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Gibbons, Sam M.
q (Sam Melville).
Sam Gibbons oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Robert Kerstein.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (55 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (18 p.)
Carlton-Anthony Tampa oral history project
Interview conducted December 15, 1988.
This is an oral history interview with former Congressman Sam Gibbons, who represented Tampa and Hillsborough County in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1963 to 1997 as well as both halves of the Florida Legislature. In this interview, Gibbons discusses the role he played in Tampa's urban renewal projects, describes the annexations of Palma Ceia and Port Tampa, and explains how the Hillsborough County Planning Commission was founded. Gibbons played a key role in creating the University of South Florida and establishing it at its campus in Tampa, a process which he also discusses in this interview.
Gibbons, Sam M.
University of South Florida
z United States.
Politics and government.
Hillsborough County (Fla.)
Hillsborough County (Fla.)
Politics and government.
Kerstein, Robert J.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
Carlton-Anthony Tampa oral history project.
y CLICK HERE TO ACCESS DIGITAL AUDIO AND TRANSCRIPT
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8
transcript timecoded false doi U11-00089 skipped 15 dategenerated 2015-06-10 19:30:08
segment idx 0time text length 170 [Transcriber's note: Due to its age, the audio from this tape is of very poor quality, with many inaudible words and phrases. There is no formal start to this interview.]
1573 Samuel M. Gibbons: -Florida has had a-you could call it urban renewal thing, but it had a condemnation law that allowed something like urban renewal. The Florida Supreme Court-it was called, Somebody [Burger] vs. the City of Daytona-it'd be an interesting decision to read. Knocked out all this (inaudible) condemnation and power of developed land. At that time, I had tried to help three developments [in] Tampa and I studied the decision real closely, and decided to upset the decision, because I thought that was the only way we could ever improve a lot of the property.
2520 I went to Washington [D.C.], got hold of model statutes and anything else, came back with an attorney by the name of Ralph Marcicano, who is now dead, who was a city attorney here in Tampa [Florida]. We drafted Florida's first urban renewal statutes. Also at the same time, we drafted a constitutional amendment and I was afraid we were going to have trouble with the Florida constitution, that's how the first (inaudible). I was able to get the statute passed, but I could never get the constitutional amendment passed.
4103 They took the statute and decided here with [Tampa] Mayor [Nick] Nuccio; have you ever interviewed him?
5208 Nick Nuccio (1901-1989) served two terms as mayor of Tampa, from 1956 to 1959 and from 1963 to 1967. He also served on the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission before being elected mayor.
6They took the statute and decided here with [Tampa] Mayor [Nick] Nuccio; have you ever interviewed him?
7Nick Nuccio (1901-1989) served two terms as mayor of Tampa, from 1956 to 1959 and from 1963 to 1967. He also served on the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission before being elected mayor.
928 Robert Kerstein: (inaudible)
10320 SG: He's alive; he lives out here in Ybor City [Tampa]-very colorful character. I haven't seen him in years. And with Lionel Smith, a city planner-whose wife still lives here, but he died a couple of years ago-I got the statute enacted by the Florida Legislature, (inaudible). Did you see all the (inaudible) about that?
1129 RK: I haven't seen those, no.
12650 SG: There's some interesting clips about him, because the Tampa Tribune ran a story that I had failed. And the Tampa Times, a fellow by the name of Bob Turner who now writes for the Tampa Record, got the story correct in the Tampa Times on the same day the Tribune comes out [with the] story: "Gibbons Fails in Urban Renewal Effort" (inaudible) Tampa Planning; [whereas the Tampa Times] headline read: "Gibbons Succeeds in Urban Renewal." They were both the same story, but (inaudible) covering-but the Tribune had only followed the constitutional amendment, and Turner followed both of them and realized that I had succeeded in getting them passed.
13272 The statute-we took the case to the Florida Supreme Court and by one vote, they reversed themselves. In effect with this statue, they reverse (inaudible) case and declared that kind of (inaudible) following the statute that I had provided was a constitutional (inaudible).
14100 RK: (inaudible) -which actors in Tampa were very interested in having urban renewal to be initiated?
1541 SG: Not a hell of a lot of them! (laughs)
1650 RK: Was it the ACL [Atlantic Coast Line Railroad]?
17254 SG: I can't remember who was interested in it. ACL fought it until it became advantageous for them tax-wise for them to do it (inaudible) right on the riverfront and then the decided they would join it. (laughs) But that was after the statute was passed.
1832 RK: Did Mayor Nuccio support it?
19310 SG: Mayor Nuccio, no, didn't really participate. It was just an idea I had. I wanted to redevelop Tampa; I figure in order to redevelop it, you have to remove a lot of slums. The slums I don't know whether we got maps of it; ran from right down here where the Barnett Bank-not the Barnett, but the round thing-
2040 RK: NCNB [North Carolina National Bank]?
21661 SG: NCNB [Building]. They had a railroad slum, an old warehouse that had been built about the turn of the [twentieth] century. It was completely obsolete, but Atlantic Coast Line was still using it. So, the whole waterfront from there up to the Cass Street Bridge, which was just a railroad swamp-and they would not sell it, they would not redevelop it. It was full of rats and old rundown warehouses, cold storage and everything else. North of Cass Street, there had been an old sawmill that had worn out and gone and some other junk had developed in there. All the way up to the Fortune Street Bridge was just an old, worn out rundown housing Harrison Street.
22116 The real urban renewal, though, the one that reversed the Daytona case, is what we call the Maryland Avenue Project.
2314 RK: By Nuccio-
24243 SG: By Nuccio Boulevard [Nuccio Parkway]. In the middle of that was a city incinerator and city jail, and there were old, wooden, dilapidated housing with no clearly defined streets, no sewer system, outhouses-really, a first-class black slum.
2563 RK: Is that what they called the "Scrub"? Or is that something-
26431 SG: Yeah, that's the Scrub. Yeah, yeah. It takes up all where those housing projects are in there now. It started in Central Avenue and went all over. Funny part about this: the Florida Supreme Court would allow you to condemn land for public housing and redevelop it as a housing project, and that's how the housing project got over there. But they wouldn't allow you to take land and redevelop it for non-public housing purposes.
2710 RK: I see.
28290 SG: So, the Maryland Avenue Project, and there is a case in the statute books-not statute books, but the Supreme Court Reports of Florida-outlining the Maryland Avenue case. So you've got the Daytona Beach case and you got the Maryland Avenue case, and that's where Florida reversed itself.
29RK: Ah, I see.
30371 SG: That statute that I had drafted with Ralph Marcicano's help finally became the model for all urban renewal in Florida. Urban renewal had worked as well as it should. The redevelopment of urban renewal land had not been what I had expected. I had much higher aspirations than-but somewhere in the City [of Tampa] administration they fell down in redeveloping the land.
3175 RK: Yeah. I wanted to ask, (inaudible) passed and that was your initiative?
3255 SG: Yeah, that's as far as I could go to get that done.
3376 RK: Sure. Now, it was implemented in Tampa. You know who took the lead here?
3423 SG: Well, the city did.
3537 RK: Mayor Nuccio, then [Julian] Lane?
3677 Julian Lane was mayor of Tampa from 1959 to 1963, between Nuccio's two terms.
37698 SG: The mayor, yes. Nuccio did and Mayor Lane did, and they appointed an urban renewal redevelopment authority. But the authority for some reason-and I'm not sure why; about that time I was well off to Washington (inaudible)-just was not able to get the land developed into properly as they wanted to get the land developed at the riverfront down here. We developed that north of here to Tampa Heights by the river, and they redeveloped that Fortune Street, but in Ybor City, they just failed. They redeveloped the Maryland Avenue Project, but frankly, I get so mad when I see what they did out there; I see red. The federal housing people made them really put second-class redevelopment out there.
3835 RK: Over on Nuccio [Parkway] there?
39262 SG: Yes. Those buildings, oh, they're atrocious! They got no style of design, no-they're just cheap architecture, cheap construction. And when you think of what we had to go through to get that land and everything else, it was a poor redeveloped use of the land.
40441 And the rest of the Ybor City project that never really took off like I thought it would. I can't put the finger on any one person or one reason, but it just has not worked out. Maybe if I could follow it closer, and had taken a greater interest in it, I could provide interest to getting it done. But by that time, I got interested in going to Washington, where I'd always been interested in going, (laughs) and it just kind of shot blanks.
41163 RK: You came to the Florida House [of Representatives] in fifty-two , and I believe there in Palma Ceia in fifty-three . And I think you were involved?
42299 SG: Yes, I was. Yes, I was named "Tampa's Outstanding Young Man of the Year" for that effort. I actually ran on a platform that, if elected, I would put forward the annexation without referendum. They had lots of attempts to annex all that area, but they had all failed when they went to referendum.
43RK: I see. Who voted against it?
44246 SG: Well, the people inside the city would vote for annexation; the people outside the city would say, "Heck, no!" (laughs) "Not me!" And so it always failed; they'd have a split referendum. And I said, "Well, you know, we all know how you feel."
45632 I made an issue out of it in my campaign. That time, my house district was county-wide. I represented all of Hillsborough County-you know, districts are very small today, but at that time there were only three of us; we ran county-wide-and in my campaign I made an issue of it. The other two members-Jim Moody from Plant City then went along with me, because he felt I had a mandate. So did Tom Johnson, who was the other representative from Hillsborough County. He said, "Well, give them (inaudible); let's go ahead and do it." And John Branch-who's now dead; the other two are still alive-the state senator, he reluctantly agreed.
46415 So, after my election, about this time of year, I met with a city planner from Jacksonville [Florida] whose name I'm always forgetting, but he worked for the City of Tampa. He was their consultant and planner. We got in my old Studebaker, and we had some filling station road maps and we drove around Tampa and we outlined what we thought was the appropriate boundaries and came back and put it in the finished map.
47457 And then, I got the [Greater Tampa] Chamber of Commerce to hire me a lawyer. I knew it was going to be a tough, complex legal job to do it. They hired John Himes, whose son, Frasier, still practices law; John died a few years ago. And John was my lawyer, and together, we drew the annexation statute. We took in ninety-six thousand people and something like forty square miles of territory out of referendum, and everybody says you going to get (inaudible).
4812 RK: (laughs)
4994 SG: We pushed that through-I pushed that through, and they made these outstanding (inaudible).
5053 RK: Can I ask why you initiated that one (inaudible)?
51674 SG: Yes. That's a very important question. One, I thought there was a moral obligation for those who lived outside of the city and who worked in the city and who were a part of the city to become a part of the tax base and become a part of the leadership. And I think that part of the leadership worked even better than I had imagined, because generally the younger more prosperous people lived outside the city, and the fact that they then became part of the city gave the city a vitality it never had before. The leadership of the city rapidly improved; it was reflected throughout the community, and I think this was one of the prime things that put Tampa on the upscale.
52339 But that's a very interesting piece of legislation. You ought to get a copy of it; it's in the State Archives. It took a lot of work to get that settled. Every other annexation attempt met with all kinds of lawsuits and litigation, and finally, the courts would throw them out and things of that sort. But this one, no one ever challenged.
53118 RK: I got the impression from Mr. [W. Scott] Christopher when I spoke with him that the Chamber strongly supported it.
54209 SG: Yes, the Chamber strongly supported it. The Chamber provided me with an attorney that they paid three thousand dollars to do all that work. (inaudible) got a hundred thousand dollars today to do that work.
559 RK: Yeah.
56721 SG: He spent months working on that statute. First National Bank opened sixth-well, seventh-floor on Himes [Avenue]; my office was on the ninth floor. Mr. Northcutt was the President of First National Bank at that time, Mr. V.H. Northcutt; he lives out in Golfview today. His wife's dead, and he's not very well. But he's the one that-I said, "I need help. I won this election, I got what I think is the mandate to do the job." And he lived outside the city, but he thought that (inaudible). And he said, "Well, let's get together with the Chamber, and we can dig up the money and we can get you financed." So he provided me with a lawyer and everybody (inaudible) with a planner. The planner and I actually (inaudible).
5792 RK: Is it true that some people weren't eligible to sit on various city boards and so forth?
58385 SG: Oh, yes! Yeah, well, they had all kinds of restraints that you couldn't participate in government unless you live within corporate limit, and just the normal thing. You had plumbers that could only work outside the city. You had electricians who normally worked outside the city. You had a different fire system, a whole different police system, and a different garbage system and-
5920 RK: County provided?
60321 SG: Well, sort of. It really revitalized Tampa: got it up and got it going, got interested people working in the government. There was an immediate upsurge in the interest in Tampa, because statistically Tampa looked much larger, and was much larger. And the people who had fought the annexation-and it really got brutal.
61404 I remember one time at the fifty-two  campaign, I walked into an establishment out on Hillsborough Avenue. One guy says, "You know, Mr. Gibbons, I've always wanted to meet you. Let me have some of your cards." And so, I handed him some of my cards. Then he got real (inaudible). And he says, "Now, get out of here, you son of a bitch!" and he threw the cards at me (laughs) and walked out the door!
62RK: They would say higher taxes?
63304 SG: Oh, higher taxes, and any of those city licensing laws, and voting laws-and the county had no zoning laws in those days. You could build anything anywhere that you wanted to; it was your American right to do that. And the city had some pretty (inaudible) zoning, but it was-at least it was effective.
6413 RK: Were you-
65SG: Go ahead.
66RK: Were you involved with the Port Tampa [annexation] as well?
67SG: Oh, yes.
6833 RK: Could you tell me about that?
69461 SG: Sure. Well, Port Tampa would've been left alone to the first Tampa annexation. You'd go out to Port Tampa; it was a poor little city. It wasn't doing anything. It wasn't providing any sewers, providing very haphazard police protection-it just wasn't functioning as a city. And we said, "Well, you know-you can't." We just thought it all ought to be all part of the City [of Tampa]. Representatives and myself got together; we annexed it, just abolished it.
7019 RK: The local bill?
71266 SG: The local-yeah, we abolished it, the City of Port Tampa. That cost a lot of storm in Port Tampa. A fellow walked all the way to Tallahassee to protest it-just fired this presentation off the steps of the [State] Capital. But, we were able to get the bill passed.
72RK: Did it (inaudible) city's taxpayers?
738 SG: Nah.
74RK: How much?
7561 SG: Four-fifty-just two small, two inches didn't (inaudible).
7759 SG: Railroads had to pay a little more taxes, but not much.
7830 RK: Did Mayor Lane support it?
79113 SG: Oh, yeah. Yeah, he did. I'd forgotten who was mayor then. He did been mayor then, but I forgot who was mayor.
8084 RK: Did Mayor, I think, [Curtis] Hixon, was major in Palm Ceia. Did he support that?
81Curtis Hixon (1891-1956) was mayor of Tampa from 1943 to 1956. A pharmacist by trade, he was also on the Tampa City Council and the Hillsborough County Commission.
82SG: No, he took a very neutral position. He says that, "If that's what you want to do, I'll do it. But I don't want to go out there and get involved in the fight. It'll look bad, it'll look like I'm trying to grab all this territory for political advancement, and," he said, "I'm not." And for some time, I had trouble getting the lead city legal authorities [and] city engineers-I needed both of them in drawing this legislation and helping set the boundaries.
84292 SG: It's a heck of an engineering job to draw up boundaries. Courts upheld that the boundaries have got to be so precise. Here you're drawing up a boundary that's about a hundred miles long, and you can't just go out and say, "From this street to that street; to this street and that street."
85549 I had determined, based upon a personal experience of my father's-when I was a kid, he'd been involved in an automobile wreck. He was riding to town with a neighbor and was caught on Morrison [Avenue] and Howard [Avenue]; he'd been hit by a car going west on Morrison. It had knocked his car all the way up into the neighbor's car. My father was riding up to the grocery store there, and I had jumped on my bicycle and run down to find my father stretched out in front of this grocery store bleeding all over, and [had] broken ribs and a broken arm.
86410 When we got to investigating it, the city boundary ran right down the middle of the street. And so, the city folks said, "We don't know where the accident happened. We can't tell where those skid-marks are or anything. We don't know if it happened in the city or the county." Well, it just happened that my father was hit-the city ended up in the county. And I decided, "Well, that's not gonna happen anymore."
87717 So, I insisted that we go a hundred and fifty feet beyond the street, so that you don't get divided-city boundary running down the middle of the street, (inaudible) off someone's garbage can back there-there's a few of those horror stories I can tell you. But the city boundaries is-we set them in those days all up beyond the street, and so you won't get Howard Avenue divided half in the city and half out. You get (inaudible). See, the city boundary used to end at Howard Avenue, used to end at Hillsborough [Avenue], and it used to end out here about, oh, I don't know, about Thirty-Second Street or something like that. Tampa was really small. So we added ninety-six thousand people to it, almost double in size.
88RK: Did that extend east as well?
89SG: Yes, it extended it out to about-past Fifty-Sixth Street.
90RK: I see.
91374 SG: And up to Fowler Avenue, which is now-since that time, we've extended by taking University of South Florida. And it went down (inaudible)-it went roughly from about the corner of Fowler and Fiftieth Street down to the [Hillsborough] River, and then followed the other side of Fiftieth Street, on Fortieth Street on down (inaudible), and then intercepted with Palm River.
9246 RK: The county commissioners didn't oppose it?
93419 SG: No. They did not support it, but they didn't oppose it-that I know of. I never saw any (inaudible). Mr. Moody, who worked with the county commissioners, was a part of putting (inaudible). And two years later, we did the same thing with Plant City. He (inaudible) all represent the whole county, but he was out of the Plant City area and I out of the Palm Ceia area. Tom Johnson was out of the Seminole Heights area.
94106 RK: So, I'm getting the impression Mayor Hixon really wasn't interested in growth and development so much.
95467 SG: Yes, he was! He'd been a good mayor. But he thought, and probably wisely so, that if he got really involved in things it would take on political character, both people inside the City of Tampa trying to grab the suburbs for the wealth that was in them. He thought that was an unbecoming attitude to have and probably negative, but he always told me, "Well, if that's what you want to do, Sam, and if you can get it done, don't worry about me. I'll administer it."
96882 Well, as I said, I had a little trouble getting the help from the city engineers and the city legal department. But in about February and March, before the legislation session in April, the city engineers and city attorney and all of their staff was on board. And with John Himes the chief counsel for me, we were able to put together a successful annexation. It is technically a very tough job to do. (inaudible), you read it, and you realize that the hours and hours of research that went into it. We had to abolish lots of fire control districts and sanitary districts, and drainage districts and everything else. Had to leave some because of obligations and talking about financial obligations that they had acquired. We told so-and-so would finally liquidate themselves soon. It took the cooperation of really first-class technicians, as well as a political leader (inaudible).
9758 RK: I was at the Planning Commission open house yesterday-
9987 RK: -and someone had mentioned that you had been there and that you had initiated that.
10034 SG: That was one of my ideas, too!
10157 RK: Could you tell why you did that? What motivated you?
102325 SG: Well, I guess, you know, you'd have to go way back into my history. I was a parachutist in World War II, and I anticipated on planning for the invasion of Europe. I was a staff officer in the parachute regiment and we did our-you know, had a lot of experience in advanced planning and knew that things just didn't happen.
103200 Prior to his political career, Sam Gibbons was a 24-year-old captain in the United States 101st Airborne Division when the Allies launched the D-day invasion of Normandy Beach, France on June 6, 1944.
104558 And I knew that without planning, Tampa had gotten itself in a hell of a mess, but there was no planning anywhere in Florida. Planning was a dirty word; still is a dirty word, but not nearly as much. Hillsborough County didn't even have a zoning ordinance. We had just forced zoning on the county in the legislation prior to the fifty-nine  session. It was obvious to me by that time, the people who were directly elected could not do a lot of the things a planner could do. It was just too much heat on them to take care of the day-to-day emergencies.
105821 You've got to have somebody who is responsible, not only for the land use planning but some overall functional planning of the county, or we're gonna waste resources and waste opportunities. That's why I set up the Planning Commission. And very frankly, it hasn't worked as well as I wanted it to. We've always had a struggle between how much political power do you give them, being non-elected officials; and how much of it are they able to get, not having a lot of political power, through cooperation with the city and the county, and that's never been satisfactory. As they gain expertise-and you must remember, there was really not a lot of people around who could plan, that had any education or any training. Some people could do it intuitively, and some people picked it up but there was not a professional staff.
106665 There was one person that had received some training in planning; that was a fellow named Milo Smith. You'll notice he appears in those minutes. His office was over on the ninth floor of the First National Bank building. He had a little bitty office-the whole office wasn't very big. He and a fellow by the name of Kennedy would call themselves "city planners." They were really people who lay out a good practical subdivision. He had a degree in architecture and specialized in city planning, but he hadn't had experience. But he did become the planner for many cities in Florida; he died about two years ago. His wife runs Smith & Associates, the real estate.
107RK: Oh, really? Oh!
108145 SG: Yeah. Her name was Mary Dupree, and she married Milo right after the war [World War II], and they set up Smith & Associates, the realtor.
10996 RK: The same who worked closely with you, I believe, in the annexation you set up in Palma Ceia?
110SG: Yes! Yeah!
111102 RK: Were you interested in setting up the Planning Commission as well? Did they work with you on that?
112741 SG: No, I don't remember that. The next thing involved the Chamber. Well, in the fifty-five  session, I probably had taken over Tampa U [University of Tampa]. (laughs) And that's an interesting story. After the fifty-two  session-oh, it was a really interesting session for me. I've been mainly involved in local legislation and just getting my feet wet in the state. And in the beginning of the fifty-five  session, I was appointed to be the Chairman of the Committee of Education in Florida. Quite an honor, and (inaudible) lawyer and such, spent a long time in school. And you know, I've never been in the school system; I've never been an instructor or anything. I didn't really know much how it functioned internally.
113684 But it became clear to me just after brief that Florida needed plan for the growth that was already apparent. In other words, the Tampa school systems had been on double sessions ever since World War II. My kids were going to school on double sessions. It was really-and I could see all of this finally going to college. At that time-when I went to college, just before World War II, only 10 percent of the students ever went to college. It was us who were a little better off-our parents were better off financially-got to go. I went to school, to college, with a lot of poor kids. I don't consider myself poor, but I guess I was by the standards of today. But I could see it coming.
114761 And so, Tampa U is having a terrible time. They've expanded to meet the demand of the G.I. Bill, and the G.I. Bill was over and those students were all gone. Their enrollment figures were dropping. They couldn't get enough local support to build a big financial base on an institution. That old hotel building was falling apart, all the way around because it's so expensive to maintain. And I said, "You know, Tampa U's not gonna make it unless we can get some public support." I had seen the public fund drives. They said, "Why don't we take Tampa U, use its faculty and its filler as a (inaudible) to fill the institution right in the middle of downtown?" And I said, "The students can get part-time jobs easier, housing would be easier, and everything else."
115We only had two state institutions that really (inaudible)-two black ones [Florida A&M University] and a white one up in Tallahassee [Florida State University]; the white one in Gainesville [University of Florida]. They were far removed and away from the population centers, even in those days. So I said, "Well, this is a golden opportunity to take advantage of me being the Chairman of the Education Committee and Jim Williams being the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee. And we got a need that exists here. Why not take over Tampa U?" And I approached them, the Tampa U people, who at that time were businessmen, as they are today, and they said, "Sure, that's a good idea. We need all the help we can get."
116771 That went on for about a year, and then the Supreme Court of the United States-this was all during the desegregation, public desegregation-summoned the Girard case. The Girard case held that if you are a privately supported, privately endowed institution, you didn't have to be segregated. Well, the folks that ran Tampa U then thought, "Well, gee, you know, we hit the jackpot. And everyone will leave the public institutions because they don't want to go to school with blacks. And they'll all come to Tampa U, and we'll just have to-" So, they (laughs) passed a resolution. I remember appearing before the Board of Directors and pleading with them to submit these cooperative plans I had to make it a state institution. And they passed the resolution, turning me down.
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