Title: John T. Saunders
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Title: John T. Saunders
Series Title: John T. Saunders
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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


S: No.

I: Okay. Has voter registrations been held in your district?

S: Yes.

I: In which you hold office?

S: Yes.

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

other group.

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

FB 59A Bridges


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.

S: Okay.

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

or what?

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

own decision.

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,

at large.

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

FB 59A Bridges

pri'r- prior
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?

S: No.

I Thank you. Has criticism or lack of support from the black community

FB 59A Bridges


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

real authority?

S: No, uh uh. No, that doesn't pose a problem.

I: Do you feel that white officials treat you differently from the

other officials?

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.

S: Okay.

FB 59A Bridges


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.

1: Housing?

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.

I1 Employment?

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

the state-so...

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?

FB 59A Bridges


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.

I: Okay.

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.

r: Education?

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

FB 59A Bridges


$: 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?

S: No.

I: Are they trying to or just don't need any or--

FB 59A Bridges

po 54-. rcr
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.

S: No.

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

your head?

S; Well, we staffed our clinic as a result of federal revenue sharing

FB 59A Bridges


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?

S: No.

I: There was none?

S: No.

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?

I: Right.

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.

FB 59A



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?

S: No.

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?

S: Yes.

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.

I. Okay.

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

-my time.

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.

I: Right.
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

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