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Mary Athalie Range

Mary Athalie Range was born in Key West on November 7, 1915. Her grandparents were born in Nassau, Bahamas but her patents, Edward L. Wilkerson and Grace Shultz were born in Key West. The family left Key West when she was five or six years old and she grew up primarily in Miami. She graduated from Booker T. Washington Senior High School in the class of 1939. Although she had no formal college education, she later attended the New England Institute of Anatomy and Embalming and became a funeral director.

She married Oscar Lee Range who was from Valdosta, Georgia. They had four children, Myrna, Patrick, Oscar and Gary. The family lived in the Liberty Square Housing Project in the early years. Oscar Range became a licensed funeral director and the Ranges opened their funeral home in Liberty City in 1953. After her husband’s death seven years later she continued the business.[1]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.74.

In another time and place she might have been a queen but fortunately for us fate gave her to Miami.

Mary Athalie Range was born in Key West on November 7, 1915. Her grandparents were born in Nassau, Bahamas but her patents, Edward L. Wilkerson and Grace Shultz were born in Key West. The family left Key West when she was five or six years old and she grew up primarily in Miami. She graduated from Booker T. Washington Senior High School in the class of 1939. Although she had no formal college education, she later attended the New England Institute of Anatomy and Embalming and became a funeral director. She married Oscar Lee Range who was from Valdosta, Georgia. They had four children, Myrna, Patrick (who was at Morehouse College when I was there), Oscar and Gary. The family lived in the Liberty Square Housing Project in the early years. Oscar Range became a licensed funeral director and the Ranges opened their funeral home in Liberty City in 1953. After her husband’s death seven years later she continued the business.[2]Dunn, Black Miami in the Twentieth Century, p.1.

Father Theodore R. Gibson

Then Gibson went political. In 1972 Gibson was persuaded to make a run for the Miami City Commission. Two white commissioners, J.L. Plummer and Sidney Aronovitz convinced him to do so. Gibson won and never lost an election after that.

Father Gibson became the black voice on the Miami City Commission following M. Athalie Range, who had become the first black to serve on the commission in 1965. He insisted on better jobs for blacks in the city especially for sanitation workers. His first question on public matters seemed always to be “How will this help or hurt our black community?” And he did not mince words. Gibson was known to virtually rage (righteously) from the dais on occasion bringing the chamber to dead silence. The truth be told, if you caught Father on a bad day you could get cussed out (righteously, of course).[3]Dunn, p.8

M. Athalie (Mama) Range was the first black person to serve on the Miami City Commission. She began her public life as the head of the PTA at Charles R. Drew Elementary School in Liberty City which her children attended. Black schools did not have cafeterias and food was trucked from white schools to black schools. Range went to the Dade County School Board and launched a verbal attack that some folks still can recall. The school board put a portable cafeteria on the school grounds and built a new school complete with a cafeteria.

Later when the City of Miami would pick up garbage in black neighborhoods when they had time after serving white areas, Range led a large group of her neighbors to take their bags of smelly garbage and dump them in front of the commission while the commission was in session. The city began regular garbage pick ups in black neighborhoods. Range was appointed to the city commission in 1965. She went on to win a seat in her own right.

As the deplorable condition of black schools in Dade County became intolerable, a small black woman whose roots ran deep in Bahamian soil, emerged as the black leader of the historical moment. Range’s political involvement began in 1948 with the PTA at her children’s school, Liberty City Elementary School then located on the site now occupied by Charles R. Drew Elementary School.

According to Range in an interview she gave me in 1992, conditions at the school were deplorable. With an enrollment of about 1,200 black students the school consisted entirely of portable classrooms. It had only twelve toilet facilities for girls and about the same number for boys. There was no cafeteria although white schools had long had cafeterias. There was no grassy area or trees on the property. The children had only outside drinking fountains fed by uncovered pipes merely laid on the ground. The water was so bad that many parents sent their children to school with mayonnaise jars full of chipped ice. The school was one of the few Dade County schools operating on a double shift.

Range was elected as head of the school’s PTA. The parents swamped a meeting of the Dade School Board and sent Range forward to speak. She railed against the school board for its treatment of black children including her own. The Dade School Board was all-white, of course, and members sat in shock as Range took the room. In the jargon of today, “it was on.”[4]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.73.

The late M. Athalie Range, the first black person to serve on the Miami City Commission. She was elected to the post in 1965. Range was a giant in Miami. Political aspirants from councilmen and women to would be presidents sought her support. She ran a very successful funeral home. She began her public involvement by becoming the head of the PTA at her children’s school in Liberty City. Her parents were from the Bahamas. The family once lived in the Liberty Square Housing Project. When her husband passed away, she took over the family business.

In 1972 Range left the city commission. Governor Reuben Askew soon after appointed her Secretary of Community Affairs for the State of Florida. During her tenure as secretary a bad drought struck the state. The Everglades burned uncontrollably. A group of farmers asked Range for help. She obtained 8 million dollars of state assistance for the impacted farmers.[5]Dunn, p.7.

When Range left her post with the state, President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the AMTRACK Board. She had been one of the first Floridians to embrace Carter’s bid for the White House. Following the great riot of 1980 in Miami President Carter came to Liberty City to attend a meeting of community leaders from the black community. Of course, Range was there. It was a terrible meeting. The President wanted to know what locals were doing to deal with the aftermath of the riot and local leaders wanted to know what the federal government was going to do. It ended in a stalemate. As the meeting ended Range was in the presidential limousine with Carter driving away when hoodlums from the back of the large crowd of onlookers threw bottles striking the presidential limousine. Range seemed uneasy. The president took her hand and assured her that there was no reason for concern.

M. Athalie (“Mama”) Range died on November 14, 2006. I suppose she is in heaven organizing angels for God only knows what. My guess is that now with Range AND Georgia Jones Ayers up there God is hearing a lot about what is wrong in Miami. As for heaven itself, I truly pray that the garbage is picked up equally in all the neighborhoods.[6]Dunn, p.9.

In 1964 Range entered politics running for a seat on the Miami City Commission. She told me that she lost the close race against her opponent, a white man named Irvin Christie because the night before the election Christie had a sound truck going around the white areas announcing, “Unless you get out and vote in tomorrow’s election you may have a Negro deciding your fate on the commission.” It worked. Range lost by a slim margin, 17, 000 to 18,000 votes.

The next year Maimi Mayor Robert King High, wanting to make inroads in the black community because he had his eyes on the governor’s mansion, persuaded a white member of the Miami City Commission to resign so that he could appoint Range to the commission. In 1965 M. Athalie Range became the first black to serve on the Miami City Commission. She went on to win the seat outright in the next election. She won a third term receiving more votes that the mayor.[7]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.75.

A Statute for M. Athalie Range for the state capitol Grounds?

I am going to post a survey in a few minutes asking if the state of Florida should commission and place a statute of civil rights leader M. Athalie Range to be placed on the grounds of the state capitol. I suggested this on yesterday but was not serious. Almost 200 people wrote back saying “yes.” So, I am going to post a more formal survey today to see how many of you really think that this is s good idea. If the response is very positive, I will send the results to the legislative black caucus and to the governor. There are five thousand of you who are “friends” on this page. Your voice on this question would be appreciated. Numbers do count and there are state legislators who are friends on this page. (Do not respond to this notice. Please wait for the survey.)

A Statute of Civil Rights leader M. Athalie Range for the Florida State Capitol Grounds?

Should the State of Florida commission and place a statute of Miami civil rights leader M. Athalie Range, the first African American to serve in the state cabinet since Reconstruction, on the grounds of the capitol? This is a photograph of the Confederate monument on the grounds of the state capitol.

Please share this survey with others.

In 1964 Range entered politics running for a seat on the Miami City Commission. She told me that she lost the close race against her opponent, a white man named Irvin Christie because the night before the election Christie had a sound truck going around the white areas announcing, “Unless you get out and vote in tomorrow’s election you may have a Negro deciding your fate on the commission.” It worked. Range lost by a slim margin, 17, 000 to 18,000 votes.

The next year Maim Mayor Robert King High, wanting to make inroads in the black community because he had his eyes on the governor’s mansion, persuaded a white member of the Miami City Commission to resign so that he could appoint Range to the commission. In 1965 M. Athalie Range became the first black to serve on the Miami City Commission. She went on to win the seat outright in the next election. She won a third term receiving more votes that the mayor.[8]Dunn, p.3.

Soon after she became a commissioner a terrible fire took eleven lives in the black community. The fire had been caused by a space heater. Many homes in black Miami were fire hazards and were packed close together such as the ones shown here. Range got the commission to outlaw space heaters in the City of Miami.

In the late 1960’s garbage pickup by the City of Miami in black neighborhoods were done when the sanitation workers had nothing else to do, Range told me. To deal with the situation in 1967 Range proposed to change the practice but the item was postponed twice. One apartment building complained that garbage had not been picked up for two weeks. Range told residents to show up at a city commission meeting and bring bags of garbage with them to place on the desks of the city commissioners. The ordinance requiring garbage pickup in black communities on a scheduled basis as in white neighborhoods was passed quickly.[9]Dunn, p.6.

Soon after she became a commissioner a terrible fire took eleven lives in the black community. The fire had been caused by a space heater. Many homes in black Miami were fire hazards and were packed close together such as the ones shown here. Range got the commission to outlaw space heaters in the City of Miami.

In the late 1960’s garbage pickup by the City of Miami in black neighborhoods were done when the sanitation workers had nothing else to do, Range told me. To deal with the situation in 1967 Range proposed to change the practice but the item was postponed twice. One apartment building complained that garbage had not been picked up for two weeks. Range told residents to show up at a city commission meeting and bring bags of garbage with them to place on the desks of the city commissioners. The ordinance requiring garbage pickup in black communities on a scheduled basis as in white neighborhoods was passed quickly.[10]Dunn, p.5.

A classroom at segregated Holmes Elementary School in Liberty City: By the late 1950s Liberty City was expanding as blacks moved north out of Colored Town and more and more schools were needed in the northwest area of the county to accommodate the expanding black population.

Black teachers and administrators were second class professionals in Dade schools at this time. They were restricted in professional development and were paid less than white teachers. Black schools had substandard facilities and supplies compared to white schools. For example, portable classrooms were more commonly used in black schools and often there were no libraries or cafeterias in black schools. (Food was brought in from white schools) Even toilets and drinking fountains were substandard.

The issue of unequal education for black children in Liberty City stirred many black parents to do something about it. Their efforts brought forth the most influential black leader in Miami history, M. Athalie Range.[11]Dunn, Black Miami History, p.72.

By the 1980’s blacks were calling her “Mama Range” as she became the voice, vision and conscience of black Miami. Her approval was sought by politicians from would-be city commissioners to would-be Presidents. She did not have to leave her Liberty City funeral home to see them. They came to her![12]Dunn, p.8.

References

References
1 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.74.
2 Dunn, Black Miami in the Twentieth Century, p.1.
3 Dunn, p.8
4 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.73.
5 Dunn, p.7.
6 Dunn, p.9.
7 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.75.
8 Dunn, p.3.
9 Dunn, p.6.
10 Dunn, p.5.
11 Dunn, Black Miami History, p.72.
12 Dunn, p.8.