After our family lived at Oakland Terrace for years, our father, Donald Small, decided it was time to relocate.
In 1991, he moved my sisters Donna, Charletha and Marshallus, along with my mother, Retha Small, my brother, Kendall Ward, and I, to an area of DeLand locals referred to as “Red City.”
At the time, this tiny urban community consisted of two blocks of East Ohio Avenue and East Wisconsin Avenue. Both streets were only a block or two from the Stetson University campus.
My father, Donald E. Small, who was born and raised in DeLeon Springs, is an alumnus of Southwestern High School in DeLand. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 1969 Major League Baseball draft lottery — straight out of high school — to play first base and to pitch.
He was selected as the 395th pick in the 17th round, in a draft that saw a total of 1,042 players. He played 41 games with Red Sox farm teams based in Florida, before ending his baseball career in 1971.
Shortly after we moved to Red City, my mother and father decided to part ways. As a result, my sisters and brother and I were forced to go our separate ways, as well.
My sister Donna, at that time, was engaged to Treven Miles, who’s now my brother-in-law. Through my adolescence and into adulthood, Treven would prove to be the much-needed influential person who could cork the absence of my father, who slowly faded out of our lives.
My mother, Retha Small, and I remained in Red City. I was a 9-year-old socially awkward kid, attending Blue Lake Elementary.
We quickly found out our struggles of the past were only to prepare us for those that would come to haunt us. I recall not having electricity or running water for months at a time.
One of my daily household chores involved me running behind houses, avoiding my friends, my black duffel bag full of empty gallon water jugs, to get us water.
I managed to stay unnoticed the entire time I did this (at least that’s how I remember it). Had I ever gotten caught by friends or nosy neighbors, this would have been a truly embarrassing moment. Nothing will ever make me forget that slimy, limescale-covered faucet behind Mister Ed’s house.
I would have to describe Red City as a time of overshadowing. Every day was not a bright day, but we managed to find spurts of brightness. We did not have the best of everything, but my mother tried her best.
Red City was such a special part of town. Everyone was so neighborly. There were fish fries at the Jacksons’, barbecues at whoever’s house. We played street ball with the fellas — Big Mike, Rod, Beep, Aaron, O.J. and Robert Earl.
We were innovators waiting to happen. We built our own basketball goals by hammering the bottom out of milk crates, nailing them to wooden boards, and nailing the boards to trees.
After pickup games, our youthful legs carried us up the road to Poppa Jay’s Chicken on the Boulevard. If there were another place in town with fried chicken as crispy and delicious, all I heard was crickets.
Some say certain things in life are to die for. Moments we created in Red City were to live for.
I earned the bulk of my spending money collecting and selling cans. My mother’s boyfriend had an extreme obsession with the taste of alcohol. As quick as he could toss cans into the backyard, I bagged them.
At the end of two weeks, I jumped on my beach cruiser. Reused garbage bags filled with aluminum cans thrown over my shoulder made me look very much like a skunky mobile ginkgo tree.
I traveled a couple miles up the road to Florida Recycling, on Florida Avenue. I would sometimes give the cans extra weight by adding a little dirt, and I found out later the owner was aware of it. My earnings were $25-$30 every other week.
Oftentimes, I would take my little money (which was big money. for me) next door to Kirkland’s to fill my bag with assorted 1-cent candies.
Although several Black communities emerged in DeLand in the 1890s, it was during the Progressive Era that those areas began to experience significant development.
In southwest DeLand, “Yamassee” began to emerge as a distinct settlement. Centering around Voorhis, Euclid, Adelle and Clara avenues, the area contains some of the oldest buildings associated with Black residential neighborhoods in the city.
Other communities, including “Red City” (roughly defined by Amelia, Garfield, Arizona and Wisconsin avenues), “Dunn’s Bottom” (centered along Garfield and Voorhis avenues), “Africa” (Amelia and Garfield avenues and Church Street), and “Printery Park” (Woodland Boulevard, Ohio and Amelia avenues and Church Street), also took form at this time.
Although those areas have been among the hardest hit by demolition, a number of buildings from the period remain.
— Courtesy of historian Sidney Johnston, based on excerpts from his conversation with Willie Lee Durant in March 1991.
If I was not visiting Uncle Pistol, who lived near Florida Recycling, it was back to Red City to play arcade games.
Something interesting about Uncle Pistol: The walls of his home were decorated, floor to ceiling, with record-album covers from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The Rat Pack, the Supremes, Elvis, Curtis Mayfield — he had them all.
After he departed to make an untimely entrance into the skies, the city bulldozed his place to the ground. None of his collection was recovered.
Right around the corner from our home in Red City, there was a convenience store. Since we had no electricity most of the time, my hard-earned funds went into their Mike Tyson’s Punchout, Super Mario Brothers, Paperboy and Contra arcade games.
I remember there was a guy who used to hang out at the laundromat, next door to that store. His name — or chosen nickname — was Whitey. He would sit around, idly, with a chimpanzee by his side. The first time I ever met Whitey and his sidekick, he handed the chimpanzee his bottle of wine. His chimpanzee turned the bottle up like a hungry baby.
With no readable expression, Whitey looked up at me and said, “Welcome to Red City, kid.”
— DeLand native Small, who goes by the pen name of E.D. Small, can be found on Facebook and Instagram @username: author.ed.small. He lives now in Winter Park, and published his first poetry collection this year, titled Melting Faces in a Cracked Mirror: Written Works by E.D. Small. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.