Down on the Plantation II

Jim Crow flies over this central Broward town

Some people might think Jim Crow died a long time ago. But the City of Plantation enacted laws a couple of years ago that were clearly designed to run black patrons out of town. And it has protected white-owned businesses, even when they break city ordinances. A group of political insiders controls this system of separate and unequal treatment. To really understand the hypocrisy, you have to go back in time to a country-and-western club with an all-white crowd and a name with more racist overtones than a Trent Lott birthday tribute.

The place was called Do Da's, and the name came from Stephen Foster's De Camptown Races, a favorite in early Bugs Bunny and Foghorn Leghorn cartoons (the most blatantly racist of which have since been censored). Long before Looney Tunes, the song was popular in 19th- and early 20th-century minstrel shows (think Eminem in blackface as produced by Jesse Helms).

Needless to say, blacks didn't go to Do Da's. But honkies sure filled the honky-tonk. Located south of Broward Boulevard on State Road 7, it was Plantation's most popular nightspot during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Noise was a problem and parking was a mess, since there were fewer than 175 spots for crowds that often surpassed 1,000. Neighbors complained, but city officials took little notice; it was a Plantation kind of place, after all.

Fred Harper

In 1996, Do Da's went out of business. Two years later, a new nightclub, called the Brickhouse, opened in the same building. Like its predecessor, the club thrived, with large crowds of upwardly mobile patrons filling the place until the 4 a.m. closing time. Again, nearby residents complained.

This time, the patrons were predominantly black, and this time, the city acted with a vengeance. A few other black clubs had also opened on the city's east side, including Peppermints and Sensations. At the behest of the Plantation council, staff rewrote the ordinance book in 1998 and 1999 to help put the clubs out of business. The council even took the extraordinary action of banning all nightclubs.

The Brickhouse was grandfathered in, however, so the city had to find other ways to shut it down. The council passed a law to force existing clubs to hire city police officers as security rather than use cheaper firms and added stricter parking laws. Then code inspectors began hitting the club with nuisance violations and ticketing patrons' cars by the dozen.

Brickhouse lawyers, meanwhile, tried to fix the primary problem, which was parking. Club owners signed parking agreements with nearby businesses, but the city refused to allow them. A suggestion that the city buy land next door and build a potentially profitable parking lot was also shot down. By late last year, the club was closed for good, and the City of Plantation had won another battle in its race war.

George Allen, a prominent black attorney in Broward County who represented the Brickhouse in its battles with Plantation, said the city's different treatment of Do Da's proves racism drove the council's decisions. "The city really wanted [Brickhouse patrons] out because it was young blacks and they used parking as an excuse... and landscaping and other silly stuff," Allen said. "They didn't do that with anyone else. When it was a western place, it had more complaints and more customers, and the city didn't do anything. The city just killed the Brickhouse."

The council's refusal to cooperate with the black club starkly contrasted with the way it treats most white businesses, especially the ones that hire the politicians and influence peddlers who dominate city business.

Consider, for instance, City Hall's favorite watering hole, Webby's Pub and Grub. Located in a nice strip mall at Broward Boulevard and East Acre Drive just west of Florida's Turnpike, Webby's has long been the place where local politicians hold fundraisers and city officials eat lunch. Blacks rarely venture there, for good reason: Robert "Webby" Webster was a veritable lieutenant in Plantation's race war. In his place, there is a tangible air of white defiance. This is good-old-boy turf.

During the few times I went into the bar (which is just down the street from my house), I heard lots of racist talk. I once asked Webster what he recommended from the kitchen, and he said everything, since it was all made by "good white people." (I decided not to eat.) Dripping with hate, he called Jesse Jackson a nigger and told me he had decided not to bid for the Broward Sheriff's Office food concession because he would have to hire minorities. He spoke about keeping blacks in their place, east of the turnpike, away from central Plantation. One of his bartenders once summed it up: "Webby just hates blacks."

Last week, I called Webster and asked him whether he'd ever refused to serve a black person. "I don't think so," he answered vaguely. Then I reminded him of all the racist things I'd heard him and some of his patrons say. "I didn't say those things," he responded coyly. "I'm too nice a guy... The only color I really care about is green. Plantation is changing. Some blacks keep their houses up better than some whites I know."

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