Interview with Dewey Knight

Tell me something about the underclass. How do you look upon it and what do we do about that? Describe an underclass for me.


I think in order to describe a underclass I have to go back to how, what I initially started talking about. Open, when as Overtown, as I viewed it and heard about it, was a place where there literally was no class because everyone was there together. Segregation required you be there and people were treated as people, of course there had to be some. Ah, as people were able to become mobile and to move out, as people moved to Liberty City and Brownsville to build their little--buy their lots and build their little houses, and then as we had the great displacement of, ah, of, ah, urban removal and, ah, and the expressway, the people that were left were basically youngsters, mothers with children who couldn't get out, old people who couldn't get out, men and women with problems who couldn't get out, alcoholism, subsequently drugs. Ah, some carry-over with, with, ah, ah, immigrants who could not master the language or master the, the, ah, cultural functioning. So there was really the bottom rung of the ladder that was left if there's--and we've seen a, a growing underclass everywhere. But Overtown is a--that does not mean that, that there aren't people and were not people there who, ah, who stayed because they wanted to stay, but they were very limited. And that does not mean that these people didn't have great potential. But they were ignored because the, the, the, The upward mobility types had gone. When everyone was there, when the professionals were there and everybody, things moved up that benefited everybody. And as a consequence, the housing goes down, the streets go down, there are very few businesses**, there are, ah, police problems, ah, when I say police problems, problems with stealing and that kind of thing. And as a consequence, the people that are left are not only, ah, limited in their mobility, but they're limited in their functioning too. And up until the--while we talk a lot about doing something about it, ah, we, ah, it is caught up in many, many plans. The other thing that has, ah, that has limited what has happened to Overtown, at least in my estimation, is the fact that most people tend to relate every Black community in the same way. So when we say Overtown, people think you're talking about Liberty City and Brownsville and Coconut Grove. And when solutions began to, ah, to arrive, we say we want to do something about Overtown. And then what do we do? We immediately do something about Over--about Overtown by moving programs into Liberty City and Brownsville and Coconut Grove and Overtown gets left out. What we're trying to do this time, and I'm working on a committee to try to--is to look at Overtown as an independent entity that needs independent attention and try to find some, some do-able deeds and some do-able solutions and some do-able actions for Overtown and not just to say Overtown needs it, but Liberty City has more people so let's do it there.