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12/2/02 - Miami Herald

For Goulds, rich in history, second century looms with uncertainty - One option is to create city

By Chantal Abitbol

On the eve of its 100th birthday, the South Miami-Dade County community of Goulds is celebrating a rich and storied past while facing an uncertain future.

Last week, a group of Goulds activists took part in a meeting that discussed, among other things, the idea of creating a city out of the one-time whistle stop on Henry Flagler's railroad.

It's one possible way to preserve the heritage of this predominantly black community and keep it from becoming an enclave sandwiched between Cutler Ridge to the north and Redland to the west -- both areas now at various stages in the cityhood process.

Were Goulds to remain isolated, some fear that it would be the target of forced annexation.

That, many say, is an ugly fate for a place that ranks among Miami-Dade's pioneer communities.

''We're the true natives -- born, bred, educated and married in Goulds,'' said Juanita Floyd, 74, whose family moved to Goulds in 1924. ``Our children are the third generation.''

Floyd speaks from her living room, only seven blocks from the house where she was born, and she is rummaging through a stack of black-and-white photos.

Many date to the 1930s and have the frayed edges to prove it.

In one photo, Floyd smiles out from behind a row of schoolchildren, many barefoot with ripped jeans and muddied shirts.

They belonged to one of the first classes at Goulds Elementary and Junior High School -- on the site of what is now called Mays Middle School.


''We were poorer than Little House on the Prairie,'' she says with a laugh. ``The norm was 10 to 20 children in one family.''

In spite of their poverty, she insists that they had a ''quality of life'' -- deeply spiritual, revolving around school, church and ``living off the fat of the land.''

Many people spent their days fishing in the canals or hunting in the rock pine forest that stretched for acres along the site where Cutler Ridge Mall now stands.

In 1900, the area known today as Goulds was the homestead of African Americans William Johnson and William Randolph.

Between them, they owned the area between Black Creek Canal and Southwest 224th Street to the south on both sides of Old Dixie Highway.

Randolph later sold much of his homestead cheaply to other black people so they would have the chance to own land.

But Goulds was not officially founded until 1903, when Flagler's Florida East Coast Railway passed through, linking the produce packing houses that had popped up along the highway.


The area was originally known as Gould's Siding, which identified the stop along the railway's extension at Southwest 216th Street.

It was named after its operator, Lyman Gould, who cut trees for railroad ties. Years later, ''Siding'' was dropped from its name.

Downtown was a post office, a grocery store and an apartment building, now Cauley Square.

The recently restored ''Storeporch'' was built in 1931 and soon became the unofficial center where residents could buy weekly supplies.

It also a housed a juke joint where locals gathered to drink, eat fried catfish and play cards and checkers on the porch.

''It'd be open every night,'' said Onerine Thomas, 79, who ran the club with her husband, Earl.

Goulds was unlike most small Southern towns because black and white residents lived as neighbors without much fuss, said Lewis Canty, 65, whose family owned a farm in Goulds more than 45 years ago.

''There was no such thing as a white section and a black section,'' he said. ``We were all on both sides of the railroad tracks.''

That doesn't mean there weren't any clashes.


Especially during the late 1920s and the 1930s, the Klu Klux Klan was a strong presence in Goulds, said Lydia Everett Walker, 81, who is writing a book on Goulds' history.

Her father, Johnny ''Cat Man'' Everett, had frequent run-ins with the Klan, but she said he never backed down from them.

With no medical facilities nearby, Everett -- a third-grade dropout -- also became the unofficial resident doctor, treating everything from dysentery to gonorrhea with remedies that included cooked rattlesnake and potassium permanganate injections.

By the late 1940s, Goulds had begun to lose its rural feel, a casualty of progress: electricity in the 1940s, indoor toilets by the 1950s, bus service in the 1960s, mail service in the 1970s.

Today, Goulds is still changing, although the population remains predominantly black. The tracks of the long-gone railway, which first placed Goulds on the map, are finally being pulled up. The farmlands, which once seemed endless, are giving way to business and housing developments.


It's a poor community. The median household income is $19,633, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, compared with $35,966 for Miami-Dade County as a whole.

On the brink of a second century, even as they plan a series of celebration events to mark the birthday, Goulds residents may also face the task of creating their own city.

According to J.L. Demps, 49, chairman of Goulds Community Development Corp., it's ''an inevitable choice,'' but not without some risks and controversy.

The boundaries of a city called Goulds would no doubt be a thorny issue, since that very subject has helped stall the incorporation of nearby Redland.

But activists such as Demps say the community may have to tackle that problem and others to ensure its survival.

''We're trying not to become extinct,'' Demps said. ``But I'm afraid that's what could happen to us if we don't fight for our historical area.''