FB 59A Side 1-Beginning Bridges
This is an interview of John T. Saunders on 9-15-75 in Hallandale, FL.
A Button Project interview.
I: Commissioner, what year did you first register to vote?
S: I think it was in 1956.
I' What year were you first eligible to vote?
S: The same year.
I: Did the local registrars ever turn you down when you applied to
I: Okay. Has voter registrations been held in your district?
I: In which you hold office?
I': Okay. Could you name some of the organizations that held the--
local or national that held the registration drives?
S: Well, actually, most of the local ones were initiated by me or someone
related to our ciyic group. We have a community civil association
whith sponsored several drives, but other than that, there is no
I: Okay. What was the name of that group--you --.
S: Northwest Community Civic Association. Other than the times when the
county supervisor of elections would send out the books.
I: Okay. When were these voter registration drives held--before 1960,
t60Q-64, '65-'69, or '70-'74?
' Well, in the first one--in the '65-'69 area.
1: Okay. Were these drives successful? Or how successful were they?
S: Well, fairly, fairly. We-I imagine we managed to get maybe 45 percent
of the eligible voters I guess registered. A
I: Are there things which prevent blacks from registering to vote here in n
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I: or in your district?
S: No. No. No.
I: Okay. Could you please rate how important you think each of the
following items are / preventing blacks from registering to vote.
And like I say, some of them might not be applicable here,- and then,
you know, they'd just be not important at all. Do you have a pencil?
S: Uh huh.
I: If you could just mark those for me.
I: Economic dependence on whites?
S: Well, you're speaking as of today?
I: Well, aS of 1974.
S: Okay. I don't think that's important.
I: Wasimportant in the past?
S: It might have been, but it wasn't really expressed-wasn't visible.
I: What about fear of physical violence from whites.
S: No, not important.
I: Completion of registration forms, like, was it hard to register?
S: No, I've taken illiterate-to the registration books and gotten them
registered. It's no problem.
I: What about poor registration hours. Do you find it's hard for--
S: Well, this has been a problem in the general registration scheme of
things, but well, we have requested the books in the community at
eve hours. In most cases, the supervisor has accommodated us so
it hasn't been that much of a problem.
I: What about registration not held often enough?
S: No, I don't think so.
I: Do they, every two years if you don't vote, take your name off the
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I: books in Hallandale?
S: They have a system here where they purge the rolls every four years.
The supervisor of elections sent out--we lose a lot of voters this
way, and this is getting to be a problem. The supervisor of elections
will send out cards, and if you're there you're supposed to send them
back. In many cases, people move, address changes, people fail to
do this. And they really don't know what's happened until the time
it come to vote. This has Been a problem in the past.
I: Are we doing anything about that? The city commission._.
S: The only thing I've done was accept the only thing was to speak to the
supervisor of the elections about it=-about trying to do something
about this practice. As you see, registration is hete on the county
I: Right. What about indifference of blacks to voting?
S: Well, this is a problem. I would say this is fairly important. In
this city, blacks respond greatly when there's a black candidate, but
they dontt respond necessarily to state and national elections or
issues-passing of issues, they don't respond too well. So I might
say this is--to me it's a very important thing.
I Okay. And what about districting? Do they have gerrymandering here
S: No, there's no districting.
I: No? Okay. The following questions are asked to gather information on
the election campaigns of black elected officials in Florida. Were
you able to campaign freely? That is, did you have any threats
against you or your family or any-
S: No. No.
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I: Okay. Were you handicapped by lack of campaign money?
S: No, not at all.
I: Why did you decide to run for office? Was it your own decision or
selected by a political party, group, or--
S: Well, originally-I'm on my second term--the first time I was selected
by a group of concerned citizens I was approached and asked to run
but I hadn't plan to run at the first time I ran and that was in '69.
And I was defeated. In '71 and '75 I ran on my own. I ran on my
I: Which political organization do you belong--emocratic, Republican?
S: I'm a registered Bemocrat.
I; Democrat. Okay. Could, you tell me a couple of the. important issues
on your campaign--you campaigned on',', ... ....... ?
S: Well, I just got out of a campaign in '75, and some of the issues
there. was really-public safety, that's one, traffic and density,
streets. Those are-basically, those were the-and fiscal responsi-
bilities. Those are the main
1: Do you think these were the main issues facing blacks in your
community? And if not, what were some of the main points facing-,
S: No, these were not the main issues, but these were important issues
that affected the whole city in terms of public safety. One area
that we're really concerned about in this community is public safety,
police enforcement, police and protection of people's rights, treatment
of blacks and so on. This is an important issues. And the other
issues is fiscal. Seeing that the services are delivered without
increases in taxes and so on. And also traffic because most of the
blacks here work is domestic and they have to get across town to
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S: their jobs. And we do have a real bad problem with traffic. So
these issues were not primary, at least, important to the black
I: What are some of the main issues facing the blacks in Hallandale?
S: Well, jobs, community redevelopment, police enforcement, and basically
I think that's about it.
I: Okay. Thank you. In the next section, here, these questions are
asked to determine some of the conditions which have enabled blacks
to win office in Florida. How were you elected, at large or by
S: At large.
I: How many people were in you district?
S: Well, see I don't-it's city wide. Actually, I think at the time
there were something like close to 17, 18,000 registeredhin the city.
I: What percentage of these people are blackof the registered?
OS Oh, I would say about seven percent.
I: What percentage of these blacks are voting age are registered to vote?
S: It must be less than fifty percent.
I: About what percentage of blacks who are registered to vote do you
estimate actually voted when you were elected.
S: Oh, they voted. I was almost-of the registered voters, 95 percent
of them voted.
I: Okay. So you did get a large percentage from white, too, then?
S: Oh, yes. Definitely. Yeah.
I: Would you know what percentage of your total vote came from whites, too?
S; I would say-I think at least 2,500. My total votes polled is about
3,500-2,500 came from whites, 1,000 from blacks.
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I: In your election in which you won office, how many opponents did
you have for the first few times you ran?
S: Well, originally there were--in '71 there were about sixteen running.
And we have, you know, we have a primary then a run-off. And this
last time there were something like ten,.
r: How many of these were white?
S: Oh, I was the only black guy there.
I: You were the only black so that's--there were nine whites and yourself.
S; Yeah. UJh huh.
I: Do you know what percentage of the total vote you got--you received?
S: I. got about thirty some percent--about 35 percent.
1: Okay. In the next section, these questions are asked to determine
how-well black officials in Florida have been able to benefit those
they represent. In what ways do you think you have helped blacks
in your district by holding office? And again, district is, you know,
S: Yeah, well, first of all, I think blacks are becoming a little more
active in local government. Woeve had more blacks orientate themselves
toward government so far as a career or means of employment. There
has Been some mobility in job advancement. There's been more:tax
dollars coming back to the black community, and there just seems to
be- ab htter general atmosphere throughout the city.
I: Tihat, if anything, has prevented you from doing a better job, especially
in regard to benefiting blacks in your district?
S IE think the main thing, really, is really lack of funds. We were late
getting federal money, and we were late, you know, we didn't--the
city didn't get very much federal money because of the attitude of
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S: the pr-ce administrations and the pe"e commissions which-so it
actually--the main thing is there was a lack of funds, really.
I: Was there anything else?
S: No, I've had very good cooperation from the other commissioners.
I: Okay. Here we have another little--one of-these checklist things.
Please rate how important you think the following items are in
preventing you from doing a better job in benefiting the blacks.
Office has no real authority. By that we mean not much power to
you personally in getting things done.
S: Well, no, not through--I'd say that's fairly important. Excuse me.
a minute (Door bell is ringing).
1: Okay. Outvoted By white officials?
S: That's fairly important. I find I have to be very diplomatic and tie
my presentation of issues and what have you.
I Okay. Not enough revenue in voting _. __.....
ST: eah, that's very important.
I: What about unfamiliar with administrative duties? Do you find that-
S: No, that's not a problem.
I: Lack of cooperation from whites?
S: No, I get very good cooperation--their support.
I: How about lack of cooperation from blacks?
S: This is fairly important. I'm not getting as much as I should.
I: Lack of cooperation from state officials?
S: Thatis-no, that's not too important.
I:: What about lack of cooperation from federal officials?
I Thank you. Has criticism or lack of support from the black community
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I: hindered you in holding office? That is, do some blacks not cooperate
because they believe you're only a token in government and have no
S: No, uh uh. No, that doesn't pose a problem.
I: Do you feel that white officials treat you differently from the
S: Well, no not--that's hard to answer. Well, on the surface I would
say no, you know.
1: Do they consider you a spokesman for the blacks?
S Yeah, unfortunately they do.
I: Oh. Are you able to raise only certain issues or do you feel that
you can raise-
S I> can raise. all. As long as they involve money, I just have to time
I Whiat service have you provided for blacks in your district that they
did not have before you took office, and could you give us some
examples of that?
S: Well, to tell you, really, I haven't improved on them at all. They've
always been excellent, I think, in our city in all part of the community.
In fact, I think even the services over here, so far as, you know,
sanitation and water and all that stuff, they've been good. I've been
highly critical of the police services, and this has improved somewhat.
But other than that, the service level has been excellent.
I: Okay. This is our last one of these checklists. We're almost through.
This is please rate how effective you think you have been in each of
the following service areas.
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I: Police protection? This is in terms of benefiting blacks.
S: It's not or it is?
I: It is.
S: I think somewhat effective in police protection. It's not as
effective as I would like for it to be.
I: Okay. What about benefiting whites-is it the same or is it?
S: Well, it's been a little better. It's been a little better. It's
a situation where the white community's been a little more vocal,
and as a result, the commission and the administration have sort
of responded to that. And this is--we're in the process now of trying
to get the black community to be. a little more vocal, too.
I Okay. So what about streets and roads for the black community?
S: Well, like you say we are a--this is a developed community, and our
roads and streets are pretty good. There hasn't been too much change
in the road situation. So that's somewhat effective.
S: Somewhat effective. We haven't really-I haven't really developed-
delivered any houses since I've been in office. I've been on the
brink of it and federal programs were closed out and so on, but we
just recently signed an agreement. We created a housing authority
and we signed an agreement with the county housing authority to
delivery housing in this community, but to this point, none has been
delivered here. However, we have been able toI guess put people in
housing outside of the city.
I: Is housing a problem for blacks in Kallandale?
S: In Hallandale-in the corporate limits of Hallandale because there's
no area for development. We're in the process mostly of redevelopment.
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S: And as a result, most of the people are moving to other areas for
T: Okay. What about welfare?
S: Well, I don't if welfare-I don't think I have any effect because
welfare extends beyond I guess city government, but we have developed
through my efforts a social service center where we bring all the
social services from the county and state agencies into the city.
And we do have a place here where the people go and receive these
different services. So I think I've been, you know, very effective
and if you want to eaeeeal welfare in the whole context of social
services, I would say yes:. Very effective.
S: 'ery little in this area.. I'ye been working--talking with--I guess-
see, really, the economy and what have. you has been a factor. I've
talked with businessmen and banking and so on, and they all are
amenable to doing this, but with the downswing of the economy you
just-.irt'"s impossible to really effect any change there.
I,, Is there a bad unemployment in Hallandale for blacks?
S: I think it's no any badder than anywhere else because most of the
people here work either in the construction trades or in the service
trades. And well, you know how the construction business is throughout
I1 Okay. What about parks and recreation in the black neighborhoods?
S: Very g6od. We've had several parks open, increased budgeting in the
parks. We have several new rec buildings put up. I think I've been
yery effective in this area.
I: Water, sewage, and garbage?
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S: Water and garbage is, like I said, was at a high level even before
I got into office and this has been maintained. Sewage, we haven't
any success--this part of the city, the black district or the western
part of the city which includes black and white is not sewer--the
eastern part is in the sewage. We worked on sewage but-we tried for
grants, but because of our situation where we are a collection system
and our sewage is treated in Hollywood, all the funds are going to
_Hollywood. They don't fund collection systems so we haven't been
able to get any money from the federal government.
I: s. that a problem here?
S: Well, the fact--yes. Because collection systems are le-t priority
projects. Now we did get $100,000.00 last year from community
development funds which are going to sewer a deteriorating area in
this fiscal year.
I: What about health and hospitals?
S: Well, that's, I said--this is a-hospitals and the health department--
that's a county function.
5: But we do have the-through the social service center--we do have a
clinic. And this is-service is available, plus I've been able to
get the commission to appropriate money for a van which would take
people from here to the county facility west of us.
I: And that--has that money been appropriated?
S: Oh yeah.
S: Again, this is a county function. The only thing we've done to it, we
do have an adult center here. We did manage to get the city to
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$: appropriate-money for-to rentBate some trailers for the head start
kids. And we've all been effective in working to get a high school
in this city which is-
I: Hallandale doesn't have a high school?
S: No, we have-well, we have a temporary. We have a high school and a
junior high school plant. We're trying to get a whole new physical
plant, and this has Been approved by the school board and architects
are supposed to be drawing plans now.
I. What about fire protection in the black community? Is that a problem?
S No, it 's a-we do--I did wor. hard too. This is another public safety
thing that we did get when I first got into office was a new fire
station, and increased personnel there, increased fire equipment.
And you know, I think the service--the level of service is very good
so far as fire protection. We have not problem. Fire and rescue is
1: Okay, _yHve you gotten federal funds for your district'or at large?
Or is that not-
S: No, really. The only funds we've gotten has been through--we did get
some open space money. I was instrumental in that, and I was instrumental
in getting a decent share of community development money which came
down through the county. And which we all had tovie for, but any
large federal money-well, the city hasn't received.
I. So they haven't received any federal grants?
S: No. No.
I' Haaye you, as an elected official Been able to bring industrial, retail
stores-into the area?
I: Are they trying to or just don't need any or--
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S: This community has taken a- pster of almost no growth, business or
residential. And what we--mostly I've been trying to do is really
to upgrade properly zoned existing buildings. But we don't really
have the facilities or space to really attract outside businesses.
I: Have you been able to see that blacks are hired fairly in local
S: I think so to a great degree. We do-I propose the civil service
commission study on the civil service to see just-I also was
instrumental in the city adopting affirmative action planawag for
the hiring and promotion of minorities. And I've worked hard with
the. city manager and seen that these job's are advertised in the
black.-edia, through the black radio stations, the press, and so on.
And we- ust hired our first black professional here the first of this
-month, a city planner.
I1 Has: there been a, like a rise in promotion in the police department.
I; you know it s not easier for blacks to get hired.
S: No. I tell you, I have a problem really getting blacks to apply.
I: For the police department?
S: For the police and fire. Our fire is--our fire department is all white,
and T think we've only, had one or two blacks apply and they didn' t
score too high so they haven't been placed.
I: Has federal revenue sharing helped your district?
S: Oh yeah. Yea. Yes. Very much.
I1: Could-you just give me a couple examples, you know, off the top of
S; Well, we staffed our clinic as a result of federal revenue sharing
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S: money. I was able to appropriate money for this bus, this mini-bus
to the clinic. We had renovation of recreation and building. I
must admit that only in the last two years has money gone for other
uses other than general governmental operations, but in these last
two years quite a bit of money has come into the black community.
I: Have there been any black protests, sit-ins, boycotts, or riots
in the city in the last ten years?
I: There was none?
I: Okay. This is our last section. No, next to the last section.
The following questions are asked to enable the assessment of black
politics in Florida in general. Briefly, what is your opinion of
Cdvernor Rubin Askew? And that is, do you think he's been favorable
in attitude and policy toward blacks in Florida? Yes or no, and
what is your opinion-oh, go ahead. That's fine.
S: E would say, "Yes, comparatively speaking." I don't think that
he.'s been as favorable as I would like for him to be, and as positive
or as aggressive in that area, but comparatively speaking to former
governors and other governors in the South, I think so.
I; Okay. What is your opinion of other state officials or state
representativese? Do you feel like they're taking concern for the
blacks or helping the blacks or--
S; Some. Some of them. I think in most cases it isn't done as a result
of individual initiative. I think it's done as a result of prodding
by our local groups.
I: Okay. Thank you. Do you think that winning and holding office in
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I: Florida has been worth the effort?
S: I think so. As I said before, locally now it has changed to some
degree the attitude of blacks in the city. It has been a forum
for me to present the black problem in the city to many of the
residents who didn't know. And as a result, I've gotten a lot of
support from outside of the black community. And, you know, it
afforded me the opportunity to deal with commissioners--to get
things done, you know, they want things done in okhtr areas. And
so it has afforded me that opportunity.
I; Are you thinking about running again in the next election?
S: No, that-I'm undecided. I'm just beginning my second four-year
term, and I'm thinking about perhaps moving out of the city after
this term's up, and I wouldn't be eligible to hold office.
I Qkay, This last section here is just a few more questions. These
questions are asked to complete an overall group profile of black
elected officials in Florida, and no individual answers will be
reported. Type of office held?
S: It's referring to me?
S: City commissioner, in Hallandale.
I: Hallandale. What was the date you were first elected?
S: It was May, 1971.
I: Okay. What was the date you took office?
S: In June-the first of June, '71.
I: Okay. And number of times you ran for office, including the ones that
you've been defeated?
S: Presently, I've ran three times and was successful two.
I: Okay. What-that was '71? That's the first time?
S: Yeah, I ran in '69. I was defeated. I ran in '71. I was successful
And then I ran again in '75, and I was successful.
I': Can I have your age? Eighteen to twenty-nine. Thirty to forty-nine.
Or fifty and above?
S; Thirty to forty-nine.
I: Okay. And what was your occupation before election?
S: I served as an administrative assistant in the public high school.
I: Okay. And what was your father's occupation?
S: My father--well, was a farmer and a carpenter.
I: Okay. And your education--high school, completed college?
SIb'ye completed graduate school.
I O Okay.
S: Done post graduate work.
I, Your salary received from elected position?
S: Presently it's $7,000.00 a year.
: Were you active in the civil rights movements in the sixties to '66?
I: Were you in the NAACP or SCLC or-
S: No, I recently-well, I've had affiliation on and off with the NAACP.
I: Okay. Do you belong to a church?
I:: Which is-
S: Episcopal--St. Ann's.
I: Okay. Are you an official in your church?
S: No, I-em not.
I: Okay. Are there any other community organizations or activities that
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I: you are now involved in?
S: Yes, our local community civic association and one with the property
owner's association. I am a member of the Urban League, Community
Forum, and I'm president of the economic opportunity coordinating
group-that's a local OU group. And I serve on the Broward County
Health Planning Council. And I'm associated with the local Democratic
club And I think. that's all.
S: Oh yeah. I was passed with the Broward County Community Relations
Commission. I: just came off of their after a four-year term.
I: What else did--what effect did running for and holding office have
on you- personal and on your family?
S: Well, it has created some hardships with my family. It was the time
-my son was born in '69 when I ran the first time. It has worked a
hardship on my' family time, but--I have less time to spend with
them. And my wife supports me, but she'd rather I not be in it.
And you know, that's the only thing that it-it takes away a lot of
I: Okay. And do you know of any other black elected officials in this
area who have held office since 1964?
S: No. Yes, I know of some. I know a few--do you mean have held or are
presently in office?
1: Well, since 1964 either way. This just gives me an opportunity or us
an opportunity to, you know-, check the registration and makes sure we're--
S: Well, you _Carl Weaver in Pompano.
S: Fortier in Deerfield. Boise Watersant in Dania.
S`: Folrti~er in De~erfield. Boise Watersant in Dania.
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I: Any down i==8t h Miami?
S: Well, yeah. I don't--I know of Theo Gibson in South Miami, and
Father Gibson in Miami. What's his name, Bill Turner from the
school board in Miami. William Cherry, state legislature. And
Kershaw-Joe Kershaw of the state legislature. That's about all.
I: Okay. I mentioned before about the oral project at the university.
Itts called oral history at the University of Florida. And what
they will be doing is transcribing these tapes, and if you'd like;
And send you a copy to read, and then you have the opportunity to
release it or not to releaseit. Would you be interested in that or-
S: Yeah, I'd like to review it. Yes, I would.
1: Okay. Then again, I can say when they do resend it to you, you know,
you can have the opportunity to say, "No, you can't publish it or
yes, you can." Okay. Thank you commissioner.
S: All right. Okay.
End of Taped interview
End of Side 1-FB 59A