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Darlene Harris oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Sherri Anderson.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (68 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (31 p.)
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Interview conducted November 9, 2005.
Oral history interview with Darlene Harris, a librarian with the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System. Harris was born in West Tampa in 1960 and attended local schools, including the University of South Florida, where she majored in social work. She did an internship at the Tampa Housing Authority, but transferred to the library system as a library assistant. Harris quickly worked her way up the paraprofessional ranks and was encouraged to go to library school for her MLS, which she did. In 1996, two years after getting her degree, she became a branch manager. In 2000, she became principal librarian for the Urban Libraries. Harris is extremely interested in collaboration and partnership, which is especially beneficial for the Urban Libraries and their patrons. She has also contributed to several local history projects, including the libraries' Central Avenue Oral History Project. In this interview, Harris recounts her childhood experiences in West Tampa and describes some of her accomplishments in the library system. She also discusses her religious faith, which she cites as the source of these accomplishments.
Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System (Fla.)
African American librarians
African American women librarians
African Americans and libraries
Libraries and community
Library outreach programs
Libraries and metropolitan areas
x Social life and customs.
West Tampa (Fla.)
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
y CLICK HERE TO ACCESS DIGITAL AUDIO AND TRANSCRIPT
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Sherri M. Anderson: This is Sherri Anderson speaking. Today is November 9, 2005, and Im about to go and interview Ms. Darlene Harris, principal librarian of the Urban Libraries here in Tampa. The interview will be taking place at the Robert Saunders Public Library on Nebraska Avenue.
SA: Okay, Darlene, lets try this again. Thanks for meeting with me today. Lets start off the interview by telling us your name, where you were born, and when you were born.
Darlene Harris: Greetings. My name is Darlene Harris. I was born in Tampa, Florida, January 23, 1960. My parents migrated here from Georgia in 1959. I was the first child of five to be born in Florida; everyone else was born in Georgia.
SA: Yes, and why did your parents come here from Georgia?
DH: To provide us with a better life. My parents were sharecroppers in Georgia. They owned a small farm and a little store in Georgia, and my mom and dad both were not high school graduates, no formal education. My dad had a seventh grade education, and my mom a fifth grade education. And they just wanted to provide a better life for us, and make sure we get an education and go off to college and had a good life.
SA: Right. So, when you moved here, did you move to West Tampa?
SA: Where did you move in West Tampa?
SA: So what was it like as a child then, and an early adolescent, growing up in West Tampa? What was it like for you?
DH: It was a good life. When youre comparing life situations then to now, I can truly say I had a good life. It was a good upbringing. A lot of people tend to disagree because its such a materialistic world now, but we had more sense of a family there. We had a great appreciation for the smaller things in life. I can remember growing up in a neighborhood that owned the African proverb It takes a village. It really took a neighborhood to raise children during that time. It was okay for Miss Shug or Miss Inez to discipline us when we were in the street doing something. It was, Im gonna tell your mama what youre doing. They called you and you got disciplined by them: you got a whooping from them, they called your mom and you got one from her, then when your dad got home you got another. But it made usI can say, for me, it made me a better person.
We just had a good life. Crime existed, but it wasnt like it is now. We could actually leave our doors unlocked, our bicycles outside, our skates outside, and not have to worry about someone stealing them or breaking into your homes. Things werent as plentiful as they are now, and that goes with the time. But we had a real good life, and my parents instilled in us a sense of pride and integrity, and those things are just absent now; you dont see it. So, I just thinkI can say I had a good life, I had a good upbringing, and West Tampa was a good place. I think my dad did a good job in choosing for us to live in West Tampa, because it was a melting pot. We had all races there, you know: Hispanics, we had the Italians and Cubans and African Americans, and we worked together. We lived harmoniously together. Of course there were the divisions, but it wasnt so prevalent as it is now. It was good.
SA: So when you were a child, do you remember in your own grocery stores and your pharmacies, do you remember seeing people of other races or other backgrounds?
DH: Oh, yes, yes. I most certainly did, and we had the neighborhood stores growing up. We had the stores that werebecause it was hard times, too; they werent colluding or anything. It was good, but it was hard times and we worked together. We had Charlie, who owned the corner store or the neighborhood store, and he would extend credit to working families there, so that was kind of a tradition; we grew up with that. People had their names on the list and you could go get things, and they knew the family. These wereit was an Italian family that migrated here, and they owned the neighborhood store. It was a melting pot. It was predominantly African American and Cubans there. We didnt break in that store, we didnt steal from them, cause it was just known, you know, these peoplewere all here together.
And the drugstore, I remember the drugstore. You didnt have moneythe drugstore was on Howard, and they made a lot of the medicines and stuff in the back, and they would give youthe pharmacist would know and give you the medicine again, on credit, and it was just a given that when you got paid you came and you paid your bills. And in that, we learned the sense of word, giving your word. Those thingsyou see that. And the sundry store, and I remember Alessi Bakery. We used to get the free donuts and the cookies, and wed smell them when they were baking, and we would come and the neighborhood kids could go in there and they would give them to you. It was good times, it was good times.
SA: What was the name of Charlies store? Do you remember?
DH: Charlies. We just called it Mr. Charlies store.
SA: Where was that located?
DH: On Howard and Walnut, right there in that area. Then we had, like, a little gamesa pool hall, Mr. Henrys place, and that was where they hadwhat was that? Not thethe jukebox. And we could go in there; they had, like, sandwiches, and that was kind of the first fast food place in the neighborhood. It was owned by a black guy, Mr. Henry, and we would go in there and they had the pool table and the jukebox, and you could get a ham and cheese sandwich, fairly inexpensive, but it was a place where the kids and people hung out. You know, we put money and we dance the day away, and we have old people out there playing dominoes or sitting there, and it was good. You know, it was good when kids and adults mixed and nobody was messing with the kids and stuff.
SA: That was on the weekends?
DH: It was usually on the weekends, but it was open during the day. It was like in the evening, though. We were not allowed to go during the weekdays because we had school, and come home and do our chores and stuff. And we would occasionally, being kids, sneak around the corner and see what was going on. But that was just a hangout for usdefinitely on the weekendsfor the kids. You had some kids thatparents didnt much care about where they were, and those were where the other neighborhood mothers came in and took care of those kids. They would hang out there all the time. But it was safe. You could walk, you know, to those places in the evening and night and not fear anythings happening to you. And we had the gas station, Reds Filling Station, and there again, if you didnt have the money or the meansthats when bread was like twenty-nine cents a loaf, so youre talking a long time ago. Everybody looked out for everybody.
SA: What school did you go to?
DH: I went to Dunbar [Elementary School].
SA: You went to Dunbar. On Union?
DH: Yes, yes. Union and Rome Street.
SA: Tell me how long you went to Dunbar and what you remember about thatyour teachers.
DH: I went to Dunbar, and before thenback upI went to Roosevelt (inaudible), which is Head Start, which is still in existence right now. Its on Fremont [Avenue] and Union. I went there, and that was the same place as you would go get your shots and vaccinations. I went to Head Start there, and from there I went to Dunbar, and I went to Dunbar until the third grade. But what I remember most about Dunbar was the lunchroom and the food, the smell of the food. The big thing waseverything went on in the lunchroom. We had our plays, and I was very active in school plays and productions. Everything took place in the lunchroom. You had the parents conferences in the lunchroom. When there was a school assembly, it was in the lunchroom. You ate in the lunchroom. And there was a big thing going on with the classes: you met in the lunchroom. So, that stood out; you know, that stands out a lot for me, that lunchroom.
SA: Its very community-oriented.
DH: Yeah, it was very community-oriented. Like now, you have a lot of meeting rooms and things, but everything took place there. When there was a meeting, something was going on in the school, they sent out notices it was going to be at Dunbar in the cafeteria. They didnt say lunchroom; they call it the cafeteria now, but we always said the lunchroom.
SA: You personalized it
DH: Yes, yes.
SA: like theres a distance now.
DH: Yes. Yeah. But that was the place. It was kind of likeand I remember that. I remember the Christmas productions. Im just sitting here thinking, Yeah!
SA: And howso, who was your favorite teacher?
DH: Miss Hilliard. As a matter of fact, I still see her now. Shes in the community; shes retired, but she does a lot in the community Im involved in. But I remember Miss Hilliard, and then my principal was Miss Rita, Dora Rita, who we named a library after. Those twoI can remember Miss Hilliard. She was a tall lady, she was very attractive, and she wasnt as mean as the other teachers. We had some of the other teachersI can remember Miss Monroethey didnt have that softer side to them. But Miss Hilliard would always take time toI had a lot of energy as a child. I didnt get in trouble, but I just had a lot of energy, and she recognized that and she channeled it. I would always end upcause Id do my work and finish, I became her helper, and I would do stuff and then she said, You know, you did good, and I became an office assistant in Dunbar.
So, at an early age, you know, youre thinkingI can remember my last year was the third grade there. But I would run stuff up to the office if stuff needed to be done. You know, I was that person. She just was always encouraging, and when I would do my work, she said, Oh, you can do a little bit better than that. Thats good, but why dont we try this? And she always encouraged me, and I think that sense of justI learned that, and with my home life, to just be the best. Do the best you can do, always give 110 percent. But I can remember her, and when I see her we just always smile, and she always tells me, I knew you were gonna amount to something good, do something good and help people.
SA: Did Miss Hilliard live in West Tampa? Was she African American?
DH: She was African American. She lived in West Tampa. She went to Blake, and that was at Blake Middleton, and actually she knew my oldest brother. So yeah, it was that kind of sense. They went off to college, came back home, and got a teaching job.
SA: And came back to the community.
DH: Yeah. Yeah. And she was justshe was really instrumental. I can still remember her doing a lot, and she was very active with the kids. When we had, like, a production, she was always the one doing the productions and stuff. Yeah, I remember herand Miss Rita always pulling people by the ear, cause I got pulled a couple of times, cause, like I say, I had a lot of energy. She was good. Miss Rita, Dora Rita, was always scary.
SA: Whats her name?
DH: Dora Rita.
SA: Dora Rita?
DH: Mm-hm. Yeah. She was tough.
SA: So were most of your teachers, then, African American?
SA: And many of them from the community
SA: if not all?
DH: Or either Carver City/Lincoln Gardens. We had some teachers from there. I want to say (inaudible). But from that area, yeah.
SA: And so you had
DH: It was a big thing for them to go off to college and become a teacher or nurse, but it was moreyou found teachers, black teachers, there. And there was the sense they really loved what they did, and they were dedicated to the profession. And Im not saying thats the case now, but you dont see that; its a change. The generation now is more like the me. You know, Im in at three oclock, two forty-five, Im finishing, Im getting paid a decent salary, and their heart isnt in it. These teachers then, they were dedicated. Their hearts were really in to making a difference. You could talk to anyone in my generation now, and theres someone that was instrumental, and they can tell you about their teachers that reallyYou know, I remember her, and I remember that, and they care. Remember? She didnt play the radio, as we would say, but now its like, Who cares? Its a difference, its a difference.
SA: And you had role models from within the community, you know, that you could look up to.
DH: Yeah, and I would think thatmy family, I cant tell enough. A lot of it came from, like, the church, but my family, my own individual family. My dad and my mom made sure. Im the youngest of five kids, so I would say my family was my role model, because they were the first and foremost. So I didnt have to get a lot of things from other places, but it just accentuated what the coremy dad already put a foundation there, and it was built upon. But I was a daddys girl, and my dad had me thinkingmy nickname was Starlenethat I could just take on the world. And I really believed that, and I think that wasI know that was the reason why Im here now and doing the things that Im doing, and just the tenacity and the perseverance. Thats what was instilled at an early age, the value of personal integrity. So, you know, it was there. My mom and my dad, they didnt know. They knew what they had gone through and they made sure. All of us, all my siblings, are college graduates; some of us have graduate degrees. But yeah, that was non-negotiable. Youre gonna finish high school and do well, and youre going off to college. There was not debate, no kinda sorta. It was known.
SA: So what role, then, did the church play in your upbringing? What church did your family go to, and what did that mean to you? What does it mean today?
DH: We went to Mount Tabor Missionary Baptist Church. It was right there on Albany and WalnutIm telling you, everything was in the neighborhood. You know, you walked and everything was there. It was very key, because our faith was instilled at an early age cause our parentsthats just our culture, and it goes way back. Just coming from my mom making sure, going to church, and wed go to church and wed pray and wed know, we recognized our savior Lord Jesus Christ early on as a child. I was baptized early on, as a child. And it became a part of your life; it was interwoven. You get up and you go to school, you go to churchthat was another non-negotiable. You will go to church.
And going there, you had the mothers of the church and the deacons, and they just continued, so when you left home it was just a continuum of this is proper, this is acceptable, this is not acceptable, and it was okay for people, other people than your parents, to discipline your children. And you would just pray and hope that they didnt have to, because if, you know, your mom or dad got word that you was cutting up, acting up, that was double, triple trouble, cause you had to get it from them, then your mom, then your dad. And that in itself was kind of a deterrent to keep you from doing bad, and we just learned things and we modeled the goodness that people showed, you know, helping care for others than just themselves. You seen that, and they was involved in going out and doing things for other people, and just coming together when there was a need. So, it becomes a part of your way of life, you know, you just do it. Its kind of like tradition played a big part in my upbringing, I can tell you that.
SA: Do you still go to church?
DH: Oh, yes. Oh, yes.
SA: What kind? Are you
DH: Baptist. The same, Baptist, but a different congregation. If it wasnt for the Lord, I wouldnt be here. I know its his grace, I recognized that a long time ago. I tell you, raise up a child in this way, and when they get older they wont depart. And during those wayward yearsyou know, those teen years when youre thinking youve got this all figured out and you knowI strayed, but then I had to come back cause I know what helped me then. I knew, you know. I know what was right, and I know right from wrong. So, its very important. And the same thing, and its so funny, that we learned, I instill them in my son, and I find myself more and more, Ooh, I sound like my mama. You know? And this preaching the gospel, and then my son says, Mom, you sound like Grandma. But Im thinking thats not a bad thing, cause it worked for me, you know.
So, yeah, that wasand in the community, you had people doing good things in the community. Yeah. And I think during the times that the civil rightsyou know, in the sixties [1960s] and all thatit was more of a cohesiveness, sincere cohesiveness, then [as] opposed to now. Im not saying its not present, but I tend to question the sincerity and, really, why youre doing what youre doing. Is it the me factor or is it the we factor? But then, without a doubt, it was definitely we, and its us.
SA: Absolutely. And well return to talking a little bit about community activism; for example, Mrs. Ruth McNair, shes with the West Riverfrontthe neighborhood crime watch association.
Ruth McNair was also interviewed for the Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project. The DOI for her interview is A31-00092.
And I also wanted to talk to you about the Friends of the Urban Libraries group. But before we get to that, I want to know how did you become a librarian? How did you become involved in this line offield?
DH: This profession?
DH: I tell people when I go out and I talk to students about, like, me, a librarian? It wasnt something likeyou talk to people now, and they know, Okay, this is what I want to be when I grow up. That wasnt my course of action how I ended up here. And before I say that, I just think that everything that happens is predestined. The Lord already has youreverything is already ordered if you just follow the steps, and I didnt happen to end up here justthis is what my purpose is, you know, this is truly my purpose.
So, in saying that, I alwayswhen I grew up, I always wanted to be a social worker. I knew I was going to do it, because I was always helping people in the community, and that was an extension of what I had seen going to church and school; like I told you, just helping the teacher. Thats what I want to do. And it was never, like, I want to be a teacher. No, I want to help a whole lot of people, not just kids but everybody in the whole wide world, including animals. The namemy family gave me the name Elly May Clampett. They used to call me Elly May, because I was always in the neighborhood and I had everybodys children, always had peoples children. Id round up children and I would braid hair and do the odds and ends for people, and I had animals, too. I had dog and cats, just strays, just bring everything to my house. That was just me. They would say, You always bringing strays, just everybody, and that was just me. Whatever I had, I really thought as a child, I was always sharing and giving, you know. When I got older and realizedyou know, were talking about professions and stuffsocial worker! Thats what I thought.
SA: Me, too. I have a degree in social work, but I wasntit wasnt quite it.
DH: The same thing. So, I went to school, you know, you do the whole nine yards, and making all the preparations, taking everything, got into USF. A year beforein my last year, actuallyI interned at Tampa Housing Authority, Section 8.
SA: Thatthe politics involved in that.
DH: Yeah, and I was there during the Alton White era.
SA: Okay. Tell me about that.
DH: Alton White used to be the director of the Housing Authority, and theres a whole dark cloud on all that stuff, with the scandal (inaudible). But I was there during that era. And I was going to change the world, cause I took all these classes in social work foundations
SA: Oh, right.
DH: and Im doing all this stuff. My minor, though, was gerontology, so I did work atdid like a semester at John Knox Village. That was going to be the whole nine yards.
SA: The Presbyterian village thats by USF.
DH: Yeah. And realized that I was young and naveand you know the theory, of course; youve taken Foundations of Social Work and how youre supposed to
SA: Some of us kind of come from different approaches to it, but mine was kind of social change, social activism, more than just working within, you know, the liberal paradigms.
DH: Yeah. That was me.
SA: Yeah. Thats a more left-wing approach, which I appreciate, grass roots.
DH: I was gonna change the world.
SA: Right? But were they ready for you?
DH: No. I wasnt ready for it, cause I was nave and I didnt know all that, so Im applying everything I learned and thought it was just that simple, and what you said, the politics, hit me dead square and were just all up in here. I realized after working there four months that I cant do this for the rest of my life. I got my first evaluation, and I thought I was doing a great job cause all these people was coming in and meeting me, and it was like three generations in a two-bedroom house.
What we were doing is issuing vouchers, so Im signing these people up and, in the meantime, when theyre waiting, I would buytake my own money, buy stuff, and take it over on the weekend after work, you know, and just get all caught up. And Im thinking Im doing a great service, you know, Im helping these people cause theyre coming back telling me this stuff. And Im trying to get people placed in the vouchers, and what I did was upstage the workers that were in there, that had been in there for a while. And I wasnt doing it intentionally.
So, to make a long storyI didnt know the protocol, I didnt know the politics, and then my supervisor, who was a part of that, [said] Just show up, that kind of thing. You just dont really work. And the vouchers were being saved for relatives or friends. I didnt know thats howand of course, now I know. But youre twenty-one, you dont know that stuff. And I got the worst evaluation ever. I thought I was gonnaI was standing there. It was just terrible, saying that I was too caught up in my case to be objective. I had gotten too personally involved in my cases. And I was just, like, downtrodden.
And the library at the time was under the City of Tampa, the same thing. So I interviewed and interviewed, and they were justI just wanted to get out, so I actuallyit was all the City of Tampa, literally like a transfer. They hired me cause it was under the same. So I started with the library and thought, Okay. I was a library assistant trainee. They had a trainee program. Didnt have no idea. I always loved to read, avid reader, because that was instilled in us early on by my oldest brother; we would have to read to him every day. So I knew this was gonna be good, and really enjoyed it that year of rotation, doing it. I said, I think I like this.
So I continued to work, finished mywent back, finished my undergraduate degree, and then said, You know, I think I can do as wellI was gonna get my masters in social work, so I thought maybe if I go up. And I applied to the masters program
SA: And where was this again?
DH: At USF.
SA: Oh, at USF.
DH: All of it, yeah. Marcee Challener, whos the assistant director now, was so instrumental in (inaudible) right now. I tell people she was truly my mentor. She was always encouraging me, because shes seeing something in me. She just, you know
SA: Is that here, or
SA: Okay, here at the library.
DH: Yeah, in the library system. And after the trainee program, you know, you go, and I got promoted to the second level and I even went to the supervisor [level] within, like, two years, and it just doesnt happen. To 2, but the 3 was a senior library assistant, and it was at a branch. I thought, You know, Id like to do that. And peopled tease me and some of the people had training, and they said you need a certain number of experience, yadda yadda.
Well, anyway, I applied. I was the least qualified, and I was hired because she advocated; she said shed seen something in me. And when I got there, she encouraged me. You might want to go to library school and, you know, become a librarian. And Id never thought of it. Eh. Brush off a few more yearsabout a year, and then after that I thought, you know, situations happening with my son, and I thought, Okay, Im gonna pursue it. So the director of our library, Marcee, along with the director of the library school, Dr. [Kathleen de la Pea] McCook, took me to lunch, because I was getting ready to go into graduate school but I was going to go into the MSW program. And my brother was like, You have to be joking. He said, Theyre going to pay for it and do all this for it. I said, Okay, well
So, long story short, thats what I ended up doing. Went through the program, loved it, but the whole time I was working here, you know, enjoying what I was doing and realized I cant be a librarian, I need that masters degree.
SA: So, what schooling did you go through for your graduate?
SA: But for what program?
DH: The library
SA: Okay, so you never did go to the social work program.
SA: You went to lunch and they said, This iswere gonna
DH: Yes. They sold me.
SA: Did they pay for your education, the library system?
DH: Yeah. Yeah.
SA: Okay, so you did your graduate degree in library sciences at USF, and then?
DH: I got promoted. I graduated in August, I got promoted before October. Went from a paraprofessional to a professional, salary doubled, and then within the next year they came back and offered me a branch supervisor. Two weeks later, they offered me the position, a promotion, to a 2. Then, two weeks later, they offered me the promotion to branch supervisor. So, what happened to me doesnt usually happen. You know, I was really fast tracked. They promoted me on 1 after I graduated, as soon as I graduated; they said, You get the degree, well promote you, and they did. A year later, after working as a 1, they came back and I applied forthey had them on there and you had to be there at least two years to do it, and Im like, I been doing this, and when I went for it, they offered me the job. Then two weeks later, they said, How would you like to be branch supervisor? That doesnt happen. It takes you usually about five years plus to become a branch supervisor. I did it within a two-year timeframe. So I got two promotions within a two-week timeframe.
SA: And what year was this?
DH: Ninetyninety-six . Ninety-six , yeah.
SA: So what do you thinkwhat is it about you that got you this? Like, what do you think is, you know, about you?
DH: Because its my passion! When youre passionate about something
SA: It shines through.
DH: And I think just generally inside me, Im a social worker by nature. And it allowed me toGods grace allowed me to use my gifts and talent. So after I became that and Im doing all these things, seeing all thisI could change, I could effect change here.
SA: You could effect change here?
DH: Yes, and I did through my programming. I became the program guru at College Hill. It wasnt the Urban Libraries; it was just only at College Hill.
SA: So when you started you were at College Hill, in ninety-six , and you knew that you could effect change in that community.
DH: Right. Yes, yes.
SA: Thats huge.
DH: And I started doing programs, all different kinds: nontraditional library stuff.
SA: Because youre coming fromthis is culturally sensitive. You were African American, you grew up in the city, you know what people need, and one way to work with families is to go through children. Once you reach a familys children, then the parents are going to come in with them, and you can slowly start to effect change on that level.
DH: Yes, from that level. And it was just like, heres an opportunity, and the more I branched out and I seen the need, I thought, How can I use what Im doing? Cause I was passionate about, you know, this stuffand not only that, I became the recruiter for the library school like in ninety-eight .
DH: Graduate school. I was on the panel trying to recruit minorities, particularly African Americans. So I said, Okay, how can I use this? Im always thinking to benefit the people, the underserved populations. Ive always been dedicated to the less fortunate. Thats justI thinkI know thats my purpose, to help those that are less fortunate, and Ive always served as an advocate, even before I came in this profession. One, because of my sons disability and his special needs, and it just grew out of that and my association with the community. I wanted to advocate for this community and that. And I felt, How can I use my job? How can I benefit here? What can we do? And it was like out of the box, and my director literally referred to me as his out-of-the-box librarian. I wasnt afraid to take on and try new things, even though they hadnt been done. I was not afraid to try stuff.
From that, he came up with the idea, cause I had done so well where the staff had been low, nobody (inaudible)Im talking about College Hill. I put it, and I said we, the staff that was there, really made them stop and take notice of College Hill because of what was happening there, that branch, and in the community. So, I connected to that community, and that was the first time a library was really, really connected to the community. My motto that I stand on is A library is the nucleus of the community. Were an information resource, and I was coming out of library school during that era where technology was just coming out. We need to be on the ground floor. We are the people that are responsible for it. Were keepers of knowledge, disseminators of information.
SA: Right, exactly.
DH: So, how better can I do this than in the community that Im familiar with, the people that I represent?
DH: So there were so many opportunities, and then we did a satellite with the housing projects from the College Hill Library. We did a satellite branch, and then my director called. You know, just, like, do something. So he came up with the idea of connecting the Urban Libraries together and having them fall under one umbrella, and I was like, Thats my job. I claimed it before they even advertised it. Of course they advertised it and interviewed, and I was like, Thats what I want. Thats my job, and I claimed it in its infancy, before he really had it all out. It was like two years prior. I claimed it, when it was first announced. I said, Thats what I want to do.
SA: What year was that?
DH: Ninety-eight .
SA: That was in ninety-eight ? Almost eight years ago.
DH: Yeah. I was promoted. The job came out in 2000 and I was offered the job.
SA: Thats incredible.
DH: Yeah, I claimed it. Thats what I want to do, thats it.
SA: So, were at the Robert Saunders Library, and if we situate ourselveswe know that theres more development coming through. And so, the library is going to continue to grow here, youre going to continue to expand, but a lot of the people who you serve, do they come from Central Park Village or do some of themso some of the people are coming from Central Park Village, but the housing project is torn down. Then how do you stay connected withyou know what I mean?with thecause the communitys gonna shift.
SA: Like, the demographics of the community are going to shift.
DH: What you doand it happened in College Hill. We had that happen.
DH: Remember they did the Belmont Heights? Before, it was Ponce de Leon College Hill Housing Project.
DH: You have to become kind of involved, proactive, and find out. You have to stay connected. And in standing by that, what I mean is as its changing, you find out where theyre going, where theyre going to be, and place yourself strategically so therell still be services available to them, even if its like an extension where you do outreach and find out whos in that community. Let them know you dont have to stop coming and finding out. You connect. You still do things and you find out: okay, this is whats going on there, so theres a need. You have a new crew coming in, so now youre still connected with that. You may loseyoure gonna lose a good percentage, but heres an opportunity for you to come in on the new group thats coming in, the change. And you position yourselfthere again, I got me a place at the table. During the planning and implementation stages, we were there. We went there.
SA: Really? With the Central Park groupoh, you mean for Belmont Heights?
DH: Yeah, Belmont Heights.
SA: Or Central?
DH: Oh, and the same thing here.
SA: Here as well, for Central Avenue?
DH: It was the same thing. You get on the list, so when youre having these planning meetings, I want to go to them.
SA: For the Central Park group?
DH: Oh, yeah.
SA: Ill have to find out more about that later.
DH: Yeah, you do that, and you let them know. Okay, what can we do? What can we do as a library? They had their townhousetown hall meetings here. We held two of them.
SA: Okay, great.
DH: You see what Im saying?
SA: Ruth was talking about that.
DH: Yeah, yeah. You have to let them know. Were the library and were here to help, whatever we can do and whatever. So you cant step back because its changing. You got to move with the change. When the (inaudible) change, move with the change. And still, you stay connected through different channels. Those people are going; okay, theyre gonna be out here; this is whats available here. And you do outreach in those communities. Sometimes you have to go out of your zone. You want to provide the service, thats what were here for. And in the Urban Libraries, we do nontraditional as well as traditional library services. We do a lot of things in the Urban Libraries that arent done in any of our other libraries, and thats fine because thats the wholethats part of the whole community outreach. Partnership building is a big thing, a huge thing; in order to provide that, you need to be in the know. You need to stay involved.
SA: So, give me an example of the outreach that you do. How do you stay in the know?
DH: Like the East Tampa, the Front Porch Initiative. You go to wherever the meetings are, and you become a part of the board of the committees. So in the planning stages, this is what were planning, these are our goals and objectives. How can we help at the library? Okay, well provide this component. Okay, you do this and well do that. Its like Central Avenue when they wanted to bring it up. We said, How can we fit in here? We can conductwere information and research. We can do the oral histories. How about us doing the oral histories and recording this data so we can have it put somewhere? So we positioned ourselves at the table, you know. I need a place at your table. I want to be involved.
SA: And what about Central Park Village? Have oral histories been done with the residents there? How is that
DH: Theyve been identified. Theyve been identified. Its like word of mouth. Some people we identified, we did them. Likewhats her name? Essie, the lady that was in Central Park, was very instrumental.
Essie Mae Reed, who was also interviewed for the Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project. The DOI for her interview is A31-00044.
We have her oral history. We did a play with these different people. So you goyou just kind of pretty much have to say, Hey, Im here. What can I do for you? and just find out whats going on. You have to stay in the know. If youre the nucleusand a lot of times when youre doing nontraditional library services that means theyre not coming in here.
SA: Which means youre going out to them.
DH: You got to go; you got to take it to them. And thats what we do. How do we reach them? We didwe made our facilities and or librarySection 8 or Head Start registration at the library. We turned the whole library into a Head Start registration, because we know that these kids need to go to school and transportation was an issue, so we turned the whole library for thoseinto a site for registration and start registration.
SA: Thats great, cause its accessible. You can walk there, you dont need transportation, you can take your stroller, and you can be back home for lunchtime.
DH: Same thing we did with Booker T. Washington. Since weve been heresince Ive been here, we did the same thing. We worked with them, where the parents could drop off their information and come and we would meet with them and do it. And we became thatI mean, exactly.
SA: So the school here, Booker Washington Middle, is going to keep thriving; the librarys going to expand
DH: Were in partnership with them.
SA: And of course, you know, at the end of the day whenever the housingthe Central Park Village housing project is destroyed, the people are going to be displaced and they wont necessarily be living in the old Central Avenue area. So, I guess, we just hope, then, that theyll still be able to send their kids to Booker Middle.
DH: Whatever it is, we stay connected one way or the other. And like I say, you wont reach all of them, but the percentage, that core, will continue that same depth. Whenever the new group comes in, you have that one plus this other group; some have filtered out or left, but if they get a foundation and they like it, they come back. We have people that moved out and still come here because of the type of programs. Its of interest to them.
SA: And its the community connection.
DH: Yes, yes. Were the only library thats doing this. I come fromone lady, we got an evaluation. She moved to Spring Hill, but she comes in here once a month because of our book discussion; nobody else is doing this. Or, I come in because you have that support group. I moved to Plant City, but (inaudible) youre the only branch thats doingthats free counseling, therapy, lets talk. Its going on its eighth year. Thats a partner with the Center for Women.
We went to themthats traditionallyCenter for Women is in Hyde Park. Thats totallyyoure crossing the barriers, but these women still need services. The Center for Women has been traditionally for white up-to-do women, but now theyre reaching the African American community. Those people, they know something (inaudible), cause I connect with the director and the people in the community. We go to meetings: Hey, what you doing? Networking. Give me a call; we probably could do something. And thats how stuff evolves. Partnership and collaboration is the essence of what makes this urban library whole thing work. But you gotta be out there; you gotta give them something that no one else is doing based on needs assessment.
SA: Right, right.
DH: What are the needs? Lets meet the needs, cause obviously theyre not meeting it. And when we do the urban library, youre becoming a social services agency, but thats our goal and objective. Thats our clientele. We cant depend on our statistics, circulation, cause it doesnt compare to yours. If everything was based on circ, we would never get any money, you know what Im saying? So, we have to come with a different approach.
SA: More innovative. How many people in the Central Park Village housing project do you feel use the services here?
DH: Oh, Jesus. I can tell you now, especially with that DCF
SA: Department of Children and Families. What about them?
DH: We partner with them.
SA: Oh, okay.
DH: You know, we partner, because now everything is donethey fill it out online. So I would say a good 70 to 80 percent, because of the type of services. Mind you now, we do the GED, we do the different computer classes, we do the DCF, they can fill out their public assistance. A good number of people dont have computers in their home. They dont have transportation to go to them. They said, Go to your library. Its been advertised. When we partner, we saycause it was affecting us, so it was like, How can we best serve the people and still maintain and provide that good customer service?
So, we met with the director of DCF. I met with her, along with my boss, and we came up with the schedule. So, theyre sending their DCF worker at the different sites in the Urban LibrariesWest Tampa here, College Hill, and Seminoleone day a week to help us, cause it was just so much. And they can explain it and they can apply using our computers. So now, word of mouthit travels. You go to the library; theyll help you over there. So when people come, theyll use it. Theyll send their kids when kids need help with homework. The parents dont know how to do it. Go to the library and have them help you. Thats just a given. Kidsll come in, I need some help with my math. We dont turn them away. We say, Okay, well get there.
SA: So its not just
DH: Its sort of like, Go to the corner store. Go to the library. You know, its the same thing. Somebodys there to help you.
SA: So in 2005, what you had in 1966-1967 at Dunbar School in West Tampa, its like its being recreated at the three different urban libraries. You have West Tampa, youve got Robert Saunders Library and College Hill, and so its like the heartbeat of the community.
DH: Thats true.
SA: Its kind of like replacednot replaced the church, but is for poorer, underserved populationsand here in different African American communities, its like this is the heartbeat.
DH: This is it, yeah.
SA: This is it. And it has the technology.
DH: Exactly. And its throughout the community, and within that population, its known. You know, you can go to the library for this and theyre doing these programs and they have this. Oh, go to the library. So that population, if we were to continue with the traditional library services, we would have never been able to reach them on a large scale. But now, theyre our biggest customers because of what were providing here. And its, Oh, girl, go to the library! You know, you can do that in the library. Oh, yeah, so-and-so goes to the library, whereas before, they wouldnt even ever have thought, cause the library was check out books and Im not reading. So, you know, it has changed, the whole outlook on library services, and weve reached the, as they say, unreachables through those programs being innovated and just taking a chance. My thing is that everybody knows Im passionate about this. This is truly my passion, the community and people and advocacy, and I tell them if they come in here, the kids come in here, you dont talk to them, dont be condescending to the patrons that come in here
DH: Dontmy tolerance is just in all my staff, and Ive been fortunate enough to have a good team. And I cant do this all by myself.
DH: Its a good team. And Im fortunate that the library administration, particularly my director, allowed me to build a good team. I said, This is what I need in order to make this work. I need X, Y, and Z. So they kind of let me just, Okay, take X, Y, and Z. And Ive been fortunate in that sense, to kind of like Okay, this is what I want to do; what do you think? and they just kind of, Okay, go for it. And it works, and Ive been fortunate it works, because of favor. I just know Gods favor is upon me. Otherwise, youd be like, How in the world?
SA: And that is no easy feat, what you and what the teamwhat your teamwhat the teams have been able to accomplish. Its no easy feat, and so I say congratulations on that.
DH: Thank you.
SA: So, tell me a little bit about the Ada T. Payne Friends of the Urban Libraries group: when that started and how that came about.
DH: Okay. About two years ago, the Ada T. Payne Libraries were formed. The reasonto back up, the reason it came up. We had a Friends group at the College Hill Library, and it used to be just College Hill, Friends of the College Hill Library. And now thatwhen they decided to combine all three together, we had to do one big Friends group over it, encompass all three branches. So thats how the Friendsit was just going to be the Urban Library Friends, and the name cameIll tell you that later. But it was first started just as Friends of the Urban Library. There was a need for it, because West Tampa had a Friends but it had been inactive; but Ybor, at the time, never had a Friends group. So we disbanded the College Hill Friends and the West Tampa Friends and came up with the Urban Friends group. So we started a new one. Like I say, its been in existence now a little over two years.
They decided, Okay, we need a name rather than just the Urban Libraries. Ada T. Payne was the first recorded African American librarian at Central, at the library that used to be onoh, Tampa Street. I cant think, I just had a mental break. But when the library, the old library, was first downtown, the first library that was downtown, she was the first African American librarian. And her granddaughter and her niece were Friends of the Urban Libraries. So we put outwe had like four or five names and had the members vote on them, and they came up with the Ada T. Payne Friends, so befitting because she was very active in the libraries. She was instrumental in kids, though she did a lot of things aside from thatteaching was her background, so she did a lot of things. Some of the stuff that were doing, she did it, way back when. So unanimously they voted to do that, the Ada T. Payne Friends, so thats how they came about.
The group started outwe haveon record, we have well over fifty active members; at one time it was a little higher. But they were very involved and instrumental doing the Central Avenue project thanks to our leader, the president, Fred Hearns, who was key in getting a lot of things happening now with the Urban Libraries came about. But theyre the voice here with the Urban Libraries. They support everything. They recommend and it came abouthe wanted us to have a library like the one down in Fort Lauderdale [African-American Research Library and Cultural Center], so he went before the board and recommended. This branch hasnt been renovated in X number of years, and thanks to his effort, along with the group following suit under his direction, the library has agreed to fundof course, you know the expansion here, the new library, so its been funded. And theyre just instrumental in doing so many things. Theyre in the process now of forming a foundation so they can gather money to extend and do the part two of it. But anything that we say we need, theyre on it. Theyre a very active, very vocal group.
SA: And Mr. Hearns has beenhes the one responsible for raising these funds and for sort of spearheading the group.
DH: Spearheading, yeah.
SA: And the money that you were talking about that he was able to secure was money for the city budget to expand
DH: The county.
SA: Money from the county to expand the Robert Saunders Library.
DH: Right, and to be a model similar to that one down in Fort Lauderdale.
SA: Right. And currently we have $7.8 million allocated from the county.
DH: Mm-hm. And thats why they came up with the foundation to do the part two. It hasnt been funded, but we want to try to raise some money so we can go back to the table and say, Here, this is what weve done for ourselves. Can you match it or give us something?
SA: Right. And you workand with Mr. Hearns being the advisor for Tampas Black History Committee, which is part of the City of Tampa, so youve now linked Tampas Black History Committee with the Ada T. Payne Friends of the Urban Libraries group. So youre able to
DH: Yes, we do a lot. Like I say, collaboration and partnership is the key. It has led us to other organizations, like you said, that one and then other people on, and from there we say, Hey, what about a program? Hey, what about doing this? So they have beenthe Ada T. Payne Friends, with them on board, its another key vehicle for the Urban Libraries, getting our message across and our services across, doing what we do best and getting the support and that collaboration and community buy-in. They have been, you know, on the forefront, because we have a lot of key people in the community, particularly African American community, that are linked somehow to these various organizations.
DH: Okay. Yeah, sure. Sure.
SA: Sure, Ill be on the board.
DH: Yeah. Ill do that, I can spearhead it. Yeah, yeah. It works for us, win-win. Its a win-win.
SA: Absolutely. Well, I know that the Friends group is going to be doingthe Friends group and also Tampas Black History Committee are going to be doing great work, hopefully for years to come, and at the forefront of preserving local African American history in Tampa. Absolutely. And on that note, the final thing that we can talk about, speaking of preserving local African American history, tell me a little bit aboutlets go back to West Tampa, and tell me about the work that you did with Voces de West Tampa, Maura Barrioss West Tampa historic preservation initiative.
DH: I was real excited to be a part of that, and its still going on, because, one, I grew up in West Tampa. And then the second thing, that the library in West Tampa was chosen as one of the partner groups of the grant. That was another thing, because I used to visit. That was my library, West Tampa Library. And now to beyou know, I look back. As a child, I used to play there and go there and read and visit in the schools. To be a part of this project, to actually be in charge of that library, its such an honor. Its like everything coming about face. You know, I never dreamed that one day Im gonna be running this library and be doing all this stuff, so it was truly an opportunity, and one thats just kind of beenevery time I think about it, it just kind of brings chills to me.
So I was charged with getting oral histories and information from prominent African Americans in the West Tampa area, and talk about the culture and the growing up there in West Tampa. And in doing it, it just brought back so many memories. I remember some of the people that were instrumental in West Tampa, the names, so I got to meet with them and get their stories and how things happened, how businesses that are no longer in existence that were thriving at one time. Got to meet and talk to the descendents, cause a lot of the owners have since passed on. It was really good, cause I reported on like the printing press, DuPree Printing Press, the restaurants there, and talking about how it used to be.
You know, just going back in time. And people had no ideapeople that were from there, but then people that came to witness it that were not fortunate to be there during that time, or if they were, they were transplants coming in and they heard about it. To just relive that was great. So I was responsible to cover that part. And the RootsI think its called Roots of West Tampa: African American, and how we joined together. Like I told you, we had the Cubans, Italians. Everyone knew their place, for lack of a better term, but we worked together.
SA: That was the name of the project? The oral history project?
DH: The oral history project. You know, each of us wereeach panel was covering a topic, and (inaudible) Roots and Rhythm or Roots of West Tampa, and it was African American Influence.
SA: So was it a community forum, then, that you helped?
DH: Yeah, it was a community forum.
SA: And also oral histories that you had done?
DH: Mm-hm. It was a community forum, and what I was doing was giving a presentation, like a snapshot, of the various people that were instrumental. It was a panel, and my part was to cover that part, the African Americans that were influential during that time. And I gavelike, for example, Clara Frye. I gave some background on Clara Frye Hospital. People that came in were like, They hadyall had your own hospital? And I said yeah, and I gave information on who Clara Frye wasshe was a nurseand how it started in her house. People didnt know that history. I presented that. And Blake [High School] and Middleton [High School], the ball game and how they used to close down the shops on Friday.
SA: And youd go to Phillips Field?
DH: Phillips Field. That was a big thing.
SA: Which is not there anymore.
DH: Its not in existence. Tampa Prep is there.
SA: Mrs. McNair (inaudible). Tampa Prep Academy.
DH: Tampa Prep. That was the highlight of the week. Stores literallylike if you see Friday night, the movies of how they closed the shops and everybody rooted, that was serious. And we had the parade down Main Street. Main Street was the hub. Everything happened on Main Street for African Americans.
SA: So, two more questions. One, how many oral histories were you able to do?
DH: I didI identified about ten or twelve people, but actually got to interview maybe about six of them, because of the time and just coordinating. But I was able to get a lot of the information. For instance, I did a lot of research, because they put me in place with people to verify. The City of Tampa Black History Advisory CommitteeMyron Jackson had done something similar. Fred did a whole spiel. There again, theres thatI got some information from them, I was able to
SA: For the Central Avenue Legacies Oral History Project?
DH: No, for West Tampa. They did another series in West Tampa. The City of Tampa Black Historyyeah, they did a whole program on that. So I was able to get some of their information and some of the key people, too.
SA: So not the Black History Committee but a black advisory?
DH: Yeah. The City of Tampa had that, yeah. Yes.
SA: Are we thinking of the Black History Committee? Cause the City of Tampa has a Black History Committee.
DH: Its them, but they also have an advisory board.
SA: So they have also done some oral histories in West Tampa.
DH: But its all under Fred. Yes.
SA: Okay. Well, Ill have to talk to him about that.
DH: See, thats what Im saying, the linkage, because my connection with him led me right to that and some people. They actually did a bookI wasnt able to do that, but they apparently did a book with some timelines on the different stores, the first store, the shoe shop and all that stuff. So yeah, you might want to get that.
SA: The Legend Shoe Shine Parlor.
DH: Yeah, all that. And the bicycle shop, Crabs Bicycle Shop. But I remember Crabs Bicycle Shop. Everybody in West Tampa, when they had their bicyclescause then it was a big thing to have skates and bicycles. We used to go to Crabs Bicycle Shop, and it was right there in West Tampa. And they talked about that on there. So, yeah.
SA: It was Mr. Jim West. I wonderhe is the owner of the Legend Shoe Shine Parlor.
DH: The owner, yeah.
SA: But he said he hasntI dont think hes been interviewed.
DH: No. He was hard to get in touch, yeah, cause of the time. I think I talked to a daughter here, but it was hard tohe was on my list. I had a whole list.
SA: I know, and its a very, very time consuming process to do oral histories.
SA: Are there plans to do more historic preservation, like more oral history projects, with African American residents of West Tampa? Do you know of any?
DH: The only project Im familiar with is the one that Mauras doing. We as the library, were doing Central Avenue, but it was eluded that at some point we might want to do West Tampa. But since a lot of that is being done by other groups, rather thanso, yeah, I dont think thatwe dont have anything in place, other than working with Maura. Thats how she came to us and said that she knew we were key people, because wed done the Central Avenue project and we had collected those oral histories and things, so it would be a good thing. So, I had some experience.
SA: I know that the University of South Florida, their Special Collections center, theyre wantingI think theyre hoping for students to be able to do more oral histories with African Americans in West Tampa. So how can we access the information that you did for the community forum, like the oral histories, the six oral histories that you did?
SA: Is that through Maura?
DH: Yeah, but I think to get that you would probably have tocause it was all recorded, its all recorded, and everything was submitted to her. Aside from that, I do have, you know, my own (inaudible) and you can get information from me. Id be more than happy to share the information that I do have on some of those key people that you might want to contact.
DH: Yeah, Id be more than happy to do that. But she would be the person, because I know she covered allyou know, she has someone who represented all of West Tampa. The African Americaneach area was represented, Cubans and the whole nine yards.
SA: The whole nine yards.
SA: And the Central Avenue Oral Legaciesthe Central Avenue oral history project, which was called Central Avenue Legacies, is that available to the public yet? When will that be out? Cause Im looking forward to
DH: Our goal wasweve done over, I think, like forty-something interviews weve conducted. I think over half of them have already been edited and gone through. Our goal was to have them up and available by now, on the Web site, so were shootingon the librarys website, cause that was our whole goal, to have it archived somewhere and accessible, so people can actually go through there and look at them.
Interviews from the Central Avenue Oral History Project can be accessed online at http://www.thpl.org/thpl/history/memories/central/
So, our goal is sometime next year to get back on that. We kind ofit was kind of put on hold because there were so many other things going on at the time. But thats stillwere going to pick that back up. Thats on mythat was written in our goals and objectives for 2006, to continue that and finalize that.
But were constantly getting more and more and more requests to do them. Were still doing them, not on a big scale; like, somebodyll call and say, You might want to interview this person, and well set it up, whereas before we had a whole team that thats what they were doing for that two-month period. But Ill schedule staff to go out and say, Hey, get this persons interview, because theyre sayingbecause of age and that, because once they die, a whole library dies with them.
SA: Exactly. Thats an old African proverb, I dont know exactly.
DH: Yeah. You justyou dont have that recorded, and that was the whole reason why it came about, because our history, Central Avenue, which was a part of African Americansit was thriving, and its not recorded anywhere where you can go look up stuff. Its not archived, except for the little pieces here. These are the stories that weve never told. They were not recorded anywhere. You know, its the stories that were told from generations, and now we actually have them written so that they can go back in history and we can be a part. We were a part of history, but it needs to be on the record.
SA: Right, for generations.
DH: For generations to come. And for people coming to say, Well, whats this about Central Avenue? theyll have somewhere to go now and pull it up, cause you go to other metropolitan areas and they have their historic district, and you can pull up stuff; they have stuff printed. You know, they have the trail. And Tampa was like one-fourth (inaudible), and we dont have anything: it was destroyed and its just gone. So, were trying to salvage that. Were trying to save whats left, those legacies, and record them and have them somewhere for people, cause its a rich, rich history.
SA: Rich histories.
DH: And it needs to be noted, and it needs to be known.
SA: Well, thank you for your time, Darlene.
DH: Youre welcome. Ive enjoyed it.
SA: Thank you, Darlene Harris.
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