Friday, August 29, 2014

Chapter 2 of Isn't This God's Water

Early Hands In
The Man with the Land
     Dana Fuquay, a native of Hastings, Florida, once owned one foot of every five feet of intercoastal land in Flagler and Volusia counties. Besides acquiring beachfront and other real property, he worked as an architect throughout the state on federal, state and private projects. In Daytona, where his main office was located, Mr. Fuquay participated in community affairs, including serving on the Board of Trustees at Bethune-Cookman College.
     Fuquay, along with another entrepreneur, George Moody, invested in the Flagler Hotel in Flagler Beach in 1924, but Moody sold his interest the following year. Fuquay completed the three-story structure which had forty-four guestrooms, each with running water and a bathroom, either connecting or adjoining. In the middle of the hotel was a fourth floor ballroom. It is reported that during winter season, guests dressed in fine attire, mounted stairs and spent an evening dancing. The Flagler also had a full basement with offices, a barbershop, and an arcade.
     The hotel had some down days, but from the late 40s until the early 70s, it was fully operational, but did eventually succumb to the wrecking ball.
     The site on which Flagler Hotel was located is one block west of A1A. Fuquay donated the block facing the ocean and stipulated nothing could be built on it to obstruct the ocean view. It had a shuffle board court on it, and sidewalks surrounding it, all in compliance with his wishes.              The grand Flagler Hotel, with its imposing coquina columns that stood to each side of its entrance, is gone. Its site is now the venue for a weekly Farmer’s Market.
     This biographical sketch of Dana Fuquay shows he was a man with ideas and he who went forward to make them a reality. Without documentation, but based on his actions, it can be assumed he had an open-mind toward African Americans, or at least toward Mrs. Bethune. Otherwise, he would not have accepted the invitation to sit on the Board at her school. Some credit must be given to her power of persuasion, however. Her ability to draw people of substance into her circle is legendary. Once they stepped in, she helped them to see her vision. So, a visionary, such as Dana Fuquay, perhaps was not a hard-sell when she disclosed her plans for a black-owned beach town. Besides, it was a money-making opportunity. According to George Engram: “…If Fuquay harbored any prejudice toward blacks, he wasn’t going to let it get in the way of a business deal. He sold quite a bit of property to whites and blacks. It didn’t matter to him.”
     Dana Fuqua showed Mrs. Bethune and the core group of investors beach property up and down Volusia County. They agreed upon the location on the south end of the New Smyrna Beach peninsula. The 189 acres of undeveloped land cost $132,000.00. This was a miniscule amount for some during that era, but not so for others. With the realization funds would very unlikely be acquired from standard banking institutions by a group of Negroes, Dana Fuqua permitted the core of investors to pay a modest down payment. Standing on faith, Mrs. Bethune believed there was a way to generate the balance owed.  
Garfield Devoe Rogers
A Plan to Pay
     G. D. Rogers suggested to Mrs. Bethune and other primary investors they form a corporation and go through steps to legitimize it with the state of Florida. By doing that, the corporation could sell shares and with the proceeds, the mortgage with Dana Fuquay could be paid off. A brilliant idea for a man with nothing more than a rural high school education.
     Garfield Devoe Rogers, a Georgia native, is said to have walked along railways from his home in Thomaston to Bradenton, Florida. His daughter said G. D., as he was commonly known, came to Florida in 1905, at 19 years old when a friend convinced him better opportunities existed there. He, as perhaps most of his 15 siblings, had no college education. But in spite of that, he became a perceptive businessman and prominent figure in Central Florida. One of his earliest enterprises in Bradenton, FL was a dry cleaning and tailoring business. He made custom-fitted suits for $13.50, and when the same customers needed their expensive apparel cleaned and pressed, they returned to G. D.’s place to have that done.
     Less than twenty years after arriving in Florida (1922), G.D., Mary McLeod Bethune and C. Blythe Andrews of Florida Sentinel Bulletin, a black newspaper, started the Central Life Insurance Company and by 1935, the company was conducting business in almost every city in Florida. The first offices of the Central Life Insurance Company were on Harrison Street in Tampa, with a staff of six employees. After eleven years, G. D. took the helm of the company, which had assets of $75,000. Under his leadership, company assets quickly grew to almost one million dollars and employed over 300 men and women.
      Eleanor Gittens, one of G.D.’s daughters, said her parents and Mrs. Bethune were close friends, and they dedicated themselves to the success of her college. G. D. drove truckloads of cabbage and fish to the school to feed students and supported Mrs. Bethune in many ways at the college. So when the beach town proposal came to mind, G.D. signed on without any prodding.
     In 1943, Zora Neale Hurston, famous African American writer and reporter for the American Mercury magazine, attended a statewide meeting of the Negro Defense Committee where G. D. spoke. She quoted him as saying: “The only citizens who count are those who give time, effort, and money to the support and growth of the community. Share the burden where you live.” From the many services he provided and businesses he started to meet the needs of blacks, it is evident he lived out the true meaning of his words.
     G. D. Rogers, astute businessman and trusted friend of Mary Bethune, knew the route to take to advance the beach project. So under his guidance, they agreed to form a corporation.