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Wilson, C. G.
q (Charlie G.)
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 (26 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 May 16, 1979.
Charlie Wilson, an attorney for Jim Walters Corporation who formerly worked with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, discusses his career and education. He also comments on the importance of teachers and other role models to young African Americans.
African American lawyers
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
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 00056 Interviewee: Charl e s Wilson (C W ) Interview er : Otis Anthony (O A) Interview date: May 16, 1979 Interview location: Jim Walters Corporation office Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: January 8, 2009 Final Edit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Fin al Edit date: March 17, 2009 Otis Anthony : What I basically want to do is start off by getting some basics, just whatever you want to tell me in terms of your present personal life you know, married, children, that kind of thing; basic biographical data. Then I want to talk a little bit about your education. And well just The theme of the article is success. And what I'm talking about the maximization of potential individual blacks who've maximized their potential in life, received some fulfillment; jo b satisfaction, security this kind of thing. We're gonna cover a little bit what would be your advice to others g ener ally, others and young blacks, o n how to be successful. What is your philosophy? What were some of the motivating factors? Some very kind of brief things, with a different twist from what I was doing before. Okay? Charle s Wilson : All right. OA: Okay, this is Otis Anthony interviewing is that a ttorney? CW: Charles Wilson. I am an attorney but OA: Okay, I like attorney for right now. In terviewing Charles Wilson. It is now 2:35 and the date is May 16, 1979 and we're at Jim Walters Corporation, in his office. Okay, give me a little background o n yourself. CW: Well, my name is Charles Wilson. I am a graduate of Florida A & M [Agricultura l and Mechanical] University with a bachelor's degree. A graduate of Howard University with a law degree. I was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1952. I practiced law in Pensacola, Florida for a number of years, a solo practitioner. I worked as an assistant attorney general after that for a year. OA: That was in Pensacola also? CW: In Tallahassee.
2 OA: In Tallahassee. Okay. CW: And following that I worked for seven years with the United States Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in several capacitie s, but the last capacity I held was associate general counsel for trial litigation, nationally. And during that time I was awarded t he United States Civil Service L eague [Award] for sustained excellence. They give ten awards each year to career executives and I was one of those ten in 1972. I have been with the Jim Walter s Corporation since June 1973. And through a series of various assignments I have reached the point where I'm now a vice president of the corporation with the responsibility for managin g the legal department. This department is composed of some eighteen lawyers, in house, and, of course, we have operating relationships with retained counsel that would probably number in the hundreds you know, throughout the country I enjoy my work as y ou can see. OA: You speak about it so modestly. CW: It's an excellent corporation as you probably know from other publications ; it's very high o n the Fortune 500. OA: Okay. Go right ahead on I just want to make sure I've got the CW: And I just find i t a very challenging and rewarding career. OA: Okay. CW: I enjoy it thoroughly. OA: Tell me this, you married? Children? CW: Well, let me skip the first part of it and let me get into the children. I have a son who is schedul ed to graduate from law sch ool o n Sunday this week ; Sunday coming up. OA: Oh, beautiful. CW: This will be his second degree from Notre Dame University. He did his undergrad work there and he is scheduled to receive his law degree from Notre Dame o n Sunday. I have daughter who is s cheduled to receive a college degree from Marquette University o n the same day. OA: It looks like you've got a problem. CW: I call it a high class problem. OA: Yeah.
3 CW: And, you know, this is basically what I'd like to say about family. OA: Okay. That's beautiful. Okay, let's get into the theme of success, all right, sort of as I defined i t for you here, the ability to maximize your potential. Tell me this, what were the motivating factors in your life? Things that you can remember. Was it a certai n philosophy you came about? Was it the family or a teacher (inaudible)? CW: Well, it had to be a combination of things. OA: Okay. CW: First, I believe that in my high school and college days there was probably a greater effort o n the part of educators to identify to train and stimulate y oung blacks than I think I see today. OA: That's interesting. CW: Most of the principals and teachers I knew were always lookin' for a superstar or sometimes they had trained a superstar and they were always lookin' for another one. And they tried to take a personal interest in developing and training and inspiring people to strive for greater heights and greater achievement. Now mind you this was within what I consider to be the very poor, the very disadvantaged peo ple. OA: Umm o kay. CW: And I'm not sure with the way schools are organized today that the young black gets singled out for gets sought out and singled out for that kind of development. OA: Okay. CW: And I don't mean that as a criticism of today's schoo ls, merely an observation. I don't think I've got the answers. I guess when I look at and I review my lifelong friends let's say from high school and college I suspect that I've got an awful lot more of them that I am proud of than I have that I'm not. I m ean, I can point to some of the most economically deprived people that you c ould ever imagine or perceive who are doing extremely well today merely because of education and diligent application and striving. Of course, those who came along with me had gain ed a tailwind, I guess during World War II because then you came back with the GI Bill and it provided the economic opportunity for people to do an awful lot of things that we might not have been able to do or would not have done. OA: It does make a diffe rence, historically. CW: So you've got to put this in historical perspective. I mean, almost everybody got drafted and almost everybody spent some time in the military and almost everybody had some funding opportunity to go ahead to college colleges th at we might not have attended but for the economic assistance of the government. And so that was an
4 interesting development. A good friend of mine who retired recently I won't just call his name but you would recognize the name. Plus, this is a Tampa pe rson who points out that busing is not new, that he was bus s ed out of the state for his graduate work. Well, I was bus s ed out of the state for my law degree. The University of Florida did not admit blacks to its law school. And they provided for me and my contemporaries the difference between what it cost at the University of Florida and what it cost wherever we elected to go, including the transportation. OA: That's unusual. CW: But what I'm saying is that I'm not sure that the group of people that came into maturity at the time I did was as greatly discouraged by the disadvantages of race and the disadvantages of poverty as we are today. I mean, we were poorer and more discriminated against but more determined not to become a part of the institution of poverty and low opportunity. OA: And you think those teachers make that difference in you? CW: Well, there were a lot of people. I mean, there were i n almost everybody's neighborhood in everybody's school s ystem y ou know, the old professor had an awful lot of respect. I mean, by golly, if your high school principal saw you in the p ool room he had the authority to chase you out and your parents wouldn't go out to reprimand him. You know, and you had to give that old Professor S o and S o that respect. You know? I mean now I guess maybe a lot of parents would go out and want to carry the principal before the school board if he tried t o correct or d emean I mean, so you had that kind of thing, you know. You knew that they had your interest at heart. Yeah, I t hink that had a lot to do with it. OA: Okay. CW: And you see you had the role models. OA: That's right. CW: You had the black principals. You had the black coaches. You had the black bandmasters. And so you had somebody who had at least some status, some stature, some credibility and who could demonstrate to you that, no, I have passed this way myself and if you follow in my footsteps you can have the kind of housing I have and automobile that I have and composition and title and respect and credibili ty yourself. We may well get lost in a multi cultural situation where you don't have anybody specifically charged with the responsibility of taking the rawest of all the raw materials and converting it into a product OA: I like the way you put that.
5 CW: Y ou know, that is marketable. I mean, regardless of the quality of the high schools that you talk about. We came out of those high schools and we went to our Florida A & M, Bethune Cookman, Edward Waters type of places, but when we graduated from those pl aces we could go to graduate schools anywhere in the country and earn graduate d egrees. S o something has to be said for s ystems of recognitions and award and personal interest and I guess the first generation of college in a family probably needs a kind of transition like Florida A & M, Bethune Cookman, Edward Waters. You might well I think you might well need that. OA: Okay. All right. CW: And what they have to be challenged, I think, to continue in the tradition that they have had historically and not sim ply They've got to take the p osition you've got to teach, not just hold class. So I don't know. I didn't intend to lecture that long but OA: No. No CW: I didn't even plan to get into it. OA: That's okay. That gives me a lot of insight. Well, let me ask this, why the decision for law school? Why not doctor, dentist, whatever? CW: At the time I decided to go to law school I really thought it would be valuable training for me. I had not really made up my mind that I was gonna practice law as such. No. There again, I had some eligibility remaining, GI Bill. I felt that it was important to buy all the career development education I could with my entitlement. And this was, perhaps, a good way to do it so I went ahead. OA: Okay. That sounds good. All r ight, the transition EEO to private corporation, why? What was that like? What was the adjustment like? CW: Well, the first thing, it required a learning process and a re orientation in terms of how the world's put together. OA : Okay. CW: I would say th is, it did not require any change in my philosophical commitment because the corporation is just as interested in compliance with the law and conformity to law as the government thinks it should be. The difference is in the question of perception. I have never been asked to do anything or to take any position or to advocate any cause that was inconsistent with OA: Hmm. Let me say something to that. That's particularly good for me to hear. I think one of my fears it used to be one of my real fears, one I' ve sort of hurdled now has to do with whether I'd be able to maintain my philosophical outlook and commitment. As a matter of fact, part of this whole interview one of my own selfish motives for being involved with this article has to do with the fact that I'm at a very delicate point in my
6 own professional growth and those kinds of questions are the kinds of questions that I need answers to, you know, in terms of the corporation because that's where I'm headed now too. CW: Well, what more commitment wha t more consistency between my responsibility as associate general counsel for the EEOC and being able, at least, to become again one of these role models that reflects that you can move into a position of heading the legal department of a Fortune 500 com pany. Now isn't that consistency? OA: That's highly consistent. CW: And so what I'm saying is is it a demonstration that if you had a position that was uniquely structured for a person of my ethic persuasion ? T hat would be one thing. But there is nothi ng ethnic about a department in a corporation in the D eep S outh that is multicultural in its composition and to have a black person head that department. OA: That's right. CW: And so I don't have any problem with the transition as it relates to a philoso phical commitment. OA: Okay, that's good. Did you ever [have] any thoughts about you wouldn't be where you are today? CW: I wouldn't be ? OA: Any real doubts that you wouldn't be a ny points in your life when you really doubted whether you'd be at this point? CW: Oh, yeah. Most of my life I never expected to be who I am today. So I have to put it in reverse. I mean, ten years ago I never entertained any real optimism that I would be doing that. Oh, I mean keep in mind one has to view a position like tha t as a very, very competitive, highly sought after position. When you talk about t he Fortune 500 in this country is basically where everybody wants to be regardless of their ancestral wealth, regardless of their prestige and power and position and that kin d of thing. When you're talkin' about the Fortune 500 where do you go past that? You know? OA: That's it, huh? CW: Yeah. OA: Yeah. Okay. All right. Well, that's awfully realistic because you hear some people say, "W ell, I knew twenty years ago that I'd be right where I am today. I was determined from day one to be where I am. CW: No way. No way.
7 OA: Yeah. Okay. That's good to hear to. What about goals? Are you Is this the end? What about goals in terms of what would you like to see for you? What wou ld you like to see, let's say, for this community? And CW: Well, as far as my personal goals are concerned it's really to do an adequate and satisfactory jo b in the position I now hold. I'm not aspiring to anything else. I'm not looking for anything els e. I'm perfectly happy with where I am. That doesn't mean that I'm lazy or resting o n my oars because in a position like this you grow every day in terms of adding to your competence, to your skill, you r ability. And it's not a job where you adequacy yest erday is also adequacy today. Law is a learned profession, but it is a learning profession. And it takes the same kind of ability and application to grow enough to meet the demands and the needs of the job to provide you built in goals and aspirations with in the context of what I'm doing now. OA: Okay. All right. What about highlights? What would you say was the highlight of some of your contributions an your way to success? Any that stand out? The really satisfying moment that CW: I guess in different p eriods of my life I have had the opportunity to make contributions at different times and different levels depending o n sort of the need of the time. Turn off the tape recorder for just a minute. What I'm gonna say is not off the record, but I just don't want you to waste the OA: That's all right. pause in recording OA: All right, tell me a little bit about your leisure life, your hobbies, what you do in your spare time if you have any spare time W hat do you like to do? CW: I have very little. I have very little spare time so I don't do very much. I don't really have any outstanding hobbies. OA: Okay. No outstanding hobbies. What would you like to do if you had time and the the kind of things you'd like to get into? CW: Oh, I don't know. I'm just OA: Any favorite sport? CW: Oh, no. I just kinda like to putter around and do a little swimming and cookouts and stuff like that. OA: Okay, that sounds good. One other thing. Okay, in terms a ny ideal goal that you may or may not ever have the time or the opportunity to do, that if you had the chance to you know like they say, "go back" into the community and put together something, any ideal goal like that you'd like to do?
8 CW: Not really. Not really. I've pretty well stated what my goals are to the e xtent that I can project in the future. OA: Okay. All right. Any advice to others who want to be successful? CW: I don't know that I have any advice to pass off really. I mean, but I I don't think there's any substitute for hard work and aspiration and abilities. OA: I think that'll do it. CW: All right, sir. OA: Okay, I want to mention a couple of things. I couldn't get a hold of my photographer and I haven't had a chance to talk with you but we may want to get a shot of you if that's okay, for th is article. CW: Oh, I don't OA: I'll call you ahead of time and let you know. CW: Okay. OA: And the other thing is none of the articles I'm interviewing about eight or nine different people and it's not guaranteed that this aspect will get out CW : I understand. OA : O kay. CW: I understand you're interviewing a bunch of people and it's got to be edited and OA: Yeah, the whole thing CW: so you may OA: the whole nine yards. CW: you may omit half of 'em. end of interview