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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 00033 Interviewee: John L. Lavelle (JL) Interview er : Otis Anthony (OA) Interview date: August 14, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Kimberly Nordon Changes date: December 29, 2008 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: February 2, 2009 John L. Lavelle : I was born in Topeka, Kansas, 1891, November the 22nd, on 1314 Jefferson Street, North Topeka. And I went to school in Topeka, it was ah, you know, you only went to the eighth grade in common school then you had four years in h igh school I quit in the second year of high school, seem like I knew more than the people that was trying to teach me. I stayed with some white people, the mother and I lived rig ht there together. I stayed with these white people until I was twenty yea rs old. I got out on my own when I was twenty. And the old man he worked for at that time, it was Continental Creamery Company,. then it switch into Beatrice Creamery Company out of Oklahoma, then it switch into Fox River Butter Company in Chicago, and I was working with (inaudible) in the companies all the time, say from about 1914 until well while I was 14 until I was 20 that is what I was doing. I worked in the butter room, in the churn room, and sort on like that, you know and I got quite a bit out of that T hen he [the "old man"] made a trip to Florida and he got crazy about Florida and he come back and brought me some mangos and so on like that. I got crazy about Florida in 1916 I come to Florida. I've been making Florida my home ever since. I w ant to start with the first World War and but I was telling Sanders I guess they put Sanders on me so much. I'd been here about two weeks and I picked up the paper T hey wanted a chauffeur, so I went to this address 333 Plant Avenue I'll never forget it And where I came from if you go to the back door, you're liable t o be eat up with a bull dog or somebody I'll sh o ot you. You go to the front door S o I walked up to the front door rang the bell an d a lady come to the door. "W hat are you doing here at this front door ?
2 I say "L ady where I came from if you go to the back door you're liable to get shot, they crick the dogs on you [Woman:] What do you want? [Lavelle:] I be here regarding the advertisement you have in here for a chauffeur. [ Woman:] Who do you work for? [Lavelle:] I been working for Goodyear Tire people. [She] s ays "W ell where at? I said "O ut of Akron. She say "W ell I couldn't pay that kind of money." A nd I say "Y ou don't know what you're paying for, whi ch I knew she couldn't. So she say "W ell we don't give but $6.00 a week and one meal. $6.00 a week and one meal that was in 1917. I just bummed around her e from September 1916 until in seventeen [19 17 ] I had a little money. I had $ 1,800 which I wa s a millionaire back in those days ; $1,800 was another man s dream. So she told me she couldn't pay any more, I said I couldn't work for that, so I walked on off the porch T hat happen ed to be Sumter L. Lowry J unio r 's mother the guy that who run for govern or here a few years back 1 that's the same guy. And he and his mother are just alike, they's stumped down Virginia crackers. Now Dr. Lowry 2 wasn't a better man in the world than him. There's good and bad in all nationalities ; that old man would give you t he shirt off his back. And to show you what happen now, there was two advertisements, one right below the other one I takes this other one and I go and where Maas Brothers [Department Store] are now was a two story building there, Maas Brothers was acro ss the street just east and they built this building and moved it over there in 1923, in February. Cause reason I can tell you so good about it is cause I got a job on the second floor as a porter and I stayed there about six months. The engineer and I co uldn't get along, so I went to ( inaudible ) Washington and told him I didn't need the work well I was really government paid I say I don't need to stay here and w ork and take you people's slush;" I said I'm leaving. Oh, no we like you I'm leaving, so I left. I was working along the waterfront I've seen some hard times not I, but other colored people. Durin' I'm just jumping around, I'm not giving you right straight along. During 1 In 1956, against LeRoy Collins. 2 Dr. Sumter L. Lowry, Senior, who was on the Tampa city co uncil in the 1910s, and for whom Lowry Park Zoo is named.
3 Hoover's time, I averaged in the four years he was in office, I averag ed twenty five dollars a week where plenty didn't have twenty five cents a week. I worked on the waterfront, I work Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, maybe Thursday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday and sometime on Sunday I'd fish. I had a old late model Ford and I would go get a nickel's worth of ice and put it the number two tub, and I'd get my gang together was two or three fellers always wantin' to go fishin' with me [They said] "H ow much you charge me ?" [Lavelle:] I don't charge you anything ." W ell they woul d buy maybe a couple of gallons of gas ; gas I think was around twenty one cents, twenty two cents, a gallon then. Back in that day you could b u y two pounds of mullet for a nickel. Right there on 22nd Street, just off 7th Avenue right at the that drugstor e I think it's commercial now. Okay, in the back of it there's an old second hand store or a fish market or something in there now, but it was a fish market right there then A nd I have seen mullet, you go in there two pounds for one nickel. You go and g et you old two pound mullet like that, that was durin' Hoover's time. O tis A nthony : What were the conditions of b lacks working on the waterfront? JL: The conditions for blacks working on the water front was good and bad. They had now there was Clyde Mallo ry, was the roughest one in the world. They kept the [longshoremen's] union out of here for years and every place say that had a agency, you know. The reason why I know so much about here, I organized Local 1 402. Local 1402, I organized it; if my wife was here she'll tell you the same thing. I was the first president that they had, John L. Lavelle was the first president that Local 1402 had. OA: Okay, so you was back there with back Michael Lazarus? JL: I was there before. Michael Lazarus was the waterfro nt work that he did, he'd catch a job now and then in the warehouse. But I worked the ships, I carried number one gang Clyde Mallory 3 for eleven years. I was the header of number one gang for eleven years N ow I did cuss you know I done all such stuff l ike that, but to hit you o r anything like that it was one or two crackers there that would threaten or something like that but if you blowed up at him he took cover just like he would do now. And I had all of them to worry over. I wiped two or three of th em down there. I use to would fight in a minute I d idn't allow you to call me a nigger, b lack men or white men, if you called me a ni gger, you are liable to get my fist through your mouth. You woul dn't know old nigger, so and so." Bam! I'll hit you, what y ou hit me for, you called me a nigger, I'm no n igger. But I'm the guy that organized Local 1402. OA: Okay what year was this now? JL: That was in 1935. 3 Shipping line.
4 OA: Okay now the working conditions up to that time were they still bad? Were y'all organized? JL: Well, when I organized, here's what happen. We were getting along good but we didn't get any money. Sometime we would sit down all day down there waiting on a ship to come in or maybe a week. And when the ship come in we made thirty five cents per h our, ten hours a day T hey're driving you all the time, "A l l right come on there what's wrong with you, let s go ," so and so and so. Ten hours a day then if you worked over that night, you got one nickel more, one nickel more A nd the funny part about it, I have a friend that worked down there with me ; he use to run the wi nch for me. He lived on the corner of 21st Avenue and 20th Street ; if you happen to go by that way, you'll see a big man sittin' there wi th a big collar around his neck. H e fell off t he porch and broke his neck and he been wearing that collar now for two years T hey call him Big Larry. And it use to be a ship come in from New Orleans every Monday, come up against the dock I go there and tie it up called the Pawnee So I belong to the u nion in Baltimore, but I never tried to use no union card, because it wasn't any union here. So I w ent to work that Monday morning I can't think of that captain s name now, but he been on that Pawnee for years, and he says to me "Lavelle, why don't you fellows organize?" I say "O rganize what ?" [Captain:] O h man why don't you fellas get you a union ? New Orleans got a union. New Orleans get seventy five cents an hour now, and time and a half overtime, and different commodities they get different pr ices. If you were to loading fertilizer or unloading fertilize r you get about a $1.25 an hour. S o I say Yeah, well I don't know who to go to H e said, Y ou do n't you carry a card?" I say, "Y eah I got a card I happen to have one ; I pulled it ou t and showed him He say, "Y eah, that's Baltimore and Philadelphia, tha t's International Longshoremen Association ; why don't you get into that?" I say, W ell who's the president of that ? He say, "Joseph P. Ryan. I say, H e was the president when I got into it ," such and such year. He say, W hy don't you get in touch with him?"
5 I say, "I don't know how. He say, "W ell when I come back next Monday I'll bring you something." OA: He was white ? JL: White captain for the company and had been with Clyde Mallory for years. OA: Okay now the man that was over it was Joseph what now? JL: Joseph P. Ryan ; he was president of the International Longshoremen Association at that time H e's dead now. OA: This was in the thirties [1930 s ] ? JL: That was in thirty five [19 35 ] OA: Thirty five [19 35 ] okay. JL: So he brought me some data, and I wrote right back to New Orlea ns, and they sent a man in here. I n the mean time I got in touch with Secretary Perkins in Washington and ask her about organizing. S he told me if I was going to be a bona fide organization she would send me credentials to get organized. So she s ent credentials and I organized I started to organize $1.25 member initiation fee, and along in that time we had about 1,100 members and then we had 500 that worked banana boats, ten cents and fifteen cents an hour. OA: Okay now what part did Perry Harvey play in this thing? JL: Perry Harvey he at the time that I organized he was ru nning w i nch for me. OA: What is that? What is w i nch? JL: Runnin' wi nch see there's two machines here H ere's the hatch of a ship where the cargo goes in. Okay, it's two wi nches here with the booms up here, one boom sets over hangs over the dock, the other hangs over this hole. Al l right, you hook on this here's called the main (inaudible); you hook this on they bring it up and this other guy takes it over and set it down on the dock. I have a man over here and man over here running these winches, see. So, he was running w i nches at the time for me and he didn 't pay any attention to the union or anything like that ; most the time he was asleep. Yeah, he had some k ind of sleepin' disease, he'd si t there and you'd be talkin' and he'd wake up and tell you everything you said ; he be sometime (snoring) like that. Ve ry shortly ye a h or so and so, like that, funniest thing I ever seen.
6 So on the 8th day of December there was a fellow came here from Mobile, Alabama, a white f ella; he belonged to the Seaman Union, and he helped me out and give me pointers and showed me what to do. So for a while we had him keepin' a little of our money, but I took the money away from him and we got us a treasurer. That was before we even got a charter o r anything. So I said to him, "Y ou know I got enough names here, we oughta be able to get our charter in here. H e said "Okay," so he sent off for the charter for us. A nd it got in here and he say, "Y ou might a s well set up your organization. I say, "Y ou mean a president, a vice president, financial secretary, recording secretary, a nd a treasurer?" "T hat's all we need right now, if you want to put in other officers or something like that you can get them in later." I said, "Okay." So it was on a Saturday night out on the corner of Central and Harrison use to be the Lafayette Ha ll Charlie Moon had it, Charlie Moon run a saloon down below and had that dance hall up above. I had the we had the Odd Fellows H all for a couple of years, paid them five dollars a month for it I had a office up there, but that wasn't big enough for Perr y after we got organized. He had to go down, cause Charlie givin' a little this now and then you know, he went down there, and they that's where their break through to get their money and everything to buy Beulah [Baptist] C hurch, or wherever the present ha ll is now and they got and brought that and got that. But as I say on the eigh th day of December, 1935, we organized, and they put out I was president, Perry Harvey was vice president, Michael Lazarus was I think he was recording secretary and a little man by the name of Johnson a little preacher he was treasurer A nd we had one other officer, I forget his name. And we walked out that was did around 8:00, about a quarter of nine I walk I got down. I had a (inaudible) this old late model Ford of mine an d I drove down to Cass [Avenue] and Franklin [Street] to the Economical Drugstore there walked on that side of the street A nd I went over to get some ice cream for my wife and the s tevedore was there He looked at me and says, "Well you niggers is got officers now, huh G ot you a union." Course I'd been down there plenty of times after we would have meeting s and he'd tell me everything that went on, we knew it wasn't safe, so i f the Negroes was carrying it to him, now that's what you had to go through, when you call yourself trying to help them. So, Monday morn ing which would have been the ten th, I went down to take my number one gang and go aboard I think it was the Aguadale and this same guy that talk to me Cass Street pull me out and says, Y ou gon na need to go them n iggers can take care of
7 you, all you got, all these n iggers is on this waterfront down there now. Y ou and the rest of them can make plenty money." Perry Harvey was with me, he pulled him out pulled seven of us out. All of them didn't h ave a hold of it the way this cracker had got a hold of it they would have, but they pulled seven of us out ; all of us was headers or had something to do down on the dock that we didn't have to just get right down to labor. See a header didn't have to put his hands on anything he just had to tell the other fellas what to do. So, I didn't make it no better or no worst, I went right back up town, wired Secretary Perkins, wired all the names that they had fired. See now they had fired us, told us we couldn 't come back down there to work. Everything from the time that this captain told me what to do and Holt Ross from New Orleans started sending me literature and everything about the union he didn't tell me this, I got this from when I got out of the govern ment. I worked with the government a little while as a S ecret S ervice man E verything that I would say to you we would have a conversation I would put it down time of day that we met, the time we departed, what was said in that time. Well I've been acc osted by all the stevedores. Now we had one man that had come in here in twenty seven [19 27 ] to unload a ship of cement and he come from Pensacola and they started callin' him Pensacola M an. Well when he come in they was paying twenty five cents an hour, and he was paying fifty cents an hour and they told him he had to cut that out ; h e was going to ruin these here n iggers in Tampa, paying them all that good money. So we had to join the Marathon As sociation where the stevedores had to pay what they paid. Okay, during this time in thirty five [19 35 ] when we did get them in here, we tried to negotiate a co ntract with them. I asked for a $1.00 an hour. If I'd have asked for $2.00 an hour I might have got a $1.00 an hour, but I wasn't that deep into it S ee, I thought if I can ask for an $1.00 an hour I may get ninety cents or something like that. B ut I bet you can't guess what they give us. Three cents N o time and a half, just three cents an hour more. Edgebull wouldn't pay it Edgebull says to old Captain Huggins, he says "Three cents? Clyde Mallory she kind of handled (inaudible) all these S outhern states kinda had 'em in her grip. W hat ever Clyde Mallory said everybody went right with them see, cause the way it was Clyde Mallory own their own dock facil ities and everything ; all these other companies rented Edgebull, and Mooremac, Waterman Lines, and Lykes Brothers owned their dock. Lykes Brothers followed Clyde Mallory. So Edgebull says, "I will not pay it I'll even give 'em a nickel or I won't give 'e m nothing. He say, W ell you if you pay i t you pay that. H e say, "Na w I to want pay it ; the company will pay it. I'm gonna give 'em a nickel." S o he gave them a nickel and went on over Clyde Mallo r y and gave them a nickel. So I think it was in May th irty five [19 35 ] I went to a convention in Galveston, Texas, they had the International Longshoremen gave and had a convention in Galveston and I went there, and Joseph P. Ryan told me, W ell just as soon as you get back, you got to go to court." So just as soon as I come back I got a notic e of subpoena I had to go court. So we went to court; we had four days in court imagine now four days in court and
8 out of them four days, I think I was on the stand about six times. OA: Okay now, what was the court c as e about? JL: About the seven men that had been fired. All pertaining to the union, see and you'd be surprised they would call these men up and they'd talk to me, these stevedores. Now they weren't all from Clyde Mallory and all of them talk good about the union but Clyde Mallory and Lykes Brothers. We had one man that was supposed to meet this representative Holt Ross, from Maritime I mean from the International Longshoremen Association W e were suppose to meet in Floridian H otel one time, and he told H olt Ross that he wasn't gonna meet with no Niggers. An d Holt Ross told him, say, "N ow listen, I'm going to Orlando from here, and when I go from Orlando to Jacksonville that would throw me to be back here week after next, Tuesday morn ing at 11:00. I'm goi ng to b e in this same building the Floridian Hotel, on the eleventh floor, room so and so N ow you want to be there." Well, Culbreath was the chairman of the Maritime Association here in Tampa. When we met everybody was there but Culbreath. Holt Ross said, W here is Mr. Culbreath ? W here is the president of the Maritime Union?" He can't come, he's busy. He said, C an you get a hold of him?" "Oh yeah, we can get a hold of him." He said, W ell you get on that phone and you call him and you tell him I'll give him fifteen minutes to get here. I f he don't they'll never sail another ship out of Tampa. Fifteen minutes he was there and he talked to a Negro, he say he was n't going to negotiate with no n igger. He told Holt Ross that. Holt Ross told him There isn't any n iggers in here, but I who what you talkin' about but you gonna negotiate with them. Get back to the court now." All these men where there that I had talked to, they would call them on the stand. "Is it so?" N ow lik e this Gillette, he's with Clyde Mallory; he sent for me one day on a Tuesday see we get a ship in on Monday morning, we'd work it Monday, Monday night, Tuesday at five o'clock it be ready to sail. We unloaded it and loaded back ; it be ready to go to New Orleans or to New York Next Monday it be another ship come in from New York, we'd unload it start Monday, Monday night, Tuesday five o'clock it be ready to go. So, he call me off the job one Tuesday I like cigars, I'll have a cigar in my mo u th all the time when I walked into the office Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. JL: So he said to me, he say "L et 's get right down to business. M y company from Jacksonville had authorized me to give you six hundred dollars and a life time job if you let us know I said Mr. Gil l ette I'll te ll you just like it is Six thousand dollars want buy a
9 (inaudible)." I happen to be able to duck and dodge and didn't get any oh, I got a few on the shoulder and then the guy he goes to work H e'd ask ed me was a black guy Clyde Mallory paid him to do it, and see I went to see this little Seaman Union man at the Alamo H otel. The Economical Drug s tore was there on Cass and Franklin ; right in the back of that building was a little old hotel called the Alamo Hotel back in thirty five [19 35 ] had a few rooms u p there I went down there to see him, and when I went to see him, he and I sit around the room and talked a while, and we come down in the lobby walked out. When we walked out they grabbed both of us and took us down to City Hall and he had his little b riefcase and he had his credentials who he was and what he was doing, and he told them he was just talking to me. Well they'd watched us and knew what was going on, so they go to work and turned him loose W hen they told me I could go, I walked out on F lorida Avenue from the desk T hey grabbed me and pushed me in the car, shoved me down and put their feet on me a couple of cops. And they come on out to Palm Avenue and they got poor Joseph Sh oe maker they got another there ; then they turn around and went down on 8th Avenue and they got the other one T hey took us out to Riverview. When we got out there, there were four or five out there, and boy they really put something on those white f ellows, and they called them C ommunist s. I was suppose to be a C ommuni st, but I'm a Negro, I didn't know what Communist meant, pardon me sir. T hey didn't beat me like they did them. And every time they do something I'd throw up my hands and ward off the licks. One guy grabbed his blackjack and swung at me I was hung up in the palmettos and laid there a long time T hey was drinking their moonshine and whiskey and everything, and I eased out of them palmettos and I got to the highway and caught a truck flagged a truck, got in gear. I had a few fellows on me. Charlie Wa ll was liv ing then, and I went Charlie Wall 's house and told him what had happened ; that was about one or two o'clock in the morning. So he sent me to one of his old men he used to work tinder and they got that all and he sent a man. He said, "N ow get a man the re at eight o'clock in the morning to go with you." So up until the time that I was elected president, it was a white man rode with me all the time, with a machine gun in a violin case. OA: Who set that up? JL: That was Charlie Moon. Charlie he use to be one of the big gang leaders here Charlie Wa ll. 4 OA: Was he b lack? JL: No, he w as white, he was white you might as well say he's black. He and a b lack man by the name of Bud I don't know what Bud's last name was, but everybody called him Bud Wall. They were babies together and I think Charlie's mother died, and they nursed Charlie Bud's mother nursed Charlie on her breasts like it was A nd Charlie done everything in the world for Bud that he could C harlie would get on a rampage, get 4 Charlie Moon and Charlie Wall were both gang leaders. Lavelle is referring to Charlie Wall.
10 hopped up and go dow ntown, go into a bar, pick up glasses and bust all the mirrors and stuff out and nobody could stop him. They were scared to arrest him and they would send for Bud. OA: Now this was Charlie Ward? JL: Wall. OA: Wall. JL: And they would send for Bud, an d Bud they called him Bud Wall. And he go there and walk in and [say] "Charlie what's the matter with you? You always getting into trouble." [Charlie:] "Bud now who sent for you?" [Bud:] Say, C ome on let s go." He'd turn around and tell 'em, "I'll b e back in the morning and we'll get everything straighten out." Bud'd go down there the next morning, damages done so and so and so, have it all fixed up and no more was said about it. OA: Okay now, the man that they tarred and feathered was they killing people? They was killing people, right? They were killing some of the organizers? JL: No, here's what happen e d S ee, this one organizer, he was organizing for the ILD [International Labor Defense], and they said that was a communist organization and they tried to put me in with the communist organization see ; they use him to get to me. Okay, after they beat these fellows and turned them a loose, (inaudible) got S h oe maker into town somewhere and they put Sh oe maker in the hospital I think Sh oe maker lived four or five days after that ; he had a bad cold. All the time out there cold and spittin' up blood and everything, and they beating on him and he died. And the man that beat him the most he was a motorcycle cop he had a wreck and got killed ; it's just the way things turned out. So, as I say, I won that case, that broke the back and when at the trial when the judge told C lyde Mallory, says, "Well, Clyde Mallory they caught up with you S eems to m e that it's going to cost Clyde Mallory about $72,000, got t o put all these men back to work that you fired." And all they were back there just laughing and grinning, because you see they advertise I see it every now and then in newspapers I mean in magaz ine "Ship and Travel Clyde Mallory" but now if you get hurt, or you lose your life and your folks sued Clyde Mallory, they'll find ou t there isn't any Clyde Mallory, it's Aq ualines Incorporat ed. And when he told them Clyde Mallory had to pay $72,000 they laughed at him. He said, "I know what you are laughing abou t but the laugh is going to be on the other side of the face when I get throu gh. Well, there isn't any Clyde Mallo ry. T hat's just what I know, but Aqualine s Incorp orated is, and they're the ones. S o that ended that. And you know it hurt
11 them so bad that they sold all their holdings out here. R ight now I think it's the Munson Line or some line that does a little work out of where Clyde Mallory use to be. OA: What part did Charlie Moon have in this area? JL : (inaudible) Charlie Moon was a racketeer. I don 't know when Charlie Moon came here. I came back from World War I 1919 ; I went to work at Oscar Daniels shipyard. That was a steel ship yard, just on the north side of where the cement plant is out here ; it was a big shipyard in there and they had been buil ding big war time ships. B efore I went in the army her e, there used to be a wooden ship yard called Quira and when the war broke out in seventeen [19 17 ] they said that Quira was a German A bunch of crackers went out to Quira and tried to make him kiss the flag or something, and he wouldn't do it. And they maneuvered it some way and they took it away from him and they turned it over to Oscar Daniels. And when I came back from World War I, I went to work out there with Oscar Daniels, and I run on to OA: Ex cuse me Mr. Lavelle, now when you started working at the ship yard then? Can you tell us something about the shipyard, like describe some of the working conditions? JL: Well now the working conditions were really well I'll say they were fair, they gave the b lack man the same thing that they gave the white man. But it's just like any place you go down here I f a white man can do something and b lack man can do the same thing they give the white man a little mor e money than [they] do the b lack man see ; t hat's the way it was back in then. Now I went out there and went to drivin' rivets out there for fifty two cents an hour ; that was my hourly rate, but I got away from that, I went to doin' piece work. Well they couldn't push me back on piece work W hateve r they paid the white man they had to pay me If they paid two cents a rivet, they had to pay me two cents a rivet, if they paid fifty cen ts a rivet they had to pay me fifty cents a rivet. So I say it was fair, but they had plenty of crackers out there n ow. I wasn't out there about a week I'd go out there dressed up in overalls and they wouldn't hire me, so I said to this fellow "T hey keep on asking for riveters and everything and I go out there and they wo n t give me a job. He say, "M an you doing th e wrong thing putting on overalls to go out there to get a job. Do you want a job?" I say, "Y e a h." "Put on your uniform and roll your overalls up under your A nd I went out there the next morning [They said] "H ey, soldier boy come here Y ou ever w orked around a shipyard?" I say, "N o, I've done construction work I used to work for White Construction Company."
12 "Ye a h, what did you do, put up hydrolytic tanks, hot rivets or cool?" "Hot and cool." And then he says, "Wait a minute." S o he got on the phone there. A fellow come down there and stood there and looked at me and walked up and punched me. "Lavelle what are you doing here?" His name is Johnny Pecham, he use to work for White Construction Company, he and I it was five of us worked tog ether and the last time I seen him was when we were in Del Rio, Texas, putting up a hydraulic tanks out there. So that was it, I went to work and the first thing he done, he said, "I know you don't want fifty two cents an hour, but I'm going to put down here at fifty two cents an hour B ut tomorrow morning we'll get you a gang together I'm going to put you where yo u can make some money." I say okay, so the next morning he got me a gang that's a man what they call a hold on man heater and a passer and a bucker. Well it's according to where you go. H e wanted to put me on the skid, but they didn't pay much on the skid ; you get five cents or six cents on the skid S o I told him I rather go on the shell that's on the side of the ship and use some dry wall rivets in 'em and like the seams that lap like this and use to drive rivets through there T hey quit that now, they weld all that. See there use to be a lap abou t twelve to fourteen inches on each plate, they go around and then lap but now they just put 'em right together like that and weld 'em. I don't think I want to go to sea on a welded ship don't seem like it be strong enough, because those big waves would rip these rivet ships to pieces so you know what they would do to a welded ship. But as I say I've seen the good and the bad of it. OA: Do you recall the soup lines in Tampa? JL: Huh? OA: The soup lines? JL: Soup line? I've never seen a soup line here. See in thirty seven [19 37 ] I left here and went to the East Coast and I didn't come back u nt il seventy two . I was over there thirty five years. I knew from 1916 up to thirty seven [19 37 ] that's what I was giving out from thirty seven  to seventy two [19 72 ] I don't know what they had over here. They may have had soup lines but I ne ver heard anybody say anything about it. No the soup line is something that I've never see n, 'cause I tell ya, these L atin people I think kind of hard to get a soup line, maybe but I doubt it. OA: Any particula r reason for you leaving in thirty seven [19 37]?
13 JL: Huh? OA: Any particular reason for you leaving in thirty seven [19 37 ] ? JL: Well, I'll tell you. In thirty seven [19 37 ] things had gotten kind of slow, and I'd just married this girl that I've got now, I just married her in June of thirty seven [19 36 ] and I wasn't makin' the money that I wanted B ut I'd started to buy a little house out on Lake Avenue they got a project in there now, just off of Florida Avenue I was scuffling like everything to try to keep the little p ayments and I didn't want t o lo se it which I was lucky enough to sell it back to the man that I brought it from for the same thing that had I paid him. And things they were telling me about, things doin' good on the East Coast and they had given me a job back on the waterfront here, but I wasn't going to trust to any mistakes. Couple times I'd be workin' I'd happen to look up and it be a big piece of timber swinging over me, somethin' like that, and I can't tell I couldn't tell whether who was my enemy, so I said the best thing for m e to do is to cool it for a while. Well I didn't intend to stay thirty five years, but I did I stayed thirty five, I got a home in Fort Lauderdale now, and tryin' to sell it. That's reason yo u see things all junked up here; we been right here six years in this doggone place, and we can't sell our place. M y wife's got some property out on 15th Avenue, but she doesn't want to live there; got a lot out there, we don't want to build on that, so we just marking time that we can turn that house loose there an d we can get us a decent house to live in. OA: Mr. Lavelle, what did Perry Harvey do after you left? JL: Huh? OA: Wha t did Perry Harvey do with the u nion after you left? JL: Perry Harvey? OA: W e have been hearing a whole lot of things about him and th ey haven't been t o o good really. JL: Well now I'll tell you Perry Harvey the way I figure it, I don't like to say it I guess that's reason I'm in the predicament I'm in today. Cause if I'd just went on and said a nd reported what had happen I might hav e been president there myself right today, instead of his son. Which I don't envy anybody because anytime you get into any kind of a business you got to be careful because it's dog eat dog you can't turn you r head one way or the other somebody's always t rying to hook in there. But Perry Harvey my wife workin' in the office she was a stenographer and she was working in the office H e would write letters out shorthand, and get her to address the envelopes with the typewriter, and he would send the m to Dav id and Joseph P. Ryan. W ell the letters would come back to me and I wouldn't know anything about it. And that's one way he happen to get in there into office like that, so I called him a crook. And
14 which I'm going to tell you the right down truth about it. W henever you hold a office in these organizations like the CIO, AFL, you got to be crooks not right soft down but you know you got to be in a way where you can be persuaded and different things. But I've seen this Jimmy Gleason he was old Joseph P. R yan's right hand man when we were in Texas ; now he's the big man like Joseph P. Ryan was. And you read in the paper where he said one thing this morning and this evening he's contradicted that ; he's said something else. It's like a lot of these other union s ; they holl e r about they're for the workin' man. Only thing they're after is the money. OA: Okay Mr. Lavelle, last question I have to ask you is that had not the union been instituted here, do you think it would have came anyway? JL: Well I believe it would have. I believe it would have, but it may have been ten years of maybe longer getting here, cause you see, the ILD well I'll tell you what it was all about. They had a union here t he carpenters had a union, and different oth er works had unions, but the l ongshoremen and labor they didn't have any. I know I had two or three fellows workin' with me on the waterfront, they tell me, "M an my brother in law, he's working for such and such ah contractor, and want to know if he can get a job down here. So, man them carpenter w o n t let them even ( inaudible ) hold a job, so they belong to a union they won't let 'em, blackies become (inaudible), ya know. If you want to come down maybe I can give you something to do and I'd take 'em home but that was before the union, see B ut after we got a union then things turned around. If the longshoremen would strike the carpenters would strike if they asked 'em to, so I think I think the union helped, it helped. OA: Y e a h I have one more question. You mentioned S ecret S er vice, you said that and how you got in it? JL: Well, here's what happened. See, I was born ab out forty three miles from ( inaudible ) Ninth Cavalry's home on the junction ( inaudible ). I used to ride around in the (inaudible) when I was a kid, ya know B ut F ort Riley, Fort Riley, Kansas and I got hemmed up in enlisted in the (inaudible). I don't know what you do call it ; it was supposed to be the cavalry T hey sent me to Texas, so when I was called in to World War I and I come back, they sent me back to Texas and when I was discharged they gave me three months training in Jefferson (inaudible) Missouri as a Secret Service detective, and (inaudible). end of interview
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Lavelle, John L.
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 (63 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 August 14, 1978.
John Lavelle describes his role in organizing Tampa's longshoremen's union in 1935.
Lavelle, John L.
International Longshoremen's Association.
African American labor leaders
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