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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Gaston T. Cook
INTERVIEWER: Patricia R. Wickman
DATE: April 16, 1981
W: This is Patricia R. Wickman, and I'm here today interviewing
Mr. Gaston Troy Cook. Mr. Cook resides here in Gainesville,
Florida, at 710 Northwest Fourth Street, but we're speaking
today in the Florida State Museum. Good morning, Mr. Cook.
C: Good morning.
W: I appreciate your coming down to visit with me for a few minutes.
C: I'm happy to do so.
W: I'd like to talk a little bit today about your work in
education here in Gainesville. It's my understanding that you
were, for many years, a principal at Williams Elementary School,
is that correct?
C: That's right, but that wasn't my beginning. I came from Madison
County, and at Madison County is where I started working in
school work. Now the school that I started in Alachua County
was not in Gainesville, but in Newberry. There wasn't a school
in Gainesville for me to work, but there was the need for
another school. The school they built for me, Williams
Elementary School, was built while I was in Newberry one year.
W: Let's go back for a moment then, and set the stage for this,
and get this all in perspective, all right?
W: I understand that you were not born in Alachua, but you moved
here as a very small child.
C: That's right.
W: Okay. Tell me something about your own educational background,
did you go to school here in Gainesville?
C: They tried to keep me in school, but they were unsuccessful,
I kept running away. If you want to know why I ran away,
I often wondered that myself, but I don't think the outside
atmosphere was conducive to my happiness as a child.
W: You wanted to be out there, huh?
C: Yes, and there wasn't anybody for me to blame for anything.
That made it kind of uncomfortable at home, since I wasn't
an angel. I could count on getting beat once every day because
I'd always do something, and that helped give me the motive
to run away.. And that's exactly what I did!
W: What year were you born, Mr. Cook?
C: The book says 1899.
W: Do you mean the Bible when you say the book?
C: No, I have a cousin in Ocala who had a family Bible, but she
doesn't seem to know where it is now.
W: Howdidyou decide what year you were born then, sir?
C: Well, my adopted mother told me. I've had reason to believe
that wasn't the right year, but why argue about it?
W: You don't feel that 1899 is the right year for your birth?
C: I'm afraid to say.
W: You think you're older than that? [laughter]
C: Since the matter of gathering statistics at that particular
time was kind of, you know, skimpy, and being a Negro child,
they didn't have these things recorded. You were born, and
if they put it in the Bible, that about ended that.
W: That's right, or if you were baptized, it might be in the church
C: Yes, and you see I can't dig up anything back that far. But
I gathered things from what I've heard them talk about, and
I had to accept the date.
W: What elementary school were you ir here in Gainesville?
C: Well, we had what was called Union Academy.
W: That was the forerunner of Lincoln High School, wasn't it?
C: Oh, yes, that was the school before Lincoln High.
W: Union Academy was started by the Freedmen's Bureau, wasn't
C: I imagine so. Did you say you had talked with A. Quinn Jones?
W: No, sir, I knew of him, but I haven't spoken to him. This was Mr.
A. Quinn Jones, who was later the principal of Lincoln High.
C: That's right. He was ahead of me. My school days here in
Gainesville were few. If you put it all together, it wouldn't
equal more than two or three years, but it was spotty,
because I'd go and come back, go and come back. Finally
they trapped me. The last time I ran away, I got a message
that my father died. That's my adopted father. Then I wanted
to come home. When I came home, the first thing my mother did
was stick her hand in this pocket and pull out this package.
I knew that was trouble right then.
W: How old were you then?
C: Oh, I guess I must have been about eleven or twelve, something
like that. My mother realized that I wasn't going to be
there long if she didn't do something about it, so she wanted
to know after I'd been home a day or two, "Would you like to
go to Ocala and visit your aunt?" I said, "Yes." They had
it all planned. I got down there and this man that was
staying there was a brick mason. He was doing work out at
this school, Fessenden Academy, that's about eight miles out
of Ocala. It was an A.M.A. school, and it was a boarding
W: An A.M.A. school?
C: American Missionary Association. I didn't know anything about
it, but anyway, after I'd been in Ocala about a week my aunt
said, "Would you like to go with Mr. Dixon and work with him
so he can get to someone?" I said, "Yeah." I thought he
was right there in Ocala, but I found out he had to out in
the country, to Fessenden. I went to school there. The
principal of the school at that particular time was Joseph
Lee Wiley. He and his family were there, during the summer.
I had seen that school, but I thought it was a white school;
you know, we thought and lived in terms of black and white
in those days. You can understand that.
W: Yes, I do.
C: It was either white or black. If it was white, you didn't
have anything to do with it. After this man got me there and
we were working, and of all things I was carrying bricks up
the ladder to him. I had made about two trips up that ladder,
and I was ready to quit then because those bricks were heavy.
This lady came along and looked on the ladder and said, "Hello,
young man." She was so pleasant with her greeting (that was
something that I hadn't seen in a long time) she said, "Have
you had breakfast?" I said, "No." And she said, "Well, wait
till I come back." And after a while she came back by, and
said, "Come with me over to the dormitory." This man working,
he knew what was going to happen, he knew what was happening,
but he didn't open his mouth.
W: She was one of the teachers from the school?
C: She was the principals's wife. She carried me over to the
teachers' dorm and fed me. I never did go back to work, you
know, but that was all planned. Then she said, "Do you know
where you are?" She told me I was at Fessenden Academy.
She and her husband both looked like whites. It didn't make
me any difference, but when she said, "Would you like to go
to school here?" I looked at her, oh, and I couldn't answer.
Finally, I was sitting on the front steps of the administration
building, and this man came up. A big, handsome man, the principal.
He was white, as far as I was concerned, and he greeted me
very pleasantly. He said, "How would you like to go to school
here? You like this place?" I said, "Fine,but
you know I can't go to school here, this is a white school."
He just fell out. He said, "Well, suppose I arranged it for
you, would you like to go?" I said, "Sure." He arranged
it, all right.
That's the beginning of what I would call my education. All
the other, you could just rub out, because, you 'know, it didn't
total anything. The first of my planned education started
right there at Fessenden Academy. I think they must have
gotten all the information they needed from my mother.
They placed me according to my grades at Union Academy and
according to the experience thatI had picked up while I was
running around, which had been quite considerable. J. Lee
Wiley was sent to Fessenden by the A.M.A. to take charge of
the school there. He was a very popular man in Ocala, amongst
the educators, but all of a sudden, he just disappeared. I
didn't know he had disappeared until we got a letter from
Fiske University, telling us that J. Lee Wiley had made an
application for me to enter Fiske University. This was in June
or July, and they were expecting me in September.
W: You didn't even know that your name had been in application?
C: It was all new. This is something nobody planned except
Wiley himself. The Wiley family liked me. That was a mistake
they made. When the time came, I was on the train going to
W: What year was this when you got the letter saying that you were
expected at Fiske?
C: It had to be somewhere between 1914 and '15. That would put
me around fourteen or fifteen years old.
W: That's when the war was starting in Europe.
C: I was registered, but the United States wasn't involved at
that time. I was drafted in Detroit, Michigan, when I was
W: The U.S. entered in 1917. Were you at Fiske University when
you were drafted?
C: A lady draft registrar said, "Are you still a student at
Fiske University?" I told her yes. She said, "Well, when I
get through registering you, would you take some of my advice?
You go back and get on that train and go back to Fiske University
as fast as you can." I wanted to know why. She said, "You
go back and get in school, and you probably won't have to go."
W: They would give you a deferrment.
C: Yes. She said, "Join the R.A.T.C." [Reserve Student Army
Training Corps]. That's what I did. I stayed at Fiske
University until I graduated. That was in 1922. At Fiske
University, I majored in sociology, and when I sought employ-
ment, nobody seemed to know exactly what that field was.
W: Nobody had ever heard of sociology in those days.
C: I'm sure they had sociologists, but the school that hired me
didn't bother with that. We hadn't any place for it, because
we had two systems of education. You had a white system and
you had a black system.
W: Was sociology an unusual subject for black students to take?
C: They didn't teach it in the schools.
W: How did you manage to learn it then?
C: If I had stayed in Florida, I don't guess I would have had it.
But I was in Tennessee.
W: What year did you come back to Florida?
C: In '22, the year I finished, but I didn't stay too long before
I went to New York City.
W: When did you finally get back to Florida to stay?
C: When the police ran me out of New York. [laughter] I came
back to stay in '23 or '24.
W: How many years was it after that before you were working
C: I worked at the post office a good many years as a substitute,
but I got disgusted with that because I couldn't get on as a
regular. The regulars weren't going to give me any work.
W: Why not?
C: They didn't think I needed it. My father was a contractor,
so I got credit as being the child of this particular family.
W: They assumed that other people needed the work more than you.
C: They still assume that.
W: Well, are you still living well? [laughter]
C: I've asked myself that question quite a bit. Especially in
these days, I don't know. You know, I was born in Silver
Springs. At that time mostly Indians lived there. My father
was an Indian himself but he didn't belong to the Seminoles.
He wasn't part of the Seminoles or anything, but it just happened
that he was one but he came from New York. Now, I don't even
remember now what tribes were in New York at that particular
W: This is your real father?
C: My real father, yes.
W: Did you get to know him?
C: Oh, sure. He was the only one that I can remember. I only
knew one place to run to and that was Ocala. I knew my father
was there and my adopted mother had a sister there.
W: You told me once before you had run away from school several
times and I wanted to ask you a little bit about that.
C: I didn't run away from school, I ran away to keep from
going to school. [laughter]
W: Now I understand.
C: I did all my running away while I was at home in Gainesville.
W: You were adopted by the Cooks. And you were brought to
Gainesville by them.
C: That's right.
W: How old were you when you were brought to Gainesville, sir?
C: Well, they said three weeks old.
W: Were they friends of your mother? They knew your father also?
C: I'll give you an answer, as well as I know, but it seems that
my mother, my real mother and my adopted mother's sister were
good friends. I was adopted and moved away because my mother
died. My adopted mother's sister took me and brought me to
Gainesville to her sister, Fannie Cook. Then I was Gaston
Cook from that point on. That's because my original name
was Troy Alexander Smith.
W: Oh, my goodness. I didn't realize that you knew your real name.
C: They told me later. [laughter] Yeah.
W: You're Troy Alexander Smith and you were adopted by Fannie and
C: That is right. My adopted mother told me that when I woke
up that particular morning I went in the kitchen where she
was cooking and told her that I dreamed that my name was Troy
Alexander Smith. She was amazed.
W: How old were you when you did that?
"C: Well, I couldn't have been very old. I had to be two, three
years old, something like that.
W: You had just dreamed that was your name?
C: As far as I know I had just dreamed that. But it didn't
bother me because it was just a dream. [laughter]
W: But that's grand. Did you know what your real mother and
father's names were?
C: I knew my father's name was Wash Smith. He was a Highsmith
before he dropped that High.
C: Wash. Washington. That was a nickname for Washington.
W: Washington Highsmith.
W: You didn't know your real mother's first name?
C: You know,there are people I know that I could go to and find
out. I have people in Palatka and in Ocala. But somehow or
another, it never bothered me. My immediate concern was with
the people I hadn't seen or didn't know, didn't make much
sense to me at that particular time.
W: Do you remember the first time you ever got to see your real
C: Sure. I remember the first time. You see, my adopted mother
used to go back and forth to visit her sister in Ocala. The
first time I saw my real father was one of those visits.
The man who knew me and knew my father was the postman.
I asked him, "Do you know Mr. Wash Smith?" And he looked
at me. "Yes." "Could you show me the way?" And that tickled
him. He said, "You never could find him. Are you Wash
Smith's boy?" And I said, "Yes" and that tickled him you know.
He said "Come on." [laughter] And he took me because they knew
each other. That was my first trip to Ocala by running
away, the first and last. I didn't make that trip but one
W: What grade were you in when you did that?
C: Oh yes, I had started to school. Back then. you were in a
room with a whole lot of grades. At that particular time,
grades didn't have any importance to me, I was just in school.
W: Do you remember what school you were in?
C: I was in Union Academy. That was the first school in Gainesville.
W: In Gainesville. That was the one that had been started by
the Freedmen's Bureau that later became Lincoln High School?
C: Been pokin' around, haven't you?
W: Well, I tried. [laughter] Do you remember how old you were
at all? You couldn't have been very big. That was quite a
trip for a young man.
C: Yeah, I wish you could have been on that trip. [laughter]
I walked, I ran, I did everything, trying to get to Ocala
W: Were you going to go and live with your daddy or just going
to visit him?
C: That hadn't dawned on me at all. [laughter] I was just going.
W: You didn't think that far ahead?
C: I'd find out what happened after I got there. Uh, my mother
was... My adopted mother was much smarter than I was. By
the time I got into Ocala and got situated, she arrived [laughter]
and we came back to Gainesville. I didn't know I had a sister,
but while I was there I met my sister at my father's home.
I stayed there about three or four nights, almost a week.
I had a lot of time to talk with him and my sister.
W: Was this a sister by the same mother also?
W: So there had just been the two of you?
C: Just the two of us. That was my first time to see her or
to know anything about a sister.
W: Oh, for goodness sakes.
C: And we were tickled to death with each other, you know.
W: Was she living with your father?
C: Oh yes, she was living with my father in Ocala.
W: Is she older than you?
C: I'm pretty sure she was older than I was. Then there was
a girl about her age and they were playmates. My sister's
name was Bertha, and this friend's name was Ertha. [laughter]
They were so much alike. And the three of us we were good
friends for the time we were there.
W: How much older was your sister than you? Was she close to
C: Yes, close. There might have been a year or two difference.
There wasn't that much difference between the three of us.
Ertha was just like a sister to me as far as I was concerned.
W: Is Bertha still living?
C: Oh no, she's dead. Out of that family, I'm the only one living.
W: How long ago did she die?
C: Ummm...I don't know. I'd have to find somebody else. You know,
most of the people who were living in Ocala in the immediate
vicinity while my father lived have left. When I got interested
in that information I found out there were mighty few people
I could talk with.
W: When did your real father die?
C: It had to be around about seventeen or eighteen somewhere.
W: 1917 or '18? Your real father?
C: Uh huh.
W: Didn't your adopted father die right about that same time?
C: He died around 1912. He died before my real father died.
I can remember it said 1912 on the headston. I've forgot now
what month. Haven't you got it there?
W: No sir, I knew that your adopted father was still alive in
1911, but I didn't know how soon after that he had died.
C: He died suddenly. I don't know. I believe they said he
dropped dead. It was a sudden thing. There were a lot of
things that happened that we didn't go into unless you had some
definite reason for wanting to know. [laughter]
W: The only reason I want to know that is because I'm very interested
to know how you lived and everything about your life. You
have some important things to say and I'm interested to hear
anything you say. Your adopted father was a contractor, is
C: Yes, a contractor.
W: A contractor here in town?
C: He built houses, but he was more like an architect. He had
to do all his own work. He had to draw all his plans and
prints and things like that, and take his plans to the mill
and have his work cut out. They didn't have electric machinery
or steam. He built houses everywhere. In Alabama, in Georgia,
and Florida. He was from Alabama.
W: Then he had to travel around quite a bit.
C: He went where he had work, or would you say where he had contracts
to build. I remember he had to build the first hotel in what
we call White Springs.
W: Oh,where the Foster Folk Festival is.
C: That original building is one he built.
W: Oh, for goodness sake, the one that's gone now? The lakefront
building down there.
C: Right on the Suwanee River you mean?
W: Yes sir.
C: That's where he was. He even built a laundry for himself there.
W: A laundry? That was his own business?
C: That was his own business. You know, he was going to make his
home there, but mama wouldn't hear that. [laughter]
W: She just liked Gainesville too much?
C: Well, then there were other things. [laughter]
W: Other.reasons why she didn't want to be up at White Springs?
C: Yes. In the first place, he wasn't going to stay there and
she knew that. She knew he wasn't going to stay there. She
had reason for knowing that before he ever went there, you
understand? And then, while they were there, a certain character
W: This wouldn't have been a certain female character, would it?
C: Per-sactly! [laughter]
W: I thought so!
C: That was floating all the way through. It made the home life,
from their point of view, quite undesirable. It affected me,
but I didn't know it was affecting me, you understand. As
far as I was concerned, everything was peaches. [laughter]
W: Well, when you're little and the next meal is on the table
everything is all right, huh?
C: One of the favorite dishes at that time was bacon, grits, and
W: That's a good breakfast.
C: To a youngster, the bacon is salty. In fact, all the meat was
salty because you didn't have ice.
W: Like salted white bacon.
C: Salted white bacon, salted beef, everything was salty. That's
the way you kept it. Corned beef, I believe they called it.
I never could figure out why they called it corned beef,
because corn wasn't salty. But you see, that was the way I
put it together. That was the way they preserved meat.
W: Did your mama scrape the salt off the meat and use it to cook
the foods then? Did you watch her do that?
C: You didn't have to scrape any salt off when you got it out
of the store. There wasn't.any salt on it. It had already
been cured, but it still was salty. One morning I told my
father...he said, "Why aren't you eating your meat?" I said,
"I don't like that anymore." That was the worst thing I
could have said, because it was a struggle to get even that
back then. And he said, "All right, if you don't want it
you wait out there in the barn." You see, I couldn't take it
back. I had already said it, and I didn't have sense enough
to want to take it back. I was scared, because I knew what
was going to happen out there in the barn. But my mother
told him something. I don't know what she told him, but anyhow,
he never did show up out there. But she did, and said, "Come on
back and finish your breakfast." She didn't tell me "Don't eat
the meat," though. She said, "Come on back and finish your
breakfast and don't ever tell your father anymore you don't
like meat, or anything else." "Yes, ma'am." And I didn't.
W: Your mama got you out of that one.
C: Yes. But she didn't ever get me out of any more, though.
W: How old were you when you did that?
C: Oh, three, four, five, something like that.
W: You always were an independent thinker, weren't you?
C: I thought so but it didn't work. [laughter] I got a lot of
whippings because I was an independent thinker. That seemed
to be part of the incentive to run away. So many whippings.
But not because the outside influence got me into trouble more
than anything I did at home.
W: You were running around with some fast people?
C: Wasn't any other kind to run around with. [laughter] If
you were one of the smaller ones, which I was, you were the
chief whipping target of the larger ones. And my adopted
uncle's family lived right next door to us and we were transferring
from one house to the other, and they all had a dislike for me.
W: Was this when you were on North Grove Street?
C: North Grove Street. Right.
W: This is 802 or 820? Do you remember?
C: Both, 802 first, and then later on, we were at820.
W: Did you call the Cooks mother and father, or did you call them
mama and daddy.
C: I called her mama and I called him papa.
W: Did the Cooks have any other children?
W: There were just the three of you, then.
C: That's all. He was hardly ever home because he was always
off with his work.
W: Did your mama work?
C: She washed and ironed.
W: Did she do that in the house or did she go out and work for
C: In the house. The kind of work she did was the kind where
people came to get you because they wanted you to do it.
W: Word of mouth travelled and they knew she was good.
C: She would only take a few; she'd try to do right because she
didn't have time to do it.
W: You had enough cousins that you felt like you had more family
though, didn't you?
C: Oh, yeah. I don't know how it got established among the
relatives and friends, but it seemed like Fannie Cook and
Samuel Cook were people that were thought to be affluent,
or good livers. They lived a little above the average, and
you pay for that, you know? Especially in a little place.
W: Where everybody knows your business.
C: You pay dear for things like that, because the whole community's
on you. I'm talking about the children. And there was
just one "children" where I was. One. So I had to take
all the abuse.
W: How old do you think you were when you first realized that?
Can you remember when it first occurred to you that you were
living better or that other people thought you were living
C: I didn't think I was living better. There wasn't anything,
as far as I was concerned, that made me think we lived better
or that we were any different from anybody else. Because the
case of the bacon would be proof. It was something you had
every day; it never changed. [laughter]
W: Didn't it occur to you how expensive it was to get that bacon, or
that somebody else didn't have it?
C: No, that wasn't a part of my thinking at all. I didn't have
any way of knowing who had it, you know what I mean? As
a child, I didn't know that much about people. I knew the
children. Now, what they had, I don't know. But when they
got together, they could tell some whopping lies about what
they had and what they didn't, and I didn't have any better
sense than to believe most of it. [laughter]
W: When your papa traveled around in his business, how did he
C: He had to go by train. And he had to ship all of his stuff
to his scene, because he cut all of his material out at the
mill. I told you he'd carry and take his blueprints and things
and cut the material accordingly. When it arrived, it was
a matter of putting it up. He kept a crew of about four or
five, and they put up these buildings.
W: So he'd take his crew with him, and they'd go there and he'd
put the building up?
C: That's right.
W: Was there a mill here in Gainesville that he would go to?
W: Ettings Mill.
C: There were two or three mills, but this Ettings Mill was the
mill that did all of this fancy cutting. When he was building,
he did a lot of this fancy work that went on the outside.
W: All the ornamental trim.
C: Yeah, and the high columns, and all of the finished work
on the inside. That was the kind of work he did.
W: He was quite a craftsman, too?
C: Yes. And he had one weakness, he drank. That was one of the
elements of dissatisfaction at home. And I don't think it
would be any trouble to explain any of the others, if he had
that one. He wasn't abusive or anything like that to his wife,
but he just wasn't there. [laughter] And when he did come,
it was always after one of those binges, you know, and he
didn't want anything but to just rest. When he was off the
binge, he was a fine fellow, and participated actively in
church work, lodges and so forth.
W: He kept his business going, too. He was a hard working man.
C: He had quite a reputation among the people in the community.
W: How often would he go off on one of the binges?
C: I think most of that was when he wasn't even in town. But
if he had too long to stay in town before he left, it just
might happen. Of course, the character I mentioned was right
there too, and a lot of nights (or evenings), he didn't show
up. I saw a lot of things as a youngster that...I guess I
knew what was going on, but it wasn't anything we could
do. I just looked at it, then keep going.
W: Did your papa, in his business, interact a lot with the white
community in Gainesville?
W: They were mainly the ones he was building homes for.
C: The only ones.
W: The only ones who could afford them.
C: Nobody else could afford them.
W: Did you ever go to his worksite? Did you ever go and watch
him work or go and help him?
C: I made that mistake once. [laughter]
W: That was a mistake?
C: My dad worked the heck out of me. [laughter] I was going to
be like my daddy until he put me to work. I believe it was
at the first dormitory at the University of Florida, where he
was doing some finishing work. He had me there as the water
W: That's hard work.
C: All day long, you could hear that "water boy." They don't want
the water, they just...[laughter]
W: Just wanted to watch you fetch and carry.
C: Yeah, and they would go to use the dipper, and they'd take
the dipper and get one swallow and throw it all out. By the
time you went around to five or six men, your bucket was
empty, you had to go back, and by the time you got back,
they were hollering again, "water boy." I couldn't do anything
about it, because that was my job. I lasted a week. There
was a beautiful floor in this particular room that they were
finishing up. They were just about done, and somebody had
left a broadaxe in the room. It was laying down on the floor,
and I picked that thing up, just to see how sharp it was, and
I chopped right into that floor. The moment I did it, I knew
that was my third down. I didn't work at any more buildings
at the University of Florida, or anywhere's else with him after
W: Oh, my goodness, you didn't get another spanking for that, did
W: Worse than that?
C: He used a saw.
W: Oh, boy, that hurts!
C: Yes, sir, it certainly did. But that was his mode of doing
things back then. In fact, the whole community had that
privilege if they saw you doing anything wrong.
W: You mean, just most anybody would...
C: If they catch you doing something wrong, oh yeah!
W: They just grab you and paddle you right there.
W: And I'd be willing to bet you'd get another one at home.
C: My uncle caught me once crawling in the window one Sunday morning.
I don't know why I was home that Sunday morning, because I
was supposed to go to Sunday school, but I didn't get there.
I don't know why. He caught me going in the window. I was
hungry, and I saw everything on the stove. My uncle just pulled
the window down and proceeded to work on me. "No more,"
quote the raven. [laughter]
W: I don't think Edgar Allen Poe got in as much trouble as you did.
W: You did all right.
C: My childhood life at home was mostly about things like that.
I started to tell you, I got a nickname when I was a little
fellow, the Golden Boy. It didn't mean anything to me, but
I never forgave the man who gave it to me.
W: Was he a relative?
C: Yes. He was a relative, who had children, and he didn't
like me because it looked like I had everything, and his
children didn't. In other words, he was greedy. He built
them up and he ran everybody else's children down. That's the
kind of fellow he was. He's the one who branded me the
"Golden Boy," because Fannie Cook wouldn't take one of his
children to raise. She had the same trouble with her brother.
He had a lot of children, and he wanted her to take one of
the children, and she was almost persuaded, but something
happened. My mother's sister took one of the children from
him, and she raised him in Ocala.
W: What was the name of the man?
C: Jennings Feltman.
W: Did he live near you on that street?
C: Right next door.
W: That's the same one who caught you going in the window?
C: The very same one. [laughter]
W: He seemed to be around at all the worng times. Was your
mother's name Feltman before she got married?
C: She was a Feltman, yes.
W: I see. How many were in her family all together?
C: Well, I can remember three. Jennings, Ella and Fannie.
W: Ella would be the one in Ocala?
W: All right, but you never knew any other aunts or uncles?
C: Not that I know of. I never heard of anybody else.
W: The Feltman family wasn't as well off as Mr. Cook and your
C: If you want to say well off, okay, go ahead.
W: I said well off for emphasis, everything is relative. How
did your mama feel about the community's attitudes? Did you
realize from anything she ever said that the people felt that
you were better off than some others?
C: No, there wasn't anything. I don't think she liked it, but
she never made any fuss about it.
W: Did she keep to herself?
C: No, she was a mixer. She was active in the community and
took part in just about everything. I forgot to mention
W: What was that?
C: My mother was very fair. My adoptive family. They were all
very fair people. And there's another thing I always noticed
when I was in town. My mother and I would be walking down
along the street- and if a white man passed who knew her, he
would tip his hat. That's what men did back then.
W: That was a sign of respect.
C: I mentioned that so you would know how she ranked in the community.
All the people seemed to think well of her, but there were
those people who grinned in your face and stabbed you in the
W: There are always going to be some like that.
C: Well, they were there. They were the ones who kept up any
dissatisfaction and things like ttat. The man that I said
branded me with the "Golden Boy" was one of them, because
he wanted his children to be on top. And I'll give you a good
example of another man like Feltner, Drew Days. Drew Days
was a relative; they were cousins. He wanted all the Days' to
be tops. They could have been there, wasn't anything to keep
them from being top, but if you're so blind and greedy, you
can't see when you're doing good or when you're doing badly.
That was his trouble, he was just greedy. There were a lot
of things I could tell you that shouldn't go in this.
[Laughter] He wasn't any angel. There wasn't a feather
on him anywhere. He didn't grow any wings. There were a
lot of people like that then, and I think there's still some.
W: I think there are still a lot, to tell you the truth. Sounds
to me like your mama was a real lady.
C: I always thought so, I was proud of her. Always was. That
was the one person that I just stuck to. Whatever made me
leave home was some outside influence, it wasn't the family's
W: When did you go down to Fessenden? Was that after your papa
C: That was right after his death. We didn't get back to Fessenden,
W: Well, we've meandered around a little bit, but we can get there.
C: It's only just a hop and a jump.
W: You said that your papa died in the home?
W: Do you mean in your home, or did you mean in a rest home?
C: The only place I would call home would be where I was living.
W: That was about 1912.
C: That's the date that was on the, on the headstone at the grave.
Children didn't know too much, back there. The elders seemed
to think that they were the only one who would know things,
and who had any interest in things. Children had to shut up,
and when the adults started talking,you go somewhere. That's
what I liked for them to do, start talking so you could say,
"Go play." And when they said, "Go play," I went as far
as I could. [laughter]
W: I know that system.
C: I would go to the other side of town to play, I'd get clean out.
But that was one of my pastimes. I had one weakness that got
me in trouble. It was rambling. I think I was sickly when
I was a youngster. It seems like for a good while I couldn't
walk, but I can't find anybody to verify that. I guess I
never will now. I can remember when my folks used to carry
me to the doctor quite often. I didn't know why they always
picked you up and carried you. ONe of the reasons I believe
I couldn't walk is my memory of my daddy's cows. My daddy had
made me a little high chair, and he would put that chair by
the fence where they were milking. Then they could watch me
and do what they were doing, milking, separating the cows,
things like that. But they could see me. I'm pretty sure
they did that because I couldn't walk.
W: Do you remember when you could finally get up and start to walk?
C: No. But I could remember, people used to come see my mother,
and they would what, put me on a blanket on the sidewalk
and try to get me to stand up. They used to do that quite
often, but I didn't know what they were doing. It didn't
matter to me what they were doing, but I know there was something
wrong. I know it now, but I didn't know it then. I could tell
you a lot of things about the chair...I was a bedwetter, and
I think that this afflection had a whole lot to do with it.
Of course, most children have that trouble, for one reason or
another. I've often wondered if my weakness when I couldn't
walk had anything to do with that. But anyway, children
didn't have a whole lot of clothes and things like that.
You couldn't take a bath and change every morning to go to
school, not in those days. You had to got to the well and get
W: That's right.
C: If you didn't bring enough for the whole family, you know what
I mean? And you took baths in the basin.
W: I remember that.
C: You do?
W: Yes, I do. My mother would say, :"You wash everywhere possible,
wash all around possible, and then wash possible."
C: Well, I hadn't heard that in a long time, but that's exactly
what they said.
W: I remember that very well.
C: I could do all right till I got to the feet.
W: So you couldn't get down to the feet, huh?
C: I could get there, but the feet were really dirty. They had
dirt on them, and you couldn't clean them with one bowl of
water, you had to get water two or three times, and I didn't
want to wash the feet. I can remember wrapping my feet up
in newspaper so I wouldn't have to wash my feet. And mama
would say, "Get out of there." She tore the paper off my feet
and sent me back out there. I'd have to wash them, but
I did everything I could to keep from washing those feet.
W: You were up and walking by that time.
C: Oh, sure!
W: You don't remember when it was that you were able to get up
and walk finally?
W: What did your mama do to keep you together and keep the house
going when your papa died?
C: Well, that was another thing I forgot. My father, as I
told you, was a contractor. He built a lot of buildings
other than homes, and he kept himself almost poor investing
his earnings in the buildings to collect rent. That was a
profitable thing back then.
C: I think that was the main reason everybody was calling me
the Golden Boy, because the Cooks had all these rental houses.
W: Yeah, but you can be land poor, too.
C: They were, that's why they scrimped. Everything you owned,
you have to pay for. They spent a large part of their lives
paying for what they had accumulated. That's my way of putting
it, it might not be exactly the way it should be said, but
that's what it amounted to because you couldn't buy houses
and build houses without some money that you didn't have.
W: That's right.
C: If you built a house, you owed somebody. My daddy could
owe somebody because he was working in the lumber and all this
other stuff. And he'd take the rent to pay the obligations
off. Well, that didn't mean you were rich, far from it.
Because every time you built a house, you increased your debt.
W: It just meant you had to work that much harder to keep your head
C: People still don't look at it like that. You know, when I
finished Fiske and came home, the first question that I was
asked was, "what are you gonna do now?" [laughter]
W: They had an idea that you could come home and do just as you
C: They were hoping that I wouldn't be able to do just as I pleased.
If there was anyway they could make you hurt, they would do it.
In other words, if you wanted a job, you weren't going to get
it anyway; because you didn't need it. Do you follow that?
C: The first place I tried to get a job was at the post office.
I passed the examination, naturally, but those carriers wouldn't
give me a break to sub unless it was impossible for somebody
to work out there. They would pick the worst weather, then
they would call you. If it was cold as the devil, they'd
call you. They kept me busy when I didn't want to be busy,
but I didn't have any choice.
W: Gainesville had all colored mail carriers at that time.
C: That is right.
W: This is in the 1930s.
C: Uh huh, and before, yeah. I remember one time"they only-hadcone
mail carrier, Benny Childs.
W: Do you mean one colored mail carrier, or one mail carrier for
the whole city?
C: One mail carrier period.
W: For the whole city?
C: How big was the city? [laughter] There was a courthouse that
used to be the center of activity. Everything was centered
around that, all the business and everything.
W: That the one with the big old clock tower?
C: Yeah! Andwhen he would deliver mail, he'd deliver to the
stores and things around there.
W: He was the only mail carrier?
C: He was doing that before I came along, I don't know.
W: I'm going to get back to Fessenden Academy if it's the last
thing I do.
C: All right.
W: All right, I've got you now. Your papa died, and it was
after he died that you...
C: Oh, yes. Now we'll try to dig a little path to Fessenden
C: Now, this was after I'd come home, you see, when my father died.
When I finally got the word that my adopted father was dead,
they had tried to make contact with me everywhere they could
think. I wasn't at home, I was on one of my...
C: Junkets, that's a good word, yeah, that was exactly. I wish
I had known that word then. Buy anyway, I was down in Bradenton.
W: Good Lord, you got to Bradenton?
C: Oh, I went further than that.
W: In 1912, you were only thirteen years old.
C: I can't help it, that's what happened. [laughter]
W: Now, did you take off by foot and go like that?
C: That's the only transportation I had.
W: Shanks mare?
C: And of course, if a train ran too slow.
W: Oh...and you ran fast enough.
C: And here we go.
W: How did you support yourself, how did you eat?
C: Oh, that wasn't a problem. Whenever I got to a place, I
always picked out the finest looking house in the community
and I went straight there. Immediately I was adopted.
W: Well, you must have been a pretty cute little boy.
C: I don't know anything about that. They would say "What do
you want, son?" "I'm looking for a job." But that was always
funny, whoever I said it to, "A job? Come on, you hungry?"
That was the next question, you were always hungry. And after
I got a good square meal, I wasn't in a hurry about going
anywhere. They always found something for me to do, and that
W: So you were all the way in Bradenton when they finally found
you and told you about your papa?
C: I worked for the sheriff there a while. I carried the keys
to the jail, things like that.
W: So you just decided to walk around with the keys on?
C: No, I worked there, but you see...oh, boy, how can I ever
explain that? The jail was a wide open place, anybody could
see you. When I went to the door people would see you putting
the key in the door (you had to be something, to have those
keys). I was working for the sheriff.
W: Did you go home immediately? As soon as you heard about your
C: Yes, I left and went home. But I had stayed in Bradenton a
long time. I'd been there a good while. I worked for two
or three families while I was there, because I didn't like
that jail business. That was too much for me. [laughter]
I don't know how I managed, but somehow I always met the people
who mattered. The sheriff [Hans Wyatt] ran a confectionary,
the only one in town. And I was working there for the sheriff,
but not in the jail. I was working in the confectionary.
And how did I get in there? One day I was just walking along
the sidewalk, having just come in from Sarasota off a tour
(I had been down there working on the beaneryy). The beaneryy"
is a railroad that goes out from Sarasota to this resort.
I was working on that railroad as a water boy. I'd ride with
the engineer to go get the water, and they could holler all
they wanted about water, but they couldn't get any until the
engineer came back. Oh, I liked that job.
W: Did you call that the beaneryy?"
C: The had a reason for calling it the beaneryy," I don't know
why. I guess because beans were about the only things you
had to eat, beans and bacon and things like that.
W: So when you were working on building the railroad, you mean,
they said you were working on the beaneryy?"
C: Yes, that's what everybody called it.
W: I'd never heard that expression.
C: Where was I?
W: Well, let's see, you were running out to work on that railroad
and working for the sheriff.
C: One of the young fellows (who was a cousin of the sheriff) was
running the confectionary place and was outside washing windows
when I happened to be passing along. Of course, you didn't
see many children up town at that particular time. I was the
only one there, because most of the children were in school.
And he said, "Hey! Wanna make.a quarter?" Gosh, a whole
quarter! He told me to wash the windows. He got towels
and Bon Ami or whatever it was he used to clean the glass
with. I started working on the glass, he came out the door
and asked "Where did you get all those sores on your leg?"
I hadn't even noticed them, but I did have them. I said, "I
don't know." "Come on back here." And he put the towel and
the stuff down. I went back there, and he went to the drugstore
next door and got some stuff and treated or did something to
my legs and bound them up. That was the only work I ever did on
the glass. The next day I made ice cream.
W: You had a brand new job.
C: A brand new job. That was a job I liked. When the sheriff
wanted things from the jail, he would send me. That's how
I carried the keys to the jail. And these two boys, finally
weaned me away from the sheriff, and I lived with them. One
of those two boys was Deso Sarason. That was one time I lived
the life of a king, because they didn't let me do anything
except follow them. That's all they wanted of me: "Come on,
go with us." And they went everywhere. I was home about
two or three weeks and it was dull around Gainesville. My
mother was afraid, I guess, that I might take off again.
W: This was right after your papa died.
C: Yes, well, of course he was buried and all when I got home.
Mother said, "How would you like to go to Ocala and visit
your Aunt Ella?" "Fine. This time I can ride on the train."
W: You made the trip different.
C: I went to Ocala and my aunt was expecting me. There were other
children there because she told them that I was coming. They
were anxious to see Miss Lloyd's nephew. I didn't have any
money and nobody else in the family had any money, for that
matter. All of the other fellows had pocket change, a nickel
or a dime. Some of them even had quarters. I was the only
one who didn't have any change. She noticed that, although
it wasn't bothering me. One night my Aunt said, "How would
you like to get a job and work with Mr. Mills?" That's the man
who was boarding there. He was a brick mason. I said, "Fine."
Now, I didn't know.where I was working, it didn't matter.
I would have a job and I could look forward to something.
"You could go to work tomorrow, couldn't you?" "Yeah." Boy.
When tomorrow morning came, Mr. Mills was up, and he got me
up, and we were ready to go. When we got out on the front porch,
there was a man with a horse and wagon with tools and things
on it. I didn't say anything, but it didn't look like I was
going to any job there. We crawled on the wagon, here we go,
we were going to Fessenden from Ocala, eight miles. I didn't
know anything about Fessenden, never heard of it. But I got
there. They had all of this planned, but I didn't know
it. And the first thing Mr. Mills wanted me to do was bring
bricks up the ladder. I looked at that ladder and I looked
at those bricks, but I didn't have any choice butto grab the
bricks and go ahead, and that's what I did. The bricks was too
heavy for me to handle, but somehow I did. After awhile,
here comes a lady across the campus. I didn't know anything
about thatword, campus then, but that's what she was crossing,
the campus. She was on her way to the principal's home from
the girl's dormitory. She was the principals' wife. The
principal's name was Joseph Lee Wiley at the time that I was
there, and that was Mrs. Wiley. She got there, timed it so that
I was on the ladder, about to go up, and she says, "Hello,
there, young fellow." "Hello." Anything to put those bricks
down. "What's your name?" I was over there where she was, I,
and she, she said "Are you hungry?" "Sure!" I hadn't had
any breakfast, but she turned around and carried me back over
there to the dormitory, where the kitchen was. What a breakfast.
Oh, boy, I had me a breakfast.
W: What did you eat? I wanted to ask you that, do you remember
what that meal was? Tell me what you ate.
C: I had scrambled eggs, grits.and butter, and jam, pancakes,
things like that. All those nice things. Of course, I'm
afraid I was a bit hoggish, but nevertheless, that didn't
bother her none. When I got through eating, she said, "You
don't have to go back there if you don't want to, you can
rest here." I wasn't even tired. Well, I had to go sooner or
later, so I went back out there. At noontime or a little
later in the afternoon, this man came around the corner while
I was sitting on the steps of the administration building. I
didn't know that was the administration building, I didn't know
one building from the other, but that's where I was sitting,
I later learned. So this man came around, another one of
those fair gentlemen, you know, and a handsome looking guy
he was, too. "Hello, young fellow!" "Good morning." "How
do you like this place?" "Oh, it's nice." "How would you
like to stay here?" I looked at him, "What is this?" He
said, "This is a school." "Oh." There were children, but
it was in the summertime; I couldn't understand that part.
"Uh, I don't mind." I knew I didn't have to stay if I didn't
want to. And he said, "How would you like to go to school
here?" Boy, that's when I perked up and gave him a piece of
my mind. Because, see, as far as I was concerned, he was a
W: You said that once before. Mrs. Wiley looked very white also.
C: Well, according to the law you didn't go places like that.
You were hardly permitted to come in, let alone take a part.
I wasn't too dumb then to. know that. So I told him, "Why
do you want to ask me that? You know I can't go to school
here." "Why can't you go to school?" And I say, "You know
this school's a white school."
C: Boy, that tickled him. He laughed, and he said, "Well, sir,
if you want to go to school here, you can go to school as
long as you want to." Well, that was fine. And then he said,
"You see that building over there? That's the boys' dormitory
down there, how do you like that building?" "Fine." "Would
you like to stay over there?" "Yes." Well, we just talked,
you know. He knew where to stop, he knew exactly where to stop.
But anyhow, I didn't leave. I was there. I liked being there.
And when the school opened and the children came, I had a host
of freinds and everything. Oh, I was enjoying myself. Fessenden
W: So now this was during the summer that you first met Mrs. Wiley.
For the rest of the summer, did you stay with your Aunt Ella?
C: I stayed out at Fessenden.
W: Even though there were none of the other kids there?
C: Yes. I stayed in the dormitory.
W: I want to know more about Fessenden. This was an academy that
was run by the American Missionary Association? And it's
outside Martin, Florida, which is north of Ocala. So Fessenden's
sort of out in the woods?
C: They only had a place where the mail was on the thing, you
know, and the train would...
W: Oh, on the hook?
C: ...snatch it from the hook. That was where they picked up
the Fessenden mail. And they would throw the Fessenden mail
off in a bag. Martin was where the station was. We didn't
have to go to Martin to get our mail. We'd hang the mail up,
and when the train came along, whichever way it was, they would
snatch the mail from the hanger and throw the mail out, and
we'd go down and pick it up. That was our mode of communication
at that particular time.
W: How many buildings were there at Fessenden?
C: Yeah, you had a girls dormitory, boy's dormitory, you had the
administrative building, two administrative buildings, and there
W: Did the boys and the girls go to class together?
C: Yes. The boys and the girls went to class together.
W: What building was it that you were working on with Mr. Mills?
C: Uh, I don't remember, I didn't work that long! [laughter]
In another building the upstairs was used for boy's dormitory
and the downstairs were all the offices and things they didn't
have in the other buildings. And then they had, this big
heating plant. Heating, the laundry, just about everything
you would want was there.
W: Were the buildingsmade out of wood, or were they brick?
C: Some brick, some wood, but the wood there was different.
The buildings were built out of. that real wood where the wood
was cut from the green trees, with the sap and everything.
W: You mean heart pine.
C: Yes, heart pine, and that's better than brick.
W: The older it gets, the harder it gets.
C: That's right. Several buildings were built there like that.
W: How big a building was that administration building? Was that
where Dr. Wiley's office was?
C: It was two story.
W: Was it wooden?
C: That was wood. The girl's dormitory was part brick and frame.
Oh, yeah, I forgot. They had another building down there
that was for boys. One whole building for boys, and then half
of that administration building was the boy's dormitory.
W: How many students did Fessenden have at that time?
C: Well, boarding children, they had, I guess it'd be under a
hundred, but they had plenty of day students.
W: More than a hundred?
C: Oh, yes. We had an auditorium that would hold three or four
hundred. They could fill that thing up.
W: And this is only in 1912?
C: Back there, '12,'13,'14. A month before time to go back
to Fessenden in 1915 I was having a good time at home. Home
was home. And my mother got this letter from Fiske University
saying that J.L. Wiley, principal of Fessenden Academy, Martin,
Florida, had registered me at Fiske University in the preparatory
department, and they were expecting me to be there September
the fifteenth. You know where I was when September fifteenth
came? I was there.
W: Well, tell me some more about Fessenden. You stayed that summer,
and you worked around the school until fall classes started.
C: That's right.
W: What kind of classes did you take and what kind of things
did you study while you were there?
C: I guess I did basis stuff; arithmetic, language, history.
W: Language being English?
C: But it wasn't English, it was language. It was a pretty good
preparatory course, that's what it was. When you finished, you
had finished high school.
W: Tell me what a day at Fessenden would be like. What time did
you get up in the morning? Now, you slept in a dormitory, right?
W: How many other boys would be sleeping in the same room with
W: Oh, that's like a semi-private room.
C: I know.
W: That was a pretty good deal.
C: I told you I liked Fessenden!
W: Did everybody sleep like that; all the rooms were for two
boys a room?
C: All the rooms there were two to a room.
W: All right. How did you get up in the morning? Did somebody
come and wake you up in the morning?
C: There was a bell in a big tower there. And when that bell
rang, everybody could hear it. That meant you better get up.
And nobody had to tell us to get up because we were ready to
eat. We were hungry. You know, out in the country you could
develop some good appetites. And you knew you were going to
have a good breakfast.
W: How early in the morning was that?
C: Oh, that would probably be about seven, 6:30 or 7:00. You
had to come back and clean up your room and do all of that kind
of stuff before your classes started.
W: So you got up and you went and got cleaned up?
C: Yes, and went to breakfast.
W: The dining room was the important thing?
C: Yes, and you had to go all the way across the campus to
get to the dining room.
W: Did they give you the same kind of good breakfast every morning
thatyou got from Mrs. Wiley that morning?
C: Oh, yeah, all the meals were good. Everybody was ready to
eat, nobody ever complained about food there.
W: Did you get bacon every morning?
C: Bacon? We had more than that!
W: I want to know if you were still complaining about the bacon.
C: That was a different type of bacon, cheaper than that we had
at the school.
W: That wasn't fatback?
C: That was fatback I had at home.
W: And this is lean bacon?
C: Yeah, bacon almost good as ham. And we used to have ham too!
W: My gosh, and pancakes?
C: Uh huh. Yes. We had a big smokehouse, too. We raised hogs
and things like that, and they'd kill them and smoke them,
and hang them up. We had everything. We canned vegetables,
so we had plenty to eat.
W: You raised an awful lot of your own things right there by the
W: Who did the raising? Did the students work on that, or did
they have other people?
C: That was a part of your classroom work, your agriculture.
The experience from the classroom was given to you out there
in that field. And they were all good farmers, too, don't
W: When you went in to eat was it cafeteria style? Did you have
to walk through a line and get your food, or did somebody
come and bring it out to you?
C: No sir Bob, each group had their own table and a hostess
and a host.
W: Good. Were the host and hostess hired folks who worked there,
or were they students?
C: No, the hostess was a teacher.
C: And a senior student was the host.
W: All right. Now, one of the things that I read about Fessenden in
the fifties was that they had a peculiar kind of student
government where the students took a big part in the government
of the school. Were they doing that when you were there?
C: No, they weren't doing that. They were active and everything,
but the students didn't make any decisions.
W: But they did take a very active role in the life of the school?
C: They took part in all the school work. For instance, if this
was a group in grammar or something, they could decide what they
wanted to know, but they didn't have anything to do with the whole
school, the philosophy, policies or anything like that. That
was about the extent of their decision. At that time we didn't
take part in making decisions for the school as a whole.
W: You were in there in the cafeteria then, and they brought your
breakfast around, you had a teacher and you had a senior
student, and they acted as host and hostess, and they would what?
Cc There wasn't a cafeteria, it was a dining room. The food
was brought to the table by other students, and we'd call
W: All right. Did everybody take a turn being a waitress?
C: The same group didn't stay on all the time, they were all changed.
W: Did you ever wind up waiting on tables?
C: I was a host, if you don't mind! [laughter] [I had the advantage
of the others that I was there first.]
W: Oh, I see, you had seniority.
C: Yes, I had seniority.
W: You didn't run away, did you?
C: No. There was always plenty to do, nobody objected. When
Mrs. Wiley wanted Gaston Cook, Mrs. Wiley got Gaston Cook.
And most of the time when Ivasn't in class I was not too
far from Mrs. Wiley. She always had something she wanted
me to do. I learned a lot of things from her.
W: Sounds to me like you had a pretty good deal.
C: Yes, I did. The principal had a habit of doing something that
stamped me as a desired citizen. When he was going to Ocala,
he would always take me.
W: How did you rate that privelege?
C: I don't know.
W: Oh, come on now.
C: Well, I don't know, I guess Mrs. Wiley must have had something
to do with it. I was a different type of student from the
rest of them, and I guess they were anxious to keep me there
to encourage me to stay. I guess I got a lot of things done
for me that weren't necessary to do, because the others
weren't going anywhere. They couldn't be too sure about me.
W: They just weren't too sure you wouldn't decide to take off
C: And they just took an interest in me.
W: Were you a good student?
C: Yes, I was a good student.
W: You did well in your classes?
W: You found out you liked learning?
C: Yes, I was having a good time. I learned to write there.
The one of the the principal's, one of the principal's cousins
(she was a Childress) taught me how to write. The blackboard
was a communication device thing, and when they wanted speeches
and all those things, they taught me to write them. I could
go to the board and just write and write and write.
W: You were learning to do script.
W: Is that what you called it, script?
C: No, everything was cursive.
W: Ydu referred to it as cursive?
C: I hadn't learned script, yet.
W: Oh, all right, because when my mom was growing up, they learned
to do script, and I can remember seeing some of her books.
C: I believe you're calling script what I would call cursive.
What did you call cursive?
W: How to put all the turns on it.
C: Well, that's what I learned. Everybody wanted me to write,
even when I got to Nashville, (That was the home of the principal
who left). One particular lady lived across the street from
one of the dormitories there at Fiske and she would make me
keep up may writing. Every time she ran into a new way of
making letters or something, she'd send for me.
W: Oh, beautiful. Let's get back to your day. You had breakfast,
and then you said you'd go back to your room and clean up.
And then you'd start your classes?
W: What did you have every morning?
C: For the most part you had arithmetic. We didn't use the word math.
W: Right, basic arithmetic.
C: Sometimes they dealt with numbers and figures, and sometimes they dealt
with reasoning. It was arithmetic, but it was the practical kind;
it didn't bore any children, because everything was related.
W: How long did a class last?
C: Class lasted forty-five minutes, I believe.
W: How many other students might you have in one class with you?
C: The classes were not large. You had at least two classes in a room,
that's why you had twenty or twenty-five children in a room, but
all of them wouldn't be in the same class. The day students made
it necessary to do that because there were too many.
W: Did they go by grades there, did you feel like you were in a
grade, or were you just learning?
C: That's one thing I didn't know. I didn't know what grade I was
in, in fact, nobody ever said anything to me about grade, I
was just assigned to a teacher. I didn't have anything to do
with it. Each teacher knew every student, and they knew what you
wanted and where you were supposed to be, and that was that.
W: Would you stay with one teacher all day long?
C: No, you went from one room to another. For instance, if it was
music or something like, you would go somewhere else. Your
agriculture or whatever you want to call it, took you outside
part of the time. Sometimes it was confined to the text.
W: Do you have any idea how many teachers they might have had all
together there at Fessenden?
C: I imagine there were about eighteen or twenty teachers there.
W: Were they colored and white?
W: Were they all members of the American Missionary Society?
C: I imagine those were the only ones that would be employed.
Evidently, the American Missionary Society must have picked
their own people.
W: About how many white teachers were there?
W: Just two?
C: Just two. But when I went to Fiske, there were a heap of them.
I was just changing fromone atmosphere to another exactly the same,
and I didn't have any adjustments to make at Fiske.
W: That was a nice part about it.
C: They helped me to stay there, too.
W: How long did you stay in the classes during the day? What time in
the afternoon did you get through with classes?
C: Oh, around three o'clock.
W: Then could you run and play, or did you have chores to do?
C: Well, sometimes we would have chores to do, sometimes we wouldn't.
Agriculture had a whole lot to do with the working chores of the
school, because that was one of the backbones of the school,
raising your food and preserving it and all the kind of stuff.
Everybody participated in that, regardless of what class you were
in; if you were a super senior, you were good in the field.
W: Did they have any organized after-school activity for you?
Did they have ball teams or clubs or anything like that?
C: We had our own ball teams. We did things that weren't quite
kosher. Like running, going to Martin or Ocala. You see, after
class we could go down to the field like we were going out in
the field, keep right on across the woods and go on into Ocala
and stay around there long enough to get a couple of bottles of
soda or sandwich, or whatever. -We always went with somebody who
lived in Ocala.
W: You went with one of the day students and visited their family?
C: Well, a day student wouldn't live in Ocala, day students lived in
Martin. It was the boarding students who would do this going,
because that day student better show up at home. You follow me?
W: I see what you mean. How long would it take you to walk into
C: Shoot, man, we'd do that thing, and it wasn't nothing. We get
out on the railroad and start a slow trot, the next thing you
know, we're in Ocala. Yes, sir, have a good time. And be back
before suppertime, tta.o.
W: I guess you'd get in trouble if you didn't show up for supper.
C: We never did fail, so I don't know. We were always on time.
Except when Proctor Wiley (that's what we'd call him) would take
me away, I didn't have to show up anywhere then. He drove a horse
and buggy the first year I was there. And before that year was
over, he bought a car. I'll never forget that. It was an Overland.
He was about as brave with that car as I would be with a rattlesnake.
He wouldn't drive over thirty miles an hour, I don't care what you
said. It was perfectly all right. I wasn't going anywhere, and
riding was a part of my appetite, so we'd ride.
W: What did your father do that he could afford an Overland? That
was a pretty good deal.
C: It was the principal of the school who had the car, not my father.
My father drove what he called a hack.
W: I've always called a taxi a hack, but...
C: Well, that was the same, only horses were the motors. That was
the way he made his living. He was part farmer, too. Everybody
around there did some kind of growing. Wiley needed the car
because it took too long to drive to Ocala by horse and stay the
necessary time he had to stay and then come back. That would make
you come back too late at night, so he bought a car. Oh, boy,
did I like to go too!
W: What did you do in the evenings at the school? What could be
done after dinner?
C: Well, you had study hour. And then there were programs and things,
but not every night. You had some work to do. After you go
through with your studies, that'd be about nine o'clock, it
would be very healthy if you found your way to bed.
W: What was discipline like at Fessenden? Did anybody ever get in
C: No, we didn't have any trouble like that.
W: You were all pretty good students?
C: Well, you had everything you wanted. And so, like I told you,
We'd go anywhere we wanted, just don't let anybody know you're
C: They must have had some rules?
W: That's why you didn't let anybody know where you were going.
You were breaking the rules.
C: You weren't supposed to leave the school grounds at all?
W: Not without permission. And nine times out of ten, you weren't
going to get permission. Not after dark, and in the daytime you
were busy, you didn't need to go anywhere in the daytime.
W: Did anybody ever get paddled for anything?
C: That did happen once or twice.
W: It didn't happen to you?
C: No, but it was close, though, oh, boy, it was close. I saw the
principal whip a boy once, and I promised myself then not to get
anywhere near that man for anything I did. But I forgot once,
and got caught, and I knew what was coming up for me. But you
know what happened? When I was in the office waiting on him to
come get me and dress me down, the phone rang.
C: And when he got through with that call, he forgot about me.
He walkd right on out the door and left me there.
W: Oh! You lead a charmed life.
C: His secretary said, "You better get out of here while you have
a chance." And I did just that. That was the closest I ever
got to getting a whipping.
W: He, but he didn't paddle you with his hand, but he paddled?
C: Oh, man, that guy had a strap. And I mean, paddle wasn't the
right word. Paddle is something you do like that, but if he ever
whipped you once, he never did have to whip you again.
W: Once was enough. Did he do it in front of everybody?
C: No, he didn't do it in front of everybody. Nobody could laugh.
Unless you made a lot of noise. Then they would kid you down in
W: Was he the only one who ever paddled anybody?
W: None of the other teachers would ever do that?
C: They would punish you, but nobody ever did anything that necessitated
being whipped. You had to do something bad for that.
W: Uh huh. Were there regular religious services there?
C: Yes, every Sunday, and once during the week they would have
something that would be equivalent to a prayer meeting.
W: What about your health when you were there, did you get doctor's
checkups or did you have health classes? How did they feel about
personal health? Was that a big part of the curriculum?
C: I think they had a doctor or doctors out about once or twice
a year, you know, to examine the students. If you were in good
health when you came there, you were pretty apt to stay in good
health because the administration would make sure that you didn't
get hold of anything or do anything that was going to endanger
your health. If fact, you could get too healthy.
W: Good. So you stayed there until 1915 then?
C: That's when my mother got the letter, and I finished the preparatory
work at Fiske. I was registered in the army, and did student
army training corp at Fiske when the armistice was signed. That
was in November 1918. It wasn't long after that before we had
Christmas vacation, and I spent my Christmas vacation at Louisville,
Kentucky. When we came back and started school, that was the first
time I knew any classification. I was a freshman in college, and
I was so surprised. College! Freshman!
W: You had already been at Fiske for four years, and you were a
freshman in college.
C: I guess I had done enough preparatory work to make up for some
of that, because I only stayed at Fiske seven years.
W: You never did have to go off to the service as far as that goes,
you did military service while you were right there at Fiske.
Like an R.O.T.C. program?
C: That was it.
W: I see. When did you leave Fiske University?
C: In 1922.
W: You stayed until '22, until you had what amounted to a bachelor's
C: That's right.
W: Did you come back home then?
C: I decided I'd go back, because I thought I liked business. That's
what I wanted. At the same time I'd been taking the course from
the South Extension University, and I had gotten quite a kick out
of it. That made me decide maybe I could do some more study
so I could get some work, because that sociology I majored in
at Fiske. was for the birds. Nobody wanted to talk sociology
to me in '22.
W: That field was just a little too new for them?
C: Yes. People asked me when I came back over, "What you gonna do?"
How did I know, I didn't know what I was going to do, so I
decided to go to City College.
W: What did you take there?
C: I guess you'd call that Florida economics, but it was business.
W: That was quite a change from sociology.
C: Oh, yeah. But I had a man from Kentucky in my jurisprudence
class.who wanted to spoil my appetite at City College. He would
always get me when I first got to class, and being new in New
York City, there were so many things I had to see at night.
It would kind of interfere with my sleeping.
W: Oh, I see.
C: I sat in the back for about a week, and he never said anything.
When I was asleep, he never said anything. But the second week
he said, "You come up here and sit up here with me so we can
keep an eye on each other."
W: How long did you stay at New York?
C: Well, I finished that year out at City College. I didn't want
that course of study. The trouble was everybody in that class
were people engaged in active businesses. And here I am, sitting
up in there, and I wouldn't know one side of a laser from the
other. You know, trying to compete with them was impossible.
It didn't take me long to find that out.
W: How did you support yourself while you were going to college in
C: My mother sent-me the money.
W: What was your mama doing back in Gainesville?
C: The same thing, keeping up the houses, collecting rent, still doing
washing and ironing.
W: I found a reference that said there was one time when she was
selling soft drinks?
C: That's when she had the store.
W: Did she have a store later on?
C: Yes, but she sold more than soft drinks. She had candy and
crackers and all that kind of stuff.
W: A regular little store. What year is it you leave New York?
After you left New York did you come back to Gainesville?
C: No, after that, I didn't come back, I went into business.
W: In New York?
C: New York, New York. I opened a tea room on Seventh Avenue.
W: For goodness sake, did it do well?
C: Oh, yeah! Of course, I had help. When I got to New York, I
found Dr. Cummings and a whole lot of other Fiske people. Dr.
Cummings was the one who investigated this tea room business.
I had accumulated some money by following one of his activities,
he liked to play the horses. He would say, "Come on, play
the horses. I'll start you off." And it started from that.
I would play, say, four or six dollars, play two or three horses,
two dollars on each one. Maybe two didn't come in, but one would.
I'd always get the money I had put out, plus something, and I
would put that "plus" in the bank. I kept on just like that
until I'd built up quite a bit of money. I had money in the bank.
And I think Cummings finally decided to do something to get this
money away from this guy; he's going to be rich after a while.
Which I wasn't. But anyhow, we opened this tea room, and it was
a swell thing. We had good business, but that wasn't for me.
It broke my night life.
W: So you finally gave up the tea room?
C: I had to give up the tea room, but my reasons for leaving the
tea room were something else. I told you my night life was
affected, but that didn't have anything to do with it. We had a
good business, and we were making good money, so I hired a
waitress-secretary. I thought I could get some time away from
the blooming place. That was a mistake. We started checking things.
Somebody was getting the money. I couldn't prove who got it.
Cummings naturally looked at me. I said, now it's time for me to
go. And that's exactly what I did. Even to the day, he figures
I owe him money. Well, he can go on figuring if he wants to, but
he hasn't gotten it yet, and he won't! I gave up everything
to keep that place going, while he didn't do anything but
practice (he was a dentist). He practiced his line of work. I
was doing all the work at the tea room, running it and doing
everything else, and I deserved some time.
W: You have the feeling that secretary-waitress was...?
C: I don't know. He was handling the figures.
W: Oh, I see.
C: He didn't show up until after everybody was gone. But I couldn't
see him doing it alone, I kind of think he and the secretary
got together. I couldn't prove it, so I never did accuse him
of it. I still think they did, though. After that I just pulled
out and came on home to Gainesville.
W: What year was that?
C: I believe that was '24, not any later than that. That's when I
started going to the post office. I didn't have any choice then.
W: You worked for them for what, about five or six years. Or was
it longer than that?
C: No, let's say a couple of years. I told you they wouldn't give
me work except when it was most undesirable. It was a nasty
spirit there between the whites and the coloreds. You see, the
carriers, as far as they were concerned, didn't amount to anything
anyway. There was that wall between them. We were working at
the same place, but that's about all.
W: Were the carriers the only ones in the organization who were
colored? Were the others white?
C: Yes, everybody else was white.
W: Oh, I see. All your supervisors and everything.
C: Everything. If you couldn't be the doorman, you were undesirable.
That's what I told the man when I left that job. He was telling
me what I had to do, and I got mad. I took the bag and threw it
at him. "Now you take you bag and your job..." [laughter]
W: Did you tell him the rest?
C: I think he understood! That's how I ended my career at the post
office. I had made some contacts out at the University of Florida,
and a Dr. Ames was over here at the extension division. He had
advised, you see, I didn't want to go into a classroom, because
the teacher had such a rough road and they didn't pay him anything,
anyway. But I didn't have any choice at that time, and Dr. Ames
said, "Well, come on out here." He mapped out work for me to do
and, by extension, I got through it. Then he said, "You're going
to have to go to Florida A & M and do some residential work.
You're going to have to get your credit from Florida A & M; you
can't get them fromihe University of Florida, because you're
W: So you had to go away.
C: You have to go there and get it. And that's what I had to do.
I didn't have any classroom experience, you know what I mean?
W: Yes, sir.
C: As a teacher, all my work was on the paper that I wrote.
W: Was this Dr. Ames a white man?
W: With the University of Florida?
C: He mastered me right on through. And Quinn Jones had the same
kind of experience with another doctor. I can't think of his name,
but if it hadn't been for that man at the University, Quinn wouldn't
have gotten to where he did. I didn't know anything about
that until we were all together, and Quinn told me things about
the'amn. He said, "Shucks, that's where I go, I brought books-.
out of the library, and I couldn't go in there and get no books,"
but he'd bring them to him. All kinds of things. That's how
he got through.
W: A. Quinn Jones was already principal at Union Academy by this
time, wasn't he?
C: Yes, he was the principal.
W: The year 1925 was when-Union Academy closed and Lincoln opened.
C: I guess so; I don't know those dates at all.
W: In 1925, as I recall. And he switched over to Lincoln. So this is
about '25, '26, '27, when you're home and getting ready to go to
Florida A & M?
C: Could have been, I don't know.
W: Well, let's see, now. By 1930, you were back here in town, and
I think you were married by 1930, weren't you?
C: Pretty close to it, yes.
W: To Mamie?
C: Yes. Where'd you get that from?
W: Mamie A.
C: Mamie Augusta.
W: I thought so. What was her maiden name?
W: Was she from Gainesville?
C: She was from Mayfield, Kentucky.
C: Oh, yeah!
W: All right, then, let's get it straight now. You left here and
you went off to Florida A & M, is that right?
C: To finish qualifying for a teacher.
W: How long did that take you?
C: I'd done all the major part of the work by extension, and I just
spent a summer at Florida A & M to do the required resident work.
W: Oh, I see.
C: While I was there that summer, I met several people and heard a
young lady talking, she was a dean supervisor [Supervisor of Deans
at Florida's Colored Schools].
W: Dean supervisor?
C: You had two systems of education in Florida at that time. You
had a white system and you had a Negro system. Did you know that?
W: Well, basically, yes.
C: All the dean supervisors were for Negro schools.
W: I see. All right.
C: And then you had a white man over all the dean supervisors. In
other words, you had a white man to supervise the Negroes, because
that was a special system, and then you had the white system set
up. Two systems.
W: Dual systems, right. Who was this young teacher that you heard?
C: Janethel Nixon's sister was dean supervisor. She herself was
just beginning, wait a minute, I got that wrong. Her sister was
the home demonstration agent, and she was the Dean Supervisor.
I've got it straight now. I asked her if she was going to need
some teachers and a principal, be sure and let me know. I said,
"Put my name down because I want to be one of those candidates."
She said, "Good." And then we gotacquainted. She accepted my
application. When I got home, I got a wire from her to come at
once, that the opening for prinicpal was available, and if I'd
come and talk with the superintendent, I could have the job.
W: Come from where, now? Where was the job?
C: Madison, Florida. And I got the job. When I came back, I wanted
my wife to go with me, but she didn't want any part of it. I
don't blame her, she didn't want any part of that.
W: When did you meet your wife?
C: I met her at Fiske; we were in Fiske together.
W: Where was she while you left Fiske and went to New York and were
doing all your gallavanting?
C: I don't know what she was doing, but I know what I was doing.
(I can't tell you about that.) I hope she enjoyed herself.
W: About as much as you enjoyed yourself?
C: Darn right!
W: I have it now!
C: Well, I, I don't think I got in touch with her while I was in
Washington. I was doing some insurance work, and ran into her
brother, who was a student at Howard University in Washington.
And that's how I picked her up again, when I saw him. You should
have seen us on U Street when I saw him and he saw me, it was just
like we were long-lost brothers, shouting and going to see
each other. And when I saw him, Mamie and I were back in communica-
W: You started writing to each other?
W: Did you ask her to marry you by mail?
C: No, because she came to Washington, to Van's graduation. That's
her brother. He was graduating that year, and oh, everything
got so nice!
W: She came there and you said it right there?
W: You didn't let her get away?
W: Did you get married in Washington?
C: No, we got married in Mayfield, Kentucky.
W: You went back to her home?
C: Uh huh, yeah. Yes, but we should have married in Washington,
though. I wouldn't have had all that traveling then.
W: Traveling didn't seem to bother you a bit.
C: No, I wasn't driving most of the other times. This time I was
driving from Gainesville, Florida,to Mayfield, Kentucky. Around
the mountains, over the mountains, oh, boy. And my mother didn't
like that kind of riding. In fact, that was her first long trip
that way. And the people, oh, boy, I never did want that trip
W: Whose car were you driving?
C: My own.
W: You came back to Gainesville and got your mama to go up to
Mayfield with you for the wedding?
W: How did it go? Did you like your in-laws?
C: Everything was fine. Just the going and coming was bad. That's
why I say that if we'd married inWashington, we never would have
had all this trouble. Had twenty years' trouble in two days.
The trouble was with the people there. You know, like going
through towns. The sheriffs and things. But you wouldn't
know anything about that.
W: Finding places to stay?
C: No, we weren't looking for a place to stay, we were trying to
get back home. When mama and I were going to Kentucky, we weren't
trying to stop or anything. We were just trying to make it to
Mayfield. We never did stop driving, we just kept going.
W: When you came back, Mamie came with you, so it was the three of
you coming back. And then it was trouble.
C: It started it off with tire trouble. And in the woods, tire
trouble is bad.
W: Yes it it.
C: No highways, you know about that? Boy oh boy, the roads we had
to travel! That's why I said we should have stayed in Washington.
W: Was your wife already a teacher? Had she already started teaching?
C: She was teaching there in Mayfield.
W: But then she didn't want to move to Madison with you?
C: I don't blame her. I didn't want to do that either, but I didn't
have any choice.
W: You didn't like Madison as a town?
C: Anybody who knew Florida knew Madison wasn't a place to go. i'hat
was one of the meanest places.
W: I have heard that the sheriff over in Madison was not a kindly man.
C: Oh, man. And guess what? The place where I was staying was right
in front of his house. Yeah. So you had to be nice.
W: I have heard that people could disappear around Madison and never
be heard from again.
C: You couldn't run the school with any degree of success because
whenever they wanted those children out of the school, they came
out. And the superintendent was a tobacco lord too, and
he always had all of his folks, whenever he wanted them, wherever
he wanted them.
W: So school was recessed whenever the tobacco was ready.
C: Getting ready for the tobacco, gathering tobacco, then cleaning
it up. Just a few days, they didn't spend too many days. It
was almost like that in Gainesville. You never did have a full
term. The year that they had the first senior class in Alachua
County the people had to pay for it. The County didn't give them
anything. They had to raise money to pay for it. You talk with
Quinn Jones, he can tell you all about that.
W: Did your wife.eventually go with you to Madison?
W: She wasn't happy, but she went.
C: No, she wasn't happy.
W: How long did you stay there?
C: She stayed there that year. She never did go back any more, because
she took sick after that. Tuberculosis ran in her family. She
got that strep throat. Her father was a doctor, too, and he came
down with it.
W: How long were you married all together?
C: Ten years.
W: Well, how long did you work in Madison?
C: I was in Madison almost five years.
W: Well, then, she only stayed for one of those years, and for the
other four, she lived in Gainesville.
W: My lord. What did you do, come home every month, or every weekend,
or what did you do?
C: I have to stop and think about that, I don't know. She was teaching
at Lincoln at the time.
W: Did she live with your mama here in town?
C: We all lived together. She made quite a reputation as a teacher
here at that time. Everybody seemed to like her, they didn't want
her to go to Madison.
W: When did she finally die?
C: My mother took sick right after my wife died. There wasn't too
much time between the two. Mother fell and broke her hip.
W: Well, let's see. In 1935, your mama was still alive, but apparently
Mamie wasn't. Does that sound right? No, wait, I beg your pardon.
It was the other way around, your mother must have died first.
C: She did, yeah.
W: Okay, your mama died first in '38 or '39, when Williams Elementary
was just being built. Mamie was still alive.
W: But by the time you went to work at Williams, Mamie wasn't alive.
C: That's what I was trying to get straight.
C: I knew it wasn't much time, but too many things happened. Those
were just two things, but there were other things were going on
at the same time.
W: Other big things?
C: Big for me, that is, in my consideration, because there were things
working not so much for me as they were against me.
W: Was that a bad time for you?
C: I hate to say it, and I don't think I could back it up, but it
just looks like I could see something was saying "quitter."
They didn't say that to me, but I had that feeling.
W: Were you still unhappy about being in Madison?
C: I got along all right in Madison. I just knew there wasn't
any advancement there. I knew I couldn't spend the rest of my
W: Were you a teacher there or a principal?
W: At what school? The only school, or what...
C: The only school there was, the Madison County Training School.
W: What else was going wrong for you at that time?
C: Oh, I could better tell you what didn't go right. That was
at a time when you didn't have much choice about anything. If
you had something to do, or somebody offered you something to do,
that was about all you were going to do.
W: It must have been horribly frustrating and difficult for a black
man with as much intelligence as you have to see how few choices
C: Let me tell you about my first year working in Alachua County.
That first year was spent at Newberry. I didn't start in Gainesville,
I started in Newberry. They were building Williams Elementary
School then, the year I was working in Newberry.
W: So this is after Madison?
C: All of this is after Madison. I came back to Gainesville before
Mother died, but I never did go back to Madison.
W: Did you teach right after you came back here?
C: No, when Mother was sick I stayed at home with her. You got me off
there. Where was I? You asked me a question, and that threw
W: I askedyou how many things were going wrong for you.
C: Oh, no, you were saying how I must have felt about...
W: How frustrating it must have been.
C: I was going to tell you about the supplies I had for the Newberry
school my first year in Alachua County. I had it all in a shoe
W: And those were all your supplies?
C: All I had. Erasers, some crayons.
W: What did you do for books?
C: I think they had some at the school where I was going to work
there in Newberry. They had what you call one of those W.P.A.
buildings. Was it W.P.A.?
C: It was a nice building.
W: Did they have paper?
C: The children had to buy their books, or something, you know, they
had to buy everything. And what I carried, I could have left
at home. All the things I need for the kinds you get yourself
or don't get it.
W: How many teachers did you have under you?
C: Four in all. Three teachers and myself.
W: What was the name of the school at Newberry?
C: Newberry Elementary.
W: Nice easy name. Was it just one room?
C: No, we had four rooms, and you could roll the blackboard up and
make one room out of two rooms. That was the auditorium when
you're going to have something and the public is invited. Anytime
you're going to have a program, that's what you can do. And we
had to have a lot of programs so we could have enough activities.
W: How many students?
C: I guess we had about seventy-five or eighty, something like that.
W: Now, you told me that they built Williams Elementary School for you.
You didn't explain that, and I want to understand what that means.
C: Well, I was the only one available. I had applied for that
particular year, and there was a farm demonstration agent [Frank
Pender] who was instrumental in getting me in touch with School
Superintendent Horace Zetrauer. Whatever Pender had to say,
Zetrouer would give ear to. I didn't even know I had a job
until I got a letter. No! I heard it on the radio.
W: They didn't tell you first, they just put it on the radio?
C: If I hadn't heard it, I don't guess I would have ever gone
because I didn't know it. But anyway, after I heard that on the
radio, then I got busy to make sure that I was hearing right.
And then he said, "Yeah, you were supposed to go to Newberry."
Next thing I knew, I was in Newberry.
When the building was completed the next year, I didn't go to
Newberry that year. All the children were at Lincoln. We lined
those children up who were going to Williams Elementary School
and we marched from Lincoln High over to where Williams Elementary
is. That was the transportation.
W: That was quite a walk. Let's see, Lincoln was on Depot Street,
is that right?
C: No, Lincoln was right where it is now. Lincoln is on the corner
of Tenth Street and Seventh Avenue.
W: Oh, I see.
C: And Williams Elementary School is on East Depot Street. The streets
weren't numbered, there were all kinds of names.
W: They just pointed you in the direction you went from the courthouse,
and said, "That's where you were."
C: That's the way it was then. And the streets weren't straight,
W: Well, from what I understand from my reading, there was a real
need for other schools. And in 1938 the city passed a bond issue
that provided for two more schools. One of them was going to be
an elementary school in east Gainesville, Williams Elementary.
SAnd the other one would be a structure that would hold six class-
' rooms in the Spring Hill section.
C: Oh, wait a minute. Willim's Elementary was on Spring Hill.
You see, you've got two things: you've got East Depot Street,
and Spring Hill. You see, we had Sugar Hill, Spring Hill, and
W: One was named Starvation Hill?
C: That's right, going towards Newnans Lake.
W: And Sugar Hill is out by Lincoln Estates today, isn't it?
C: Yes, where Mount Moriah and Spring Hill churches are, that's
W: All right. So the one they built for you, the Williams Elementary
was the Spring Hill. How big a building was it?
C: That was a six room building. Six classrooms. And I remember,
they did leave a little cubbyhole in therethat was supposed to
be the office, with one door, and if anybody got in that door
who didn't like you, you were in trouble. You couldn't get out,
and that's exactly what happened to me one day.
W: No! Somebody was angry at you and you didn't have any place to go.
C: I wasn't sure about it, but I know they had me, they were between
me and the door.
W: Was that an angry parent?
C: This was the first time they had confronted anybody in this new
situation. When they came to see me, they got in the line when
the children were lining up, and they were in the back of the
line. Now if they had understood what, they wouldn't have done
that, they would have come directly to me, but you see, they got
in that line because they figured that was about the only way
they were going to get in there. When all the line comes in,
I had these two kids standing up there, and the parents didn't
know where to go after all the children got it. I called them into
the office to find out what they wanted. They had some bogus yarn
that I was supposed to have done to the children. When they come
on like that, you have to be very careful because the less they
understand, the quicker it is to make them angry about things.
They had me backed up there in that little cubbyhole for an office,
and I was wondering how in the world I could get out of there.
One lady had on a big apron with her hands up under the apron, and
I knew she had something in that hand.
W: Did you think she was hiding a rolling pin or something meaner
C: She wouldn't have anything as simple as a rolling pin.
W: You think she had a gun?
C: She could have, or she could have had a switchblade or something.
If we disagreed to the extent that they felt like they had to do
something, they had the advantage of me.
W: You had no place to go.
C: The Dean Supervisor here in Alachua County happened to come in
the building while this was going on, and she just walked right in
and said, "Good morning, who are these folks?" I explained
what the trouble was and she took it over with them. And she said,
"You go on bask to your classes and we'll take care of this."
And that was what I needed, while they had me in the office there,
those children were still in the classroom.
W: Probably going wild.
C: They were. I could hear them, and she could hear them too.
W: Will you tell me who the people were?
C: They were parents. I was just trying to think of the name, but
W: What on earth were these people so angry about?
C: They didn't have to be angry. Y6u see, in those days, all the
parents had to have was somebody to bring a yarn to them about
what you did to the children.
W: There are plenty of parents like that today.
C: I know, but it was worse then. They didn't have to prove anything.
All they had to do was say you did it.
W: And you were automatically in the wrong.
C: In the wrong. Now, you either got to be a good Philadelphia
lawyer or a darn good track man. I had parents coming every
day. Of course, you did have to dress out some of the children.
It became absolutely necessary. But after that second year, I
didn't have much trouble.
W: Did you ever stop and think back to the times when it was you
getting those paddles?
C: I didn't get none. You mean in school?
W: You came close to it!
C: One teacher was ready for me every morning in arithmetic class.
We would walk in the door, "Good morning, Mrs. Garrison." "Good
morning," and ask you a question, and she had a stick in her hand.
W: Was that at Fessenden?
C: Oh, at Union Academy.
C: You knew if you didn't have the answer, you just hold your hand
out, because she's gonna whale it. That was my ceremony every
morning, one thing that helped me dislike school. I didn't have
a chance to say "Oh." Hand was out, because she would ask you
something you didn't know. 1 disliked arithmetic for that reason.
I wasn't good in arithmetic anyhow; I didn't have any reason to
count anything except those pennies.
W: How many children did you have in Williams, how many children
marched over with you that first day from Lincoln?
C: About 250.
W: Quite a contingent.
C: It started growing from there right on up to when I left there, there
were about seven hundred students.
W: How many teachers did you have working under you?
C: I had about thirty some teachers then.
W: This is 1939, 1940 now, how did the kids get to school every day?
C: Public transportation: walk. Two or three miles, four miles,
five miles. They walked, they didn't mind it. And they'd get
back home in time enough to do the evening chores and things like
W: Did you provide any meals for them at Williams?
C: No, not until the lunchroom was set up. When we did that I
practically had to do the whole lunchroom operation except cooking.
I had to manage the kitchen.
W: You had to be a real Jack of all trades. All that business experience
came in handy, didn't it?
C: It did.
W: You had to do the purchasing and everything else?
W: What did the kids do before that? Did they just bring their bag
lunches with them?
C: Most of them brought lunches, and then they had a little store
across the street, they would go over there and get candy and
things like that. And then in order to stop that, I began to
buy cookies, soda, and things so that they could have
it right there in the school.
W: Without having to go off the grounds.
C: Yes, they'd go off and some of themwouldn't come back, so we'd
go out after them. I had to try to stop that. Then that got
to be very cumbersome, and I wanted to get out of that. That's
when they started putting up the lunchrooms. That got me clean
out of that peddling I was doing, but I got into something bigger
than that ever was when I had to take charge of the lunchroom.
And then finally they got a lunchroom manager, and I got out of it.
W: Did you have a big truancy problem with kids?
C: You had more truancy in the high schools than you had in the
elementary schools. Elementary children fared pretty well.
But you run into problems when you get with your high school
people. They'll begin to feel like they're men and women. And
some of them were.
S() They want to make a lot more decisions for themselves. If you
played on the football team, you expect privileges, and so on.
Quinn Jones was able to handle it. He got them. And T.B.
McPherson, I know you've heard about him. He was coach, and believe
me, he was more than a coach, too. He was a teacher, a coach, and
a disciplinarian also. Boy, they knew if Mac started at you, you
better move or do what he said, one of the two.
W: Was Williams a brick building when they put it up?
C: No, the first building was frame. That burned, it didn't last
over two, three months. And we always believed that fire was set.
W: Who did you think set it? Do you have any ideas?
C: Somebody in the community. Had to be.
W: Do you think it was somebody white?
C: No. It could have been, but we didn't think so. We think-it was
some disgruntled parent.
W: For heaven's sake. Who just wasn't happy with the way things were
going at Williams?
C: Well, you never know. When you listen to some of the tales they
bring, you could expect most anything. If they don't get their
way. I came in a place to get some soda or something, and the man
there said, "Hello, Mr. Cook. You sure are doing a good job over
there at that school." And what did he say that for? This other
man said, "I wish you'd mess with one of my children one more
time." You see?
W: Did you even know who he was?
C: Yeah, I knew him, but I didn't know he was even harboring any
such thoughts. That's the way those things come about. That's
all he wanted, a chance to let me know what he would do if I
messed with any more of his children. But I didn't have to mess
with them. Two or three of them got put in jail. Actually,
parents try to protect their bad ones. I don't know why, but they
W: I don't think they want to admit that they might have failed in
C: No, it is hard to admit it, especially if you've tried like
everything to save them.
C: Sometimes outsiders have a heck of a lot of influence on what your
children do and think. It's funny, people on the outside can tell
them something, and they'll listen. And you can break your back
and everything else trying to convince them that this is the thing
to do, and they won't even listen to you.
W: That's right. They will ignore you and listen to the others.
Do you remember who that man was, standing in the store that day?
C: I know where he is now. He's a big church worker. He's been
reborn, rebirthed or something. Uh, I imagine he is, I don't know.
W: Would you care to tell me who he is?
C: I'll tell you one of these days and you can write it in [laughter].
W: If you remember, you let me know.
C: I sure will, because he's a fine fellow, but he has that streak.
He hasn't gotten rid of that. So many people don't want you to
say anything about anything of theirs. If you are going to say
something good about them, they'll find some fault because you
didn't say more. The elementary school is the place where you
run into that. You don't have too much of that in high school.
W: So anyway, the school burned down. And then they rebuilt it in
brick, is that right?
C: In concrete blocks.
W: Did they still give you six rooms and the same little cubbyhole?
C: No, they gave us six rooms and an office.
W: Oh, a real office.
C: And an auditorium. We started growing from there.
W: Did you have a chance to talk to them between the time that
first one burned down and the second one to get some input on
what you wanted in the new school?
C: No, it wouldn't have made much difference anyway, they didn't
ask you what you wanted. We taught at churches for the remainder
of that term, right after the original building burned down.
At three churches, and we just split 'em up.
W: How long did it take them to build a new building?
C: The rest of that year, and the summer of the next year.
W: Do you remember which churches the kids went to?
C: Spring Hill Baptist Church, Mount Olive Methodist Church and that
Sanctified Church. The Sanctified Churches were growing.
W: Oh, they were? [laughter] Like mushrooms?
C: Mushrooms, I don't if they do that or not. I think that springs
from the Baptists. It seemed like all of the good churches come
from the Baptists. And all the bad churches come from Methodists
and Catholics. [laughter]
W: Now, that wouldn't be a slightly biased opinion?
C: I belong to the Methodist!
W: You do?
C: Yes, I was born a Baptist, I think. And I often tell the people,
I say, "You, if you argue with me too much, I'll go back to the
Baptist church. That's where I belong anyway."
W: Tell me about your second wife. Altamese, is that right?
C: Altamese Viola Williams.
W: You told me once that you had a mighty quick courtship with Altamese.
C: Oh, yeah, I talked too much that time, didn't I?
W: I want to hear some more about it.
C: Well, we knew each other. But it wasn't a case of strangers meeting
or anything like that.
W: Was she from Gainesville?
C: Right here in Gainesville, a Gainesville girl.
W: And you had known her when you and Mamie were married?
C: Oh, yes.
W: Afriendof yours then?
C: I knew her.
W: What did Altamese do, was she working?
C: She hadn't finished school when I got married. She was still in
school, because Mamie was her teacher. And it was after that.
She had been teaching in the summer, because that was all you had
to do was get a certificate. She was teaching every summer
to get her certificate. And you'd teach that year, and that was
what she was doing until she married me. She had steady work
because she was working with me. I helped promote her.
W: So she stayed home after that, she worked at home, huh?
C: No siree Bob!
W: Oh, did she work at the school with you?
C: Yes, she was in the school with me. We were a good team.
W: Okay. You were her husband and her principal too.
C: Yeah. Now what else you gonna call me now, husband, principal,
aint but one other left. [laughter]
W: That must have been an interesting situation, working with your wife.
C: It worked out and I enjoyed it. The only thing that I didn't
enjoy, she was never on time! Being principal, I should be the
first one there. But if you've got to wait for your wife, you
never will be the first one there. That's how we happened to have
two cars. I got tired of waiting on her. "I'm going to get my car,
so you come to school when you get ready. I've got to go now."
And we've had two cars ever since.
W: That works out.
C: It's about to be back to one. The old one won't run much more.
It won't last over two, three more months.
W: Do both of you still go your separate ways that much? I know
you get around a lot.
C: Yeah, I get around, but I'm just confined to the city. She doesn't
go too much. Neither one of us go out of town much. At least,
I haven't been out of town in a long time. No, just going out
of town didn't have any attraction. If you have somewhere to go
and something to do, that was different. If I had to die now,
that'd be all right. See, I'm ahead of the game.
W: You, you've made a real peace with life, haven't you? You did
C: It isn't hard after you find out you aren't going to get any more.
W: This is all you've got, you might as well be satisfied with it?
C: Well, it's easy to be satisfied with what you have. That doesn't
mean to smother your ambition or anything like that, but most of
the trouble we get into is because we want more than we get.
Or you mishandle what you do have and lose it, then you have a gripe
against the world because they helped you lose what you had.
You can't get it back. All you have to do is just make up your
mind you messed up, and go on. Forget about that, don't worry
about that, there's a lot of people spend the rest of their life
worrying qbout what they lost.
W: When you look back now, do you have any regrets?
W: No gripes?
C: No. A lot of the things that happened, I'm glad they're all over
with. I quit getting angry with people. During the time that I
was principal, I guess if I lost my temper, that would be the time
I did with some of those cantankerous patrons. Not the children,
the patrons. They could give you a headache, they'd give you a fit.
They'd have you in the superintendent's office every day if they
could get you in there. They had to get something on you, and if
you were a smart principal, you don't let them get any
on you, then you don't have to explain anything. And your teachers
would call you dumb if you do that.
W: Yourteachers will call you dumb if you let them get something on you?
C: No, if you don't let them get something on you. They'd say, "He's
dumb, and he don't know how to run this school."
W: That kind of puts you between a rock and a hard place, doesn't it?
C: All the rest of the principals know that too.
W: Sort of damned if you do, and damned if you don't.
C: That's about the way it was. They'd rather have somebody else as
W: Just because they're naturally against any authority?
C: Yeah, that's it. That's just the nature of the beast. They are
going to fight you, they'll fight anybody. And if you have
that to contend with, you know they're there. They haven't
done anything to you, and you haven't done anything to them.
Keep it like that.
W: Okay. I can understand that.
C: If you argue with those teachers, you might as well pack up your
bags, because you're gonna leave there, thell get you out of there.
W: Mr. Cook, thank you so very much.
C: Yes, I'm glad I had a chance to do that.
W: I think we've done ten years' worth today. As a matter of fact,
we've done about eighty-two years' worth, haven't we?
C: In spots.
W: Well, maybe we'll come back another day and do another year or
two or ten. How about that?
C: Yeah, we kind of spread it out this time, didn't we?
W: We did, just a little bit. I'll pin you down a little bit more
next time, how's that?
C: Yeah, let's do that.
W: Thank you.
C: You don't mind getting together? Why couldn't we write a book?
W: Probably because too many people are still living and they'd be
C: You wouldn't tell that part.
W: Oh, we wouldn't put in the names?
C: Not if you want to sell the book. [laughter]
W: Thank you again.