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  • A.G. Smith

Resident Spotlight: Joann Rolle

Joann Rolle

Photo by A.G. Smith

Joann Rolle still lives in the house on the corner in front of Bunche Park. The park she fought for. She still keeps her hair neat and her nails nicely manicured.

“I file them, remove the polish and paint them. I’m a vain old lady. I love pretty things,” said Rolle, 90, as she sat in her wheelchair.

Rolle was born and raised in Hallandale. Her family is originally from the Bahamas. She moved to the Bunche Park neighborhood, an area for black WWII veterans, with her husband, Burdine Rolle and their three children, Constance, Shirley and James.

Her husband served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He later became the supervisor of campus services at Miami-Dade College, north campus. After he passed away in 1984, the college named a scholarship in his honor, the Burdine Rolle Scholarship Endowment.

“The park had a beautiful shopping center,” said Rolle.

According to a Miami Herald article, “Black in Time” written by historian Dorothy Fields Jenkins, Ph.D., the Bunche Park shopping plaza was popular from the 1950s until the early 1960s. Fields wrote that it was a circular strip that originally stood where the park is now.

“We had our own grocery store, bowling alley, movie theater, bars and other social institutions. Everything was there in the community,” said Charles McCoy, a retired educator who grew up in the Bunche Park area.

In McCoy’s 1962 North Dade Junior-Senior High school yearbook there are ads from businesses within the Bunche Park Shopping plaza. One ad read “Bunche Lanes 26 ‘The Most Modern Bowling Alley in Florida.’” While another ad from a football game program marketed the Tasty Fish and Poultry Market, with the slogan ‘You buy ‘em —We fry ‘em’.

Julius Gaines, a property developer, planned to demolish the shopping plaza and create apartment homes.

“I said ‘every morning that I get up and I look out the door, let me not look across the street at the apartments.’ I came out here in the woods and there were homes. We left the apartment houses in Overtown,” said Rolle.

“They called meetings to talk about it. I don’t know whether we were invited or not, I invited myself to hear what was going on. On the days that I had to go to work and Mr. Gaines had a meeting, I would ask Rev. Griffin to go and represent me. I would say ‘tell [Mr.Gaines] we don’t won’t apartments across the street’,” said Rolle. Reverend A.M. Griffin of New Shiloh Missionary Baptist church worked part-time and was able to speak for Rolle when she had to work.

“Mr. Gaines said ‘What do you all want?’ I said ‘a park for our children’. Every time he had a meeting I made sure I was there,” said Rolle.

Gaines donated the property to the community to be used as a park, which later on became the property of Miami-Dade County. Bunche Park is now a part of Miami Gardens. It is the home of the Cowboys youth football team.

“I loved to sit and watch them play,” said Rolle. After she retired she would sit on her porch and watch children play in the park.

“She still does that, too. It brings tears to her eyes.” said her daughter, Constance Rolle Taylor.

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