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Highway construction forces last man standing out of his Overtown home

Benjamin Brown loses family home of nearly 100 years to FDOT's I-395 expansion project

Erick Johnson | 4/17/2014, 9 a.m.
Benjamin Brown has lived in his Overtown home since The Great Depression. At 80 years old, his home has been ...
Brown’s family home of nearly 100 years.

Brown attended Overtown’s Phyllis Wheatley Elementary and graduated from Booker T.

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Brown

Washington High School in 1952. During these years, Brown recalled fond memories of his longtime friendship with Clarence Pittman, Jr, president of the Longshoreman International Association in Overtown who died in December 2013.

A retired schoolteacher, Brown attended Greater New Bethel AME Church on 8th Street with his parents on Sundays before gathering around the dinner table with his family.

“Part of a large family, my mother would spend all night cooking so she could go to church on Sunday.” Brown said. “We would have these big Sunday dinners with fried chicken, collard greens, pigeon peas and rice.”

Brown once decided to move from his family home to an apartment in Norwood in the 1970s. He put down a $200 security deposit but eventually decided stay in his family home. He lost his security deposit.

“I didn’t know why I did that,” he said. “I had done everything but at the last minute I said no. I’ll stay where I am.”

An avid drummer and musician, Brown recalled playing in Overtown clubs, including the Harlem Square and Café Society, a popular hangout where the defunct Black-owned Society Cab was founded. He remembers going to the Modern Theatre on 3rd Avenue to watch his favorite western movies.

With those days gone, Brown has remained in Overtown because of his home’s rich family history. His father died in 1958 and his mother in 1965. Out of 15 children, Brown and his sister, Delores Boxdale from Brooklyn, NY are the only ones still alive.

Brown said his wife is looking forward to the move for refreshing change. The couple has been married for 32 years and plans to move to Liberty City at the end of the month. They have five children, but three are still living with their own families in Florida.