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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 00050 Interviewee: Melvin Thomas (MT) Interview by: Otis Anthony ( OA) Interview date: September 8, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: January 6, 2009 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: M arch 6, 2009 Melvin Thomas : 1 906, March the fifteen th O tis A nthony : Nineteen Okay, did you go to school there? Melvin Thomas: No, I was (inaudible) when I was a baby (inaudible) what my parents say that was my home I was born ten miles from (inaudi ble). OA: Okay, when did you come to Tampa? MT: Well, I come to Tampa in thirty eight  and before I come to Tampa, I come t o Valdosta and the last two weeks in December in 1920 and I stay down there from twenty  to thirty eight  Well, I married in 1925 and stayed there from twenty five  to thirty eight  And left there in January and I come to Florida and I've been in Florida ever since. OA: Okay, can you tell me what black folks been doin' as far as work is concerned when you came to Tampa in 1938 ? What was the ma jor work for men to do in Tampa? MT: Well, I tell ya, w hen I come here I couldn't find anything; the onliest work that I know was workin' on the dock. I worked there and I stayed about three years and I come back and I got a job at Woolworth up there the ten cents store and I worked up there ten year F rom there I went to Grants and worked three years and then I went to the bus company, right there o n Seco nd Avenue and Twenty First [Street] I worked twelve years till I got sick I got sick in sixty seven  July thirty fir st and I stayed in the hospital from that time 'till the last of October. I was livin' o n Seco nd Ave. I stay there o n Seco nd Avenue about two weeks and my
sister got me an apartment here and I been here for ten years on this corner. And I am well I did work up there at the (inaudible) and I worked up there about three years six; after we build out there o n Cypress [Street] then I give it up I haven't worked since then. OA: Okay, when y ou first started workin' at Woolco Woolworth or whatever how much were you makin'? Per hour. MT: I'll tell ya what they give me a week, twenty six dollars a week. OA: Now what year was that? MT: (inaudible) I come here in thirty eight  and I cou ldn't find nothin' (inaudible). I stayed there about three years. OA: You're talkin' about 1942 or forty one  somewhere around there. MT: Then I started workin' at Woolworth. We wasn't gettin' but twenty six dollars a week. Started as a (inaudible ) and got to be a pantry man. OA: And you was still makin' twenty six dollars ? MT: I was makin' twenty six dollars OA: When you became the pantry man? MT: Ye a h (inaudible). OA: What about at Grants? MT: Well, when I started at Grants, I was a busbo y there I started off at forty two dollars OA: And the bus company? MT: Huh? OA: The bus company? MT: No, I was bussin' dishes. OA: No, you said you worked at the bus company. MT: No, I worked in the (inaudible). OA: Oh, okay; how much were you making there?
MT: Forty eight cents an hour. OA: Okay, can you tell me anything about w ere you here during World War II, in Tampa? MT: I don't know thirty eight  OA: Ye a h, World War II ended around the mid forties [1940s ] MT: Well I was the n because (inaudible) they women (inaudible) health cards. The men you know, have bad disease (inaudible) catch 'em, ya know, (inaudible) get shot (inaudible) h ave a bad case (inaudible) somewhere, I was here along that time (inaudible) OA: Okay, so you say most of the men were workin' at the docks, do you know how much they was makin'? MT: (inaudible) before the u nion (inaudible) OA: Okay, what was the name of that union? Do you know the name of that union? MT: CIA I think. OA: Okay, can you tel l me about the streetcars? MT: Well, I used to ride the streetcar Y e a h, I rode the streetcar. Street car come in it come across here onto Six th Avenue an d Belmont Heights. T he street cars come across Twenty Ninth [Street] on Six th Avenue Jackson Height (i naudible) turn o n Six th Avenue (inaudible) Seven th and Jackson (inaudible) And I was there when they started the bus, when the buses started running. OA: How much was it to start, when the buses first started runnin' ; how much did you have pay to ride? M T: (inaudible) OA: And you had to sit in the back ? MT: Right in the back, right back in the back. OA: And also in the street car? MT: And the street car unless it was a charter, with a charter (inaudible). OA: Um what were the schools like? Did you kno w anything about the schools during that time?
MT: Ye a h Well, I remember Carver School over here (inaudible). I know there was a nother school, a wooden school right there on (inaudible), but what was the name of it I don't know. A nd I remember (inaudible ), and then I remember when they built Blake [High School]. (inaudible) Blake (inaudible) My cousin used to have a chase down there and he had to move up on (inaudible). OA: Okay, can you tell me how things were du ring World War II here in Tampa? MT: It was kinda tight to my eyes (inaudible). I was kinda scared (inaudible) more th an likely the only jobs was docks and the shipyards. Lot of people I knew worked in the shipyards. When I started working at Woolworth's (inaudible) you know people come there g et a job might work there a week, might work there three days and they go o n to the shipyard. But I still stayed there. OA: Okay, you don't know how much the shipyard was payin'? MT: No, I don't. OA: Who was over there? MT: Over at the shipyard? OA: U m huh. MT: The governor as far as I know. OA: Do you remember anything about police brutality, were the policemen really bad toward blacks during the early forties [1940s] and thirties [1930s] ? MT: Well, I didn't have I mean, I 'll tell you the truth, I ain't had no trouble with no police (inaudible) because when you start puttin' them color (inaudible) because (inaudible) self I mostly tend to my business ; whatever I do I keep it to myself and I never had no (inaudible). OA: So did you go out much? D id you have any social life here in Tampa? Where did black folks go durin' that time? MT: Well, I OA: Dances and parties and (inaudible) MT: N ebraska [Avenue] I handled West Tampa, West Tampa and o n back over to (inaudible) and then when they (inaud ible) they had a little old place over there on Ten th Street called the Vaudeville Club I visited there several times A nd Buddy Bar Buddy used to have a bar there o n Central [Avenue] and [Martin Luther] King [Boulevard] Buddy Bar I used to go in there
OA: What about Depression ; do you remember the Depression? MT: Well, it was tight. OA: You knew about the soup lines? MT : Oh, I (inaudible). OA: Do you know where they were? Where did the people have to go to get that stuff? MT: You mean the (inaud ible) ? OA: Yeah. MT: Oh, I got some of that I went up here o n Willow [Avenue] (inaudible) up there, I got (inaudible) up there. OA: Have you heard anything about black troops coming to Tampa? In the forties [1940s] ? MT: No, I don't know anything abou t troops (inaudible). OA: Y'all remember anything about this? Was there a riot in Tampa durin' the forties [1940s] ? MT: Was there a riot I don't know anything about that either (inaudible) on Central Avenue OA: That was in the sixties [1960s], right? B ut you don't know anything about the Tampa Riot. It was a riot right here in Tampa in the forties [1940s] called the Tampa Riots. MT: (inaudible) OA: Okay, do you remember the Jim Crow days? MT: (inaudible) T he onliest thing I know about Jim Crow was y ou couldn't eat downtown and you couldn't go in the restrooms (inaudible) same place as you drink water had colored and white. When I was workin' at Woolworth they had that sign (inaudible) and the colored folks were like they come from a different part o f town, they want to go to the restroom, they either had to go to the bus station or up to the (inaudible). Wouldn't allow 'em to go to the restroom. OA: Could you use the bathroom down there since you was workin' at Grants? MT: No, no
OA: At Woolwort h's? MT: (inaudible) T hey had a restroom upstairs for the employees (inaudible) the colored they had their restroom upstairs (inaudible) and the whites had theirs. Woolworth's had their restrooms upstairs (inaudible). OA: Did you use the same one as t he blacks as the whites, then? MT: The same restroom? OA: As the white employees. MT: No, no, we had separate restrooms. OA: But men and women used the same one? MT : W omen they had their own private rest room and white women, they had their own restr oom and color ed women had their own restroom. C olored men had their restroom and white men had their restroom. OA: Okay. Do you remember the land boom in Tampa? The bu st, something known as the bust? MT: Do you mean when the bus started running? OA: N o I guess it was something else during the Depression. Or the bust or something like that. MT: Only thing I can remember is when the bus started running and we were paying seventy five cents for the streetcar (inaudible) the bus would take 'em to the streetcar ride. OA: Okay, when y'all got sick. When black folks got sick, back in the thirties [1930s] and forties [1940s] where did they go to get medical help? MT: I'm gonna tell you the truth. I don't know too much about that cause I never was sick m uch. When I got sick I got sick in sixty seven  and that's the only time I went to the hospital. And I rem ember the colored hospital down there o n the river. OA: Clara Fry e. Do you know the woman that it was named after? MT: No. OA: Ms. Clara Fr y e you never saw her? What about Madame Fortune?
MT: I never had to go do wn to no hospital or no doctor till I got sick on the job and that was in sixty seven  OA: Okay, dur in' the time when Reverend [A. Leon] Lowr y and Mr. [James] Hammond and al l those were fighting for integration, were you a part of that, when they were goin' down town? MT: No (inaudible). OA: Is there anything else that you'd just like to tel l me ? Y ou know any folk lores, or jokes that like you know, just sit around and just talk about. Any ta les that you knew? MT: Well, I never did socialize (inaudible) but I noticed that if I didn't drink (inaudible). I mostly drink by myself but at the place on Nebraska there called (inaudible). Nebraska and Six th Avenue w ell that's where I headquartered, 'cause that was a nice place in the back there for colored folks, you know ; they'd meet back there in the summer, y ou know, whiskey and wine. I lived right across the street from there, so (inaudible). Then after I quit drinkin', and ev erything I got chased from there (inaudible) chased down there o n Eleven th [Avenue] and (inaudible) called New Hope (inaudible) s tayed down there until the other new (inaudible) come through and then had to sell and moved out there o n Thirtieth [Street] an d (inaudible) out there in Jackson Heights I stayed out there I mean I was out there until I moved up here I went about two or three times after I moved up here and it was so far I didn't feel any kin so I just joined Taber, Old Mount Taber. OA: So you 're in the new structure now, right? MT: Right. OA: O kay, now. You have anything else you want to tell us? MT : (inaudible) OA: When you first came to Tampa, where did you live? What street? MT: Well, I first lived with my brother, livin' o n Lawrence Street I stayed there (inaudible). I come back and I stayed with my sister (inaudible) until she moved in the projects W hen she moved in the projects I moved up here o n (inaudible) until I moved back in with Tom, and I stayed with Tom till I moved here OA: Can you tell m e somethin' about Tampa in general durin' the fifties [1950s] and sixties [1960s] early sixties [1960s] ? How were things in Tampa? How were blacks treated? MT: Well, I got along a l l right. Well see, I must have be in Florida I neve r lived here
before and I worked all the time (inaudible). I'd work and go home unless I'd stop by the bar and get me a drink or somethin' 'till I stopped drinkin', and when I stopped drinkin' I got (inaudible). OA: Okay, thank you. end of interview
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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 (17 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 September 8, 1978.
Melvin Thomas describes employment and other social conditions for African Americans in Tampa during the 1940s and 1950s.
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