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1 Oti s R. Anthony African Americans i n Florida Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Digital Object Identifier: A31 00006 Interviewee: Edwin G. Artest (EA) Interview by: Fred Beaton ( FB) Interview date: June 7, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Kimberly Nordon Changes date: December 8, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: January 21, 2 009 Edwin G. Artest : I was born in Georgia, 1912, and I attended school in Georg ia up until age fourteen which was the year of 1926, when I came to Florida then. And went to school here and, of course, I have been in Florida Florida has been my residenc e every since. I entered school here in the junior high school. At that time, Benjamin Mays was the secretary of the Tampa Urban League, and he was very interested in teaching Negro history. And he o rganized a Negro history class. I don't remember how ma ny students there were but from the junior high schools, I was one of those people in that first class. When he taught us it inspired us by, and always remember that one of incidents he quoted was that he and his brother, they lived o n a farm somewhere, an d he was determined to leave that farm. I don't think his brother did. He [Benjamin Mays] was determined to leave and he did he did go toward advancing himself, and at that time, well restoring images where he had advance d thus far. Well, I continued sch ool and I finished high [school] here at Booker T. Washington. Of course, I might back up a little and say that before coming here, before reaching the age fourteen now this is a thing many people may wonder about, but there was a man here. H is name was Si ngleton, didn't know that this actually happen. In my home town where I was born, Savannah, Georgia, I work in Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company store I was just an errand boy, but they allow me to wait o n people. I got very, very good at t hey recognized a s a kid I was very, very good they said. At that time, they didn't have computers and you had to figure the bill on paper sacks and pencil. I was recognized as being pretty fast and accurate o n it. And at one time, I do know that they reported me as being a clerk in the store and was recognized by many people in the a city as being a clerk. Then I worked at a dairy, a creamery dairy. A t that time they was called creameries. And I was still under fourteen and I was so efficient I was hired as a delivery bo y, but I was
2 put in charge of creamery, the bottling, making of the buttermilk, churning of the buttermilk, and I worked there and I was considered as the foreman of the creamery. And then I was asked by some other people of P a u se in recording EA: So I came to Florida and back I came to Florida and finished school. Well, while here I carried the Tampa Morning Tribune from 1926 through 1931. Fred Beaton : What were the conditions of Blacks say in the twenties [1920's] in Tampa? EA: Well, I know that some time after I came, that the banks broke. T he banks had a boom or something and many people lost money. Of course, it looked like before the boom, it was before the bust, before twenty six [19 26 ] look like people were doing better or pretty well, beca use many people had bought some homes. I know of some many people who had bought some homes. But after the banks closed, why things got pretty tough and it was rough, up until, through 1933 when Roosevelt came and brought about the N ew D eal, so it was pret ty rough. I do remember groceries sold, they were very low, get five pounds of flour that was about fifteen cent for five pounds. I remember when you co uld get Je wel lard for eight cent a pound. I remember they had bread, I think it was Sally Ann bread, you could buy five cent a loaf I t was smaller than the big loaf, but I don't think the big loaf cost more that eight or ten cent a loaf at that time. But it was very difficult to get the money to buy it, because a man making $18.00 a week was a pretty hig h salary a woman would make $6.00 or $8.00 a week and therefore you didn't have too much money to buy much with, so it was pretty tough. FB: Were you here during the D epression also? EA: Yeah, I was here during the D epression. What year was the D epressio n? What year are you referring to as the Depression, after twenty six  ? FB: After twenty six [19 26 ] EA: Around thirty three [19 33 ] ? Yeah, yeah, during the Hoover days. That's when everything was a little tough, but we got along, my family got alon g pretty well, because we were carrying the Tribune Now to give you an example, the best that I can remember, the Tribune was about fifteen cent a week, and we paid about seven cent for a week's paper, so we made about eight cent. And we had a pretty larg e size route and so my family got along pretty well, because we just happen to have had a good opportunity, but that wasn't the regular trend of things. And my dad lost some money in the bank when the bank closed W e lost some money in the bank and were ne ver able to retrieve it. FB: From Booker T., did you go into college or what?
3 EA: Yes, from B ooker T., I finished Booker T. i n 1931 and I went o n to Florida A&M [Agricultural & Mechanical University] I went to Florida A&M, went to Florida A&M for two y ears and at that time, I had a kind of independent attitude or idea. I wanted to take care of myself and I remember that when I finished high school, my father wanted to b u y me a blue suit to wear and he would have brought a more expens ive one than I broug ht, but I had money, cause I was working with him carrying the paper or what not, so I wanted to buy the suit myself. Then I went to Florida A&M, I stayed two years and I didn't want my daddy to pay for my schooling, so I transferred from Florida A&M to B ethune Cookman [College] and got the associate degree. Started teac hing school and then I went to I finished the master's degree by sending myself to school. During the interim, why I served as educator i n this county for thirty nine years and one year in Manatee county for a total of forty years. FB: Okay, what conditions were the schools during this time? EA: Well, during that time, they were all totally segregated and in 1926 when I came here, why they had just built some schools, Booker T. Washington was one, Union Street school was another one, and I believe West Tampa Dunbar was another one. T hey had just built th ose schools somewhat recently a nd they were small, inadequate, you know just enough to say you had a building and some place for the childr en to sit. So they weren't anything that act surprisingly or anything that you could be particularl y proud of. Of course, I imagine we were proud then because we didn't have that. FB: Okay, what were conditions surrounding the equalization of teachers sa laries? How did that come about? EA: Well, now when I was in school we had a superintendent that I can remember, that's E. L. Robinson, and I would hear him talk quite a bit and he didn't seem to be the type of individual who recognized or thought well of Blacks, Negroes. B ut he always spoke kindly and he thought what he was doing was good or adequate. And th en after I started teaching in thirty five [19 35 ] I have heard him say that rather than equalize salaries he rather be dead, before his grave and he believe in a differential in s alary between Black and White FB: Okay, were there any attempts by the Black teachers to form, say a coalition or forming a group, to attack this? EA: Yes, yes, several attempts were made. The best that I can remember, the first one that I remember, was made by Griffin, Noel Griffin. That was the first one that I can remember. He tried to corral the teachers to some extent, to the point of making a petition. Oh, I've got to go back a little further than that. I think the f irst one was made by Ed Davis. Ed Davis or even you may say Ed Davis and Noel Griffin were the early ones.
4 The one that actually brought the teachers salary to the head was made by Elsie Turner 1 as the defendant. And the teachers were organized and the y came to the re alization and I imagine got tire d of being discriminated against, and organized, and we had a suit. And the suit was, the suit was taken over by the NAACP and Thur good Marshall. H e was the lawyer for the case, and it was won. FB: Were ther e attempts by the S chool B oard, say to create circumstances where the teachers salaries would be judged by other criteria? EA: Well, in the beginning why, they just had the criteria was, you know just being Black and being White, was a differential in s alary. But with the law, the one that made them come to the point wherein it would that all salaries would be judged, or classified or regulated, according to certain standards, for certain accomplishments. And it eventually came to that, and that's what i t was based on, so that we had equal salaries. FB: Okay, were the teachers judged o n some type of merit up to equalization or something? EA: Well, they tried that.T hey tried to judge it by merit in order to make a differential. A merit judgment, in my op inion, is a very lucid thing. I know when they did s tart judging the teachers well like I say happily, why I was judged as one of the number ones, but there were some other teachers who were not. And so that played out, because they found out that it woul d n't hold water. I t w ouldn't stand up against them. S o it was tried, but it faded out. FB: After this case were there any attempts to keep the teachers, say the Black teachers form a particularly group, or would the Black teachers come together in some ty pe of, say, create a committee and all that? EA: Well, in Florida, you know we had segregated teacher organizations. We had what they called FEA and we had the FSTA. FSTA was the Florida State Teachers Association, FEA was the Florida Educational Associa tion, two different organizations. The organizations over the years finally came to working somewhat in a coalition, working together, and they eventually were working pretty close. And we had ch apters down here in the Florida FSTA which brought us togethe r. And we would petition the S chool B oard for our rights. But eventually the FSTA merged with the FEA and now we no longer have that, so that, might say that integration has taken over that (inaudible) walk that we had of FSTA fighting solely for Black tea chers. Now, the integration part of us, where we don't have now an organization. FB: Mr. Artest, I want to ask you something. Did you teach before segregation and desegregation? EA: Yeah, yeah both. 1 On the paper transcript, there is a handwritten note that says "Correction Hilda Turner."
5 FB: Okay, were there any marked differences you coul d see between the two institutions as a whole? EA: Well, you know, I would say yes. I'm going to say the difference, I don't know whether I'm answering your questions, but when we were all together, I want to put it that way, when we were all together, th ere seeme d to have been more compassion o n working with the group, than there seemed to be under integration, and well, that's the main difference. The children, you have to understand, you have to understand the two cultures and I do believe that the expe riences, the different worlds that we live in, all those who live on the street. W e live in two different worlds o n the s ame street. And if you're not in that world, you don't understand it. And that's why I feel that there is some type of difference in the two situations. We ha ve to keep children in school. W e had to b eg children to come to school. W e had to go get them, we had to dress them, we had to feed them, we even had to send them back home to get bathed. A nd all these other things wherein the ot her person take them for granted and they wanted, we could understand it was an oversight or like of experience or like of desire to do better or be better and we know it had to be, so we would try to encourage them or corral them into doing what was neces sary. Wherein people who don't expect that, they don't expect to do it, to do what we did, that might be a differences. FB: Mr. Artest, how deal with the present day literacy tests, what they are giving to the first graders? EA: Well, I have always felt that you must be academic. I've always felt that. I don't have no compunction o n that. I do wish that all the children could pass the literacy tests. Now, I have seen some of the tests and I have not I'm not at this point able to make a statement as to whe ther the test is really a racial, cause I haven't seen that much of it. I don't know, but I do think that it's a good thing and I would hope that all those children could pass it. If it's not racial and not knowing the racial side of it, if it's racial, th en it's unfair. But I don't want to look, I don't want to think it is racial, cause I want to think it is academic and I want to think everybody should pass it. FB: Okay, the reason why we brought this question up, we had several figures from this year th at showed that 75 percent well, between 70 and 75 percent of the Black kids that took this test flunked in math. Would you contribute this to their background or would [you] contribute to lack of disciplined, or academics? EA: Well, I go back to this, you know we are supposed to go to school to learn. That's the only reason we have school, the only purpose we should go. And I must say regardless to what any body might say, but just based o n my exp eriences, Black teachers taught. Black teachers taught. T hey went the extra mile, but in many instances our children did not respond equally as did the teachers in their efforts to teach them. Now the recent question was lack of inspiration, aspiration, and their family background, teacher expectation, self realiz ation, I don't know. But I can say that in many instances
6 I'm going to say, in too many instances, they didn't apply themselves as they should and like education, education is from the first day in school you're building. Y o u're building what you are at tw enty two even when you finish college, you're building it and if you don't build strongly in grades 1, 2, 3, 4,and 5 you are just that much weaker when you finish college. And so everyday application and I imagine the literacy test, the children that fail the literacy test, just indicate how much application they have put along the way. And I would hope that all of them be passing. Now a remedy would be try to catch them up, sometimes we call it remedial work, where it may not remedial, may be work for th e first time, maybe never learned the first time. So whether we can call it remedial or learning, is yet to be seen. FB: Okay, last question Mr. Artest, in your last two or three months serving principal in certain high schools that have come up with ide a of a disruptive school. Do you think the is the solution to the problem of say, disruptive students? EA: No, I don't; now I have a long story o n that. I don't know what all to say here, but it's a fact it's my belief we've always had disruptive children ; you've been to school, you know it. That's nothing new to us, it s new to the other people. And this idea, as I see it and I'm against it, is just another way of trying to get out of the back, in the segregated situation. By saying that we are disruptive now there may be plenty of recourse because disruption is just a matter of interpretation. And as I said, disruption is a matter of interpretation and many things that are going o n in schools today that is interpretative as disruptive. But with us, they were thing s that we just had to handle and we handle it. Now I can give one example I remember T he last school, junior high school came there once, all of a sudden they found out that we h ad a lot children coming late, a large portion coming in late. T h ey always came l ate. W e didn't have parents who would get up and get them out. C hildren had go o n the i r own, parents weren't home when they left, nobody to send them and we had no other way of gett ing them to school late I mean o n time S o we worked within the school. W e would give them demerits, whatever we could do to try to persuade them. But they were coming late. B ut they looked upon that as something that couldn't be tolerated. But the children were coming to school, getting their lessons and making grades and getting promoted and going to school. But to them that could have been a disruptive child. And then I can hope maybe other things which they make a lot of fuss about now, which we could handle during those days. Because at that time we had mor e corporal punishment, other types of punishment that we could handle, but today we can't do that type of thing, now what you did then. T herefore under these situations, therefore you don't have the ease of handling the s ituation like you had back then. end of interview
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h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Otis Anthony and members of the Black History Research Project of Tampa.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (30 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 June 6, 1978.
Edwin Artest discusses conditions for African American teachers. Particular emphasis is given to teacher salaries.
African American teachers
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Black History Research Project of Tampa.
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