Older black residents of Riviera Beach recall a time, not so long ago, when you avoided the east side of Old Dixie Highway after dusk because that was the white side of town, and no good would come from lingering.
West of the tracks was for black residents, the men who worked mackerel down at the docks, the women who worked as domestics in swanky Palm Beach homes. The only slice of white on the black side was a subdivision called Monroe Heights, which was bordered, or protected, by a high cinder block wall built in the 1940s. If your ball bounced over that wall into whiteness, you found yourself another ball.
“They put the wall up to keep us from looking at them,” says Dan Calloway, 78, a former deputy sheriff and athlete revered in Riviera Beach for his half-century of mentoring and coaching local children.
The glaucoma affecting Mr. Calloway’s sight has not dimmed the vividness of the Riviera Beach of his youth: the guava and mango trees, the chickens, the horse-riding lawman who would snap his whip at black people; that is, until a man named Shotgun Johnny pulled him from his horse and beat the hate out of him. Mr. Calloway remembers, too, how the “black” beach was moved up to Jupiter when Singer Island suddenly became desirable, and how the Ku Klux Klan occasionally announced itself.
“They burned those crosses,” Mr. Calloway says. “We had to blow the lamps out and hide under the bed.”
Dora Johnson, 88, remembers one cross that set Old Dixie Highway aglow. It was around 1948, and she was married with two babies.
“My God, it was way up in the air,” she says of the symbol of her faith set aflame. “It was very upsetting. I’m a deep Christian, but seeing it, you’d break down and want to do something you shouldn’t do.”
Monday, October 24, 2016
Change You Can Believe In
In Riviera Beach, Florida, the road once known as Old Dixie Highway, where the KKK burned crosses as recently as 1950, has been renamed President Barack Obama Highway. I know, I know, it didn't get anyone a better job or a better school. But it matters.