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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 00051 Interviewee s : Ulysses R. Thomas (UT), Christine Thomas (CT) Int erview er s : F red Beaton (FB), Shirley Smith (SS) Interview date: March 14, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: January 8, 2009 Final Edit b y: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: April 2 2009 [Transcriber's Note: The Interview begins mid sentence.] Fred Beaton : can hear the question? Christine Thomas : Well, as I told you I was born here and my school days began in the first College H ill school which was located over on it's over where Mr. Lee Davis' old home is. I don't know whether I think it's over o n Twenty Thir d Street and Chick Road. It was next to the home of Mr. and Mrs. A.J. Grant. It was about I'd say it had about three or f our rooms ; it was a wooden structure. I attended that school in the first, second and third grades. The enrollment outgrew the size of the school and at that time the whites were going to school at the school that is now called Lomax [Elementary School] It was Gilchr i st Elementary School at the time. And when I was in the third grade, they moved us from the old College Hill school to the Gilchr i st Elementary, which is now Lomax. I attended school there until I was in the sixth grade and my family moved over o n the other side of town T hen I went to Harlem [Elementary School]; it was o n Harrison [Street] and Morgan [Street] I went there one year in the sixth grade. Mrs. Christin a Me acha m was my principal. And after I finished the sixth grade, I went back to Lomax t he name was still Gilchr i st I went back there for the seventh grade and I stayed there until I completed the twelft h grade. But it was during that period the name of the school was changed, and it was named after a b ishop of the AME [Africa n Methodist Episcopal] Zion Church Bishop [Thomas Henry] Lomax. Then from that day until now it has been called Lomax School. I finished Lomax in 1925, high school, and that was the last year it was a high school. That's when Booker Washington became Book er Washington High School and Me a cham [Elementary School] was built as an elementary school to take care of the overcrowded situation over there. And it was called Christin a Me a cham Elementary School after Mrs. Christin a Me a cham who was the first princi pal of the school o n that side of town. She
2 was a principal at Harlem (inaudible) Now that's that part of it. FB: Where did you go to c ollege? CT: I went to college at Florida A & M [Agricultural & Mechanical University] I complete d my first two year s and then I went to Hampton Institute [University] and finished my next two years. FB: What were the conditions of blacks during that time? CT: Well, you can imagine. It wasn't too we had to scuffle. Because n ow, when I finished high school I didn't g o right off to college. During that time they had what you would call a teacher's examination and when I finished the twelf th grade I took the teacher's examination and passed. I finished school in May, I took the teacher's examination in S eptember, and i n January 1926, I started to work, and I started teaching out at Robles Pond. T here was a little school out there, it had two rooms ; it was a two teacher school. Miss Pearl Ho lmes was my principal. I taught the first and second grade s, and she taught the t hird, fourth, fifth and sixth grade s And I would teach and I would go o n and get my college education in summer school, that's the way I got it. So you can imagine how conditions were then. FB: Okay, can you give us a brief description of Harlem and t he Harlem S chool? CT: Harlem Elementary School? Well, Harlem School was one of the first schools that was built here, and it was a brick structure t he f irst school that I remember. Of course my mother says that she attended there too, in the old Harlem, but the first one I remember was the brick structure and it was located, you know do you remember ? I t was three stories, had three stories, and it was pretty well built for the time. FB: Do you remember anything about the D epression in Tampa? Can you tell us? CT: Yes, I remember the D epression ; it was very hard. That's when they had the different services for the people. FB: Like the soup line s ? CT: I don't remember too much about the soup line ; maybe I didn't live around that area, y ou know B ut they h ad I would hear them talking about it. S hirley S mith : You started teaching in 1925? CT: Twenty six 
3 SS: Twenty six . (p hone rings) What school did you teach at? CT: Robles Pond School. SS : Was this a white school? CT: No, all black. We didn't have any integration during that time. FB: Were blacks harassed a whole lot in Tampa? CT: No, I've never been harassed. The living conditions here, as far as the relations was of the two races have never been bad. The re were certain sections here now you take Sulphur Springs, Jackson Heights, places like that, they weren't as nice as they could have been, but as far as harassment, there weren't any harassment among the two races here B ecause one thing about it we've always had Latins. FB : Okay. What about any lynchings; do you know anything about that ? CT: No, I don't know anything about lynchings. SS : What about the businesses that were on Central [Avenue] ? CT: What about them? SS : Can you tell us a bit about them? CT: Well they were th e usual businesses (laugh s ). The typical Negro businesses, you know ; you can imagine For that time, I imagine some of them were considered good. D octor's offices, we had Dr. (inaudible) White's office was over the Greek Stand, on the corner of Scott [Stre et] and Central [Avenue] Dr. [Reche Reden] Williams' office was o n the other corner, o ver it was fi rst over a theater, the Little Savoy theater Dr. Edison built the first supposed to have been office building down there with professional men in it ; it wa s o n Central just a bit above Scott Street and Dr. E dison, Dr. Sila s and Dr. Irvin had their offices there. And the public library, N egro library, was there and it was operated by Mrs. Henry Maddox and in later years, after she passed away, Mrs. Ada Pa ine. And the other businesses down Central there, they came along, you can imagine. There was Kid Mason, different bars and places down there. FB: (inaudible) CT: No, I didn't teach any integration. After I retired they integrated. The year that I retir ed was the year integration ended my school. I was replaced with white. That was in 1967. They were just beginning to come in as a teachin g and aid e situation but the children hadn't started to come in yet to the N egro school. FB: Okay. How would you cat egorize the attitudes of the black student say in the thirties
4 [1930s] and forties [1940s] with those in the fifties [1950s] and say in the sixties [1960s] ? CT: Well, I don't know about the attitudes because at that time the attitudes didn't seem to be t he same as those of the period that you're speakin'. FB : More (inaudible) it was harder to teach CT: No, the children at that time didn't have the attitudes to other teachers as they had during this period now. Ulysses Thomas : They hadn't integrated ar ound sixty seven  CT: No, they hadn't integrated during that time, but the children were beginning to it seemed that they were feelin g somethin g, t hat they maybe they were feelin g their independence and beginning to get this attitude. And see my t eaching experience dealt with elementary children, and I didn't have too much to do with the teenagers. And in that way I don't think I could tell you too much about their attitudes, except for my one child. FB: Okay, what was the learning facilities lik e when you started? CT: Well the learning facilities were nothing like they should have been. Everything we had, that we used, was something that we had to look out for ourselves. UT : Had to improvise. CT: Had to buy them and improvise. UT : And even when they built something when they built somethin' for N egroes (inaudible). Blake [High School] was built in fifty six  and that was the only high school since Middleton. And I opened Blake in fifty six  and they didn't have a science depart ment, they didn't have a decent library they didn't have an auditorium and cafeteria that's a combination they didn't have a chapel, set aside for nothin' but religious and that kind of exercise. W e had a plan there, we had a whole lot of religious exerci ses in there. C hildren play (inaudible) and they did everything in that auditorium So, there was (inaudible) set aside, that type of thing. You understand what I'm talkin' about. This was brought to their attention back in fifty six  When they bu ilt Chamberlain [High School] no resemblance when the buildings were built. So they weren't plannin' in the layout for the schools to be all equal. Whatever went on with Chamberlain, you understand? And so until integration of the children and Blake was a million dollar industry, so they say, during that time. That was the best that they had built for the N egro and that came nowhere near being equal to the plan since we had only two high schools Middleton and Blake. Then they Middleton (inaudible) school (inaudible). Blake was nothin' but black, Hillsborough Plant, Chamberlain, which was built at the s ame time as Middleton. B lake (inaudible). So they wasn't thinkin' about equal opportunities even in 1956.
5 All this has been brought out 'cause (inaudibl e) Blake and (inaudible) Then they got appropriations for nine rooms to be built, to be added o n to Blake, which is now called J ust [Elementary School] Those rooms was supposed to have been added o n to Blake but they spent so much of the appropriation s o n the white and nothin' for the N egroes, they decided they better take those nine rooms and put an office over there and call it a school just to say they built another school out of those rooms. But in reality that was everything that was (inaudible) a nd Just was an addition to Blake, those nine rooms And I don't I think it's like that now, isn't it Just and Blake? Or is it combined now? FB: No, it's still Just and Blake. UT: That's the way that happened So w e didn't get the addition that they had i n tended for us those nine rooms they built over there, because they took that and made a junior high school out of it. FB: Okay Mr. Thomas, you s aid you opened Blake. Were you the principal? UT: Ye a h. FB: This was in 1956? UT: Fifty six  SS : During that time did they were blacks still takin' the standardized test? Stanford Binet [Intelligence Scales]? UT: Oh, no. They didn't start takin' that that's th e test for that (inaudible) ? SS: Mm hm. UT: No, they weren't takin' that then. That was ( inaudible). I don't know what year they started it, but we later had to take it. That test later proved that nothing because the negroes got to a place where they could pass it T hen they finally had to switch to something, some other test, but they got t o the place where by teaching the test like (inaudible). You see, that test wasn't new to the teachers. Because that test was the test that they had been using in the white colleges and universities where N egroes were barred, I guess for thirty five and f orty years. Negroes didn't go to those white schools. Only if they could go only a few N egroes could go there where those tests were. So the children in those universities were exposed to those tests years ago. This is the test they had for the children t o take, to compete with the white for schoolin'. It wasn't a fair test bec ause our children didn't read it even the Negro teachers hadn't been exposed to it. Only those few who were able to go to the white colleges and universities were exposed to that tes t A nd then after it appeared (inaudible) like any other test.
6 You see the children we have some smart children. D on't get that out of your head, that they're not smart. Maybe you got some smart children, you don't know how, why but they're smart and the y'll pass your test anywhere in anybody's school, but it's such a few who will have that exposure The test that they give today some Negro children can pass it just as easily as some white but they're so few. And the N egroes haven't been exposed to it, so they have to this is what they're arguin' about now. They have to get these children qualified, they've got to expose, they got to give them more tests and more tests and more tests. So more of them can pass that test, expose them to it T he more you ta ke it the easier it becomes. Then they got some that don't have a bit (inaudible) SS : So how do you feel about the literacy test they're taking now? UB: The literacy test? Same thing Y ou got some from so far back in the woodlands that haven't been awa y to school H ow do you expect a child to pass a literacy test who has n't been exposed in the schools? You got some back out there so far in the woods that they haven't been to school. Then you got some right here in town, they'll eat it up just like some of the rest of them. I'm not saying that they're not takin' advantage some of them but you got so few. So over all, the whole group has to suffer until we can get more of the group to do better with these tests, that's all. And nothing for anybody to get e xcited about I t takes time, all you gotta do is buckle down (inaudible) and think about the preliminary work (inaudible) T hey can pass it, they have the ability. FB: Okay, before when we had to take (inaudible) UT: B efore? FB: Ye a h, when we had to t ake the (inaudible) before then, right. Okay, what sort of tests were given to children ? L et's say the elementary level, junior high, and if there were a test separate that (inaudible) exam. Was there one set aside especially for blacks and one for whites ? (UT and CT speak simultaneously) U T : They were standardized by the state The California test and all, they didn't have there (inaudible) CT: The California (inaudible) our children couldn't compete because (inaudible) UT: The y didn't have any stan dardized test for the children, all children took the test. Do you understand? And I been tryin' to explain to you why you have thi s ratio of children doin' good o n the test and the ratio of those doin' fair and those doin' nothin'. You have that ratio alo ng the whites, but you have so many N egroes that are not doing well. Since we're talking about it, there are so many N egroes that are not doing well because they have I don't see that they have the advantage because they didn't take the exams as a child, for one reason or another.
7 CT: (inaudible) UT: You see, way back then in slavery time when children had to have a mammy, who was the mammy? The N egro. So who watches her children while she was minding those other children ? What was happenin' to her chil dren, huh? Who minded them? They had to get it the best way they could or didn't get it. You see what I me an? So that thing traces right o n from slavery. The same thing 's happenin' right now. They aren't behind because of any fixed thing, it's because th ey I mean because of any set thing it's many things that caused them to be behind. It's (inaudible) from childhood o n up you'd had more N egro children gettin' along much better in school. But it's the poor N egro child (inaudible) studied problems and the mother and the dad out there workin' ; they weren't slaves but they were almost slaves. But when they brought them here they were slaves, and you know how long that last. And in some of the places why it's goin' o n now. You'd be surprise d to know how ma ny N egro es actually have reared their children right in their jurisdiction. T hey got to get out of work an d go and feed and so on and so o n and so on, and all that type of thing and children and so on, and who is there takin' care of his children? That's g oin' o n today. It isn't broken in some parts of the country. So that's what we fightin', that's what we've got to go way back, and it takes time. Now, everybody wanna move (inaudible) they want you to move, they want you to do this, they want you to do t hat, so then you r kids can't (inaudible) cause we haven't done what we could have done for our children because we had so much other stuff to do Your children, you got to work, and if you got to work and you ain't got children there be somebody in the ho use that gonna be responsible them gettin' and their bath and all that stuff. Don't you know the child gonna be retarded ? He ain't gonna move as fast because he doesn't have that guidance, he doesn't have that help, he doesn't have that push. (inaudible) Side 1 ends; side 2 begins. FB: Blake and Middleton High S chool s the only other high school in Tampa (inaudible). CT: And Lomax. They all had to send their child to Lomax, that was the place. FB: So all of the black kids from arou nd the area at the ti me had to CT: Had to come out here o n the streetcar. T hey rode the streetcar out here. UT: That's right, all over town CT: From everywhere it came. They would ride even (inaudible) they would ride the streetcar to Lomax. T here were lots more streetc ars cause there weren't as many
8 automobiles then (inaudible) had to ride the streetcar (inaudible) FB : What about Wimauma and ? CT: Those would ride the (inaudible) the city is here and this is well the Plant City children would come to Tampa after UT : After eighth grade, ninth grade or eighth grade. CT: Eighth grade. Because Ethel Eiser was my classmate ; she came from Plant City S he finished Marshall and she came here when she finished Marshall (inaudible) We taught together, but I retired (inaudi ble) FB: This concentration of blacks from all different areas when this (inaudible) create private classrooms ? CT: Ye a h, they had private classrooms then. FB: Did any of the schools have double sessions ? CT: No, we didn't know anything about double s essions. No they didn't have double sessions. UT: You see when you finish ninth grade you don 't have to go o n to high school How many between your classes did you have, do you remember? CT: There w ere eight. UT: See what I mean, eight students. CT : There were children come out of Thonotosassa and I imagine Plant Cit y, too ; they come into Tampa UT: You see what I mean? That was transportation (inaudible) FB: In the c ity of Tampa alone there was only eight in ninth grade? UT: So that tell you h ow this thing was really cut down. You know? By the time they got to the senior class there were eight. CT: And that was in 1925. UT: In 1925, eight in the senior class. I know at Don Thompson [school] in 1946, we didn't have all those credits B ut we d idn't have but three hundred (inaudible) nine through twelve.
9 CT: (inaudible) FB: You had three hundred and somethin' from [grades] nine through twelve and by the time they got to twelve you had less than twenty? UT: That's right (inaudible) SS : I kn ow when they started Marshall, going through twelfth grade, they used to have about fifteen sixteen graduate. UT: That's what happened. CT: There was five girls and three boys finished. FB: Did the S chool B oard attempt to commission (inaudible)? UT: ( inaudible) CT: I don't think they had a school board then. UT: I hate to say it but where is this goin ? CT: You still don't have that all do you? FB: Integration U T: I say, integration has been worse to (inaudible) today. If he expects to have a job, and believes in our (inaudible), it has awakened him to a new day (inaudible) and I say that by saying this. There was so much. CT: that he wasn't exposed to, not even the Negro teachers. end of interview
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Thomas, Ulysses R.
Ulysses Thomas, Christine Thomas
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 (36 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 March 14, 1978.
Ulysses Thomas and Christine Thomas discuss education for African Americans in Tampa. Mr. Thomas was the first principal of Blake High School, and Mrs. Thomas was a teacher from 1926 to 1966.
Thomas, Ulysses R.
Thomas, Christine H.
African American teachers
African American schools
Anthony, Otis R.
Black History Research Project of Tampa.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS