would sell to you, but they weren't that particular. Then there was a Krispy Kreme that would also sell to you, but they weren't that particular. So you know, when you are low on funds you started looking to twenty cent Krystal burgers. So you made the walk, five or more. I recall going in Krystal one evening man, and there were two cops in there. They turned around and said, "You niggers got about ten seconds to get the hell out of here." Of course, we got out of there, and we were walking back to the campus, and they pulled up on the side of us and asked us what we were doing so far from the campus, and we said, "We're not that far from the campus." So they stopped and we said, "Oh shit. We've got trouble now." Fortunately they didn't do anything, cursed us out and told us if they came back around the block and we were still walking, we'd be put in jail. So those were real scary times for me. But I didn't experience any of that in Savannah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Why, do you think Savannah was different?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
It was. Savannah was not bad. I think the biggest problem they had may have been when King died, but then that was all over the country. But for the most part Savannah was pretty peaceful in terms of demonstrations. There were no dogs. There were no fire hoses. There was no cops wailing on people. So it was pretty peaceful. Protests were peaceful in terms of looking across the South.

Page 10
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Comparatively—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Comparatively speaking, right. Yeah, so that, they never experienced the hard core racism, and Savannah has always been laid back like that. A lot of covert racism, which still exists today. The way you find out, you go down to these banks, and you try to borrow some big money. It's like—what kind of collateral do you have? I've got a business that's been going on for eighty-eight years. That's not good enough. I mean, I've got the property that the building sits on. The whole thing's worth three hundred some thousand dollars. I'm asking you for a hundred. That's not good enough, you see. It's still well, you look at the South and you look at Savannah, Georgia, the progressive black folks just aren't here. Progressive, aggressive, they go hand in hand. It doesn't exist in Savannah. Savannah is, it's like sectioned off. We have some schoolteachers here or just knocked off all the lawyers just about. We have a few black attorneys left. We've got your black physicians, and never do they come together. I'm trying to think how many black physicians patronize me in terms of sending their clients here, I mean, their patients here. You've got one upstairs where the people can't help but come down. One around on Trade and Henry. That's about it. Two black physicians that will say go around to Savannah Pharmacy, but they'll pick up the phone just as quick and call CVS or Eckerd's. See that's what I miss, and I guess all the physicians that are here, and I shouldn't say all because there are a few native Savannahians, not many maybe two or three, are people that as the old folks used to say, come heres. They don't seem to understand that we still have black businesses in Savannah. It's like they relate to CVS and Eckerd's and that's it. Then somebody says Savannah Pharmacy. Where is that? What is that? I mean, if you live here for ten years and you don't know where the black pharmacy is, then you're out of touch. I lived in Detroit, Michigan for eight years. I went twenty-five miles to a black pharmacy because I wanted to trade black, and the guy was so nice. I mean, there were other black pharmacies that I could have stopped along the way, and he used to say you come all the way from East Detroit over here. I said, "When I come over here, I sit down. We usually talk an hour." So that type of loyalty doesn't exist. I don't even know, have you seen that black business directory?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've seen, not for Savannah.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Let me see if I can find my copy. [walking away] You would, that's the only way that I know all these businesses. I used to keep a copy back here but [unclear] .

Page 11
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What's that?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Have you seen a copy of Dr. [unclear] 's book?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah, I have a copy of that.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
The pictorial of Savannah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah. Now this I've never seen.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
They do one every year. I think she said they might not be doing one this year because of something, something, but I don't know.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So this is just Savannah.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, and surrounding—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Yeah, I've seen versions of this in other cities I've lived in.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
So that's the way I found out where the black businesses are because there are so few. You've got a lot of beauty shops, lot of barbershops, lot of little walk in restaurants, but when you start talking about businesses, there are very few.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So from, did you go to Detroit from Miles?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What took you to Detroit?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I was dating my wife, and she was at UM. Then I went to University of Detroit and got my master's, and I ran a methadone program in Detroit. That was fun.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What years?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That was what, '68 through '76.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Somewhere in the Cass Corridor?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No, on Mack Avenue and Lamay. It's where they used to call it the bottom.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Right. [unclear] mayor or the old mayor. I lived in the Cass Corridor.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Well, we lived in the Jeffersonian around on East Jefferson.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was it a high rise?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. But Mack and Lamay, baby. That's as good as it gets in Detroit and running a methadone program. I had a drug habit. I was taking valium like candy. So that was quite an experience.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Just trying to keep up with the work or the pressure.

Page 12
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No, just looking, seeing that the kids. I had, I started as a urine monitor. They'd never had a urine monitor with a BS degree. I started as a urine monitor. So that means you go in and watch guys pee and make sure they're not doing any funny stuff with their urine. I did that for six months. Then I moved, I was a typical guy. Not shall I say atypical because I started at the bottom and went all the way to the top. I did everything there was to do in the clinic, and then I wound up the director of the clinic. The thing that really got me, sixteen year olds shooting drugs, and then you had guys in the presidential club at Prudential coming to me after hours to get their methadone. It was a strange dichotomy. Really, man, and it just got me. You could not measure success because you had no funds to track after they left the program. Your main goal was to get them heroin free so they could have a job because at the time and probably still exists, all the car manufacturers would hire you if you were in a drug program and you were reporting clean urinalysis. So they didn't care about the methadone. So all you wanted to do was get this guy a job and get him off of heroin. But then you got him addicted to methadone. Which is worse? So that, that just blew me away. Here I am looking at this stuff every day, and like I said, I was taking valium like they were candy trying to stay cool and calm. Guys getting shot in the clinic. That was probably the worst time in my life. But the learning experience was invaluable. It really was. But in terms of my personal life, it was horrible.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So you came back here after Detroit?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, came back here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What brought you back?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
My grandmother worked in the store, and she said, "Son, I'm getting ready to retire. I'm tired. We're losing the pharmacy." Okay. I was going like, I don't know where I fit into all this. So I came home on a visit, and they said we need you here. I said well, I'm not a pharmacist. I mean, I've worked in the store all my life. I know everything to know including how to fill prescriptions what have you, but so I said, "What good can I do?" "We need you here." So I went back to Detroit I guess it was about five or six months later I said well, she kept calling me. "We need you here." So I said, "Well, my grandmother raised me. She did everything in the world for me. I'll go back home and see what I can do." Sure enough we had a pharmacist that had been here forever, and he resigned to go to West Side Urban, and my grandmother resigned, I mean, not resigned, retired. So and left my aunt and two clerks. So I came

Page 13
in and I said, "Well, I don't know what I can do, but I'm here." Then when she said how much she could pay me, I was going like I made a mistake [Laughter] because 1975 I was earning $19,000 a year, which was real good money in 1975, and I came to Savannah and I started earning $12,000. But she kept saying the benefits, the perks, okay.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Such as? [Laughter]
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, yeah. Such as. She was right. It had a lot of perks. When I got broke, I just went in the safe and got some money. So those kind of things, but it was tough going for a while and my family they adopted or adapted, shall I say, and we stuck it out, but it wasn't easy. Right now my wife would love for me to sell this business, but there again, I mean, I'm not going to stay here and lose money. But as long as I can make ends meet, and I don't know what's going to happen with this West Broad Street revitalization. I don't know. It could mean a boom for this end. I don't know how long or what have you, but maybe I'll get lucky. Then if the right price is, I'm not going to sit here and say, well no. Just a bunch of variables.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, basically the last one left.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
My son doesn't want any parts of it because he's seen, like he said, "If I've got to work like you work. Uh uh. Not to make." He's got his own little business, and he's between Houston, Atlanta and Savannah and he seems to be content. So there's nobody.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Does he do anything medical related?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No. Not at all. He's in real estate and mortgages and stuff like that. But he does is clean up your credit and get you into a house or get you into a car. Very lucrative business. He's going to open up an office here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Coming from Detroit back in the mid '70s, I imagine the city had changed.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, to a point, but once I got back here and stayed a year, I said Savannah hasn't changed. Same—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'm thinking in terms of [unclear] .
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Oh yeah. All that had changed. I had to learn how to get around again, but it didn't take long. But like I say, aggressive and progressive blacks, it just doesn't happen, and that's because we can't come together. I don't have anything against you living on Dutch Island, but don't forget where you came

Page 14
from. Don't forget where you came from. I think probably in the case of Dave Robeson, I think he forget where he came from. It's this guy that took the money from the children, I'm sure you read about it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear]
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, he got disbarred because of a suit where lady died. They sued the hospital and what have you and got like four million dollars, and out of the four million, her children got almost nothing. The lawyers got almost all the money. Yeah. That's a big deal around here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
This is in Savannah within the last couple of years?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Okay.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
So here was an attorney that was well respected all over the southeast and a very good attorney who's now no attorney, has nothing because between the Internal Revenue and the payback on this stuff, they took everything he had. They got people like Roy Allen who is a local boy who is in jail, or he may be in a halfway house now because of the same thing, taking people's money. You've got your Clarence Martin who is a black attorney that is in jail for the same thing, taking people's money. So I'm saying you can't forget where you came from. You cannot once you get into the Islands and the Mercedes, don't forget where you came from. I'll never forget Thirty-sixth Street. My mother used to say I was the weirdest child she had because you could always find me in an alley. But you could always find me where my friends were, and I was friends with everybody. So it didn't matter where they lived. I am still like that. I know the thugs. I know the dope peddlers. I know the mayor. I know the physicians. I know all these people, and like I told the young guy the other day, I said, "I remember when you were born." I said, "You're going down the wrong road." I said, "Pretty soon you're going to meet up with death, jail." I said, "But I'm not ashamed to stand out here and talk to you." He said, "I know you don't want to be seen with me." I said, "Why? I've known you, I knew you when your mother was carrying you. So it doesn't matter. Just because you're doing the wrong thing. It's not going to make me do the wrong thing." But yeah, I still do that. I go in dives. These people trade with me. There's a club on the east side called Rosette's Lounge. If you look at Rosette's Lounge and go oh. Guys all outside. I walk right in there, and I play cards with those guys, have a drink. I feel just as comfortable as I can. Everybody calls me Doc, and that's a take off from my father. Everybody called him Doc. My wife said show me this club where you

Page 15
go all the time. [Laughter] Doesn't bother me. Like I said these people come in this store, and they spend money with me. The guy that owns the club, he spends money with me. Why won't I go in there and spend some money with him? The crab places, I know all these people. They trade with me. I make it a point to go to them. I don't go to Rousseau's. I go to the black fish market. If they've got the same thing, then why should I go to Rousseau's. I go to Sharon and Papa's, that's the name of the seafood place. People go well, where is that?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is that down [unclear] ?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No, it's on the east side.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Sharon's—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Oh, yeah, the lounge around. I go there. I go in there, but that's just me. I mean, I'm not going to ever say I don't hang out with these kind of people. No. These are the people that make my day, and these are the people that help me carve out a living. So—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
If you could pinpoint one thing that's responsible for the decline of the street—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Urban renewal.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Renewal.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, and see in your larger cities, urban renewal. My father in law, God bless the dead, worked for the city of Washington, DC in urban renewal. That's how I found out all I know about urban renewal because I was telling him about the situation in Savannah, and he started telling me by law they have to give you relocation money. If you can't find a spot, then they have to help you find a spot. So we got ripped off in Savannah, but urban renewal and the highway, it was a pattern there.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
In Savannah when did all this go down?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Starting in about '61—

Page 16
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
The highway dumps right there at Thirty-sixth, Thirty-seventh. They call it the Thirty-sixth Street corridor or whatever. So they needed to take some of her backyard. Matter of fact they wanted to take the house. She said, "My husband built this house for me. I'm not giving up." They had the bulldozers out there. She stood right there in front of the bulldozers. There's a little black lady that at that time was eighty years old maybe saying, "run over me." So she negotiated, and they paid her a handsome little sum to take some of her backyard.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That was for Sixteenth?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. Had she not been the type of person that she is, they'd have just taken her whole damn house and—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Because most people aren't.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Exactly because they took a lot of houses. But urban renewal ruined the black community. At that time all over the South you would find highways going through the black community. It was a trend. I thought and Nashville, Tennessee. My wife went to undergrad at Fisk University. The campus of Fisk and Tennessee State University are about five or six blocks apart, and right through there came the damned highway. But that was, in Nashville that was the black community. All over the South it was happening, and I'm going, why the hell they've got to have highways going through our community? It's bad enough building the projects, and then you've got to have the highway. So black businesses didn't stand a chance. They took it all.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What's the name of the project across the [unclear] ?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That's Frazier Homes, named after one of the local black physicians, Dr. Frazier. The other one over here is Kayton homes, and I think, if I'm not mistaken, it's named after a white guy. I'm not sure.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
When were these built?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
They finished them in '63. Yeah. Maybe it was early '64, yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But what they knocked down I'd imagine were, was it storefronts [unclear] ?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Bunch of storefronts. Undertakers, knocked down everything, fish markets, all that stuff had to go.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Is your sense that the property, were they renters or were those black owned?

Page 17
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Most of them were black owned. A lot of them were black owned. But like I said they come in, and they sell you a line, and most people, and then they tell you you don't have a choice. We can declare eminent domain. What are you going to do? So nobody fought. I think my aunt and my grandmother were the only ones that really fought because they were quite adamant, but in the long run they still had to give up and move.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
A lot of it's empty.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Well, where our store was is empty. That hurts me to think that they tore down a black landmark and nothing's there. That property is what $500,000 now. I don't know how you justify. I don't know how the city, okay, the city. Now this is the thing I have problems with. The city bought that property. The city doesn't own that property anymore. It's privately owned.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
At some point they sold it.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, at some point they sold it. Why wouldn't they try to sell it back to me? That's what really burns me, and they've got a guy, a black guy now from what I understand that is going around trying to make the cities be responsible for that kind of action. I'm not sure how it works because I wrote him a letter, and he wrote me back. So I imagine I will get to meet him one day. But I think that's a travesty where you take somebody, you give them $15,000 in 1963, '64, and then in 2002 that property is no longer owned by the city, and it's owned by a private individual and the price tag is a half million dollars.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Worth quite a bit more.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I think the bank may have bought it. I'm not sure.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I know that the Bynes Royal was also pushed out. I think they gave a fight.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, Frank Bines is a strong individual, but there again still, he had to go. So he may have gotten more than somebody that didn't know any better, but in terms of what it was really worth and relocation money and to—well he didn't have to build. He bought, but still it wasn't fair. Burger King, Wendy's, it's like. Okay, we don't have any say so about what goes on in the black community because we don't own anything. We can't develop anything because we can't borrow any money. So we sit back, and we watch. It's going to be interesting to see what Dr. Evans can do because I don't know if you're aware he owns, he's from out of Detroit originally, I think, from Savannah, and he's come in and bought maybe eight or ten parcels on MLK. His first development was the SDS, Savannah Development and Renewal

Page 18
Authority right down here in Huntington and MLK. That was an old fish market, wholesale fish market that he bought and now has developed and it's going to be apartments upstairs, and SDRA is downstairs. So it's going to be interesting to see whether his ideas can change ML King. [Phone ringing] Cut it off. Hello. Hey. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.] Yes, so it's going to be interesting to see if he can get the crossover because you're not going to find many black folk who want to rent an apartment for $1500 on ML King across the street from a Wendy's.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It looks to me like there are signs of life closest to the river or closer [unclear] .
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, the north end. They've done.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
As far as down here—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That's why it's going to be interesting to see what he can do since he owns all this stuff, and it's obvious that he had money coming from elsewhere, not Savannah. So everybody is kind of holding back to see just how that works. I think his first development was great. He had a tenant, SDRA to come in there and take that whole first floor. He's going to have two apartments upstairs. With the entrance not being on ML King, but being on the Montgomery side, still it's going to be a wait and see type of thing because that means your whites are going to have to come in here, and see, black folks really don't care about living downtown. I guess it's a metamorphosis type thing because at one time black folks lived downtown, and then everything started moving out, and of course, we moved out too. The average black person could give less than a damn about living downtown. Your upper middle class black man probably would like to live on Jones Street but—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
But as far as it being a sustainable black community—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Because black folk have never had property before and when they can go out to the suburbs and have a big backyard and a nice house, you can't have that in downtown Savannah. So I mean, they are perfectly content with staying out in the suburbs with the big backyard because they've never had that. See, that's like history. We always read about Mr. Charlie and the big back yard and the big house. We always, one day. So now that we have that, we don't have any interest in coming back to the inner city, and then you've got the middle class black man says there's too much crime. I don't know. White folks take a different twist on that. We get a [unclear] . We'll clean up big crime. Most of the time it works. It, you look at right now right across Montgomery starting at Anderson coming on down, all the way down,

Page 19
you've got SCAD students, SCAD professors living all the way right there on the tip. They're not afraid, but you ask your average black person, "Well, would you buy a house on the three hundred block of Wildwood?" Too close to them crack houses man. It's interesting, SCAD students from all over the world, and they walk the streets at one or two o'clock in the morning with their dogs or whatever, they don't care. Where we're going, uh uh.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do you think SCAD has been a positive or—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
It hasn't been a positive for the black community. I mean it's been a real shot in the arm for white Savannah. We don't own any of that property. I've never seen so many renovations going on. All these big as I used to say, big raggedy houses are now being transformed into nice looking structures with nice looking price tags on them. They're being bought and leased. So I think SCAD has had a hell of an impact on Savannah, but as far as the black community is concerned I don't think we're reaping any benefits. SCAD students don't come in here. They walk by here. I'm thinking that maybe in the near future I might want to go down and meet with someone and say all SCAD students get a discount and see if that will draw them in here.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Talk to the health center down there would be good.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah and see. I know one of the vice presidents down there. I mean, if you're walking by here, why not come in. There again, that could be a shot in the arm too. So I don't know. I've got to sit down, and not only me with someone who knows this kind of look at things, and see which way I need to take this thing because I've been here a long time. I've seen this and I've seen that, but I've still, I'm not sure just what, I know what the black community looks for, but in terms of crossover business I don't know. Someone has to fill me in on that aspect of it because I'm just not privy to that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Have you ever had many white clients? I don't imagine so.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No. You get tourists that look for the closest drug store. I've got two SCAD professors and their family. They live right around the corner. They trade with me, but their insurance. I'm not able to take their insurance. I'm working on that. See when, it's strange, you call up and say I want to join your network and you give your name and everything. A matter of minutes they know you're black, and they start talking about well, it's going to take about a month. Why's it going to—I say can't you just fax me the information? No, we have to send it, and then you have to fill it out and send it back to us. Then you have

Page 20
to be approved. I talked to these guys, these white boys. I say, "How do you get hooked up?" They say just call and they'll fax your stuff and send it right back. So I have to go through that too. [Laughter]
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I'd imagine a lot of it's through the chain networks.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Oh yeah.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It's dealing with—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Oh CVS, Eckerd's, and let's face it. Savannah doesn't have any independents to speak of. I think Low Cost. That might be it in the city. In Garden City and out they've got a couple of places. Independents are just about gone. They've been bought out and happy to sell. But if I were to sell to a chain, they wouldn't want to keep this store here. They'd just want to shut it down and get the prescriptions. That's the part that I don't like. If somebody were to come in and say well, we want to buy this store, and we want to keep it right here, and we want to remodel it. I'd be glad to. Fine. You're going to have something—but nobody wants to do that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
You're a landlord also. Is that—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah unfortunately. That's a hassle too.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Who's still in the building?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Well, we've got—Dr. Pope has the whole second floor. We've got the NAACP at the end down here. Got a little business called multi-line over there. We've got the Martin Luther King observance day committee over here. But—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I had no idea the NAACP's office was here.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, right down the hall. So I mean—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Do they have a sign out front or something?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Small. But see we're in a Victorian district across the street from the projects. So you can't hang signs, that kind of stuff.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
So there's some regulations about—
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
About hanging, you look around. You don't see any hanging signs.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That doesn't make good sense.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
No.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I can see downtown.

Page 21
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Like I said, you tell me I'm in the Victorian district, and I'm sitting here looking at a housing project. There's something wrong with that. Now I could see behind me going on down to Forsyth Park of course.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
[unclear]
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. But don't tell me that I'm sitting in the middle of a Victorian district, and I can't do this and I can't do that.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, I guess you've got Victorian era poverty across the—. Maybe that's what they're referring to.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
That's for sure. I'm going to have to—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Should we cut it?
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah. But that burns me. I don't know, you're in the Victorian district. What do you mean I'm in a Victorian district?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's, there's a problem.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
Yeah, there's a big problem there.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Let me just ask you if you have anything that we didn't touch on that you want to put on the record or any final words.
WILLIAM FONVIELLE:
I would just, final words would be the city of Savannah needs to take a good look at what they have done to the black business community and think about putting some money down here. You can't revitalize because revitalization to me means that you're going to have a reasonable facsimile of what was. You can't do that. But why not get some new blood down here. You've got all these decaying buildings. You've got the expertise. You've got the people with the trades that know how to do things. Why not take a chance on them? You can only lose. Hell, we lost, we lost this whole street. So it's not like any big deal. So those would be my parting words that the city of Savannah needs to take a look at what they did in the '60s to the black business community and try to make some of this thing come. I'm not going to say like reparations or anything like that because I'm not looking for that, but if you want it revitalized and we're part of the revitalization, then give us something to work with down here. Don't keep saying there's money. There's money. Yeah, there's money, and I can't borrow it. That doesn't mean there's money. So I don't need these loans, ML King loans and all this stuff if I've got good credit because

Page 22
that means I can go to the bank. So most black business people don't have good credit. They need help, and it's up to the city of Savannah to help them because they owe us. They owe us, and when I say they owe us, I mean the south end of Martin Luther King, which they destroyed which will never come back. You will only be able to see it in pictures. Okay.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Well, thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW