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MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Ruth C. Marston
Interview with Isaiah Branton 1
March 16, 2006
S: Today is March 16, 2006. My name is Ann Smith and I am a volunteer at the
Matheson Museum of Alachua County, Florida. I am doing an oral history on the
storyteller of his ancestry. His name is Isaiah Branton. Tell me your full name.
B: Isaiah Branton.
S: No middle name?
S: Where were you born, Isaiah?
B: I was born in Gulf Hammock, Florida, in Levy County.
S: What year were you born?
S: What was your mother's name?
B: Marietta Wooden Branton.
S: And your father's name?
B: Jackson Branton.
S: Was he a Reverend?
B: He was a preacher.
S: We talked about your being born at home and not in a hospital.
B: Yes, with a midwife.
S: Did you have brothers and sisters? How many?
S: And your mother had ten children? Where were you in the lineup?
B: I was number 9.
S: So you had older brothers and sisters, and you lived there until your teenage
Interview with Isaiah Branton
March 16, 2006
S: Tell me about your fatl
B: He died of leukemia.
S: Was he sick for a while
S: How old were you, the
B: About 15.
S: Was he at home and di
e before he died?
d you help your mother take care of him?
That must have been hard for a teenager. Was religion an important value for
Yes, it was.
Does that mean that you always said grace before you ate a meal?
Did you go to church every Sunday?
Every Sunday and during the week.
Was there a lot of reading of the Bible?
All the time.
All of the children received that value from your parents?
What about school? Was school important to you?
When you and your siblings were little, what kinds of things you did for fun?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 3
March 16, 2006
B: Well, around the Gulf, there were a lot of exciting things to do. There was
fishing. There were a lot of kids there. We had playmates. We had friends we
would swim with. We played softball. We had a lot of excitement. I enjoyed the
rural area. It was a time to respect the environment and to farm. We had a
garden, about 5 acres on a farm. We had hogs and cows; we had a milk cow. My
dad was a great farmer, and he inspired me to get into Future Farmers of America.
S: Oh yes. That's a good organization.
B: Yes. I enjoyed that. I enjoyed knowing how to saw logs out of trees; we learned
parliamentary procedure. I had a hog.
S: For your project?
B: Yes. I won something. I can't remember what it was it was a long time ago. I
also was in 4H.
S: With five acres, that sounds like you lived in the country. It was very rural.
B: Yeah. In the area we lived at, you planted. We planted a lot of acreage. We had
sugarcane. We had greens. We had turnips. We had watermelons.
S: It sounds like you ate very well.
B: Oh yes. We never went hungry. I never had a hungry day in my life.
We were surviving. We went to the store only to get salt. Sometimes Mother
bought bread and she bought lard in the tall cans. That's how she shopped. She
would go about every three months.
S: Did she buy flour in bulk?
B: Yes. We had this big old barrel.
S: Would she make biscuits?
B: Yes. She was a good cook, a great cook. Every Saturday morning when we got
up, we would clean the house from one end to the other. They [insisted upon]
cleanliness. My mother and father liked it. We had a 5-bedroom wooden house.
Father put new [rooms] because my father was a carpenter, also. He put new
windowpanes in. He would never let it go bad. [He would put] new tin on the
roof. He consistently kept the place up.
S: Did you have indoor plumbing?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 4
March 16, 2006
B: At one time it was converted from way back. The house was probably built in
1800 or 1900 or 1902, but I remember they had electricity when I was a little boy.
I remember an outhouse.
S: Do you remember getting a telephone?
B: We had a:telephone booth right near our house, so my father said he would use
that. It was only a dime. So he would use that. It was about 5 minutes from the
house--a telephone booth with a door.
S: Where would his job, as a circuit rider and a preacher, take him? Ocala?
B: Ocala, Gainesville, Lake City, Trenton, Newberry, Bronson, Chiefland, Williston.
S: Did he go to different places on different Sundays? Is that how he did it?
B: Yes. He was over a lot of churches in Cross City and other places.
S: How did he travel and get around? Did he have a automobile?
B: Yes. What he did was to go around and put preachers there when preachers had a
problem or when the members weren't satisfied. He would go there and find out
what the problem was and then he would take one down and install him. He did
that. They kept him going all the time. Sometimes he would leave home at 6:00
in the morning and come back at 2:00. If someone would get in jail or whatever,
they would come and knock on the door, or if somebody died. It was a knock on
the door all the time.
S: The life of a preacher, is that right?
B: He was a Masonic. He was up in there. He would go to meetings. One time they
hung a guy. It was the first execution in Levy County. They electrocuted the guy
at the University of Florida, and he was from Gulf Hammock. My sister-in-law
would know the name of the guy, but they electrocuted him. What happened was
that he was taking a shortcut to work and he went right here in Gainesville, went
through the back. There was a white woman dressing and he looked at her, and
she told him that he was watching her through the window, but he was trying to
go to work. They caught him and they electrocuted him.
S: So, when you were growing up, your father was sick for several months before he
B: Close to a year. But he still would go until he couldn't go any more.
S: And then he died of leukemia. That was what year?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 5
March 16, 2006
S: You were about 14 or 15?
S: But you helped your mother take care of him?
B: Oh yes. Some days I couldn't go to school because I had to help her lift him.
When I went to school during that time, I couldn't concentrate. I couldn't
concentrate on a lot of things.
S: When he died, was it very long before you moved from there?
B: What happened when he died--the night that he died--my mother was exhausted?
She would sleep; my brother would sleep. I was sitting up in the chair watching
him [my father]. I was right across from him. He put his hands up like he was
praying. Then he made a noise and I looked over there and he wasn't moving.
He was still. We had just learned mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in school.
B: Yes. So I tried to do it and I couldn't open his mouth. It was locked tight. I tried
to pull it open, but I couldn't get it open. Then what I did was tell Mother that he
was dead. She went panicky. Then my baby brother panicked and they were all
crying, so I just covered him up. I sat there and I called my sister, the undertaker,
and the sheriff so he could come by and pronounce him dead. Then I went to my
S: That's got to be hard for a teenager.
B: He said, "Always be a man. Always step up to the plate." He thought a lot of me,
too, because he used to talk to me and share his history with me.
S: That's a very generous thing to do, very generous for him to share with you. He
was probably teaching you lessons about manhood and about it's all right to
treasure those pictures and treasure that past. You respected him as a man and he
was able to share his past with you. He kind of passed that heritage down to you.
B: Come to think about it, he would talk to me a lot. He would fuss at me a lot, too.
S: He had expectations for you. Now, you said that sometime after his death your
mother moved you and your siblings.
B: My sister. My sister, my oldest sister, moved my mother. Two of my oldest
Interview with Isaiah Branton 6
March 16, 2006
S: You moved where?
B: Dunellen, in Marion County.
S: That's where you started back to school?
B: I started back to school, trying to get my diploma, and that's what I did.
S: You graduated when?
B: Around 1971, but I had to go to a school where I could catch up real fast because
during that time my father was sick. I missed a lot of days because I had to be
home to help my Mother lift him. But I got my diploma and was out for the
summer. Then I was drafted.
S: So you were drafted and you went up to Jacksonville for the draft board.
B: And the physical.
S: They were going to draft you into the Army?
B: Yes, because I was in the last group in the draft.
S: And you said, "What's the possibility of changing?"
B: Yes, and go into the Marines. That's what I wanted, and I went in. My sister's
husband was in World War II, and he loved the military. Oh man, he was telling
me about Patton. He said General Patton was the best general there was. They did
something to get them in trouble that put him in jail, so Patton took his tank and
went right in town and told them to let them go. He said he was right there. He
said Patton was all right. He looked into my soul today; he wasn't looking at no
color. He loved his troops, black or white. I'm going to get off this because I get
deep. If someone deserves honor, you give it to him.
S: Yes. Where did you go to basic training?
B: Parris Island.
S: Did you like it?
B: Loved it.
S: From the very beginning?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 7
March 16, 2006
B: When I first got there, a guy was cursing and yelling. I got kind of nervous
because I wasn't used to that. I was brought up in a family and a Christian home.
We had to get out there and I'll never forget I had a suitcase. They told me I
didn't need a suitcase. I had good clothes, you know, but they sent it back home.
S: So you did basic training for how long?
B: 13 weeks.
S: Did you stay at Parris Island?
B: I went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
S: How did you like Camp Lejeune?
B: I was used to taking orders. I had to get used to being away from home because I
had never been away from home. Once I got used to being away from home, my
Momma would call my commanding officer. He would call me in and tell me I'd
better write home. I was trying to wean myself away from Momma, which I did,
and I began to enjoy. I picked up a rank.
S: That's great! What was your job?
B: I started at the 03 level, which was infantry. They called me one day and the
officer told me they wanted me to go into Intelligence. That was a case of
jamming, where you jam their communications. So they put me in that class to
take that class. I learned to jam the radio. You can jam stuff and talk to a fellow
that might be talking to themselves. I went through that class. They sent me to a
lot of classes. Then I was a shooting instructor, because I was a sharpshooter. I
instructed guys how to shoot and I had to teach them about breathing technique,
how to squeeze, and hit the bulls eye. All my guys qualified 100%. The
commanding officer gave me about five or six days off on the government's time
because we qualified. The company had not qualified that good, and we did it.
S: That's wonderful.
B: After my shoulder was injured, they began to give me desk jobs. They put me in
NCO school first because of my injury. I had to step back because I was having
trouble up in the shoulder.
S: And that was from an injury you got while you were in the service?
B: Yes, through NCO school. I went over there as guard apprentice. I was a private
but got another stripe out of that.
S: What was your rank when you left the service?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 8
March 16, 2006
B: Corporal. My commanding officer said if I went to NCO school, he would give
me another stripe. I could have shown an injury, but my CO rode me around in
his car. He told me that he wanted me to stay in the Special Services because I
had a good record and pertaining to the rest of the guys. He said, "I don't know
why you want to get out. You can still be in Special Services. I felt like you stay
in the military four years and then they'll say, "We're going to ship you
overseas," or something like that. I wanted to get out and do some mission work
like my father did. I prayed about it and talked to the chaplain, and we agreed it
was the best thing to do.
S: When you got out, where did you live?
B: Ocala, Florida.
S: What did you do in Ocala?
B: I worked for H.R.S. with juvenile delinquents.
S: Was that rewarding for you?
S: I think people appreciate--just like you said about the service, saying, "Yes,
Ma'am," and, "Yes, sir," was how you were brought up. That was not a big deal,
and being honest and doing a good job like your grandmother had taught you.
Even back when you were in the service, you know that a lot of other people that
were drafted or joined the service the same time, they might not have been
brought up that way, so I think when somebody like the commanding officer sees
somebody with that kind of work ethic, they're delighted to help you because
you've been so valuable to them. They pass that along.
B: I also got a letter from the Governor, a letter of commendation.
S: What was that about?
B: A gentleman came on campus [of the school] to try to steal his child and take him
off. I got a hunch of it because I'm always observant, and the guard called me on
the radio that the guy that came in and got his kid. Before you can get on campus,
me being observant, I had blocked the gate and he couldn't get out and I had to
call the Highway Patrol and also the State Police. We apprehended him. I
blocked the gate and I had the other security guard come behind me and block
him off so he couldn't go anywhere or cross the ditch. They gave me a medal. I
don't know what I did with it. I can't find it, but it's probably still in the state
Interview with Isaiah Branton 9
March 16, 2006
S: I bet it is.
B: They gave me that.
S: Did you just do your job or did you do it very, very well?
B: My thing is when you're on a job, you do it 110%. My grandmother always told
me when you go on a job and you're lazy, you're stealing, you're taking.
S: That's a good way to put it.
B: And you shouldn't do that. When you're trying to take your break, take your
break and get back on the job and get that work done.
S: That's exactly right. It's stealing from the company. Did you stay at the
McPherson School for a while?
B: I stayed there for a while. The kids had more rights than the staff. I had a pimp
come from Miami on the campus in his Cadillac, and I ran him off campus. I told
him you're not here to see an old lady. Our members are teenagers. You get out
of here or I will escort you by the Highway Patrol. He was upset with me, and I
didn't care. I saw parents come out and I wondered why the kids were so much
trouble. When I saw the parents, I knew why. I got too emotional and then I
began to spend my money on the kids buying the shoes. I got so obsessed with it
that the superintendent called me in the office and she said it was okay but I got
too obsessed with the kids by helping them. She wouldn't let me have a state van
to take them on a picnic for ones that were good and earned the right. I would
take them and cook wienies. But I got obsessed with the job because I don't like
to work and do something that's not going anywhere. I didn't care about the
money. I was young during that time and I had my own car and it was paid for.
Then I decided to get another job.
S: What did you do then?
B: I went into what they called pharmaceutical medicine assembly, like respirators
S: That was in Ocala?
S: What was the name of the company?
S: How long did you stay with them?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 10
B: I stayed until they decided they were going to change and the new company was
going to come in so I decided to leave. I went to Central Florida Community
College for a couple years, too. I acquired a federal job and that is where I retired
S: What did you study?
B: I went for air conditioning and electrical.
S: Did you like that?
S: So you're retired now?
S: One of the other things I was going to ask you was about your grandmother and
all of the stories that she passed on down to you. Why do you think she told you
the stories as opposed to the other grandchildren?
B: Because I was inquisitive.
S: You'd ask her questions?
B: All the time. I was concerned. I didn't know where her mother was at or where
we came from. I didn't know where we came from and I asked her. I said,
"Grandmother, where did we come from?" She said, "Gainesville." Then she
began to go back to South Carolina or whatever and share the stuff that Aunt
Eliza told her, the stuff that Lillian told her, the stuff that Susie told her. They
would have a corncob pipe and sit on the porch. Mrs. Matheson started her to do
that. Miss Madison used to smoke a corncob pipe. And she would sit on the
porch and do it. So she taught Susie how to do it. But Susie would sit and tell her
the stories about her life. Susie would tell her about the guys. She said it seemed
like all the children she had and the men was like a prostitute, but she wasn't a
prostitute. She was explaining that so I would know and not get confused when I
looked into that. It was just the thing that happened.
S: Do you think that when we get all of these stories down, that your children and
your grandchildren are going to be interested in these stories?
B: Yes. My children will, my son and my daughters?
S: He's heard the stories from you?
Interview with Isaiah Branton 11
March 16, 2006
B: Oh yes. They say ...
S: "Enough already, Dad. I've heard that story before."
B: Over and over again. "I heard that last week, Dad."
S: Well, shall we wrap this up and I'll say thank you again for all of this?
B: Okay, did we make any progress?
S: Yes we did. We made a lot of progress. Are there things that you would like to
have in this file that you think people should know about you or that I should
B: People should know that everywhere I go in Alachua County, as I was told
stories, I can relate to it.
S: All the places that you've talked about, you can go to the places and point out
where the story took place.
B: Yes. The Hogtown Square was the first. Business was conducted in Alachua
S: And you talked about the masonry of the fire places.
B: The Masonic building?
S: Well, you said that the fireplace involved you, that those are all relatives with
stories you know about.
B: Yes, and out where the law building is, a black cemetery was way up in there.
Then they have also got a time capsule in that area. When the University of
Florida was first started, they put the time capsule right there. That's where the
time capsule is. The graveyard was right across the street. When you turn down
left, the graveyard is on the right. The blacks used to live right there where the
store is. [Wilbert's on SW 2nd Ave.]
S: Where Wilbert's is?
B: Yes, where Wilbert's is.
S: What else would you like people to know about what kind of man Isaiah is?
B: I would like people to know that I'm real, someone who is human and a man with
a personal [mission]. I don't compromise the truth. Everything that I'm telling
Interview with Isaiah Branton 12
March 16, 2006
you is actually the story that I heard. Maybe it needs to be sharpened or polished,
but they are direct [from family stories].
S: They're from your family and they're the stories you were told.
S: Thank you again.