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Robert Saunders


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Robert Saunders
Series Title:
Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Physical Description:
1 sound file (96 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;
Saunders, Robert W ( Robert William ), 1921-
Anthony, Otis R
Black History Research Project of Tampa
University of South Florida Libraries -- Florida Studies Center. -- Oral History Program
University of South Florida -- Tampa Library
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
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Subjects / Keywords:
Civil rights workers -- Interviews   ( lcsh )
Civil rights workers -- Florida   ( lcsh )
School integration -- Florida -- Hillsborough County   ( lcsh )
African Americans -- Florida   ( lcsh )
African Americans -- History -- Florida   ( lcsh )
Oral history   ( local )
Online audio   ( local )
Oral history.   ( local )
Online audio.   ( local )
interview   ( marcgt )


Robert Saunders describes his educational background and how he became a civil rights worker. Saunders served as the NAACP's field secretary for the state for Florida, and was heavily involved in the effort to integrate Hillsborough County schools.
Interview conducted July 13, 1978.
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Otis R. Anthony and members of the Black History Research Project of Tampa.
General Note:
Other interviewers for the Black History Research Project of Tampa were Fred Beaton, Joyce Dyer, Herbert Jones, and Shirley Smith.

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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Resource Identifier:
aleph - 020798505
oclc - 436223141
usfldc doi - A31-00085
usfldc handle - a31.85
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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 Digital Object Identifier: A31 000 8 5 Interviewee: Robert Saunders (RS) Interviewer: Otis Anthony ( OA), Fred Beaton (FB) Interview date: July 13, 1978 Interview location: City of Tampa Equal Empl o yment Office Transcribed by: Unknown Transcription date: Unknown Interview changes by: Mary Beth Isaacson Interview changes date: December 10, 2008 Final edit by: Maria Kreiser Final edit date: March 4, 2009 Robert Saunders: I was born in Tampa, Florida, in what was once known as Roberts City, 1608 Dorsey Avenue. Otis Anthony : I remember where I was sitting ; the first person I heard mention ed Roberts City. M y mother worked in the cigar factory over there. RS: J. W. Roberts Cigar Factory. OA : That's right. RS: I was born just behind the hotel that was owned by J. W. Roberts. My grandparents owned the house which they bought somewhere around 1907, tha t house later became what was known as Rogers Funeral Home. My grandmother and grandfather were, of course, James W. Rogers, S enio r (buzzer sounds) and Marion E. Rogers. Pause in recording RS: My mother is Mrs. Christine Saunders, and my father was Wil lard Saunders ; he was a brick mason. I have one brother Dr. Norman Jackson. Different marriage, father ; he's younger than I am. Of course you all know who Dr. Jackson is 1 I entered school in what was the old West Tampa school on the corner of Green [St reet] and I think it's Albany [Avenue]. A t that time it was a wooden four room, wooden structure, and the kindergarten class or the first grade class was a tin structure in the back of the wooden structure. M y first teacher I remember was a Mrs. Higgins ; she later became known as ah, I can't remember her name L ived out on Twenty Ninth Street ; she died on Twenty Ninth Street. 1 At the time of the interview, Dr Jackson was executive director of the Florida Commission on Human Relations.


2 At that time my aunt Josephine Rogers, who was a school teacher she is known to many people as Joseph ine Newberry and Josephine Ha rmo n was teaching out there, and she use d to take me to school. I remember the transfer of all the students to the new West Tampa school, which is now Dunbar Elementary off Main [Street] and Rome [Avenue]. And among the teachers I remember are Mrs. Lester, the mother of Allen Lester and Dr. Lester and others, Mrs. Juanita Sheehy, and Mrs. Bryant, who lived across from the county jail, who i s now dead. OA : These teachers, they played a really prominent role? RS: They played a very prominent role in the edu cation that most of I' d say 85 percent of the students from West Tampa. Mrs. Sheehy is still alive she's about maybe eighty five, close to ninety now but she played a very important role, Juanita Sheehy. I suggest if you haven't talk to her, you might wa nt to talk to her. OA : Okay. RS: Of course Mrs. Lester is dead, but Mrs. L ester was the wife of a postman. T hey lived in West Tampa and were a very prominent Tampa family, as far as the black community goes. And of course her husband being a postman maybe he was one of the first black postm e n in Tampa, I'm not sure. S ome of the Lesters are still living here T here is one married and living in St. Petersburg or Clearwater. The community in which I was born, the block in which I was born in, we were the on ly black family in the block T he other families were Italian and Spanish, Hispanic. F red B eaton : This was around what time? RS: I was born in 1921, June 9, 1921, and up until around twenty nine [1929] or even later than that, the community was predomin antly Spanish and Italian. OA : That's what our research bears out, too. RS: I guess in talking to my mother, she can tell you the names of the people who lived in that area from Tampa for example, the Matassinis liv ed in that area, the Mirabellas. T he Ma tassinis as you know some of them now own the Mirabella 's [Mirabella's Seafood Restaurant] the restaurant down town; they lived in that area T he Contes, the well really, some of your most prominent (inaudible) Italian fa milies were there. In nineteen well, around 1925 or twenty six [19 26 ] my aunt took me to New York where I spent maybe three or four nights and then she brought me back, and then in 1929 they took me to New York I stayed in New York until 1931, and they brought me back to Tampa and I enrolled in Harlem Elementary School. FB: You don't know who the principal was then?


3 RS: The principal was L.W. Longmire My first teacher was Mrs. Wattman; she's dead. FB: All black faculty and administrators? RS: It was all black faculty and administ ration. I recall Mrs. Arrington was teaching there, Leeola Box was there, Mrs. Bryant who is now Mrs. Johnson, the secretary of St. Paul A.M.E. [African Methodist Episcopal ] Church now, she was teaching Of course my aunt Josephine, she was teaching there Mrs. Newmus a s a matter of fact I enroll ed in the fourth grade, and among my classmates were Milton Thompson, Ernest Patterson that's the husband of Ellen Green Patterson, Ellen Patterson ; I think her name is Green now. W. E. (inaudible) who was relat ed to Mrs. Young T hese are just a few of the classmates. FB: Could you tell us just briefly a little something about maybe the philosophical orientation of the teachers, their time probably maybe as opposed to now? RS: Well, they realized that they were living in a society that was racially oriented, despite the fact that Harlem Academy was located in the downtown area. The sch ool was triply segregated by race A s a matter of fact, the superintendent in charge of black schools at that time was a Mr. Mile s, a white man who was said to only have had a high school education and not more than two years of college. The teachers in my estimation most of them did a very effective job of training us educating us. I re call that they were very strict. D iscipline was not severe, but they require d that you attended school. T hey even went out their way to see that you attended school, and they didn't mind using the rod when it came time to correct you. OA : Did they make statements, like, ah statements we've heard, f or example : you' re black people will think you are second class s o you have to do better, you must succeed that whole excellent thing D id that constantly permeat e in your environment? RS: Yes. This was constantly permeat ed from and I know that for an example, teachers like Mrs. Newmus Mrs. Mi mi West who is down in Miami, Mrs. Box, Longmire T hey all said that because of the color of your skin that we had to realize that we had to go beyond A nd this was probably philosophy b ecause what really happen ed was remember that in those days there was the dual salary Black teachers, even though they were licensed by the state and required to meet some of the same requirement s as white teachers had to meet, t hey were paid fifty dolla rs to a hundred, hundred a nd fifty dollars less than the white teacher. So they realized and were quite concerned with the fact that we had to excel A nd I think that given the materials and the condi tions under which they had to work, in my opinion, I think they did a good job. They had to I hear today about the community that is the environment versus the not the environment but the area yeah, the environmental factors vers u s the educational factors W ell, in my opinion there hasn't been too much change. Because the situation involving housing conditions in which blacks were forced to live under ; the type of police


4 brutality and police enforcement and law enforcement that was going on ; the fact that blacks were most of them unless you were a preacher or a teacher, the jobs that blacks found were primarily domestic. At that time as I recall the black population for example, the handling or picking up of garbage was not done by black people ; the Italians were doing that. So really faced with that kind of environment, the educa tional system with these black teachers realizing what the situation was, they did a good job. Now also at that time well, I recall vaguely the death of Miss Tina Meacham, who was a staunch educator, and one of those persons who believed that the school that the teachers also had to do a job, that they had a prime responsibility to overcome many of the type faults that th ey found in the black community. T hey knew what the problems were. Miss Tina Meacham ; of course you know the school [Meacham Elementary School] was named after her, Christina Meacham. Longmire ; we remember Longmire, because Longmire used to if we were late, he would meet us in the hall. OA : How do you spell his name? RS: L o n g m i r e. FB: You can't remember his first name? RS: J W. FB: (inaudible) RS: I remember him because he had a machine strap, you know, one of these little thin belts that came off of a machine. If we were late to school, he would meet us in the hall, and we had to get our five lashes for being late, and t hat impressed upon us the necessity for being on time. OA : So it was the kind of punishment that was done from people who you knew loved you, right? RS: We knew, and later on in life I realized why they did it, and it was there because they realized that they had to instill in us that there were odds a nd that segregation and discrimination they opposed it. T hey didn't like it, but there wasn't anything they could do about it. FB: So after you left Harlem Academy RS: Well, after I left Harlem, I went to Booker T. Washington Junior High School and there we had double se ss ions S enior high school was held in the morning, and the junior high schoolers came in the afternoon.


5 OA : Those were grades seven through ? RS: Seven through nine. And I had such te achers as Miss Ellen Turner I think her name is Ellen Turner Mrs. Davis, who was the wife of Ed Davis, president of Central Life Insurance Company [James Senior] Hargrett was teaching there Miriam Anderson taught math I can appreciate what Miss Mollie M ickens or Mollie Boone who was a distan t relative of mine, taught eighth grade math Ms. Turner taught the seventh grade math, and Ms. Anderson taught the algebra ninth grade algebra And I think that they excelled, b ecause they did a good job instilli ng in us the background that wa s necessary A s a matter I give them credit for giving me the knowledge of math that I didn't get in high school, which kind of crippled me when I got to college. If we' d gotten the type of subjects and the types of training that they did in high school, I feel that many of the graduates from Middleton High School would have been able to move into engineering and other fields. But from approximately went on to junior high school ; then of course I went to Middleton, and gr aduated from Middleton in thirty nine [1939 ]. From there I went to Bethune Cookman [University] on an athletic scholarship and stayed to Cookman oh, about a little less than two years, because they sent me down to Pompano Beach to do what they call an inte rnship. At that time when you go t a scholarship it really wasn't an athletic scholarship. E ven though you played football, you had to do other things. For an example, Lutrell Bing and I w ere suppose d to be there on a scholarship and we had to wash dish es W e washed dishes at Bethune Cookman three times a day for a whole semester, Bing and I. We had to play football that was Saturday and Sunday and even after the football game, (laughs) we had to go in and wash those dishes. But I think both of us can appreciate the fact that they did that, because we were able to come in contact as a matter of fact, with Ms. Bethune, and I became very close with Ms. Bethune then and in later years. The relationship became closer because of my wife's that's Helen cont act with Wilma Williams who was Ms. Bethune's secretary, and we were able to and then of course Ms. Bethune, when I started working for the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], Ms. Bethune was a v ice p resident of the NAACP. OA : Okay, Ms. Bethune, at that time was she over the university? RS: She was president of the college ; it was a two year college at that time. OA : And was she also teaching? RS: No, she was just president S he was at that time working with the [Frankl in Delano] Roosevelt administration, and very close to Mrs. Roosevelt. OA : Were there any other black colleges in the state at that time?


6 RS: Yes, you had Edward Waters [College] which was a junior college, you had Florida Normal [Florida Normal and Ind ustrial Institute]. FB: Edward Waters was where? RS: Jacksonville. FB: And Florida Normal? RS: Florida Normal, a Baptist school Edward Waters was an A.M.E. school ; it is an A.M.E. school. FB: Where is it located at now? RS: Jacksonville A nd you had Florida Normal, which is now Florida Memorial College; at that time it was in St Augustine. And you had Florida A&M [Agriculture and Mechanical University]; it was a college then. OA: Bethune Cookman at that time had already emerge d from two separate ins titutions, onc e a male and female institution. RS: At that time it was no longer a single, it was co educational. OA : It was co educational. Okay. RS: Then of course I went to the Army I was inducted well, let me say I had a lot of experience in Tampa in that. OA : Hold it, let me back you up for one minute; this is real ly important. Okay, we sort of went through your educational experiences, and you mention before we've talk ed about your parents, and we've talk ed about your teachers and people like Ms. Bethune. Who would say were your major influence in terms in direction that your life took in civil rights? RS: I think my grandmother, because my grandmother I remember very vividly: s he read the literature of the NAACP, and participated in it, and in f act she always stood out for better education. As a matter of a fact she was quite concerned about the education of her children and grandchildren ; that's why I think most of us the grandchildren particularly have college degrees. OA: Okay, so getting back to the service RS: L et me back up a little bit, because I think that another thing that gave me great insight into Tampa was the fact that during high school (buzzer sounds)


7 Pause in recording RS: high school years I had the opportunity of wor king at Central Theater, the old segregated theater. FB: On Central Avenue? RS: On Central Avenue I worked there with Alice Foster ; a guy named Singletary was the manager N ow this was owned by a white company. But working every day from three o'clock maybe till eleven, I was able to observe what went on on Central Avenue : the social lifestyles of the black community, the law enforcement, how it was carried out and the various vices and that type of thing. And I came in contact with practically everybo dy in the city of Tampa, because the only form of amusement was what either going to the bars or to the one theater we had. Well, there was the Plaza Theater, the Plaza Theater that burned down; that was on Seventh Avenue, and that was owned by the Mart’ Maceo Club. OA : Was this like the Lincoln Theater? RS: Yeah ; the Lincoln Theater hadn t even come into mind then. Then, of course I worked with Roy Haygood, he was there, and then Roy Haygood later on became a policeman A nd see, this is really insight into the workings and how they choose persons who became law enforcement officers. But I think having later going on to college and major ed in such things well, I have a bachelor in liberal a rts, but the major subject was sociology. You see, you are to relate back to those conditions, and you re able to see the cause and effect. And I think that played, because having known the forty four quarters in back of the Central Theater th ere, Sands Street, prostitution and dope and the liquor and everything, and the seeing of so called white policemen, the way they would walk up into a house and do some of the things they did. I think that was also very important, because I don't know of any other college student or any person other than myself who worked at th e theatre and then later on went on to college. And t his is key. I think this is what has played such an important role in my being able to identify such things in the community, and getting to know people. But then of course, after I went to the Army i n forty two [1942] and was inducted in Camp Blanding and was sent up to Moultrie Field Spence Field in Moultrie, Georgia. And after basic training there they assigned us down on the white l ine. I t was very interesting, because at that time, as you know, the arm ed force s and Army Air Corps was segregated. We were assigned to the aviation squadron, but they had some black fellows in there who w ere from Ohio and other areas and one or two of us from Florida, who had such high IQs that they could n't put us i n the kit chen, s o they had to assign us down on the white line T hat's when I first made I was always crazy about building airplanes, model airplanes


8 and it was this type of knowledge of aviation and structure things that got me onto the Air Corp s But m y first contact with actual airplanes, the mechanic s and everything was at Spence Field. For about a month or two we worked down there on the flight line, during minor repairs and working with the mechanics, and then in December of forty two [1942] I was transferred along with about twenty others, among them being one Bertcham Cooper who's now I think, a band master in Tallahassee. We went to Tuskegee and stayed at Tuskegee [U.S. Army Air Field] from forty two [1942] until February of forty six [1946] Now Tuskegee i s where I think another person who played a very impo rtant vital part in my lifes tyle T hat's where I met Fred Minnis, attorney Fred Minnis over in St. Petersburg w ho was a captain a lieutenant when I went there and then later became ca ptain and major. But Minnis I don't know ; he always took a liking to me I never will forget one thing that he told me H e said, "Bob Saunders, when you get out of the armed forces (inaudible) Air Corps, d on't waste your time on that GI Bill going to a Sou thern sch ool A nd that is what impressed upon me the fact that when you got out to take that GI Bill and go to a Northern school. I was glad that he gave me that advice, because FB : Did he say go to a Northern school or Southern school? RS: North ern. OA: Northern. RS: Northern school. FB : Is Fred Minnis white? RS: No, Fred Minnis is black ; he's a black lawyer in St. Petersburg now. OA : You had segregation in the Air Corps and everything, but he was able to be a captain? RS: At Tuskegee Army Air F ield, you see, the commanding officer was a white c olonel. The deputy commander was a white person, and then we had a lot of officers there, black officers who had come from Howard University, who had been in ROTC [Reserv e Officers' Training Corps]. And I' ll tell you again, we had some officers there from Howard, such as Captain Bascom B a s c o m, F. Hodge H o d g e, who was a n undertaker in New York but was a captain down at Tuskegee Captain Hodge was very tough on black soldiers. We had, for an exampl e, Captain Harold Martin Martin was killed in a n air crash, but Martin always would give me advice ; he was a major commanding one of the units down there. I was able along about that time that's when the 99th F ighter S quadron was there T hey had not ac tivated the 332 nd [Fighter Group] 2 332nd was activated later on ; after the 99 th 2 These were the two squadrons known as the Tuskegee Airmen.


9 left, then the 332 nd went up to Alridge Field in Michigan. At Tuskegee, I became involved in the administrative Army Air Corps ; that means I was in the supply M y MOS [Militar y Occupational Specialty] was clerk typist, but later on they activated what they called the general mess section and that was all the mess halls on the base; four or five of the m were put under one administrative setup I became the administrative sergea nt, which meant that equivalent to a f irst s ergeant, but you just didn't do everything that the f irst s ergeant did M y role was to order all the supplies, check inventories, plan and prepare what we call ed the morning report for the squadron ; we'd have t o find out how many men w ere on base, how many with leave, how many were going on leave, figure out the three leaves in advance the amount of food and supplies you 'd need and all that kind of stuff. OA: That's good; helpful skills. RS: V ery much so, b ecause it gave me an opportunity not only to learn, give me an insight on purchasing, 'cause you were dealing with the quartermasters, but also to if you are in the area of working of record keeping and that type of thing. Side 1 ends; side 2 begins OA: (inaudible) RS: Y eah. W hat happen ed let me point out that at Tuskegee Army Air Field, from 1939 till around 1943, the average soldier at Tuskegee was a person that you could walk down and tap him on the shoulder and say, "Hey, we want you to go to OCS [Of ficer Candidate School]," 'cause that is where many (inaudible) officer s, black officer s, can go. Now, the intent of setting up Tuskegee was token T hey would bring a hundred aviation cadets in and only ten of them would graduate I t was the pressure that was brought on by people like A. Philip Randolph and the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper which finally forced them to send the 99th S quadron (inaudible) S quadron into combat, and later the 332nd I had a lot of friends in the 332nd. For an example, Jackie Jeans I knew Jackie Jeans as a aviation cadet I knew Copenhan for whom the Copenhan Village in Tallahassee is named T hey were there. You got an undertaker, Philip Bai ley in DeL and who was a classmate of mine at Bethune Cookman, and he eventually shot down the first German j et, when he 's flying with the 99th S quadron. Well, all these guys were at Tuskegee, but yet it was pressure that got them into combat, because they never would have gotten into combat. Now during that time also I don't recall A. Philip Randoph 's threat ; I learned about that later on in which the fair employment practices regulation was ordered into existence by President Roosevelt. After (knock on door) Yes? Pause in recording


10 Well, when I got out of the Army in February of 1 946, I came back to Tampa, and upon returning I went to talk with C. Blythe Andrews. I had known Andrews FB: Senior? RS: S enio r previous to my going to the Army, because at the time that I was coming up, I use d to go around to Central Life Insurance Co mpany, which was located on w here this Kid Mason building is ; that use d to be Central Life Insurance Company. And Andrews at that time was working with the insurance company I think he was secretary of the company and Mr. Gordon was treasurer E. E. Gordon S enio r and Mr. J. D. Rogers was president I knew all of them. I had had experience really the Potters; Mr. [Marcellus] Potter the man who owned the Tampa Bulletin I use d to sell newspapers and whatnot. I sold the Bulletin for Potter Mr. and Mrs. P otter use d to pull us in there when we were kids. FB: And the Tampa Bulletin was ? RS: A black newspaper, a weekly newspaper. FB: The only? RS: The only one no, sporadically, there were such as the paper such as the Tampa World which was published at one time by Sand ers Mason. Sand ers Mason, if he had been allow ed to get into the pro ranks (inaudible) he would have been outstanding. OA : So the Bulletin existed in the Tampa into the latter part of the forties [1940s] and to the fifties [1950s] also? R S: Into the fifties [1950s] ; it was established back about 1917, somewhere like that, by Reverend Potter P o t t e r James Jackson got his training at the Bulletin as did Andrews S enior and some of the others (inaudible) OA : Y ou sa id Reverend Potter ; was he associated with any particular church or was he just (inaudible) ? RS: I think he was with the A.M.E. church ; he was presiding elder at one time. OA: Okay. RS: And the Bulletin I believe, was the official (inaudible) of the A.M.E. church in the state of Florida; it was a very prominent black paper Potter wa s also one of the founders of the NAACP in Tampa, and also of the Urban League. But anyway, when I came back to Tampa, I went to Andrews and Andrews just maybe a year or so later they sta rted the Florida Sentinel up in town. I say started to work with


11 them, because his daddy ran it in Jacksonville, then Andrews started it up in Tampa. And I had written an editorial o n something he had had in the paper; when I came home I took it up to him. Andrews asked me if I wanted to work for the Florida Sentinel, and naturally, coming out of the Army, I could have draw n on the 52 20 you know what the 52 20 Club is? OA : Mm mm [no] RS: Every soldier discharged with an honorable discharge from World Wa r II could draw twenty dollars a week for fifty two weeks, and you didn't have to hit a lick. Well, I could have draw n the 52 20, but (laughs) I guess I was not the type to want to do that I wanted to work for Andrews. Andrews gave me a job working, as he called me advertising manager and news reporter. And from February until August of 1946, I worked for Andrews; he gave a joint account of five dollars a week and in three or four weeks I was making forty or fifty dollars a week in commissions A nd many o f the accounts that you see in the Sentinel now are downtown accounts and whatnot Andrews gives me credit for having broken them open downtown. OA : You mean you honestly got you a ctually got white advertisement? RS: Yeah I (inaudible) Andrews paper had started, I'm the one who went into Maas Brothers [Department Store], started breaking into the other stores down there like Woolworth 's [Department Store] and Kress 's [Department Store], and out in Ybor City. OA : How was it possible ? I mean, we still had segregation RS: You still had segregation, but remember, the white man, he's after the dollar. OA : So how did blacks buy t hey could go into the stores? RS: They could go into store and buy. OA : But they couldn't RS: They couldn't sit down at the c ounters. What we did see the Sentinel at that time, Andrews ha d applied for membership in the Aud itors Bureau of Circulations, AB C H e was trying to get a n A B C rating H e had a circulation that met, or outnumbered some of the major papers so similarly lo cated And when I approached the sales manager or the advertising manager of Maas Brothers for an example, I sold him on the idea that there was a ready made market that they hadn't even touched. And then, of course we used certain sales gimmicks l ike I remember the first Mother's Day (inaudible) program T he Sentinel had I went out and got (inaudible) all up and down Central Avenue to just pay five dollars or ten dollars for a line on the page, the Mother's Day program that type of thing. But anyway, in August of forty six [1946] I left and went to Cincinnati with the intention


12 of going to well, it's a school out from Cincinnati, Fisk [University] on the GI Bill I got to Cincinnati, and there's where I became involved with the Call and Post newspaper. And I started working for Call and Post in Cincinnati and gave up the idea of going to Fisk. And for a whole year I lived in Cincinnati and that 's when I married Mellius James; she goes by the name of Mel Saunders now. W e lived in Cincinnati and I work ed for Call and Post place as the circulation manager and advertising of course ; when you work for a local black newspaper you do a little of everything. It's there that I got really the first experience in politics, in working with that newspaper, becau se Call and Post is a Republican newspaper. It's published out of Cleveland. (Buzzer sounds) Pause in recording Okay W ell, from August of forty six [1946] until must have been December of forty seven [1947] I was with the Call and Post and working Cinc innati all the areas of Cincinnati T hat's where I first met Be rry, McClain and White. Ted B e rry at that time was a lawyer aspiring to become mayor acting mayor, mayor of counseling of Cincinnati Later on I was to begi n with Ted B e rry in 1966 when I wen t to OEO [Office of Equal Opportunity] W hen I went to OEO as compl iance officer Ted B e rry was the Community Action Agency director working out of Washington (inaudible). I met Ted in forty six [1946], and we attended courses and are good friends As a ma tter of fact Ted is the smiling person there. I think that the experience I got for Call and Post because in Cincinnati you weren't under that segregated system a lthough segregation was there, 'cause I remember on the east side of Cincinnati on the so uth side, southeast side when they were breaking up the discrimination of the system in the recreational centers, (inaudible) to enforce the law i n Cincinnati, the white broke bottles up in the bottom of the swimming pool when blacks were in there I reca ll efforts to integrate the eating places now this is back in forty six [1946] in Cincinnati and the type of resistance that came from the white community. As a newspaper reporter in Cincinnati, you see, you get a police card issued by the chief of poli ce W ell, I ha d a police card which entitle d me to go anywhere. As a roving reporter I was able to go places where the average black person couldn't go E ven investigated cases, rape cases. I remember one case that Jimmy Smith, the editor, and I got inv olved in, involving a black youth up there who was accused of and arrested by the police department of raping a white girl. The way he arrested was that she and a white friend drove through west end of Cincinnati, and the police was about a half a block be hind her S ee, this boy that she was with yell ed at this other kid, and this black kid jumped on the car. The police came up and arrested him and she identified him as the person who rape d her. Jimmy and I worked on that case and we traced the fellow d own to the Veteran's Administration down somewhere in Kentucky. What we found out was that if he had intercourse with the white woman, then s he had to have venereal disease, b ecause the boy was in the Veteran's Administration hospital at that time being tr eated for venereal


13 disease. And it was that type of work that we got into in Cincinnati, where I really investigated reporting. Of course then I also attended the University of Cincinnati d uring the time I was there I took advertising and creat ive writ ing. And then when I left there Mellius and I left there and went to Detroit and that's when I began going to Wayne it's Wayne State [University] now; then it was Wayne University I was working for Ford Motor Company. I later left Wayne and went to Detro it Institute of Techn ology, where I got my degree in l iberal a rts A nd then from there I came out of Detroit Institute of Technology, I went into University of Detroit Law School. I t's very interesting, also : in working with the Sentinel I met Harry T. Moore in forty six [1946]. Mr. Andrews called me in to write a story on Moore; he was in there talking to Andrews and telling him what he was doing and everything. OA : And Moore was the field director for the NAACP? RS: He was executive secretary for the NAACP of Florida ; there's a difference between field director and executive secretary. Executive secretary, he's working for the state and paid by the state ; a field director is paid by the national office. I never envision that if you meet somebody you forget them, and then on December on Christmas night of fifty one [1951] I remember when the news flashed that Harry T. Moore and his wife had been bombed in Mims OA : This was in fifty one [1951]? RS: Fifty one [1951], Christmas night of fifty one [19 51] N o thought ha d ever occurred to me about even working for the NAACP, but in August of fifty two [1952] Gloster Current approach ed me as I was working in the I was doing volunteer work in Detroit branch NAACP office. I was teasing Gloster, and Gloster walk ed up to me and say, "Are you teasing, or do you really want to work for NAACP?" And I said, "Yeah, I'd like to work for them S o that was the end of the conversation, and about two weeks later I got a te lephone [call] from Walter White, the e xecutiv e s ecretary of the NAACP, asking me to come to New York. And there were train ti ckets, so I went on to New York and talked with Walter and that's when I met Ed Davis again. I knew Ed as a kid when he was principal of Booker T. Washington B ut again Ed wa s there, Paul Perkins was there, Walter White, and that was it, I think, and they interviewed me. After that Walter told me to go into the other office and that's when I had my first real experience of meeting Roy Wilkins. And I Roy and I always laugh at this because we belong to the same fraternity [Omega Psi Phi] I was figuring out how I was going to deal with Roy I knew Roy was sharp. And in talking with Roy somebody told me that Roy was not financial in the fraternity S o I go t in there and the first thing I did was to say, "Roy Wilkins, are you financial?" to get familiar, and Roy had to laugh W e struck it off on even grounds then.


14 Then after the interview I went back to Detroit and Walter White told me that I would hear from them. T hese p eople I'm naming Walter White and Roy, these are people that you would have enjoyed talking to. Walter White, you couldn't tell him from a white man. OA: I've heard about him. RS: There's something else he was along with A. Philip Randolph W hen A. Ph ilip Randolph threaten ed to march on Washington for fair employment practices [during the] war, it is said Walter White said that President Roosevelt called him and wanted to know could Randolph bring tw o hundred thousand people to Washington Walter White is the person who told Roosevelt, "Yes, and even more than that (OA laughs) White also in forty eight [1948] was on the committee that was appointed by President Truman to study segregation and that is the study that came out in which the committee recommended that all segregation should end in education, in the armed forces, everywhere. And as a result of that study that was made in which Walter White was on the committee, Truman then issued his order desegregating the armed forces. I n that stud y it was also pointed out that racial segregation of public education had to go, because it was a barrier to the nation's defense efforts. T hey pointed out that two thirds of all the rejectees in the armed forces during World War II came from the southeas tern states. This is black and white and here's where you had your racial ly segregated school S o the conclusion was that you see this thing was also a hamper to (inaudible) themselves for the country here and you have a white predominant educational sy stem. This is something a lot of people picked up on, that when you fail to educate you r male population or your population period then OA : You 're going to give them the minimum skills required to do the work. RS: To do the work or even to carry a rif le I mean, these guys couldn't even carry a rifle. And this was the basi s for the move to desegregate the armed forces and eventually le d into desegregation cases. But Walter White was quite a guy T hey sent me back to Detroit about a week later, prior to us coming to New York for orientation. I didn't know where I was going when I got to New York A nd then about two weeks later they ask ed me wh ere did I want to put my office? Well, naturally I told them Tampa, 'cause Tampa was home. (OA laughs) So I fo und myself on a flight coming down to Tampa and the office was located at that time at 1404 Central Avenue. OA : NAACP office? RS: Yeah. Now what happen ed was that Fordham William Fordham and [Francisco Junior ] Rodriguez were law partners and they w ere doing a lot of NAACP work. And having selected Tampa, then the agreement was that the office would be placed they


15 had space so that 's where we located it. T hat was up there with Dr. Ervin and Dr. Silas and Fordham and Rodriguez. When I came back to Tampa, the impact of the (inaudible) was tremendous on black people in the state of Florida T hey were scared T eachers were afraid to even join M embership in the NAACP had dropped somewhat around from fourteen or twelve to fourteen thousand to about oh rough ly around fifteen hundred state wide. A nd in some area s that we went into people when y ou s tart ed talking about the NAACP, they wouldn't talk to you. Tampa has always been a key city when it came to civil rights leadership and Tampa had the large st branch I think the membership in 1952 when I came down we were able to raise the membership to three hundred, and in Miami the membership had dropped down to about fifty, mostly younger whites. But the impact of Harry T. Moore's killing, they really d id a job A nd of course then I began to work out of Tampa statewide Now what we found in Tampa was that there had been voter registration efforts and playing a major role in it are such people as Mat hew Gregory. FB: And he was with any particular org anization? RS: He was with NAACP and also pr esident of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters ; he was working with A. Philip Randolph and the NAACP. There were several individuals, incl uding Ed Davis There was another man (inaudible) Maloney and I ca n't think of this other person's name; it'll come to my mind after a while. FB: Could you describe these people as the leadership, or was it broader ? RS: In the area of these people today, they would be compared for you are moving out of the area of be in g called an activist Y ou are now moving out the area into what several years ago they called you an activist T hese were the activist s OA: Okay. All right. RS: Believe it or not they raised more hell than you did FB: I believe it. RS: T hey raised more hell because in forty six [1946] I recalled the Tampa branch had a split Y ou see you had one segment that want ed to follow the patch of conciliation and (inaudible) the table, and then you had th is other group over here who said "Hell, no." They believe d, and they wanted to march downtown then and some of them did T here was a black fellow killed by well, he bought some furniture in West Tampa T he furniture dealer sent a collector out to get the furniture, and the guy walk ed in his house and th e guy the grandfather killed him. And the Tampa Branch NAACP wen t I mean t hey really defended the guy. G ot the lawyer and everything A nd what happen ed was


16 that they talk about the youngster s today who are the ones who was sitting in they didn't compare to the group that I was talking about, c ause those fellows met on Howard Avenue and Cuba Street one day, Howard Avenue and Constan t [Street] where the branch was meeting I remember we had to go out the window one night, 'cause those guys got in there an d started pulling guns on each other I mean it was just that much turmoil in Tampa, tense ness T hey were all opposed to discrimination, although they had different ways of going about trying to resolve it. But the tense ness was there ; the atmosphere of t he change was there. And the national office had to send somebody down here to resolve it, because they were starting up two branches of the NAACP. (laughs) OA: Yeah, (inaudible). Yeah, I don't know what anybody has told you. This historical Mr. Davi s to ld you about, 'cause I was sitting in there one night covering it for the Sentinel and I was the first one to get out the window M an let me tell you, it was just that rough. And what was happening was that this other group you see (inaudible) opposed to the police brutality, that was in existence. Now when I came down one of the things that we were concerned about in Tampa wa s number one polic e brutality, voter registration. A nd of course I was assigned to work on the Groveland case 3 which was not a Tampa situation, but it had its e ffects because of Willis McCall, Sheriff McCall and Rodriguez was working on it A nd we were concerned about the school situation, because I had learned in the n ational o ffice that Hillsborough County was suppose d to be the fifth county in the school suit which eventually came down as what you call the 1954 case. I don't know whether Ed told you this or not. OA : Okay, explain that W hat do you mean it was the fifth county in the 1954 case ? RS: Well, in the Topeka, Kans as case 4 which ultimately ended with the Supreme Court k nocking down racial segregation in public education the national office i t was the intent and purpose of the national office to include Hillsborough County b ecause Hillsborough County has alway s be en a leader in the movement. B ut somehow some of the people in Hillsborough County withdrew after according to what I learned after there were the acceptance of Howard W. Blake High School. Now Howard W. Blake was built on a former city dump. OA : Yeah. And before that it was 3 In 1949, a white woman accused four black men of rape. One of the men fled the county, and several days later was shot by a sheriff's posse. The three others were arrested, causing a mob to attack Groveland's black neighborhood. All three were convicted, and two were sentenced to death. After the Supreme Court overturned the death sentences, Sheriff Willis McCall was assigned to transport the two men for retrial. McCall shot both prisoners, claiming that they tried to overpower him. One man, Walter Irvin, survived and stated that McCall shot them in cold blood, but McCall was not punished in any way for his actions. I n his second trial, Irvin was represented by Thurgood Marshall, and once again sentenced to death. Governor LeRoy Collins commuted his sentence to life in prison. Irvin was released in 1968 and died in 1970. McCall remained sheriff until 1972, when he fina lly lost the election, and died in 1994. 4 Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.


17 RS: Before that they had Don Thompson, which was a warehouse down here just on the other side of the graveyard Don Thompson was the end result after the old Middleton burned down. But Hillsborough County withdrew, and they miss ed, I think, a golden opportunity, because historically they could have been the fifth county in the school suit that ended in wiping out discrimination across the count r y. Now this came to me from one of the lawyers in the national office ; they indoctrin ated me when I came down. When I got he re, we embarked on voter registration, the first major voter registration drive s after the Side 2 ends; side 3 begins RS: after the Supreme Court marked out the lily white Democratic primary, in 1950, I think it was, the C ommittee on P olitical E ducation AFL CIO, sent Wh ea tman into Florida. Wh ea tman was able with AFL CIO money, to raise the voter registration numbers of blacks and whites around a hundred fifty thousand or so. When I came down the national o ffice gave five thousand dollars it was three or five thousand dollars to Tampa to conduct the first voter registration drive. OA : This was when now when you came down? RS: In fifty two [1952] A nd in fifty three [1953] the drive was successful, and I was ap proached about running for c ity c ouncil I refused. And that's when Rodriguez ran for c ity c ouncil in 1953; t his was all part of the program. Rodriguez ran and lost. Rodriguez and I I think Rodriguez was the first black person to run for city office. FB: Yeah, that's what I thought. RS: Then we beg a n dealing with the way Negroes were being treated in the stores for an example, there was a store out here on Cass [Street], near the foot of the Cass Street bridge, in which the manager kicked a boy, a young boy T he NAACP almost closed that store down. FB: Was this from direct action or lawsuits, or what? RS: Direct action picketing the store. T here was a lot of that going on. This is even before your demonstrations were going on. Gregory can tell you a lo t about that type of acti vity There were a lot of protest s against police brutality A s a matter of fact, numerous complaints went up to the Justice Department for investigations of killings and whatnot We got in to the housing problem T he people down at Columbia Restaurant we re advocating under the u rban r enewal program that all of the property in Ybor City, from Nebraska Avenue east I think at that time well, at that time the incinerator was located out by the railroad station, out on Maryland Avenue. T hey were to take that and go to I think it was Palm Avenue or Columbus Drive T hey were advocating Cesar


18 Gonzmart was a dvocating that all of this property would be cleared away, and they would build Spanish style houses, using u rban r enewal funds. Rodr iguez and I got together and we began to raise questions, because at that time, you know, we had half lots W e were concerned about relocation of black people, and would they be allowed to own property ? And of course we had this big meeting at the Urban L eague it wa s on Governor Street then a nd it was at that time we found out that some of the so called black leaders in Tampa didn't even understand what was happening. Because one of the questions (inaudible) was, given the half lots and the value of the ho uses were not more than about five or six hundred dollars, most of the (inaudible) houses w ould these people be allow ed to move back? T he answer was they d be given the first opportunity A nd then the next question was how much would the houses cost ? And the answer was somewhere around twenty five thousand dollars W ell, that was one of the reasons that the NAACP finally decided that they would move to ask HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal] to hold up on u rban r enewal monies, until a worka ble program complied with the HUD regulations. The other reason was that the mayor OA: Who was? RS: I think it was Julian Lane at that time appointed a committee, an all black committee and all white with some white members W e didn t object to the ap pointment or that type of thing, we objected to the purpose for which the committee was appointed, and that was to approve this Maryland Avenue p roject, that is the lily white you know, out there where the homes are, where the Urban League is now. And we o bjected on the grounds that the workable program (inaudible) that the committee any committee that was appointed for approval of u rban r enewal programs could not be a one shot committee I t had to be a committee appointed to approve all sites in the commun ity, and it had to be a integrated committee. When we brought this to the attention of the city planners, well they advised the mayor and others that the NAACP that didn't know what it was doing. Well, they didn't know that we were being advised by and had brought down an expert from the national office to do a survey in Tampa T hat expert had told Nick Nuccio all the problems that they currently have out in West Tampa, and he predicted what would happen if they didn't have a proper relocation program, a nd he recommended that there be a committee of black persons who had knowledge of real estate transactions to advise the branch and the community on what to do. We tried to get this committee and I will not give the names of these people (OA laughs) W e tried to get this committee together, but they promised they would work. But later on when we tried to follow up some of them gave all kinds of excuses. S ome of the m were in the funeral business, and they had to depend on the county and city for ambulanc e s and that type of thing and they were intimidated economic reprisal s, they were afraid of T his committee never function ed.


19 But based on the fact that we had them on a technical ground, a letter went up to Dr. Bob Weaver, who was then head of HUD, an d he was formerly the n ational c hairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP. We sent this protest up a nd Dr. Weaver notified Julian Lane that they had to c omply with the workable program. H e would give them one year to bring the program into effect, or no monies would come down. One night about two weeks before the deadline, I recall Julian Lane calling me and saying that the city was going to comply, and requesting that the NAACP withdraw the complaint. What could we do? We withdrew the complaint e ven though the result still wasn't that satisfactory B ut the u rban r enewal program did move forward during that time. T he night that we had the meeting at Bethel [A.M.E. Church] right after the complaint was withdrawn, it was announced that this committee will be integrat ed. W e had a mass meeting at Bethel. A nd I never will forget Cody Fowler and the city planners and all the white fathers sitting on the front down there, and they explained to the public what the problem was. And they got up and they said, Yes, we' re going to comply, and everything. Well, it was the threat of the loss of the money that brought that about Then they moved into the school desegregation fight right after the 1954 decision Well, in fifty five [19 55 ] Hillsborough County w as chosen as one of the counties that desegregation along with ten, nine other counties that I had been assigned to move the program forward. And we had been part of the training of implementation of the program was that you could began with a petition to the s chool b oard, to implement the law, the S upreme C ourt decision. After a reasonable period of time if the school board did not implement the decision after being petition ed by parents of children in the school system, then the next step would be initia tion of lawsuit. OA : Okay; how were you w ho were the parents? RS: Well, there were sixteen parents originally ; you 'd have to go back and look in the newspaper in fifty six [1956]. OA : Okay, we have that. RS: There were sixteen petitioners, and nothi ng ever came out of it T he s chool b oard never responded to the petitioners. Later on they began talking about [how] they we re operating under the freedom of choice system, and they said that in a school system that was not segregated racial ly segregated the parents had the rights to go to any school they want ed to. Now you know what was going to happen (laughs) Eventually in 1958, all of those petitioners had dropped out, with the exception of maybe three or four, and the re'd been pressure put on by the legislative committee Charley Johns Committee, which was conducting a statewide effort to harass and intimidate the NAAC P. T hey wanted the NAACP membership roster. Incidentally, that's the case in which Father [Theodore R.] Gibson walked out on them in Miami, and the NAACP took the s tate l egislature into court. E nded up in a case in the US


20 Supreme Court, Gibson versus the l egislature 5 or something, and the Supreme Court ruled that the legis lature did not have a legal basi s for which they could ask for th e list, and we didn't have to give it to them. OA : So this was a committee in the legislat ure. They were at tempting to terrorize ? RS: They subpoena ed most of the key cities out of which they subpoena ed persons of Tampa, Miami W ell, they subpoena ed NAA CP people from all over the state. And in Miami, they even went so far as to subpoena people like Rev erend [Edward T.] Graham In Tallahassee t hey were subpoena ing anybody who any organization like (inaudible) and that type of thing. OA : They actually h ad the committee hearings? RS: Oh, yeah I was subpoena ed about seven or eight times. OA : And you had to testify each time? RS: Rev erend [A. Leon] Lowry was subpoena ed FB: On the private on the internal matters of the NAACP? RS: On the internal matt ers of the NAACP, and we refused to go into it. I recall coming back from a New York staff meeting, and when I got back there was a letter and a money order. And something told me that this look ed kind of funny coming from Ybor City, somebody saying they a greed with the work of the NAACP, and I turned the money order an d the letter over to the Tampa B ranch. Cause you see they were issuing subpoenas (inaudible), com b ing through your records W e ha d no records A ll the records the national office had them. Well, I was the what you 'd call the representative of the co rpo ration in the s tate of Florida. And w hen I was subpoena ed before the committee, Mark Hawes 6 ask ed me about my records. W ell, all I had w ere clipping s of the committee's actions, 'cause they ha d sent somebody from Mississippi to find what they were doing in Mississippi, and they were going to set up the same program here in Florida to harass and intimidate and that type of thing A nd Ma rk Hawes ask ed me were these all the records I ha d ? I said y es. Then he pull ed out a carbon copy of this letter that I had recei ved with the money order, a nd ask ed me do I recall seeing that ? I say, "Yes, I recall seeing that." He says, "Well, it isn't in your records." 5 Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Committee. 6 Chief attorney for the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee.


21 I said, "No, it isn't," and then he pu t it in the legislative record s as an exhibit. And then I pointed out that this was a money order from Tampa, and the policy was to turn that over to the Tampa B ranch Since he had not subpoena ed the Tampa B ranch records, he couldn't crac k me. But they tri ed everything; they tried everything. OA : Now that is interesting. And y ou were the only one from Tampa? D id Ed Davis have to go before them ? RS: I think Ed Davis was subpoenaed too. FB : Anybody else from Tampa? OA: T his was what year? RS: This was from fifty eight [1958] on, un til around sixty one [1961] or sixty two [19 62 ] FB: That committee lasted that long? RS: Yeah W hen we got them on the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court ruled against them, then they began coming down here to the Univers ity of South Florida looking for homosexuals, to justify the existence of the committee. But the Johns Committee was really defeated when the NAACP took them all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. I mean, these are things that the public does n't know. OA: (inaudible) RS: No, we were subpoena ed and I just whole weeks sat up there and they gave me twenty six dollars. I endorsed the check over a ll of us endorsed the checks over to the NAACP, and they didn't give us any more checks after that. (all laug h) But anyway, this is type of harassment and intimidation we had to undergo And finally in 1958, it was decided that we would file suit after the parents for the remaining parents T hat's Manning, Willi e Mae Manning, on behalf of her son ; [Sanders B.] Reed, who was a barber ; a longshoreman I've forgotten his name, Randy somebody [Randolph Myers] ; and [Nathaniel Senior] Cannon from Port Tampa T hey were the four plaint iff s in the suit And that case OA : And the name of that suit was what? RS: Mannin g v the Board 7 Hillsborough County Board of Public Education I remember when the case was filed I came down to the school board under the court order, and I went through every minute they had going back for twenty years and complied all the information necessary for the case I t showed the existence of racial ly segregated school s and you d be surprised what was in those minutes, what we pulled out of those minutes. 7 Manning et al v. the School Boar d of Hillsborough County.


22 But anyway, the case judge, I think I forgot the name of the federal judge that ruled a gainst us in Tampa T he result was that the when he ruled that we had not exhausted administrative remedies and threw it out, because he said that we had not gone through the freedom of choice. I recall some of the t hree or four so called black leaders in Tampa coming to a meeting and laughing, and one of them said, "Yeah, we told you, but you y'all didn't know what you were doing T his thing ain't gonna work," and that type of thing. OA : You can call his name. It's okay. (laughs) RS: I won't call his na me. OA: Are they still RS: There are some very key people in the community OA: Okay. Oh, I see. RS: B ut one of them came up to me one night, made sure that I was by myself and told me that no SOB s in New York or nowhere else w ere going to get the de segregation program going, because it was not going to do anything but kill up a whole lot of nigger children and get some Negro teachers fired. Well, this is what was coming from the black side too, you see. I laugh ed, because I was not economically my check was sign by Roy Wilkins; my travel and everything came from New York. OA: That makes a difference. RS: T hat pressure that came from the black community and the white community didn't affect me. But once the case was lost here it was decided to appeal it to the Fifth Circuit. I t was appealed to the Fifth Circuit, and I recall that we Ro d [Francisco Rodriguez, Junior] and I w ere trying to raise the money the fifteen hundred dollars necessary to appeal it and everything and we couldn't raise it, no contributions or anything A nd almost on the last day I had to get on the phone to Roy Wilkins, and Roy told me, "Look, put Rod on the plane to New Orleans and tell him to pick up the Western Union money order for the necessary (inaudible) fees." The national office paid. So we got Rod up there on the last day and Rod was able to fil e the notice of appeal with the Circuit. Later on the Fifth Circuit heard the court case, rather and reverse d the judge here. OA : Rod did the argument? RS: Rod and som ebody from the national office were the lawyers T he Fifth Circuit reverse d the judge here and r emanded the case back here for a hearing. And then we sat back laughing then (laughs) S o when it came back, in the meantime Rev erend Lowry


23 and I had begun to w ork the community, to get black people to ask for transfer of their children W e were able to get I think a hundred and sixty eight persons to ask for their kids to be transferred under the freedom of choice plan. OA : Transferred to predomina n tly white schools? RS: Yeah, and every one of them we re turned down S ome of them the school board all they did wa s just send you a mimeograph ed sheet Denied, d enied d enied. And when my boy became six years old I enrolled him at MacFarlane Park [Elementary Scho ol] and as soon as I got to the door, they handed me a slip of paper that he was to be put into Dunbar [Elementary School] Well, I appealed it ; they turned it down I n the meantime the case was going to be heard and Connie Motley came down, Constance Baker Motley T hat picture there was taken the day she a nd I w ere walking into the court room. She came down and in talking she was trying to fin d out you know, to make the case stronger, what could we do I mention ed to her there were about a hundred an d sixty persons that had petition ed the s chool b oard, including myself, because in the second grade when my boy went to second grade, I again ask ed for him to be transferred to MacFarlane Park. They turned it down I told a certain principal "D on't get in volved in it ," because I was going to file suit myself, but fortunately I didn't have to file suit A lthough if you look at the decision of Judge Bry an Simpson you 'll find that there are four or five paragraphs in there almost the whole decision talks abo ut what I did to get the s chool b oard into a trap. And what we did Connie sent a hundred and sixty people a petition. I said yeah; she said, "Let's go to work." So about three nights and days we worked contacting all the parents that we could T he day of the court trial the school superintendent at that time was testifying and Connie Motley ask ed the judge to ask him where were the petitions for the hundred sixty eight or so people that had ask ed for reassignment H e said that they were on record T h e judge said, "Why don't you have them here?" and he said, "We didn't know we had to have them," so the judge gave him forty five minutes to go pick them up. He brought them back, and thumbing through them, Con nie said, "There is one missing. T he jud ge said, "Which one?" She said, "The petition of the Saunders child." You see, they had already put my boy in. You know why they were doing that 8 A nd the superintendent said they couldn't find it. See, the judge told him that he would give him so much t ime to find it, or else he would hold him in contempt of court. 8 In his 2002 interview with Canter Brown, Saunders provides a lengthier explanation. When the school board found out that the case would be retried, "they hurried up and got him into that school because they were afraid that ther e would be proof that they were not acting in good faith." See also a January 24, 1962 article in the St. Petersburg Times titled "2nd School Desegregated in Tampa."


24 And they went and got my boy's records and brought them back into the court all of this is in the record down there in the court. OA: Wow. RS: But anyway, that's when Judge Bryan Simpson c ame down here and the word was that I can't prove this, but the information I got was that none of the f ederal j udges in this district would hear the case a nd that the lead judge from the Seventh District of Florida had to come down here and himself and try it. And he order ed that was the first order for the school board to begin desegregation, and then they began to get the trick on us. I t wasn't until 1970 or so that the NAACP Legal Defense went back into court, and that's when we got the order you know 80 20 9 because the school b oard was still dilly dallyi ng around. Other areas in Tampa OA : What was the bas i s for th at suit in 197 0 ? RS: It was the same case. OA : Same case, it just (inaudible) RS: You see, the case was still under the jurisdicti on of the court T he school system is still under the court. FB: So your position is they weren't really desegregated? RS: They were not desegregat ed. A nd even now any person the NAACP Legal D efen se Fund still is the organization representing to the ori ginal plaint iffs and they can go back in court any time against the Hillsborough County School Board. T he court still maintains jurisdiction You didn't know that? OA: That's interesting. We need to talk about it. RS: The NAACP still maintains jurisdict ion over this case, and the local branch put down the first three hundred dollars to get the case filed Then the Legal Defense Fund pick ed up and paid all the attorneys fees and expenses. This community has never paid for it M ost of the fights that have been up, most of the money coming from the national office. OA : I believe that. RS: The interesting thing is that the NAACP only paid its attorney local lawyer s of records only seven hundred dollars. T he school board paid its attorneys twenty thousand d ollars to lose that case. 9 This was the target ratio for schools: 80 percent white, 20 percent black.


25 But that's the general history of it, and then of course, we got into other court suits The recreational fight here Rod can tell you about the court suit to open up recreation a nd the compromise that was reach ed on Ballast Po int S eem s that there was a reverte r clause there that, if that was open ed up to the public or something, blacks use d it or something that the land would revert to the Tampa Electric Company A nd rather than get into a long fight on that because we knew we were going to win that revert er clause s are b y nature unconstitutional they agreed to open up everything including the beaches and the parks. (Buzzer sounds) Pause in recording RS: See, the issue was that they were scare d. T hey were being attack ed by the Charley Johns Committee. Ec onomic pressure s were there I remember you need to talk to Ma zie what's Ma zie 's name ? I think she's with MRC now Ma zie was my secretary for a long time H er husband use d to play football for Florida A&M, was a profession al guy Bra xton, Ma zie B r a xton. Ma zie was my secretary. Ma zie can tell you about coming to work and the telephone calls O ne morning we came to work and the y had thrown bricks through the windows in the office and everything The general trend was that y ou didn't join the NAACP, because then you would lose face with the white folks out there. OA : So [James] Hammond organized the Y oung A dults [for Progressive Action] ? RS: Well, Hammond organized the Y oung A dults. B ut at the same time there was thi s clos e tie in between, because anything the Y oung A dults did, we always knew it and we always were ready with the money and the lawyers. It was Y oung A dults it was mostly the NAACP Y outh C ouncil that did the picketing and the sit in s down town OA : That's the kind of things the Y oung A dults did? (inaudible) RS: They participated, but not to a great extent. OA : What were they just a voice, kind of a voice? RS: They were a kind of a voice that we worked on some things that were important to the community. T he driving force behind them were Hammond, Aurelio Fernandez, and Jones ; he's somewhere down in Miami, Rev erend Jones James Jones's father. (inaudible) Jones was a member. A nd you see, they were used in such a way as to get them involved without them becoming identified with the NAACP. Remember there was a lot of OA : Would you say they were basically kind of a middle class bunch?


26 RS: Middle class bunch yeah, for that period and they didn't want to (inaudible). E ven though when we put on a membership driv e most of our memberships came from black teachers in Tampa, but you ask th em to show a membership card, u h uh [no] And some of them would deny belonging you se e, it's just that type of thing. But I recall during the Cuban [missile] crisis when the blac k soldiers were brought in here they were living in the Pyramid Hotel T he white soldiers were being bivouacked all up and down throughout the major motel s and everything A nd Hammond and I got together Hammond, Perry Harvey and I and we sent a telegram up to the Secretary of Defense and to President Kennedy protesting what was happening Kennedy sent a three star general, I think, down here to MacDill Field. H e called everybody in and threaten ed them. End of interview

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interviewed by Otis R. Anthony and members of the Black History Research Project of Tampa.
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Otis R. Anthony African Americans in Florida oral history project
Robert Saunders describes his educational background and how he became a civil rights worker. Saunders served as the NAACP's field secretary for the state for Florida, and was heavily involved in the effort to integrate Hillsborough County schools.
Other interviewers for the Black History Research Project of Tampa were Fred Beaton, Joyce Dyer, Herbert Jones, and Shirley Smith.
Interview conducted July 13, 1978.
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Civil rights workers
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School integration
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