James Tokley oral history interview

James Tokley oral history interview

Material Information

James Tokley oral history interview
Series Title:
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Tokley, E. James ( Eugene James )
Williams, Naomi R
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
1 sound file (50 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
African Americans -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
African Americans -- Social conditions -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
African Americans -- Social life and customs -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
African Americans -- Housing -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
African Americans -- History -- Florida ( lcsh )
Multiculturalism -- Florida -- Tampa ( lcsh )
African American poets -- Interviews ( lcsh )
Poets laureate -- Interviews ( lcsh )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


Oral history interview with James Tokley, Poet Laureate of Tampa, Florida. In this interview, Tokley discusses the history of Tampa's African American community and its influence on the city's development, in particular the Central Avenue business community and the Central Park Village housing project. In the late 1960s, Central Avenue began to decline. After integration, people could go to white-owned businesses and were no longer restricted to those owned by blacks, and urban renewal and the construction of Interstate 275 destroyed many of the buildings. Central Park Village was built in the 1950s to provide safe, affordable housing to low income families, and Tokley argues that stereotypes about the residents combined with political and economic conditions led to its demise. In this interview, Tokley also discusses his firm, Tokley & Associates, which does diversity effectiveness training.
Interview conducted November 1, 2007.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Naomi R. Williams.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
002436340 ( ALEPH )
721292388 ( OCLC )
A31-00093 ( USFLDC DOI )
a31.93 ( USFLDC Handle )

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Tokley, E. James
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James Tokley oral history interview
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interviewed by Naomi R. Williams.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (50 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (15 p.)
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Interview conducted November 1, 2007.
Oral history interview with James Tokley, Poet Laureate of Tampa, Florida. In this interview, Tokley discusses the history of Tampa's African American community and its influence on the city's development, in particular the Central Avenue business community and the Central Park Village housing project. In the late 1960s, Central Avenue began to decline. After integration, people could go to white-owned businesses and were no longer restricted to those owned by blacks, and urban renewal and the construction of Interstate 275 destroyed many of the buildings. Central Park Village was built in the 1950s to provide safe, affordable housing to low income families, and Tokley argues that stereotypes about the residents combined with political and economic conditions led to its demise. In this interview, Tokley also discusses his firm, Tokley & Associates, which does diversity effectiveness training.
Tokley, E. James
(Eugene James)
African Americans
z Florida
African Americans
x Social conditions.
African Americans
Social life and customs.
African Americans
African Americans
African American poets
v Interviews.
Poets laureate
7 655
Oral history.
2 local
Online audio.
Williams, Naomi R.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Tampa Library.
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
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u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?a31.93

xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
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text James E. Tokley, Sr.: What in the world is that?
Naomi R. Williams: Its a little iPod, but it looks different because its inside the rubber case.
JT: Really?
NW: Yeah.  I checked it out from the library so that I could do these oral histories.
JT: So its like a tape recorder?
NW: Yes, sir, tape recorder.  Pays music, you can look at pictures and things like that.  Thats the little microphone at the bottom.
JT: I guess I look like a caveman.  Yeah.
NW: This is my first experience with one of these.  I used it for the first time Tuesday, actually, so
JT: What happened, it blow up?  (laughs)
NW: No, it went okay.  I was able to pull information off of it and everything, so it went fine.  I told you that I was doing an oral history project on Central Park Village, really with the residents.  Id like to talk with a lot of the different residents to get their perceptions of the community over time and how its changed, and how it started to degrade.
JT: It is really changed now.
NW: Oh, yes, I went by there Tuesday.   It is pretty sad now.
JT: Its really started to degrade now.
NW: Its rubble.  But I wanted to talk to you because I know you do a lot of work with just trying to keep up with the history of the black community in Tampa.
JT: Yes, maam, trying to keep up.  You know, despite rumors, we are really a very kinetic people.  (laughs) Black people have never been lethargic, black people have never been in reverse or neutral.  Black people have always been progressive.  From the time that we were stolen from Mother Africa to the time we came here, weve always been moving forward.  It is a big lie that that black people don't move.
I heard a fellow on the radio say one time he was an expert.  I don't know what a pert  is, but he was a former pert.  And he says, Well, the word Negro, I don't use that word no more.  Say, Why?  Cause the word Negro really means never growNegro, never grow.  Man, (laughs) I got on the phone.  I think my wife thought I had lost my mind.  I got on the phone, I say, Don't you never say that no more bout the word Negro.
We have always been moving forward.  And that is the story of Central Park Village, which is an offshoot from the legendary Central Avenue, which is the third or fourth generation offshoot of a place called the Scrubs, which is a secondwhich, two generations back, engendered a place called the Hole, or the 44 Quarterswe don't say quarters  here, we say qaters.  I dont know how yall say it down in Louisiana.  Say 44 Quarters, you know.  And the shotgun houses they had, except over here in West Tampa they call them shotgun houses because you could shoot a shotgun from the front door to the back door.  But over in the Hole, the Quarters, they call it a shotgun house because they did shoot shotguns from the front door to the back.  So you say whats the difference between West Tampa?  The difference is could shoot and did shoot.  (laughs)
NW: Now, you weren't born in Tampa?
JT: No, maam.  I was born in Federalsburg, Maryland, better known as Wettlersburg, Maryland  if you got a mouth full of tobacco.  Wettlersburg, Maryland.  And I was conceived at a Billy Eckstine concert in New York City.  My father, who was from here, was in the Navy, and my mother, who was from Delaware, had been sent by my grandfather to learn a trade.  Instead, she got me.  (laughs)
But Ifirst time I came down here was in 1975.  I had just returned from West Africa, and I was teaching in Delaware State University in the English Department.  And I got a phone call from the brother next to me, Dana, saying that Pappy had suffered a life-debilitating stroke and they didnt think he was going to make it.  I hadn't seen Pappy in seven, eight years.  So I was driving a Triumph GT6+ with no heat in December, Christmas, and Dana and I, we got in there and we looked like a couple of sod busters (laughs) wrapped up.  And we came down here, and this place reminded me so much of Senegal that I made a promise to my father that I would come back in three years.
So I came back in three years, in seventy-eight [1978].  And Pappy kept saying to me, he said, Sonthats how he talked.  He said, Son, I want you to come down here.  I want you to tell the story of the people here before it dies.  Not just black people, not just white people, but all the people.  I was telling a guy a couple of days ago, I said, There are ten thousand stories in the City of Tampa, and I have told only five of them.  Four.  Three.  (laughs)
NW: So theres a lot more to do.
JT: Yeah, yeah.  What I find, what I have found, is that there is a subterranean history.  A subterranean history, a parallel history of this place that, were it known, would rewrite the history books of this place ad infinitum.  And a lot of it deals with the African American presence in this place.
NW: What do you think the best way is to get that story out, or those stories out?
JT: You got to read, you got to research, you got to develop intuition, you got to develop a knack.  You know, you go and take courses on how to do research.  I know I did out at USF and at Temple.  And they teach you how to write a research paper and how to go into the library and do your research and how to do this and that.
But you know what it is?  Its plain dumb luck.  Its running into somebody by mistake, by coincidence, by accident.  Its being focused inside your head on something, comparatively, if somebody says something and you say, Damn.  Cause the worst thing that a researcher could ever do is say, Oh, somebody thought that before.  Or, Well, they did that before.  Or, Well, that's already been written.  No, it aint.  The truth of humanity, the complete truth, the total truth, will never be found.  But the reasonable truth has yet to be exposed.  It depends upon a unique thinking, creative thinking researcher who has the guts, you know, and who has the insanity to see things upside down.  And thats whats gonna take to get to
You know, I was sitting in a meeting, cause I was on the Perry Harvey Memorial Park thing until the Supreme Court decided that they wanted to mess up the TIF [Tax Increment Finance] funds.  Thats another story.
NW: So that committees no longer formed?
JT: No, no.  In actuality, no.  The TIF, whatever that stands for, tax incremental fiddle faddle, had beenthe concept had been deferred, had been given to the various municipalities et cetera to do with.  Well, there was a problem.  A fellow had a problem, up inI think it was Ocala or something.  He wanted to do something and they wouldnt let him do it, so he took it to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court said, Well, since it is taxpayers money, taxpayers statewide need to be able to vote on what they want to happen to it.  And when they did that, then they started looking at all this stuff, and the just put a hold on everything.  So right now, far as I know, Central Park Village, Encore
NW: Encore, right.
JT: Encore is unsure.  (laughs)
NW: See, I didnt know that.
JT: Yeah, yeah, yeah.  And, uh
NW: So they lost the special funding that was going to be involved?  I know the city was trying
JT: Yeah, limbo.  We don't know.  We don't know.  And see, the Bank of America, all this money that the Bank of America had put in through TIF now is up in the air.  We dont know whats gonna happen.  Somebody said, Well, it will happen.  Will is not a word that Tampa is used to.
NW: Why do you say that?
JT: Might is Tampas word.  So we will have an art museum.  We might have an art museum.  You know, I mean, thats Tampa.  But what I am trying to do as I talk to you is Im trying to be anecdotal without being scattered, you understand.  I am very, very much cognizant as to what I am talking about.  I am attempting to weave for you a fabric of the history of this place, Tampa.  Tampa has always been looking over its shoulder, comparatively, at places like St. Pete and places like Sarasota, or places like Gainesville, places like Jacksonville, places like Miami.
Because of the diverse demographics of this place, you know, you got what was at one time the capital of cigars in the world.  My grandfather used to smoke Hav-A-Tampa, I remember, oily old cigar.  He would smoke it.  As a matter of fact, I did the same thing last Friday, first time I ever did it in my life.  He would smoke the cigar down, and he would do either one or two things.  Hed either chew off the back end of it and cut off the top and chew the tobacco, or hed chew off the back end of it and stuff it in his pipe and smoke it like pipe tobacco.  And I did that.  I got this pipe and I did it, and the cats didn't say nothing.  They just looked at me like.  (laughs)  So, you got that.
Of course, you got the cracker influence.  You know, the Florida cracker influence, which is blue blood.  Thats not a curse.  And withwhat is it, UF and the other great institution, UFS [sic], and they became the great fathers of the city, you know, the movers and the shakers.  People who go up in that building, high up there, and eat lunch today, way up here and look down on the people.  Cody Fowler and all those dudes that passed, you know.
And then you got us.  We built University of Tampa.  We built the Henry Plant Hotel.  Bent backs, hard labor.  We laid the bricks in the street here.  Most of the great mansions, houses that were constructed, were the ones who constructed them.  And then, on our days off, we created Central Avenue.  Central Avenue became more than simply a place where Negroes go.  Central Avenue was a place where dreams could be found, where people could live a dual life.  You know, they were Yes, sir  from Monday through Friday morning; and they were Im sir  from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon.
And Central Park [sic] became known as the Harlem of the South.  That aint no jive.  Central Avenue was known as the Harlem of the South.  Eckstine, James Brown, Duke Ellington, Ella FitzgeraldElla Fitzgerald came down here.  She was staying at the Jackson HouseJackson House, I think thats what it ison the first floor.  And she came inshe had just eaten breakfast, she came into the living room, and she was sitting there and she lost something.  She couldnt find it, and she said, Where did I put it?  I don't know.  (sings)  A tisket, a tasket, Ive lost my little basket.  Somebody said, What you say?  Oh, you better write downa tisket, a tasket.  She wrote that here.
And whats his name, whats the guys name?  Oh, and I keep forgetting his name.  Anyway, people think that Chubby Checker invented the twist.  He did not invent the twist.  It was another fellow invented the twist, and his name will come to me.  And he was here doing a gig and he went out, cause his name was something something and the House Rockers.  That was his name, and the House Rockers.  And he went outit almost came, it almost came.  And you know, when theyre taking a break, they play music.  And they were playing the music, and he looked down the street and he saw this little girl (makes sound effect).  And he went down there and he said to her, he said, Baby.  [mimicking girls voice] Yes, sir.  What are you doing?  [in girls voice] I'm doing the twist.   What you say?  [in girls voice] Im doing the twist.   How you spell it?  [in girls voice] T-w-i-s-t.
I almost got his name, but it was not Chet Baker.  Oh, man, itll come.  Anyway, he went back in there and he went, Come on, baby, let's do the twist.  And it became a minor hit.  But then up in Philly they heard it, and they brought a cat in by the name of Chubby Checker, and Chubby Checker made it an international hit.
At the same time he was doing that, a blind fellow by the names of Ray Charles was riding a bicycle all over Central Avenue.  I put that in a poem that I did, and people thoughtcause they think poets are crazy anyway.
NW: Not crazy at all.
JT: Crazy.  Crazy like a fox.  And Rayin the [2004] movie, he alluded to it.  Ray developed something that was like a bat.  He could (whistles) and he could reconnoiter where he was.  And he used that to ride a bike.  (laughs)  And the story goes that he had a dude on the handlebars and he was riding the bike.  And they were going into heavy traffic.  (laughs)  Man, whats wrong with you?  Ray Charles says, Shut up, fool, I could see it.  (laughs)
So, that was going on.  Of course, you had people like Paul Robeson, who came here and stayed with a fellow, a doctor, black doctor called Nappy Chin.  That was his nickname.  You had not just entertainment.  We dont need to makewe don't need to lean on that over sorely.  You had doctors and lawyers, all manner of businesses.  You hadthe Urban League was in full swing.  Even had a day nursery.  You had the NAACP.
Of course, you had crime.  One guy was telling me that every Friday and Saturday at the end of Central Avenue the ambulance and the hearses would park.  They used to park down there and wait, because they knew they wouldnt be disappointed.  So you had all of that going on.
Then came Gethsemane.
NW: Then came who?
JT: Gethsemane.  The crossroads.
NW: Ah.
JT: Because, you know, its the same thing that happened with South Africa, where they had that place where blacks and whites would come together.  And after a while, when you got so much negative pressing against it, it got hard.  Something happens.  And thats what happened with Central Avenue.  You know, the temperance peopleand many of them werent whitethey said Central Avenue is a sin.  Blasphemy!  (mimicking) God is not happy with all these scoundrels, infidels, backsliders.  Its an eyesore.  So, God heard and says, Okay, I will send you urban renewal.  (laughs)  (sings) Hallelujah, hallelujah.  (laughs)  I shall put an interstate right down the middle of your back.  You like that?  How you like it now?  (laughs)
And of course, the white business community was overjoyed, because that meant thatsee, people dont look at integration as it really was.  Integration was a godsend to white folks, business community, because that meant that the millions of dollars that had been sown back into the so-called black community now had to go elsewhere, cause people had to eat.  They had to do the dealings.  And the racism that had kept black people out of white society had also been keeping black money out of white society.  You know that, right?  So, anyway, Martin Luther King got all the glory and the other people got all the money.  (laughs)  So there was a great riot over a fellow, Martin Chambers, who got killed, uh
NW: That was in the sixties [1960s].
JT: Sixty-seven [1967].  Was it sixty-seven [1967]?  Something like that, something like that.   I think it was sixty-seven [1967].  And out of that came another generation, another generation: a lot of the Young Turksas Bob Gilder, who was a very, very legendary name, used to call lot of the young jitterbugs.
Robert Gilder was also interviewed for the Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project.  The DOI for his interview is A31-00078.
They startedthey gave em white pith helmets to quell the riotsthe rioters.  And many of themBobby Bowden, whos still herehes over at HCC, you should talk to himbecame the next generation of leaders here.
Bobby L. Bowden, Sr., who was one of the founding members of the City of Tampa Black History Committee; no relation to the former Florida State University football coach.
But out of that came Central Park Village.  Central Park Village was a godsend to a lot of black people who had never had indoor toilets, who had never had electricity, who had never had hotthey had cold water, but they never had hot water.  They had never had a home where sunlightwhere daylight and moonlight didn't greet them.  Where the mosquitoes were their bedmates, you know, where the roaches thought it was their place, too, where the rats and the miceyou know, they never had that.  And here's Central Park Village where you got all that, maybe you got an air conditioner, too.  You got linoleum floors, you got a kitchen, you got a living room, you got a bedroom.  You got windows with screens.  And you got some trees, too, and some grass.
So to live in Central Park Village for a long while was the (inaudible) of the southern side.  You understand.  You know, that was just the way it was.  Public housing was supposedly temporary.  But home, the word home, is anything but temporary.  Home is forever.  How dare you tell me that where I lay my head, where I, you know, close myself off from all the hurts and harms in the world, that that's temporary.  How you gonna act?  See?
NW: Mm-hm.
JT: Culture versus comedic politics.  And so, the years wore on.  Generations were born and passed in Central Park Village, but the concept of the criminality of the African American never left.  People look at ustoo many people look at us and, based upon our complexion alone, see criminal, see debase, see decrepit, see something or someone who lacks something and needs something.  Hence, the word minority.  I hate that daggone word.  I ain't no minority.  My mama did not give birth to a minority.  (mimicking) Ooh, thats such a nicethats such a cute minority.  When I taught at Delaware State, Dr. Luna I. Mishoe, bless his heart, he was president and he was making a speech once.  And he saidhe talked like this, (speaking very slowly) cause all black college presidents have to choose every word they say, in case they get away from them.
And so Dr. Mishoe said (mimicking), Delaware State College is composed of a ma-jor-it-y of mi-nor-ities.  (laughs)  This fool has got to be crazy.  I ain't no damn minority.  So I raised my hand, cause I was like that when I wasooh.  I don't know (inaudible), and to be a college professor and a radical too is not good.  I said, Sir?  "Yes, Mr. Tokley.  I said, How can one be a minority and a majority at the same time?  I don't understand.  (laughs)  And we were frat brothers, so he did not like that.
But so, you know, because of all that, because we seem to have our cake and eat it too, plans and plots were made to bring about the death of Central Park Village because it was an eyesore.  How can culture be a eyesore?  How can Harlem be an eyesore?  How can New Orleans, the Ninth Ward, be an eyesore?  Wherever you find black people, you find, quote-unquote, eyesores.  You find programs for uplift.  Theres this idea that we are a deficit people.  Thats a bunch of jive.  Were the ones who helped win World War II.  I mean, you know.
And that was what happened.  No hatred.  Just the stereotypes and the myths and politics intermingled with the economics of the day has brought about the demise of Central Park Village to the extent that now what is supposed to come next is not called Central Park Village.  Its called Encore, because thats a musical term.  Black folks heritage is not all about music.  Its not all about grinning and skinning and juking and jiving and dancing and prancing.  Theres no problem with that, cause music is powerful.
But anyway.  So what are your questions?
NW: Um, you covered a lot of them.  Something else I wanted to ask you about, too, was Tokley & Associates.  You do diversity training?  How long have you done that?
JT: Diversity effectiveness training.
NW: Diversity effectiveness training.
JT: Yeah.
NW: How long have you been doing that?
JT: Since 1989.  The reason why I made the correctionI didn't correct you, but I made the correction because diversity in and of itself islets just say it is a color word.  It is in and of itself not so much a thing, but it is a process.  Diversity, you see.  Like human diversity.  Well, what is human diversity, and how can you teach human diversity?  Well, first of all, human diversity is synonymous with the term human race.  So you go into a class and you say, Im gonna teach human diversity.  What?  My next question, as an English professor, is, What about it?  What about human diversity?  Think about that.
So when you say diversity effectiveness, you are talking the efficiency, the process, how it connects, how it may be enhanced, how you may fit into it.  Thats why, when we started off, we started off teaching cultural diversity.  Only problem with that is, you find out that after a while it becomes comedic.  People want to bring inWell, lets bring in some food.  Lets go home and you dress up as an Eskimo, and Ill come in as a Fijian.  Oh, no, no, no.  Culture is a powerful thing, you know.  But then, culture can only go so far when you bring in human.  A fellow by the name of Terentius Afer, five hundred years ago, he said, As I am human, all things human are common onto me.  Ooh.  So you hook up human, diversity, effectiveness, you got yourself a class.  And thats what weve been doing.
We do that, then sometimes I take off my hood, I go out to USF as an adjunct professor in the Africana Studies Department, and I teach Racism in American Society, Race Am Soc.  There was a fellow, Ronald Takaki.  His book American Mirror, I don't know if you ever seen it.
A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, published in 1993 by Little, Brown and Company.
Big thick book.  Bad.  Bad.  Takaki is a Japanese American fellow.  He(whistles).  If I ever meet him, Im gonna buy him a beer, because he goes back to the beginning.  And he makes a couple of turns that I wouldnt make, but what he does, he takes Shakespearesuh, whats the play?  I forget it.  There's a character in the play [The Tempest], Caliban, the great Caliban.  Caliban is like a noble savage, and he uses the Caliban character to show how Europe met the Native Americans and the Africans and how they tried to fit them into the Caliban persona.  It didn't work, but they did it anyway.
But we alsowe do diversity effectiveness training, we do leadership training; and we do a little bit of customer relations, sexual harassment training, communication, all those interpersonal communications.  Those things we do.
NW: And, switching subjects just a little bit here, back to Encore and the mixed income
JT: I dont know, cause I am fascinated by mixed income.  (laughs)  Well, right down the street from me is public housing.  (inaudible) spent 700,000 dollars, but right around the corner its mixed income; over there, hes a millionaire.  My question has always been, Why would I want to pay a million dollars to live down the street from somebody whos living in public housing?  (mimicking) Because, stupid, thats the American way.  Yeah.  I believe that that is a political chimera, that the whole mixedwhat is it?
NW: Mixed income housing.
JT: Yeah.  I have yet to hear somebody explain it to me so that it does not make me laugh.  Cause you know, I get off on how people can say mixed income and dontwith a straight face.  (laughs)  I cant say it, mixed income.  Whats the benefit of it?  Well, that way we keep from having segregation, economic segregation.  I want a house in Marthas Vineyard.  I want to go right now to Culbreath Isles [in South Tampa] and I want a house over there.  Thats what I want.  Mixed?  Huh?  Dont jive me.  You know, I mean, the only reason why you put mixed income in there is so people wont think youre so cutthroat.  Oh, look, they didnt forget the poor people.  Thats so nice, I wonder if they got a cat.  (laughs)  Dont do that to me.  Dont do that to me.  You know, give me access to making my millions and I will locate my own home.  Give me access to fulfilling my dreams.  Ill tell you where the hell I want to live.  Just dont keep me out from fulfilling my dreams, you know.
It's like the lottery.  Have mercy.  Everywhat is it?  It used to be every Friday theyd come, but now its every night, the lottery.  (mimicking) And Fantasy Five (mumbles), and the numbers are three, four, nine, twelve, fifteen.  Oh, you didnt get it?  Thats too bad.  Remember one thing, sucker.  You gottaif you dont play, you dont pay.  By the way, when was the last time you won anything?  Nineteen eighty-four?  Oh, thats too bad.  How much did you get?  Two dollars?  Oh.  And it never dawns on people that they got to beits got to be something going on in here somehow.  But people are so caught up with I win, I win that becomes an opiate.
There are so many opiates of the people.  Professional sports is an opiate of the people.  The things that keep people off the mark of focusing on the things that we need to focus on to become a more harmonious, more loving society, you know.  And you can go out there and you see people out there on the road, riding up and down trying to kill each other.  That is the pulse of what we have become.  Thats the pulse of what we have become.
And you say, Well, wait a minute, youre getting off the mark.  No, I'm not.  Its all about Central Park Village.  Its all about that.  People are making a great, great, great fuss.  Okay, where are the people that used to live there?  Well, they areI don't know where they are.  Theyre in the suburbs.  Will they come back?  Oh, sure, surebut, of course, in order for them to come back, they got to sign a book of things, (taps table) and if they miss one, oh, thats too bad.  You know, charadesor charades, as a friend of mine calls it.
I wish we couldI wish before the world comes to an end, I wish we could come to some sort ofwhats the word?  I wish we could be honest, one with another.  And I wish it could start here in the City of Tampa.  You know, I would love for somebody to sayto tell the truth about Central Park Village.  There was a lot of culture in Central Park Village.  When Central Park Village was destroyed the way it was, culture was destroyed, too.  You know, and there are a lot of black people say, Well, man, Im glad its gone.
So, whats your next question?
NW: Actually, I think thats it.  Give me one moment here.  (laughs)
I wanted to ask you, too, aboutthere was an event a few weeks ago, a couple of months ago, there recognizing the closing, I guess, of Central Park Village, and you read a poem there.  Did you talk to any of the residents?  Did anybody come to you and express their feelings?  Or have you heard just throughout the process of getting Encore on its feet and all the different changes and things that they were makingthe actual residents, did you have an opportunity to see how some of them felt about what was going on and about the Housing Authority and being relocated or displaced?
JT: Everybodys doing the best they can.  Housing Authority is doing the best they can.  People are doing the best.   When youre caught up in history, when youre caught up in the spirit of the times, there are so many ways to look at things.
NW: Ive read a lot of articles about residents, and theyre all saying that theyre very glad to leave.  And I havent seen any articles about people who expressed regret that Central Park Village is no longer going to be there.
JT: Well, did you read the article in thewas ita couple of weeks ago.  I think it waswas it in the [St. Petersburg] Times, where some people went out there and they had a barbeque out there and a cookout?
NW: No.
JT: You missed it.
NW: I missed it.
JT: They had a cookout there.
You know, life is not all good.  Life isn't all bad either.  It is what it is.  When life is presented, however, as being all good or all bad, you miss something.  It becomes unbalanced, you know.  It was time, one guesses, for Central Park Avenue not to go, but to evolve.  It didnt evolve.  It just left.  Is that evolution?  Yeah, what you expect?  What do you expect people to say?  Sure, theyre happy.  One reason why they will say they were happy is because that is what everybody says, so why be a fool and be different?  And the second question is, well, what else would you say?  Ask the people in the Ninth Ward what they think.  Theres your answer.  You go down there to New Orleans and ask the people in the Ninth Ward what they think about the fact that many of them will never come home again, that Storyville will never be again.  Mahalia Jackson came from Storyville, Louis Satchmo.  Well, you know.
People used to cringe when they went by Central Park Village.  Don't be caught at night in Central Park Village.  But some of the most loving, some of the most beautiful, some of the most vibrant human beings Ive ever met came out of Central Park Village.  Essie Mae Reed came out of Central Park, and all her daughters.
Essie Mae Reed was also interviewed for the Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project.  The DOI for her interview is A31-00044.
Miss Honey came out of Central Park Village.  My father and IPappy and I used to go hang out in Central Park Village, Red Top Bar, around there.  We hung out, wed go sit around there.
Culture is so wonderful.  Its so beautiful.  Its so iffy, its so spontaneous.  Cultural Puritanism is a very, very funny thing.  It looks at life as if life should be homogenic.  Pabulum, paste, moderation, so-so.  But culture aint like that.  Culture is up, down, in, out, left, right, fast, slow, soft, hard, rock and roll, jazz, blues, all those things.  Thats it.  You can wipe it away, but for Gods sake, please dont try artificially to inseminate culture into a society.  You cant do that.
And thats whatwhen it comes to black folks in America, that is whats been happening since we were freed.  Feared and fascinated.  Feared and fascinated.  We are feared, and people are fascinated by us.  They want us gone, but they want us to leave our music here.  (laughs)  Im tired of being heard but not seen.  See my rear end.  Understand?  If you cant accept me in totality, then the hell with you.  And then dont get me to dance on my own grave.
You know, we who are academicians, we understand the problem.  We have been educated to understand the problem.  We know, we understand the oxymoron of the African American situation.  Yes, no.  So thatsand a lot of people I talk to, they feel that way.  Yeah, its cool.  Yeah.  But then, its not so much what people say, its what they dont say.
What else?
NW: That's it.  Thank you very much for your time.
JT: Oh, young lady
NW: I appreciate it.  I appreciate you allowing me to record it as well.
JT: Thats fine.
NW: What Ill do is Im gonna type up a transcript.  Some of it may be a bit of a summary of what you talked about.  And Ill send it to you, if thats okay, and then have you look over it and make sure everythings okay, and then Ill take it back and make some changes.
JT: I trust you.  Go ahead and get your A.
NW: (laughs) Ill try my best.
JT: Whats your professors name?
NW: Dr. Jones, Dr. Lu Ann Jones.


COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 201, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved. This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrighted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


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