What is it worth to you?
What is it worth to you?
By Dedrick D. Henry, Sr.
Growing up in the Northwest section of Fort Lauderdale, I can remember the Black businesses that once lined Historical Sistrunk Boulevard, also known as Sixth Street. Black businesses boomed in those days because reciprocity was a way of life for these many business owners; from the laundry mat (One Stop) to the barber shops (Robert) and hair salons; from the electric company (Burrow’s Electric ) to the newspaper company (Westside Gazette); from the restaurants (Mr. Rooster’s) to the pharmacy (Sixth Street Pharm.); from the grocery store (Bass Bros. & Willie Walker) to the liquor store; from the library to the photographer (Mizell); and the movie theater. Residents did not have to go far to get their necessities nor entertainment, it was all just a few blocks away, right on Sixth Street. That also Included our own Black doctors, hospital, (Provident Hospital), and all Black hospital staff; (Dr. Sistrunk and Dr. Mizell).
Dr. Sistrunk was an African American physician best known for his contributions to the medical field in Bro-ward County. Dr. Sistrunk attended college in Nashville, Tenn. and graduated from Meharry Medical College in 1919. After graduating college, he was drafted into the military during World War I, in which he served some time before moving to Dunnellon, Fla. and began practicing medicine. After some encouragement from a non-Black pharmacist named Beck, Dr. Sistrunk moved to Fort Lauderdale in April of 1922.
Upon his arrival, Dr. Sistrunk, a qualified medical physician, was not able to perform procedures in white hospitals. In 1938, Dr. Sistrunk partnered with Dr. Von Mizell to establish Broward County’s first medical facility for Blacks, Provident Hospital. Provident Hospital was open to every African-American individual within South Florida, offering both medical and surgical care. In his 44 years in Fort Lauderdale, Dr. Sistrunk was estimated to have delivered more than 5,000 babies, one of them being my mother.
It is said that he remembered every single one he delivered, all of them regardless of their age and when he saw them he could point them out and say, “That one is mine.” After the desegregation of public hospitals in the 60’s, Provident Hospital closed and Dr. Sistrunk became an active member of Broward General Hospital.
Dr. James Sistrunk was more than just a doctor to his community, he was a friend and an advisor fulfilling community needs. He passed away on March 20, 1966 and is buried at Wood-lawn Cemetery.
This Historical Street has many stories, some good and some bad, but they are all still a part of Fort Lauderdale’s rich Black history. Every event, whether Dr. MLK Day, Play Day or the Sistrunk Parade; all have always started and ended on Sixth Street. The parades have always been on Sistrunk, whether going east or west, followed by festivities, venues, activities, guest speakers and entertainment for all walks of life. I liked those days when the vendors, supporters, sponsors, and neighbors from far and near found their way to Fort Lauderdale for the Historical Sistrunk Festival.
This was an event that South Florida residents and residents abroad looked forward to because it has always been in the Black neighborhood and for Black people. Back in the day, you could walk up and down Sistrunk and find entertainment on various stages, listen to local DJ’s spin a tune while the B-boys and B-girls dancer or hear a lecture on good health or gun violence. Regardless of your choice, there has always been positive information and entertainment at the Historical Sistrunk Festival. Local residents and tourists, both Black and white, had the opportunity to see the many Black businesses that provided life and hope as well as prosperity for this small community.
Sistrunk Boulevard is still making history, having hosted the original Tuskegee Airmen at the new African American Research Library and Cultural Center. Having shared the company of Rev. Dr. Bobby Jones (BET) at the Westside Gazette Newspaper; visited by stars such as Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Beyonce, Lynn Whitfield and the President of the United States, Barack Obama, all at Neighborhood Unisex Barbershop & Salon; all located on Historic Sistrunk Boulevard.
It’s been years since I’ve seen Sixth Street lined with vendors and patrons alike, but I commend the city for their Light Up Sistrunk and annual Friday Night Fest, but it is still far from the Sistrunk Festival and its attendees. Now, I hear their trying to move the Historical Sistrunk Festival to Mills Pond Park, which to me is totally absurd and definitely nowhere near Sistrunk Boulevard.
And Sistrunk Boulevard is now in the process of a serious facelift whereas businesses are opening their doors to the Black consumers and finding economic prosperity in our community. The City of Fort Lauderdale actually considered renaming Sistrunk Boulevard once it reached northeast Andrews Avenue. What and why? Is it to separate the white from the Black? Or to say that Blacks in the Fort Lauderdale community are predominantly located in the Northwest section of the city? Condominiums have been built on Northeast Sistrunk and businesses are opening and closing their doors for restructuring and refurbishing.
Soon will be the revamping and the relocating of the Black residents and their families who have lived and raised their children and grandchildren in this area for years. Think about it, for all those who are here to stay, you should have something to say. When you avoid doing business with your brothers and sisters you contribute to Black unemployment and disparity.
The Arabs and the East Indians that own the neighborhood markets in the Black community hire Arab and East Indian workers. They take your money out of the Black community and take it to non-Black communities. This saddens me that outsiders can find value in our neighborhoods and we can’t seem to value our neighborhoods. Value our community enough at least to grow with and within it; and not grow to grow away but grow to make it stay, Stay our Community. We need to patronize Black owned businesses and our rich Black history here in Fort Lauderdale at least enough to preserve our Black legacy.
We have to make our own progress and we have to depend on each other to make a difference.