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1 Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Digital Object Identifer: A31 00001 Interviewee: Homer Aikens (HA) Interview by: Otis Anthony ( OA) Interview date: September 7, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview C hanges by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: December 2, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: January 7, 2009 Homer Aikens : I was a young man in Tampa, I was around eleven years old when I left Tampa and ran away. Travel around M a c c lenny, Drysdale, round Jacksonville during the earlier thirties [1930s] and twenties [1920s] Black people along in that time was working for just about anything they could get, anything people would give them. $3.00 a day from six in the morning to six in the aftenoon. They had to take it because there wasn't nothing else they could do and nobody was gonna do anything for them and do no more for them and that is just the way they lived. And they lived that way. Of course I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't exactly have to work for $3 b ecause I had do n e a little fishing and I delivered a little ice at the icehouse fo r nine dollars a week for seven days. So many more had to do that and I thank God today they don't have to work and go o n and do the things you or I had to take. Otis Anthony : What was some of the conditions of Blacks? How was Tampa when you came here? Th e living conditions? HA: Oh it was bad, oh it was bad at that time. OA: Something like the house for example? HA: All these old houses we live in now, those what they torn down and all those, practically all them was put in like new at that time. The y had those old outside toilets and all that where you had to walk outside to go out to the toilet, you didn't have no flush toilets, you had the big old toilets with a bucket in it out there, and you had to go out, a man came by once a week and dump th em you know and clean them out and put a little lime and all that in it. OA: What about lights and telephones?
2 HA: No, no lights and no telephone. OA: What did you use for lights? HA: Lamps, lanterns. OA: Kerosene? HA: Kerosene lamps and kerosene la nterns. OA: What kind of school they have? HA: Well the school was bad, we had a little old school, we had Harlem. OA: Where was that at? HA: That's o n the corner of Morgan and down there o n Morgan and Jefferson. I meant o n the corner of Harrison and Morgan. Of course, I went to little old school in West Tampa when I was growing up. A little old wooden school over there. It's torn down now. OA: What was it called? HA: I don't remember. It was a little wooden school over there in West Tampa I forgot what the n a m e of that street is it s on, that was o n four can't recall on the name of the street. OA: What other kind of school did they have? Harlem was an elementary school? HA: They finally built, well they had Meacham, they had Lomax, and they latel y built Middleton, and Don Thompson. OA: Around what time did they build Middleton and Don Thompson? HA: I don't remember now what year they built those two schools. OA: Will you tell us [about the] Depression years? HA: During D epression days people were working for $3.00 a day. If a man made $6 a week, he was o n one of the high class jobs. He was just like a man bringing home $400 now. Yea h long in there, when you brought home that kind of money, c ar and all like that. Always been some exception al Blacks, you know, in everything there is always be some exceptional Blacks. We have a few Blacks, through their boss, men got a hold of automobiles and had cars along in there. That was rare you seen a B lack own a car. OA: That was in the thirties?
3 HA: Practically every thing got, if you went downt own something on credit, they f ir s t had to call y our b oss man and he'd have to okay and if he didn't okay they didn't let you have i t. So he was responsible to see that you paid for it. So that which way they done things then. But now, you is able to go down there and d o it o n your o w n now People trust you and let you have it yourse l f now. OA: I understand that there were some lines where people did not have anything, line in the thirties during the D e pression, soup lines? HA: Oh yea h well they have one here and one in Jacksonville as far that was concerned. OA: Where was the one here? HA: On Central. Charlie Edge ran the one in Jacksonville, he had the soup line in Jacksonville and he use to run that. Charlie Moon run the one here in Tampa. If it hadn't been for Charlie Moon it would had been a many dead Negroes starving to death in Tampa and so would have been the same in Jacksonville if it hadn't been for Charlie E dge OA: Tell me this, you m ean those soup line s that Charlie Moon ran, that wasn't WPA money that bought that soup? HA: No, WPA money didn't buy it. The man done it o n his own. He had the money to do it with, he was one of the big bolita m e n here and everybody played bolita with h im and they was catching it. He was showing his appreciation by running a soup line to help keep the people alive. Charlie Edge he was a big bolita man in Jacksonville and he did the same thing ; he was a big bolita man. He ran a big soup line in Jackso nville and kept the people alive. OA: Describe to me what the soup lines look like and were they really that long lines? HA: Well, sometimes they would be a block long and sometimes longer than that. They would dish out bowls of soup to everyone that ca me by. After you have gotten a bowl and everyone in the line had went through and if you wanted some more you go back until was all gone. OA: So was Charlie Moon a respected individual in Tampa? HA: Yes, all the people loved him, everybody loved him. OA: Tell me about Central Avenue, the social life, the bands. What was the life like? Did people have good times? HA: Well that was the big time street. That was the main drag for Black people back
4 along then. Yea h, they had all the big time band. We ll they had the majority of them. OA: Name some of the groups or individuals that came through there, singing and dancing, entertaining? HA: Well, Ray Charles, James Brown, all a gi rl singing now, Ruth Brown, Asa Harris, I can't remember all of them. I can't th ink all of them that have been o n Central. B B King and all them have been down here. OA: Central was like that in the twenties? HA: Yea h Central has always been the main drag. W et have two big theater way back in the twenties. The Central an d the Macecola was there during the twenties, the two bi g theater s Then they eventually tore the Macecola down and they had the Central Theater and then they had the Lincoln Theater down there. OA: Were these just theaters for movies? HA: They had movie s and stage shows, vaudeville and all that jazz. OA: Was Soakly strictly run by Blacks or what? HA: Well after Charlie Edge, White began to take over. Used to be the Black Labor Camp was o n Central at that time from Scott to Harrison, was all Black bus iness. Then White began to take over afterwards. OA: Then Charlie Moon was like the leader of business o n Central. HA: He was the one practically had all the business o n Central. OA: What about Walt Sanders? HA: They come in later they taken over aft erward, after Charlie Moon. They all come in and take over after Charlie Moon and even Lee Davis. OA: How about the boom? HA: During the boom, during the war? I w asn 't h ere d uring the war. I was in American airfield in M iami Capt. Anderson, Cecil Hill during the boom. OA: That was during the twenties? HA: No during the boom. We had one boom here that was during the s torm in Miami i n 1926. OA : Tell me about that storm.
5 HA: I was not here at the time. I was around B rightsdell at that time when th at storm hit Miami in twenty six . OA: Did it hit Tampa? HA: No it didn't do any damage to Tampa, just Miami, o n the east coast. Did the most damage in Miami. I t w as in the east coast. Tore up Miami and destroyed everything around down there. T here had to stopped and rebuilt everything. That last l ong about twenty three  and did not last to o long around twenty seven , it started going down. The s torm come back and did a little bit more damage down there. In twenty nine  the bottom just dropped out of everything, twenty nine  and thirty three . OA: What do you mean the bottom dropped out? How did people react to the D epression ? HA: Well there was nothing they could do about it. It was God s will. Closed up all the banks during the thirties, closed up a l l the banks, say all the banks had gone broke, all of then was broke. No money, nobody had no money. Of course you know at that time, it didn't get too many Black people. Because didn't too many Blacks have any money at that time and Blacks that had money along in that time, they usually went to the Post Office. They put all the i r money in the Post Office, they never put money in banks, they didn't believe in banks. They put their money in the Post Office. Yo u could save money in the Post Office just like you can in the b ank now and Black people used to go to the Post Office. And those that had a little money, that's why it didn't bother them as much, because it was all in the Post Office and not in the bac k. OA: Well, tell me something about the Post Office, was it like you could take out a savings account? HA: It was just like you go to the bank now, just like you go and get a money order. You put your money in the Post Office and they would give you a receipt. They paid interest o n it just like you can do it in the bank. They paid interest o n it and the f ederal g overnment eventually cut it out, stopped it, and everybody who had money in the Post Office had to withdraw it out. OA: They had a name for that? HA: Savings. OA: Just savings, Post Office Savings? HA: Yea h they took it out, the government had them take it out. They take it to the bank, after the g overnment secured the banks. See the bank use to didn't be secured by the g overnment. The g overnment taken over all the banks and made them secure so nobody
6 gonna lose no money in the bank. The bank don't go broke cause the g overnment back it up. See the bank could have gone anytime and take all the people 's money, but they can not do that now OA: We were asking about the D epression. Anything you can tell us about it? In the Forties [1940s] w h ere did most of the Black people work? For example Black men, where did most Black men work? HA: They worked o n job like (inaudible) have any farmers involved. They worked o n tractor machinery OA: Was it the shipyard or railroads? HA: Yea h when they open up the shipyard. They worked all the machines, the dumping machine. The railroad always need, eve r since I can remember Blacks w ere working for the railroads. OA: Tell me about that? That is what we don 't have. We had Blacks working o n the railroads far back as you can remember? What kind of work did they do? What kind of stuff did they do? HA: Yea h far back as I can remember. OA: W ell, what did they do? What kind of stuff did they do? HA: Well some of them worked in the yards, worked o n railroads, fixed tracks and all, bridges and all like that. OA: This was even before the twenties? HA: Yea h they didn't have many engineers and all that kin d of junk that they have got now. OA: They did have some Black engineers? HA: I c an't remember no one saying any body was an engineer, but they were working in the engineering department. OA: Wh at was the name of the railroad? HA : All I know was Seaboar d Coast Line. OA: What was the name of the shipyard? HA: I have never known. There was a shipyard over here and one in Jacksonville.
7 OA: Did they call that McClosk ey shipyard [McCloskey & Co., and Tampa Shipyards, Inc.] ? HA: I don't what the name of t hat shipyard was? (inaudible) OA: We understand that during the forties [1940s] when the soldier s came here which was World War II, right? When the solders came here there was a riot. HA: I was not here when the riots were here. OA: You heard about it? HA: I heard about that. But I was not here. OA: What did you hear about it? HA: I just heard that they had a big disturbance, and all. All the troopers, but I was not here. What it was about, how it started and what it was about. OA: You know anythin g about this? HA: Yea h, I was not here when they had all that. OA: So is there anything about the forties you can think about that you want to tell us about except working o n the shipyard and that type of thing? HA: No. OA: What about segregation? Wha t were your feeling s about that? HA: Well I tell you, it was a bad thing. When you live with those thing s so many years and you are accustom ed to them. And you know you had to live with it and because there wasn't anyone you can turn to. You never worr ied about it, back then, you never worried about. Because there was no release, no help from nobody, and it certainly was no use of you turn ing to your color for no help. W asn't no way they was ever going to do anything. Wasn't anything they could do. OA: How about the NAACP or the Urban League? HA: No, they wasn't anything. The y didn't have no kind of power, no kind. There wasn't anybody to turn to, nowhere. The NAACP had no kind of power, or no nothing. (An unidentified man interrupts him.) It was no use of you saying anything because NAACP, none of them had no power. The NAACP had been going for sixty nine years, but they didn't have any power, they didn't have any power, they been struggling all them many years. They never got no power until
8 Marti n Luther King, he built power there. Before then, they didn't have any power. So it was no use to turn to them for anything to do anything because they just couldn't help. So, during the D epression when you had to segregate when you got o n the bus or anyth ing, when people said go to the back of the bus and sit down, you might as well go to the back of the bus and sit down, because they would stop the bus and call the police. And the police would come and put you in jail, so you might as well go head on, bec ause you were not doing nothing but hurting yourself. Unknown Man #1 : NAACP. When them boys got killed up there (inaudible) what did the NAACP d o for them ? NAACP ain't never won a case in their life and what did they do with the money ? Well I'm telling you what I know. I was a grown man when them boys got killed right up there in Alabama. Every one of them boys the NAACP was fighting it, fighting it. OA: I know what you are talking about the Scott s bo ro b oys? Unknown Man #1: That's right, they was figh ting it and ain't done a thing in the world. Unknown Man #2 : The man told him a while ago the NAACP and you and nobody one else didn't have no power or nothing. Only the man that had power was the White man. If you open your mouth to try help one they wou ld hang you in front them and keep you scared, right here in Tampa they would tie a knot and beat the hell out of you. Unknown Man #1 : The NAACP got a lawyer at that time and paid that lawyer a lot of money and n e v er won a case in his life. Look what they done to that boy in Robles over there. T hey killed them when the D epression was on. They didn't win that case. OA: So, do you recall incidents of anybody being hung in Tampa? HA: Hung, no I wasn't here until heard it said but without knowing, no. OA: Y ou know we keep hearing about people being hung but we have not gotten any documentation o n it. HA: I remember a fellow that use to run the joint right here o n the corner, Henderson. I got the clipping here, I was at the u niversity and they had albums, one year of clipping s out to the u niversity, of all great thing that happen here in Tampa. And I can remember this and I was sitting down one night and I happen to pick up o ne of those albums I was happen to be looking in it and I see they have one of them clipping, the clipping of that happen in this album. OA: The clipping of what now? HA: Of the Ku Klux Klan's taking this boy out to this place here carried him over round Plant City and they beat him.
9 OA: Do you remember his name? HA: No I can't remember. I believe I have the clipping home somewhere, I believe I made a copy of it. I saw this clipping in this paper where they were carrying him out and beat him. And someone called the sheriff and the sheriff, nobody would answer the phone, someo ne did answer the phone an hour or two later. And ah, when they got the sheriff, he claim nobody advised him, nobody told him he never received no call, no nothing, about this here incident that happen. I remember it, and I just happen to see it in thi s clipping in the paper. They have all the old things, events and all that, at the u niversity. OA: What u niversity was this? HA: Tampa U. OA: University of Tampa? Unknown Man # 1: One thing I want to say I am going to say until I die, I don't care who it hurt. A nytime you are wrong you wrong, I don't care who it is white, black or what kind. Right there in Marianna, Florida, 1935 old Fl ake Chambliss the high sheriff of that county, Flake Chambliss was the sheriff of that county. Al l right they brought the boy and put him in jail ; they claim the boy worked o n a farm out there (inaudible) She claim the colored boy, Claude Neal raped her, [she said] I know him as good as I know my name. A l l right, Flake Chambliss went out to Greenwood and brought him an d put him in Marianna jail, I was staying right down from the jail. They said the mob in behind him so bad, he took him out of there and carried him Panama City for s afekeeping. He c laim the mob was so bad there and carried him to B rew t o n, Alabama. Is I'm right or wrong, regardless of what I'm doing I don't care who it is, they got him out B rew t o n, Alabama and brought him right back to Gr een wood, Florida about nine miles from Marianna and killed that poor colored boy Claude Neal right in that cracker yard. What has the N AACP done about that? Nothing. N ow I know what I am talking about T hat was in 1935. OA: Have you heard about anybody being hung down here? What happen ed, Larry? Larry (Man #1) : I don't know about down here. I didn't believe. Me and my si ster was w orking and the same street and she went to work before I did. She jump up that morning, come back to the house "Mama, Mama, Mama, they got a colored man hanging up there in the street." I said "M ama sit down here in the chair, because I though t she was just trying to wa ke me up. I said "W ait L et me take a bath and put o n me some clothes. I went up there and let me tell you something, gentlemen. T hat boy; his legs were cut up near his crack. His arms were cut up to here, eyes were swelled up about your color and hanging there by his neck. I said Lord have mercy, what kind of world is this, wh at kind of people in this world?" end of interview
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interviewed by Otis R. Anthony and members of the Black History Research Project of Tampa.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (32 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Other interviewers for the Black History Research Project of Tampa were Fred Beaton, Joyce Dyer, Herbert Jones, and Shirley Smith.
Interview conducted September 7, 1978.
Homer Aikens discusses the Depression and its effect on Tampa's African American community.
Anthony, Otis R.
Black History Research Project of Tampa.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS