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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 00028 Interviewee: Howard F. Harris (HH) Interview by: Fred Beat on (FB) Interview date: June 8, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Kimberly Nordon Changes date: December 18, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: February 4, 2009 Howard F. Harris : Well, I came to Tampa in 1930, the fall of 1930. I came here to teach science at Booker Washington High School. At the time I believe Booker Washington had approximately 500 students and a faculty of between twenty two and twen ty seven It was the only junior high school and only senior high school in town for b lacks, because its classes ran from the seventh grade through the twelfth grade. I worked there for five years during the beginnings and through the middle of the Depress ion; after that I went to Bradenton and taught, and was assistant principal in Bradenton for another five years. I had graduated from Atlanta University back in 1929 and had had one year of teaching experience before then. So during my earlier years I was involved in teaching. D uring the wa r years, the beginning of 1941, I went to Boston and worked in war industry there during World War II, but I returned to Tampa in 1947, and have been here ever since. F red B eaton : Okay Mr. Harris, what were the condit ions of b lacks in the 1930s in Tampa? HH: I think it would be honest to say that segregation was pretty much an ac cepted way of life. T here were a number of differentials F or instant I remember that while at Booker Washington as the head to the science d epartment I was paid a hundred dollars a month. The head s of the science department s at Plant [High School] and Hillsborough [High School] were being paid $155.00 and $165.00 a month. That was something and I think really had not begun to be questioned un til just about the time that I came to Tampa. It was within two or three years after that that Mr. Edward Davis and I'm sure that you have interviewed him because he was one o f the prime movers in the fight for equal salaries for teachers. Another perso n who was o n the faculty at Booker Washington and who incidentally was a colleague, a fellow alumni from Atlanta University was Ms.
2 Hild a Turner, who is also retired, and I'm sure you've interviewed her. If you haven't you need to, because she was the on e who permitted herself to be used as t he plaintiff in the court suit o n salary equalization. A s I say, in 1930 I think it was probably was not even a question it was pretty much accepted that your b lack tea chers were paid less than your w hite teachers, and the ferment began I'd say within that two or three or four years between 1930 and 1934 thirty five  FB: Okay Mr. Harris, you say you return to Tampa in 1940? HH: Yes. FB: Okay. What prof ession did you go into; did you go back into educati on or what? HH: No I returned in 1947, the fall of forty seven [19 47 ] and for a year I worked in my wife and my sister in law and I had a resta urant, the Rogers Dinning Room o n Central Avenue And I did some substitute teaching But in January of forty n ine [19 49 ], I began working the public housing sector as a manager of the College Hill Homes Housing Projects I stayed there until sixty seven [19 67 ] came into the central office in sixty seven [19 67 ] as a administrative assistant or assistant to the exe cutive director, and in sixty nine [19 69 ] became the executive director of the Tampa Housing Authority. I remained there until I retired in February of seventy seven [19 77 ] FB: Okay Mr. Harris, was there any problem with your ascending duty to the execu tive director? HH: Ah yes again I think it's fairly honest to say that during the first years that I worked at College Hill Ho m es that I had no inkling or indication that I ever was going to ascend to the position of executive director; it just wasn't on e of those things. Now I think and this is speculation but I think that my coming into the central office was originally intended as a kind of this is our prize Nigger type thing. That the board and if you r emember, we had passage of sixty four [19 64 ] C ivil Rights Act and so forth, and I think until that time there were no b lacks in the central office of the Housing Authority U ntil that time the Housing Authority had had a fairly rigid policy of segregation both of its employees and of its residents, a nd there were a few questions being asked that indicated that you might possibly withhold some federal funds and that sort of thing. I think really that my going into the central office was politically motivated. And I really believe that at the time it was sort of anticipated that I would sit there and be visible, and not do a hell of a lot, but be visible. Now fortunately during that time the former executive director of the Housing Authority had retired and they had ( inaudible) I was about to say tha t fortunately at this time a man whom I considered a tremend ous individual, Mr. J. L. [Junie Lee] Young, J unio r, had recently been elected the executive director. M r. Young was a excellen t administrator; he had been an interim Mayor of the City of Tampa a nd had been a member of the board of c ommissioners of the Housing
3 Authority, and he apparently saw some capabilities in me that he could use As a result, I got invaluable training under him and I got a chance to show my capabilities also. Unfortunately after about a year Mr. Young was hospitalized from February until August and during the period that he was hospitalized I served as his alter ego. He passed away in August he died and at that time it became necessary to elect somebody else, or appoint s omebody else I n spite of the fact that I had served during that period, I was not appointed to the position. I had no quarrel with the person who was appointed, let me make that clear, because Mrs. [Daisy] D oo ner, the woman who was appointed, was a longti me Housing Authority employee. She was a very competent person, and I did not in any way get involved in any "I should have had," "W hy did you get it," "I didn't get it," "I'm not going to work with you," and that sort of thing. Now, there was at the tim e the re were a number of directors, b lack, in public housing in other pa rts of the country, but in the s outh e astern r egion that is, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and so forth there were no b lack directors of Housing Authorities. T hat has changed since then and there are several; the director of the New Orleans Housing Authority is a b lack man, the director of the Lou isville Housing Authority is a b lack man. I just give those as a couple of examples B ut at any rate, when Mrs. D oo n er resigned in March of 1969, the board then did elect or select me as the director. FB: Okay, Mr. Harris, the first time you wasn't elected, were there any direct confrontation between the Housing A uthority and say the NAACP or Tampa Urban League or any other organization in your behalf? HH: Well I think there was a I don't know whether you would call it confrontation but I think there were certainly w ell at one time this was late after Mrs. D oo ner had indicated that she was going to resign. I think th ere were picket lines and that sort of thing just prior to the actual selection ; the Urban League and the NAACP, the newspapers, the m ayor. I got a great deal of favorable publicity, ya know, and favorable news coverage let s say that help to generate the final decision. FB: Okay. Do you consider your appointment as executive director as a direct result of your own work, or as the direct result of say the commissioners, or what part? HH: Well, of course the commissioners are the ones who had to make th e decision. I'm sure the commissioners were under a considerable amount of pressure because they were getting it from as you say the Urban Leag ue, from the NAACP, from other black and other w hite organizatio ns and influential people. The m ayor himself, Ma yor [Dick] Greco was o n record and strongly urging that I be appointed. I think I was capable, so I think it may have been a combination of the two things. FB: Okay. Mr. Harris, when you got elected or appointed as executive director, was there any animo sity between the deputy director with the lower echelon type of officials, or did you have to clean house or what?
4 HH: No S trangely enough the man who served as the assistant or the deputy director initially was w hite ; he was about sixty seven or sixty eight years old, not really very capable, but intensely loyal. I think if I had ask ed him to buy me a pack of C amel cigarette s and to buy them from the drugstore o n the left hand corner of this end of Dale Mabry [Highway] of the Gandy B ridge, it wouldn't have dawned on him to buy them anywhere else. H e would have gone and gotten those cigarettes from that particular place. S o I didn't have that problem with him. Now the board at the time that I was appointed did appoint another man as deputy director an d eventually I did have to terminate him, o n the basis of well, I don't r eally think it was a racial thing. H e was young, he was an excell ent carpenter and cabinet maker. H e was what'l l I say a "diamond in the rough; there was very little in the way of cu lture and that sort of thing H e was uncouth and vulgar and profane and I did get rid of him. FB: Now, did you have any problems say, dismissing or firing, or anything, or did you have to meet any type of guidelines set by the c ommission? HH: About this same time and I hope I'm not rambling to much but I want to give a little background. Shortly, during the period when I was being during this transition period, even shortly before Mr. Young's death, we had as an agency been seeking some federal funds for modernization. Now many of the developments were built well North Boulevard homes were built in 1930 1940, the wiring was inadequate. I t might have been fine for those years when the only thing you used electricity for was water was lighting Y ou didn't eve n have electric refrigerators in the apartments at that time, but it was woefully inadequate when you bring in the toaster and TV, and maybe the air conditione r and this, that, and the other. S o we had applied for modernization funds, and the catch t hing in the modernization f und was that you had to improve and change your management style somewhat, meaning that you even some of the what had formerly been accepted practices, you turn somebody's lights off when they didn't pay rent. We had to agree not to do that. The lease had to be revised so that you protected not only the rights of the Housing Authority, but you protected the rights of the tenants. We had to establish what they would not allow us to establish earlier, and that was some kind of socia l service activity W e had always done it but we had had to try to cover that position by calling it something else. So anyway one of the things that they said is that you must have a community s ervice activity Y ou must have a community services direc tor and this can't be just somebody that you picked up off the streets who has worked as an LPN [licensed practical nurse] somewhere or something, it has to be someone that meets the minimum qualifications T he minimum qualifications were a master s degre e in social work and at least five years of experience. So we advertised for the position and we got several applicants. Mrs. D oo ner, before she
5 retired now this was my immediate predecessor had ask for board assistance in helping to fill that particul ar position. And a personnel committee of the board had interviewed a number of people and Mrs. Marjorie Guest was one of the applicants and one of the persons that was interviewed. The Board Personnel Committee [speaking to another person] C ome in Mr. H argrett, come in. Mrs. Guest the community service director was hired actually by the board and they did not hire Mrs. Guest T hey hired a man who was mu ch less qualified, but who was w hite Mrs. Guest filed a charge of discrimination and the whole thin g was investigated and so forth and it was determined that the board had to declare the position vacant and re advertise, rehire, and then after re advertising, hire the person most qualified. Now in addition, the hiring investigators indicated that the bo ard had not followed the Housing Authority's policy in that they had the board itself had made the selection rather than having the director make the selection. Okay, so we did declare the position vacant and we re advertised and again Mrs. Guest, o n p aper certainly, had by far the highest qualifications of any of the applicants T his time we did go by the book and I ma de the appointment. There were o n the parts of board members some negative feelings that we had appointed a person who had had the (ina udible) to haul them into accounting for having over looked them in the first place. And the very next meeting after that the authority to hiring and firing at that level was removed, a kind of a slap o n the wrist and that created some problems for a numb er of folks for quite some time. It did really. FB: Okay, Mr. Harris, what was the relationship between the unions and say management? HH: There was no union at the time that I went into the position. Two unions came in and had an election and the lab or of L ocal 1207 won out in the election. We then worked with Mr. Gross and his w hite organizer I guess ; I don't know what exactly his title was and with Mr. Hines who was the business agent for the local union. I guess our first union contract was in 197 2, generally speaking, and then it was renewed a couple of times since then. Generally speaking our relationship with the union was good. There were some personality flashes M y relationship with a parti cular member of the union, the secretary/t reasurer Mr. Gilder, was not good and it finally had deteriorated to the point where I simply wouldn't even try to communicate with him because we just weren't communicating B ut that was not as far as the union itself was concern ed I think that the union has be en helpful in helping to get for the employees some benefits that they might not otherwise have gotten. FB: Mr. Harris can you give us a history or the background of the Tenant Association and where it came about and the importance of the Tenant Associa tion? HH: About this same time, and this goes back to the around 1968 and early sixty nine
6 [19 69 ] and so forth I was saying that some of the things that we had to get don e in order to get the modernization money were being done. It was about that same ti me that the Tenant Associations got started. Now we had generally as individual projects groups of tenants who met and had a club that did this thing, that thing and the other thing but no real organization S o what was done was as a part of the community service thing, the setting up of a executive committee of the Tenant Association. We had elections at each of the projects in fact I believe the first election actually we had hired the use of the official voting booths to have the election of two people from each location T he executive committee was composed of some twenty or twenty five people so elected. They got a charter and that sort of thing and we set up meetings once a month with top management and the Tenant Association. FB: Was this a powerf ul organization? HH: Powerful, yeah I think it was quite influential. I think it's still quite Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. HH: Finally after they had gotten a budget of something like $15,000 a year, which the Housing Authority made available t o the T enant Association for it s usage A n office space was set up for the volunteer organization of the Association I understand that now there has been set up in the North Boulevard project a two bedroom apartment that has been furnished almost totally with th ings gotten from Goodwill or from other sources that have been rejuvenated and so forth, as a motivator to prospect ive tenants and to people who already live there to show that, hey, this is what you can do if you make the m ost optimum use of what you got Y ou don't have to have $10,000 worth of furniture to have a neat, clean, attractive apartment. FB: Okay Mr. Harris, in the last year or so the federal government has come up with all type of guidelines and policies for the tenants Can you elaborate o n some of those guidelines? HH: Well, I think the pendulum is sort of swinging back the other way now. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, and then three or four years later there were all these various kind of things like I have already described. T he social t hing we had to revise our application ; you couldn't ask to see a marriage license, you couldn't T here were so many things that I'd say that housing became extremely because of the requirements of the federal government, became extremely permissive during a period here of four, five or six years, extremely permissive. A part of it may be attri buted to the fact that when [George W.] Romn ey was secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development 1 at one time I think he was held captive in his own office by protest groups for some time. O f course all of this was during the height of various protest movements anyway. I think that while the rights of tenants are still being protected, and rightly so, I think that it's becoming as I say the 1 1969 1973.
7 pendulum 's swinging back a little the other way so that there isn't the almost chaotic conditions that were required at one time by the federal government. There's a whole lot of different instances like that I remember o n e time they came through with a thing t hat practically bankrupted every Housing Authority in the country T heir motives was good but when you ended up with at one time we had 892 families who were paying less than $10.00 a month in rent and we were having light bills that were averaging $35 a nd $40 a month I mean $35 and $40 per family. We had 161 families who not only didn't pay anything didn't pay anything at all I mean zero, zip but in addition to that, we owed them money because this thing went into effect say in March and the directive cam e out in February and s aid it must be retroactive to November. So you end up here's a person who has paid you $32.00 a month for rent for four months and suddenly he doesn't owe you any monthly rent, and you got to give back to him this three or four mo nths rent. Man, it was chaotic there for a while A nd as I say, the motives were good but it was fiscally irresponsible. FB: I think in the last year it might be the last eight months there has been some type of guideline that the tenant must show his inc ome. HH: Well he's always been required to show income as it has always been necessary to verify income because the rent he was paid was tied in to what income he had. In other words you might have two people living side by side in the identical apartm ent and one would pay $15.00 a month rent and one would pay $70.00 a month rent simply because the income of the two families were different S o there's nothing new about that N ow there has been a move afoot to make sure that you have a diversity of fami lies, so that you don't have everybody at the lowest rung o n the economic ladder, but you had some who were middle income or at least low middle income families, presumably to serve as role models for some of the families who at the low end of the scale. I think the I can't speak t o o well for the last eight or nine months because I've been out of it since the first of February of last year, but I could sense even then that the re was a kind of tightening up o n the requirements for admission to public housi ng, because while public housing in the forties [1940's] was looked upon more as a stepping stone to home ownership and that sort of thing, I think in the late sixties [19 60 s ] and seventies [19 70 s ] became more and more a housing of last resort. You began to build homes or apartments for senior citizens who more than likely aren't going to move anywhere else but are going to stay right there. Your percentage of welfare families was increasing dramatically I think now there is a tendency to reverse that t rend and have some (inaudible) and have a better economic mix. And I think then probably is I know this family way down here o n the lower end of the income ladder doesn't see it that way, but I think it's probably mixed for a more viable authority and more viable project to have this. FB: Okay, last two questions. Wh at do you see as the future of b lacks in housing particularly in Tampa? HH: Well, I don't think there's going to be any, but a very little if any more of the
8 public housing of the kind that we know about. That is the huge 500 or 600 unit projects that were built in the forties [19 40 s ] and the fifties [19 50 s ] I think other housing, other types of housing is going to be the way to go. I think Section 8 for an example is going to increase a nd improve. You know public housing in Tampa now has almost about 4,800 traditional project type housing, but it also has about 1,000 which would be close to one fifth of that num ber of Section 8 families, who are living and disbursed throughout the commu nity A nd probably very few people know that they are "low income families," other than the landlords, the Housing A uthority, and the tenants themselves. I think that's probably the way most of it is going to be from now on. I don't think public housing in Tampa has quite the negative image that it has in some other places. I know that it you know, there's many of b lack families particularly and I'm sure the same thing is true of w hites, because at one time you did have segregated projects but there's man y b lack families in Tampa today that lived as either as a child or as a young adult in public housing in Tampa, and do not necessary feel ashamed of having done so. In the forties [19 40 s ] when the North B ou l e v ar d Ho m es was first opened up North B ou l e v ar d Homes provided the best possible housing available to b lacks in Tampa at the time. A nd I'd say that quite a large number of your present Tampa leaders lived in public housing at one time or another. I did I don't consider myself a present Tampa leader, b ut it helped the heck out of me. FB: Okay, Mr. Harris, last question. What type of contribution do you think you have made to Tampa, the housing community, and say the employees what I mean by employees, the old employees, otherwise probably wouldn't even gotten o n to Tampa Housing Authority? HH: I certainly hope that there are many more b lacks in the central o ffice than there were when I first went there because as I said I was the only b lack. I think central office now is about 50/50. There are b lack department heads as well as w hi te department heads. There's a b lack assistant in the department, I know that I'm not going to take full responsibility for it because I think there were a number of things that we were responsible for, but I know that sa laries are considerably higher now than they were. I can remember the time when nobody and this wasn't ten years ago when there wasn't but $10,000 salaries in the entire organization, except that of the executive director, and I know that we've had inflati on factor in. W e've had a number of other things but there must be a half a dozen jobs there now that are over $20,000 and there a re a whole lot at fourteen, fifteen, sixteen thousand dollar jobs ; surely I had something to do with that. I like to believ e that I ha ve had some influence for good on a lot of people. I hope I did. I look around now and I see some of the people who were students of mine, for example, when I first came to Tampa, and I tell somebody who some of them are and they hardly want to believe it but I say, "O h yeah, Dr. Sheehy, he was in twelfth grade when I first came to Ta mpa; I used to teach him." Or if somebody say, Mr. Archie is here ; he's retired from the school system as a principal, " Y eah I remember when Archie was in
9 twelft h grade also ; I use to teach him H e played football ; he was a pretty good quarterback." I think that I had some influence o n people, maybe not as much as some other people have. FB: What part did politics play in say influencing how was the c ommission d id the commission b e ar pressure o n you for the things that they wanted? HH: The c ommission well they were political individuals naturally because they were appointed by the m ayor and they were confirmed by City Council. They did not get any pay, they di dn't even well after Julia they didn't even get the nominal $20 $25 or whatever for attending board meetings or anything like that. We had a couple of audits that were critical of a couple things that we had done F or example, we had had some bank fund s deposited in banks with which the c ommissioners had interest and the audit finding was that not necessar il y that there was a conflict of interest, but it was certainly that we had not made our investments in the place where we could have gotten the larg est amount of interest S o we got the money out of there fast, and put it in other types of investments. Now occasionally and we did have sur plus money, you know; residual receipts that were left over at the end of the year W e at one time had considerab le saved money. So we would have to if we didn't have use for it immediately, we were duty bound to invest it, and while we were limited in the number of types of things we could invest it in, we couldn't invest it in a casino type thing ; we couldn't go to the dog track and try to invest it but those things where we could invest like certificates of deposits with the bank or treasury bills or what have you. We were required to shop around and find out who could give us the best rate of return an our money. Now in any case the bank had to put up collateral to cover the amount of money that we had invested and it's surprising that even for a short term we could get as much of a difference of a spread of a whole percentage between banks, because they...some of them had special reasons for wanting to do business. I think after the I think the board members tried to keep their noses clean, I'll put it that way. And I can't I don't think that there were any cases of raw favoritism toward this supplier as opposed to that supplier if his product was not as good or this one getting a contract instead of another one getting a contract because he was a brother in law of the board member. If any of that happen it would have it was enough under the table where even I didn't know it, let's put that way. end of interview
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Harris, Howard F.
Howard F. Harris
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 (53 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 8, 1978.
Howard F. Harris discusses his involvement with Tampa Housing Authority during the 1960s and 1970s. Also mentioned is his time teaching in African American schools during the 1930s.
Harris, Howard F.
Housing Authority of the City of Tampa (Fla.)
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