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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Urban renewal destroys a black community

Betsch remembers her childhood home. It, and her neighborhood, became a casualty of urban renewal, replaced by a hospital complex. Americans love the appearance of wealth, Betsch believes, rather than quality. As she reflects on this condition she remembers the quality of her segregated Jacksonville neighborhood, enriched by the presence of pioneering black professionals, a vibrant social life, and the presence of ethnic minorities.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with MaVynee Betsch, November 22, 2002. Interview R-0301. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So anyway, but our house was gorgeous, but I'm just sick because that's another thing they tore down for urban renewal. You know what happens. They go through the black—they went through the best part of the black community is where that God awful hospital complex is. Right there on the corner was my great grandfather's house. He gave that to my mom. She was the only girl. It was twenty-two rooms, black built. Gorgeous, gorgeous. Oh God. The rafter in the ceiling, all this architecture. I mean, when I look at this stuff they put out, even down and these people are paying a million dollars with sheet rock. Come off of it. I know my Daddy. I know quality building. This stuff I wouldn't put my dog in it. I mean, it's just but it looks on the and the fact that you're living in the Villas. What do they give these names to it. Americans are obsessed with the perception of wealth rather than the actual quality. We had quality, darling. Trust me. Trust me.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Who were your neighbors?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Oh wonderful people. Mostly family. We were on this—it was like a triangle. We were on this corner. My uncle was on this corner by the way Florida's first black corporate lawyer.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Who was your uncle?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
James Leonard Lewis. That was my great grandfather's grandson. My mother's brother. On the other corner was my great grandfather. Other people were oh my gosh. What would I say, Johnetta's godmother who was married to a very prominent black physician from Palm Beach. I remember the lady down the street who used to bake our bread for Sundays. The Simmonses who were also part of the Afro. He was the first black actuary, you know the man who told you approximately when you were going to die. Let me see who else were some of our neighbors. Oh the big minister at the Bethel, lived down the street from us. It was a beautiful community, absolutely. It was on Eighth and Jefferson, the streets. But the business community was awesome. I mean not only did you have what one, two, three, four, you had I think four theaters and at least three or four hotels.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Clubs.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Clubs, you had the nightclubs. Oh God this was it. The Two-Spot, we know now that may have been the largest in the south. It had a balcony. That's where we had the ball, the debutante ball.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Now I'm, am I right that you would have never been inside the nightclubs?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
No, no.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Because you would have been too young.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Too young—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
And by the time you come back they're gone.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Yes. Yes. They're all gone.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
They're decrepit.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
That's right. I did go, of course I was inside the Two-Spot.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The Two-Spot was a cotillion sort of—
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
That's where we had the debutante. No, we didn't go inside any of those. Nope. Nope. That was off limits. But I mean even the grocery stores, it's interesting because you had a lot of Syrians and Jewish, people who were in the black community. It was a strange combination although you had segregation. They would somehow own some of the smaller stores within the black community. The other ones were black-owned of course, but you did have that Middle Eastern influence within there. I remember deliberately—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Any Greeks?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
No, not Greeks. It was mainly Middle East. The man who owned Daylight I remember was Jewish. What was that little store on the corner? He was Syrian. It was mainly Middle East, just little corner stores. Nothing, the other big ones and stuff were still predominantly black the shoeshine, the shoe repair shop was black-owned. The corner drugstore was black-owned. But you would have one or two smaller ones and they would be either Jewish or Arabic of Arabic descent. Interesting combination. All that's gone now. Once they put that, when I came home, they had put that highway. See I-95—