Centenarian Jessie Corbitt shares life experiences

Corbitt
PHOTO BY DUANE C. FERNANDEZ SR./HARDNOTTSPHOTOGRAPHY.COM
Jessie Corbitt, center, celebrates his 100th birthday with loved ones on May 3 at the Piggotte Community Center in South Daytona.

BY ANDREAS BUTLER
DAYTONA TIMES

Jessie Corbitt smiled, sat and jumped around a little in his home on Tuesday morning, just two days after his 100th birthday.

His family threw him a birthday party in the Joe Piggotte Community Center in South Daytona on May 3 with over 200 people in attendance.

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood, Daytona Beach Zone City Commissioners Danette Henry (Zone 5) and Ruth Tragor (Zone1) attended, and the City of Daytona Beach gave him a proclamation.

“I feel good. I feel like I am 16 years old. I work in my garden. I can do what I need to do. I can drive my car to Walmart, church, etc.,” Corbitt told the Daytona Times.

Cab driver, entrepreneur

Corbitt was born on May 5, 1919 in Abbeville, Alabama.

“I was a country boy. We lived on a farm out in the country. We were farmers. I had friends who lived downtown,’’ he noted.

Corbitt is a retired businessman, cab driver and builder/construction worker.

He owned his own cab business called “Lucky Star Cabs” from 1946-1994.

“I enjoyed driving the cab. I was first on Second Avenue for many years. I made many friends too,” said Corbitt.

He recalled what it was like driving decades ago in Daytona Beach.

“When I first drove cabs in Daytona, Black drivers could take White passengers anywhere but we couldn’t be stationed on the beach side. Blacks couldn’t really go beachside unless working,” he reflected.

Building days

Corbitt mentioned how he helped to build structures in Daytona Beach.

“There was nothing here really. This was a small place with a lot of dirt roads and woods. Many of these homes in this neighborhood weren’t around. I build a lot of homes and some churches. I’ve done a whole lot of building here. I built this house and that house,” commented Corbitt.

Before coming to Daytona, Corbitt was building in Pensacola, Florida (1942-1945) and Alabama. He also worked in a sawmill in Alabama.

“I’ve built some of everywhere, including shipyards in Panama City and Alabama. I helped build Camp Rucker Army base in Alabama. I worked for a contractor in Panama City who brought me to Daytona. I worked for C&M Construction – the office was located on Segrave and South Street. When he left town, I got my license to be a cab driver,” recalled Corbitt.

Knew Dr. Bethune

During his lifetime, he said he befriended many people, including Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.

“I used to talk to Dr. Bethune. I used to rent a house from her niece but when her niece weren’t around, she would take my rent. I talked to her. Dr. Bethune was also responsible for many of the Black police officers during the time,” he noted.

“They couldn’t go beyond the railroad tracks or arrest nor ticket a White person.  Bethune also encouraged me to go back to school. I went to night school and made it up to 11th grade.’’

Other prominent local friends of Corbitt included Albert Bethune II; Dr. Oswald P. Bronson, Dr. Rabbi J. Gainous, Herbert Thompson and Buddy Young.

Remembers  Robinson

Corbitt also noted that he got to see Jackie Robinson.

Robinson broke the color barrier in Minor League Baseball in Daytona, a year before he did it with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Majors.

“I only got to see him play. I didn’t get close enough to talk to him,” he related.

Advice: Follow God

A man of great faith, he attends New St. James Missionary Baptist Church.

He remarked, “God has got me here. I helped build the church, I am a founder and one of the builders. I’m here to tell you today to follow God. I will keep following him. I’ve been doing it since 1953.”

Corbitt’s wife, Catherine, died in 2010. The couple raised five children and several grandchildren.

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