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Bettye Davis


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Bettye Davis
Series Title:
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Physical Description:
1 sound file (45 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Davis, Bettye
Anthony, Otis R
Black History Research Project of Tampa
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
University of South Florida Tampa Library
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Tampa, Fla
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Subjects / Keywords:
African American business enterprises -- Florida -- Tampa   ( lcsh )
African Americans -- Florida   ( lcsh )
African Americans -- History -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )


Bettye Davis discusses several of the African American owned businesses on Central Avenue, particularly those owned and operated by her father, Lee Davis.
Interview conducted July 28, 1994.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Otis R. Anthony and members of the Black History Research Project of Tampa.
General Note:
Other interviewers for the Black History Research Project of Tampa were Fred Beaton, Joyce Dyer, Herbert Jones, and Shirley Smith.

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
aleph - 020799531
oclc - 436228240
usfldc doi - A31-00016
usfldc handle - a31.16
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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, 2009, 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 copyrig hted 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. Fo wler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.


1 Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida O ral H istory P roject Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library Digital Object Identifier: A31 00016 Interviewee: Bettye Davis (BD) Interview ers : Cheryl Rodrigue z (CR) Susan Greenbaum (SG) Interview date: July 28, 1994 Interview location: Tampa, Florida Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: December 15, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: June 9, 2009 [Transcriber's Note: For most of the interview, a radio or television set is on in the background, making some words difficult to understand.] Cheryl Rodriguez : A lot of the things that you're telling us are in th e book 1 right? Bettye Davis : Yes. CR: Okay. And I can't remember what we did, uh Susan Greenbaum : W ell, we ll manage. (laughs) CR: Yeah, we will. I'll remember. A lot of things you're saying I'll remember. But it sounds as if he really employed a goo d number of people. He provided jobs. BD: On Central [Avenue] I remember him having like a cook, a chef cook. My mother also cooked A nd then he had waitresses. Uh, he had barmaids. And some of the barmaids um, Sadie Martin I think and Bar where is she living? CR: Oh yeah. SG: In Plant City? BD: Plant City CR: She still used to (inaudible) the mayor. BD: Her sister was one of my father 's barmaids. 1 Davis wrote a book about her father, called My Father, Lee Davis Mr. Davis owned a number of businesses, including L ee's Pool & Billiard Parlor, the Paradise Bar & Lounge, and Lee's Laundromat.


2 CR: Oh, (laughs) that's interesting. BD: (laughs) A nd I managed to see a lot of the people that us ed to work for my father T hey're still alive. CR: Uh huh. T hat's really interesting. So, when he realized that Central Avenue was going down, he moved to Twenty Second [Street]. BD: Twenty Second Um hum. CR: And what happened after that? BD: He staye d o n Twenty Second ti l l he retired and he sold his places I think starting in like 1970. He didn't want me in the bar business. He said, "No, you don't have any b usiness in the bar business." So he sold the bar. But he kept the rest of the buildings. I j ust got rid of the rest of the buildings a couple of years ago. CR: Um hum, um hum. W hat's your understanding of why Central actually other than the fact that you know urban renewal and BD: Um hum. CR: people leaving? D id you BD: It started off when CR: think that there were some other reasons why ? BD: Okay, black business es started going down W e had integration that come through I t started, and so a lot of people said, "Oh well I could go out o n Dale Mabry [Highway] to different stores a nd different places so let's go there A nd that's what they started doing and the black businesses really started suffering from that cause you didn't have people saying, "We l l I'm going back and stay spend my money in the black area." CR: Right. BD: And they started going other places. That's what happened. CR: Yeah. And I guess the newness BD: And then Central Avenue they want to tear everything down anyway in that area. They want to just st art everything over, you know, m ake it a park I th ink that's what they put there (laughs) SG: There were people who were staying W ere they


3 BD: That's my dad. He did not want to close up his poolroom (laughs) SG: Right, right. BD: He was one of the last people to sell his land. I think Mr. [Moses] White 2 held out for a long time and they gave him he was the only one I know got a large sum of money for his land o n Central Avenue. CR: The other people didn't? BD: The oth er people didn't. They got like maybe twenty thousand or thirty thousand dollar s at the most but I think he got way more than that. CR: Uh huh, uh huh. SG: Were people hoping, do you think, that it would reverse itself, or that for example there was a proposal to use the money from urban renewal to fix up businesses rather than just tear things down. And they actually had a commission and committees, and went through at least the motions of talking about that. BD: They had the motions and everything and they did not do anything T hey just t o me they just came through and said, "We l l we got these people 's land W e 're gonna just pay them for it and get 'em out the way." And that's exactly what happened. Then after that a lot of the people didn't have money to go any place else or relocate. I thi nk Mr. White was able [to relocate ]. H e went o n Main Street. SG: Right. BD : And he opened up a Cozy Corner o n Main Street. But it used to be another man that had a C ozy C or ner also; I think he opened up o n Thirty Fourth S treet for a while. T hen your black bars my father was the only one that opened up another bar o n Twenty Second S treet. And then you had the bar that's over in West Tampa now. I think it was the Zanzibar well, I know Zanzibar there. CR: Zanzibar, um hum. BD: And then you have Grace's P lace. But how many more do you have ? CR: Right. BD: There's no more. CR: Um hum. 2 Owner of the restaurants Cozy Corner and Palm Dinette.


4 BD: And now it's only black owned license. I think you have Bernard, Jordan, and who else ? I can't remember exactly who else now that really owned their own license. I think Grace still own her license o n h er site. But other than that, everything else i s like, you know, there's no other black people ownin g any liquor license at this time. CR: What do you think the role of c ity council was? A nd what happened o n C entral? BD: O n Central? CR: Um hum. BD: Sam e T hey just said, "We l l, we ll take the businesses ." Y ou know, G ive us the land W e ll buy it from you." And they just, like, used you remember the row houses they used to have right off of Central? CR: Um hum. BD: Well they went through and they got rid of all of those and they put the projects there. CR: Right. BD: S o, of course they were gonna come back and say "W ell we gonna get rid of these buildings. Cause a lot of the buildings were old P eople didn't rea lly keep 'em up S o I think that w as one of the reasons they wanted to condemn everything, get rid of it. Fire m arshal ; it wasn't up to code. When I was a little girl I remember the wooden they didn't have sidewalks. They had either it was dirt in front of your building. H e had like a litt le wooden CR: Um hum, planks. BD: planks that you walk on, you know and that was it. CR: Yeah. Did you feel like, um or did anybody around you feel as if blacks were supportive of I mean, did blacks have a voice in ? BD: No. They d idn't. I don't rem ember any of em saying anything about they had a voice. I know Mr. White, he was fighting to the end, to try to save Central Avenue. CR: Um hum. BD: And he and my father was the only two t hat was holding out, you know, on their property. Everybody else just gave up and said, "Oh well, forget it." They tore everything down. You remember the cab stan d they had o n Central? CR: Um hum.


5 BD: Used to have your own little black cab stand. Now you have only Yellow Cab, wh atever else, but it's not black owned. CR: Um hum. BD: S o, you know. CR: Y ou know that in our project, we're going to highlight certain businesses. BD: Um hum. CR: If you were going to do something like what we're trying to do, which what businesses do you think were among the most the m ore popular ones o n the walk? BD: On Central? CR: Um hum. BD: Um, Mr. White's business. CR: Um hum. BD: My father's poolroom (laughs) CR: Yeah, that was real popular. BD: Yeah, cause they used to stay pack ed all th e time. They used to play domino s in the back and the men would alw ays go over to shoot pool. SG: W as there music playing in ? BD: They had jukeboxes. SG: In jukeboxes. BD: Um, Mr. White had the Peppermint Lounge [Pepper Pot Restaurant] I think at one time, c ause he kept renaming e verything over in that area, you know. I can't remember exactly. I know I think they had the Peppermint Lounge, and he would bring in entertainers all the time. CR: Yeah. BD: T hey would have entertainers. And at the Pyramid Hotel they would have enterta iners to come in sometime and sing. W ho were the people like Sam and Dave, and they had different ones


6 CR: I heard that Ray Charles BD: Ray Charles, yeah Ray Charles was always o n Central I think whenever he would come in town. Uh, Bobby Blue Blan d I think was in town, and just B.B. King. People like that. CR: So the poolroom and Mr. White's place BD: Mr. White's place. A nother nice restaurant was the uh the Harr is had a real nice restaurant CR: Yeah. BD: cause I remember the inside of ther e ; it was real nice. At the Harris restaurant. CR: Yeah, I did an interview with Mrs. Harris. She's very nice. BD: Oh, okay. Um hum. Ar thenia [Joyner] 's father was popular. The Cozy C orner. CR: Cozy C orner. BD: T he hot dogs O h, I mean, it was like I c ouldn't wait to get out of school. I wanted a hot dog from Cozy C orner every day o r either a chicken wing You know I had to have it. (all laugh) And then the Greek S tand, because it was always open. And they had the greasiest sandwiches in the world but you would have lines around that building. SG: (laughs) BD: I remember that, cause my mom used to send down for a ham sandwich. Although we had a restaurant she wanted a ham s andwich from the Greek S tand S o you ha v e to put the Greek S tand in there. Th at was like, uh it's a place in Atlanta that has little greasy sandwiches now, but it reminds me of the Greek S tand (laughs) It stays packed all the time. People used to stay o n that corner, and (inaudible) lines at night. CR: I t was just a little BD: I t was just a little tiny place. CR: Um hum. Yeah. E verybody that we've talked to mentions the Greek S tand. BD: The Greek S tand, yeah. They was famous for it was like a Cuban sandwich but it was a little different than a Cuban sandwich. They'd make sand wiches there. It was they were really good. Everybody remember s the Greek S tand (laughs) CR: Yeah, everybody does.


7 BD: And I remember the drugstore o n that corner. But it wasn't black owned. I remember that drugstore. CR: It was not? BD: No. SG: No that was Palace BD: Um hum. Palace D rugstore. I remember Kid Mason b ecause I remember him and his little hat and his lit tle shorts. This man never had long pants o n even in the winter time. I remember him and his shorts and his long socks and his litt le cap. I remember him. And I remember his place because in the front he sold candy and potato chips and ice cream and everything and then you go in the back and I think he had like a little private lounge or something like that in the back. CR: Um hum. BD: I remember that. CR: How about the Lincoln Theater, the theaters? BD: The theaters. There was two theaters. CR: Okay. BD: Was the Lincoln Theater. And that other theater was closed before I got old enough to go o n Central to the theater (laughs) CR: Cause we can't we've had some conflicting um, I guess BD: Names o n the theaters? CR: Yeah, people say that there was one called Mac ie o, or something like that. I sn't that the one that people told us about? SG: I t's in the city directory. I don't know if anybody's actually told us, but I think it goes back pretty far. And it must have BD: My aunt was talking about it. She knows the name of it. But when she told me the name of it I can't remember. CR: Oh, okay. So that doesn't sound familiar. B D: Cause she was she knows. I don't remember her saying Mac ie o. But I could find


8 out from her, and uh CR: Okay. Do you remember the Lincoln? BD: The Lincoln? Yes, I remember the Lincoln Theater. That was the Lincoln Theater. I remember The Ten Commandm ents I think I went there to see Ten Commandments (laughs) CR: Yeah, I remember that. I remember going to see that (laughs) BD: You know, and o n the weekends, you'd go to the theater O h that was a big thing, to go o n Central Avenue and go to the mov ies (laughs) CR: What was it like o n the weekends? BD: Crowded. It was always crowded on Central Avenue o n the weekends. Friday, Saturday, it was packed. Cause I know my dad used to stay down, close up. You know my mom would go down and she would work also. And I would be in the back somewhere playing, and they would be say ing, "Can't you play (inaudible)." (all laugh) CR: So you lived a real good part of your life BD: With them, every place, yeah. CR: of your childhood o n Central Avenue. BD: On Central Avenue, um hum. I got a chance to be in both businesses, the ones o n Twenty Second and the ones o n Central. SG: How about the library? BD: The lib r ary? I remember Mrs. Peggy. And she was a little lady, and she was so fat and jolly. And she was always smiling and laughing. I remember her. She was so sweet. CR: So she's not around anymore? BD: No, but her grandchildren and her children [are] I think she has two daughters. Mrs. Quarles is still alive, and what was her Mary Morris ; her last name is something else now A nd one of the ot her granddaughters' name is Wilhelm ina Alberry. They're still in Tampa. CR: Mrs. [Essie Mae] Reed told me that one of the ways that she got started with being a community activist was that she used to take the kids from the neighborhood to the library BD: The lib r ary.


9 CR: A nd um, I guess my question is, was the library well used by the people? BD: In that area? CR: Um hum. BD: Yes. CR: Do you remember going there? BD: Um hum. I used to go there. Cause I she would always say, "Shh." She was real soft spoken, she was real sweet and she would always tell you, "Shh," when you'd go to the lib r ary. CR: So how long was it there? BD: I remember the lib r ary from when I was going to school at St. Peter Claver [Catho lic School], and that was in the fifties [1950s] N ow when they tore the library down I guess about the same time that Central Avenue went down. CR: Um hum, okay. BD: I remember Dr. Silas' office above and what was the other dentist's name ? W as another dentist up there also. CR: Yeah. BD: Dr. Irving was up there. CR: That's right. BD: And there was some other offices, lawyers? CR: Um hum. My father 3 had. BD: Okay, yeah. Your father's o ffice, I remember that. CR: Yeah. BD: Then downstairs was wha t, a barber shop, maybe? Was it a barber shop up in that area? CR: I'm not real sure I don't remember tha t. I remember when my father's o ffice moved over to Harrison [Street], where the l ongshorem en's building is now. 3 Francisco Rodriguez, Jr.


10 BD: Um hum. O kay. CR: That's where m y memory starts. BD: Um hum. CR: Um, so I don't really know B ut there were barbershops. There was at least one barbershop. BD: There was a barber shop, a shoe shine place o n Central. T he other day I sat down w ith my aunt. We went down one side of the str eet and we came back up and went down the other side of the street naming all the businesses you know. CR: Oh, gosh (laughs) that would be real helpful to us (laughs) BD: (laughs) A nd she remembered everything. I said "Okay. (laughs) She say, "Y ou d on't remember this? Y ou don't remember that? SG: I have that. CR: You have that? Oh good. SG: This is for just 1949. (sound of rustling paper) BD: Okay, you need her here. She would be able to tell you. SG: This is probably more trouble than it's wo rth, but BD: S he could name everything. SG: We tried to lay out the street with all of the addresses. CR: (inaudible) SG: Like here's the Central Theater and there's the Royal Palm. CR: Um hum. SG: And then here's the Pullman barber shop, which I gu ess is either upstairs or downstairs. It must be downstairs. And then Fairgood. This is all before your time BD: (inaudible) (laughs) SG: or enough before your time that you wouldn't probably remember.


11 CR: (laughs) SG: The Palm Dinette. BD: Yeah, ca use she talked about that, and Central Fish M arket. I remember the fish market. CR: Way Cab C ompany. BD: It was a little place that was SG: Here's Lee Davis car shop CR: Um hum. SG: and this says Moses Davis. BD: Okay that was my his brother, t hat was, but he was my father T hat was the little fat man ; I just showed you his picture in the SG: Okay, so they're then brothers? BD: Um hum. I t's a pawn shop but it was also he had the restaurant right up in there and he had the bar right up in th ere. SG: Well there are actually several barbers. Here's James Isaac. CR: Um hum. SG: Where's Kid Mason? BD: Okay that's going down towards the Greek S tand. CR: And that looks like a barber up there. SG: And that's the Greek S tand right there. C R: Um hum. And coming back this way, you remember um what's his name? BD: Shelly Green? He had a place o n Central. Because he was one of the ones that end up moving out o n Twenty Second S treet with my father. Um, Johnny Gray. CR: Mr. Joy ner's place, whe re's that? BD: It was a little store right o n the corner from my father and a lot of people I can't remember the name. It was a club. And it was like a number. I remember it was either


12 400 or 200 ; it was some kind of number in that window. I remember it because it had light. The window had lights in the window and that's what made me remember this from when I was a little girl. And it was like pink lights. A nd I always wanted to go in there but I wasn't old enough, so I could never go. At night I would just sit there and look at those ligh ts. T hey were so you know. I can't ever remember the name of that place, but I know it was a number. CR: Um hum. BD: Nobody remembers (laughs) I gotta find somebody that remembers the name of that place. CR: I'm sur e somebody would. So did these BD: But if you could CR: Um hum. BD: You know who else w ould have a lot of information o n it is Mr. White's son, Andre. CR: Yeah. BD: He's writing a book and if you want his number, I could give you his number. I have his number. CR: You know, I sent he lives in Atlanta right? BD: Um hum. CR: Yeah, Mrs. Reed gave me his number. BD: Okay. CR: And I might if I can't find it I'll call you BD: Okay. CR: and ask you. SG: But he's writing a book also? BD: H e h as a paper. L ike the Florida Sentinel [ Bulletin ] ; he has Atlanta Sentinel. CR: Yeah he has Atlanta Sentinel. SG: Oh.


13 BD: But he did the book on um what's the name of the street? In Atlanta, the famous black st reet in Atlanta? He did a book o n that. CR: Oh BD: And it's a real nice book. I used to carry it around with me but I don't have it today. CR: So he's writing one about Central? BD: No. CR: Oh, okay. BD: I mean he did one about the street in Atlanta. CR: Oh, okay. BD: It's a nice it's a street in Atlanta where all t he black businesses was located, w he re Martin Luther King used to live, in that area. CR: Yeah, uh huh. BD: And he did a book o n that. Since he's been there (inaudible) remember the name (inaudible). A nd that 's on Central. There was a little lady had a drug store, some little kind of sundries place right up near my father's place too. It would be going (hisses). SG: Marie Brown. BD: You got the camera shop somewhere? CR: There was a camera shop? BD: Um hum. My aunt know s the name of the name that had the camera shop. Cause I remember the camera shop. It was o n our side of the street first and then it caught o n fire and they moved it across the street o n that side of the street. It was between okay, this was the poolroo m, so it was like, right up in here somewhere. It was some more little buildings. It wasn't, you know like when you got to this little corner here ; it was a little building. And there was a camera shop there. SG: These are just in one year. And there wer e people would change places and BD: Um hum. SG: and things would change names.


14 BD: Um hum, change. Constantly. SG: So it's hard to get a good snapshot of the BD: Um hum. SG: But this was what we chose just sort of arbitrarily as late forties [19 40s], early fifties [1950s] BD: Because like the fish market, I don't really remember the fish market. So I must have been I do n't remember smelling any fish, ( all laugh ) put it that way. I remember that Way Cab place. Then I remember the Harrisons being right here, somewhere up in here. Where do you have them, their restaurant? CR: You mean the, um BD: Mrs. Harris SG: Rogers ? CR: Rogers D ining R oom? BD: Rogers I meant Rogers, yeah. SG: It would be in the Pyramid H otel. CR: There it well here's Rogers Hotel. And Rod oh here it is. BD: Okay. CR: It's right here. BD: But there was another little place up in here too. You don't know anything about the Harris or inside? CR: Yeah, I remembered it being close to Harrison. BD: Um hum. CR: You remember Phil Zbar? BD: No. CR: I remember him. He had, um, a clothing he had a clothing store. So, he has here um, Susan, two different businesses. So does that mean in one year there were


15 SG: I think it probably means there were two that were in t hat same building. BD: Uh, same, okay. So it may have had a n upstairs and a SG: I t may have had two separate storefronts or an upstairs and a downstairs. CR: Oh, okay. BD: I see a lot of the buildings were they had things upstairs and downstairs. Lik e right here you could see upstairs and downstairs. CR: Oh, okay. BD: Y ou know if we get a magnifying glass we could see what everything was o n this little corner. CR: Um hum. BD: There was something down there. And here's another view. There was th ings upstairs and downstairs b esides the Pyramid Hotel. CR: Now, you said earlier that your father started the health clinic. BD: Um hum. CR: H ow did that come about? BD: W ell in the early I say fifties [1950s] late well, you'd have to say early fift ies [1950s] was epidemic of social diseases at that time. I think it was TB [tuberculosis] syphilis, gonorrhea, and there wasn't any place for the people in this area to go. They had to go all the way downtown to the clinics, a nd a lot of them didn't have transportation. So he decided he had some land and he decided to donate the land to the city for a cl inic for the people in the area, especially for the black people that was living in the area. CR: U h huh. So it was right it was o n Central? BD: No. Thi s land was located o n Twenty Eighth Avenue and Potter [Street], o n Twenty Fourth Street. And o n Central they would have like a car, or transportation to carry people to the clinics. They would have free health testing for the people in the area. CR: They had that at the hotel, you say? BD: That was like I remember the car being parked in front of his bar and in front of the poolroom. They would just go up and down and they had one of those blow horns and they would talk. And if you want free transportat ion to the clinic, or health screening, they would carry people to the clinic and to the health screening programs.


16 CR: Was it fairly successful? Did people do it? BD: Every year I remember them carrying a lot of people to the d octor or to the clinic or wher ever they needed to go. Cause you only had Clara Frye Hospital CR: Yeah. BD: and they had no place to go for that. CR: I remember that there was, um seems like there was a tuberculosis? BD: Um hum. CR: I remember when many people had tuberculos is. BD: Yes, it was like CR: A nd, um BD: T hey had the tuberculosis hospital. CR: T here was the tuberculosis hospital. BD: W. T. Edwards is there now. CR: Um hum. So, I have a memory of that o f being scared. BD: Uh huh D on't cough around me ( laughs) CR: Yeah, it was my mother used to tell us to, you know, cover our faces. BD: Cover your faces. Yeah. CR: B ut he was instrumental in getting people to BD: A nd go up to the doctor, to the clinics. And that's why he wanted went ahead and opened up the clinic in that area for the people, you know, cause there wasn't anything around. And too many people were sick at that time. There was a lot of people sick. And they didn't, you know CR: A nd they didn't have adequate health care BD: T hey just d idn't go to the doctor, no. SG: Did he get any help in terms of the funding of that from the health department


17 BD: For the clinic? SG: or the county, or the city, or ? BD: The c ounty donated the land that's in here o n this little deed, where the deed is located in this book right here. Anyway he donate I remember the do y ou know, him doing the land and everything and they put the sign out there and he said "A s long as you use it for a clinic or use it for a facility to help the people, that's fine but once if you don't do it you can read it o n the deed that it will automatically go back to the you know, to the estate of his family. CR: So now where did you say this, where is BD: This is located o n Twenty Eighth Avenue and well, the little s hort street is Potter Street. But if you go down Twenty Second Street going s outh and make a left hand turn o n Twenty Eighth Avenue, it's like the third block over. It's o n the I think the Tampa Urban League has something there now. I noticed a sign up sai d Tampa Urban League. CR: Um hum. BD: And I used to just call it the O. Lee Davis Neighborhood Center. CR: I know where that is. BD: Okay. CR: Because, I got I was I don't know I got lost one day and I saw that. I saw equipment. I think it even said the O. Lee Davis BD: It has a little plaque, yeah. On the wall. CR: Okay, um hum. Yeah. BD: Talking about. It's right there. CR: That's not the original? BD: That's the original Lee Davis Clinic. SG: That's the original one? BD: Yes, the origina l one. That front building is the original building that was built there. All the other little parts, it's like portable parts that they brought in and added on. CR: Uh huh. Yeah. And so when that big building when the big clinic was built


18 BD: That was in, yeah CR: um, that was after he died? BD: Um hum. CR: Okay. That's the one that's the big clinic, that's there now? BD: That's there now. Um hum. Yeah. Rig ht o n this side of the street. CR: Um, what else did I want to ask you? Oh, I know. We wer e looking at these and I was asking you to maybe point out some of the businesses that you do feel we could highlight. We have you know, we have ideas of which businesses we 've heard were the more popular ones. BD: Okay. CR: But if you have some ideas ab out ones that you think we shouldn't BD: Of course the Greek H ouse I mean the Greek Stand, Mr. White's place [are] t he ones that I remember people talking about a lot U m, the cab company because that was black owned and that was like the first little transportation in that area that was going around. What else? Watts Sanderson, I remember them talking about them a lot. The Pyramid Hotel. That was like, "Oh, we have a hotel." Y ou know, they were really proud of the black hotel they had in Tampa. SG: Th at was bought by the Pyramid Investment Corporation. Did someone in the corporation own it originally, and did BD: The Pyramid Corporation ? Now you have SG: o r did they get together to buy that, or ? BD: I really don't I SG: That's probably in BD: I want to say that they got together and, you know, purchased the Pyramid Hotel. That's the way I'm feeling about it. But I would have to ask some of the other people. But these are people that was o n there. I think everybody's gone now. CR: Do you kn ow how that company came about? BD: The Pyramid Hotel?


19 CR: The invest uh huh. BD: The investment company? I don't have any idea. This is Mrs. Stone. This is Dr. Sallers. A nd, let me see, this is Mrs. Rogers. A ll of them was black people who owned busine sses i n Tampa. And they, you know, got together and they started it. Mrs. Gardner, um, Mr. Gardn er that lives o n Palm Avenue still. You know the Gardners? He s till lives on SG: Robbie Gardner is BD: Um hum. That's his mother. So he may have some inform ation also about it. CR: Do you know anything about, about what they did in terms of investments? BD: No, let's see. Not really. I remember um, what was the lady's name ? In the end when everything was going out I remember they was sending the money to all the investors. They was sending their share of the money. I remember my father getting a check. But how much it was I don't remember at that time. But I remember they was sending everybody their money from the business. CR: Um hum. Did they invest in the businesses? BD: T he Pyramid Hotel itself and they had Pyramid Hotel, and wasn't a bar there? I think they had a bar. Pyramid Club, or Pyramid something else they had. I think in the later years they had something else there also besides a hotel ; d ownstairs. CR: Do you have what other information do you have o n that? BD: On this? CR: Yeah. BD: Just the pictures. The building. Pyramid Hotel building. And that was done in the fifties [1950s] Okay, I have Pyramid Hotel Lounge, and the hotel. That was it was both. On one of these signs you could see this little y ou have to look real close. They had like a little umbrella chute out that would enter the club. And I remember people telling me about the club o n the inside. They would go down Central and have parties at the club. CR: Do you remember that Goldie Thompson did a radio show from I think it was the was it the Pyramid? SG: No, I think it was Pularis Super Rent. CR: Okay.


20 SG: Or at least that's what, uh CR: You remember Goldie Thompson? BD: Yes I remember Goldie Thompson. CR: Yeah, I remember Goldie Thompson. He did a radio show from somewhere o n Central. You don't remember that? BD: No, I'd have to ask my aunt. (laughs) She would know. She knows everything CR: (laughs) O kay. BD: a bout Central Avenue ; she could tell you everything. CR: Ask her and see if she remembers that. BD: Okay. CR: Because I've talked to other people who remember him. BD: Okay. CR: And who somebody even showed me a picture. Somebody even had a picture of where he was broadcasting. And it seems like it was somewhere in BD: In one of those buildings? CR: seem like it was somewhere in uh huh. In this building. BD: It could have been. S G: I think Frank Lopez said it was right here CR: Yes. SG: cause he had a copy of this picture also. BD: I gave Mr. Lopez some of my pictures. I gave him the pictures. I had like three or four copies and so he asked me for some and I gave them to him. I had them in NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] office and I was vice p resident at that time, so he used to sit there and l ook through the pictures and he say, "Oh, can I have one ?" and I say "Go ahead. (laughs) SG: Oh he loves history.


21 CR: You have been very generous with your pictu res. Y ou have quite a few that we haven't had access to. BD: Okay. CR: So, maybe you could ask Mrs. [Rowena Ferrell] Brady BD: Okay. CR: if we could BD: B orrow them, and make some extra copies and give them back to you. CR: Borrow those, yeah. Um hum. BD: You know, she's doing this book I think about Tampa, right? CR: Yeah. BD: The whole book is about all of Tampa, so you know she shouldn't say anything to that (all laugh) CR: Well, if you ask her. They're your pictures so you can (laughs ) SG: And we're not doing a book, so CR: No, we're not. BD: Okay, cause I called her and I said something about the pictures and she said, "Oh I haven't finished yet, I'm sitting here working o n it." And I said, "Okay, but I need to see the pictures for a little while." CR: Well, you know, we're not doing a book. I would be very happy to help you BD: Okay. CR: you know with wh at you need with this. But that's not our purpose to do a book. We 're just interested in doing this community project. BD: After you look it over see if you think that it would sell. I know it would only sell in Tampa. But you know, see what you think about it and then whatever I could do or how or what I have to do to get it done. CR: Yeah. Wel l we have a there's a g raduate student 4 who's working with us and she's helping Mr. [Robert] Saunders with his book. 4 Ericka Burroughs


22 BD: Okay. CR: And I'm sure that there must be some way to find a publisher who would be very open to publishing it for you. BD: I work with little money. CR: Hmm? BD: I work with little money (laughs) CR: I think it's very interesting. I think people in Tampa would be thrilled SG: I think they would too. I think they would too. CR: to have access to something like this. I really do. People are becomi ng more interested in BD: In history. CR: in history. People are realizing that, you know, we haven't paid eno ugh attention to what has gone o n in our communities, and so BD: Because I forgot to put in there, I found some pictures of my father and M r. um, what was his name? The man that had the Harlem Review? Mr. [Leon] Claxton? CR: Oh, Claxton. Yeah. BD: And he and my father were good friends and he used to bring the people out and they would practice at the house o n Osborne [Street] you know A nd I remember that, and I didn't put anything in the book about that. You know, different little things I start thinking of after I had done all of this real quick. I said, "Oh I didn't put anything about that, and I didn't put anything about thi s. I forg ot all about that." CR: Oh you should. What I remember about Mr. Claxton was going to his house BD: Um hum. CR: a nd that was the BD: Go down to the basement? CR: Yes! BD: The basement.


23 CR: That was the first time I had ever been in a basement i n my life I mean it's frightening. SG: Oh that's right, they don't have basements here (laughs) CR: P eople didn't have basements in Florida. And I remember that very well. And I remember his kids. And more than anything I remember going to the Claxto n show. BD: Yes (laughs) CR: That was wonderful. BD: The Harlem Review? CR: Yes. T hat was I used to just think that was wonderful. BD: See those girls dance CR: W omen dancing BD: A nd the jokes people used to tell. CR: Yes, it was wonderful. So your father was friends with him? B D: Um hum. T hey were real close friends and I remember that, you know A nd I say, "Oh, I forgot to put that in the book." CR: Did they ever come down o n Central BD: And come to his place o n Central, yeah. CR: durin g when the fair was in town? BD: Um hum. And they would always come ou t to the house when we moved o n Osborne cause we had a lot of room. And they would practice like in our back [yard] and around the pool or outside somewhere, so it was always, you kno w they was over there almost every day. CR: Uh huh. Do you ever do you know anything about his kids? BD: His kids? T he oldest daughter I think is still in California. T he baby girl, before Bob bought the house, she still had the house cause she had mo ved away. She has about four, five children now. I don't know where the boy is. I heard he was in Tampa St. Petersburg area.


24 CR: Uh huh. Yeah, you really should include that. That's such an that's a real important part of Tampa's history. I mean we didn' t have people who did those kinds of not very many people who did those kinds of things, you know. But people had a r eal strong attachment to that. BD: Y ou remember the mur I think even now Bob still has I think he refurnished the basement with the murals o n the wall. Cause you remember he had the murals o n the wall of the basement ? CR: I don't remember that I just BD: He had the paintings of like, about his dancers o n his wall. It was real pretty. CR: Yeah. I just remember being so fascinated to go into a basement ( all laugh ) BD: That's the way I used to feel (laughs) CR: That was fascinating. What else? You SG: At the end of Central Avenue, do you have recollections about that, about when the destruction came about BD: D estruction SG: a nd how people felt to see it, and BD: I remember the destruction. Wasn't it in the it was in the late sixties [1960s]? I think it was the late sixties [1960s] SG: There were seventy four [1974] was when they actually bulldozed it BD: Right, everythi ng was gone. SG: but there were stages of destruction in it. BD: I remember things being knock ed down. I remember the places o n the side of us was gone. You know, like the buildings were burnt down Y ou know they came through and they knocked them down because my father had something like o n both sides of his place A nd that's basically what I remembe r. Now, you know, he had moved o nto Twenty Second Street so he didn't have too many problems you know ; he was still making money and everything but a lo t of people didn't have anywhere to go. And all the businesses were like, "Oh well, it's no more." And now I feel bad because you don't have anything to show your children. It's nothing there. I can't go back and say, "We l l your grandfather had his plac e right here," because it's nothing there. They'd say, "What are you talking about ?" T hat's when they built a park.


25 CR: It's hard to even envision that. BD: E nvision that it was buildings there. CR: Uh huh. BD: Like in Ybor City they saved a little s ection, you know, where they have the tobacco. You still have the buildings and everything. So, you know, that was saved. But Central Avenue, the black history's totally gone. CR: I know what I wante d to ask you. About the riots, w hat do you remember abou t the BD: T he riots? CR: Uh huh. BD: I don't remember riots o n Twenty Second I mean o n Central. On Twenty Second yes. CR: On Twenty Second ? BD: Um hum. CR: But there was rioting o n Central. BD: I don't know, maybe I blanked it out my mind (laugh s) f or some reason. I know my father 's places wasn't touched. CR: Mrs. Harris told me about how about the way she was she would she was in her restaurant and praying that nobody would throw a brick through her window. BD: Really? CR: I t was a real tense time. B ut you don't have any recollection of it? BD: That must have been like in the last part of Central Avenue. I don't remember anything about being a riot. SG: It was sixty seven [1967] BD: Sixty seven [1967]? Okay, I wasn't there. I had g one to CR: Oh, okay. BD: I was in school, or either I was so mewhere in the world. Chicago, cause I lived in


26 Chicago for a while. CR: I was here but I don't my memory of that is very vague. BD: I don't remember that. CR: Um, I just have BD: I remember Tw enty Second Street (laughs) CR : Yeah, but there was rioting o n Central. BD: Oh, that's okay. SG: Well, the Palace Drugstore was burned down during that riot. There were a number of buildings that were burned down. BD: Okay, that SG: But not BD: I don't even know why. SG: not all of them at all, um CR: You remember that a young man was killed by police officers? Martin Chambers? BD: Oh yes, I remember that. Oh that's when it was, during that time? CR: That had something to do with at least one rioting or something. BD: Okay. CR: So you remember that part? BD: Yeah, I remember that. CR: But not in any real great detail? BD: No, not in great detail. SG: But your father's business was still standing in the early seventies [1970s] ? BD: U m hum. The poolroom. Only the poolroom. He left everything else cause Michael was still over there with the poolroom at that time.


27 CR: What about Kid Mason Recreation Center? You remember how that was used? BD: Um hum. Going there, Kid Mason, the recrea t ion center, t he kids from high schoo l, they would love to go there o n the weekends. CR: Right. BD: A nd they had the little lady there CR: T he dances BD: Yes, the dances. I remember that. CR: Yeah. BD: You couldn't go out the door (laughs) Once y ou went in you stayed in until the dance was over, you know. I think the lady name wa s Ms. Jenkins? CR: Yes. BD: Uh huh CR: Have you been in there lately? BD: No. Haven't been back. CR: Well, we have our meetings there, our planning meetings for th is project, and there's a picture of her, of Mrs. Jenkins up o n the wall. BD: Oh really? CR: And I remember her. A nd part of our program will be there. We're gonna have a photography display BD: Oh, okay, oh. CR: we're gonna have a panel discussion um BD: Let me know when I would love to come. CR: Oh, you m ust! (all laugh) SG: Certainly. CR: You have to come. Um, what was I well, how long when did you leave Tampa?


28 BD: Sixty four [1964] I went to Hampton and then I came back to Tampa. I wen t to Bethune Cookman [College] for a while and then went to Chicago to DePaul [University], and I came back to Tampa. I would always move away, get married, move away and come back, you know, so I e nded up staying here for good, l ike in sixty nine [1969] I came back. Unknown Man : Here, th er e's a comfortable chair. (sound of chairs moving) CR: Oh, okay. Unknown Man : Now, now everybody about (inaudible) right th er e I know. Them right there, excuse me. Them right there I'm talking about I'm borrowed out Well I'm so hungry right there too. BD: You hungry? Unknown Man : Yes m a'am. BD: Okay, well you go up there and see what you want to eat and then I'll come up there an d pay for it, okay? Unknown Man : Ma'am, I can't (inaudible) down. I'm borrowed out of here. BD: Okay, what you want to eat? Unknown Man: Uh (inaudible) right there, m a'am. BD: Huh? Just tell me what you I'll buy you some food but I won't give you any money. Unknown Man : I don't want your money. BD: Okay, what do you want to e at? Unknown Man : Honest to God I don't. Oh Lord, thank you. BD: Tell me what you would have to eat. Unknown Man : R ight there anything that good that you would buy me right there Anything that you would buy me right there would be good right there for me. BD: Okay, you like chicken? Unknown Man: Yes, m a'am. BD: And mash ed potatoes and gravy? Okay, al l right. I'll get him some food then.


29 Excuse me. Unknown Man : I know, I know it's (inaudible). Thank you. CR: Sure. BD: You can come over here a nd sit over here and eat, okay? Unknown Man : Okay. P ause in recording CR: Desktop publishing. We were talking about this, your book. SG: The reasons for doing the project are to let people who never had an opportunity to see Central Avenue know what w as there. What kinds of things should we tell people about that? What would you tell people, or what are the important things about Central Avenue that the younger people who didn't know it ought to know? BD: Okay. T hey need to be able to identify and kno w that they did have black leaders even during that time because a lot of people don't know anything about any of the people Unknown Man: Thank you, m a'am. Thank you, ma'am. I know right here I'm just annoy P ause in recording BD: Okay. And so the c hildren, um, younger people of today would have a chance to know their history and that we did have someone in Tampa that started out early in the twenties [1920s], and that it was businesses here that they family of the four you know, people in the back that did have things. CR: Um hum. BD: Cause they don't know anything about it, you know. Mention Central Avenue to my children and they don't know anything about Central Avenue. So I think it's really great that you're doing something and let people kn ow that it was black businesses in the twenties [1920 s ], and that black people did have something. You know, they didn't go from slavery to integration. T hey went from slavery to CR: That is a very good point. (laughs) BD: a period of time that they ha d something that they own ed and that they were proud of and could say W ell, I have my own business," you know. Now it's not that many people say they have their own business anymore.


30 CR: Yeah, that's true. BD: Es pecially if they're black, they're work ing for a company. Or they're working for anybody, you know. It's still the same. "Wel l I own my own business," you know. Unless you are a doctor or a lawyer or something like this, you know. So CR: Do you hear people saying that one of the bad I guess results of integration was that BD: Was that CR: people did lose BD: yes, um hum. CR: a lot of what they had. BD: The black businesses. Yes because then people stopped supporting the black businesses Unknown Man : Whatever you are mention righ t there BD: and that's why they went out. Unknown Man : goin' whatever you mention right there, you gonna be successful in your life, you know why? You right there, you trust. Y ou gave me something right there where nobody else did. You gonna be succe ssful right t here and I'm telling you these things BD: A l l right T hank you. CR: So, go ahead. Y ou were saying about integration? BD: So integration did play a part in a lot of losing black businesses in the area. T he children don't know anything abou t any thing anymore, y ou know, saying the i r black leaders in Tampa. T hey just see everybody gettin' up going to work every morning "S o what ?" they figure. You know, e ven when I had the places open o n Twenty Second Street I had a restaurant going for a whi le, I would try to tell the young people, "Don't be out there selling drugs," y ou know. A nd I would even give em jobs, l ittle things to do, you know, like come in and deliver the food or come in and just help me clean the crabs. O ne little guy I rememb er he said, "Well, why should I do this when I can go out there and sell drugs and I could make da da da amount of money and you only making this amount of money." I said, "But I'm not going to jail and I'm making an honest livin g, and I'm not gonna have to go take a chance o n my life and being shot out o n the street


31 because I'm out there with some drug dealer." And so he looked at me, he thought about it, and he said, "Oh, okay lady. (laughs) And he would come every day just as nice. And I would give h im a meal and he would help me around the place and I would give him at the end of the week he w ould get paid A nd he's still in school ; he's doing great. You know, it was just someone that the child didn't have any identity with anyone, you know. And he felt really bad but he was a very intelligent little kid and he wanted to know why shouldn't he be selling drugs. CR: Yeah, so you told him. BD: A nd I felt like I saved o ne person from being out there o n the streets selling drugs you know. If there was more black people in the areas where these kids really need them, I think a lot of them wouldn't be out there now I feel bad ; a little boy got killed a bout his gold chain. And then like, you know that was horrible That's just bad. CR: Yeah, well BD: And like the little man that was hungry, my father always said, "F eed people. If they're hungry, you feed them." I said, "Okay, s up pose I don't have any food to eat D addy ? H e say, "You will get some food CR: You will find it. BD: you just feed the se people ." (laughs) CR: That's right. BD: And always be able to help someone. CR: Well, it's great that you have tried to continue that spirit of Central Avenue. And as Susan was saying, one of the ways that you can help us you've helped us tremendou sly is just BD: I remember excuse me for cutting you off I also remember Mr. White o n Central. He would feed everybody o n Central, you know, all the whenever the other people didn't have restaurants anymore, he would always cook food and he would bring ribs and he would bring this and that. He would always ha ve food. If you had a business o n Central they always had food, you know ; among themselves they would feed each other I think. So they kept you know them, they were very close. You know the close ness in business people. I don't see that closeness anymore. Look like everyone in business now they 're out to stab this one, they're out to stab that one. So they don't have that closeness anymore. CR: Yeah, yeah. Or just out to help themselves and not really help anybody else. BD: Uh huh, not really help anybody else.


32 CR: A nyway, what I was saying was that you can help us by just letting us know if we're doing an accurate presentation of things. And when we get our project in a little bit more shape, we'll let you know what it is we're doing. BD: Okay. L et me know if I can come to any of the meetings or anything I could do ; just let me know. CR: We have some elaborate plans so (laughs) we'd like for you to just advise us BD: Okay, as much as I can I'll bring my little aunt with me (laughs) And she will sit there and talk you to death about Central Avenue l ike she did me the other day when her husband was having heart surgery. She was telling me all I'm saying, "I gotta know some more about Cent ral. Talk And she just started talking and talking I said, "Wait a minute. You need to be there when they are ther e. (laughs) She s aid, "Oh, okay I'll be there." CR: So, well BD: She ll be able to tell you a lot about, you know, especially with thi s layout. CR: Uh huh. BD: She probably could go down the li n e and tell you. CR: Did she work o n Central? BD: She worked for my father. She started working for my father in 1944. And she put her age u p. She's not really my aunt, but you know, she's wit h my father before I was born so I call her my aunt. She's been around for a long time s o she'd be able to tell you a lot about Central. CR: Okay W ell, that's y ou have been extremely helpful. BD: A nd she would tell me how she would snea k into differen t little places o n Central when she was underage (laughs) CR: Yeah, we hear those stories, too. (laughs) This has been extremely helpful. I'm gonna read this over the weekend. BD: Okay, al l right. Okay. CR: And I will give you a call. BD: Let me know whatever. How we could get it published, or


33 CR: Yeah. BD: g et a few copies made so I could start off. CR: Okay. end of interview

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Davis, Bettye.
Bettye Davis
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 (45 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 28, 1994.
Bettye Davis discusses several of the African American owned businesses on Central Avenue, particularly those owned and operated by her father, Lee Davis.
Davis, Bettye.
African American business enterprises
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African Americans
African Americans
x History.
7 655
Oral history.
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Online audio.
Anthony, Otis R.
Black History Research Project of Tampa.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Tampa Library.
4 856