Realtor Bill Mancinik’s “Native Reflections” column has inspired several other West Volusia residents to share memories of growing up here. Today’s contribution is from longtime City of DeLand Public Works Director Clarence “Bo” Davenport.
If you’re inspired to share memories of growing up in West Volusia, we’d love to have them! Send 600 words or so via email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure we have your contact information.
Growing up in DeLand, I lived at 343 E. Arizona Ave., in the African American neighborhood known as Red City. Stetson University’s Smith Hall dorm is there now, on the property where I was born.
I used to raise orange trees there, and sell the seedlings in 2-gallon buckets to citrus growers for 5 cents apiece. The growers used these sour-orange seedlings to bud and graft for sweet oranges.
In that neighborhood, you could find the little orange trees growing wild, where the birds had dropped the seeds. I dug them up and took them home and nurtured them.
On the property now, there’s one live oak tree left, near the volleyball court, from the days of my youth.
We had three churches in Red City. We attended all of them. Bethel AME, on Voorhis Avenue, was the main church in the Red City area at that time.
The church on the corner of East Arizona and Garfield avenues — I believe it was St. Joseph — was eventually moved to Lake County, where it was used for the filming of the movie Rosewood, about the 1923 massacre in the town of Rosewood, when a white mob, reacting to an accusation of rape, killed at least six black people and destroyed the town.
I knew some of the families who fled Rosewood after the massacre. The Wilson family settled here in DeLand. I remember playing football at Euclid High School with Ben Wilson and Herman Wilson.
The Wilson brothers — along with Benjamin Howard — were among my friends who were on the Euclid Tigers team that went undefeated for three years. Not only were they undefeated; no team ever scored on them during that three-year period.
The way I went to work for the City of DeLand is an interesting story. I had come home from the Air Force, and often played golf on the nine-hole course out at the DeLand Naval Air Station.
The city had a maintenance shop on the airport at that time. I noticed a C-6 Caterpillar bulldozer sitting in pieces — the engine was in a corner of the shop, and the ’dozer was outside.
My uncle Robert Wyche Sr. worked in the maintenance shop as a helper. I convinced my uncle that we were going to put that bulldozer back together and get it running.
My uncle warned me that I would never get paid for the work. At that time, few white men had confidence that a black man could have mechanical skills, but I had learned my skills from my grandfather Cornelius Cook.
I knew I could fix the bulldozer, and I guess I wanted to prove it.
In about three weeks, we had it all reassembled. One Friday afternoon, the shop foreman, Jasper Singleton, and the Public Works director, B.G. Ford — two white guys — had just returned from lunch in town.
I had just put the batteries in the bulldozer. Singleton and Ford laughed at us and said, “You think that thing is going to run?”
I told them to wait about a half-hour. I bled the fuel injectors, and after I bled the fourth one, the machine fired. I bled the fifth one, and when I hit the sixth one, she really started running.
Singleton and Ford just looked at each other. They couldn’t believe it.
Ford said to me, “Do you want to go to work for the city?”
I said no. At that time, the city was paying black men less than a dollar an hour.
“You aren’t paying enough,” I told Ford.
I had already been offered a well-paying job at the Air Force base in El Paso, Texas, and I told Ford that.
I kept playing golf on the nine-hole course. After about two months, Ford came back up to me and offered the job again.
I was born and raised here in DeLand. I really didn’t want to leave my family. This time, I said yes.
I was officially hired by City Manager Jack Johnson. I was a mechanic, but my job title was laborer. At that time, no black men were hired — or paid — as mechanics.
Especially after Wayne Sanborn became city manager, I began to move up the career ladder, from shop mechanic to shop foreman and then sanitation superintendent, and ultimately Public Works director.
This is just one story. I have many more to tell. Thanks for listening.
— Clarence “Bo” Davenport was born in DeLand in 1938. He graduated from Euclid High School and attended Bethune-Cookman College on a band scholarship for 1 ½ years before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force, where he served as a mechanic for four years. Returning to town, Davenport eventually went to work for the City of DeLand, and retired as the Public Works director in 2005 after 43 years. He and his wife, Vivian, celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary Dec. 21. Davenport has been active with the DeLand Area Chamber of Commerce, and was the first African American president of the Chamber and of the DeLand Rotary Club.