AFRICANGLOBE – In the days when White people wouldn’t let them eat in their restaurants or shop in their stores, Northwest Florida’s Black communities were left to fend for themselves.
And so they did, with some notable successes in the 1940s, 50s and early 60s.
In Crestview, Brownie McDonald hauled wood and crossties and the Rev. Ed Hill supplemented his preaching by selling blueberries and vegetables, local historian James Conyers said. Lissa Mae Thomas ran the local grocery store,
Folks shopped at Banks or Parker’s Grocery or Bessie Petty’s Country Store in Fort Walton Beach. They also could visit “Possum” Joe Davenport’s vegetable stand.
There were places in south Okaloosa called the Roof Drive In and Chicken In A Basket. Kilpatrick Melvin ran a café that served hamburgers in the front and had a juke box in the back.
Thynorl Yates, a history-making entrepreneur in her own right, said the kids frequented all the local restaurants.
The older crowd danced “triggerfoot” at the Silver Inn Bar, now the Rancho Alegre on Hollywood Boulevard.
“If you saw a White male walking down there you knew he was stranded,” Yates said.
There also were boarding houses and, of course, churches. Elk’s Lodge No. 23 on Carson Drive still stands.
A very few early Black entrepreneurs such as construction magnate W.T. McKinnie and roofer O.B. Campbell became wealthy.
Many others, like C.J. and Thynorl Yates, Lucille Parker and A.G. Conyers got by on their wits and ingenuity.
“Black businesses were more or less relegated and located in the Black community,” said A.G.’s grandson, James Conyers. “It wasn’t a situation where there were a lot of Black businesses that were lucrative. A modest living was made. It went with the territory.”
In Fort Walton Beach, Blacks lived and worked in an area straddling what is now Hollywood Boulevard between Eglin and Beal parkways.
C.J. Yates pumped gas, changed oil and drove a cab. His little sister, Thynorl, was the area’s first Black beauty shop owner. Thynorl worked just down Hollywood from her brother at a shop she built on land her father gave her.
On Carson Drive, Lucille Parker owned and operated Parker’s Grocery, and for a while she found herself running a day care center out of her store.
She later would move to the Lovejoy community and work full time “33 to 40 kids at a time” at day care, said her daughter, Cleta Brantley.
Parker still lives in the area and recently celebrated her 94th birthday, Brantley said.
In Crestview, where Black Americans were confined to the area south of downtown, where Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue is now, A.G. Conyers, was a “wood rider” who sold land abandoned by the turpentine companies after trees in the area were harvested.
“That’s how we got land for cemeteries and some schools,” James Conyers said.
By: Tom McLaughlin
Black Wall Street, Little Africa, Tulsa, Oklahoma 1921