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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
University of Florida
Oral History Program
Interviewee: Mrs. Claronelle S. Griffin
Interviewer: Joel Buchanan
April 21, 1985
CLARONELLE SMITH GRIFFIN
FIFTH AVENUE BLACKS, ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: JOEL BUCHANAN
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA
DATE OF INTERVIEW: APRIL 21, 1985
Mrs. Griffin is a native of Gainesville, where her family has lived since
the 1800s. She attended the Union Academy and was a member of the first
graduating class of Lincoln High School. She attended Clark College in
Atlanta, where she received her bachelor's degree. She attended Pennsylvania
University and completed her master's degree at Columbia University. She was a
school teacher in Alachua County for more than fifty years, and still is very
active in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
This interview discusses education available for blacks in the early
twentieth century, especially pertaining to the Union Academy, Lincoln High
School, and the educators that taught at these institutions. The interview
also explains the conditions in the Fifth Avenue neighborhood and the
landmarks and people that made up the neighborhood.
B: Mrs. Griffin has been a public school teacher for more than fifty years.
Good afternoon, Mrs. Griffin.
G: Good afternoon, Mr. Buchanan.
B: Is this house your family home?
G: Yes. We were all born here and so was my father. If he were alive today,
he would be 104. The house is the family home. It has been here since
B: Did you spend your childhood here in this home?
G: Yes, definitely. A very pleasant one.
B: Since you have been in this area, how have you seen the streets or the
front of your house change?
G: In numerous ways. First, the street in front of the house was built as a
sort of path or driveway. It was big enough for two cars or wagons to
pass. Going north from my house, the street tuned into what is now Fourth
Street. That street would take you to north Gainesville. Across from the
house there were woods and the railroad tracks of the T & J Railroad.
That train ran from a little station downtown to Sanson City. West of my
home were woods. On Grove Street, there were several beautiful homes
before it became woods again. In fact, my father and my uncle Jim used to
go hunting where our cemetery is now. Then, that was nothing but woods.
B: What was your father's name?
G: Virgil Smith, Sr.
B: And your mother?
G: Mamie B. Smith.
B: What did your parents do? Were they from Gainesville?
G: Yes. My father was born here, and I understand that his grandparents came
from Camden, South Carolina. His grandfather was one of the founders of
the current Mount Pleasant Methodist Church here. The Reverend Dider
McCraig. He was my father's grandfather, his mother's father. My mother
was born about eight or ten miles north of Gainesville. She spent all of
her life in Gainesville on Virginia Avenue, which is now Southeast Second
Street. It is right in back of where Winn Dixie was before it was moved.
In fact, I think the back of it was her mother's home.
B: How many brothers and sisters do you have?
G: I had one brother, Virgil Smith, Jr. He was very dear. We have many
lovely memories about him. Father was always a delightful person. They
always celebrated our birthdays and gave us parties. Those types of
things make you remember and really love home. We remember Daddy coming
in the back door with the vegetables. He had a little garden across town
where he grew okra, tomatoes, melons, and cantaloupes.
B: Where was his vegetable garden?
G: Well, it was on the east side. Do you know where Vernon Trapp lives now?
G: Well, before he built that house, he lived in a little yellow house on
another street. My daddy's place was right in front of that. A big place
with all kinds of big trees. He just loved digging in the soil, but
originally he was a carpenter. After he reached the age of about sixty,
we were afraid for him, going up and down ladders. But, he just loved
digging in the soil. We called it Daddy's farm. He had everything out
there. He raised ducks, turkeys, and chickens. We did not know what it
was to buy eggs. I remember when my brother came home from my father's
funeral twenty years ago. That weekend we had to go to the store. So we
made a list. He said, "Sister, look what is on here." We had never
bought eggs before.
B: So he was amazed to buy eggs?
G: Yes. We were both reared here. We both finished at the high school here
and we both started at Old Union Academy. We went as far as it went, and
then Professor Jones came here from Quincy.
B: What grade did Union Academy go to?
G: Tenth grade.
B: And what did children do after that?
G: Well, after they finished tenth grade, if they were able to go any
further, they would have to go away to school. They went to either
Baldwin Haven, to Bethune-Cookman, or to some other boarding school.
There was a high school there, but it was not for negroes. There was not
a high school here until 1922 or 1923. Then Mr. Jones came and stayed
with us. He came to us while we were still in ninth grade at Union
Academy and he stayed until we completed that. By that time, they had the
first high school for blacks, Lincoln High School, which is now A. Quinn
Jones. They named it for him because he was its only principal.
B: Now, going back, will you describe for me the Union Academy building
because photographs are very scarce, and there are also very few
descriptions of the building.
G: I am so sorry. I had some pictures of that building when I made the
survey for WTV, Channel 20, several year ago, when I first came home. And
we has some good pictures of that school and I do not know what I did with
them. The building was a two-story one with eight rooms: four upstairs
and four downstairs.
B: Were there rooms on both sides, with a hall down the center?
G: No. There was a nice entrance from the Garden Street side but the hall
did not go all the way, it just let you enter. Of course, there was a
great big porch. There were stairs at the north end of the building and a
big porch upstairs too. Upstairs there was a hall all the way through to
the principal's office. Downstairs there was a hall but it was just large
enough for the children to have water. They brought in city water or
something, so they could have water to drink. There were two rooms that
opened into each other through sliding doors. We had devotionals there
every morning and special programs in those rooms. When the bell sounded
we went in, got it line, and went into the devotional room. They would
open the sliding doors between the third grade room and the fourth grade
room. Miss Judith Rainey--I will never forget her--was the musician at
the school. She would play marches for us to march in and then they held
the little devotion. After the devotion was over, everyone marched to his
separate room. Some of those teachers had a great influence on the lives
of so many of the children.
B: Can you recall some of the names for me?
G: Oh yes. Judith Rainey was my first grade teacher, and her sister, Bess
Brown was a primary teacher. You probably remember her; everybody knows
her as Cousin Bess. I missed her in primary grade because I did my
primary work at the church school.
B: What church school was that?
G: That was Mount Pleasant Church. It was a two-story building where they
held classes. Whenever the county did not arrange for school for the
negro students for a year, they went to Mount Pleasant. The parents of
the children had to pay so much a week to be able to employ the teachers.
B: In order to go to school?
G: Yes. It was to keep them from missing a year. They went on to Scott's
B: Was that school supported by the church?
G: Yes. It came into being only when it was necessary. The church used it
for bazaars and other things. In the event that the city or county
decided not to have school or to have school just three weeks or three
months, then the same teachers would go teach over there. The parents
paid so much a week to keep the children from being kept back. We were
fortunate. My parents started me in school when I was four years old and
I just went straight on through.
B: And you spent your primary years at Union Academy?
G: More than that. Ella Richardson was the second grade teacher and so was
Miss Ponder from St. Petersburg. You have probably heard of Miss Fanny
Ponder? She was also a relative of the Ayerses, Dr. Ayers's cousin or
something. Miss Ella Bryant was another second grade teacher. Two
brothers, Mr. William Bryant and James Bryant, who lived on Church Street,
were married to two ladies. One was the third grade teacher and the other
was a fourth grade teacher. Miss Maynard Perkins was our fifth grade
teacher; she was Professor Perkin's wife. Ella Childs was the sixth grade
teacher. About that time we had a principal named Professor Madison,
whose wife Miss Hallie Madison, taught seventh grade. In the eighth grade
we had Miss Ida Williams, who also had a daughter named Claronelle who was
older than me. She was not even in school with us. When we got to ninth
grade and we had separate teachers for different things. Professor Hamp
Williams, Jimmy D. Williams' father, taught math and Reverend D. E. White
taught science. The teachers would come into our room instead of us going
out to them. In the tenth grade the principal taught math and Latin. All
of us had to have Latin because the school did not offer any other
languages. In that way I ended up taking four years of Latin and four
years of math. I thought I was not going to be anything but an English
teacher, and my first job I got was teaching algebra and Latin. I said,
"Oh no! I am not going to teach that." But mother said, "Well, I do not
want you to sit at home." They already had an English teacher here. One
of my Latin teachers was teaching down at Clearwater, and she was
impressed with my work in Latin. She told the principal that she had a
girl that could take over. I taught first-year Latin students and first
and second-year algebra students. I had gone as far as second-year
algebra, and I took two or three years of college algebra, so I was not
afraid, because I felt like I was prepared to teach what I did.
B: Going back for a moment, Union Academy went to tenth grade. After that
did you go away to go to school past the tenth grade?
G: When we finished tenth grade, we were the first class with Professor Jones
that went into the brand new Lincoln High School, and we were the first
class to graduate.
B: What year was that please?
B: Can you recall the excitement to going to a new school? Was the community
really in awe of the school.
G: Yes, you would have thought we were the greatest people in the community.
When we graduated from high school, people gave parties for us. You would
have thought we were senators. The community was very pleased with us.
There were only eight people in the first class. Two girls and six boys.
Mrs. Emmet Lundy and I were the girls. She used to live right next to the
school. She had three good-looking girls, Eltonese, Josephine, and one
other. The boys were Dr. Joseph Dennis, Dr. Edward Daniels, Franklin
Trouse, Collis Hale, Rick Roberts--he lives in Washington. His mother,
Miss Frances Roberts, passed not too long ago and Julius Acosta. Julius
Acosta was the first one of our group who died. He was living in New
York, bt they sent his body back for burial. We do not know much about
what happened. All those boys went to school with me at Clark, except
Julius, and Emmet did not go either. We had a good time there. I thought
I was a little queen because they all treated me like I was their sister.
They looked after me. People said, "Do not bother her because all of
those Gainesville boys will be on you."
B: While at Union Academy, did you wear uniforms?
G: No, no you wore clothes just like anybody else. It was just a public
B: Were there many private schools in Gainesville for blacks?
G: There were some but I do not know much about them. There was a church
school in south Gainesville, and my Aunt Mattie used to take us down there
to fairs. Reverend and Mrs. Tate ran the school. Affairs like concerts
were about the only source of entertainment for people in those days,
because there were no movies, theater houses, or places to go. So
whenever schools or churches had parties, plays, or programs, people
turned out because that was their only source of entertainment. Music was
the thing among our people. I think it might be well to mention the High
Speed Quartet that was so very prominent during those days. During the
first World War. My father, Miss Taylor's father, Virgil, Jim Smith, Mr.
Lonnie Brown, and Mr. Oscar Perry formed what was later called the High
Speed Quartet. It was managed by Mr. Charles Chestnut, Sr. These men
worked all day. My father was a carpenter, the other three men worked at
the post office. Mr. Chestnut was also working at the post office at that
time, but I do not know whether he had a business then. My mother and
daddy have told me all this. They worked all day and then would come home
and get themselves ready. They would take their little Ford car and go to
different places like Homosassa Springs, St. Petersburg, Daytona, or
Jacksonville to sell Liberty Bonds for the war effort. That was the way
they did their bit. It meant that they would get back just in time to go
to work the next day. I am not sure where the name came from but in some
places they were called High Speed, so they called themselves the High
Speed Quartet. They were just marvelous. They were called to all kinds
of affairs in the city, but everybody knows that during that time we were
not welcome in the hotels. When those fellows went to sing their
programs, they had to serve as waiters.
B: They did what?
G: They had to serve as waiters. They would make them wear tuxedos. If the
quartet gave a program at one of the churches it was different. They
could go in. But, if they were called upon to come to the hotel or the
Brown House, or some of those places, they had to go in as waiters and
they would have to wait tables. The hotel would pay them for it, but they
had to wait on tables and then go out and do their numbers. Even after I
finished high school and college they were still going strong. Everybody
in Gainesville knew about the High Speed Quartet.
B: Share with me a typical day at Union Academy. There was so much said
about black children not getting quality education.
G: Oh, it was the best. In those days children got more than just the ABC's.
They got an education in culture. They got an education in ethical social
behavior. You did not hear anything about a child getting spanked for bad
behavior, for being ugly, or for being saucy. You were taught what to do
and it was assumed that your parents had started you on the way. If you
did get a little bit out of place the teacher would tell your momma and
you got a spanking at school and another one when you got home. Anybody
could speak to a child who was doing something because wrong, the
neighborhoods were so closely knit. Nowadays they say, "It is none of
your business." I will never forget a little West Indian lady about this
high, Miss Aimee Davis. We called her Thuagee, but do not know why. It
was some old fool name the boys made up, but fitted her. She was
perfection in the use of English. I learned more English from that lady
than I did in all of the rest of the years that I went to Union Academy.
She was the first person that taught us the significance of diagramming.
We could see how one word related to or modified another. This lady was
such a perfectionist that when you studied under her you could diagram any
sentence. Today people say that teachers are not getting enough money,
but when I began teaching I made only forty or fifty dollars a month. If
I had not been staying with mother, I do not know how in the world I would
have made it. When I began my second year of teaching I made sixty
dollars a month, but I never got more than sixty dollars until I went to
St. Petersburg. They started me with eighty-five, and I thought that was
great. The same Mr. Perkins, who had been a mail carrier here, went to
St. Petersburg and became the principal of Gibbs High School. He had been
superintendent of the Sunday School when I joined. I came up under him
along with his daughters, Mildred, Willie Mae, and Eloise. When I
finished college, I went to Clearwater and got married. Then I went to
Jersey for a year or two, but I came back to Gainesville. I worked here
in Lincoln High School for three years, until my brother finished at
Bethune-Cookman College. Then I went to St. Petersburg. Mr. Perkins had
asked me to come down. They did not need another English teacher, but
they needed somebody who could teach music and coach a basketball team.
You had to be versed in so many things in order to teach. As I said the
first job I got teaching English, which was not I had spent five or six
years preparing for but teaching algebra and Latin. They did not need
another English teacher but they would take somebody who could teach
girl's basketball and junior high school chorus. Mr. Perkins said, "I
knew you could do both of them, because you used to play basketball. I
knew you and your father sang together from the time you were out of the
shell." So I got the job down there. I also taught biology. For the
last twenty years or so I taught everything but English and it was most
B: You have lived in this house all your life?
B: Was this house always two-stories?
G: Yes, that is what I have been told. My father's brother lived next door,
and in the next house over lived another brother, will the oldest of the
three brothers. I have many cousins. My cousin Louie Jackson has lost
both of his knees. His mother is a first cousin and I understand that she
was born in this house also, although her siblings were not. From what I
understand the house has always been two-storied, with two rooms
downstairs, two rooms upstairs, and this "L" back here for a kitchen.
There was also a back porch. My grandmother died when my daddy was
sixteen. She made him promise her that he would stay in the church and
sing in the choir. So he went in the choir at sixteen and he stayed there
until he died at the age of eighty-four.
B: How does it feel to be a person that was raised in a home?
G: I tell folks, "I hope folks do not think I am a box of sour grapes, but I
look at some of my friends' beautiful homes and I am happy for them, but
they could not be any more happy in their houses than I am in mine." I
have many beautiful memories because I would think about daddy driving in
the back in his little Ford car, coming in always loaded with fruit or
something. We would go to him and grab him, and he was glad to see us.
For a while when we were small his father lived upstairs. He was just a
sweet old soul. We called him Grandpa Smith. He died when I was a junior
in high school. We had such a lovely, close-knit family. We all
supported each other, especially if we were in something like Miss Davis's
plays. Miss Davis, who new so much English, used to have some of the
finest plays. They were dramas, not just little fairy tales. When she
presented Bluebeard, she arranged it so we could see the heads of the
ladies that he cut off. She was the most imaginative little old thing.
And she would keep us in order. She called everybody by number. My
number was twelve. "All right number twelve." Joe Dennus was number two.
He was the same boy that died. Franklin Chiles was number four, and Rick
Roberts was number five. Karen Mack, who died several years ago down in
Micanopy, was number eight. Rosa Larr was number ten. I do not remember
who number eleven was, but I was number twelve. If Miss Davis met you ten
years later she woud say, "Ah-ha. Number twelve." We had operettas and
plays that were the entertainment for the whole community. We did not
have a whole lot of places to hold them. There was a hall on Pleasant
Street called Johnson's Hall, right across from Union Academy. That is
where we would have the plays. Two, three or four-act plays with special
props. The smaller plays were presented in the chapel of the school.
B: Back to your school day, was there a basketball team or a football team?
B: Did you have a band?
G: We did not have a band as such. I started playing basketball in the sixth
grade. Mr. Chestnut and Miss Ella Chiles were in charge of the girls'
basketball team. In fact, Chestnut was responsible for the beginning of
the football team. It was just a little raggedy team, but they played
visitors from Palatka and Ocala and other nearby places. The boys
had to travel in a truck poor things. They were so glad to got hat they
would travel in any truck they could borrow. They would go to Ocala, play
a game, and come back. If they won they would tear up the school the next
day. Mr. Chestnut started the basketball team, but he did not know a
whole lot about basketball. He was working with Miss Ella Chiles, who had
been to Tallahassee, and I imagine she had gotten some information when
she went there. Dr. Manchester, who was at the University of Florida
and was in charge of the athletics or something would come out about once
or twice a month to give us pointers. We used to play Palatka, Hastings,
and St. Augustine. Chestnut would go and get Dr. Manchester and bring him
over after school. We would have to stay after school to practice. One
team was the regular team, and the other team was the special team. We
had to practice against each other. Manchester would come out and help us
interpret some of the rules that were tricky or technical. We had
sections to the court.
B: Where was your playing field?
G: Right out there in the yard. Oh it was a big yard.
B: Oh, so there were not streets in front of the Union Academy?
G: Yes, but there was still a large yard. Well, they had to have yards you
know, for all those children to attend. The first and second grades were
in another little building right by the fence on the south side. The
first and second grades had such a good time. You could hear those little
ones holler. Bessie Watts was their teacher. I was one of her flower
girls when she married and became Bessie Brown. She would have those
little ones singing so loudly, and they had no more tune than the man in
the moon. She made everyone feel like he was the most important person
in the world. And nobody ever had any problems that were too big for her
to stop and listen to. She gave those little ones pride. Everybody
thought that they could sing. During those years practically everybody
could sing and play the piano. Those two ladies, along with Miss Gast,
saw to it almost that everybody who wanted to got music instruction.
B: Could you tell me what streets ran around the perimeter of Union Academy?
G: In front of the building was Garden Street, which is now N.W. First
Street. On the north side, between that old church and the school, was
Lassiter. Coming around was Pleasant Street, and on the south side were
homes. There was a little hole in the fence between Miss Holloway's house
and the school. When we were in fifth or sixth grade and began to think
of ourselves ladies, we would slip through the hole and go over to her
house and play the piano. And we would go at lunch time or during one of
the recess periods just because the devil told us to do it. We would play
the piano and dance, thinking we were real ladies.
B: What did you do for lunch? Did you go home?
G: For a long time I did go home, but when my brother began to attend primary
school, I had to take him with me, and we did not have enough time to go
home. He would say, "Momma, I want you to give me seven biscuits
tomorrow." He did not even know how much seven was. Momma said,
"Brother, what are you going to do with seven biscuits?" He said, "I am
going to eat them all." Next to the Holloway house lived Miss Adrana Ayer
who was Dr. Ayers' first wife.
B: What happened to the Union Academy building when you moved to Lincoln?
G: They tore it down and built that stone building. It was connected with
the city's recreation program.
B: What was around the perimeter of Lincoln High School when they built it?
G: On the west side of Lincoln there were two or three houses. Beyond that,
where Thirteenth Street is now, was nothing but woods. We had a
basketball court right outside the back part of Lincoln High School. The
annex had not been built yet. We did not even have an auditorium at
first. We were glad to get a school at all. For a long time we had to
have our devotions in the corridor upstairs. Finally, they built the
auditorium, and we graduated from there.
B: What caused you to go into education? What motivated you?
G: My people had always impressed me that I should be something. I mentioned
cousin Judith Rainey and cousin Bess Brown. They were teachers and were
very good role models. I just decided that was what I wanted to do. Now
wait a minute, let me correct that a little bit. Until my junior year I
had wanted to be an elocutionist. There were lots of good speakers then.
During my last two years in college, Professor Jones's first wife taught
us elocution. She was a sweetheart, a very good person. Whenever any of
us had any speaking to do she always gave us pointers. But my mom said,
"Shoot, you do not make any money being an elocutionist. You have to do
something for a living." Then I thought maybe I would go into dramatics.
Every time we put on one of the big plays I had one of the leading roles.
But, the closer I came to graduating from high school, the more seriously
I began to think about it. Then I decided to go to college and study
English. I thought if anything came along that I liked better, I would
branch off. But I liked English so well I never did. I had excellent
teachers in high school, and my college English teacher was excellent
also. I love her today, she is still living.
B: What is her name?
G: Dr. Stella Brewer Brooks. She was a good friend. She would let you know
that you were her good friend, but if you did not do your work, you would
be ignorant, and she did not want you for her little friend. She would
take us to operas when they were performed in Atlanta. But if my grades
dropped down to a B or a B-, she wold give me the devil.
B: Where did you go to college?
G: Clark College in Atlanta.
B: Tell me about that experience. Was that an exciting experience for a
young girl to leave Gainesville, to leave home to go to school?
G: Well, many girls I knew had gone there, but I also had five boys with me
who were just like my brothers. So I did not feel alone. I felt like
there was somebody there to look out for me. These boys were just
wonderful fellows. They gave me all the support I needed that first year,
so by the second year I was able to look out for myself.
B: Did you all wear uniforms?
G: No, not in that kind of school.
B: Did you live in a dormitory?
G: Yes, Warren Hall.
B: Was Clark a church supported school?
G: Yes, the Methodist Church supported it. It still does. When we finished
there Joe Dennis came back here and taught at Lincoln High School for a
couple of years. Then he went back and married a girl in Atlanta. He
taught in the math department at Clark and then finally became head of the
math department. He taught there until he died, while traveling in
B: I understood that years ago negros were able to teach with a tenth grade
education, they did not have to have a college degree. Is that true?
G: I do not know anything about that. All of our teachers had master's
degrees. I have heard that some of the teachers around here, in the
county, could get a certificate to teach, but there was nothing like that
in any of the colleges that I know of. All of my teachers had master's
degrees, and my French teacher was a real French teacher, I mean she was
really French. My business teacher was white, it was a mixed school. He
and his wife and children lived right on campus. This was in the early
1930s. Clark was, and still is, a black school, but we had both black and
white instructors. As far as I know, this happened because the Gammons
Theological Seminary was on the same campus with Clark. Most of the
ministers who taught at the Seminary were white, but Dr. Bowen, Dr.
Crogman, and Dr. King were colored. They all lived on the same campus in
one of the halls that was very church-like. Miss Priscilla Jones was
there at the same time I was. The girls who lived in the home had to wear
dark skirts and blouses.
B: Why did you leave the state to go to college?
G: Well, there was no place else to go except Tallahassee or Bethune-Cookman.
I wanted to get away from home. If I had gone to Bethune-Cookman, I would
have been running home every week. I did not know anybody at Bethune
except a few girls from high school. You see, I had this cushion at Clark
because there were junior and senior girls who were beckoning to me. They
knew the ropes at Clark and they could tell me what to do and what not to
do. I felt better about going out-of-state, because I did not want to run
home every week. I did not even come home at Christmas time. If you cut
class close to a particular holiday it became a double. Usually we had to
go to school right up until the day or so before Christmas and I had to
come home on the train, and it took a day and a night to get home. I
could spend Christmas day at home but I had to spend another day and
a night going back. I did not enjoy it anyway. Mother used to send a big
Christmas box. We had some relatives in the city, and I would spend
Christmas with them. I stayed in Atlanta from September until May.
B: Did you encounter any problems with the segregated society?
G: No, but I encountered some problems with the first snowfall. I really
made a fool of myself.
B: Tell me about that.
G: I looked out the window and saw that it was snowing and I ran to another
girl's room. A bunch of us from Florida were saying, "Ooh, look at it,
look at it!" Somebody said, "I wish I would send some of this home to
Momma." We had no trouble at all. Clark was way out in south Atlanta.
There was a trolley car that we took to go shopping or anywhere. We
always had a chaperone with us. We never had any trouble going or coming.
We were just three stops from downtown Atlanta. When we had football
games the trolley company would put on extra cars for all of us. If we
were playing Morehouse or Atlanta University, they put on special cars to
take us all over and bring us back. We never had any trouble.
B: What caused you to come back to Florida to work?
G: Home. I was just coming home. My people would never have forgiven me if
I had stayed away for four years, finished, and not come back. I had
offers to got to North Carolina but I wanted to get home. I was not sure
where I would work, but when my mother came us for my graduation, we
decided I would come home and we would take care of it from there. I sent
out letters to different places, like we all did when we left college.
But I was hoping that I would get something, if not right in Gainesville,
then somewhere in the state. My first teaching job was in Clearwater with
B: You mentioned earlier that you taught for three years at Lincoln.
B: What did you teach there?
G: I taught math, and some English. Mr. Franklin Chiles, an old classmate,
was the regular English teacher. Since, Mr. Chiles was already here and
established as the English teacher, Mr. Jones helped me to get the job
teaching math. I taught Louise Hill and Albert Williams. He went on to
teach math at City College in New York.
B: What motivated children years ago to go to school? Did you have the
behavior problems that people are having now?
G: I began seeing that about five or seven years before I retired. I had
enjoyed teaching all the years because the children were so sweet, kind,
generous, and nice. But after awhile when drugs started coming on the
scene, the children changed from the sweet things that they were to
something else. I did not know what was causing the problems at first,
but then the situation go to the point where children, instead of bringing
you an apple, would come up to you and ask you for that apple. Things
changed, and I began to get tired of teaching. I said, "I have been
here forty odd years and I want to get out." Back then, I never saw the
kind of disruptive behavior that children have now. If they said ugly
things about you they would try to say them so you did not hear, but now
they come right up to you and tell you. They talked about me. I did not
know until I retired that I had a nickname. They called me Miss Courtesy.
G: Because I was always telling people to be courteous. Years later, they
told me some boys also called me Miss Thanatopsis. Because I always made
them learn the first few stanzas and the last stanza of Thanatopsis. I
thought it was so beautiful, that view of death and the students were glad
afterwards. Some of them who used to give me the devil behind my back
would go to Bethune or to Tallahassee and would write to me and tell me,
"Thank you so much for making us learn things like you wanted. Do you
know we were the only ones in the freshman class that knew so and so?" I
would say, "Yes, that is nice."
B: That was your reward.
G: Yes. They would come back and let me know they appreciated what I taught
them. That is all a teacher wants anyway.
B: This community is referred to as being a run-down ghetto, and your house
has been here for years. What was the area like ten, fifteen, or twenty
G: It was beautiful. It was made up of families but it is not that way now.
There were black families from here all the way to East Main Street.
Everybody took pride in their home. Now I do not have any neighbors.
B: Why did you not go to Florida?
G: Because they did not admit blacks, period. One of the superintendents got
mad with me and said, "Why don't you go to FAMU instead of going to
Pennsylvania University?" And his assistant said, "Because they do not
offer master's degrees at FAMU." So, Pennsylvania University for three or
fours years. I was living in Camden, New Jersey, and I was married. It
was easy for me to take the bus or the ferry to Pennsylvania U. They
always talk about the deficit between the colored college graduates and
the white. I just studied more and more and more English and I dabbled in
everything. I even dabbled in a little philology because I enjoyed it so
much. I got a chance to learn more about the makings and the origins of
words, whether they came from Icelandic, Old English, or Middle English.
Then I came back home, started working, and I did not go back there
anymore in the summer. Several summers later my brother, who had moved
from Pennsylvania to New York, said, "Why don't you come up here and
finish your master's?" So I went to Columbia, and I finally got my
master's in English, not one of those education master's that involved
taking an extra subject. No, I had to do it by completing the hours. I
have a master's degree in English, and I still belong to the Century Club
B: Did you travel a great deal?
G: Well, when Mother and Daddy were both able to get around, I did travel a
good bit with my sorority. I loved the Alpha Kappa Alpha. One of the
teachers at the junior college used to call me Miss AKA. He was a music
teacher and he would bring different people down to direct plays at his
college. He would bring them over to introduce me to them by saying,
"This is the director of the high school music group, she is Miss AKA." I
would say, "Well you are not insulting me a bit because I have a deep love
for AKA." I was trained in the Alpha Kappa Alpha procedure by an interest
group on campus. The people who are going there now have not had that
interest training, and it is just like chalk and cheese.
B: Explain what you mean by interest training.
G: When you are trying to be initiated into a sorority like Alpha Kappa
Alpha, there is much that you have to learn about the sorority. You are
being watched continually for your manners, your behavior, and your
attitudes. You must do certain things just right and you do not know who
is or is not watching. Many times we have had girls with A++ averages,
but there was something wrong with their character. They did not make it.
When you have women that have been steeped in training for years, you have
an AKA. But, when you accept people who just learned the word AKA in the
past five or ten years, the first thing they want to do is change it to a
club. They get mad with people like me because we tell them, "No, you
cannot do that."
B: When you say change to clubs, are you saying that a sorority is more than
G: Of course, my dear child, a sorority is altogether different from a club.
In a club, you do what you want to do. In a sorority, you go by certain
established patterns. Eight women founded Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and
they laid down certain principles of behavior and mentality based on
everything that was outstanding in a fine woman. It was what they called
finer womanhood. These eight girls attended Howard University in 1908 and
were not allowed to attend some of the big-time social events in
Washington. They had to do something to make themselves outstanding,
something above the medicare. That is why Alpha Kappa Alpha is what it is
today. We just lost our last founder in Januray of this year.
B: When did you become an AKA?
G: Oh that is a long story. I did not make it until 1944. Now let me tell
you why. I was in the interest group, but we did not have a chapter on
our campus. Atlanta University was the only university that had a chapter
on their campus, and some things about Atlanta University I would rather
not say. They tried to keep us from having our own chapter. They fought
us for two or three years. It is not possible for a group of women to
just organize themselves into a chapter. We had to wait for the national
organization to approve it. They kept us down as long as they could.
During my last two years, then were about ten of us who were graduating
and hoping and praying everyday that we would act approval. We graduated,
but we did not get the chapter on our campus. They approved the chapter
the next year, but we had already graduated and could not get in.
B: What year did you graduate from Clark?
G: I graduated in 1929, and the chapter started in 1930. Jacksonville had a
graduate chapter, but I said, "Oh to heck with it. I had a good time
preparing, but I guess I will just give it all up." Colle Lee, the girl
that had been my play mother, and I started college together, but she took
a two-year education degree, called a normal degree, and received a
certificate to teach. She taught for two years; then she came back to
college as I was leaving. So she was a junior the year the chapter was
established. She stayed for a couple of years, and they made her a
regional director for AKA. She came to Florida to help set up a chapter
in Tampa. Meanwhile, I was teaching in Clearwater and St. Petersburg but
I had been there only about two years. Some of the girls from Clark were
teaching in Tampa, but they did not know that I was there. When Colle Lee
came down, she said to one of the other members, "Claronelle should have
been able to join. She is in St. Petersburg and I want to see about her
getting in this chapter here in Tampa." That is how I made it. There
were not many graduate chapters, but after Tampa, one was established in
Ocala. When I retired and came here, I started fussing and until we got a
chapter in Gainesville.
B: When was the one organized in Gainesville?
G: 1974. Yes. I was a charter member here in Ocala, and in St. Petersburg
too. The group here was just a small group because we were formed from
the Ocala chapter. Of course, we took in some other girls, and as I said,
some of them probably had not even heard of the main Alpha Kappa Alpha.
They came in and wanted to change everything and not go by the system.
B: I have heard that you could tell an AKA lady from anyone else just by her
G: That is what is said. When I asked young girls who wanted to become
members, "What gave you the impression that you wanted to be an AKA?" In
nine cases out of ten they answered, "An AKA seems to be different. They
act differently than other people." I said, "Maybe it is because we have
been told to remember that we have an image, a self-image to uphold. We
will not let anybody pull us down, or make us fly off the handle and act
like a fool because she does. Those things stand out. I have been places
and been around strangers, and if they did not ask, AKA? Then they would
ask are you a school teacher?"
B: I have heard that too; that you can tell a quality person. School
teachers or AKA, what is it about you?
G: It happens so often, I will never forget being in Chicago for the first
time in my life. I was standing on State Street waiting to meet a friend;
we were going to a movie. A stranger walked up and said, "Hello." I
said, "Hello." He asked, "Are you a school teacher?" I said, "Yes, do I
look that hungry?"
B: It is true that you can tell an air of quality. Were you taught that in
G: Oh yes, they taught us. They even taught us how to walk. Especially
those of us who took part in dramatics and sang in the chorus. We learned
to walk straight and move gracefully. I have seen girls who are in my
sorority loafing, and I felt ashamed. But, if you say anything to them,
they get mad and are insulting. In dramatic training, they taught us to
walk with short steps, and to move with dignity and poise. Today you
cannot tell some of these new girls anything. We were taught all of those
things in college. In my four years of college, I believe I performed in
every one of the big plays. The directors would say, "Watch your step.
Watch yourselves. Stand up." They would not allow us to loaf. We were
reminded to have a good image of ourselves.
B: Would you like to instill that in the minds of young people today?
G: It would be lovely. I think I did a pretty good job teaching those things
until the drinking and other things came into the school. In my first
fifteen or twenty years, I had girls who would tell me, "I want to act
just like you, I want to be just like you." I would tell them, "Do not
just try to emulate me. Try to be better. If you think I am all right,
try to be better."
B: Do you have any success stories of any of your students? I know most
of the people you have taught, I know you are proud of them.
G: Oh yes. I have some boys who came back to see me before I finished
teaching. They were making three or four times as much money as I was
making in their fields. They came back and said, "I have you to thank
because if you had not suggested that I study so-and-so, I probably never
would have gotten my job." I said, "Well, that makes me feel good. You
do not have to give me an ice cream cone, thank are all I need."
B: So you were more than a teacher, you were a counselor too.
G: Well, you had to be back in those days. If you were black, you had to
have a general education in so many things. The trouble now is that too
many women and men go to school and studied one subject. They need to get
a more general education. A good education should be inter-disciplinary.
It needs to have inter-related meaning for a variety of things. A Liberal
Arts education is what we received at Clark. There was not much at Clark
that I did not study. I even played basketball during my freshman year.
I wanted to learn a little of everything, and I did.
B: Do you feel you had a good home life?
G: Oh yes. My brother used to visit every Mother's Day. He had a heart
attack in March. I went to see him and I said, "David, do not try to come
home for Mother's Day. You are still in the hospital, and a heart attack
is not anything to play with." He said, "If the doctor says that I can
come, I will." I left there the first day of April, and Mother's Day was
the second Sunday in May. He called us Monday night before and said that
the doctor had allowed him to come, but he wanted to fly, rather than
taking the train. Otherwise the trip would be too long. When he arrived,
I took him out to get cards for Mother. My cousins from Jacksonville came
over as usual to spend Mother's Day with us. The next morning I had to
take Momma to the doctor because she had severe arthritis. Her
appointment had been pending for about five or six weeks, so we did not
have much time with brother, but Arthur came and took him that afternoon
for a drive.
B: This is Arthur Nealy?
G: Yes, Arthur was Momma's other son. About seven o'clock brother called
and told Momma, "You can tell sister that she can come get me now." And
Momma evidently did not understand what he was saying, and I was wondering
why he was staying so long. Between eight-thirty and nine he called
again. I answered the phone and he said, "Did you get my message kid?" I
asked, "What?" He said, "I told Momma to tell you that I was ready to
come home." I said, "No, but I will be right there." I went to get him
and brought him home. Momma was sitting where she could talk to him and
we were looking at a picture he was eating some candy and nuts. Then he
got up and started walking back to the bedroom. When he came back I
looked at the side of his face and it looked so queer, but I did not want
to say anything. His face just did not look right. He sat down for
thirty or thirty-five minutes. Then Momma said, "Children I have to get
up early the next morning. I think will go upstairs. I will see you in
the morning." I went to the top of the stairs and turned on the light for
her. After she had cleared the stairs and I walked back. My brother's
head was back like this. I said, "Kid, are you asleep already, what is
this?" He did not move. I said, "Brother, brother." He looked just as
innocent as a little child who had gone to sleep, so happy and smiling. I
said, "Momma, something is wrong with brother." I patted his cheek and he
still did not wake up. I ran to call the ambulance then I tried to get on
the phone to call cousin Rosetta. The ambulance evidently was in the
neighborhood, because before I could get the message to her, the
attendants were knocking on the door. They said it was cardiac arrest and
wanted to know what kind of medicine he was taking, so I gave them all of
his medicine. They worked on him here while I called Dr. Banks and told
him to meet us at the hospital. We waited and waited while they worked on
him. After a while, another crew came in. At one time there were three
ambulances lined up out front. Different ones brought different things.
I prayed, "Oh Lord, please do not let him die." By that time people had
gathered from up and down the street. Then the ambulance driver said, "We
will take him to the hospital." I said, "Is he alive? Is he breathing?"
They said, "Yes, he is still breathing, but his pulse is very, very weak."
It gave me at least some hope. Rosetta was here by that time. The man
from next door came over and said, "I will take you to the hospital. You
should not have to try to drive." Dr. Banks was there. I said, "Doctor,
they will not let me in." He said, "No, they are not going to let you go
in, but I will go and see." I said, "Well, is he breathing, is he
living?" He said, "He is still breathing." It was ten o'clock when I
went to pick him up and they pronounced him dead at twelve-thirty.
B: Really, he was here only a week's time?
G: He was here one day. He came Saturday before Mother's Day. We spent
Mother's Day together and Monday might he died. He wanted to be home so
he could be in the house with Momma. He said, "Sister I feel so bad. You
are there with Momma all the time and I do not spend enough time there to
give you a break." My class was having its fiftieth reunion at Clark that
same week. He said, "I will not be much good but at least there will be
somebody in the house with Momma. You write them and tell your classmates
that you will come." I did but I could not make up my mind to make more
arrangements. I wanted to leave Friday, but he died that Monday night.
B: Do you think he knew that he was passing and he wanted to be home?
G: Yes. I do think so because he knew that Momma was elderly. She had
broken her shoulder, and she broke her thigh after he died. She had
broken a shoulder, and he knew she was not able to travel to New York to
see him. Everybody in New York said that when he died people would say he
did it his way. They even sang that song at his funeral. You know that
song "I Did it My Way."
B: "My Way."
G: They said he did it his way.
B: What did he do for a living?
G: He was a mortician. Yes, he did it his way. One of the big soloists at
the Methodist Church filled that church up when she sang at his funeral.
He did it his way. I am glad he came home because if he had not Momma
probably would not have seen him. His wife came and took him back. She
did not let us bury him here.
B: He was not buried here?
G: She came and took his body back.
B: I guess that was very hard for you.
G: It was hard for Momma. I put a stone where he was supposed to be buried
in our plot. I went up there to the funeral. I do not like the way they
bury up there.
B: How do you mean that?
G: They put three or four boxes in one grave. Evidently he and his wife had
bought a plot but he is on the bottom, then the next person will be her,
and then maybe another one will be on top of them, or maybe three or four
B: How old did your mother live to be?
G: She was ninety-nine. She died on the twenty-first of November, and she
would have been ninety-nine on the seventh of December, which was less
than two weeks later.
B: How was her memory?
G: Beautiful. That lady could remember anything. She could go back and
remember details. For example, sometimes you see a person who could
remember something in general. But she could go back and give details of
things. People would call her for information up to six months before she
died. Recently, somebody called here to ask for some information about
the first churches in town, and she remembered it. She remembered that
there were no cars. But she also remembered when they had something like
a bus service. They had horses drawing a wagon with sides which would
take people where they wanted to go. That was even before they had the
drays, carriages with fringes around them. Those were the taxis and when
people got off the train with their trunks, they had drays or wagons to
take them where they wanted to go.
B: They were like the taxis? Where were the black businesses located in
Gainesville in the early years?
G: Well, I told you about Dr. Ayer and Mr. Chestnut and Mr. Duval. They were
downtown on Pleasant Street, way down across from Beasley Williams, which
is a parking lot now. Right across the street from that parking lot on
the south side of that same street was one of Gainesville's biggest meat
markets. I do not know if you have ever heard about Lum Brown's Meat
Market. It was owned by a black, and two doors down from there, my
godmother, Laticia Sharon, whose home was over here, had one of the
biggest restaurants in town. All people--white, black, everybody--came
there to get their meals. Some working people would come by and get
breakfast before they went to work, and then come back and get dinner.
Then, further down on that same side was Nat Robinson's Barber Shop. The
Robinson's that used to live up on Grove Street was Mr. Nathan Robinson.
He had a son named Nath, and another boy named Bubba, I do not know what
Bubba's real name was. He also had two girls--I cannot think of their
names--were very pretty girls.
B: Did we have other doctors besides Dr. Ayers? Where were their offices
G: Dr. Parker had his office at home.
B: That is where the Parker's live now.
G: Yes. The front entrance opened into a hall, and there was a big room at
the end of the hall. That was Dr. Parker's office. He also had a little
place in the back where he kept his medicines and things. The other
doctor, Dr. Floyd, lived in that house around there. His office was there
too, in the house where he lived. There was a nursery school in that big
white building around the corner on Fifth Avenue off Fourth Street.
B: Was there a black hospital here?
G: No, we did not have a hospital but there was a nurse, Miss Janey Rowe, who
had a home on Third and Ninth. That little house is still there. I will
never forget it, because that is where I had my first operation. I had my
tonsils taken out. The negros that had to have operation up to that time.
B: What did you say about the blacks having the operations?
G: If blacks had to have a big operation they had to fix up a whole room,
just like a hospital room, with everything cleaned up, and the doctors
came to their house and operated. That is the way it was until Janey Rowe
came along. She was a nurse, and she opened up her little home on the
corner of Northwest Third Street.
B: Between Twelfth and Eighth. I know what you are talking about. It is
near the present-day Wilhelmina Johnson Resouce Center.
G: Can you picture that little stone house? She opened that up, and that is
where everybody went for all kinds of operations after that time. I
remember that I had my tonsils taken out when I was a junior in college.
I was attending Clark and singing mezzo soprano. After I had my tonsils
taken out I went back and sang contralto. That was a difference. I told
my professor, "Mr. Hall, I had to have my tonsils taken out. I do not
sing soprano anymore." He said, "Get on over there with the contraltos
B: So people had to go to Miss Janey Rowe.
G: That was the only place for negros to go for operations for a long time.
Dr. Ayers also had a two story building someplace, and he did some surgery
there but, I do not know about that.
B: What was on the west side of your house? Were those homes too?
G: The Cookman family lived there. They had a big garden where they planted
corn and squash. The other home was the Shaw home. Shaw was an
undertaker from Jacksonville, Cleve Shaw. It was originally a cottage,
then in later years the Dunbars bought it and made it a hotel out of it.
B: This was a hotel?
G: That is what they called it, the Dunbar Hotel. When the Shaws lived
there, next to the Shaws lived Altamese Cook's mother, and next to her
lived Miss Mary Feltma. Cook's father and Miss Mary Feltma's husband
were brothers. There was nothing but weeds, I mean, no businesses. They
used to park cars over there to load up watermelons. Watermelons,
cucumbers and tomatoes. From there to the railroad crossing were homes.
One belonged to Lizzy Newman. Mr. Kites had a grocery store over here and
then the baker's shop was down at the next corner. Then there were more
homes out to what is now Sixteenth Street, and beyond that was just woods
B: So blacks lived on both sides of Eighth Avenue.
G: Yes, and the community was so well-knit. Everybody just loved everybody
else, and knew everybody else, and was interested in their neighbor. For
instance, if my momma went away and left her clothes out in the hard rain
some of the neighbors would take them in and put them on the porch. That
type of thing. We do not have that now.
B: Did you attend Mount Pleasant Church as a child?
B: How has it changed? What is there now that was not there when you first
started? Can you remember?
G: The building is just like it was. There was always a Sunday School. What
we called a Sunday School department is called a second unit now. That is
where Rosetta goes for prayer meeting. But, the church was just like it
is now, I mean, except for the chandeliers and all those things. We did
not have central heating as we have now. We had a big wood stove, one of
those big old pot-bellied things. It was tall, and the pipe went all the
way up to the ceiling. That used to heat the church. The old men would
get around that heater and go to sleep.
B: Was there a bell?
G: Oh, yes indeed. The bell rang at a certain time for Sunday School. One
bell rang, then another one rang so people would know that it was time for
Sunday school to begin. Then another bell rang just as Sunday school was
about to end, that was the notice that church service was about to begin.
Another bell rang when there was a death in the community. It was not a
bell; it was a toll, and it had a kind of thud to it that would just go
through you. You see we did not have phones to get news around and let
someone who lived in the alley or another person who lived far away know
something. If you knew that there were sick people in the church and you
heard the toll, you would think, somebody is gone. Later the word would
get around. That bell told a story, and our church was not the only one.
On Sunday mornings you could hear the bells from all of the churches
ringing, and it did something to you. You looked forward to going to
Sunday School. I just enjoyed going. When you got there you had a nice
lessons from a nice Sunday School teacher who would give you little cards
with a picture of Jesus Christ on them. Our church choir was out of this
world. We used to have a contest every now and then, just for the sake of
having contest, between the Friendship Choir and Mount Pleasant Choir.
B: Is Mount Pleasant one of the oldest churches in the black community?
G: Yes. I think we are about 116 years old. Here is something you might
like to see from our seventy-fifth, our diamond jubilee. It was held in
Washington last year.
B: Did you go to it?
G: Oh yes. That is why I was explaining about the traveling. I traveled.
I used that as a good excuse for my travel. The very first jubilee I
attended was in Los Angeles. The next one was in Cleveland, and then from
Cleveland on to Chicago. That is the last one we had, I just wanted you
to see that.
B: This is from AKA?
G: See if you know any of these people.
B: There is one of you here.
G: Let me see if you know anybody over there.
B: Yes, there you are.
G: With a boyfriend that I had forty years ago. I had gotten to the motel
that night, Wednesday night. The next morning about eight o'clock my
phone rang. And this guy asked for Miss Griffin, I said, "Yes, this is
Miss Claronelle Griffin." He said, "I know you will be surprised when I
tell you who I am. Do you remember a long time ago you had a boyfriend
named Willie Green?" I said, "That was forty years ago. How did you know
where I was?" He said, "My daughter is in AKA, and she brought one of
these books home. I was looking through it and saw the pictures."
B: What does this mean here?
G: What is that?
B: That the group that you are in.
G: Cluster Three. That was Cluster Three. We have to entertain Cluster
Three here in Gainesville in September. That is the group from Atlanta,
Brunswick, Jacksonville, Daytona, Tampa, Ocala, and Gainesville. It was
the cluster that entertained the regional and these are the presidents
from the various groups in Cluster Three I must have missed one because I
B: There is Daytona, Brunswick, Bethune-Cookman, Jacksonville, Gainesville,
Sanford and Ocala.
G: Well, there must be two in Daytona.
B: There are two in Daytona.
G: That is why there are eight, the undergraduate and the graduate. Our
undergraduate girls were over there too.
B: To bring our interview to a close, I have enjoyed talking with you.
G: It was my pleasure.
B: I have to come back and let you tell me about people here that have lived
through things that changed. Being a teacher for more than fifty years,
you taught in schools when they were totally black, and then you saw when
schools were separate but equal, integrated. What system did you enjoy
working under and why?
G: Well, I find no fault with the integrated system because they were some
very sweet people in both cases. I think I told you earlier, I enjoyed
the earlier years because the children were of a very different caliber. I
only worked two years under the integration section. I worked in the
north portion of St. Petersburg, whatever that high school is called I
worked there two years and it was from there that I retired. When I did
retire the group of colored teachers gave me a retirement reception that
was most enjoyable.
B: Now, at what school did you teach for most of your years?
G: Gibbs High School. I was there from 1940 to 1971.
B: Do you feel that black society lost something when it lost their schools?
G: I do not know. There are some things. I would not say the black society
has lost anything, but there are some things that I feel like are not
stressed in the integrated groups that were brought to the attention of
the pupils. For instance, social behavior. Now nobody seems to care.
You are just there to teach. Before if we saw somebody acting up, even if
you did not have time to counsel them then, you would talk to them later,
and try to show them that it was just not nice for them to do that. You
were expected to do this ting or that things, but now, the groups do not
have time for that. I understand that if someone was showing off, they
just take them out and put him in another room and leave him there. I do
not know, I have never seen it. I do know that in the past, we would find
time to talk to them afterwards. I did the same thing whether I was
teaching in the black school or in the integrated school. I had one or
two that would try to show off. White or black, it did not matter. I
told them to come back and we would have a nice little chat. Most times
they were grateful. Dixie Hollands, that was the name of the high school
where I taught. I found them, all of them, to be very nice.
B: Do you have the time, or would you be willing to take the time to give
some children some of your expertise now, or are you really retired?
G: I am really retired. I can get up when I feel like it. I wake up at six
o'clock in the morning and realize I do not have to rush to school. If I
feel like it, I get up and get a cup of tea or a glass of juice, or maybe
I turn on the radio and go back to sleep some more. When I left there I
said that nobody would find an old lady in a rocking chair. I said that I
would give father time a merry chase. I would make him chase me, and he
would not catch me sitting down. But, at the same time I said, "I am
tired, and I have retired."
B: You have not gone back into the classroom since then?
G: I said do not call me to ask me to sub or anything, please. I do not need
it. When you retire you should stay out.
B: To what do you devote your time now?
G: When I came home I had to give up some of my work. I worked with the
Health Planning Council for about five years. We used to meet out here at
the hospital. I worked with the committee before we got the buses started
here in Gainesville. I worked with them for about five or six years. I
worked with the Old American Council. I was on the executive board there
for about seven or eight years. I am still working with the March of
Dimes. I am on the executive board there, and I have been there for about
twelve years or longer. I keep busy with my sorority affairs, going to
regionals, going to this thing, having a good time, and just enjoying
B: The tape that we are doing is going to be with us as long as the
University of Florida exists. When someone gets the tape and listens to
Claronelle Smith Griffin, what statement would you like to be a part of
you, that you would like to leave with a young person who might listen to
this for inspiration or for your philosophy.
G: My philosophy is, if you want to enjoy life, try to get the type of work
that you would enjoy doing. Try to keep an open mind and enjoy whatever
you get into. Make it a part of life. Think about the rights of others.
Think about love, love of family, love of friends and the cultural rights
of other people.
B: Do you think that is important?
G: I definitely do. It has meant so much to me. I have tried to do all of
those things throughout my life. I do not regret one moment of any part
of my life that I can remember except the fact that I have lost loved
ones. I still will not concede that they have gone. I still feel them in
the house with me. I feel my mother: she was the last one to leave me
just a year and a half ago. I dream about my father and my brother. They
are all alive; it never seems that they are dead. It is something that
always goes on. I can sit there in that chair and almost feel mother in
the next room. Even my dog, my Ricks. He died about five or six months
before mother did, but he still visits with me. I had him for thirteen
years. Mother raised him from five weeks. Right now he comes upstairs in
my sleep when it was thundering and lightning. He was afraid of that. He
would get down by the bed and I would put my hand down there and rub his
coat. I think of him so often. Frankly, I think you get out of life what
you put into it.
B: Do you think that young people give all they can to life?
G: I some instances, but in most instances I am afraid they are giving all
they can to the wrong side. If they would try to remember that there is a
supreme being, and that we should be grateful and do more than we do, I
think they would find more happiness in their lives.
B: One last question I want to ask. This has been the family home for more
than a hundred years. Is there a younger person to come to live with you.
G: No. I do not have any children. My brother's children live in New York
and I do not think they are interested. So, it is my plan that when I die
I will probably leave this to my college club, and I will leave the other
place to Bethune-Cookman for my brother, since that was his school. I do
not have anybody to leave it to. They have everything that he had up
north, home, business and everything, and they do not want anything down
here. What better way to do it.
B: Will your college be left to be maintained as a home, or to be left to do
as they please?
G: If I give this to Clark, I would expect them to sell it and take the money
for whatever they wanted.
B: Now, I said one last question, and this is really it. Being a teacher for
many years, I know you have collected things. Do you have old photographs
and paperwork that you have had for years, that you would like to leave
somewhere to be used for some purpose? We are possibly trying to
establish a foundation to collect life history. Can I call on you
sometime to see what you have?
G: I do not know. I was looking through some papers and things the other
day, but I do not think they are going to be able to weather the storm.
Some of my textbooks and things that I valued so long have those little
B: Do not throw anything away because there is a way of preserving things,
even letters that you received from your parents when you were in school.
Things they had in time will be of value.
G: Well honey, I have been throwing those things out.
B: I will have to get back with you.
G: I have enjoyed having you.
B: Thank you. I have enjoyed talking to you.
G: I just hope I have not talked you to death.
B: You did not. It has been an excellent interview. Thank you, Mrs.
G: You are quite welcome. It has been my pleasure.