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Reed, Essie Mae.
Essie Mae Reed
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Cheryl Rodriguez and Ginger Baber.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (60 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Interview conducted May 15, 1994.
Essie Mae Reed, a longtime community activist, describes some of the African American businesses on Central Avenue. She also discusses her involvement in the community, including running for Tampa's City Council in 1972.
Rodriguez, Cheryl Rene,
Baber, M. Yvette.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
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 00044 Interviewee: Essie Mae Reed (ER) Interview ed by: Cheryl Rodri guez (CR) Ginger Baber (GB) Interview date: May 15, 1994 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: January 5, 2009 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: February 19, 2009 Ginger Baber : What is today, May the 15th? Cheryl Rodriguez : Yeah count from Friday the thirteenth count forward. GB : That's what I was doing, yeah Essie Mae Reed : Oh boy See all together I had eight children, four boys and four girls. One boy two boys and one girl and two girls is dead I have four children. Let's see, I got two boys livin' and two girls so I got two boys dead and two girls. CR: Today what I would is this on? Okay, today what I would like for us to talk about is some of your recollections of Central Avenue. We're gonna be talkin' to a lot of other people, but if you could talk about some of that to day like first of all, when did you first come to this area? ER: Well, in 1941 my aunt moved to Sulphur Springs from Savannah, Georgia, so I started y ou know, we came to visit her sometimes and so I guess it was probably was 1943 really when I actually was old enough to sort of circulate on Central. CR: Okay, how old were you? ER: Oh l et's see, I'm two days before sixty five now, so that's been (laughs) CR: Al l right! So in two more days you're gonna be sixty five ER No, I was just kiddin'. (both laugh) December the sixth I'll be sixty five
2 CR: Oh, okay, December sixth Okay. I'll have to remember that. So you 1941 was about the time you came. ER: That's when we came. We moved from Savannah, Georgia to Tampa, Florida. CR: Oh, okay. ER: Sulphur Springs. At the time we moved there Sulph u r Springs was considered the county, but now it's a part of the c ity. CR: Right. So that's when you first started being able to come to Central Avenue. ER: Yes, that's right. We came to the movie, and to the Odd Fellows Hall, which was o n the corner of Scott [Street] and Central. CR: It's called Odd Fell ows Hall? ER: Well that's what they called it then, but they call it was a big building and different organizations used it A nd my aunt when we came from Georgia, she transferred with the Grand Union Hall there, so we went there to lodge meetings. Folk s didn't leave the children at home they took you with them, so I had to go my cousin and I had to go where my aunt went, and that's where she went so that's where we went. CR : Okay, so that was there on Central. ER: Yes, it was upstairs right on the c orner of Central and Scott, but it was o n the left hand side across the street going n orth. And underneath it was the barbershop. I forgot the name of the barbershop. CR: Yeah I remember you mentioned something like that to me when you called me. ER: An d underneath of that Hall was the Shelley Green had his restaurant. CR: Shelley Green, underneath the Odd Fellows Hall? ER: Yes, and behind the barbershop see like the buildings, y ou know, up the steps was where you went to the lodge meetings, and right before you get to the steps is where he had his restaurant. CR: It was called Shelley Green's? ER: Shelley Green's, yes CR: Did you ever go ER: T here to eat? That was the popular spot i n town. (laughs)
3 CR: Did people go out to eat regularly then o r was that just the was that something that people just kind of did as a special treat? ER: Well with us, when we came to church and lodge meetin g s, y ou know, that's where everybody would go to eat. CR: Was it big? ER: Little bit bigger than this room but you had to wait. That's what made it so interesting and so good. The food was good, and you'd wait 'till you could get a seat. (laughs) CR: He had a couple of tables? ER: More than that, about six or seven and he sold soul food. Certain days they had them good old collard greens and chitlins and stuff like that. (laughs) CR: So people would wait. ER: Yes, in line to get in there to eat. And across the street o n the corner of Central and Scott was they called it the Greek Stand. CR: I've heard ab out that. What was that like? ER: I don't know I never went in there. CR: You never went in? ER: No, 'c ause I think they sold beer, and so you know them people that make you go in places like that and if you was not eighteen years old you couldn't go no place. Them people checked you to see whether you r e eighteen. You couldn't go there and say I'm eighteen, you had to have proof that you was. It ain't like it is now the young folks, my grands [grandchildren] they go in the new lounge, Uptown 21 a nd I know they ain't but sixteen years old. But it wasn't no concern people cared and was concerned, everybody helped you raise your children. CR: Exactly. ER: And that's the way it was. CR: So, other than Shelley Green's ER: Wel l, o n that same corner right across from Shelley Green o n Scott, the entrance, was right you come right in off of Scott and go into it. T hey call it the Louis Savoy and upstairs it was the hotel. I don't know what the name of it but I know the Louis Savoy
4 was (inaudible). Now when I was grown and was old and had children and moved in to Central Park Village I went to the Louis Savoy because they had Gladys Knight CR: You're kidding! ER: Yes, she performed in there. There was Ike CR: Ike Turn er ? ER: Night Train Back to G eorgia, 1 that's where she was singin' that, yes. (laughs) CR: You're kidding! ER: Oh no, I'm not. I think I was fully grown then. CR: And you saw her there. ER: Yes. CR: Oh wow! ER: (laughs) Sure did. CR: Who else did you see? ER: In the Louis Savoy? I'm tryin' to think of their names who all was th ere. Uh I think they called him Howlin' W olf. CR: Oh, Howlin' Wolf the blues singer 2 ? ER: Yes. CR: Yeah I never heard him (inaudible) Mississippi ER: And down the street, down the street befo re you get to Constant [Street] an d Central, well there, you know th at was the Cotton Club. CR: The Cotton Club! You heard about that (inaudible) ? ER: We had a bai l bond s man tryin' to, after the man just died and I don't know why I can't think of this name. Ah, he was one of the only black bail bond s m e n they had there. Fu r ther down up in there was the I think it was called the Palm Dinette. CR: We only had one black bail ? 1 Interviewee means "Midnight Train to Georgia." 2 A.K.A. Chester Allen Burnett.
5 ER: Bennie Shuman there I got it Bennie Shuman. I think Ira Blossom was a bai l bond s man here, but I forgot where he was located at. But it wasn't o n Central, I think it was somewhere else. And ah, across the street from that was, fu r the r let's see, Palm Dinette was down there and Moses White was had his Cozy Corner, and across the street from Moses White there was another corner called Cozy Corner and El Chico Bar was right o n that corner of Constant and Central A nd o n this side of Central, that'd been o n the right hand side was Lawrence's Garage and behind that was the Way Cab Company. CR: Way Cab? ER: Yes, Way Cab Company. Did you know that? GB : No. ER: Yes ma'am. CR: That was off Central around the corner? ER: It was right o n Constant right behind Lawrence's Garage. It was Way Cab Company and then I think they convert ed it into United Cab. I know it was Way Cab Company 'cause my cousin was a driver for it. CR: Uh huh, o n Constant okay. ER: Constant sits like this and Central Constant goes across, or came across Central, and see o n that same corner sat El Chico Bar an d o n this side of it was the Chicken (inaudible), and right up in that little field like corner was Watt s Sanders on. CR: Oh, okay. ER: I never was in it but I know it was there A nd down from it was Central Avenue Market. CR: Central Avenue Market, a grocery store? ER: Yes. CR: Uh huh, did you go there? ER: Yes. CR: Did most people who lived in this area, did they use that as their grocery store? ER: They used the supermarket and Joe Polaro, Joe Polaro was on the next corner. U h, they had I'm try in' to think of this other man's name. He had a little place in there ; it
6 was like a little honky tonk place but it was in there. And before you get to El Chico's there was an ice cream parlor in there forgot the name of it and Duke and MacArthur made p ict u r e s. CR: Oh, the photographer. ER: Yes. CR: Okay ER: And before you got to MacArthur and the pictures it used to be a fish market there, between there and down to where the Greek Stand was. CR: So you think this is basically you're talkin' about th e forties [1940s] and fifties [1950s] ER: Yes. CR: Okay. ER: And o n to this same block o n Central at Constant was the l ibrary. CR: Okay. They called it Harlem Branch, wasn't it? ER: Huh? CR: Did they call it like the Harlem Branch Library, or somet hing? ER : I forgot the name of it but I think it was East Tampa. CR: East Tampa? ER: Up in that same area up in there before between the Greek Stand and before you get to MacArthur, there that is where Kid Mason [Recreation Center] used to be, right up in there. CR: Oh okay, so it was in a different location? ER: Yes, and then they moved it over across the street to another building over there. It was n't originally there. CR: Now, let me ask you some things about Central Park Village. When you moved here it was called Central Park Village? ER: Yes.
7 CR: Uh huh, and what was it like? ER: Before it became Central Park Village it was like they called it was somethin' like they called it the S crub or somethin' you know. (inaudible) Harrison and all th em little places, and they just pushed all those thing s like they take over somethin' like Robles Park, take it over and replace it and buy it. CR: Right, it wasn't public housing at that time. ER: No. CR: Okay. It was just little ER: I t was just lit tle dirt plots, you know. CR: Okay. ER: Like (inaudible) village, until the city or someone, they decide to buil d it and make it for poor people to have a place to stay. CR: Yeah so you remember when you first came here, when you first moved in. ER: Yes, I moved in 19 um, I think it was 1960. CR: Nineteen sixty ER: Yes. CR: And you were already grown and had ER: I had three children. My daughter I called her Miss Honey I had my son Sarge, and Anthony and Miss Honey. We didn't have but two teen agers and one little girl, then she was about almost gonna be three that following year and I moved in here when she was two, two years old I moved into 1239 Jeob Court. CR: Your baby was two. ER: Yes, that's how old she was. CR : Oh, She i la [ER's dau ghter] was two? E R: Sh e i la was two. CR: Sheila was the bab y she was the b aby then. ER: Yes.
8 CR: Okay, and you had and your son s ? ER: Clarence and Buck. I had two teenagers and they was almost teenagers when she was born. I don't know who told me to c ome out of retirement. (laughs) CR: But you did a fine job. ER: But I guess I came out of retirement so I could have my kids y ou know, 'c ause if I didn't have her I wouldn't have anybody to take care of me. (Phone rings) CR: What um my mother tells me about when she and her family moved over to West Tampa, when my mother was a little girl, and they moved to North Boulevard Ho m es, and she was tellin' me about how happy they were because they were moving to a new place and that it was a very nice place t o live. What was it like here? ER: It was very nice, y ou know. It was the lead and everybody followed. See the people don't follow the rules no more, everybody followed the rule s. I could not hang my clothes o n your clothesline unless you gave me permiss ion. I could not let my children run and tear up your yard, and if I did I was responsible and I had to pay the cost, whatever it was. I could not let my little guys run around and break out your windows. If they saw it I didn't even ha ve to see it; if som eone said "O h no, that was Essie Mae Reed's child did that," I had to take care of it. There wasn't "I ain't gonna do this, I ain't gonna do how you know it was mine? My child says they didn't go along with that ." (inaudible). A nd you know who got them go od guys and who s got them little devils. CR: (laughs) So ER: So everybody had a yard and we didn't have nothin' but dirt and it was poor as desert sand but you tried (inaudible) it wasn't nothing but a (inaudible); pe ople had flowers and they tried. A n d some people had grass who could afford to get fertilize r and plant grass and it would last about as long as (inaudible), but they did it. That was things you did when you cared. And i f you had a problem, everybody o n my block had a problem, 'c ause we did enjoy a club where I lived. We was called, I don't know why they let me name us, but we was called (inaudible) wigg l ers. CR: Wigg l ers? ER: Yes, the little red worms, the wigglers. We kept everybody kept it clean, we get out o n Saturdays and scrub the s idewalk W e had our sidewalks nice. CR: Yeah I remember that growin' up. ER: We had everything kept clean, and if you had a lawnmower and I didn't, I could use
9 the lawnmo w er ; you'd take turns gettin' the lawn mower. You'd come to the office and with y ou r key you 'd get the lawnmower. And if the lawnmower got stol en or misplaced, you were responsible to pay for it. And things was much better. CR: Uh huh, yeah ER: And when I moved in here we had very poor heating; the heat was bad. We had kerosene heat ers and pour kerosene in there and (inaudible) a lot of people's stuff got blowed up, y ou know, and spread that stove dust and stuff B ut people, after the riot the riots in 1967 brought o n a lot of change s. W e had very bad stoves, refrigerators, everythin g was just nothin' was good. You just made the best with what you had. CR: What do you think were some of the causes of that riot? ER: I think the oppression that people was under there was no jobs, no recreation for the teenagers, and just the fact that we was I would have to say illiterate. We was illiterate to the facts A nd everybody thinks that y ou know, that when you're poor and live in public housing, you ain't nothin' but trash A nd look like the p olice officers, when they c a me in our community, they just je rk all the children up any kind of way A ll of that was oppressive and put o n a lot of pressure and who could we go to? Our black leaders could give a damn and care less if you went to 'em, and if you went to them with a problem and some of t he people that they got out and campaigned for, wasn't no use to you to even go to ask 'em 'c ause they wasn't gonna do nothin'. See, and when the riot came there was a young boy that got killed. It was a very if there'd been someone to motivate him 'c a use he nobody 'd help him. He was a very great skater, he could skate oh, beautiful, he the older people woul d sit down and watch him skate o n the playground. We not only paid for his skates (inaudible) that old broke up cement over there, that's where he s kated. But he was so good at it. He could play basketball, he c ould skate and make them hoops o n them skates with that basketball. CR: You're kidding? ER: Yes. Martin Chambers, that's who I'm talkin' about. CR: Uh huh, Martin Chambers. ER: And he was m y neighbor's son. And as of toda y, this woman, 'cause I talks to her periodically saw her last Thursday, we talked t hey have not proven what the young man supposed to have stol en or broke in to He ran all of the time, they say he was fleeing when they shot him down I went with her to the hospital and what he had in his pocket, I never will forget it. Two dimes a nickel and two pennies. CR: That was he had in his pocket? ER: That is what he had in his pocket. So what did he stole? And they was runnin' 'em
10 when he could have stolen nothin'. But the mere fact that he was had been you know, enterin' stuff, breakin' and enterin' and doin' and being black, and runnin' so what nobody cared. And nobody cared, nobody cared, and it was very bad, and so throug h this riot the people broke in to stores and they took stuff W e didn't know, we didn't even do that, none of the children in Central Park Village; they didn't even know it. We saw all the fire, we was out lookin' at the fire burnin' W e didn't have no el ectricity so we couldn't look at our radios and the few of us who had TV s you couldn't look at the TV, and so we didn't know till daylight that half a (inaudible) had done burn e d down T he people what knew it o n the outside was comin' in and they were the ones who were ste a lin' and stuff. We had no electricity CR: People not from the neighborhood. ER: Progress from Progress Village was comin' in here, and comin' in this own Central ste a lin' tire s for c ars and canned goods and stuff. And then they iss ued a Mayor [Nick] Nuccio was the mayor, and he issued that they look in everybody's house and Central Park Village to see if they had any canned goods or any food from the stores they would go to jail. So there was a lot of oppression, and I just bein' a stupid old girl from the country, I said, "Hey, are w e gonna get killed any damn how. W e bette r get organized. So what had to be right was no I called down to I didn't have a phone, I went to a lady who worked for some good white people and her white peo ple had she had everyth ing in her apartment she needed: washing m achine phone, TV, everything. CR: Uh huh, the white people that she worked for provided that for her. ER: They made sure she had everything ; she worked for some good ones. She had that bef ore the riots ever came up. So she let me use her phone and then said, W hat you do?" and I said, W ell I will call the mayor." She said Y ou gonna call Nick Nuccio? I said, S ure will. H e born just like me, h e can't do nothin' but kill my black (inaudi ble), 'c ause he hasn't dealt with my soul, so I called him. He listened, and I told him, I said, "Mr. Nuccio, Mayor s ir, these women down here with these little bitty children and these babies crying 'c ause they can't cook and they can't get no milk for them 'c ause (inaudible) no electricity. Within about an hour or so we had our lights. So then that's when I became like a hero in this community, so every time something went wrong everybody came to 1249 Jeob Court, to me. And I didn't want to be bothere d because readin' was my shortcoming I wouldn't know my name if it was as big as that frigerator. So but one thing I did learn in Sunday school, I learn t about the Lord. I learnt about God, and I learnt the Twenty Third Psalm, that the Lord was my shep he rd and I ain't had no business of want for n othin' and I was special, 'cause I was a woman. So I said "W ell I'm gonna try these people (inaudible) said try 'em all." S o I went to various black leaders and talked to 'em and they told me, Oh, Miss Reed you don't know what you're doin' ; let us do it." I said, "I sure will, 'c ause I knew when I got through talkin' to them that I was gonna do it. My mind, I think, was made up when I went to talk to them, 'c ause I knew they weren't gonna do nothin' no how but I wanted to give them the opportunity
11 to, you know, benefit of the doubt. CR: Yep. Mostly men I bet. ER: It was. So the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] came in with the neighborhood service center, from Ybor Cit y. Chris Baggett and Frank Alfonso, they came and they had women drivin' around the community, knockin' o n doors, trying to get these people T here was some of our neighbors that had they put 'em through the federal program, and they wouldn't even tell e m. So I was mad cause when they was gettin' people I went down to see would they train me S o I had to go to a black lady who told me, in essence, I wasn't about (inaudibl e ) and she said gave me some blocks to put in the box S o I put the blocks in th e box and I thought about it I said "W here I work at we do n't keep the children. T hat's for children, I'm not gonna do that. So I took 'em out and I put 'em in that bag, 'c ause I could put 'em in there, right? But I was t he devil told me that she wasn't doin' me no so hell, I wasn't gonna do nothin' here for her. That's what I though t So she got her and she looked down and she came in the room where everybody was Everybody else got a en velope tellin' them what they could go S he come right up and she made the announcement to me. She say, "Mrs. Reed." I said "Yes m a'am." She say, "I'll be honest with you, you got a good job as a maid, so you better stay there, 'cause it will cost the federal government too much to educate you, to even get you to learn how to read and write your name." I got up and kicked the desk over I was so mad, I kicked the desk over and they told me I had to get out. I got out, I went down stairs in the George S. Cohen building, [that] was where the AFDC was and the employment office. I went down to the bathroom, and I was screamin' and hollerin' and cryin' A nd a white lady came i n the bathroom and she asked me what was I cryin' for and I told her. She say, "Y ou too pretty a girl, don't be cryin'. Then that made me mad because I was a woman and I didn't want to be a girl, so she told me she put her arms around me and she cuddle d me and she hugged me and I guess that was something I needed A nd she talked to me and she s aid "N ow what you do, baby, get down o n your knees, and I did, and she got down on her knees and she put her arms around me, and she prayed. She was a J e hovah 's Witness, she prayed and asked the L ord to bless me and all my overtakin s and to help me. So, while she I sa t there and she say Now go back up there and beg her pardon." I went back upsta irs and I beg ged her pardon. CR: Do you know remember who that was? ER: Yes, I know the whole name. (laughs) Then I think she done got older and me and her got to be pretty good friends 'c ause I was dirty and I struc k out against her, and then I found out, I said "S he knew better ; she would do better." So I went out and organized me a group of ladies doin' other stuff (inaudible) organized fifty two we organized (inaudible). We called ourselves the Welfare Mothers.
12 CR: The Welfare Mothers, what year was that? ER: I think that was in either sixty seven  it probably was in sixty nine  and seventy  when this was happen ing, so C R: By that time was Central still the riots had happened and Central ha d pretty much gotten ER: It was getting better, but it wasn't rebuilt yet CR: It hadn't been rebuilt. Had urban renewal come through by then? ER: I guess they was only waiting for to final you know how they go through the transaction of buying and wha tnot so all the leaders came together and they bought it. We the little people who live in this community went and talked to some of the big leaders such as Moses White, Lee Davis Perry Harvey Senior and we talked to the m and we asked them would they do s omething to keep it where we could go to the store s to CR : To keep the businesses o n that street. ER: Yes, to try to do something you know, but they was in for sellin' it so they sold it and (inaudible) moved to West Tampa and just never But before t hey left they had the neighborhood services going 'round, and they got us organized, and like I said, there was really not nobody would take part so we organized and they took us to see the [City] Council to complain about the refrigerators, the screens, the stoves, and how the houses was wired up. S o I went we had a lady with us and our president was named Pearl Russell. S o we organized they had the first meeting was held in my house 1249 Jeob Court, and out of that they organized what they call a Congr ess of Bl o ck Club s in Central Park S o everybody was different people. I didn't do anything but just come to the meetings, cause I couldn't read and I y ou know, and I don't talk no better than I did then, but I use less damns now. (both laugh) CR : Less damns. ER: So what we did, we organized and Miss Pearl Russell became our president of the Congress of Bl ock Club. CR: Is she still around? ER: No, she died. She lived o n Jerico(?). I think her address was 1219 or somethin', somewhere up in there. But anyway, she died. S he was workin' on this job for white people, and they fired her because she was doing over the system, doing C ity C ouncil I
13 think Julian Lane was the mayor at that time. I believe he w as Then he lost and then [Dick] Greco came. But t hrough that transition, I was doing my community stuff. I worked on a job maid Monday thr o u gh Friday and Saturday and Sunday I went to the tomato field and picked tomatoes. I was skillful at it, I made a good. . Side 1 ends; Side 2 begins. ER: . yo u know, those old people out there had to get up and go stand in a line waitin' for that, so that made me mad. I looked at all them old people, I said "T hem old people done cooked and washed and took care all you people and they got to go through this ? We ll, hell no, we ain't goin' through this ." S o I went and stood i n line with the peoples to make appointments for them, and to pick up get their medicine that's what I started then. Then I started o n Mondays takin' off my job, 'cause I believe anything wort hwhile you gotta sacrifice. So I took off Mondays, went to work on Saturdays 'cause I worked for a lazy white lady didn't make no difference to her and I took people out of C entral Park Village, old ladies. I didn't have a car but we'd meet at the bus, and we went I 'd go over to the hospital here, and helped with their appointments, make sure they had their appointments and got 'em right, and so through doin' that I became I got to be known with other people in other areas that I lived in Central Park and I would do this and my sacrifice And then one day the teacher out at (inaudible) gave my daughter assignment that she had to go to the library S o I was takin' her and just takin' my three here 'cause I had two grown at that time and then I had three little ones so I took them and two of my g odchildren, took them to the library over there. So I started from that takin' just all the children that wanted to go to the library, so I took all of 'em, and some of 'em would have a (inaudible) wanted do littl e different things, so I would bring 'em I always had problems gettin' across the street, so one day Mr. Moses White was standin' in front of his Cozy Corner, and he called me I went to him and he said, "What's the matter?" and I told him I was tryin' to get the children up the street, so he say, "When do you do this?" So I say I do this ever y Wednesday," so he said, "I'll tell y ou what I'll do, you g onna do it next week?" I say, "Y es sir H e say, "We l l I'm gonna have a police officer down here to put you and them across the street." So he did, he demanded he had 'em down there and he put me across the street with my children and we'd go to the library So I started takin' children to the library. CR: Now, excuse me a minute. Now, so his business w as still there? The Cozy Corner wa s still there? ER: Yes, at that time. So then after takin' the kids, you know, to the library, he would always let me bring 'em back and sit 'em back there o n his little patio he had and he would always give 'em sandwich es and juice or whatever he had, so that became a standard I did that o n Wednesday, but o n Sunday s I had to work because this lady, she
14 didn't want me to take off Wednesday and I needed my job because I had to pay to stay here. So I did sacrifice, I went on Wednesday. And when I happened to be lookin' on the TV and saw where these people was raisin' hell that (inaudible), so I quoted that to her one day, Ms Davies, quoted that to her and she say, "Essie, I didn't know you go to church?" She went CR: She didn't realize that you go to church. ER: Uh huh I say, "Yes ma'am." S he say, "Where your church at?" so I told her, so that Sunday she wanted to bring me home. I let her bring me home and all the people standin' out in front of (inaudible) comin' out of church I say "T hat's my church there, she say, "Is it?" I say, "Yes m a'am." She say, "What do you do in there?" I say, "I sing in the c hoir and I work in the kitchen when we have different stuff." So she say, T he next time you have somethin' I wa nt to know about it." I say, "Yes m a'am, I sure will." So we had the Primitive Baptist congress was meetin' at my church and I told her, and she had an account at Maas Brothers [Department Store] she had me go to Maas Brothers and I got me one of them (inaudible) hats and all that stuff I didn't know she was gonna come to that church, and I looked out in the audience and she was sittin' in there, her and her husband Mr. Davi e s and the two children. She came to my church from that day on, so I never had to work on Sunday s, and I expl ained to her what I been doin' o n Wednesday, why I wanted Wednesday and the Monday off. So then she decides she would do good for me until the day she saw in the newspapers that I had been raisin' holy hell about some prob lems by us, had n ewspapers (inaudible) pictures of a young girl sittin' o n a heater in a four bedroom apartment, and so you know the heater wasn't hot enough that she would sit on it when it was o n you know it wasn't keepin' hot S o that riled up some of her people, and I went to the Housing Authority board and shut them up S o she tanned me down, she told me that me and the right standards and told me about I had no business doin' that. You know (inaudible). I told her, I said Ms. Davi e s, you know w hen I come to work this morning?" S he say, W ell yes." I said, "T he lady down the street ask me did I want a job, and told me I could come at eight o'clock in the morning and get off at four S he told me she 'd pay me $35 a week and bus fare." She say, "No she didn't ." I say, "Yes ma'am, she did." She say, "Wel l what d o you think about it?" I say, "W ell every day I come to your job I'm always lookin' for somethin' better."
15 So she s aid, "Essie I thought we treat you good." I said, "Maybe wh at you think is treatin' me good is not treatin' me good, because you cannot tell me what to say concernin' where I live in my neighborhood I'm not doin' it in you r neighborhood and I'm not gonna let nobody else tell me what I can't do in my neighborhood ." So she say, "Essie!" I say "Yes m a'am." S he say Y ou know you're sassin' me?" I say, "I didn't think so, 'cause I'm jus t as old as you, I'm just black. You kind of Techn i color." So she said, "Oh, I'm gonna tell Mr. Davi e s what you said." I said, "T hat would be fine with me 'cause I could tell M r. Manny Reed what you say." So she say, "I thought you wasn't married." I said, B ut I been married and that's my husband's name H e care just as much for me as Mr. Davi e s do you A nd I was ju st lyin' when I said that 'cause Manny is gone. (laughs) But she didn't know it! CR: But she didn't know that. ER: She didn't know. So what I did was I worked the rest of that week and I worked another week, and I did just like I 'd be en doin. See I knew she didn't know how to she couldn't iron, she didn't know how to do nothin'. S he had nothin' to do but go to Plant High School to te ach school, that's all she knew. CR: Oh, she was a teacher. ER: Mm hmm. S o I say I know what I'm gonna do, I'm gonna wa it 'til (inaudible) in school where she ha d one of them big things goin' o n and she was e ntertainin' at home and pin it o n me to come in and clean and such I called her and told her I didn't feel like comin' to work that day. CR: You're kidding! ER: Yes I did. She say, "Well what's the matter Essie?" I say, "I just don't feel like comin' to nobody else's house, I wanna stay to mine.
16 S o she say, W ell how you gonna take ca re of your children?" I said, "B lack women been sellin' pussy ever si nce I was born, so I'll sell (inaudible). S o she say, "No you wouldn't Essie!" I say, "Yes m a'am I will ." A nd I didn't go to work none the next week and the next week either, but her children raised so much sand and cried for me to come, 'cause see I woul d take 'em different places, so CR: How many children did she have? ER: Three. CR: And you had to take care of them too? ER: Yes, and clean the house and cook food, you did everything. CR: All day long. ER: Uh huh, and guess what I made? CR: You s aid $35 ER: No, that's what the l ady was gonna give me CR: Four dollars a day. ER: No m a'am. CR: Less? ER: I made $27.50, $25.00 and $2.50 bus fare oh yes ma'am. So in the transition of that I was sittin' home lookin' for a job, Rev erend Ea rl Hartman, who Greco was the mayor then, so Rev erend Hart m an and James Hammond came through my community and so Mr. Hammond told Earl Hartman, "This is Ms. Reed." I talked to him, and what you know Earl Hartman, and he say, "Ms. Reed?" I said, "Yes s i r." He said, D o you know where we could find somebody to come and clean our house three days a week and two days in the church?" I said, "W hat you gonna pay 'em?" He said, "Forty dollars a week and bus fare."
17 I said, "Well you're lookin' at the per son who will be there Monday." (laughs) A nd I went to work for Earl Hart m an and I worked there seventeen years. CR: Seventeen years. ER: Uh huh, and never had a problem T hey never had a problem with me and I never had a problem with them, 'cause I knew how to cook and I knew how to wash and I knew how to iron A nd when push got to shove and they cause I wanted to keep my job, 'cause I made good money and people in the church was rich and they gave me a lot of nice (inaudible), help with my church A nd i f I had any problems, you know, they iron them out for me and the people in this community that needed I could always go to that church and they would do it, help me, and help me fu r ther along (inaudible). And them times when I wanted to go to Washingto n I'd tell Ms. Hart m an and the Reverend and they'll say, "Sure Essie, you can be off." And I'd be off and go and I still got my payment when I got back my whole pay, and sometimes she would slip me $50 and he you know, times when going ; they'd say, "Don 't let the other one know it." I sure didn't. But they were h elpin' me, and she would ask me do I have the right type of clothes, and I'd say N o ma'am." And she'd take me to Maas Brothers and buy me nice stuff and help me on my way. CR: That's good. ER : They helped me A nd a lot of black f olks used to call up Reverend Hartm an I answer ed the phone also they call 'em and they tell 'em that he needed t o fire me because I talk about M ayor Greco, and Rev erend Hartman told 'e m as long as I didn't picket his c hurch or his home he really didn't have anything to do with what I do in my community. And what made me M ayor Greco was al l right until he said when I was cleaning up in the church about the w hite and black goin' to school H e said the little black childre n didn't know enough to go to school with his children. A nd I don't think Dickie the third could I saw his writin' and his stuff in the school. I didn't see he done any better than the rest of them B ut in the meantime school come through doin' all that I was prayin' and the Lord laid it on my heart to let somebody teach me how to read and write I went to the school to try to get into night school, because I 'd be raisin' hell o n TV and s aid of mothers and sons, and whores and bitches, and they d idn't w anna be bothered with me. E ven in my own church they didn't want to be bothered. CR: They didn't like the language you used. ER: Uh huh, but I paid tithe s and (inaudible). So w ell that was okay because I had to go into my own and learn and knew know bet ter because I had never been around nobody to actually take pains to teach me B ut some old ladies in the community they would hear me o n TV and I 'd say "T hem motherfuckers ," "T hem whores ," and stuff. So what they did
18 CR : You said this o n TV? E R: Yes ma'am. So what they did especially if I couldn't get their attention s o what they did was they got together and they sat me down and they told me what was etiquette, how I should be and how I should act O ne lady said she was afraid 'cause I was so violen t an d vocal on TV and she thought I never hurt their feelings and always when I went someplace, I always told who taught me how to do. (Door opens) This is one of my granddaughters. CR : Hi! H ow ya doin'? ER: This is Sh ei kina [Palmore, her granddaughter ]. CR: I'm Cheryl, nice to meet you. GB: I'm Ginger. ER: She's not in school today because she goin' to Channel 3, isn't it? Sheikina Palmore : I don't know. ER: C hannel 3 to do a tapin' for HUD. A nd one of my grandsons went to Washing ton at 7:45 this morning to be o n this nationwide hook up with children see they (inaudible). CR: So, I'm sure they wouldn't be doin' all this things if they didn't have a grandmother who had done some of this stuff before them. ER: They say I'm the meanest old whore in the world. (laughs) CR: I want to ask you something about Central. I want to hear more about the work that you did. But I wanted to ask you, what did you think about what happened o n Central as far as just the leveling of Central and the way that it was demolished. What did you think about that? ER: Well, I was talkin' to you about there was a time the neighborhood was very upset but there wasn't nothin' we could do about that 'cause nobody listened. That took away the livelihood for some people A nd s ome people learnt a good lesson, or they no longer could go and get groceries o n credit, you know. So that was something that improved our level 'cause most of the neighborhood stores, they got a book and you never get off the book side S o the riot was bad in some ways and others it was very good, 'cause if it hadn't a been a riot I'm sorry the young man got killed we wouldn't never be able to accomplish in this community what we are accomplishin' through resident management, because we
19 woulda never bee n able to get out of the garbage can. CR: Explain that a little bit. ER: Because, like most of the blacks who are in position s to help us, keeps in a garbage can E very now and then if they might let you come out if their son or daughter suddenly is flou ncin' aroun d with you daughter or your son. T hey might let you come out and make the rest of 'em think they're better than you and push you right back. You go to 'em and ask 'em for help, to help you and stuff, they not gonna do it. I know. Many doors wa s closed in my face, and I got very bitter and illiterate and ugly. I got so bitter I went to talkin' to some of the leaders about why is it every time you turn around you don't have no body black running for various offices, city council. You know what the y told me? The time wasn't right, and don't you don't worry about that Ms. Reed, we gonna take care of that. I said okay. So my son ask me, my baby boy ask me one day he was lookin' at TV and the buses went on strike And she said, "Mother I said "Uh huh?" He said, "Y ou can't do nothin' about them buses goin' o n strike?" C ause my children thought I could do any damned thing. So, I said, "W ell I'm gonna do this ." S o I chat with them, nobody heard me, I went to the others and they said I sa id, "Look, help us maids who work o n Davis Island and out in Culbreath Bayou and Palma Ceia H elp us get organized and get us a union." "Oh, leave that alone." Okay S o what I did was, I left it alone. I went down the city council, they was gonna have an el ection I went down to run for city council and they to ld me at the supervisor of elections o ffice that you had to have a certain amount of money and you had to do this and you had to do that. I met all the ir qualifications but one : I didn't have the mone y. I didn't have no criminal record, I wasn't a drunkard, I didn't use drugs, I wasn't a prostitute [I was] hard workin'. I had everything education (inaudible). It was the money. W ell, I went home and I prayed and done research myself with the Lord a n d something told me to challenge. I set to seein' about they got these lawyers in Bay Area Legal Service that help, so I went there and I filed a charge against the state of Florida sued all of them top big wheels. So that put me in the top ten. I ran aga inst a veteran who had been there all those years and had never did nothin' in this ar ea for us. I ran against Lee Duncan, scared the hell out of him. I received 10,478 votes, and couldn't read, and I told the newspapers everybody when I went to talk with 'em and they asked me questions
20 CR: What year was this when you ran for o ffice? ER: Nineteen seventy two. I did. So that made me get in the top twenty Every presidential hopeful was runnin g came by to see Essie Mae Reed at 1249 Jeob Court. I had a tea in my home Project W omen for Shirley Chisholm I met Shirley Chisholm personally. Some of the residents in here in my livin' room, we made pictures with 'em. CR: She came to your house? ER: Yes ma'am she did. Arthenia Joyner brought her the attorney. I know you know her. CR: I know her yes ER: Sure did. Oh yes ma'am. CR: Wow. But s o basically you feel that there was some positive things that came out of Central being demolished, which was that people had to ER: It sort of stirred us up a bit and made some of the black leaders really get on the defensive side and come out to help us, because they found out that they need us because I believe Central could have still remained Central 'C ause when I went to New York in 19 must have been 1955 B uffalo, New York. And people look at you and you say you from Tampa, Florida, people up in New York say, "You from Tampa? What about Centra l? You know about Central? I s aid, "Yes, (inaudible)." S tuff like that 'cause everybody wanted to and I know my c ousins that live in Jacksonville and Gainesville, Florida, they would t ake weekends and you know like they had blue Mondays, and they would come down here to go to Central. You know where they wanted to go to? You'd be surprised T he Cotton Club. Everybod y wanted to come and go to the Cotton Club. CR: So when you realized that it wasn't it gonna be that Central wasn't gonna exist anymore did any I mean, did you say anything to anybody, or ? ER: Well we went to some meetings ; they had different ones of u s out of our community, I been over here I had a group of ladies, Miss Frances (inaudible) Frances (inaudible), Jenibelle Chambers, Jenibelle Marshall, her s ister Mattie Wilder. We all went and we listen Earl Shields was our manager and he had stock in the Pyramid Hotel A nd we went and we talked but they didn't want we was just really talkin' in vain 'cause nobody wanted to hear us. They didn't want to be bothered. CR: Uh huh, they had already made up their minds. ER: Yes.
21 CR: And what was your un derstanding about why it was going to be leveled? ER: Well my understanding was that blacks was in it to get the money they could get for their own selves and their families and could give a damn about the people who stayed over here. That was my feelin g then and since I got almost sixty five I still feel the same way. There's some blacks I really wouldn't give the time of day A nd that is no lie, that is definitely tru e 'cause I know when we went to them to ask about helpin' us with anything they did n't want to be bothered. And when we went to some of the meetings and was saying about the problems that the senior citizens was havin' in public housing, and they was in a position 'cause they knew everybody, they come around and campaign funds you go to talk to 'em and, oh no, they can't do this or that. And they tell you this stuff and run out and you give 'em your vote and they didn't do n othin'. But see, new kids came o n the block like me and some of the other people came up and w e started tellin' o ur people, "Y ou don' t let nobody pimp your poo snap. S ell it and keep it yourself." S o if I'd tell 'em any other way they wouldn't understand it, but when I sa y about pimpin' and poo snap, that lets ya know. And I do that and I instill that in my daughter I don't instill it in nobody else's daughter but everyone of my daughters will tell you right now, when I get ready to sell, I'm gonna sell, collect the tax and ever ything else. A in't nobody gonna get the taxes from it but me. See that's the way you have to go. We have people calls us now and want us to go do this and do that T hey'll raise hell about they made Scott Street a one way A man called and he don't even l ive in the projects but he came sneak in here and (inaudible) and sneak out and if you do you're gonna be seen because you don't know where to go out. Oh you'd be surprised, you'd just be surprised. CR: The things that people want from you that don't really have anything to do benefiting you. ER: Uh huh, we told 'em W e ha d two hundred a nd seventy three members at our meeting and when we got up o n the city by block and the people those people, there might have been two or three in there that didn't agree 'cause if you do it illegal, doin' somethin' wrong you ain't gonna (inaudible). A nd they disagreed, but those other people we had in there said "Oh yes," and we want it and how they want it blocked off, and that's how we did it. That's exactly what we did. The peop le wanted it 'cause they couldn't sit o n their porch and stuff without a ll this here all of them people runnin' up and down the street, (inaudible) little children come across. This is what they wanted and that's what we wanted, and if it's too much trouble for you don't come in here. You don't live in here. What we asked for was fences, but the ma yor we talked to at that time was Curtis Lane and he said his offices would have too hard a time S o he wanted them to have it you could only come in one way and we would have somebody that you gotta tell where you're going and w e call those people and if they didn't want you to their house, you couldn' t come in. That way we kept the drugs out.
22 The way we got it (inaudible) made it now is healthy cause they can't run in an d out cause the duty officers there that's the only w ay you gonna get through them And the people they got 'em like guards, and some people come in a nd raise hell and say, "M y mo ther's stayin o n with coke and you got them fen ces there and she can't get out. I f she wanna get out she get out. Ain't no fenc e that'll stop you from goin And we just had a guard that when they didn't come they didn't even come to visit the people over there themselves. A nd we had to take and go get guards and stuff, because people was comin' in and tellin' some of them old peo ple they had to give them their rent, (inaudible) if they could get them to pay their rent, and all that stuff. Y ou'd be surprised. CR: And then they go and take the people s money. ER: Uh huh; you'd be surprised what go on. But see, when this left from down here, that stole all that stuff, then we didn't have no restaurants around th at you could walk and get to, like go out to eat or somethin' You have to walk down there three or four blocks to catch the bus get off and wait all them hours to where the y could walk there. A nd to the [grocery] store the nearest store for us the nearest store that you wanna ride to, is out o n Nebraska [Avenue] to U Save or the Winn Dixie out o n Hillsborough [Avenue] Well a lot of people they buy at the Blue Ribbon, but if you want some quality meat or stuff, you have to go out. CR: Yeah you gotta go far away. ER: But when Joe Polara on Central Avenue was there you could go and get quality stuff. So this is what it was. And both stores hired young men and women from t his community. So they was puttin' somethin' back. But even then it was a hardship. It was a very hardship. CR: Well, you've told us a lot today. ER: I hope so. (laughs) CR: You have. We've been talking for about an hour now, so I'm gonna let you rest end of interview