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Oral History Interview with the Honorable Mable Butler, Part I of II

Book cover for 1820 Mable Butler Avenue by The Honorable Mable Butler with a photo of her on the cover. The Honorable Mable Butler was the first African American female to be elected to the Orlando City Council and the first African American female elected to the Orange County Board of Commissioners. She served on Orlando’s City Council from 1984 to 1990. In 1990, the Honorable Mable Butler was elected as Orange County Commissioner representing District 6 and served as Commissioner from 1990 to 1998. As detailed in this oral history interview, in her early public service, Mable Butler worked tirelessly as Director of the Multipurpose Center in west Orange County. She was instrumental in getting the Meals on Wheels program established in much of west Orange County. Mable Butler Avenue and the Mable Butler Family Center are named in her honor.

My name is Mable Butler. I was born in Gainesville, Florida, but I spent all my barefoot days in Jacksonville… of course that was segregation during that time. Most of us knew nothing about it. We knew there were places we couldn’t go and people we couldn’t associate with, but I don’t think that bothered us at the time because we weren’t very much aware of it. But I was exposed to more because my mother was a jack-of-all-trades. She was a midwife, she was a cook, she was a nurse, various things. My mother was long before her time and she worked basically with white folk. And most of the time the white community accepted me because I was with my mom. So I really had no problem.

Listen Part I (22:59)

1820 Mable Butler Avenue by the Honorable Mable Butler

But, I had more problems with my people than I had with others because I was very, very fair, long stringy hair. I never kept a clean face so they started calling me “Dirty Red”. And I had no problem with that either because I was sort of tom boyish. I guess that’s why I love guys today because I came up with fellows and, of course, they didn’t want me because I was a girl. But I followed them anyway. You’ll read all of that in my book [1820 Mable Butler Avenue by Mable Butler, 2017] so let’s get to something else.

What was a typical Sunday like for you growing up?

Oh, Sunday, always church. You went to church all day on Sunday. You went to Sunday School. You stayed in church. You came home to eat. You went to BYPU. At that time my grandfather was founder of St. Thomas Baptist which is still established in Jacksonville. So we lived about three doors from the church. Of course, church was church, everything. And you did everything at the church. If you weren’t in school you were at church or planning to go to church. They had all kinds of services that kept the community busy. On Sundays you had Sunday School, service, and the BYPU, and the night service. You were busy all day Sunday between eating and whatnot.

You mentioned your grandfather. So you knew your grandparents?

I knew of my grandfather. I knew his wife my grandmother… My grandfather was Ruben Thomas and my grandmother’s name was Elizabeth Thomas. Ruben Thomas really established two churches. One, it’s a place in Jacksonville called Brooklyn, he established a church there, but that one was not named after him. Then he went over to the area of Campbell Hill, that’s a very old area, and established a church there that was named after him which later was removed because of I-95 came through that area. And they relocated the church on 13th and Montcreif and that’s where it is today. St. Thomas Baptist. It’s still called St. Thomas…

How would you spend your summers?

Well, we had no where to go. I mean, you weren’t allowed at beaches. I think today the mentality of young people is totally different. But you found things to do. You didn’t have scouts. You didn’t have a swimming place. And that’s why in the book you’ll find that I saved this young man’s life and had never had a swimming lesson in my life. My Lord and I went down and got him and brought him back up… You found things to do. I can’t even think of all the things we did. After that day I saved this young man, I became a leader… You know, when I looked back on it, I had a very good childhood.

What was your first job that you got paid for?

My first job, during high school there was a record shop right near the high school and it had three or four booths. You’d get the record, go in there play it, and if you liked it you bought it. So I got a job there after school putting the records back in the albums, putting them under the name of what they were. That was my first job.

New York City College

Finished high school. I still worked there. Trying to decide if I was going to college or how I was going to college. Scholarships weren’t as available as they are today. So I worked there until I met my first husband and he was in the Navy… We got married and he got shipped to South Carolina… He decided he’d go to New York, so in New York is where I went to school, New York City College.

How did you decide to go to college? Were most women going to college at that time?

Oh, everybody was going to college. Everybody was getting an education because they thought that would be the only way they could upgrade their life and things like that. It was just a matter of how and when.

And your major in college?

Was social service. Then I started having babies and after the babies I still went to college. I met a young lady at prenatal care that we were supposed to be having our babies at the same time. At the doctor’s office we’d talk; we made friends. I lived on 140th and she lived on 143rd between Lenox and 7th Street. And I lived on 121st between Lenox and 7th Street. So we were right around the corner from each other. We learned that so we hung out together. And I told her as soon as I had the baby I wanted to go back to school. She said, “Well, I could keep both babies on campus while you’re in school.” We’re plotting my career. So she had her baby first and I was supposed to have my baby first… I registered and went back to school and she and the babies were in the carriage while I was in class. So that’s how I went to school, by babysitting.

Listen Part II (26:39)

Orlando

My friend who helped me through school found out that Schaefer beer was looking for models and they were trying to get into the southern market. And they had started hiring reps to go to the black businesses and put up calendars, and clocks, and whatnot with their advertising on it. And they wanted pictures to go with that. So I got the job. But Mr. Flagler didn’t know I had it. So on the days that I had a day to model, my girlfriend would go with me and her and all the children. She’d take them to the movie while I was doing photo shots. Now my picture is all over the south. It isn’t in the northern part, it’s all over the south in black restaurants and bars and sandwich shops and things with clocks.

Negro Chamber of Commerce Book

One of the reps came to see me who was giving out the calendars, those pictures… so I asked him to bring me back some brochures on his route. So he did. I chose Orlando. He brought me a Negro Chamber of Commerce book. I have it today. And in that book it had the Sunglow Motel on 441 which was black. It also had the Wigwam which was white. The building which was right across the street which is still there was The Big Apple. They had the furniture, food, they had everything in there that you wanted to buy. You could have flowers, garden shop. They had two floors. So everything was on those two floors downstairs which was right across the street. So that’s what happened. Then I did find a Mr. Strong. He had an office there at the corner of Parramore and Church was the Carver Theater. And upstairs were offices and Mrs. Stone had a real estate office.

House on Bethune Drive

Well, at the time when I got here, Army was leaving, Navy was leaving, Air Force was coming in at the Air Force Base over on Sand Lake. So many of the service personnel that had purchased homes, they now want to lease them, rent them so that’s how I was able to get a house to lease on Bethune Drive.

This would have been in the late 1950’s or early 60’s?

It was 1957, August the 13th, 1957 is the day I drove my station wagon into that motel. I’ve been in this house since 1959 and I done built it three times. It got three rooms. But anyway, that’s how I came to Orlando….

When did you become a social worker in the Orlando area?

Well, right where that library – we used to meet – George Stuart, Sr. I’m trying to think of the other little man’s name. It was three white men and Mable Butler met at the library on the corner of Central and Magnolia. There was a house and we met in the meeting room which had books and everything in there, but you could use it as a meeting room. And solved all the problems of Orlando. We brought about the Christian Service Center sitting there and the need for the Meals on Wheels.

And that was your initiative, right?

No, I became a part of it. These folks were white men and Mable Butler. I can’t recall how in the hell I got on that board, but I served on the mayor’s biracial commission. Mayor Langford appointed, it must have been about 45 of us, black, white, and everything. Every city was having riots and problems, burnings, and whatnot. So he appointed a biracial committee. And that biracial committee set up a chairman and committee chairs.

Committee Chair of the Housing Program

I became a committee chair of the housing program. Ernest Page was employment. Father Pinder – I don’t know what Father was, but it was a whole batch of us. Joe, the owner of Channel 9 at that time. He was Jewish. It was a Jewish name. [Joseph L. Brechner] I think Joe was the chairman. But, however, it was a whole mixed group of people. We met, I think, once a month. I can’t recall now. But we met and each community gave their report.

Orlando Human Relations Department

My report at that time – they were building a lot of apartments on Rio Grande and various places. And when blacks applied for one there was no vacancy. I sent a white couple in there, they got an apartment. So I found discrimination. Atlanta stayed down here so much from the HUD office in Atlanta, they stayed here so much, they got them an apartment in one of these complexes. Because they had to be in hotels; I kept them here. And so that’s how we passed – well, it became so that everybody that was a committee chair was – you’re meeting with all your committees – with having all the problems and whatnot. We said, “You need a department.” And that’s how the Orlando Human Relations Department came out of that group….

George Stuart, Senior

I do remember George Stuart, Senior. Of course, he had the office supply building there on the corner of Robinson and Rosalind. And he was the first to hire a black sales person. He took this black man out of the truck which was a delivery and hired him. Dressed, put him on a shirt, and he was a salesman. I thought that was such a thing. I always praised him for that. He always had jokes to tell. I loved that about him. And Mrs. Stuart was a very happy woman. They were both tall.

“We were the delivery room to Heaven…”

But anyway, the four of us, these three other white – Mrs. Stuart and myself. We’d sit in this small room, it was a library. You could check books out of it. But in the time we’d have it for our meeting, and that’s how we talked about the deliverance of meals. And at the time we were talking about the white seniors, because we had First Baptist had just been built, and this one, and this one. And you had the elderly. We were the delivery room to Heaven. We were the delivery room to Heaven not only for Florida, but Orlando more so because it was Central. You could get here by flights and whatnot.

Christian Service Center and Church Collaboration

So even though we didn’t have an international airport we had that airport out on Colonial. Well, we start bringing in ministries to talk about the church collaborating themselves together, and forming the Christian Service Center. And how are they going to operate? Every church was going to put them in their budget and that was the operating fund. No federal dollars. That’s how the Christian Service Center survived with all these churches… it must have been about 250 starting out, pledging so much per year to the Christian Service Center….

Meals on Wheels Director Judy Hilcher

But anyway, the Christian Service Center has been established. The director has been hired for the Christian Service Center. The director has been hired for the Meals on Wheels, Judy Hilcher. I’m still doing my thing. What happened is, the director I had, I got an appointment with them to meet with me and ride. I’m carried him to see an old trailer that was just there. It was very inexpensive. The most expense was to remodel it the way I wanted it inside. What I did was I took this trailer, it was in Winter Haven on Monday, Zellwood on Tuesday, Apopka on Wednesday, Bithlo on Thursday, and Friday in Taft. This was Orange County. And that was I had to go to get all these plugins to plug this thing in. And I had to go fight with the state- and I just so happen to have friends – fight the state to put a staff person on this mobile.

Disney development and people seeking employment…

We got Disney is now digging holes in that mud out there and the people are coming here – they were carpenters. But isn’t what Disney was looking for. Disney was looking for craft persons to do all the craft work. Those people are going to get a job later on, but not now. But many of these people have packed their families up with the last paycheck or the last Social Security check grandma had. Got grandma in there and grandpa in the car and they ain’t got nowhere to go and they were referred to us.

Orange County Social Worker Annie Lovell

Mr. Butler would come home at night and I’d have all these pallets all over the floor. My office down there would have pallets all over the place. I had to take care of these people. And we had a lady named Annie Lovell who was an Orange County Social Worker. It was just overwhelming to Annie. She said, “I am not a traveling agent.” I said, “Well, give me the money to get them out of here. To send them back home.” Other than that, you either gong to pay now or pay later. So sometimes I could get the money sometimes I couldn’t.

Mobile Outreach Center

But anyway, it was something else. And I made these reports. I’d write up these reports that you’ve got to do more. And, of course, everywhere that that mobile went, on that mobile I had a driver that took it Monday. He took it out on Sunday night. I had met with the managers and everything. I had got approval that we could hook up to the light pole on the parking lot at the Winn Dixie out there in Winter Garden so that’s where he plugged in so the air would be ready. I had a person from the Food Stamp, from Employment Office, a Social Worker from the State, and a Social Worker from my offices on that mobile. She served as the receptionist to refer these people to whomever, to wherever else they needed to go… everywhere I had that mobile to go everyday, you now have an outreach center there. I showed the need for one in every part of Orange County…

Listen Part III (27:08)

Winter Park Employment Office

Well, I had a fight with the employment people when I first got the job because I wanted them to bring the employment person out to take applications for jobs. The man I talked to told me it was only 50 cents round trip by bus to Winter Park – that’s over there on Morse Boulevard. That’s where they had to go to apply for employment. I said, “But many of these people don’t have 50 cents.” So I want you to send me somebody. And what the problem is, if they go over there you give them this card to give the potential employer if the job had been filled. He was suppose to say the job had been filled and the next person that they sent take it back to them. Many of them knew that job had been filled when they sent them out there. But they were just that ugly, whatnot.

“I know the director over the Florida State Employment Office…”

Well, I had a good friend in Tallahassee. You always be good to everybody. You don’t know when you are going to need them. I called him and I told him. He said, “I know the director over the Florida State Employment Office.” He said, “I’ll be in Orlando. Meet me at the Executive Airport. I’m flying in on my private plane and I’ll fly you back to Tallahassee.” He did that. And I want you to know we turned right around. The big man that was over all the State Employment Offices flew in with me and we went to Morse Boulevard. And he told them, “I want a person out there every day. That will be their job. They can come in here, get the job that’s available and then I want them at the multi-purpose center.” I mean you talk about people acting like it was the President of the United States, well their job depended on it. And I didn’t have that problem no more. I solved that problem.

Well, I had a good friend in Tallahassee. You always be good to everybody. You don’t know when you are going to need them. I called him and I told him. He said, “I know the director over the Florida State Employment Office.” He said, “I’ll be in Orlando. Meet me at the Executive Airport. I’m flying in on my private plane and I’ll fly you back to Tallahassee.” He did that. And I want you to know we turned right around. The big man that was over all the State Employment Offices flew in with me and we went to Morse Boulevard. And he told them, “I want a person out there every day. That will be their job. They can come in here, get the job that’s available and then I want them at the multi-purpose center.” I mean you talk about people acting like it was the President of the United States, well their job depended on it. And I didn’t have that problem no more. I solved that problem.

“The Multi-Purpose Center run by Mable Butler is nationally known…”

So anyway, we were doing well. I wanted something else. And the director… and my director had some problems. So Dr. Smith called me the same day the director and I were fighting toe to toe. Because I made him look good. The program is nationally known. The multi-purpose center run by Mable Butler is nationally known and all it had done. Our job was to really teach people how to access their government, and I did a darn good job at that. And the staff I had, I never chose the staff. I got the people that nobody else wanted. Rather than fire you, they’d send you to me, cause they know you ain’t going to stay here long. You may not like the kind of work we’re doing and the neighborhoods we’re going in, be you black or white. Some of them was from Headstart. Some of them was from Community Affairs and what not….

HUD Housing Counselor for Jacksonville and Orlando

So anyway, the same day I had the argument and was considering going to quit, Dr. Smith called me. He said, “I have a friend out of Miami that needs you and only you. Could you help this man?” He said, “Come over to my house he’ll be there this evening.” So 5:00, 5:30 I went over to Dr. Smith’s. And the fellow’s name was Richard Love. Richard had been working with the Urban League in Miami, and found they had the program in Miami. But Richard and applied and got a grant for HUD housing counselor for two areas: Jacksonville and Orlando. And he said, “I’ve been told if I want the program to be a success, it’s got to be you.” And, of course, the money that he was paying was twice what I was making at the Multi-Purpose [center]. I wasn’t making that much. Giving all I got, but I wasn’t making nothing.

Director of the HUD Housing Counselor

So anyway, I accepted the position. The Lord, He just so blessed me so. So I became the Director of the HUD Housing Counselor for one month. One person, Director. He told me to choose my office right around the corner from the big post office there over there on Magnolia, Livingston. Well, there was a sporting goods store on the corner directly across from the post office. I need to be up there because the post office right over there – I’m doing a lot of mailing. So I got the office there. I think George Stuart had his campaign office there one time.

Section 235 HUD House Subsidy Program

So anyway, I gave my resignation to – what’s his name – and I took this job. Now the job was, many people had purchased under the 235, where if you are eligible HUD will help pay your house note. HUD may pay $250.00 a month, you pay $130.00, $135.00 according to your income. But you got housing. Well… what happened is – you were supposed to go to apartment dwellers not to Orlando Housing Authority where these people are on a nickel and dime- and help them people lie about their income.

One lady says, that lived in the project, had three children, that she worked three days a week at $20.00 a day. That was a lie. She worked if she could. If she had a job. But she had friends sign this letter that Mable worked for me on Wednesday at $20.00 and carfare. And, of course, ain’t nobody going to investigate that it was Kelly wrote that. And that she got the letter to prove that she does that. She says that her mama live with her and her mama gets a Social Security check for $300.00 a month. And the mama got a Social Security check of maybe the amount, but her mama didn’t live with her.

So they had the seller… had helped her lie to apply and to be eligible for a 225 purchasing a home. Okay, she gets it. She gets in there, and she wants wall to wall carpet; she wants stereo all over the place. Can’t afford it. Can’t afford the amount of money she’s supposed to pay towards her mortgage. So how long was she going to stay there? So I get this from HUD. I get a sheet like this of two folds of the people about to lose their house.

HUD don’t want to go into the real estate business. They want to help you become homeowners. And as your income increases they decrease their funds. They back off. They back off until you’re now in a position to do your own. It helped many people. I helped many people back in Richmond Heights and Lake Richmond and all of those places after I educated them. And if some was helpable, I would go to Montgomery Wards, this company, that company, inform them who I was and I was trying to help this family get back. I had HUD set aside what they owe, and pay whatnot. In the meantime they had signed a letter that they’re going to accept my counseling. They couldn’t buy a big appliance like a refrigerator or a car or nothing like that without my okay.

So I go into Montgomery Ward and say, “Where she was paying $20.00 on her account, would you take $10.00?” And I got them to say yes and that was how I was able to save many of them. But I want you to know, most of them was white folks. I had all of Orange County. But most of them would listen to me. My people – they’d lie to me knowing I knew better and whatnot. But most of them, I saved many houses all over Orange County, especially north of Lee Road and various other places. But that’s what I did.

Honorable Butler what time period would this be… with HUD?

Well, it had to be, I was living here. And it was after Wayne was born. So Wayne was born in ’60. I brought Wayne from the hospital to this house. See that’s how I have to remember if they were picking cotton or corn or whatnot. So it had to be, let’s say around ’62… Yeah, in the sixties. We had outdoor privilege. I had an office in a storefront. I had two doors in the storefront there on Columbus… It was HUD Housing Counseling. I was a housing counselor helping people maintain, keep their home. Many of them I advised them to reapply. I’d go fight with the housing authority to get them back in the housing complex.

Because in the first place, this lady that did all this lying, she should have stayed. But what happened was the Reverend Judge was working with the builders out there and they built Richmond Heights. And he was helping these people tell these lies. So I got him blackballed. He couldn’t sell another house. Not in Orange County. I think he went down there to Kissimmee somewhere. And Ernest was the same way. Because he was the same way. I got Ernest he same way and anybody else I got caught doing it. Helping people lie, falsifying applications to be able to be eligible for the HUD 225 program grant.

Judy Hilchuk, Director of Meals on Wheels

See you won’t find a lot of people that messes up things for other people. But I stayed there until Judy Hilchuk, she had a new name, Judy Thames, the last time I talked to her… but Judy Hilchuk, the Director of Meals on Wheels Program which is now Seniors First program, she got the meals being served down at Baptist Towers, all the towers downtown. And she knows that she’s not going to stay in business if she doesn’t get the meals west of downtown.

Orlando Churches Contribute to the Christian Service Center Budget

So she went to Mt. Zion because they were one of the black churches that had the Christian Service Center in their budget. But, Father Pinder’s church, Reverend Shinot of 910 had the Christian Service Center in the budget. We only had I’d say less than seven black churches that had the Christian Service Center in their budget. Reverend Judge had the Christian Service Center in his budget.

Grant for the Christian Service Center

So anyway, but Mt. Zion happens to be near where the Christian Service Office was on the corner of South and Magnolia. We were in a real estate office with a realtor and Mt. Zion happened to be closer. And, I think, somehow or another, she learned the minister’s name over there. She went and visited and told him what the need was. She needed to write the grant and he put him down for it. But the grant would come to the Christian Service Center. The Christian Service Center would operate the money to get the meals coming out to west Orlando. And the grand thing he had was, he could do the hiring of the person that did that. So who did the preacher call but me.

Well, I’m about tired of this Multi-Purpose Center, plus Richard was saying that I might could hire two more people… So anyway, preacher called me and he said, “I want you, if you will, Miss Butler, I want you to go and talk to Ms. Hilchuk and I hope you would take the position she’s going to offer. I said, “I’ll go talk to her.” So I went down, I met her. So I introduced myself… I interviewed Judy. So I took that job. So that way Richard could transfer whatever dollars were left and there were very little left after paying rent. I tried to get Ella Gilmore to put the program under Community Affairs and hire one of her staff people to do it. She said she don’t want anything Mable Butler had to do with. So that ended that. It didn’t get in there.

So there was no more money to pay rent. So she told me what she needed. She needed a church in West Orlando. Meals on Wheels would bring the church to the standards of the Health Department. That includes the refrigerator, stove, walling, and everything, and we’d leave that there when we left.

“This could be what you do for seniors…”

So I chose the church right on the corner of John Young and Orange Center. Reverend Ellis’ Church, Church of God in Christ. I went to sit with Reverend Ellis. I said, “This could be what you do for seniors. You could hire all the staff that you pick. The cook, and the two people that you have. I get the volunteers, but I’d get them from your church so that way your church is their senior program.” I was able to get one volunteer, but that’s okay. But everybody, the cook and her two aids, were hired from his congregation. We redid that kitchen, stainless steel all over. It was beautiful. But I got volunteers from other churches to deliver the meals to the people on the program.

Winter Garden and Ocoee

Now, she want to go to Winter Garden. Now at first we worked from that church and I was out in Winter Garden. But after we had to hire a driver to take the meals to Winter Garden. Now I go to Ocoee… so anyway, the mayor sent me to this church. I can’t think of the name of it now. And when I called to get the appointment, the gentleman said, “Oh, yes, I’ll be here.” When I got there I want you to know, he could have went to the floor when he saw it was a black woman. But he was very nice. He invited me in and we went to his office. I told him about the Meals on Wheels and what we do and whatnot. He said, “Well that sounds like such a good program, miss, but I can’t go to my congregation.” I’m asking him, we want to bring the meals here. Have the volunteers with their book to take the meals, to deliver the meals to the people. And he said, “I can’t go to my church and tell them about a program with a black woman running it.” I said, “Well, you can go to your church and tell them a white woman running it.” I said, “The black woman just doing the white woman’s job, okay?” So he laughed.

Well, anyway, I want you to know every time we had something I had Judy invite him and he’d tell that story. He’d tell that story and the crowd would just laugh and laugh. We became the best of friends. He became my running partner… then I got his wife involved… We did a little package with a tea bag and a cracker because they serve soup every day. A tea bag with a cracker, salt, pepper, and sugar. And, of course, the bags are ready to go and the staff wouldn’t have to do it in the kitchen. And we had boxes of them volunteers would do. And she loved it.

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: January 7, 2020

Place: 1820 Mable Butler Avenue


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Book cover for "1820 Mable Butler Avenue" by The Honorable Mable Butler

Book cover for 1820 Mable Butler Avenue by The Honorable Mable Butler with a photo of her on the cover. The Honorable Mable...

There are currently no video related to this memory.
Oral history interview with The Honorable Mable Butler, Part I.

Oral history interview with The Honorable Mable Butler on January 7, 2020 at her residence. The first interview meeting consists of three audio recordings.
Part I (22:59)
Part II (26;40)
Part III (27:08)

This is audio recording Part I.

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: January 7, 2020

Place: 1820 Mable Butler Avenue




Oral history interview with The Honorable Mable Butler, Part II.

Oral history interview with The Honorable Mable Butler on January 7, 2020 at her residence. The first interview meeting consists of three audio recordings.
Part I (22:59)
Part II (26;40)
Part III (27:08)

This is audio recording Part II.

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: January 7, 2020

Place: 1820 Mable Butler Avenue




Oral history interview with The Honorable Mable Butler, Part III.

Oral history interview with The Honorable Mable Butler on January 7, 2020 at her residence. The first interview meeting consists of three audio recordings.
Part I (22:59)
Part II (26;40)
Part III (27:08)

This is audio recording Part III.

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interview: The Honorable Mable Butler

Interviewer: Jane Tracy

Date: January 7, 2020

Place: 1820 Mable Butler Avenue




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There are currently no documents related to this memory.

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