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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 00055 Interviewee: John W. Williams (JW) Interview er : Herbert Jones (HJ) Interview date: September 10 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: January 8, 2009 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: March 11, 2009 John Williams: I was born in Dallas County, in 1902. H erbert J ones : Where was this? Where is Dallas County? JW: Out there o n (inaudible). That's Texas. HJ: Dallas County Texas? JW: Umm hmm. HJ: So, did you go to school there? JW: Yeah, I wo rked there at that high school. HJ: And what kind of work was you doin' prior to your coming to Tampa? JW: Well, most of my work I was contract ing doin' contract. W e were out here in them days (inaudible) you know, o n account of (inaudible). T hen I practically come up in Bridgeport. I mostly worked in Bridgeport in a brass company steel company until I got to be twenty one, then I left and went out to California and I worked in the grape farm, pickin' grapes. But I'm gonna tell you most of my h istory is not (inaudible). See I went with Ringling Barnum shows nineteen years. HJ: What did you do? JW: Well, I Where it started with you know what they call roustabouts ? T hat's puttin' up the tent, drivin' stakes, t akin' it down. Then from there on as I got o n I worked from the ticket office to the gate tearin' up ticket s So that's when I See I started with Ringling in 1917 'cept it was Barnum. In 1919 they combined. I was in Houston, Texas
2 then. That's just right after the war. See, we had to c lose in Houston because the flu was so bad. So they put me off there. Oh, we had over two hundred people workin' t housands you got seventeen hundred people workin'. HJ: How many black? JW: Oh, around about four or five hundred Yeah, he had a lot. They a ll did some of 'em was bosses. Some was the canvass bosses some was everything. They put me off. I had to stay in the hospital. I had to stay in the hospital till they got a chance to I only stayed there See, them times Barnum, they were winterin' in Ho uston And Ringling was winterin' in Babylon, Wisconsin. So I stayed in the hospital about a year and a half. I was a sick man. But they kept in touch with me all the time. See, I had you know that was the time of that bad flu goin' around. That in 1917 1918 killin' people. So I was in St. Joseph Hospital. HJ: In Texas? JW: Umm hmm. Yeah, that's in Houston. So my people come and got me. So they transferred me there to a hospital in Dallas. Then when Ringling found out s ee, they paid all the bills. I di dn't pay no bills. They paid everything they do. Every week of winter I got my money. Then they write and tell me whenever I got better let 'em know, they would send me a ticket. But I couldn't go back to Connecticut. I had to go back to Wisconsin then. So b y the time the season about ready to open I got better in that St. Joe's hospital. I was in both S ain t b oth times it was a C atholic hospital. I was at the C atholic hospital in Houston. I was in the C atholic hospital in home, in Dallas. And I've been well all when I was a younger I was well treated. But see, I didn't want my people to know that I was sick. HJ: So when did you move to Tampa? JW: I come to Tampa in 193 3 HJ: Nineteen thirty three JW: But I've come to Tampa before then with the circ us twenty eight [19 28 ] HJ: In 1928? JW: Umm hmm. HJ: Okay, you When y'all were doin' the circus how was it when you came to Tampa? Did you have a special side for the blacks to come in or a special place for blacks to sit or how was it arranged ?
3 J W: Oh, it was Jim Crow. See, especially when you get to the S outh. See we, generally have a red cloth straight down. Colored o n that side white [on the other] But I tell you what would do happen though. See Ringling was they was funny people. If there was more colored that was comin' in, they'd take that sign down. The cracker s they didn't know it. Somebody pulled that sign after a whil e everybody was sittin' in the s ame place. You know, I'll tell you one time I think i n twenty eight [19 28 ] we showe d Miami and I was workin' with kids. I worked with mixed, white and colored, sometimes twenty five thirty forty fifty kids. We got there o n a Sunday, rainin', so we You know how the kids are when the circus come to town. Well, they come out there. Whe n I asked all who wanted to come back Monday, and do work, you know Why I can't work when school goin' o n ; I can't work none of 'em. 'Cause in Miami they didn't allow you to work no kid up if the school t erm. I had to work big men then; some of 'em hel ped. We ll, there wasn't no school term then. So I think I had around about twenty five oh, around fifty all mixed, white and colored. They all come back like they said. So now I had 'em spread the tent, you know, for the animals. So I get 'em a sticker so when they come I waited for 'em I'd be at the n umber one ticket wagon waitin' o n 'em. So they showed up, every one of 'em showed up. They here. A ll right. So I put the top gear up. Carried the s eats, put the seats down. Helped raise the seats up. HJ: W ere the black children and the white children workin' side by side? JW: Workin' good. I didn't know it gonna be (inaudible) They were workin' together. And after all of 'em got through I said, "Well, gang I line 'em all like I been doin' all over the c ountry. You know, give 'em all a ticket. After a while two big motorcycle cops rolled up there. "What you figurin' to do?" I s aid, "I'm figurin' to give these kids a ticket." "You can't give no colored no ticket." "What?" See, I never have been down this far in w e'd been showin' but we always showed Mississippi and all around Arkansas. I said, "Well, [what do you] want to do?" "You've got to give 'em money." "Man, I haven't got no money." So I thought he was kiddin'." I said, "What I'm gonna do about this white ones?" Said, "You can give them a ticket." So you know what? The white ones said like this : After they see this guy means business they said, "No, we won't take the ticket until you give the colored guys their tickets too." So after a while the chief come up there. He divide 'em. He divide the white over there and the colored over there. He asked the colored boys, "What y'all rather want to have?" I said, "Look here, man, I gots all the (inaudible). Look here, I'm the boss here." He said, "I'm gonna tell you too. We don't let no niggers and whites work together." So, the white people, they jumped him again. T hey shoved him away. So finally, I said, "I'll tell you what you can do. I don't give nary a one of 'em no ticket at all." A fter a while the manager would be there to reckon and let [them] settle it. So he
4 kept o n arguin' with me and arguin' with me and so I got mad with him. And all the s ee, all the actors and all of 'em know me, they know I tried to (inaudible) So finally they come, qui eted the cracker down. So after a while I saw the ca rs roll up, standin' back there. "You can't touch You go to So a ll the kids they went. So out there arguin' and they arguin' and they arguin'. So finally the manager the s uperintendent ; John [Ring ling] hadn't got there. John was in town somewhere. I didn't know it. Finally somebody got him and he come and he settled it. He said, I'll tell you what we're gonna do. We gonna give all of 'em fifty cents. So they line 'em all up there, had a big ole b ale of hay, and give 'em all fifty cents. So this two old crackers they watched me from now on. I went to the candy stand and got me a drink. Come back. Went to the front door, you know, tell the head ticket seller what's happenin', you know. I said, "O h, they ain't no passes. All of em got fifty cents." So he said, "Okay." So now this guy he didn't know I was goin' to go and change and put o n a uniform to come to the front door, take up the tickets. And I kept a lookin'. Oh, man, there was so many p eople there that d ay we could afford to give two shows; sometimes we do. And I kept lookin' and lookin'. White was buyin' the tickets. Colored wasn't buyin' no tickets. So finally John Ringling come and asked what was wrong. They told John Ringling, A in 't no nigger goin' to the show." He said "What? This is my s how. Anywhere a colored can't go, I take it d own." He had already gotten mad with that argumentation during that morning. So they argued. So they agreed. You know we had three ticket wagons: a white one, a yellow one, and a red one. So they asked him "W hat one do you want the colored to buy a ticket? Well, they think one of 'em said a red one. One said a white one. One said a yellow one. So all of 'em said like this. So the manager he said "W ell we try the white one. I thought they'd come in I thought they gonna let 'em in the front. That chief of police and a sergeant got there. Well that made all the white tickets. They got mad. He said, "What happen?" Said, "W e don't put You ain' t go in' in that front door." He said, "God damn your soul, you get up in here." So after a while the elephant men all the roustabouts, they come. They gonna be a riot there. Even the clowns you know, all of 'em got around there. In them days, you know, there wasn't no man there to fight with no townspeople. No, you got to fight the whole circus. The circus had seventeen hundred [people] So they did n't say nothin'. So they agreed to let 'em go in the side door. And they'd agree. You see now, where they want 'em to come they would never get a chance
5 to come in the menagerie to see the animals. So Ringling got tired of that. He called up I don't know now who was the governor he called that time. But, anyhow, he called the governor and he got this thing s traightened. And that night, we were gonna give two s hows, so he decided to give one and that made all the white people from the north mad. So they got mad and they wanted to run all the See, now, it wasn't the white people. See, the law in Miami, in them days, they would sort of protectin' the northern people. And the northern people didn't want 'em protectin' like that. So they find they was wrong so Well, we don't We were gonna tear down anyhow. John had done gotten mad. People had all the tickets ; he had a loudspeaker said, "A ll who go t tickets come to the ticket wagon your refunds be we ain't gonna give but one show, that's the afternoon. So they tore the s how down. And next year we went back everybody was treated like white people. HJ: Okay, so in 1928 in Tampa, did y'all have any kind of problems then when y'all brought the show here in Tampa, in twenty eight  ? JW: No. HJ: Black and white? JW: No, there wasn't no problem at all. HJ: Okay, Mr. Williams, can you tell me anything abou t World War I? JW: No, I was too young then. HJ: Too young? JW: Yeah. HJ: Okay, so when you came to Tampa in 1933 what were the conditions of blacks here? What kind of work were they doin'? JW: Well, m ost black in them days some of 'em worked for Con e Brothers [Construction Company] some workin' for Paul Smith [Construction Company]. Most all of 'em workin' for the dock. That's before ; they didn't have no union then. HJ: Umm hmm. JW: But after they got the union, they was workin' o n the dock. Show you how they do : "Come on come on work." HJ: Right. Did you ever work o n the dock?
6 JW: Oh yeah I worked on the dock. I work o n the dock when I got hurt. HJ: So how much money were you makin' when you first started at an hour? JW: We l l, at that time we were makin' seventy five cent s I think, in a day a dollar something at night. HJ: An hour or a day? JW: Hour. Then after that union would you know, went up a whole lot. HJ: When did the union come in? JW: It come in around about I think it was ar ound in thirty eight  thirty six  They always have somethin' ; it wasn't Well, they went up two dollars, accordin' to what you were doin'. But I think this was the I'm gonna tell you I think they were the last port that went up because they were all colored ; there wasn't no white. Yeah, they went up paid five or six dollars what you were doing six seven dollars an hour. See, I got six dollars an hour. I got seven dollars an hour. I be unloadin' some kind of cement or fertilizer or somethin like that HJ: So how were the working c onditions? How were you treated? JW: Wasn't worth a shit. Well, you gotta get you (inaudible). You know, I would see them jokers B oat come in it's suppose to last a day or two days like it got somethin' o n it like can goods or some kind of other freight man them cat s load that thing in a day and a half. And a lot of those seam e n used to get at 'em. Say, "M an I come here to rest. That dog you al ready got this stuff unloaded s ack stuff. They was runnin'. The y were gettin' hurt. Didn't have no safety like they do now. Some of 'em get killed in the hold. Let the dirt down people leanin' over that stackin' boxes and all that. And when the ships There wasn't no This ain't nobody. See, and like you load a ship one side well, they kept on loadin' you know how the ship tilt in the water and they stand right there and let them they didn't even so I had See, I always been by myself I ain't never had nobody so I can work if I want. I only kept enough for eatin'. M an, when I saw that thing go to reelin' and rockin' I come out. "What you come out for?" Say, "M an, that thing you can't get 'em too loaded. They sink. " Well, it's all right. We'll prop it. You can prop all you want to. Before I got to home four men 's legs broke, black all of 'em. That cargo the boxes had d one shifted. See, Georgie B oy, he was the president. You know him don't you? HJ: Georgie?
7 JW: Yeah, Georgie B oy. You heard 'em talk about that Georgie. You know, Perry Harvey. HJ: Umm hmm. J W: We called him Georgie B oy. His name is Perry Harvey. But he's got a home down there You may know his son [Perry Harvey, Junior]. His son is still runnin' the u nion. Perry. The u nion. Ye ah, that's bad. When I started o n that dock many poor people got bro ke up and got kille d. 'Cept me. We was over there o n Seddon Island unloadin' some salt. We'd been diggin' that salt about a week. And I went and got my lunch. I come down and I was sittin' o n it. Me and another boy the guy was sittin' there we'd been wor kin' over there a week o n that old hard salt. So I looked up and s aid, "L ook here Fred, I see some (inaudible) See they didn't have bulldozers and everything to scoop it. "Y ou know it's time for that salt to break from that wall. He said, "You thin k so?" Well, we were wearin' it down ; that salt was overhead. He said, "Y ou think so? Y ou've been pretty lucky. I better listen to you this time. I said I'm goin' up there and check it out. He said I think I'll trail you. And that eve nin', tha t two ton of salt fell o n about eight I didn't know none of 'em. One got all broke up. They find out where the other one was. The other three they dug 'em out. You know what I said, I was eatin' I was sittin' there o n the pile eatin' somethin' that day I looked up there and said, "M an I'm (inaudible). A ll this jolts and rockin' from this ship. And we'd been there a week and that salt ain't busted yet. Well, you think any day? I said, "W ell, I don't know. W hen I get through eatin' I'm g oin' and ch eck out. So I go up o n the deck and went to the header and told him I'm goin' to check out. He sent me to the stevedore. He said, "W hat's wrong John? I said, I got a bad stomach and that's all I know. So I come o n up and come o n across the bridge, me and him, caught the bus, come o n down Central [Avenue] HJ: Can you tell me anything about the streetcars? JW: Yeah, they was runnin' then. They was runnin'. HJ: And how were you all treated o n that?
8 JW: Well, I ain't You know, there was a sort of mixture. But every time I heard about it they have a little somebody havin' trouble out to Belmo nt Heights or some between the (inaudible) but not because I was o n it I didn't know it. I'm gonna tell you the facts, all over the world I ain't never I alwa ys kept out of that trouble. You know that gang (inaudible). You know this. If I was See, I'm goin' over seventy four years old. If it was all the world I'd have been all over the United States I'd been dead. Always lucky. Kept out Used to be a time do wn o n Central in "M ugger A lley the re used to be somethin' like a red light district. Well, I crossed there with Charlie Moon you know he owned the gamblin' joint right down down further, that was Little Savoy D own before that when we get there that was another place, Lee Davis and all that well, there used to be some white men that used to come up there behind M ugger A lley" back in there somewhere colored. So the crew got up. I was just come out of Moon's. He said, John. " What? " We gonna lay som e o n them cracker's asses tonight. Oh, you scared? I said, I ain't said no, I said who? W hat? L ook here, man, you've got that wrong man. Y ou've been where I've been New York, Chicago, Alabama, Mississippi, they've been doin' (inaudible) But you didn' t ask. No, you (inaudible) So he start over there. I said, "M an look at here. You don't know who (inaudible) and you'll get your self in all will be pointed." One was my good friend. I said, "Y ou listen to me Joe Y ou'll always be (inaudible) Y ou d o something, beat 'em up, kill 'em and you always (inaudible) Ma n, let them do them what they want. S ee this they know what they're doin'. T here's eleven colored. T hose white men didn't come down here. I assume the (inaudible) brought them down here. Now you think about that. M an, they Man, I They (inaudible) two of 'em off and an white comin' down there (inaudible). They'd beat up side the head, call (inaudible). See them times you didn't have no word. Them crackers (inaudible) come down o n Central w ith their bare hands would beat a nigger right and left. They carried around about eight of 'em or would ever go to jail. The rest of 'em (inaudible) them two them (inaudible) to death. HJ: Do you remember anything about the land boom in Tampa? JW: Boo m? HJ: The land boom? JW: No, I wouldn't. That was before I heard about it, but I hear they had a land boom or some kind of boom. You know, that was before my time.
9 HJ: Well, how was the housing and the schools and the social life and all this kind of s tuff in the thirties [1930s] ? JW: Well, my idea about the houses were bad. Schools were so so. You know. Look like me in them days they were They didn't have much trouble with them schools because I lived right by one of 'em. You know, I been by a lot o f them schools. I passed s ee, I'm all like this I'm gonna tell you. See, w hen I ain't workin' I'm always o n the street or on the corner. I'm lookin'. Now, I ain't never They didn't have no disorder troubles like they got now. They all black. Had some pretty good teachers. And them teachers didn't light up on 'em no ne And I watch 'em day and out. There wasn't no dopin'. If they did they didn't come there with it. They did and they didn't come back no more. And the mama didn't come up there draggin' no broom handle an' w h up the teacher because the teacher be ready for her when she get near there and the law send her back. Or you have the law there (inaudible) Well, they was pretty good. And I'm gonna tell you, all the children I know since I've been here growin' up some of 'em made school teachers. Some now merchant marine o n ships. And, you know, practically all I know now went to school that I've known (inaudible) kids, they made pretty good. They made some good, you know, projects. But, no, they ain't like now. Now, these the worst I ever seen. And the y're gettin' worse. See, I set o n that porch day and night. Yesterday i t was Saturday I was standin' out there. T hree of 'em four of 'em out there smokin' cigarette. Open their mouth and (inaudible) Right out there. Now, they go to some school. They stay right back there (inaudible). You know, now I look at 'em. They ain't embarrassed. They do that regular. Come out there. Smoke. But I don't know, I may be wrong. I don't know, I may be gone A fter a while we'd be back in our same neighborhood and you see where they're havin' trouble over that bu s sin' in California Well a lot of colored folk s gets bussed anyhow (inaudible) because they don't want 'em. They don't want to raise the children no how. See that's what a lot of 'em I don't believe colored folks got good sense when they said he don't want his children to go to white schools. You know, because since I've been seein' 'em goin' a lot of 'em been learning. But look at that school over the re. That used to be all black. There wasn't no fence. There wasn't no grass. There was never sand. Automobiles runnin' all over the children. Had to put them No sooner when they puttin' white they put the fence around it. They change the traffic. One way this way. And the white woman. And they put a playground over here. Put a kindergarten. As long as them poor black was over there all those many years they had to dunk out the drunk there was a trail right through there. All the drunks go through there. So I don't know. I ain't got that much but I got as much sense to know somethin'. I t has
10 help ed the colored folks since the segregation. I'm gonna tell you the truth, I ain't never been segregated. See, over seventy four years I've been in Tampa I wasn't segregated i n Tampa. All of 'em called me (inaudible). When there was segregation in Tampa I was treated as you know as a person. Because I always carried See, like I tell that boy did I tell you about that night ? They don't beat up o n white people. I was pointed out. See, before segregation I was eatin' down town. There was a lot of them old cops downtown walk up to me and say, John ." A nd I say, "Yep." Oh, you're yeah you ain't like the rest of the colored people ; they was wild. Yeah, I been a wa tchin' you for years. You always y ou're somethin' in your head you're always lookin' watchin' me. You know, they always tellin' me that. A lways wanted to stay out of that bad crew. I wasn't no hand to drink that much, no how. But, see nobody run over me See, but I was just Oh, I think I was right. I'm gonna try white or black. HJ: Mr. Williams, do you know anything about the army troops comin' through Tampa in the forties [1940s] ? JW: Yeah, they had a riot here during that time. HJ: Yeah, can you te ll me something about that? JW: Well, l et me see where the t he riot start somewhere here. I don't know whether it was Belmont Heights or somewhere. But in them times I was workin' for Central Life [Insurance Company] I was at the hotel there before the y tore the old Central Hotel down. Where that started I But, anyhow, I know they sent troops from MacDill [Air Force Base] You know, up and down the street. But they ain't last so long. I don't know how I don't where I don't know. HJ: Were there any bl acks in that troop? JW: Yeah, the first one I'd seen in that troop. They come down Central. I was lookin' out the window. HJ: That was in 1940? JW: Yeah. I look out the window and that's the first thing I see was the guy o n that That's most what was down here most of 'em. It was quite natural to send them because they was tryin' to quie t I see one or two sergeant and a few MP [military police] but they was in them jeep. But they ran down and flashed them big lights in them buildings around there. An d run that gun round and round. And it wasn 't long, I don't know. I went o n to bed. Only what I do. Quiet down. I don't know where the trouble Side 1 ends; side 2 begins.
11 JW: about that Forty [19 40 ], the riot. But I know where some somewhere where the y have 'em. And I used to have read about it. I used to have clippin'. I was right there when when the first somebody started it but who it was called i t's been so long. Anything I'm tellin' you a nything that the colored start it don't go in my brain lon g. Of course, I know 'em. See, I saw a lot of things initially myself. But now, anything the white folks starte d see, I remember more of that. Anything that the colored started all at once. I know how it start but you see you know, who s aid whom ever come on. HJ: Right. Well, who started the riot? You don't know what made that happen? JW: I don't know, it was somethin' about havin' I don't what happened. I don't know (inaudible) MacDill (inaudible) somewhere in town somewhere in Tampa. It wasn't in MacDi ll I don't think. Yeah, I don't know. Oh, they tell me something about a young about a soldier or something. They used to have one of them medical center s right there o n Cass [Street] and Central. There's somethin' about it I can't remember right about th at soldier and somebody. HJ: Okay, when black folks got sick in the thirties [1930s] and the forties [1940s] or something like where did they go to get help? To get medical help? JW: Where I went you liked to died. Clara Frye [Hospital] HJ: Were the f acilities good there? JW: See, when I first got hurt that's where I went. I fell down stairs. I paralyzed myself my nerves it's never been right. So, that's the only place I gue ss you could go. I went there. You know, when them nerves y ou got to you're hollerin' and hoot for that them would hurt you know. So they kept me and had to put a needle to me of some kind to quiet it. HJ: What year was that? JW: That was in fifty three  HJ: Did you know Miss Clara Frye? Did you ever see her? JW: Yea h. HJ: What type woman was she? JW: Well, I was (inaudible). She seemed like a pretty good woman. But you see she was only she had it run by a syndicate. I always had money. I had around about eighteen hundred dollars, so I couldn't live there. I had ( inaudible). They had some orderly there, two big niggers, they didn't they'd throw me around shoot and put that stuff in me, you know. They didn't have no doctors there, no surgery. So I just lay there and take a aspirin
12 for pain and all ; it seem like the re ain't nobody there. But them nerve, she hurts, you know, pain. So finally a white lady come there to see about her nurse or a patient of hers somebody. So I was over there rollin' an' turnin'. So she come over there. She rung the bell, they come. Sa id, "A nything you can do for this gentleman? H e hurt. Said, "N othin' we can do but he I don't know what will happen. She said "Y ou don't know what's gonna happen?" She come got her maid out. Of course, she's gonna carry her up to So she talked to me a while. So I asked her, "L ook here, will you do me a favor will you call up a lady on Scott [Street]?" She said, I'll do that. So I give her the number, she called. So the l ady come. So when she come I wanted to know where I can get me to Dr [Edward O.] Arch i e. He was workin' around there then. He was with the city. He was city (inaudible) wasn't see no ricket. T hey had a Portu had a some kind of foreign doctor. Then they had some kind of foreign lady. She did better than any of 'em I was to So finally I got in touch with Dr. Truth, a brain and nerve doctor. S ee them doctors in them times they didn't want to come to Clara Frye because they didn't have no facilities, didn't have no help, you know, to do this and that don't have somethin' t o do this. Everybody duckin' back in that (inaudible) build mines. So I got in touch with him. So him and his nurse come. He introduced me to who he is and everything ; I told him. He said, John, we're in bad shape. So they called two of them big blac k niggers. Said, "C ome here. Will you pick him up? You saw him here. P ick him up. So they pick me up and turned me over. So he went over my back. He said "T omorrow morning I'll be back. I want you all to put him o n the x ray table. They had 1912 x ra y table. Man, I laid there and laid there and laid there. So that morning him and his nurse come again. Told me the x ray wasn't no good. Nothin' was no good. He said, Mr. Williams, y ou're serious. W ell I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. I'll be back to see you and make them wash your body and your face and pull that tube out your (inaudible). That tube in there two days too long. So he come right back. Made 'em pull that tube. He put me one in himself. He made 'em wash me up. I'd been layin' there all nasty and dirty. He said, "L ook here, you call What her name? I'd like to call her name. She use to be the head nurse. She come. She caught his ba w lin' out. He said, "L ook here, there she won't even come. I
13 come here the other day, that poor man ain't washed. I doubt y'all feed him. They say, "W ell we ain't got nobody workin' o n him on account of people that had to be bed strict like that to stay. We got so many in here. Miss [Mary] Cas e that's what been her name Cas e So finally he went on. He writ 'em all up. He come back the next day. He said, Mr. Williams. I said, "Yeah?" He said I think we done sprung a leak ," or whatever. And he said, "Y ou're in bad shape. I think I done broke the color line. I'm gonna get you out there to Tampa Gener al. Y ou're too nice of a fellow to be layin' up here treated like a dog and his own race won't even treat you. So he sent an ambulance and got me, came up to Tampa General. I was the only colored out there. So he had a x ray machine like he wanted. You know I couldn't t hem time I couldn't put my hand down like that. He had to put up t hey had to tie my hand up like with a band and it broke so by hangin' down like that. (inaudible) boys come in repair. So he worked o n them nerves and shoot he was not the only one. So he got that hand down. So he got me so I could feed myself. See they had to feed me, I couldn't feed myself. So he found out I had that money. He found out (inaudible) three or four insurance. So I told him, you know, I'd have give a mil lion to get help. Which I might have been boy I told her, I said, "L ord I' d give a million. So he worked o n it until finally his brother In the hospital, they got used to me. They got used to colored people and me. They had colored workin' around th ere. You know. They got used to me where I was. So they got used to me. So they went to treatin' me like I was a human. T hey rolled me back. Took me to x ray. Feed me. Washed me. Bathed me, did whatever you know, shaved me. So finally I asked him, "W hat do I owe you? He said "Y ou owe me nothin'. So I had blanks 'cause this lady I know, she brought me blanks. I asked him about signin' them. He said, "N o, if I'd have signed 'em blank it would (inaudible) and Clara Frye want all the money. He said "D on't sign nothin'. Y 'all get better. You can pay i t as you want to, put a little o n it if you wa nt to. Don't sign nothin' o n them. So I had to write about a thousand dollars worth of blanks. So he worked o n (inaudible). He said, John, I think you can you can go home. And I'll b e to your house and see how you r back and nerves. W e ll bring you back out here. You know when I went back there was a colored lady and a colore d man there and from time o n they was comin' in there. I was there. I told the colored lady, I was the first one in the hospital. " You was?
14 I said "Y eah. I s a t there and talked to her. I said, "Y eah, I was the first one in here. She said, "G od bless you. HJ: An d what year did you say it was? JW: Huh? HJ: What year was that? JW: Nineteen fifty three. Yeah, I was. So he got me up so I could walk and scoot around. So he wouldn't want to go in that. There wasn't nothin' wrong with my brain. See it was all in my shoulder ; they still left to me for 'em to go in there and s ee can they fi nd that nerve that was restin' o n that somewhere in there. So I think one of these days if I don't leave this friendly earth too soon I think I 'll let 'em try. HJ: So, have you ever been married? JW: No. HJ: No children? JW: See that's what all the doctors and nurses told me. Said, John you're blessed. You ain't got no wife. (inaudible) I was o n welfare. They told me the s ame thing. I don't know what the other colored folks. See, I give people credit when it s due. Them people, all white, waited o n me. They treat me a s I was a white patient. I was o n w elfare. I had a couple colored o n my list. I fired 'em because I didn't like their attitude. See, when they find out in the welfare office that I know right from wrong, that I wasn't no Uncle Tom t hey take them color of f of me and put white. Because I know them colored wasn't gonna do nothin' but drag them same files from month to month and tell me I can't do this and I can't get that. See, wish they'd w ish half of them were o n welfare ; they was workin'. So from that time o n I stayed in white until I went to gettin' my state welfare ; th at's sixty six dollars And I stayed with them until I went to gettin' my S ocial S ecurity. I wasn't with it was a colored lady from Jacksonville ; she wa s workin' o n that. She stayed with me until I got that. Her name Miss White. She was out of Jacksonvil le and everybody loved her. So I was gettin' sixty six dollars And the welfare, they paid twenty five dollars a month. Oh, they know I had the money. T hey say I'm lucky. They know I had the money. I'm on No, they say I'm lucky. They know I had that kind of money. T hey ignore that. They said, John, you need every nickel ." I s aid, I 'd like to hear you talk. He told that (inaudible) s o I (inaudible).
15 So they I mean, the city; we was o n the city then. The city carried me. They paid me fifty eight dollars for a lady to cook for me and board until they found out she was too shady. So they take it away from her, sent me the check and said, John, you c apable of paying your own bills. So I pays it. When they sent my check I paid her So they did that until I got o n the county. In them days the county wasn't payin' but sixty six dollars And the city was tak in' care of my other benefits. So I'm gonn a tell you I've been blessed. See, I don't See there's many people (inaudible) living when I got hurt and they done all died, some in a home, some (inaudible). A nd I meet some of the people and I'd tell 'em John you must have been a mighty good fello w in those days S ee all the people that used to work with you they dead; if they don't they in the home and you're still scootin' around. (inaudible) tell you. See now, I was No, see, I reasoned it out. See, I was the first. See I read when Eisenhow er was president, you know I read in the paper a long time ago then, anybody belonged to S ocial S ecurity any length of time and got it got disability or hurt they could get insurance some way. So that's why I (inaudible). So when I got hurt I thought abo ut that. They hadn't opened up no S ocial S ecurity office here. They just had opened up one down in Tampa down there o n Lykes Brothers. They wasn't no (inaudible). They had just sent 'em in here. And yo u know how long I was startin' to get that? Two years. I worked. And he had colored girls The lady from Jacksonville, she worked with me. She said, John, I ain't gonna quit you until you get your S ocial S ecurity. I don't know what That was an educated woman. She's the boss all over. When anything gettin' wrong in Tampa she come over from Jacksonville and straighten it out. So that cleared that. HJ: All right then. Thank you very much. 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 (49 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 10, 1978.
John Williams describes working for Ringling Brothers circus from 1917 to 1932, and on Tampa's docks after 1933. He also describes his experiences at Clara Frye Hospital and Tampa General Hospital, where he was the first black patient to be treated.
Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Combined Shows.
x Medical care
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