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Griffin, Ben D.
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 transcript (7 p.)
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 January 10, 1978.
This is a transcript of an oral history interview with Ben Griffin, a teacher and school administrator, in which he describes the conditions in segregated schools and discusses the events leading to integration, recounting some of the problems faced.
Griffin, Ben D.
African American teachers
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 CLICK HERE TO ACCESS DIGITAL TRANCRIPT
COPYRIGHT NOTICE This Oral History is copyrighted by the University of South Florida Libraries Oral History Program on behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of South Florida. Copyright, 2009, University of South Florida. All rights, reserved This oral history may be used for research, instruction, and private study under the provisions of the Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of the United States Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section 107), which allows limited use of copyrig hted materials under certain conditions. Fair Use limits the amount of material that may be used. For all other permissions and requests, contact the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA LIBRARIES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fo wler Avenue, LIB 122, Tampa, FL 33620.
! ! 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 00090 Interviewee: Ben Griffin (BG) Interviewer: Otis R. Anthony (OA) Interview date: July 10, 1978 Interview location: U nknown Transcribed by: Bernard Footman Transcription date: Unknown Interview Changes by: Kimberly Nordon Interview Changes date: August 11, 2009 Final E dit by: Mary Beth Isaacson Final Edit date: August 12, 2009 [Transcriber's Note: This interview was copied from a handwritten transcript T here is no audio component to this interview Ellipses indicate where portions of the transcript are missing or were not originally included in the transcript.] Ben Griffin : I came from Tuskegee, Alabama. I been in Tampa since 1934. I n the same year started teaching at Booker T. Washington J unio r High School. One year after that I went to the University of Michigan became a student and got a master's degree in history and government C oming back I taught two years in Polk County, Bartow, and Union Academy, came back to Tampa to teach at Middleton High School for one year and became principal of Holland Academy for thirteen years F rom there [I went] to Me a cham School for seven years to Booker T. Washi ng ton Jr. High for five years, t o Just J unior High in West Tampa for three year s. T hen I was coordinator of community school at Book er T. Washington for four years. Then I taught in Sligh [Middle School] for one year [Sligh Middle School] Pierce [Middle Sch ool] four years. [At] Hillsborough High School I taught mathematics and science for three years. In all I've taught school for forty three years and I retired for two years, having been an administrator for over thirty years I 've enjoyed my work in teaching very much and during this time of course we've experienced quite a transition in economic and social structure. During that time blacks came from a very low era of society throughout America to a much more promine nt sect ion where they are today. E xperience and a great deal of changes and enjoyment in my work. Otis Anthony : Okay, who were some of the pioneer educators who were in the system before you got there and during your tenure? BG: Here in Tampa we have a n elde rly man by the name of C. D. Frye H e was principal of Me a cham School when I came here, but he became principal of Middleton High School. H. W. Blake who at that time was principal of Booker T. Washington High
! # ! School he was a very prominent man and the school Blake High School was named following him. Anthony Majors had just left when I came here And many others: A. J. Ferrell who retired [as] principal. G. V Stewart and I along together ; he had retired as coordinator not coordinator but a director of s chools A nd that's about the essence of it. OA: Mr. Griffin what were the conditions of the sch ools, say in the thirties [1930 s] or the forties [1940s]? BG: At a very low rate economically and I would think also there was not much emphasis places on black education which was typical to our society W e just about ran the school we wanted if we wanted to do something O kay, we did it but you did have a genuine interest in the quality of black teachers at that time because they were accustomed to do ing everything for themselves. We worked long hours and had many students who was above age, but you had the same teachers who felt morally obligated to get the best out of the student and carry him to the heights I t's quite different from now W e knew everyb ody ; we knew the parents, and what we said to the parents, we gave it back to the students and back to the parents. W e were the community within ourselves though we were short of materials. We didn't have much busing facilities and they didn't have many books curre nt books, particularly, was short. T here was no such thing as air conditioning A nd we so often at that time would get eight months of school and the whites would get nine. The s alary we were receiving [was] approximately 51 percent of the whi te man's salary at that time. OA: Was there a high expulsion rate during the thirties [1930 s], forties [1940s] and fifties [1950 s]? BG: No, no, there wasn't any E verything was pretty well under control. OA: So during the thirties [1930 s], forties [1 940s] and fifties [1950s] the black teachers as a whole controlled the discipline more so than the teachers today? BG: Far so, far so W e did a far better job of having our sa y. W e had a few problems now and then but you had the black community supporting the teachers. Meantime we was fighting for integration L ittle by little we fight for integration, but we never f ailed to support our public discipline wise and all the other ways that the parents would give as sistance to. OA: Were there any problems associated with education during the period I mean the problems that the could the principal go to say, get more materials or instruction? BG: Most of our materials came by way from the county and we had a pers on over all black schools, who we called the Director of Negro Education in the county. In fact that was structured thro ughout the state the director of the black student s throughout the state of Florida on a state level and then each county had one. [In ] Hillsborough County we had Mr. Frank Miles during the thirties [1930 s], forties [1940s] and fifties [1950s]
! $ ! and he was the man to whom we look ed for direction and assistance. In fact you were hired by the school board to handle such problems. OA: Wer e there any black officials in higher than principal during this period? BG: Not black T he highest you had were principals at that time L ater on the later part of the fifties [1950s] we had one man G. V Stewart [who] was promoted from Middleton to th e courthouse about 1958 I believe. OA: Are you familiar with Blanche Armwood? BG: Yes, I am that was my first wife's o f course Blanche left here in the thirties [1930 s] early thirties [1930s]. I happen to know her personally because she was a relative and close friend of my first wife. OA: Mr. Griffin, getting back to teachers pay, how did the equalization of pay come about, and if so what promise did black teachers incur in getting equalization of salaries? BG: Equalizat ion we happen to [There] was a federal c ourt edict resulting from the local teachers b ringing the county into court, f ederal c ourt and after two years of litigation we wo n equal salary at that time. I said a few minutes ago we got 51 percent of the white 's salary O ver a period of fort y two months, we was given (illegible) that they had to pay us equal salary A nd of course, we paid for the suit ourselves. The blacks to access, we organized and assessed each one $17.50 which to pay the salary. At that time we must had about 225 teachers, bl ack teachers in the county and they [were] throughout the county I would say about 60 percent of them paid the $17.50 when you say $17.50, you thinking about the current need of money, I would say about thirty five or forty dollars but that was $17.50 then. And most teachers paid; about 40 percent did not pay. OA: Can you go in a little detail [about] some of the court case s which brought this to the attention of the county? BG: Yes, we had followed the guidelines of a case in Virginia when the f ederal c ourt says we was entitled this was in district court said that you was entitled to your salary and that race could not be a case of discrimination, based upon the Fourteenth Am endment 1 of the Constitution [of the United States] W e got the idea from that case entirely here in Hillsborough County A t that time Thurgood Marshall who's on the Supreme Court now, a lawyer for the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], we asked him to !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 The Fourteenth Amendment and its Equal Protection Clause was one of the points used in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. The Virginia case BG mentions is probably Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County, Virginia, which was consolidated with four other cases into Brown v. the Board of Education when it appeared before the Supreme Court.
! % ! come down and give us advice. He did that not only legal advice but he served as the attorney to push the case. We had a local attorney here with us, Mr. Attorney George Goebel ; at that time, he was our attorney. We had t wo lawyers out of Jacksonville to handle out case A nd we had to corral the teachers because most teachers knew nothing about legal procedures V ery few knew W e corralled then and organized. I was named president of the local group and we work ed for a period of before pretty soon it was about five months trying to collect members support T hen we find out the people wasn't going to pay their money. Then we gave several activities [A] big testimonial banquet was one activity that brought was mo st of our money and we had several organizational [the] long shore me n volunteered and gave us some money to help fight it A nd we had some of the prominent citizens of Tampa and we had one or two whites to volunteer to help us fight volunteer to give fina nce to help us fight A nd we had the ship union to write an article in behalf of us, [an] editorial T he Tampa Daily Times owned by two different companies at that time T hey both wrote editorials supporting our effort for organization. They seem to have felt that there was some justification of having 49 to 51 percent was really to o differential B ut there were those two articles that only two articles written in our behalf editorials I mean written in our behalf B ut they were very, very dear and kind of set the tone for the way. Of course the white teacher association opposed us and this court here saying that they won't be a party to the suit because they [if] there had been a raise in salary [that] would've meant a cut in their salary O f course the judge ruled (illegible) them on that saying that his court had nothing to do with raising of the money nor the salary. How much they get? One thing he was concerned with that whatever was given will be given on a equal basis and that rac e will not be used as a method of discriminating or creating two salary schedules T hen they went appeal theirs to the or der circuit court, f ederal circuit c ourt. And of course they got the same reaction down there A nd after then they come back and we was able to and black teachers and the white got together A nd [the] result was that we executive secretary serve both of us T he y both paid the salary ; we paid one third they paid two thirds of the salary A nd from then on we had one program. An d of course when the court first gave us the equalization I w hen we were through with the eq ualization, not for the equivalence but they ask who that by putting in a rating system and pai d that it applied to both races, i n which they would put all the t eachers in one of three groups T hat's we had three different levels the first, second and third grade level. But they made a mistake and put most of the black s, 99 percent of them in the third group and the white s were put in the first and second group A nd all princip a l s, with the exception of me was out in the first group, b eing white or black! And they made an error there S o we wrote a suit against the county school board system and the judge ruled that the rating system was fair, nothing was wrong with it but he would be concern ed about how it would be administered T hey were going to use that to make up the salaries
! & ! to be equal, but of course we could bring the m back to court on that. And we reminded them that that was a very good statement because it meant that everything would have to be equal t he n We were ready to go to court because of the way it's being handled (illegible) because they didn't test that case S o the superintend e nt immediately got permission from the school board to prepare a salary scale, base d upon the element of academic training w hether they have a degree or not, because so many teachers don't have a degree A nd the other element would be the number of years they have been teaching. So that meant there was no longer a rating system T hat 's where we are today I t was decided that all of us would get the equal salaries. OA: W ere there any attempt s [to] strike by white teacher s over the black teachers over this issue? BG: No there was no strike, but of course there was some bitt er people about the situation. They tried to put two suits in court but they fail ed also. And at a later date when we began interviewing, there was quite a few who didn't want to be bothered W hen we started integration you did find that whites more now th an in the past all wanted to teach at the same school and they didn't want to come in the black community and teach at th e black schools. The superintendent said that those teachers who didn't want to work in the black schools could turn in their resignation. At that time you only had very few schools in the S outh that were integrated and also they had some troublesome riots There was Alabama, Missouri Mississippi and two or three other states that wouldn't accept that. And Louisville, Kentucky was the first to accept this change, but they were not really willing for themsel ves but for the kids, than to h ave a rioting school with poor teaching S o they saw it was be tter to go along with the court's decision to integrate and they made it pretty plain that they were doing it for the child. OA: Being an administrator in the black schools, how would you rate the teach ers in the segregated school and desegregated, as to black or white teachers? BG: The teachers are very good right on ; it's just a new ball game now all together from what i t was then. We started out with integration which was a new setup, new to the black s and white s We have n ever gone to school with t hem. We hadn't been to s chool meetings with them before. B ut we start out with a very open front, just integrated the teachers, integrated the students N ow you have many whites who didn't know how to handle blacks. So, you would often have the white teacher call a black person to solve the problem with a black kid. But I think on a w hol e, of many of the schools we re moving right along with it. We can get far more than we had now than we could when the blacks were dealing with blacks. Whenever we had a problem with a black we would call him in for a conference [and] get to the problem straight.
! ! But now you are dealing with the white s, in which the i r mind i s not sure about what to do T he black kids are aware of their rights and the history of mistreatment has always faced us and the whites themselves were aware how they have always treated us and many of them hold on to that A nd we feel that white man i s so often not sincere in his d ealings with the black children: t wo different cultures there conflicting with each other. Some of the whites were have far less disinterest than others. Some of them are really interested in not seeing the color but the c hild as a child and that kind of person I'm more sympathetic with T hey're interested in the child [more] than the color and get a more interesting result. On the other hand [you] have some them that deal with black children as economic (illegible). The y t each the child but really don't want to be bothered with the child T hey are not sympathetic ; don't want to know any of the child's shortcomings, any of his trouble. And the black kids do have problems. Man the whites, many of t hem came prepared to handle what force what may [come] The black children 's parent s don't come to the school to see about them and to support them We have more white teachers t han blacks in the every school t he ratio is around twenty to eighty so he is taught m ore by the whites than blacks. But he at the same time cannot say that the white man is not interested in the cause of all our problems. He is a problem H e is a problem because many of the homes he comes from have racial problems in the background I f you don't hav e background training you just don't [have] any training. Most of the children today are children that are quite young, and the parents don't care whether they go to school or not, and don't look after their problems. And their fathers are not even living in the home. They are divorced, or they're just not togeth er because of other problems. They don't realize that it takes two to raise a child. And then it is the result of the home situation that helps in the classroom. We see it and we know it, but we may not want to talk about it most of the time. The absence o f a parent in many cases is the cause of black children acting as they do. Of course they are a problem, a real problem, but course we do believe the white man is responsible for that because he kept us in captivity for so long. So, we would have to blam e him for the condition that we are in to a long part. He is ahead of us because he has always been treated and taught in a different manor. We were took on the other side of the railroad tracks to live. We didn't have paved streets, we didn't have swimmin g pools, we didn't have the Gulf [of Mexico] to get into to swim. Our neighborhood was run down, being cursed not to be anything worth visiting. We were paid very little for our work. The black man did the hardest work. The whites were made rich off the bl ack slaves. We were treated the same way in the school system. We were given 40 to 50 percent of the white man's check, yet we had to work just as hard. We had to pay the same amount for our automobiles, food, clothing, homes, our what have you, so we we re encouraged not to be men. Black men who are men become men because they want to be a man, but
! ( ! the white man did everything possible to deprive them of the quality to become a man, the head of the family. I even see it today with my wife. The people ca ll her about a bill or something, they ask to speak to my wife, not me, about anything in the household, because that's typical about men in the black family situation. But I don't bite my tongue about letting them know that I'm the head of this househol d rightfully and also legally, so I handle all the responsibilities of the household. My wife has enough to do. But the business part is mine, so contact me. Now, getting back to your question, we do have a problem, and it's whites handling blacks, and it b ecomes insensitive. If we just had to handle it, it wouldn't be so bad. The black child is very sensitive of his place of rights, and he expresses it in many ways. I know I walk in the classroom and students [are] walking around, and I say, "Everybody, tak e your seat," invariably a. . [Transcriber's Note: The transcript cuts off at this point, although the interview is clearly not finished. At this time, the Oral History Program does not have any additional pages to this transcript.]