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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 >>

An interstate scatters black businesses

Betsch describes the decline of Jacksonville's black community. Businesspeople, under pressure to sell their businesses to make way for an interstate, made way for the transformation of their neighborhood. An area full of locally-owned businesses grew thick with chain stores and lost its unique character.

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

KIERAN TAYLOR:
Was it, were you always in German—was it primarily Germany was really your base of operating?
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Yeah. Then I came home. My grandfather is getting weaker and weaker, and unfortunately Afro was going down the tube too.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
By the mid '60s.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Yeah. Yep it's heading. That's over. Of course you read the book. It just goes from then to there but by the—Atlanta Life is in the process of buying it out. So I'm happy of that because they all knew each other. It's almost like a brother coming to your rescue sort of thing. It wasn't a case of some outside white company taking over again and stuff.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Of course you're coming home during this time, but I'm wondering if, was there ever a point when you noticed that what you'd left was no longer.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. Yeah. Because first of all it started when after I'd come home from Europe especially. This pressure to make a sell so that they could put this I-95. Don't forget that completely disrupted the whole commercial area. You had Ashley Street but East, where we lived was also a little shopping area. That was all gone and boarded up and what, I'm saying. You've got that feeling and—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Pressure to sell.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Pressure to sell, but you know one guy didn't. I don't know if you went by eighth street or not but one guy, all these little skyscrapers around here. There he is sitting right there. His name is Mormon. He did not sell. I always raise my fist every time I go by.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
He should get a little marker.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Yeah, right. Absolutely. Because that as the area, and of course now it looks like any other. You know my voice teacher said, and I'm afraid it's coming true, you know what we're going to die of. Boredom. Think about it. If somebody put a blindfold over your face and you got off an airplane, you wouldn't know whether you were in Atlanta, whether you were in Jacksonville, my God and the little towns. Look at little Amelia Island. We all left the big city and then the developers came and spend sixteen years making it look like what we just left. Dammit. Leave us alone. All right. We used to brag about the fact that we didn't have a McDonalds. We didn't have the fast foods. We didn't have the four-lane highways. Look at it. What is it? It's madness. It really is. Then these condos, all of them, look at these [unclear] down here. Would you pay a million dollars to look out your window to see the same thing you left. What happened to this individuality of Americans? What happened? Oh my, it's like all the architects flunked, have flunked school and then they give them, here's your little—
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Don't you, doesn't that. That strikes me, that's got to be a contemporary architect, it's got to be about the most boring job there is because they're not producing anything of interest.
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
It's awful. It's awful. I wrote a letter to the editor once, of course, they didn't print it because it was pretty, I compared—look at this seashell. This is very unusual. Notice this one opens to the left. It doesn't open to the right. This is a rare one. Sorry about that Newt Gingrich. If you hold it like this, the opening is to the left. Anyway, I wrote this letter to the editor describing not only this oh God, look at all these other. I've got some gorgeous shells.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
I've never seen that and I've lived—
MA VYNNE BETSCH:
Oh yeah. This is called lightning whelk. This animal lives along here in the gulf. It's a rare one. Anyway, I'm describing all the beautiful shapes of shells and then proceeding to talk about the latest condo or whatever. At the end of my little writing to the newspaper or whatever, I make the remark on something like and who is the higher animal. Question mark, question mark. That's why they didn't print it. A little old mollusk. He's way down on the chain. Can you believe? Oh God. Some of these things are gorgeous. Look at this one. It's a beautiful. Look at this one. Look at the curves. The straight line, it's like a disease.