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1 Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida Oral History Project Oral History Program Florida Studies Center University of South Florida, Tampa Library D igital O bject I dentifier : A31 000 7 8 Interviewee: Robert Gilder ( R G) Interviewer s : Otis Anthony (O A) Fred Beaton (FB) Interview date: July 17, 1978 Interview location: Unknown Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview c hanges date: January 14, 2009 Final Edit by: Maria Kreiser Final E dit date: February 17, 2009 [Transcriber's note: There is no formal start to this interview.] Robert Gilder: During that time there was a lot of racial bigotry in Tampa, as well as throughout Florida a nd, needless to say, throughout the nation. Bl acks w ere, as in many places ( Intercom buzzes) Pause in recording RG: I won't give you occurrences and I don't have particular dates right at my fingertip but the struggle to open up recreation, such as the beaches and bowling alleys was one of the things that we participated in in the early days. As a matter of fact, jointly, we integrated every bowling alley at the same time. We went to fo u r people went to every bowling alley in Hillsborough C ounty in order to try and integrate them. They knew we were coming. Their attitude wa s that "I f I integrate I will lo se business by people going to other bowling alleys. That's why we adopted the strategy of going to all of them at the same time, one o'clock o n Saturday morning Saturday afternoon to integrate eve ry one of them, s o that those who would be inclined to go elsewhere would find black bowlers. It was successful. Some carried their guns. As a matter of fact, to be honest with you, I was one of the ones carried my A rmy 45. And believe it or not, holdi ng it in place, bowling, I bowled a 245 the first game. I think it was a matter of racial pride. I hadn't bowled in fifteen years. I think it was a matter of racial pride. And maybe it's the way I had to go down the lane holding my 45 in place. I remember a cou ple of weeks afterwards I went o n the lane and it slid out went half way down the lane. Later, I realized that if I could not be involved in the fight for freedom and justice without
2 having to carry a gun I decided, "W ell, maybe I should get out o f it. That was much later. Because the racist element was, is, and always will be dangerous i n our nation. Otis Anthony : Now, this was in the fiftie s [1950s] ? RG: Yes. OA : Okay. RG: And of course, I don't feel the need to carry a gun now because I be lieve that the Lord is gonna take care of me. And the Lord has taken care of me. And even with a gun, I don't feel that I a m protected as much as I would be with the help of the Lord. There was a political involvement I got involved and became president of the Young Democrats. Early o n I got in volved in the political process, b ecause I felt and still feel t hat in our day and time that we must participate in the political process. We must be a part of the political decision. There are two kinds of people : those that'll make the decisions and those who abide by them. And so I did get active politically r emain politically active a nd still am very much involved in politics one way or the other. I put o n a number of voter registra tion drives, voter educat ion drives a nd assisted every black that has e v er run for office in our county, in our state, and in our nation. Needless to say, there were some that may not have been as qualified as others, but because they could relate, they didn't have to learn how b lacks feel and the problems of blacks, I felt that they could probably relate to our political p roblems more than the traditional candidates. So, from that standpoint, and not a racist standpoint, I supported all of those blacks that were running n ot only physically, mentally supported them, but financia l ly I've supported them. Fred Beaton : What were the conditions of, say, the first b lacks that ran? What were their conditions as far as their financial state? RG: Blacks in Hillsborough C ounty? FB : Righ t. RG: You had a few families that were fairly well off and but the majority of people the majority of the blacks, as is today, still were the first to be fired, the last to be hired r elegated to inferior working conditions and the like. That hasn't ch anged that m uch. We have more blacks into the mainstream but that's by and large due to the pressures of the federal government. You have more blacks i n government jobs. That too, is by and large due to the pressures and availability of funds from the fed eral government. Not much has changed for blacks without financial assistance from the government. Right now, if you removed all blacks that were either directly on or indirectly o n government salaries, depending o n revenue sharing funds, labor departmen t funds, HEW
3 [Health, Education, and Welfare] funds, CSA funds, HUD [Housing and Urban Development] funds if you removed all of those blacks from various positions in city/county positions, then there would almost be a total absence of blacks in our struct ure. There are two reasons for that. One is, the government requires that blacks be involved. The other is, the entrenched political power structure realize s that these funds are not here forever I f blacks are going to work, here is an opportunity to put them o n and if the government ever takes away the money then they won't have to worry about having blacks in their depar tment. They can say to blacks, We l l, the federal government cut off the funds and you just happen to be workin' for one of those prog rams so we don't have you. Politically, the racist politicians can say when their constituents ask them why there are so many blacks and I don't know what "so many" blacks mean s; I've heard that and nobody's ever really defined it for me w hy there are s o many blacks working in gover nment? Then they can say, Wel l, they work for the federal government, they don't work for us. You don't pay for them. Of course they do. They pay for them through federal funds com ing down, but it's a political cop out We were able to get OEO [Office of Economic Opportunity] funds. We were the first in Florida to get grants. The very first meeting which was held in city council chambers with the mayor Nick Nuccio, and Representative Congressman Sam Gibbons OA: Was this still in the fiftie s [1950s] now? RG: Yup. OA: Okay. RG: Congressman Sam Gibbons, the c hamber of c ommerce, United Fund, county government, school system the y held a meeting in the early fiftie s [1950s] to organize a community based group to try and get funds from OEO. The bill hadn't really passed at that time. It was in various House committees. And they invited a couple of blacks there as participants i n terms of lookin' on ; there were no real black input. As a matter of fact, Bob Saunders and myself were in attendance and Nathani e l Crook 1 and Jim Hammond. Bob Saunders and I, after having att ended the meeting and being told on the record that they were not going to involve such organizations as NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Color ed People] and the reason being is that we i t was very carefully explained to us that Washington was going to see to it that blacks were involved in this effort and were protected in this effort. Well, having had an opportunity to review, in advance, the pending legislation, we realized that not only was this going to be quote Washington based and funded but they were saying for the first time in the history of this nation that the government is no longer going to sit here and decide what each comm unity wants, what each community needs that we want input coming up from the grass roots that we need advice o n what the 1 Crook was the director of the Tampa Urban League in the 1960s.
4 problems are and what the local community and its community leaders feel is a viable, workable solution. So we immediately realized th at if organizations such as the Urban League or NAACP were not involved that the information being fed into Washington relative to the problems of the poor community and in particular in the problems of the black community were not going to be addresse d. So Bob Saunders and myse lf sent off a registered letter return receipt requested to the proper sources in Washington and Atlanta indicating that according to the guidelines that the total community was not going to really be represented. I remember T ed B e rry 2 was involved in it and he immediately pulled the request for funds out of the hopper that was almost certain to be funded and told them that they m ust have one third / one third representation and part of that was the NAACP and Urban League and o rganizations such as that a nd that there would be no funds for Hillsborough C ounty until such thing was done. I mmediately the delegation that had been sent to Washington came back and wanted to get together and work out whatever the problems were. It h elped because they didn't realize that what we were saying here they realized at that point that those blacks in Tampa are not cut off from what's going on. The pipeline information come down t hey knew that we were knowledgeable. They also realized that we had a certain amount of connections in Washington, Atlanta, Tall ahassee and they decided that, W ell, let's involve them. And involved we were s o much so until from the very beginning we helped shape the destiny of the agency in terms of who would be director, what the programs were that would be coming. I would like to think that thousands of people were helped. Not as many as I would like to have seen. And the reason not as many because most of your program s at best, do not address themselves to 1 00 percent of the problems. Head Start, for example, we have served traditionally about fifteen hundred kids. Well, there are at least a hundred thousand k ids that could use Head Start. So when you're talking abou t fifteen hundred, you're talking about 15 percent of the p roblem. The Manpow er programs that have come down: although they address themselves to solving the problems of the unemplo yed, they sometimes only solve 5 to 10 percent of them. So yes, it was a token effort. But what we tr ied to do was to make a good effort with a token effort o n the part of the federal government. I'm quite pleased with the majority of things that occurred with OEO's effort to help poor people to help themselves. The private sector, as far as working with minorities ha s not lived up to what I consider to be a commitment. I don't consider it successful at all. There's a lot to be done in that area. We always realized that we took a three legged stool it took the people themselves having the desire to succeed ; it took t he private sector putting in whatever resources and know how to help them succeed ; and it, of course, takes a viable, workable educational system, along with whatever hel p the federa l government can do. None of the s e can succeed without the other. And the sooner we find that out and stop kickin g and keep ing kids out of school slow learners, disruptive students and the like the sooner we learn 2 Ber ry was a civil rights leader in Cincinnati, and also that city's first African American mayor.
5 that kids learn nothing but anti establishment i nformation when they're out of school. And the way things are they are learning very littl e more than anti establishment i nformation when they're in school b ecause the system says to them, "Hey, l ook at me. Y es I am going to open ly and blatantly discriminate against you and there ain't a damn thing you can do about it. W e were involved in trying to hel p the school system integ rate its schools. Hillsborough C ounty, as you know, is the most inte grated school system in America, a nd probably the most racist. It wasn't designed that way, but it worked out that way. I thin k that has more to do with the people that's involved in terms of superintendent and s chool b oard members and the like not all the s chool b oard members but the majority of them. I think it has a great deal to do with the failure of the media to try to ed ucate people o n how they ought to treat each other. The media has been a dismal failure and still is. There's a racist element in the media and as long as especially whe n you're dealing with the media ( Intercom buzzes ) Pause in recording RG: When you 're dealing with racism in the media it's like having your drinking water contaminated I t spreads. It certainly has spre a d and it's contagious. I was involved in the U S Civil Right s Commission Advisory Committee effort OA: What year was this now? RG: I was placed o n the commission in the early sixtie s [1960s] a nd I've remained o n the commission ever since. Right after it was formed. We have held a number of hearing s regarding the school system, regarding police brutality, regarding police killin g kids, Economic Development Commission hearings Y ou n ame it, t he commission, under the leadership of Mr. Bobby Doctor in the regional office, has done an outstanding job. T he one thing that I admire about Mr. Doctor and you probably won't get too much from him because he's an outside person but he's one outsider that has really helped shape the destiny of Hillsborough C ounty because of his availability to this community ; b ecause of his efforts to stop police from killing young bl ack fifteen year old kid s unarmed; b ecause of the many trips that he's made to this town I feel as if has had a significant role in ridding this community of a lot of its racism. If we had two or three more governmental agencies that provided the help that Mr. Doctor has provid ed we'd certainly be farther down the road than we are now. Economic Development was a spin off from the OEO effort. One of the things that I put a coalition of hats together, and I call them a coalition of hats because that's what I us e d In order to be effective enough to get the attention of the political power structure so that they wouldn't take over, dominate, run rule and control the monies that were sent to help
6 poor and black folks, I had as one hat, a member of the Advisory Committee to the U S Civil Rights Commission that I wore and wore very well. At the same time I was president of the NAACP which was a hat that I wore and wore very well. At the same time I was president of the Young Democrats which is a hat that I wore and wore well. The one ingredient that I was missin' and [it] still is is that I didn't have $200,000 in the b ank. Now, I would have been hell had I had $250,000 in the bank, but they never knew that I didn't have any money ; only the bankers knew. Still don't have any money. But I would like to think that I still have a minor degree of influence in shaping my destiny. I think that everybody ought be involved politically in helping to shape their own destiny. I resent ed then and I do now, the title quote, "black lead er I think that's a title that divides and has a disruptive tendency a nd it's designed by the media to divide and conqueror. I've never encouraged it at all because I think it's delibe rate o n the part of the media. I've always looked upon myself as an individual was trying to go in the right direction and encourage others to g o in if they'd like to. I am still, and ha v e been, involved with the Community Action Agency ever s i nce the first day and I'm still involved as it s chairman. FB : Okay, can yo u te l l us something about the Commun ity Action Agency from day one o n up? RG: Day one o n up ? I told you about the beginning where they didn 't want to see me o n the board FB : M m h m. BG: until, I would say, a complete ta keover. Take over not in the s ens e that we were going to take it over and put in bad programming, put in bad people and stuff like that. We had to form a coalition with some other powerful entity. At the very beginning the school board w as trying to take over. T he city of Tampa was tryin g to take over The c ounty c ommiss ion was trying to take over. Doug Cone of Cone Brothers was trying to take it over. All he saw was millions of dollars coming here and he wanted us to build roads with it. We got a lot of political heat because we wouldn' t build roads and put it into concrete. As a matter of fact I almost got put in concrete myself because I wouldn't put things into concrete. We got a board that was sensitive. And there's one white man that contributed a tremendous amount of effort to t he cause of black folks very low p rofile, but has d one more than any other person that I know of and that was Tudlow Johnson with the United Fund. Tudlow was a very low profile indi vidual. He was from Mississippi. W orked his ass off to make sure that justi ce preva iled among black folks. He was o n the board and really, I guess, formed a coalition between the county involving whoever the representatives with the county and United Fund.
7 Not having enough votes o n there to carry any weight the coalition wo rked because we got most of these people involved in the coalition and were able to keep it from being taken over by the racist element in our community. That was the big fight : to keep it from being controlled by the racists I t finally resolved because the minnows w e were swimming with got to be big fish and they themselves took o n the alligator profile. But we had grown too, politically. We'd grown in knowledge. The one thing that the s ystem fears did and does and will and that is knowledge, properly used. And I do say "properly used because I don't give a dam n how smart you are if you don't use it to your advantage then you ain't go t shit. See? The element of surprise has always worked n ever doing those things that the system anticipates you woul d do when they anticipate you will do it. I don't consider myse l f any smarter than anybody else, just luckier. The OEO programs coupled with the c ivil rights effort when I say civil rights effort ," I'm not just talking about black folks, I'm talking ab out civil rights for all people. Even before women started fighting for their right s, the civil rights laws and movement fought for justice and equality for women, handicapped [people]. This is something new now for women, who fighting for our rights. Well the laws that the NAACP lobbied through, the laws that a nd we used to lobby with OEO too, before w e put a enough pressure o n Congress to have them pass a law that Side 1 ends; side B begins RG: At first, you know, Congress passed this bill and they d id not have it did not address itself to whether we could participate in the political process A nd we were, in fact, involving poor people in the process. I f Congress had not stopped that you would really see some poor [people's] involvement in the polit ical process. You would really see some black involvement in the political process. But they stopped that. They stopped tha t very early because c ity h all had put out a lie that you can't fight c ity h all. Well, we fought c ity hall when we needed to, a nd found out the c ity h all did put that lie out to keep people from fighting them. That was the most repressive piece o f legislation that was passed two or three years after OEO was passed to make it against the law for federal employees to really get involv ed in the political process, in terms of involving others in it. That hurt. But I like to think that w ell, I know for a fact that 95 percent of the federal programs that have come to town, including Model Cities and all of your Manpower T S EP, and all of yo ur Manpower programs I personally helped to write them up and get them lobbied through. We're involved in establishing a junior college system in Hillsborough Count y a nd very much involved in the site selection of Ybor City campus. The power structure h ad no intentions of putting a campus in Ybor City because they were afraid of racial hostility, ra p e, robbery and the like. They had decided that they were going to go out near the University of South Florida and put a campus out there. Very muc h involve d in getting
8 the governor, who was then Claude Kirk, to intercede and say to the s chool b oard and say to the c hamber of c ommerce and say to the political power structure that if there is no campus centrally located so that blacks won't ha ve to hav e a car to attend, there wil l be no campus. There will be no community c ollege in Hillsborough C ounty. This is what the only Repu blican since Reconstruction did. T hat was Claude Kirk. Give the devil his credit. And he wasn't a bad governor, as far as blacks are concerned. He's the only governor I know that e v er went to black school s and said "W here are your electric typewriters ? I just saw some electric t ypewriters at Plant High School; where are they in Blake? When I come back I want electric typewriters here. How man y janitors you ha v e? Plant was cleaned up. I understand you ha v e half the janitors here at Blake. I want equal dollars spent o n black students that is being spent o n white students. That was what Claude Kirk did. FB : But were you attacked perso na l ly for your i nvolvement in some of t hese ? RG: Oh, I've been threatened hundreds of times. Phone calls. Letters. Dolls in the yard. Oh, I've had hundreds of attacks. OA: Okay, Mr. Gilder, gettin' back to politics, why do you think we just have only tw o [black] elected officials in Hillsborough C ounty? RG: Oh, I think that politically, we have not played our cards right. We have allowed ourselves to be tricked out of being elected. Well, I'll te l l you exactly what I've said before o n television so I may as well say it here. The established black leadership has not been together. And most of the traditional political was black. They've always had their political alliances they were locked in. The Latin communities have come to the black community and they've drained off the black support for their relatives and for themselves. When it come to repaying that debt we ll find that they always have a relative in and they cannot re pay the debt. Well, you don't have a political coalition when you have peopl e saying I can't support a black candidate this time because my cousin is running. Well, I find that they all got cousins. So hell, why should we have a political coalition with somebo dy that's got a million cousins? It's been one sided and that's bas ically why. Another reason is that blacks traditionally don't get involved in politics until six months before the election. There's no ongoing and when I say blacks ," I don't mean those few of us that do help with voter registration I'm talking about the masses of so called black l eadership W e crank up the machinery six months before the election and then it's too late, b ecause in order to win an election you've got to run two or three years in advance. You've got to be involved for two or three yea rs. And you've got to plan it We crank it up, get involved we a s a whole I speak crank it up, get involved three, four, five, six months ahead of time Y ou see emerging three or four community groups.
9 After election they disappear in the woodwork. Th ere's one now that I hope won't do that. Of course, I've hoped that every other one didn't do that too. So, I'll have to wait, hope, and pray that we get a workable political solution to our problem. I know for a fact that we have many blacks in our cou nty that can serve. We, in Hillsborough C ounty, have an abundance of brilliance as far as black people are concerned. I've worked with people all over the state and half of the nation and I have never in any c ity that I've gone in found as many smart guy s in one city as you have in Hillsborough C ounty. Miami, Jacksonville, Gainesville, Atlanta, they're not any smarter than we are The one thing they don't have now, Miami has it now and that is the abundance of the Latin influence. In cities where you ha ve black and white, the whites have felt pressure. Well, i t's time to relent and support quote, some blacks in office. That's their trade off. But in Hillsborough C ounty every seat that has been designated or sort of earmarked or agreed that this ou ght to be a black seat, some Latin has come in and taken i t It's as simple as that. The Latin community has an advantage. They have their little stores grocer y stores, bars, clothing stores disbursed throughout the black community. Many of those people are on the book until payday. And they influence a lot of black folks which way to vote. That has been one of the secrets of their success is to try to keep there from being anything negative spread in the black community about their candidate. And when p eople go in to get their pork chops they give 'em a card. And that is how we have lost many black votes. And, of course, this person that they see every other day that they go to the grocery store ha d more influence o n them than the few black leaders that they see every two years. Do you see the point? So what I'm saying is that two things need to happen: we need to engage in economic development in our community, support the struggling black businessman so that our people can go there and shop. A nd then we need to see our people more than every two years when we want to influence them o n who to vote for. People are not dumb. They remember that hell it was two or four years ago when I saw you last. Now, you need me? Why are you comin' out here now? Shit Most of the people said, F uck you. They find out who you're supportin' and go just the opposite, just for the hell of it. One of the things that most of our leadership don't realize is that a bro ther may be in the poolroom or o n the corner without a di m e in his pocket, but that don't mean he's dumb and don't know what the fuck's goin' on. Just the opposite of that. (Knocking at door) Yeah? Pause in recording
10 RG: Blacks in the housing projects are very politically astute because they know the pai n and suffering. They know about police brutality. They know ab o ut the garbage not being up. They know about people not being taken care of at the health department. They know about the food stamp lines. You see, they know about the problems of our communi ty first hand because they are the last to receive service. They are the most abused. So how can anyone go out there once every two or three or four years and te l l them how good it's gon na be if you vote for Mr. Bubba? Because, hell, they voted for the la st Mr. Bubba and the re ain't a da m n thing changed since then. So that's where it is. That is one of the reasons that every week I make a point of trying to visit and not just visit trying to go down o n Twenty Second [Street], go down o n Main Street, hi t Palm Avenue y ou know. I adopted this during the riot b efore the riot. And this was one of the reasons that I was able to get the state's highest honor for bravery during the riot from the s tate of Florida the gold medal from the s tate of Florida I was awarded that f or helping to save lives and assist in stopping the riot. My reason for participating in stopping the riot is because I'd seen riots in Detroit, Chicago and other cities where many, many blacks were killed. There wasn't a damn thing done a bout it. Just another dead black. And we were trying to avoid that bloodshed here because we knew that there wasn't gonna be a damn thing done about it. And that's why I stayed up for four days trying to stop the riot. The only reason I was effective al ong with some other people in our community was because I knew many of the people by first name. I'd shot pool with them. I'd shot dice with them. Had coffee with them. At least I knew them. And when I said, "Hey, man, get the fuck out of here," or whateve r, many of them listened. And if I didn't know that particular person, I knew somebody that knew them. So I was able to be, to some degree, effective. FB : Was it your concept for the W hite H ats or w ho was that? RG: I was involved in that. Jim Ha mmond an d myself. We originally there you know, Dr. [James O.] Brookin s Originally, we started paying people on Nebraska Avenue to stand guard. You know, put an armband on. It wasn't a white hat at first, it was an armband. And we tied handkerchiefs around peopl e's arms. Now, we knew that some of the people that we put handkerchiefs on had been breaking into places but at least this gave them some kind of immunity, l etting them know that if you help us we're gonna look the other way in terms of puttin' you in j ail, but man, let's stop this shit. Those guys wanted to get out of the riot situation as much as we wanted to and as much as the police wanted them to. But they didn't know how. The W hite H ats was a spin off of that, no matter what anybody tells you. And t o some degree it at least gave people some place to go and something to do. It was very interesting. It was very dangerous. I remember they broke s omebody broke into a
11 gun shop. W e were having a meeting wi th the governor and the sheriff, a nd it was brou ght to the sheriff's attention at the time that somebody had just broken into Jess Harper's g un s hop, stolen a lot of guns and a lot of ammunition. Well, they were about to go down there and kick open the doors in Central Park Village and search every hous e. It'd have been a bloodbath if they'd done that. Finally, I asked them, "Well, how many guns did they steal?" Well, they got that report. They stole about a hundred guns, but they were all broken guns and couldn't fire. "How many rounds of ammunition di d they steal?" Well, they stole two or three cases of ammunition, but it was all World War II ammunition that might not fire, and it certainly wouldn't fit the guns that they'd stolen. So really, what the system perceived as a major problem that would caus e them to go down there a nd get shot kicking open somebody's door, with a few well placed questions [we] found there wasn't no damn problem at all. They were about to kill and get killed for nothin g And the people who stole it ran through Central Park Vil lage but probably didn't even stop there w ith some useless guns I remember walkin g the street with Charles Jones Jim Hammond Bobby Scott, Jim Williams, some other guys, and it was very dangerous out there. People were shooting and throwin g bottles. T ampa had a hell of a riot on its hands Much to the credit of the way here again, Claude Kirk and Sheriff [Malcolm] Beard conducted themselves in conjunction with those of us that I've mentioned helped save lives. OA: The question has come up to us, how w ere you all able to persuade the sheriff and the chief of pol ice to let you all go into that ? RG: Political power. OA: Because that has puzzled a lot of people. RG: Power. Power. Claude Kirk said, "I wan t these people to try to do it ." The governor poin ting down, "Okay, I have con fidence." T he governo r called me right after the boy er, young man was killed [Martin] Chambers was killed, and [the governor] said, "What do you think we need to do?" And I said, "I think you need to come here." And he called to convene the meeting. And we tried to get the religious black and white community involved. And they were a little hesitant. I think Reverend [A. Leon] Lowry and a few other people. F or the most part I recall going to the religious organizations and ( Door opens) Yeah? Pause in recording RG: We went to them and told them the role particularly the ones who had churches
12 around the riot are and told them what their role what we perceived a s could be their role. They were very reluctant to going out ther e. They were very hesitant about going out there. I remember getting on my knees praying for them, begging them to go out there. OA: We read about that. RG: H m m ? OA: We read a w hole lot about that. T hat's why what we couldn't understand was how you all was able to do that. And they was supposed to be the quote, the leaders of that particular community. RG: Well, we tried. That was what we needed at the time, and we tried and it didn't work S o we said to Reverend [H. MacDonald] Nelson, who was one of the ones who went out there, because Reverend was workin g for me at the time at the Community Action Agency S o we were able to get him a nd Rudy Spoto 3 We got Rudy a nd his people out there. And we we re able to say "W e can handle it with words better th an you can handle it with bullets. And they knew that. They knew that. But, here again, the governor taking res ponsibility and saying, "Okay, S heriff, I'm gonna put you in charge. You're the head law enforcement officer, but this is the way I want to han dle it." So we were able to deal with that. And unlike any other city in America, we didn't have the bloodshed that you had in other cities. OA: Right. And the White H at concept and the whole concept your brainchild was used in other cities. RG: Yeah. A s a matter of fact I was carried up to Detroit and several other cities to help out as a consultant with their problems. B u t it was very i t was a thing that happened. We should have never had the riot, b ecause I don't believe that violence is the way. Howe ver, as a result of the riot many people who not able to get jobs [got them] later on. The door of the federal government fell open and as much money as we needed fe l l out. T S EP is a good example of how we were able to get as much money as we needed from the government because of rioting, the whole T S EP concept. The West Tampa Neighborhood Service Center's complex I personally went up to Washington and got that money for that complex over there. And it's the first time that a million dollars or more was put in the black community to serve the black communit y And I'm so proud when I ride by there going or coming from work and see that here in th e midst of poverty is a million dollars serving the people. A supermarket of services. It ain't enough, but i t's a hell of a lot more than we had. Because what we had o n that very spot was a racist trailer park owned by the city of Tampa. And we had make the mayor make those racist white folks move out because they wouldn't even let a service man 3 Spoto was director of the Welfare Division, and later became county administrator.
13 from MacDill [A ir Force Base] put his trailer in there. And the NAACP said to the mayor "Y ou're either gonna integrate it, tear it down or the folks out here is gonna burn it down. Here's a man servin' his damn country, couldn't even park a trailer o n a city owned tra iler park. So we converted that into from a racist trailer park into a million dollar complex : swimming pool, softball diamond, gymnasium, job opportunities, day care center OA: Okay, Mr. Gilder, when you did all this was there any animosity, you know, between, say, other leaders against you? RG: I'm sure there was but I didn't stop to look at 'em. I didn't stop to fight 'em. I didn't fight 'em at all. You see it take s two to fight. Oh, I'm sure that the white power structure I fo und that every white man has got had him not got but had still probably got had him a powerful black man. Every powerful white man has him a powerful black. And anytime that I would attack that power structure his black would attack me. But I didn't pay that shit no atten tion. I didn't I kept my eye o n the sparrow. I didn't take time to fight quote Mr. Bubba himsel f Bob Thomas, Ellsworth Simmon s black man. I didn't stop to take time to fight them. I fought the problem, not my misguided black brother, whoever he happe ned to be. I fought the problem. I kept m y eyes o n the problem. And, with the help of the Lord, man, I feel that I have made a contribution in this town. RG: I still don't take time to fight my brother out there. You see, you can't fight within and be suc cessful outside. Now, if he goes too far I'll personally punch him in the goddamn mouth, but th a t's just between me and him o n the corner. Not for press. Not for anybody else knowin' about it, unless he te l ls somebody. You see? OA: Okay. Another question I ha ve to ask you : in some of the editorials in the last two years your name ha s come up for mayor RG: M m h m. OA: I s this one of the say your idea or the press idea? RG: I guess it's the press idea. I certainly have left open my option to run for w hatever I want to run for. I think leaving your options open to run for whatever you want to run for or whatever you feel the people would support you running for is synonymous with voting for whoever you want to vote for. It is my political prerogative to leave my political options open. A smart politician, which I may not be, always leaves his political options open ; you never paint yourself in. I think I'd be a da m n good mayor, especially when I compare myself and my knowledge with some of the electe d officials that w e see o n the surface today, including the mayor [William Poe] A very fine businessman but I wouldn't give you a dime for his
14 leaders h ip as a mayor. He might be a hell of a lot better than I think he is. I think he's at least smart enoug h to get some fairly smart people around him but that's basically all I can say. That's basically all I know. And, of course, I'm n ot the only one ; there are a lot of blacks that could do an outstanding job as mayor or anything else in this town. We have an untapped reservoir of talent in the black community. I think that, should I run for office, I hope to win and I hope to serve. I have served. And the reason that I have not run for office is because I have had an opportunity to serve not being an ele cted official. Few people can f ew elected officials can point with pride to the accomplishments that I can. I doubt that I could have been any more successful had I been an elected official, b ecause I parlayed a number of strengths to work for the black co mmunity. I have yet to take a dime from a politician. I have yet to ask one for something for me. I always ask for good government. And I've had politician s look at me like I was a da m n fool when I asked for good honest government open to all of its people I've had some say "W hat's that? You know, when they win and divide the pie I go over there seeing what I can get for the people, not for me. And that has been to my advantage because they always feel as if they owe me a political chit. And I've got a desk draw er full of political chits. I don't cash 'em in for bul l shit. But when the chips are down I'll cash a chit. There are a lot of people who owe me political chits in this town and I ain't ever gonna let the mother fuckers get out of debt. Never. Keep a politician owing you OA: That's right. BG: and you always can get something done. But if you take his money or his beer can or his fish sandwich or his little bul l shit favor then he done paid you up front. H e don't owe you nothing. You take tha t $500, $1,000, $2,000, he done bought you. He don't owe you a godda m n thing. And o n and on. Tampa is good. We've come a hell of a long ways here in Tampa. But I do say that we still have a hell of a long ways to go. FB : Okay, Mr. Gilder, the last questio n I want ask you is how do you view the Barclay [ Barclay v. Florida ] decision with the Community Action Agency? RG: The Barclay decision? I think the Barclay decision is a very bad decision a nd I think it's gonna be counterproductive. I think it's gonna be detrimental for years to come. Not so much from the c ommunity a ction standpoint, but I think that from a business standpoint a lot of companies are going to be kickin g blacks out of very important jobs, afraid of court decisions. But as Mrs. Holmes Ele anor Holmes says with the EOC "A businessman would be very unwise if he used the Barclay decision to re segregate his plant." And I agree totally. Okay? OA: Okay. e nd of interview
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Gilder, Robert L.
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 (62 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 July 17, 1978.
Robert Gilder, former president of Tampa's NAACP chapter, discusses his participation in the civil rights movement. Particular emphasis is given to local politics, registering black voters, school desegregation, and the 1967 riot.
Gilder, Robert L.
Civil rights workers
Civil rights workers
x Politics and government.
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