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The whites who worked at nearby industrial wholesalers and warehouses would come for lunch, but the dinner and overnight trade hardly existed, and Flam knew he had to do something to keep his restaurant alive.
“I told my father that if I keep this business, we’re going to have to integrate,” said Flam, who remembers the vaguely anti-Semitic comments made by patrons at his father’s store. “Maybe I knew what it feels like.”
Flam hired three black people to work in the dining room; some two dozen white employees quit a few days later. Shortly thereafter, he closed the back window where blacks had been served, and told the back window patrons to come inside. Many, perhaps most, of his white patrons found other places to eat.
Flam says black customers were initially reluctant to come up front. But one longtime customer said it was no big deal.
“We knew what the front was like. We came to the front and just sat down,” said Lawrence Drayton, 77, who’s lived in Liberty City for 52 years and showed up daily for breakfast with friends in a corner booth.
Another neighborhood resident, Brenda Cason, 60, remembers Flam’s generosity.
“When my brother was out of work, he fed him and clothed him and gave him a job; when he went to jail, he bailed him out,” she said.
Twenty-year-old Riquille McCloud, on the other hand, doesn’t know anything about Jumbo’s place in Miami’s civil rights history, only that she was a child when her mother first brought her to the restaurant.
“I’m leaving a lot of memories behind,” she said. “Good memories.”
But it was during a three-day race riot in 1980 that Jumbo’s place in the community stood out most clearly.
The neighborhood erupted on May 17 after three Miami police offers were acquitted in the beating death of Arthur McDuffie, a motorcycle-riding insurance broker who had allegedly led the officers on a high-speed chase the previous December. The officers purportedly beat the African-American motorcyclist to death, then ran over the bike to make it seem like he had crashed.