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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 Identifier: A31 00002 Interviewee: Rayford Allen (RA) Interview by: Fred Beaton (FB) Interview date: July 20,1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Audit Edit by: Unknown Audit Edit date: Unknown Interview Changes By: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes Date: December 4, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: January 15, 2009 Fred Beaton : Mr. Allen, when we start out will you give us a brief summary of where you was born, what school you attended and why did you seek education as a profession? Rayford Allen : Ye ah, I was born in Cairo, Georgia, March the 8th, 1911 and my mother moved to Florida shortly thereafter. And I remember t he first place I remember was Lakeland, Florida. And I remember being there during World War I. And one of the things that I remember i ndelibly was some of our black boys going to France saying they were going to bring the Kaiser's head back. I also remember vividly the signing of the Armistice, the ringing of the bells, the shooting of guns and the people shouting, especially one of my m other's very dear friends who had two boys S he was shouting saying, "There 's peace in France this morning. Buster's in France this morning." She was one happy soul, Mrs. Thomas. And I remember living in Nachotee [Nocatee], Florida, a place that was infe sted with a lot of mosquitoes. I don't remember the period we were there, but it was only a short time. We moved to Tampa shortly after World War I. We spent our first night in a house and the corner of Governor and Estelle and the n ext day we moved to 131 3 North A and we stayed there right that spell. And left there after my mother married Mr. Richard Brooks who had lost his wife in Monticello, Florida and retired from the farm and come to live with his sister. We moved in 1920 to LaSalle I don't remember the number there and we lived there a short while and left about two weeks before the big fire I don't know whether you ever heard of the big fire in West Tampa. FB: What year was this?
2 RA: This was 1920. All of this was 1920. And we moved to Western, either 07 or 607, something like that. But, anyway, we lived in front of Ms. Pugh's mother. Do you know Esther Pugh? FB: I want to ask you one other thing concern w hat was the "big fire"? RA: Well, just about all of West Tampa burned down. You see the houses were so close you could almost st ep from one porch to the next the one house once the fire started was a ll of West Tampa, I believe at that time was an incorporated city and they didn't have a fire department large enough to cope with t he fire. A nd I do remember that the houses we lived in were a total casualty. And, as I was saying, we lived in front of Mrs. Beer Esther Pugh's. Esther Pugh is in the school s ystem here now. And her mother n ext to us were the Roaches. And I alwa ys make a joke out o f it, said my mother married a Mr. Brooks, as I mentioned, so "There was a Brook's, the Roache's, and the Beer's." Heh encountered the hurricane that destroyed so much of Bayshore and much of Tampa in 1921. I believ e it was twenty one  The roof m os t of the roof was r oofing, I should say w as blown off our house and the owner didn't repair it so we stopped paying rent. He kept tacking signs up "For Rent We would pull 'em down as fast as he would tack them up. Meantime, my parents bought property out here and built. And they came out so often I thought, you know, they had a completed house when we moved ou t, but they didn't have a roof o n it, didn't have any siding well, maybe about six or eight inches of siding and about six or eight inches of floori ng, no doors. I was a terrified person coming to a situation like that. And I began attending school in the church out here, Spring Hill Baptist Church. It must have been about second or third grade. And I attended school in the Spring Hill Baptist Churc h until I finished the 6th grade in 1925. And between my finishing 6th grade and 7th grade I got my hip dislocated. It was always a mystery until I went to college and studied phy siology and found out that you c ould have a pathogenic dislocation. t hat is o ne caused disease that was really causing my dislocate hip which I still have. So nineteen days after the 1925 26 school term began I entered the school, Booker T. Washington. It was just built then. It was a high school. It had twelve rooms, six upsta irs and six downstairs. And it was not called Booker T. then it was called Blanche Street School. And I had forgotten that until I think I read an old annual or either read the p laque placed on a building. Mr. A. J. Schutes was the principal. I don't know whether his name has been mentioned in any of your h e was the first principal of Booker T. He came to us from Lakeland, Florida. And we talk about the unruly kids b eing something relatively new. W ell, back in the twentie s, I don't remember whether it was twenty six  or twenty seven [19 27 ] or twenty eight [19 28 ] it had to be one of those years because I don't think Mr. Schutes was principal but two or three years, his son shot, there in the school, one of the female students. Her name was Ms. Douglas I think her name was Letha Douglas. A very attractive light skinned girl.
3 And I felt rather proud and I still feel proud of the fact that the school offered s cholarships for the best attendance and the best scholarship. And for the first two or three years that Booker T. was in existence and that prize was offered I was the recipient of both of them, even though I had to walk about a mile from here to the streetcar line. You know where the pool is down there? That's where the streetcar terminated. And then get off the streetcar and Estelle and Franklin or either Scott and Franklin and walk over to Booker T. And that's what I had to do for most of the six years that I attended F or Booker T. Washington was a seven through twelve [grades] at that time. T here was no graduation from junior high up to senior high. You just graduated from high school. And then I graduated from Booker T. in 1931. But let me back up and say when I was in 6th grade I decided then that I wanted to be a teacher. And from many o f the things I remember I had the inclination, propensity or whatever you want to say because my teachers would appoint me to assist in their instruction because from two or three what whichever it was, when I was going to Spring Hill Church, we had one teacher for the 6 grades or the 7 grades. I don't think we ever went any higher than the seventh. And of particular interest to me in the 6th grade was the fact my teacher would have me to call the spelling for the 7th grade. I'd say, well, it seems to me she should have reserved that for herself since the 7th grade was in a higher grade than I a s I look back now realizing that I was the valedictorian and best all around student in my high school class of 1931, 1 guess I had, you know, pretty ability and t his is what the teacher recognized. So when I, in my 12th year we were encouraged to take the teacher's examination. This was the old State Teacher's Examination that was given in various centers w ell, I guess in e very county seat. In February of 1931 se veral of my classmates, I don't remember how many, and I went a this examination. And I passed. The lowest certificate, a 3rd grade certificate, was good for one year and it permitted y ou to teach grades 1 through 8th, all the subjects for that grade. So h aving a semester to complete in high school when I did get out I was not able to go a to college but this was my choice. I received a contract to teach out here at the Spring Hill School in my own community. So after a semester my certificate expir ed. Prior to expiration, I went o n the Teacher's Examination again and made a higher grade, I mean the second grade certificate, that was good for three years talking the s ame expect it s o ne thing I remember vividly about that examination was that while I th ought I made a perfect score o n orthography which was a combination spelling, rules of spelling, punctuation my grade was 99 and I never have been able to figure what that one percentage point was taken for taken away from me for. That was my highest gra de. So I kept that certificate alive, that second grade certificate, by attending summer school. And I began teaching in 1931 here at the Spring Hill School. And at that time they had built a three room school on the edge of a sandy slope. The reason it wa s built there, somebody donated the land. This was the kind of situation that we experienced back there. Negro t he taxpayers money was not spent, by and large, to buy school sites for blacks. I f so, it was always some dump or some undesirable spot tha t was gotten almost for nothing. And I think these two or three lots were given to the school board and they built
4 us a three room school. And I began teaching 2nd, 3rd and I think 4th grade under Mr. A. J. Knowles who was a very short but very knowledgea ble, a positive principal who ha i led from Key West, Florida. I worked under him for one year. But I should mention that I made a very large salary. I made $50 a month for 8 months. Which meant my year's earning was worth $400. There were no fringe benefits That was it. Turned out, at the end of the term, what we called poor. And after one year Mr. Knowles was transferred to Midway Academy. I don't know whether that name has ever popped up. They changed the nam e of that school and named it for a Mr. Marsh all. Marshall School was once Midway Academy. Mr. Knowles became principal there. Because I was a man and because I was large and probably could control the children I was offered the school the principalship of Spring Hill School which was still just an e lementary school. I accepted it. My salary was ten percent less than Mr. Knowles. Mr. Knowles received $ 70 a month and I received $63. I can't remember but I believe the school term was shortened because we were in the Hoover Depression in the 30s. And th e next year I was re assigned to Spring Hill School as principal with a 25 percent cut in salary. S o my salary dropped from $6 3 to $47.25 a month. And, of course, the term was shortened. I believe that was the year they only had enough money to run school s ix and half months. They asked us to make the choice of giving two weeks and having a seven month term or they would give us just six months. So we preferred a half loaf to no loaf at all. We gave a half month and worked seven months. That salary remained at that level, I believe, for two or three years. I do know when I left in 1935 excuse me, in March n o, I shouldn't say I left, I should explain that I resigned to accept the principalship of Glover School. I know you've heard of Glover. I t's out in the Plant City area. My salary there was $54.50 so that was a good bit better and I was promised a nine month term. I stayed at Glover from 1935 to 1944. And my salary increased in increments from $2.25 per month so you can multiply nine times $2.25 and you can see what my annual increase was. Not too much. During that time that I married, when I was at Glover 1940. 1944 I was transferred to Frederick Douglass School. That might be another name that's not familiar to you. That school's been phased out. That w as in Port Tampa. Practically a ll the schools where I've worked have been phased out. Glover is the only one that hasn't been phased. Glover and Booker T. are the only ones that have not been phased out. Henderson is the only one that is still being used b ut not for instruction. And I'll stick a pin there and say that even th ough I finished high school in thirty one [19 31 ], it was thirty three [19 33 ] the summer of thirty three [19 33 ] before I attended college. B ut I did take some correspondence we call i t "extension" work. B ut the instructors would come down from [Florida] A & M o n Saturdays and teach us. And I believe I earned something like fifteen or eighteen hours that first summer. I had a very good scholastic record so I was able to take some course s. I think I've made one C in all of my college work that was the physics. The rest of 'em were mostly A' s and a few Bs and I graduated with "greater dist inction" in 1947. In 1958 I received my M .Ed. from Florida A & M. I was invited to join an honor s ociety
5 but I was too poor to dish up the cash. I regret now that I didn't try to borrow it because that was a distinct honor. I attended Bethune Cookman a while, I think, and I received, what is now called an A A ., but at that time it was just a junior c ollege diploma in 1937. So in spans of ten years I was making reaching another level thirty seven [19 37 ] I re ceived my Associate degree. In forty seven [19 47 ] I received my B S in elementary education. And, had it not been for the fire we lost our home completely destroyed in forty seven [19 47 ]. T hat was January it was real cold at that time I would have gone back to school and received my master's but that took something out of me, and I just didn't have any mind to go back to school. So I went bac k in fifty eight [19 58 ]. I received a master's degree. My ambition was, when I was in high school, was to i f you ever had a chance to se e the yearbook of the class of thirty one [19 31 ], you' ll see my ambition was to obtain a Ph D degree. B ut after I marr ied and got a family things changed and I never received it. Integration came on and I retired in seventy one [19 71 ] at age sixty one because I didn't feel I my experience nor my training fitted me to match the challenges of an integrated school system wh ere I fo und the white teachers would by pass the school administrator and go straight to an administrator downtown or maybe to the superintendent which and they allowed that sort of thing to go on. FB: How much were you making? What was your inco me at the end of your principal ship? RA: You know, I have to look at my contract. I was making good salaries. I was making bringing home over a thousand a month for eleven months. It had to be something like between 13 and $15,000 a year. I didn't worried about I had too m any other things to worry about than to worry about my salary. FB: Right, but I was just tryin' to RA: I understand. FB: you know, carry through with all the smaller ones. RA: Well, I'll tell you this maybe you're gonna ask me it; what do I get in retirement? FB: No. RA: Well, I'm gonna tel l you. I get $586.99 a month, twelve months a year. So you can see I make more in one month in retirement than I made in a whole year for the first, I'd say, ten years. I might make this point that a lthough I was in a professional capacity I never even had to file income taxes 'til about 1944 or 1945 when I went to Frederick Douglass School. And even then I didn't owe any. In fact, I wasn't making as much as a common laborer. See, $400 for a year for eight months well, you can see. Well, $50 a month that amounts to, what, $12.50 a week, right? And then if you divide it by fifty two weeks that comes out to a real small figure. So I say, I wasn't makin' as much as a
6 common laborer. FB: Were times hard? Could you live out of that $50 a month? RA: Sure. I always saved a little. That was good money. And I remember having a suit. I c ould always a pair of blue se rge trousers, tailor made, $25, out of the best s e rge. FB: Mr. Allen, what were the conditions o f blacks, say, when you first came to Tampa? RA: Well, all I can remember is that there was a lot of discrimination and blacks lived in ver y poor conditions. And the [Ku Klux] Klan s were running rampant at that time. There was quite a bit of fear and peop le t hose were som e of the things I remember along with the fact that you were blacks had to ride on the you know, o n the rail the streetcars. No matter how many seats were empty up front, if there were none empty in the back you had to st and up. And the sa me thing was o n the trains. Of course, there wasn't anything like going to white restaurants. But, strangely, barbering was something that was monopolized by black people when we first came to Tampa. There were no white barbers. Black men were cutting whit e men's hair downtown or wherever there were barbershops. FB: How was the Depression? RA: Well, it was pretty bad because you had to depend upon handouts from the government. Commodities, they called it. But, I don't know ; my people, you know, had enoug h land to raise a garden and they had chickens and that sort of thing so it we didn't feel it quite as badly as some people. Some of the people had it real tough. I remember that I couldn't get a lot of clothes. So as far as food, we always had plenty of f ood at our place, but there were a lot of people who really were up against it. You know what I mean? FB: Do you remember anything about Clara Frye? RA: Yes. FB: The lady herself? RA: Yes. FB: Could you tell us, a little bit about her? Or as much as y ou remember? RA: Well, all I can remember is that, you know, she operated the hospital. I was pretty young then and. I don't know too much about her except that I did see her and knew what she had philanthropic spirit, one that impelled her to do somethin g about health care for her people. This was, I t hink, started in her home over o n Mitchell and eventually they she built one over an a Lamar. And incidentally, although at age thirteen I had this physical handicap I've never been in the hospital. I nee ded to go. Doctor diagnosed me in
7 his office and then treated me at home. He used the dining room ta ble as a treatment table. A n aturopathic doctor, whose name I don't remember now, kept pulled, turned, twist, what have you, to skip back in place but it I think he did more harm than he did good because it's still out of place and broken according to the latest x rays. In fact, yes, and that's why I hav e to have orthopedic work done o n one of m y shoes so that when I walk I don't li mp, you know, so bad limp. When I stand I don't have to stand one side and I can stand level, more or less. I'm sorry I can't tel l you any more about Ms. Clara Frye except that she did establish a hospital that was named for her and when the WPA, that was one of the federal ag Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. RA: construct the hospital that was named for her. And Dr J.R.E. Lee, president, a long time pioneer, president of Florida A & M came down an d made the dedicatorial speech, I always remember one of th e things he said to the audience had a lot white people in the audience he said that a white mistress shouldn't feel badly towards the negro cook or maid who took the ham out of the refrigerator S aid all she was doing was collecting her back wages. (laugh s) She wasn't stealing. S he was just collecting her back wages. And in that same vein, see, in the next half hour I'll be going to the Senior Citizen Nutrition Center where you may donate for the meals, but I don't donate because I tel l 'em tha t's just par t of our back wages (laughs) and I'm collecting. FB: What about c an you tel l me anything about the civil rights movement in Tampa? RA: No. No more than what Dr. Lowry has probably told you. He was one of the leaders of and w ell, he, principally, he and t he young folk because most of the most of us were afraid, you know, to step out in front. I remember Dr. Martin Luther King coming to Tampa one time, speaking here in the s ixties [1960's] I felt a little cheated because they said all of the princip als a nd a whole lot of business people were invited to be platform gue sts, but the programs w e were told that, you know, it would cost us $25, $50 or $100 to receive that honor and a lot of people gave 'em a rubber stamp I mean rubber checks. I didn't have my ch eckbook. Whatever it was, something like $50 or $100, I gave it was able to give it, but I think they should have told us in advance without get us in a situation so [it] will not put them in a situation where they'll be embarrassed not to give it. Now, I do remember when we had separate and unequal schools. They called 'em separate and equal, but they were separate and unequal from 19 time I remember attending schools until possibly 1940. I don't remember the exact year but Mr. Ben Griffin and Mr. Ed D avis, who was president of Central Life, were at the forefront supported by the NAACP in stamping out the inequality i n schools. The suit was filed a n d Thurgood Marshall, who is now o n the Supreme Court bench was the la wyer who argued the case successfull y. And Miss Hilda Turner who I think, she was the guinea pig. She was the person whos e name that the suit was filed because she was, per haps, one of the better trained better qualified persons who even if she lost her job wouldn't have
8 any problem securi ng employment elsewhere. And after the suit was won or was it before? the county began some kind of merit system whereby you were graded and most of t he black teachers were graded b ottom of the scale. Just one or two were in the upper echelons. And I thi nk this was one of the things that the suit addressed, th e continued inequities brought on by this so called merit system that categorized most of the black teachers to the bottom of the scale. Anything else? FB: Okay. Anything else you'd like to say? RA : Well, I'd like to tel l you that when I first came out here in 1921 there were very few people living out here. And I think from what is now Yukon [Street] o n the south and t he railroad of Busch Boulevard o n the north was inhabited only by blacks. And the roads were all dirt roads. The first improveme nt to them was putting clay o n them. From clay we went to sawdust. I believe that's right. It may have been the other way around. And the next improvement were shells. And from shells to blacktop. People wer e a close knit group that had the interest of each other at heart. It seemed to me that it was an eternity before anybody died. I know it wasn't that long because when you're a small child it was like Christmas was years away and I associate that with my feeling about the goodness of the people. I'm talk ing about my mother right now. This was a very good place. It was so good the people, they did n't die here. The first person that I remember dying was the mother of a church, Mother Phipps. She worked all day, came home and went to prayer meeting. And after prayer meeting she died. And we thought that was a very sweet way for a person to die. One of the things I mentioned about this being a close knit community where the people were c oncerned about one an other d ue to poverty, a lot of people didn't have insurance. M aybe their insurance would get behind A nd when they died or got sick didn't have anything going for 'em. People would either go around and pass the hat or they would take a collection in the church to tide the people over. I've seen them take up a collection at the funeral to pay for the funeral expenses. We don't have that kind of concern out here now, h ardly anywhere. FB: Okay. Mr. Allen, can you tell us your wife's name and how many childr en you've got? RA : My wife was Geraldine. She was Geraldine Jones before our marriage and we are the parents of three boys and three girls, all of us living except the oldes t girl, Jewel, who died at age twenty one and that was in April of 1968 a fter com pleting high school and two years of junior college at St. Pete J C. or Junior College it was called then. All of them are married except the b aby girl and the baby boy. We have five grandchildren, t hree f our grandsons and one granddaughter. FB: How old are they? Those are who you are going to pick up?
9 RA : Yeah, the grand boys, the twins, Jerrod and Jerome, I believe they're seven should be eight in August. I believe I'm right o n that. The i r parents both work at GTE. The baby girl works for Hi llsborough County School Board. Mr. Walter Turner is her immediate superior. Our oldest boy, Joseph, drives a Tampa Transit bus. The baby boy is somewhat of a bum Edgar. FB: Okay, Mr. Allen, before we close can you w hat is your opinion of disruptive school situatio n that we have now? RA : Well, I think if I understand your question t he disruption in the school, is s omething that has been brought o n by many factors, one of which is the I believe I'm gonna say, the abdication of the parents, I think that's what I'm g onna say. FB: That's right. That's right. RA: O f their responsibility, which they didn't accept when the schools were not integrated. FB: Right. RA : They left everything to the teachers. And they think that the sure thing can obtain. Now that they're integrated schools and the whi te teachers don't go for that, s o, now, that's the basic thing. And I think all of the other problems ste m from that. So b ut, you see, we, being black and having common roots you might say co mmon interests, common concerns f e lt we had to be successful and to be successful you had to cope with the problems. Well, the white teachers don't feel that way. Well, from my understanding w e ll, my experience was that you c ould hardly get black teachers to come to black parents to come t o PTA. So I hear they don't go to PTA now. We could hardly get them to come to parent/teacher conferences. And I understand you can hardly get them to go to them now. So I think I have a sufficient basis o n which to say that the parents have abdicated thei r responsibility, but they want to put the fault somewhere else, but it lies right at their door. FB: Okay, thank you Mr. Allen. RA : You're very welcome. I'm glad you all finally ca end of interview
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h [electronic resource] /
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 (44 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 July 20, 1978.
Rayford Allen discusses his teaching career in Tampa's African American schools during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
African American schools
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