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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
Interviewee: John Dukes, Jr.
Interviewer: Joel Buchanan
August 2, 1985
JOHN DUKES, JR.
FIFTH AVENUE BLACK ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWER: JOEL BUCHANAN
PLACE OF INTERVIEW: GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA
DATE OF INTERVIEW: AUGUST 2, 1985
Mr. Dukes grew up in Branford, Florida, where he obtained his primary
education. He was a boarding student in Gainesville so that he could attend
Lincoln High School, where he graduated in 1945. He was drafted into the Army
and served for four years. He attended Florida A & M on the GI Bill and
obtained his master's degree. He returned to teach math in 1954, served as
principal of Eastside High School, and currently is the assistant
superintendent of the Alachua County School Board.
This interview discusses Mr. Dukes' childhood growing up in Branford, his
days as a boarding student at Lincoln High School, his experiences in the Army
after World War II, and his college days at Florida A & M in Tallahassee. The
bulk of the interview relates Mr. Dukes' experiences in the Alachua County
School system from 1954 to the present day.
B: I am doing an interview with John Dukes, Jr. in his office at the Alachua
County School system. This interview is for the University of Florida
Oral History Project and the city of Gainesville Norhtwest Fifth Avenue
project. John Dukes, Jr., has been a teacher of math, head of the math
department, principal of Lincoln High School, principal of Eastside High,
and he is currently assistant superintendent of the Alachua County School
Board. Mr. Dukes has served a total of thirty-one years in the
educational system of Alachua County. Good morning, Mr. Dukes.
D: Good morning, Mr. Buchanan.
B: How are you this morning?
D: I am fine, how are you?
B: Fine. Where are you from?
D: I am from a small place called Branford, Florida. My mother came there
from Palatka, and my father came there from a little place called O'Brien.
I was born there and went to school in Branford.
B: Where is Branford, Florida?
D: Branford is located about forty-five miles west of Gainesville. In fact,
if you go from here to Tallahassee, you pass through several small towns.
You do not remember many of them, because all of them are about the same
size, and Branford, is even smaller than those. It is more noticeable
since the Suwannee River passes through Branford, and most times when
people cross the bridge going through Suwannee County, they have already
been in Branford.
B: Is that still a vital community today?
D: Yes, very much so. In fact, it is a, I want to say a growing community,
but it is a slowly growing community.
B: Tell me about your father, Mr. Dukes.
D: John Dukes, Sr. was a man of many talents. I have envied him on many
occasions for his ability to do things with his hands. My dad could make
an automobile out ot scrap. He was very knowledgeable about construction
work but my dad could not read his name if it had been written in large
letters on the side of a wall. He had no problems traveling. He worked
the livestock market for years, and I used to travel with him as a little
boy. My mother had an eighth grade education, but I can always look back
on that with pride and say that probably helped us. I do have one brother
and three sisters. They were just loving parents with no formal education
to speak of, but they had common sense, and we were a happy family.
B: Was there encouragement from your parents for you to become educated?
D: This always amazed me too, because my father with his limited education
always realized the need for our obtaining an education. For example, in
the small place where I was born, once you completed the eighth grade,
your education was over. There was no place for you to go unless you
decided to leave and go somewehre else. My dad came home one Thursday,
and I never will forget, he said, "Pack up everything you got, your rags."
That is just about what they were--"You are going to Gainesville, and you
are going to go to high school." I came to Gainesville in 1941. He took
me to a lady's house by the name of Miss Catherine Cobbs, a lady whom I
had never met, did not know prior to my coming to Gainesville. Somehow
he had made arrangements, because she took me right in and started
treating me as if I were her own. Believe it or not, I did not even have
money enough to pay Miss Cobbs, for the board. I think my dad paid for
two or three weeks in advance, and then it was not long before I started
washing dishes at a place here called Sandwich Park. Soon I became a
short order cook in the same establishment and was able to meet my
obligations while I was going to school. My dad brought me over, got me
started, and from then on, I took care of my own financial
B: He left you here?
D: Yes, he did. He left me here to live with Mrs. Cobbs, but evidently he
knew that I was in good hands. And I was, because Miss Cobbs is one of
the finest women that I have ever known in my life.
B: I see. What was the place that you worked?
D: The place that I worked was called Sandwich Park then; it is now called
B: You worked there as an eighth grader?
D: I worked there as a ninth grader.
B: Ninth grader?
D: Right, I started as a dishwasher, and within a few weeks they put me in
the middle. In the kitchen you have the person at the window, one in the
middle, and one on the grill. The person on the grill is usually the one
who prepares the food. The one in the middle puts the food on the plate,
and puts a salad on the plate, and arranges it all very neatly. The
person at the window is the one who looks at the plate and finally says
it is all right to place in the big window for the waitress to pick up and
to serve. Well, in a matter of two or three months or less, I was in the
middle putting the food on the plates. Then within a period of three of
four months more, I was cooking. That was just before I left to go into
the military in 1945. I was in charge of that kitchen for about eighteen
months before I was drafted into the military.
B: When he brought you here to school, I assume that you had finished school
D: Yes, I had. In fact, we had graduation ceremonies, and I still have my
eighth grade diploma. We had activities that were somewhat similar to
those activities that you have when you graduate from high school. The
school I attended had two people in my class. There was another boy by
the name of Alfred Tennison. I do not know where Alfred is now but I did
see him about ten years ago, which would have been about 1975. He moved
to the New Jersey/Pennsylvania area to settle down. The school I attended
there had two rooms. In one room you had all of the kids through fourth
grade, and in another room you had all the kids from fifth through eighth.
Having only two people in my class, when we graduated from the eighth
grade gives you an indication that we were underenrolled. Even with the
total number of kids, it was a very small school. This was an entirely
black school at that particular time and we had many chores to perform.
We were not too far from the Suwannee River and around the Suwannee River
there are a lot of swamps. We have quite a bit of dead wood in that area.
One of our main tasks, especially during the winter, was to go down in
that area, pick up that dead wood, cut up those dead trees, and bring them
back so we could have heat in those classrooms.
B: You did that during school hours?
D: I supposed you might consider it to be a part of your education because
the county did not furnish any fuel for heat, or gas, or anything of
that kind at that time. We would go out and cut that wood and bring it
back in our arms to the school, and that would be our source of heat.
B: So, in your section there were only two in your graduating class? Were
there more when you first started?
D: No, I do not recall there ever having been more. In fact, that was just
about the standard. The drop-out rate was very high. In most rural ares
I think you will find the interest or the desire to go to college and to
high school usually is very low. I have had persons that told me as a
little boy, that I would never make it, that I would never do anything,
that I would be just like the rest of them. In that day it meant staying
around Branford, being in and out of the so called juke joints. There was
a place there called the Big House. The Big House was really the place
where people gathered on the weekends and had all kinds of activities
which were not of the best for kids. There were a lot of fights and a lot
of murders that took place there.
B: What was the name of the school, Mr. Dukes?
D: It was called Branford Elementary School. Around 1960, they closed that
school down, and combined those kids with another school in a little
place about five miles south of Branford called O'Brien. This made for a
little better situation, because they took all the white students from
O'Brien and brought them to Branford, and then they took all the black
students from Branford and took them five miles further to O'Brien. When
integration came along and the regulations changed in the mid 1970s or
late 1970s they integrated the school. I have been to Branford to speak
to groups over there, all white, all black, and mixed groups, but they all
attended Branford High School.
B: Do you recall the names of the teachers that were there during your years
at Branford High?
D: Yes, I can. I can recall my first principal. His name was W.R. Lawes.
B: He was a very intelligent person and very concerned about kids, but he
believed in beating things into you. Now when I say beating, I do not
speak literally. He would tell you that he would beat the blood out of
you, if it took that to get you to do what you needed to do. The one
thing that I remember about Mr. Lawes, not only would he beat you, you
notice I did not use the word whip, he would beat you to get you to do
what you were supposed to do. But he would also be at your parents house,
in most instances by the time you got home in the afternoon, telling them
what he had done. There were no telephones to call with these kids of
messages, but he would go in person and tell them, "Yes. I beat Johnny
today, because he did not do such and such a thing."
B: Did it ever happen to Johnny?
D: I got a few whippings. I can only remember one whipping I got. Joe, you
are probably too young to know anything about this, but back when I was
growing up, kids played something they called the dozen.
B: I never heard of that.
D: The dozens meant that somebody would be talking about your parents. One
day, the teacher was sitting on my desk and a boy who lived not too far
from me said something and then said, "Your mammy." Well, I knew what
he meant. I jumped right up, and I remember latching on to him even
though the teacher was sitting on my desk. The teacher did whip me and he
whipped him too. The explanation was that he whipped me because I
disrespected him as a teacher. And for not calling whatever took place to
his attention, but deciding to handle it my own way. I did not get many
whippings in school. There were times when maybe I should have gotten
some, but I did not. I am not bragging, but I had the reputation of being
pretty keen and pretty alert. I remember even when I came to Gainesville,
I was in the auditorium of Lincoln High School must have been around tenth
or eleventh grade--and we had study halls in that day. As I walked in the
auditorium a fellow by the name of Nathaniel Thomas was sitting in a seat.
I used to wear a beany cap, and I hit Nathaniel Thomas on the back of the
head with my beany cap. Professor Jones, A. Quinn Jones, who was
principal in this county for forty-two years, passed by and just glanced
through the back door. He saw the swipe, but he did not really know who
did it because Nathaniel whipped it around first. Professor Jones came in
the auditorium in the presence of all of the other students. Nathaniel
was crying, and he said, "Mr. Jones, why did you whip me?" Professor
Jones said, "I whipped you for hitting Dukes." I did not have nerve
enough, guts enough, to tell Professor Jones that he had made a mistake.
I also did not feel that two of us should suffer for the same thing, so I
let Thomas take it.
B: You let him take that whipping?
D: Yes, at that time I let Thomas go ahead and take it. I do not know if I
would do that today but, I then permitted Thomas to go ahead. And I want
you to know that some thirty-five or forty years later, I met Thomas at
one of our class reunions, and he still remembered that he got the
B: I do not blame him. I would recall that too. You hit him.
D: So, yes there were times when I should have, but we did not.
B: What encouraged you to complete your high school education?
D: When I started school in Gainesville, there were teachers here who were
genuinely concerned. I was really amazed at the concern that they showed
for me, as what I call a country boy, and not having the kind of
background that some of the persons had. For instance, I met a gentleman
who was my guidance teacher, my history teacher, and my coach. In fact, I
went to him three times in one day, for three different subjects coaching.
He is T.B. McPherson. The one thing T.B. did, among many of course, was
to have all of us believe that we were somebody important. Even as early
as the 1950s, when it was most difficult to get a kid to feel that he was
somebody important, T.B. was doing that. I had another teacher by the
name of Miss Bessie Louise White. She was the wife of Reverend D.E.
White, who was the mortician in this area for many years. Mrs. White
called all of us Mr. and Miss in spite of our youth. Somehow, I feel this
made us believe that we had to measure up to something. Miss White gave
us many lectures, which I adopted as a part of my technique during my
teaching career, because there are times when the kids can learn more if
you just put that book aside and talk about some of the things they want
to talk about. I really attribute the success of my teaching to that
particular technique. I went to Daphne Duval Willimas for math, and she
inspired me to become a mathmetician because I always marveled at the
various things that were going on in math. I loved to see what the final
results ended up and how the results ended up. A. Quinn Jones, Sr., the
principal, took a personal interest in me. I do not know why, but he did.
I remember many times he would call me in and tell me about the
availability of scholarships. He would try to help me with this or help
me with that, and he did that throughout my career. He made such an
impression upon me. I was offered two or three other jobs before coming
to Gainesville, and in fact, I had already accepted the position of dean
of men at Arkansas A&M college. I was offered an assistant principal's
job with no experience in Perry, Florida, I also had an opportunity to
work in Suwannee County, in Live Oak. This was the county where I was
born and twenty-five miles from where I attended school. Later Professor
Jones asked me if I would come to Gainesville, and to me this was one of
the greatest offers of all. I chose to come to Gainesville, and I have
been here ever since.
B: When you were in Lincoln High School was there the personal contact
between you students, the principal, and the teachers?
D: Very much so. I am not the only one, this was true with all students, I
think basically most students would lend themselves to that kind of
counseling or guidance. Needless to say, when I went to school, and also
after I returned to school for a long period of time, the teachers were
really our parents. They acted just like your parents. They were
genuinely concerned, they provided guidance, they just did not leave
anything to chance. This is not necessarily the case today.
B: While at Lincoln, you mentioned that T.B. McPherson was the coach. Did
you all have football?
D: Oh, yes. We had football. We really had football. In fact, T.B.
McPherson is the winningest coach that we know of, possibly in the entire
South. T.B.'s teams were so good that they played teams like Bethune-
Cookman College. They not only played them, they beat them. The high
school team beat the college team. At that time you did not have all the
regulations that said what you could and could not do. Soon after I
started playing, the regulations changed somewhat. But T.B. used to go
out to Texas, Mississippi, even way back in the late 1930s and the early
1940s playing four-year schools, and not only playing them, but beating
B: What position did you play on the football team?
D: I was a tackle, and I remember when we played Alachua very vividly. T.B.
said, "Dukes, you are country, you are corn-fed, you are strong and you
are fast. I do not want you to do but one thing. I want you to stay on
number eleven. Do you know who number eleven is?" I said, "No." He
said, "Number eleven is the quarterback. Even if he gets the ball, I want
you to make him feel that he does not want it any more." So that night I
just looked for number eleven, nobody else but number eleven. And I want
you to know, we won that game. Going away and after the game he said,
"Dukes, I told you to stay on number eleven. There were times when it
looked like he was running away from the ball, rather than trying to get
it." I am not bragging, but I had a reputation of being the strongest guy
on the team.
B: How many years did you play ball for Lincoln?
D: I played football at Lincoln for three years. When I came to Gainesville,
I had never heard of football and never seen it before. Honestly I never
had. I was a baseball man. I came to Gainesville an athlete, but an
athlete in the area of baseball. When I was twelve years old I was
playing with grown men, men in their thirties and even older. I remember
one time when I played on a team, we played in a little place called
Welborn. There was a guy there who could throw a fast ball, and they say
he could throw just about as hard as Bob Gibson. When I came up, the
catchers would yell out to take it easy on the baby. They called me the
baby. The fellow took it easy on me, and of course, I laced into one of
his itches and knocked it from nowhere. So the next time I went up there,
I am sure they had talked about it, because he threw one so fast in
frightened me. He did not have any more trouble with me for the rest of
the game, because I did not hit him anymore.
D: Yes, because he did not take it easy on the baby.
B: When playing ball at Lincoln, was the community supportive of the teams?
D: The community has always been supportive of Lincoln teams, and that is one
tradition that we missed after the closing of Lincoln High School.
Lincoln High School was a college to many parents, many kids, many people
in this community. This was their college. In fact, Lincoln High School
football games were more important than the University of Florida, Florida
A&M, or any other games. This was it. I have seen people buy the finest
kinds of clothing and everything else to attend one of our games on Friday
night at Harris Field. It was a big thing.
B: It was?
D: And the community had always been highly supportive.
B: What year did you graduate?
D: I graduated from high school in 1945.
B: Was it a large graduating class?
D: Yes, Joe we had a total of around forty people.
B: Forty was large?
D: That was huge in that time.
B: Really? Now at that time did you know that you were going to go on to
college or did you start working?
D: As I told you before, having been exposed to Mrs. White, T.B. McPherson,
A. Quinn Jones, Daphne Williams, and several others like that, I knew from
the outset that I would not be satisfied until I got a college degree.
There was another principal in Branford called Professor Louis. You may
know that during that day everybody was a professor. If you graduated
from any school, in fact some of them I suspect did not graduate from any
school, did not even have a bachelor's degree, but if you started
teaching, you were a professor. W.L. Lawes encouraged me, knew from the
outset that I was going to try my best to be something else other than
what several said we were. By the way, Professor Lawes lived to be about
100 years old. I think he was about six months short of being 100. I
went to school at Florida A&M University, and I ran into Mr. Lawes. He
must have been in his nineties at that time and he was still going back
and forth visiting school campuses just observing kids even though he was
not a principal in Leon County. His principalship was in Suwannee County
in a little place up here, off of Lake Butler, Worthington Springs. He
retired from that area. But those persons instilled within me, a desire
to do something else other than hang around Branford and fight and throw
bricks in barrooms.
B: You hear of negro students getting an eighth grade education, but you
actually finished twelve years. Did you begin teaching then or did you go
straight on to college?
D: No, after I graduated from high school, I was drafted. At that time in
1945, the war was over and yet it was not over. It was over in that the
fighting had subsided in many areas, but it was not over because the
official document had not been signed ending the war. So, the draft was
still in effect, and I was drafted in September, 1945, a month or two
after graduation. So I went into the service and I stayed three years,
seven months and twenty days.
B: Was that a pleasant experience for you?
D: Put it this way Joe. Honestly, I would not take $100,000 for that
experience, but I would not want to go through it again for $300,000. I
had some problems in service, not stockade problems, I had some internal
problems. I had difficulties and problems with persons who had not had
any training at all. They would give directions in a very raw kind of
way. By that I mean they were rather profane. The could say anything to
you, and you could not say anything back. I remember I was highly
insulted. It was not direct to me personally as an individual, it was
directed at all of us. In fact, the sergeant I learned later on, could
not even read the roster. He memorized the roster. He had probably one
of the best memories I have seen in my life. He could get out there and
call the roll, and I thought it was something, because he would call the
roll sometimes in the dark. He would pretend and have the paper in front
of him. But I remember he called us on out to reveille about the second
or third day that I was in the military. This happened in Fort Benning.
And he said--pardon the language but I want to quote him directly--he
said, "I have three bears. One is in the hospital, one is in the company
area, and the other one is in the stockade. I do not give a damn if you
do not take the one in the hospital, or the one in the company area. I
want you to know that I will be glad to have you put in that stockade."
That was rather raw to me because I had not done anything to be told that.
On the other hand, I am certain that he got his point across, because we
learned that he would have us stockcaded, which is equivalent to our jail,
for little or nothing, and it would not bother him at all. This may have
encouraged us to be better soldiers or, maybe to be more law abiding while
in the service. That is my opinion I suppose, but I did have some
internal problems with the way orders were given. All of the experiences
were not bad, I do not want to give you that impression. Some were very
B: Was your company predominantly negro?
D: Yes. The outfit that I was in was totally black.
B: Were the commanding officers of the outfit black?
D: No, the commanding officers were all white, except in one instance we had
a black chaplain. A chaplain is equivalent to minister.
B: Was this true throughout your three years?
D: Yes, and I was discharged in 1949, and at that time integration was not
even thought about in the military. I will not say it was not thought of,
maybe I should retract that. It was thought about but not executed. Do
you remember the story of Dorry Miller, who had difficulty getting into
the navy during the war? This was during the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor on December 7, 1941. Dorry Miller was relegated to a position of
cook, but during the attack he manned one of the guns and actually shot
down planes. This probably was the beginning of blacks being admitted to
the navy in large numbers. When I went into the service, the navy did
little or no recruiting among blacks. The few blacks who did get in,
through connections or something else, but they were not actually
recruited, not as we know it today.
B: That is the reason you see many black men who were in the army during WWII
because we were not allowed into the other branches.
D: That is correct. My guess would be, I do not have the factual history,
but according to me recollection the air force, the navy, and the marines
probably were the last three branches of service to really accept blacks.
B: Did you ever question why blacks were not in charge of blacks, or was this
D: It was understood. You see after having attended an all black school,
after having lived in an all black society where black football teams
played black football teams, all of our experiences were black. At this
time very few people questioned it. I know once we said we would like to
have played games of high school football under T.B. McPherson when we
were so good, but I think we had ulterior motives. I think we wanted to
vent the hostilities that we had, because we felt that we were always
getting the leftovers, the hand-me-downs. There were many instances where
we got equipment which was used and we got textbooks which were used and
old. I think we wanted to vent our hostilities more so than to compete
for the title so we could say that we were the better team. I think this
carried over, but I often think about that, and I find it rather amazing
that most of us who lived in an era such as that can be as objective as I
think some of us are, in a day like...
B: It seems very objective. It does not seem logical that you were able to
survive and I question...
D: It seemed like we would have lost all of that objectivity.
B: Correct. Being drafted into the military in 1945, did that disturb you
that you did not go directly to college after high school.
D: No, it did not. It did not break my chain of thought of going to college
at all because I did not have the finances. I saw the military as a means
by which I could get through a college, a university, with some degree of
ease, because I knew that the G.I. Bill was there to assist veterans
through their training. Within one year of being drafted into the service
my dad died, and I had three sisters, Ella Mae, Edith, and Juanita, and
one brother, Richard, who is a policeman today in the city of Gainesville,
who looked up to me as their father from then on. Staying in the service
the additional two and a half years, helped me to provide income for my
mother and my kids, I call them my babies. They really looked at me as
being their father. In fact, if you talk to my brother or any of them
they will tell you that they think of me as being their father.
B: Were you the oldest?
D: I am the oldest.
B: May I ask what year were you born?
D: I was born December 18, 1926.
B: What did you do after finished your three years and some months in the
D: First, let me tell you that during the military, I was one of thirteen
persons of a total of around 450 men, who had a high school diploma.
Thirteen out of 450 men in an outfit that had high school diplomas. So, I
taught courses to those persons while in service. We taught those courses
under what we called USAF1, United States Armed Forces Institute. We
taught several persons how to read and how to do simple math at best we
could with the limited knowledge that we had. Some of those persons could
not even read a newspaper, and even though we had not been formally taught
any technique, we actually taught many of them how to utilize those
particular things in the service.
B: Now did that become a part of your responsibilities?
D: That was part of my responsibilities, along with being the chaplain's
assistant. Now the chaplain's assistant is not one who delivers a sermon
on Sunday, but one who assists men during the week who have problems at
home. Some of the problems may seem a little petty to you at this point,
but there were persons in the service who got Dear John letters. Do you
know what a Dear John letter is? It means that you get a letter from your
wife or your girlfriend telling you she is sorry but somebody has replaced
you. We tried to console those people by trying to find out what the
problem was, communicating with the soldier. In many instances this
soldier is about three, four, five, six, seven, thousand miles away from
home. In fact, I was the chaplain's assistant on the island of Guam,
communicating wiht people back in the United States and also conversing
with the person on Guam. There have been persons who have said this was
true, you and I find it amusing. I will never forget one night around two
thirty or three o'clock in the morning in the barracks where I lived, I
heard a fellow moaning and groaning. I went down and I said to him, "What
is wrong with you?" He said, "I am having labor pains." So, I said, "Why
are you having labor pains?" He said, "Well, my wife is pregnant and any
time she is pregnant, I have the pain." Being as young as I was, and less
knowledgeable, maybe I should have been more patient, but I thought that
was one of the funniest things. I said, "How in the world can you be
almost 9,000 miles away from home, and you feel a pain that your wife is
having?" But since then I have run into other men who have indicated to
me that the same thing has happened to them. So, I played that as loosely
as I could since I did not realize the importance of his feelings. Maybe
I should not have felt the way I did then, but that was one of the biggest
boo-boos I think I made in working. That was when I did rounds. But
after the service, with the G.I. Bill benefits all tucked away and
knowing what I was going to get, I decided to take about two or three
months vacation in Buffalo, New York. My aunt insisted that I come up
there, because I was on the verge of going back into the service.
B: Oh, were you?
D: Yes, in fact I found it rather difficult to adjust to civilian life after
having been in the military. It is ironic. I had trouble adjusting to
military life when I went in. There were many nights and mornings I cried
like a baby for about two or three months until I finally got to meet
other people. You find new friends and you develop new concerns with
persons. The when I got ready to get out I came back home, and many of
the persons I had gone in with had gone to different places, and I just
felt like I was all alone. I asked myself why I did not go back in the
service. But when I went to New York to visit my oldest aunt, my mother's
sister Aunty Emily, I decided then that I was out for good. I went back
to my mother, because my dad was dead now, and she was so happy that I had
decided not to go back. So I wrote Florida A&M in 1949.
B: Let me ask you a question about teaching in the military. Alex Haley that
wrote Roots, said that during that period that he was a person who wrote
letters for the soldiers and read their letters to them. Many of these
people could not read. Did you read their correspondence for them?
D: Yes, Alex and I both did. I had the opportunity of meeting Alex, and we
talked quite a bit in Orlando last year. As I talked to him, I had
recollections of some of the very same things that he did in an effort
to help people, I did in the service too. To help those persons who
received letters and could not read them, we would read them. I have one
person who was not particularly interested in learning how to read until
one day, someone wrote a letter to this particular soldier. It was read
by one person, and then he brought it to me. I read it, and he said that
the messages were not the same. Come to find out when we got into it,
that the person who had first read the letter from his sweetheart had
decided to say some things that would alienate the couple so he could
write to the young lady instead. We found out about it and I want you to
know that this fellow became one of the most diligent persons from that
point on, wanting to learn how to read and not have other people read
for him. But yes, we read letters for them, we read newspapers to them,
we showed them how to do any number of things that anyone who could read
ordinarily would have no difficulty doing.
B: I assume that you had to have combat detail. Were those details put into
D: Put it this way Joe, I have always been a person who believes you have to
do some thinking for yourself. The assignment that I got when they
ordered us overseas was to Guam, Tinian, Saipan, Hawaii, Iwo Jima, and
Hiroshima. I might add I went to that area because my dad died when I was
on orders to go to Germany, buy they took me off so I could attend his
funeral. But my outfit went on without me, and then after the funeral
they sent me to those places I just named. My main assignment was to go
over there and recover the bodies that had been buried. They were not
buried in graves, singly, as you know it in the United States. A huge
hole was dug, and bodies wee just stacked on top of bodies on top of more
bodies and we had to unearth those bodies and identify them. Most of them
had what we call dog tags, quite a few of them had the dog tags on. Dog
tags are a little metal plate with your name and your serial number on it,
and from that they can identify you as being whomever you may be. I did
not like that. I did not like it at all, and I did not like guard duty
either so, I started to think of what I could do, to get out of there. I
met a Lieutenant who was the chaplain, and I told him how well I
could serve as his assistant. He decided later on that I had done such a
good job--that is what he said--and so why did I not get into special
service. So, I got into special services, and as a result I was in charge
of a library, I was the chaplain's assistant, and I was also the
officer. The officer was one who taught classes from around
eighty o'clock until about twelve o'clock on Saturday mornings only.
D: Yes, because the soldiers were engaged in other activities, their regular
activities, from Monday thru Friday, but on Saturday morning we would have
this big gathering. Everyone was forced to attend and during that time we
would give them highlights of what was happening in the United States. We
always got Stars and Stripes, that was a newspaper, but there were not
enough copies of the paper to give every enlisted man a copy, so they
would send it to people like myself and we would become familiar with what
was in it. Then on Saturday morning we would digest it together with
those persons. So, that was how I got into teaching.
B: So, actually you were a teacher while you were in the military?
D: That is correct.
B: And you had special duties that other soldiers did not have?
D: That is correct. In fact, that was my job, just like their job was to go
out and get those bodies. While they were digging bodies, I was managing
a library. I still have pictures of the library. It was a hut and I
tried to do a good job even though I did not have any training as a
librarian and a media specialist. I did some of the things that I see
media specialists doing today.
B: I was not even aware that this kind of thing went on in the military.
D: Oh, yes. I also was the manager. My documentation shows that I was a
B: That means that you actually did the running of the projector?
D: No. I managed the persons who came in to run the projector, and I was
responsible for the finances. The soldiers had to pay about ten cents, or
something to come to the movie, and we would be responsible for putting
that money away and managing the theatre.
B: Because you had all this responsibility in the military, when you came
out, you did not have those. Could that have been one of the reasons why
you were despondent and did not know if you wanted to go back into the
D: I do not think so because I never wanted to be a theatre manager, or a
media specialist, or librarian in the civilian life. My ultimate
objective was to become a mathmetician, within itself. You may find this
hard to believe, but I started out wanting to be a dentist. I even
enrolled in the medical curriculum. I took biology, zoology, and all
those kinds of courses in preparation for the medical classes. We called
them pre-med classes. I think it was around about the second year when I
was in the program, I realized that it would take a lot more money than I
would ever have to meet my needs and also to help my sisters and my
brother through school. They will tell you that I put them through. I
B: You educated...
D: I was going to school and at the same time I was earning money. I cooked
after going to the university at a place called the Mayflower Hotel in
Tallahassee. I would go to work in the afternoon at four o'clock, and
I would work until one thirty in the morning. I was paid pretty good for
the rates at that time, and I took care of my mother, my three sisters,
and my one brother. My brother was going to school at Clarke University,
but I still assisted him while I was a student at FAMU, Florida A&M
B: So, you worked from four until one-thirty after a Hending as a full-time
student at Florida A&M University.
D: That is right.
B: What did you major in?
D: I started off as pre-med, and after realizing their needs, I converted to
B: Do you regret it?
D: I do not reret it at all. I know that having had some experiences as a
teacher, that could have never happened to me as a dentist. On the
other hand, some persons say I probably would have made more money, yes,
but I am well pleased with my experiences as a teacher. I loved teaching.
B: Did you?
D: I still do. I go into the classroom even as an administrator
occasionally. I was in the classroom this summer.
B: To teach?
D: To teach. You would be surprised what you learn from people in a
classroom. If it ever becomes a one way street wherein the student only
learns from the teacher, I think it is going to be a sad day. I have
learned an awful lot from students.
B: Is that the reason you have so many blacks who teach that say that they
taught not for the money but for the commitment and for the fulfillment
they were getting?
D: Yes, and believe it or not, even as a principal, I knew there were black
teachers who went that extra mile. By that I mean attended, taught, and
became involved in functions after three-thirty and four o'clock.
Sometimes it was eleven, twelve, or one o'clock at night. All those are
learning and teaching experiences, and they got personal satisfaction out
of the feeling that they had done something to provide a learning
experience for kids thay they never would have had, had they not taken the
B: Do we still have those quality people around?
D: You have them but they are fast disappearing from the scene, because right
now you have persons who do not care. I am not knocking it, I am only
saying what it is. You have a teacher now who will not chaperone or
attend a dance at night. They will not attend at all, but you remember, I
think maybe when you were in high school, they were dances that lasted
until twelve, or twelve-thirty. Very few of them lasted much later than
that, but almost always some teacher was the last person to leave that
building. Some teacher, invariably would check to see whether or not
that kid had made it home safely, or some parent would call wanting to
know, "Have you seen Johnny? Do you know why he has not come home yet?"
I question how much of that is going on today because the commitment is
not there. If you recall about a week after graduation one parent wrote
an article to the Gainesville Sun commending one or two persons for
showing up at the all night affair that they had for seniors. I do not
think any of us would have received any accolades when I was in school or
when I was teaching, because it was just an expected thing.
B: It was expected?
D: Not only that, but when we took kids out, we did not take them to the
school and dump them. I would have been afraid to put any kid out on the
east side of Gainesville at two thirty in the morning and say, "O.K. you
are home now. Make it the best way you can." We took them to their door.
In fact, I did this to the principal of Eastside. I guess it was part of
my training that I could not get away from. Black students or white
students, it did not make any difference. We took them to their door, and
we waited for them to get inside. Hopefully, we would see some lights
come on as we approached that house. We did not leave them out there like
that and have someone call two or three hours later wondering, why Frank
did not make it home, or did we know anything about where he could be?
That is a terrible feeling to have when you have gone off with
somebody's kid and that kid has not come home and the parents called you
to ask if you know where they are?
B: Your years at Florida A&M, what were they like?
D: The greatest years of my life. I made some of the longest lasting
friendships at Florida A&M, persons who are still my friends even today.
We are communicating, we are dealing with each others' children, and those
were probably some of the most gratifying experiences I have had. Even
here in Gainesville I have gotten calls from young ladies and young men,
some of whom are in the hospital, who say, "Are you Mr. Dukes? And I say,
"Yes, I am," and they say, "Well I am in the hospital, who say, "Are you
Mr. Dukes? And I say, "Yes I am," and they say, "Well I am in the
hospital and my dad and my mom said for me to call you." I go out there
and we start talking, and I find out it is somebody I know. Their parents
felt that I was the kind of person that they would like to have their kid
call under those circumstances. I will never forget James Cash's daughter
was in the hospital and she called that morning. I went out and we
talked, she told me how much better she felt. She was here and did not
know anybody, and she felt like she knew somebody after I went to visit
her. Not that these things are important, you do not expect them, but
about five or six months later a little package would come and I did not
know where it is from or why somebody should be sending it. In fact,
sometimes would be kind of afraid to open it, figuring it is going to
explode. I would get a little, not expensive, just a little token that I
can put some place in my house and look up and remember that this person
sent it, because they felt like I helped. I have a lot of those.
B: Those are at Florida A&M?
D: Those are some of the results of my having been at Florida A&M, because
had I not been there, I never would have made an association with those
people in the first place.
B: Now you lived in Tallahassee for the duration of your school?
D: I did. I lived in Tallahassee for five years, because I got a master's.
I stayed one more year.
B: When you graduated from A&M you had your master's?
D: I never walked in the classroom to teach until I had received a master's
B: And your education was funded by your G.I. Bill and working?
D: Partly funded by G.I. Bill and supplemented by my own labor.
B: Now this is a question that I should not ask, but I have to ask it. They
say that black institutions did not prepare persons for society, and that
many times a black institution was inadequately supplied and the persons
leaving there were not able to get the very best.
D: I take issue with that because some of it may or may not be true. I would
say that you have failure in any and every university or college. You
also have persons who are not going to be successful even if you sent them
to Yale, and I know you have many who are not successful at the University
of Florida. All of them are not, in my opinion, the slowest learners in
the world either, but sometimes there is something else that encourages a
person to do this or to do that. I have had students in my classroom,
especially in algebra and calculus in particular, who when they came in
would have and attitude that would turn anybody off, including themselves.
But somewhere along the way, those persons became relatively successful
with either a readjustment of their personalities, or some other
experience that the had. I had a student one time, a student had been
labeled dumb. I tried everything that I thought of to make this kid more
successful. One day we were playing touch football, he was playing
opposite me, and I told him what he could not do. I discovered that he
tried his best to do it. I told him he could not move me out of my
position, unless I wanted him to, and waited for that effect. I played
with my kids. We played softball together, we played football together.
I would go to the playground and I would play games with them. This boy
would try to his level best to do that. One night I thought that might
work in the classroom, but I did not say a thing to him. I do not mind
calling his name, because he would tell you today that this happened.
Vernon Hayes. He is related to the Hayeses over there in west
Gainesville, I said, "You cannot get math. In the first place, you do not
have what it takes, you are easily led by somebody else, you quit the
things you cannot do. Why do you not find something else to do, you
cannot do it." And I want you to know, his mother told me later on that
he came home and said, "I am going to show him." Now I am not saying that
this will work in any case, but I discovered that he did not want anybody
to tell him that he could not do something. Then when I thought about it,
that is how I got to school, because I had persons who would tell me as a
thirteen or fourteen year old boy around Branford, that I would never
amount to anything, that I would be just like all the rest of the boys
around there. I told myself that I do not have to be like them, I am
going to be like me. Even today I have my own philosophy. I will be like
I want to be, not like you want me to be, and not like you tell me to be.
I believe I can be anything I want to be. I do not care what you think.
I do not care whether you think I can or cannot. I think I can be
anything I want to be and I think this is the way I motivated the Hayes
fellow. I told him that he could not do math. So, consequently, I do not
feel that I received an inferior education. I feel that I am as good a
math teacher as they have in this country. I know I was as good as any
and better than most. I was good as any and better than most. I knew
that because I can tell by the way my kids responded. I can tell by the
fewer discipline problems that I had in teaching the kids. I knew I was
B: You were good.
D: Yes, I was good. I knew my subject matter. I still know math. I do not
know much about some of the advanced methods they have now since I left
the classroom, because I have been out of the classroom for about twenty
years. But some of the basic things that I knew then, I still know right
now, and I could go in the classroom and teach those things and feel very
confident. All of my training was at a black university. By comparison,
I have had courses at the University of Florida, many courses out there,
and I see now significant difference in what I was taught out there or the
way it was taught at Florida A&M. It all depends on the instructor and
the student in that classroom. If you have a student who wants to learn,
and a teacher who wants to teach, it makes no difference where the
institution is, in my opinion.
B: That is it, excellent. Why is it that when you got your degrees in
mathematics that you came back to Gainesville to work?
D: I came back to Gainesville for many reasons. I have never had a desire to
run away, and Gainesville had been good to me. I thought about the
teachers, the principal, my family, and my relatives, most of them were
still living in Florida. That was my primary reason for really deciding
against going to Arkansas. However, if I had not received job offers
somewhere else, I probably would have gone to Arkansas. But I have never
had anything to run away from since then.
B: Do you enjoy it here?
D: I just love it here, because I am a small town person, I do not mind
visiting Buffalo, New York, Miami, or Jacksonville, but basically I am a
small town person and I just love the area, I have had many opportunities
to leave here. I have had all kinds of job offers. In fact, I had one
about three weeks ago.
B: And you said no? You like Gainesville that well?
D: I said no. I like it just that well. The chances are that I would have
been paid more and worked less, but I turned it down.
B: Did Professor A. Quinn Jones, the principal, hire you when you came back?
D: He did. I often tell persons that Professor A. Quinn Jones was my
principal as a student, and he hired me back. He was the first principal
I ever worked under, and even today he and I are very close, I barbeque
about seven or eight times a year, and I never barbeque without A. Quinn
B: Really? What was it like coming back and working for the principal under
whom you had been a student?
D: Professor Jones is an unusual type person. I have never met a man like
him in my life. He had some habits which provided an opportunity for us
to mimic and make fun of him. I was one of those persons who took
advantage of those situations. I remember one day in a faculty meeting
Prof had had some difficulties getting teachers to keep the register. I
had no problem with the register because I was a math teacher and it dealt
with numbers that we had to keep up about the kids' attendance. Anyway,
Prof had gone to the blackboard, and he had his crayons in his hand. He
said we would have to do the registers right. He had a lisp, and he was
saying that he was going to tally, and if the registers were not tallying,
the teachers could have to keep them. The telephone ran, and the
secretary came to get Prof out of the faculty meeting. Tom Collins will
verify this because he was sitting right there when all of this happened.
So I jumped up as soon as Prof left to go get his telephone call, and I
went to the board and said, "You all ain't doing nothing, you are going to
work on the registers and they are going to tally. I mean, they are going
to tally. They are going to tally. Do you hear what I say? They are
going to tally." I am there saying all this but before I finished Prof
returned to the faculty meeting in this room and was standing in the door.
Powers was making some kind of motion, and I thought he was telling me to
keep going, but he was trying to warn me that Prof was behind me. Anyway
I cried on about thirty seconds or so, and I turned around and saw Prof
in the door. You know it was a long way from that blackboard to the place
where I sat. Prof did not even sit. He did not even come in the room.
He said, "Mr. Dukes," and I went ot him and we walked down the hall. Prof
would walk with you all the way down the halls of Lincoln and never say a
word. He walked with me from the south end, almost sixty feet from that
south door of Lincoln, to within about fifteen feet of the north door of
Lincoln, which was a distance I guess of about 150 feet. Then he looked
at me he said, "Mr. Dukes." I was thinking that I was going to fired. He
said, "That blackboard you asked me about. I got that blackboard for
you." I said, "Thank you, Mr. Jones." We went back to the classroom and
he has never said anything to me to this day about my mimicking him or
making fun of him. I was a floating teacher. A floating teacher does not
have a classroom. Therefore, I had asked him to give me a blackboard on
the stage, because my classroom at that time was on the main part of the
stage, adjacent to a very small area of it, which was used by Miss
Wilhemina Johnson. Miss Wilhemina Johnson and I did not get along too
well, because when Wilhemina Johnson would pass through my area to get to
hers, she would never speak to me or my kids and I resented that.
B: The class was on the stage?
D: The class was on the stage, but there were two. If you can visualize the
stage, there is an office to the left which T.B. occupied. There was
another office on the other side of the stage, the right side going in,
and Miss Johnson occupied that office. In other words she had a little
office where she kept her music and stuff. When it was time for chorus or
something she rehearsed on .the stage, but this meant she would have to
walk through my area in order to get to hers. I challenged her one
morning when she came through. She did not understand this because I was
such a young teacher, and challenging Miss Johnson? She just could not
take it. I think sometimes even today she remembers that because we
have had one or two encounters since then, philosophical disagreements.
B: That should have been an interesting part of your life, to teach with
people that were there when you were a student. Was Daphne Duval Williams
still working there?
D: Yes, Daphne was there. In fact, I was head of the math department and
Daphne was in the department.
B: And she taught you math?
D: She taught me math. I came back and I was principal of Lincoln High
School. My guess would be that more than fifty percent of the teachers
who taught me were still teaching there when I became their principal.
B: What year did you come to Lincoln?
D: I came back to Lincoln in August, 1954.
B: And this was the old Lincoln?
D: This was the old Lincoln.
B: Now what were you doing when the old Lincoln closed and they opened the
D: They built the new Lincoln while we were at the old one, so we moved
everything over there. I think we moved over there in 1956.
B: Now as a teacher, were you able to have any input into the design of...
D: Yes, we had something to do with the design, and also we were able to
change some of the original recommendations for that particular building.
At that time they felt the teachers should have some input into what kind
of building that would be built. We visited several areas to get ideas as
to what was going on. Architects came out to talk to us and we talked
with them. We had a lot to do with the structure of the school.
B: Did you ever have any encounters with your white counterparts in the math
department in the county.
D: Yes. By this time the situation was beginning to loosen up a little bit,
and Mildred wanted a group of the heads of the math departments. We
developed a very close friendship, and right now Mildred and I are still
very close even though she is retired. She was much older than I, but we
developed a very close relationship. Mildred was a very efficient math
teacher, and we worked very closely in reorganizing the math curriculum
in the county. The year I was elected president of the group Mildred gave
me strong support. You just could not ask for any more or any stronger
support than I got from Mildred and others. I think this enhanced the
relationship between blacks and whites. We started then having our
meetings jointly. We no longer had a black math group and white math
B: This was during the 1960s?
D: This was in the 1960s.
B: At this point you were already in the new Lincoln High School?
D: Yes, because we went to the new school in 1956. Around five or six years
later is when we started this close relationship. Prior to that, they had
their white math group and we had our black math group.
B: And this was county-wide?
D: County-wide and state-wide too. At that time they had the Florida
Education Association which was all white. Blacks were not even allowed
to attend that meeting. We had the Florida State Teachers Association
which was all black. The only difference was that most of our consultants
and speakers, not always but quite a few of them, were white. I do not
know of any blacks that ever made an appearance at the Florida Education
Association. They wanted it totally white.
B: In the 1950s, was the superintendent of schools directly responsible for
the black schools or did you have a black supervisor.
D: In the 1950s we did not even see the superintendent except by chance. Few
of us knew who he was, and certainly fewer of us knew what he looked like.
There was always a subordinate person who represented the superintendent
and made decisions in the black schools. When I started, there was a
fellow by the name of Edmunds, who was white, and he, for the most part,
called the shots in black schools. In my opinion, he was probably one of
the most hated persons by instructional people. When I say hated, I do
not mean hate in the general sense, but in terms of feared. I remember I
was teaching one day, and for no reason at all a kid came in and said,
"Mr. Dukes, Mr. Edmunds is in the hall." I said, "Who is Mr. Edmunds?"
"You do not know Mr. Edmunds?" I said, "No. I do not know Mr. Edmunds."
So I asked one of the two other teachers who Mr. Edmunds was that all
these kids ran around here telling me that Mr. Edmunds is in the building.
They told me that Mr. Edmunds is the one who came down here and fired
teachers, or he gave them a hard way to go. Mr. Edmunds did not scare me
at all. I was not going to be intimidated by Mr. Edmunds, because I felt
that I could not teach and be intimidated. One day they told me Mr.
Edmunds had been standing on the outside of my door, and they thought I
should have shown some concern, but I was young and cocky, and did not
care. I had all kinds of job opportunities still being offered. Ft.
Lauderdale tried to get me. I said I did not have to put up with Mr.
Edmunds. I guess I was a little ahead of my time in that respect because
I was not afraid. I remember Mr. Edmunds finally saying he wanted to meet
me. When he did, we sat with the principal and he said, "This is the man.
I heard him teach the other day, and I want him to head up the National
Honor Society in this county." Instead of what the others had feared,
that I was on my way out because they saw him by my door.
B: He did not come into your class?
D: He did not come into the classroom.
B: You became the director of what then?
D: First I organized and sponsored the National Honor Society, the first unit
of the National Honor Society in this county. I organized it so well that
later on they called it the Dukes National Honor Society.
B: And that was for black students?
D: That was for black students.
B: This was arranged by the subordinate of the superintendent.
D: That is correct. And right after that we had a gentleman by the name of
Harold Jones, who was working right along with Edmunds and did whatever
Edmunds said. Harold was on the way out, but before then Harold did what
Edmunds said to him.
B: Was Harold a black gentleman?
D: He was black.
B: Edmund was the white gentleman.
D: That is correct. And Harold operated the school system, as if he were a
white man with a white man's characteristics. But he was a black man.
That is he tried to create fear in the hearts of teachers. I knew him
well. Even as a student, I knew Harold Jones.
B: So, he was in that position when you were a student?
D: Yes, and he had all black principals in this county jumping. They were
afraid of him, they were just afraid of him. For example, they told me
that on many occasions if Harold decided to go fishing and had picked up
checks of teachers, they waited for Harold to come back. They were
supposed to paid on the sixteenth. If Harold decided to go fishing, they
would have to wait until he got through fishing of something, before he
decided to give them their checks. Also, he had teachers cleaning his
house. Yes, cleaning his house, and I mean cleaning, washing windows,
scrubbing floors, and all these kinds of things. That was one of the
conditions for staying. If you did not do them, you would be gone. I
remember my very first year teaching. He had a wife by the name of Angle
Jones. Angle came to my room one day and asked me to do something.
B: Was she a teacher?
D: She was a teacher, an elementary teacher. She asked me to do something
and I said, "No, ma'am." She said, "You mean to tell me what you will not
do?" And I said, "No, maam. John Dukes, Jr. will not do that." "Wait a
minute. You mean to tell me...?"
B: She asked you a second time?
D: Yes, she did. And I said, "You heard it right. I am not going to do
that." She said, "Well, you have not heard the last of this." And I want
you to know it was not long, just a day or two, that Harold told me, "You
did not do what my wife asked you to do, I will get you, if it is the last
thing I do."
B: He said those words to you?
D: Yes, and I said, "Help me, God." I want you to know I said this to
myself. "It is his job to get me, but my job is to keep him from getting
me." So, always in the back of my mind, I tried to stay one step ahead of
him. It was not long after that his wife died in the bathroom sitting on
a stool. Tom Cowart and L.B. Davis came by my house and said, "Let us go
over." I said, "No. I am not going. You may call me a lot of things,
but I am not hypocritical. I know how he felt about me, and I know how I
felt about him. If I go over there now pretending, I am being
hypocritical. I am not going. She was a live rascal when she was living
and as far as I am concerned the only thing she is now is a dead rascal."
I did not care if that was the way they felt about me. That was my
attitude. I did not go. Tom Cowart never gave his way anyway. When they
got there, instead of Harold Jones being remorseful about what had
happened to his wife, he was over there talking about everyone else and
finally started talking about me.
B: At this time?
D: At this time. I doubt that rigor mortis had even set in, because the day
she died, I think we were out of school. I think it was during the
summer. They came back and told me what he said. Lo and behold I went to
visit Professor Jones one afternoon and Mrs. Jones told me what he said.
She said, "I want you to know that you are going to hear some things, or
you may have already heard words to this effect. Mr. Harold Jones keeps
telling Prof that you are after his job, but Prof Jones knows better. He
knows you are not trying to get his job, but we do not want you to get
upset with all these things that he is saying.." It did cause some
concern on my part, but also I learned a lesson from that. There was a
time when I worried about any little thing somebody else said. I tried to
adjust to everybody's whims and desires, and I do not now. You take me as
I am, or you do not. I could not care less. I am going to live, and I am
going to do the things that I consider to be right, according to my
criteria, according to my standards, and not according to the standards of
fifteen dozen other people out there who may be trying to dictate to me
what I should or should not do in certain situations. So consequently,
that has helped in that respect. I was still a classroom teacher then
over at the other school. Tiny Talbot did not care too much for Harold
Jones so his work began to go down, down, down. And Harold was still
trying to maneuver me into making mistakes and or doing things, and I
B: This is all the way back from that one incident?
D: Yes, I am sure it is. And then in 1965, he came to me and told me
something that he had in mind and it was tricky. I smelled a rat very
quickly. So I said, "O.K.," because Talbot had been going down. I was
not going to do what he asked, but before we go to that point, the
principalship of Lincoln was open. Harold had made up his mind that Tiny
had to go. So I wrote them and told them that I. Caffey was the best
person for Lincoln High School and that he had heard that John Dukes was
being considered. I had not. So help me God, I had not, I did not know a
thing about being considered for the principal's job at Lincoln. I did
not ask, I had not written yet, I have never written a letter asking for a
principalship, never. Tiny called me down there and he said, "John, I
want you to know that we have surveyed the situation. We have talked to
the students of Lincoln High School." Tiny stayed down on their campus.
That was the beginning of really knowing what the school wanted. The
first superintendent, as far as I am concerned, was Tiny, because he was
B: Tiny Talbot you are talking about?
D: Tiny Talbot was visible. Now a lot of people say things, but Tiny Talbot
was visible. Tiny would tell you himself he was a politician. But Tiny
came on that campus and said, "I have talked to the students, and I have
talked to parents. You are the person they want as principal of Lincoln
High School and I want you to think about it. I am going to a funeral
today, and when I come back I want you to tell me. I am going to force
you to think about it." When I went back, I answered questions and I
talked with him. Of course, one of my concerns was who would I have to
answer to. But he told me, "I know what you are talking about. Harold
came in here and he tried his best to do everything he could to get me to
turn thumbs down on you. 'You were not this, and you could not do this,
and you could not do that.' But you are my choice and you do not have to
answer to Harold. You do not have to answer to but one person and that is
Tiny Talbot." I said, "Well, can we talk about it? He said, "Talk with
your wife, but I hope you take it, because I want you." Now keep in mind
Reverend Wright and one or two others had written some articles condemning
black teachers at this time.
B: Oh, really?
D: Oh, yes. If you go search the paper you will find...
B: This is about 1965?
D: It had to be around 1965 or 1966, because all these things happened within
a period of three months of each other, because we were getting ready to
close in 1966. I became principal of Lincoln on July 1, 1966. So we
closed old Lincoln after the school terms 1965-66, in June. When I got in
there I had my faculty's support because we were so upset. I was head of
the math department. So, I made the first move then. I do not mind
telling you, I knew we needed to get something straight, but I did not
have too much concern about what Blye said because Blye bounced around
back and forth. He even tried to get on at Lincoln, but they did not hire
him. He was working in Mebane and could not get along...
B: This was a vendetta he was out to des...
D: He could not get along well with anybody up there. But the bottom line
is, I decided to take with then called Tiny out here and to let him
know what we wanted. We decided to call Wright out there and let him know
how we felt.
B: Now Terry Wright is the minister? A black minister, you are talking
D: A black minister, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
B: And he had children at Lincoln High School?
D: He had children at Lincoln, but he went on this binge of degrading black
teachers and it stuck in my craw. It did not sit well with me at all.
The article is in the Gainesville Sun. So we finally asked him to come, I
asked him if he would come and face my faculty. I think he thought he was
going to come out there and run over us. We got it in the Media Sun, and
I assembled every teacher in that staff, except for one or two who were
absent. Joe Hightower, I can tell you right now, was absent, and that
will be important when I finish. But anyway when we got in there, we
started questioning him about his statements and wanting to know how he
had documented the kinds of statements he had made. He gave us a lot of
off the wall stuff that we would not buy, and it burned him up good. Then
after we called Wright in, I said now let us call Tiny, Tiny had followed
up on some of the as if he were using what Wright and Blye were
saying to document some other things. In fact, we did not know where Tiny
was coming from. we called Tiny in, we turned more on him than we did on
Wright to be honest with you. This was the superintendent, our boss.
Later that day, Jackie Hart told me that Mr. Talbot wanted to see me in
his office. This was the last day of school of 1965, in June. I went
down. On the way there, I thought that this was it. This was one of the
three or four times that I thought I would be fired. I would be going now
for sure. Before we went into that room, everybody on that staff was
going to have something to say, which would have been a statement. You
know a statement is different from a question. You may not get into
serious difficulty with a question but a statement can burn you. There
were several questions from faculty members like an occasional one from
Cobb, Ethel Cook, and I. E. Jackson. The rest of them, for the most part,
froze up. And of course the statements were mine to make, because we had
already agreed that we had to let this information come out so I made
them. Tiny told me when I went there, when I thought he was going to fire
me, he said, "I want you to know that I admire what you did. That took
guts, and I, that is what I think we need, somebody with guts, who will
stand up. I want you to really consider it." When I left after those two
or three little conferences, I went back and I told him that I would take
the position. Tiny stood up and hugged me so tight it was not even funny.
We became very, as close as professional people, I think could become
after that. Then when Eastside became available, wait I am ahead of
myself. Joe Hightower was absent and Jim came up to me the next day and
said, "I heard about the meeting yesterday and I knew it was going on, but
my back was giving me so many problems, I just could not make it." I
said, "I understand that." He said, "But I want to be on the committee."
I said, "Well, we have several committees. Which one would you like to be
on?" He said, "I want to be on the ass-beating committee." Meaning that
he wanted to whip right at Byle but I told him we had not made up that
committee yet. Anyway, Tiny and I became very close and a lot of people
do not understand Tiny. You know, when you are dealing with a person, if
you know their philosophical viewpoints, it really represents what they
think. I do not have any problem with that. I have problems with the
person who had all these different philosophies for different occasions.
Tiny made it quite clear to me. He said, "John I am an educator, but I am
a damn good politician." By way of comparison, he is better at the latter
than he was at the former. By his constantly telling me that--I had him
tell me that more than once--I watched him and I learned to really
appreciate the man. I do not necessarily expect an educator to act or
react the same as a politician. I have my definitions for both and he
demonstrated that. There were many times when things were accomplished
for the betterment of blacks, but few blacks understood why Tiny did what
he did. But my guess is, and I would say this anyway, for the period that
we went through in integration, I have known Jim I have known
Watt I have known Paul Peters, and I know Doug McGann, but in my
opinion the characteristics needed to do the job that he did during that
period of time, none of those men could measure up to Tiny Talbot for that
particular period. By the same token I have looked at the administrations
of Lincoln High School during that period. I looked at A. Quinn Jones'
administration, I looked at Nealy's administration, and I looked at John
Dukes, Jr.'s administration, Lincoln only had three principals, never had
more than three principals in around sixty some years of administration.
B: Sixty some years, with only three principals.
D: John Dukes Jr. could not have survived in Professor Jones' era. By the
same token, I do not think Professor Jones could have survived in my era.
Because in Professor Jones' era it was the submissive kind of attitude
that you had to have in order to be successful. Professor Jones had to
sit on the outside of a principal's meeting with the schoolboard people,
in order to survive, and get information second hand from those who were
in the regular meeting with the superintendent or whomever else may have
been there. John Dukes, Jr. would not have done that. Not the John
Dukes, Jr. I know. My pride and all these other things would not have
permitted me to do that in spite of the background that I had had in
Branford as a country boy and being exposed to all kinds of injustices, if
you want to call it that. It would not have permitted me as a
professional to do that. 0 Nealy's attitude in terms of being hostile and
verbose about certain things certainly would not have permitted him to do
it. He would not have lasted thirty days I do not believe, because he
would question something. By the same token, you look at your era in
which you have had certain people. I know no one who could have done the
job any better than Tiny Talbot, and I might add that I am not the only
one in this county who feels that way either. There are other persons who
have expressed similar feelings, but I felt this a long time before I ever
heard anybody else say it.
B: Now how many years were you principal of Lincoln please?
D: I was principal of Lincoln from July 1, 1966, through December 1969. We
went to Eastside in January 1970.
B: How long were you at Eastside?
D: I was at Eastside through December of 1975.
B: I want to discuss the closing of Lincoln, but that is going to be a very
large topic. We will have to discuss that at some other time, if we may.
D: All right.
B: At any time during your principalship did you have to deal with Professor
D: Yes, I dealt with him all along. In fact, I have dealt with Professor
Jones all my life. I have gone around and talked with Prof for no reason
at all. We just sit talk, because I find it rather amusing some of the
experiences that he has had and has shared with me. For example, his
having to sit on that bench out there until the meetings were over and to
be informed of what happened by somebody else. Nobody else told me this
but Professor Jones himself. He told me about the times that in order for
him to get a book to read or a resource book from the University of
Florida's library that it was done through a white University of Florida
professor or somebody who checked it out as if they were checking it out
for themselves and would allow him to use the book. He shared with me
philosophical viewpoints from county superintendents. One in particular,
when Professor received his master's degree, he went and told the man
about it, thinking that the man would be happy that he did. But that man
made other comments, which would degrade his having received the degree,
possibly because the man did not have a master's himself. That was his
feeling anyway. He has told me these things. We have talked. So we have
been, I have been associating with, and keeping in touch with Professor
Jones, since I was a student. You know you keep in touch, but I graduated
in 1945, and here it is 1985. I was at Professor Jones' house July of
this year. July 4, to be more specific.
B: Did you prepare to become principal of Lincoln before the decision was
made by the superintendent?
D: No, I have never served as an assistant principal. I have never served as
an administrative assistant to anybody. The only preparation that I
received and good, bad, or indifferent, however you want to evaluate the
results, came from the seminars at Florida A&M University. We had some
seminars and some pseudo-type situations, where we were given problems,
and asked how would we handle this? I remember a Dr. Woodrow Derri in
particular, who when he walked in the room the first thing he would say
was 'good morning.' It did not take him but about two seconds to say
that, and then he would say, "I am, an educator from Germany. I do not
know anything at all about this American system. I do not know what you
are doing in your school system. The only thing I see is something going
on over here, and something else going on over here, and really I am
frustrated because you are doing different things. It is the same subject
but different...I do not understand, I want to know what this system is
all about. You are this person, and you are that person, and you were
designated certain kinds. There he would say, "Now, shoot me down." Now
that sounds comical, and it was comical to us the way he did it. In the
first place he was very small in stature. Most of us looked over his
head, and yet he would come in there and talk about shooting him down, but
that meant, I want you to start talking and telling me what you would do
in this situation, if you were faced with it. It was almost always a
certain situation which was not too far fetched. I might add some of the
situations I have encountered, I cannot say that I have encountered all of
those things that he mentioned, but some of them have been very similar t
the ones he brought to out attention as he walked in that classroom.
B: Did you do an excellent job as principal at Lincoln?
D: I am very satisfied with what I did at Lincoln, especially under the
circumstances, with the threat of closing the school, the threat and the
problems of integration, of segregation, and the crowding in on students.
There were times when you had to change your priorities. Sometimes the
safety of a kid is more important than the English that may be taught in
that classroom. You needed to know when to change priorities, and you had
to do that quite frequently. I might also say the same thing for
Eastside, you had all kinds of external problems which were closing in on
the school, or brought into the school because of the racial situations or
integration. You needed to have sense enough to know when to change
gears. It does not make sense to teach math in a room, when flames are
licking up at the walls, and you do not have but one way out of there.
So yes, to be honest with you, and maybe I sound a little bit cocky, but I
am very happy with all of my educational experiences, teaching
experiences, the heading of the math department, being principal of
Lincoln, principal of Eastside, and assistant superintendent. In fact, I
do not think that there is anybody else who could do the job that I have
done any better. So, I feel really good about myself, you might well know
B: May I assume that you got married at some point?
D: I was married the very same year that I started teaching, in 1954. I
started teaching in August of 1954, and I got married in December, 1954,
one day after my birthday.
B: Whom did you marry?
D: I married Bernice Jones. She is from Tallahassee.
B: Did you meet her at Florida A&M?
D: This is strange, but Bernice was not the girl I was supposed to marry.
B: Oh, really?
D: You know I met a very beautiful and nice young lady when I first went to
Florida A&M whose name was Melody. Melody and I had one or two problems,
which were not her making and not mine either really, but we were victims
of circumstance, an incident that I would rather not talk about. It is
one of the few things tht I do not usually talk about. Going through that
period, and I am going to be honest with you Joe, I told the Lord, I
actually prayed, I asked the Lord to help me and I asked him to help me
locate somebody who was just as beautiful as Melody and could make me want
to settle down and have a wife and children. Believe it or not, Melody
and I were just about to make up our minds that the best thing for us to
do would be to go our separate ways. We were driving through the campus
one day, and I saw Bernice crossing the street. Jokingly, I said to
Melody, "You see that little girl over there? If it is the last thing I
do she is going to be mine." Of course, that did not set too well with
Melody. It was not long before I had a chance to take Bernice to a movie
and one or two things. We became very close, and I met her father. Her
father was of the old school. He laid the rules down to me and told me
what time to have her in, any days you want, but always before twelve. He
did more talking with his hands than anything else and somehow I believed
in him. I always had her home before twelve. And, I might add, we ended
up with a very wholesome relationship. I think you have met my wife, and
you know her. In fact, I want to say, this may not be relevant, but you
took charge of the wedding involving my daughter, and it is one of the
most inspiring affairs that we have in reference to in our lives.
B: Thank you.
D: We have four lovely children. My son John is an entomologist, Conrad is
on the verge of completing dietician studies, hopefully within the next
year. is going to be a business woman, I hope in the next three
months she attends. Florida State University and Yvette has not really
made up her mind yet what she wants to be. She is the youngest and she is
completing Santa Fe Community College. But yes, it is rather strange how
we met and finally got married.
B: After you married Bernice, did she start teaching here then?
D: No, Bernice was Miss Everything up on campus. I am not bragging but she
was a very pretty girl. She is still a very pretty girl. She was Miss
Sweetheart at the high school, and Miss FAMU High. At Florida A&M
University she was Miss Freshman, she was Miss Sophomore, she was Miss
Junior, and would have been Miss FAMU, but I thought I would make her Mrs.
B: How interesting. When we get together again, I would like to discuss the
closing of Lincoln High School with you Mr. Dukes, becuase you were the
principal at that time. I also want to discuss your becoming a member of
your fraternity, because I think that is very important and then also of
your being the first principal of the new Eastside when it was built,
D: That is correct.
B: That school was built to merge black and white?
D: That is correct.
B: The first school.
D: It is.
B: So, we would like to have that part of the...
D: Because we did not kow the referendum we signed, we opened up Eastside
High School on Howard Bishops campus. In other words we did not open up
the school up until January and we stayed there through the closing date
in June. We opened Eastside the following August, but Eastside High
School was still in the construction stage at that time.
B: Well, thank you. I have enjoyed talking to you.
D: I have enjoyed talking to you.
B: And I look forward to seeing you again.
D: All right.