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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Joel Buchanan
Interviewee: Benjamin L. Mathis
Date: June 15, 1994
B: I am Joel Buchanan doing an interview with Benjamin L. Mathis in his home in
Ocala, Florida. Mr. Mathis went into the educational field in 1938 and retired in
1976. He was a teacher and administrator in the state of Florida and Georgia.
Good morning, Mr. Mathis.
M: Good morning, Joel.
B: How are you this morning?
M: I am fine, thank you.
B: Will you tell me what the L. stands for in your name?
M: The L. is the middle initial for Lee.
B: Lee. Why do you not use it?
M: I use the M and that is enough.
B: Mr. Mathis, where were you born?
M: I was born in Macon County, Georgia in 1912.
B: 1912? And how many children are in your family?
M: There were fourteen of us.
B: Fourteen! What number were you?
M: I was in the middle. There were two girls older than I and three boys.
B: That was before you?
M: That was before me.
B: The names of your mother and father were?
M: The name of my father was William Mathis. The name of my mother was Viccie
B: Where were they from, sir?
M: They were born in Georgia.
B: Tell me something about growing up in such a large family.
M: It was a very pleasant experience. We were in a rural area. My father was
renting a pig farm for the most part. But he also raised some corn, peanuts, and
cotton. His major business was growing peaches. As a little boy, I delighted in
running in the peach trees and watching the peach workers. They would come
out and pick the peaches during the harvesting season. It was a very lovely
experience for me as a little boy.
B: You mentioned that your father was renting the farm. Were the workers on the
farm hired by him?
M: He was in complete control of the farm area. His boys were large enough--I told
you there were two or three older than me. They were old enough to take care of
all the pruning and cultivation of the trees. Now once the peaches were ready for
harvesting, we had to transport labor. We usually brought them out of the city to
the little town that was my home base, Montezuma, Georgia. We usually
transported people from the city to come out and work with the harvesting of the
B: Did you live in a very large house?
M: It had to be a large house. [Laughter]
M: There were times when most of us were at home. I remember when there were
at least twelve of us at home at one time. One of the older ones may have
gotten married, but I remember when there were at least twelve children in the
house at the breakfast table at the same time.
B: I assume that your mother simply stayed home, took care of the family, and
helped with the farming. Is that correct?
M: When she was not raising the little babies. When the babies was big enough, my
mother participated in the farm work. She used to help us in the cotton field, and
she used to help us pick peaches when they were ripe and ready for harvest.
B: What about your schooling?
M: I began school. Naturally at that time, when I began school, we had school in
one of the local churches. The superintendent of schools would pick certain
churches in the rural area, and he would employ a teacher to conduct classes in
those schools for rural children. So my early education was in the church school.
B: Was it a one-room school?
M: Well, naturally with a church in a rural area you would have one room. It was a
sanctuary and a pulpit, and everything else was in one room. There was no
several-room churches in the rural area in those years.
B: So all grades, all ages of children worked together.
M: The teacher taught all the [children]. See, you did not do anything but primary
grades, as you could imagine, out in that area. So one teacher taught all the
classes and all the grades in those rural areas.
B: Do you remember the name of the school?
M: The name of the church?
B: The church.
M: The church was Harrison Chapel Church. It was named after the man who
owned that plantation. The name again was Harrison Chapel named after the
landlord who owned all the land. He was even man from whom my daddy rented
B: How long did you go to this school?
M: I went to that school until I finished the sixth grade. That teacher could not do
any teaching beyond the sixth grade. I was transferred to the junior high school
in the city of Montezuma. That school did not go beyond the ninth grade. From
the seventh through the ninth grade, I attended the junior high school in the city
B: From ninth grade you went where?
M: From ninth grade, I went to a private school in Fort Valley, Georgia, which is now
known as Fort Valley State College. At that time, it was a private senior high
school and junior college.
B: When you say private, you mean it was owned by an organization?
M: It was owned by the American Church Institute. That was the organization which
underwrote that school. The big philanthropist was given. I mean for instance
George T. Carlin, Rosen Wahl, and the philanthropist Ander P. Jean. She
gave us a dormitory. It was a boarding school.
B: Did you have to be recommended to go there, was it simply that your parents
decided [you should] go, or was it based on academics?
M: Well, most of us knew about that reputable school. The minute I completed the
junior high school in Montezuma, my daddy arranged for me to get enrolled at
this private high school and junior college in Fort Valley, Georgia.
B: Was it expensive?
M: Yes, it was. That was from 1933 to 1938. Those were the years of the
Depression in the United States. So it was very nominal. Expenses were not
exceedingly high. Everything was kind of relatively low economically in those
B: Now, do you recall what tuition for one year?
M: I do not remember the particulars or those things. I really do not.
B: You do not. Did you have to work while you were there as a student?
M: I did work. I worked at the dairy, so I had little or no expenses in finishing high
school there because I was taking agriculture. Even in senior high school, I
enrolled in the agriculture program. I had an opportunity to work with the dairy
farm at that high school. [What] I earned [paid] most of my expenses as I was
going through high school.
B: Was this an all-negro private school?
M: At that time all schools in Georgia were segregated.
B: Was the faculty also?
M: No, there were some white teachers on the faculty. That was a private school,
as I said, underwritten and supported by the American Institute. There were
white teachers who had come down from the north and were teaching at that
particular private school.
B: Did you have to wear uniforms?
M: No, there were no uniforms.
B: Were you a high-honor student or an excellent student in school?
M: Very much so. I was valedictorian when I finished high school. I graduated with
B: High honors. How many people were in your high school graduating class?
M: There were about twenty-five or thirty of us.
B: What incentive did you have as a child in such a large family to do so well in
M: I always had a high aptitude [for learning], but there was one predominant factor,
Joel, that you ought to know. When I was about fourteen years of age, I suffered
an acute case of appendicitis. I had a serious operation. My father [said I] would
have died. Most of the doctors that attended me [told my father] that he ought to
see if he could not get this boy educated with the idea that he probably would
never be able to do hard, strenuous work. [They said,] "You ought to give him an
opportunity to finish as much school as possible, so that he can become a
B: So that was encouraged by the doctors.
M: I have to tell you, when that appendix ruptured, I was fortunate to be alive.
M: The hospital where I was operated on was in a rural area. The affliction was a
ruptured appendix. With that kind of health problem, you can see why a doctor
might suggest to my father that he ought to try to get me off that farm as I grew
up and give me an education.
B: When you finished private school in 1933, what did you do?
M: I applied and was admitted to Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia in 1933. I
left high school and immediately proceeded to go college at Hampton Institute,
which is now Hampton University.
B: Let us stop. You are in Georgia. It is 1933. You finish high school. How did you
know about this college that was away from you, that was in a distant part of the
United States, and how did you get there?
M: Let us go back and look at the educational situation at that time.
B: All right.
M: [In] 1933, there were two distinguished colleges that accommodated black
students. One was Hampton Institute in Virginia. The other was Tuskegee
Institute in Tuskegee, Alabama.
B: Those were the only two?
M: Those were the two distinguished private schools. There were some state
colleges, yes, but those two private schools had a much higher reputation for
their educational program and opportunity for black students than any of the
state-operated colleges for blacks. I took a program of agriculture in high school
as I just told you. I worked in the dairy at Fort Valley High School. My teachers
were graduates of Hampton Institute. When I finished with my high honors at the
Fort Valley private school, they encouraged me. At one time though, I did not
think I was going to be able to get to college. In respect for my great averages
and record in high school, my teachers told me, "Boy, you need to go to college."
They initiated and negotiated my admission into Hampton Institute. I left Fort
Valley in 1933 on my way to Hampton Institute at Hampton, Virginia.
B: Was this the first time you had been out of the state of Georgia?
M: It was my first time out of the state of Georgia; yes it was. [Laughter]
B: You were quite young.
M: Not necessarily. [Laughter]
B: You had finished high school.
M: I was born in 1912. Now subtract twelve from thirty-three.
B: Okay, I see.
M: Frankly, I was delayed a little bit because in this rural school that I attended,
there were no promotions. So I probably repeated the sixth grade level a year or
B: What do you mean there were no promotions? You just went to school to go to
M: When you started in the rural school in those days, you started at the lower level
with the primer. Then you would be promoted to the first grade [and] the second
grade, but keep in mind you only had one teacher to teach all the grades. So if
you studied in the fifth grade, you would be promoted to the sixth. After you got
to the sixth, you may go back because all you were doing is reading and doing
some math. There was no additional promotion. I did not get a chance to move
up until I was taken out of that rural school and sent to that consolidated school
in Montezuma. That is when I began to move one grade level to the other. I
completed junior high.
B: I see. When you went from the church school to the city school, did you walk or
was there transportation for you?
M: There was no transportation for black students in Georgia in those years. So
what my father did was to arrange for me to live with a friend of the family in
Montezuma. So I would go in on Monday morning to start my week in school in
the city. On Friday, my dad would come get me and take me back to the farm. I
would go back to the farm on the weekend and work with the cows, hogs, and
chickens on the farm. I would be taken back to school in the city Monday
morning. I did that for those years until I was able to complete the three years of
junior high school.
B: That is interesting that you were out of the home for that period of time. So your
father arranged with the friend for you to live there, and I assumed that he took it
at that expense for you being there to go to school. Now when you got to the
city, the people you lived with you walked from their home to school?
M: The friend I lived with was just across the street from the junior high school.
There was no transportation to bring children in from anywhere. Even the
children who lived in various sections of the little town had to walk. There was no
transportation provided. Let me explain to you that in those years, there was
very little transportation in any of the rural southern states. Florida had no
transportation for black students at that time. Georgia had none. South Carolina
had none. Transportation for a black student is a recent issue. You can go back
and count the years almost on your five or ten fingers.
B: Were you aware of your ability for learning [before] you became ill, had this
operation, and was encouraged [by the doctors] to go into academics?
M: I had good aptitude. Teachers always advised my father and my mother, "This
boy has a keen aptitude; he is indeed a good student." In fact, my mother had
me reading before I started to that rural school.
B: Really? Excellent. You worked at the farm, you became ill, had the operation,
and now you have graduated in 1933 and are ready to go to college. Is there
anything about your childhood that was very significant in helping motivate you or
mold you to be where you were before you retired?
M: Actually, I cannot think of any specific motivation. As I said, I think I was born
gifted, and I merely capitalized [on it]. People around me helped me with that. In
fact, I always was encouraged to do my very best. There were friends who knew
even when I would go to Sunday school in that rural church that I just mentioned.
People delighted in having me read the lesson. They always paid special
accolades to me. [They said,] "that is the way I like to hear children read."
Those are the kind of experiences I had that encouraged me. So far as the
family life is concerned, I repeat Joel, I had a devoted mother and father. They
disciplined their children. As a young boy with older brothers and sisters, and
younger brothers and sisters, we had a very enjoyable childhood experience. I
enjoyed my childhood years.
B: Did you?
M: Indeed, I did.
B: I guess your parents were very proud to have one of their children so
academically involved. There were times you actually participated in the
programs and the reading of the Bible in church?
M: We had Sunday school. The children naturally were made a part of that activity.
As I said before, they enjoyed having the children participate. Children were
permitted to participate. The adults who were directors of those Sunday school
programs enjoyed having children who could do an excellent job reading.
B: Here you were getting ready to go to Virginia. How did you leave Georgia? How
did you get there? What mode of transportation did you use?
M: Let me tell you what was fortunate for me. I keep reminding you that these were
Depression years. It just happened that the Seaboard Coastline was running an
excursion. The prices for transportation by train was very reduced at that time.
We got a chance to catch one of those excursions. They had bought me a ticket
and told me, "Son, you are going to have to leave a little early, I know, but I am
going to ask you to take this trip since the railroad fare is so reduced, and we can
do it most economically." I caught the train out of Montezuma, Georgia, into
B: Had you decided the into what field of study that you were going?
M: I was going to take agriculture. As I told you before, Hampton Institute and
Tuskegee Institute had a vocational emphasis. Even though they were doing a
regular baccalaureate of arts, they were concentrating heavily in home
economics and agriculture. In those years, agriculture and home economics
were the profession if you looked forward to being a teacher in high school both
in Georgia and Florida. Agriculture teachers and farm extension agents were the
occupation if you wanted to make a lot of money. Let me tell you about the
salary. Do you know in those days, in Florida as well--I know about Florida--
teachers in the arts, English, and math were making about half of what home
economics and agriculture teachers were making.
B: Oh really?
M: That was the case.
B: Was the reason because Florida and Georgia were so heavily into agriculture?
M: That was true of South Carolina and North Carolina. If you study the equalization
of salary, let us say the teachers who specialized in teaching English and math, it
was a long time before the state equalized salary and standardized teaching
salaries. That was true in Florida as well. One of these days you ought to study
and become familiar with what is known as the minimum foundation as it related
to the equalization of all salaries for teachers. In those years, I repeat, the young
lady who specialized in economics was making much more money than the
young lady who specialized in teaching English or math.
B: That is very interesting.
M: It was the same for men. So as a little country boy, naturally, I was familiar with
agriculture. So when I got to Hampton, I specialized in the area of which my
early childhood life had been a part. Naturally, I looked forward to getting the
best possible income when I [began] a professional career and that happened.
B: Let us digress for one moment. We are talking about 1930s, and you have
mentioned the Depression. Were you aware as a child before you got to
Hampton what the Depression was, and what was happening to America?
M: The stock market crash, Joel, was in 1929. I was seven years old. One of the
things that happened that my dad and mother talked about was that they lost a
lot of money in the local bank during that stock market crash. As I proceeded in
school at the junior level and on the high school level, I was very aware of the
Depression. I can remember many things. In fact, can I give you a personal
M: I worked as a little boy on the peach farm. Do you know what my pay was for a
day? Twenty cents. Two little thin dimes. That was the pay we would earn.
B: Twenty cents?
M: Twenty cents. But Joel, let me tell you what happened. You could go to the
grocery store and buy the nicest t-bone you could ever eat for twenty cents. You
could buy a fifty-pound sack of flour for seventy-five cents.
M: So when we talk about the Depression years, salaries and wages were a
disgrace. You could get any pair of shoes you wanted for two dollars and a half.
M: Yes. Those who have not lived in a severe depression do not know what
privileges they experience in the high-inflation era we are living in now.
B: You know there is not very much written about the Depression and how it
affected poor black people. That is a very interesting perspective. Were you
aware when [the government] was giving out coupons that people had to use?
M: Joel, I knew nothing about it. You see, in those days farmers who really were
independent and owned their land, grew most of their foodstuff. The only thing
we had to buy maybe was sugar and spices. When it came down to food, we
grew hogs and slaughtered them; we grew cows and had milk; we had chicken
and we had eggs. We had no need for coupons in those days. We grew.
B: But you very much remember the Depression.
M: I remember the Depression.
B: And the effect it had.
M: I remember as a little boy, Joel, I wanted a velocipede so bad (a three wheeler).
My dad would never buy me a three wheeler. I grew up with a keen yearning to
have a little velocipede. Daddy quieted my demand by saying, "Little fellow, that
thing is too hard to ride out there in the dirt where you live." [Laughter]
M: Anyway, he was not able to buy me what we called velocipedes.
B: Which is now a tricycle.
M: You probably have never heard of a velocipede.
B: I never have; that was the first time.
M: The little country boys called [them] velocipedes. If you ever talk to any elderly
people who might be sixty or seventy they can tell you, "Oh, I remember the term
B: We have gone to Hampton, Virginia. You are there, and you went by train. I
assume you had to live in a dormitory?
M: Right. If you lived in the city, of course, you could register and go there.
Hampton and Tuskegee were both new colleges at that time. They had
dormitories. They were coed, you ought to know.
B: Now this is the Depression and it is 1933. You are in Georgia. Would it have
made logical sense for you to go to Tuskegee in Alabama rather than Virginia?
You said your professor influenced you.
M: My teachers were trained in agriculture at Hampton Institute, and they idolized
Hampton Institute. Hampton Institute, by the way, has a noble history. Dr.
Samuel Edmond Armstrong initiated that college, and it was begun with the
training of Indians. If you know the history of the problems of Indians in this
country. In fact, many of our dormitories were named for Indians because
Indians were occupants of that college when it was first organized. There were
Indians and blacks--no white students. Indians were there with black students. I
remember I lived in the dormitory called Wigwam for quite a number of years.
B: Did you get a scholarship, sir?
M: No, I did not.
B: So you were not being paid?
M: No. In those days, if you did not have the money to pay your tuition, room, and
board when you started, what you would do at Hampton, as well as Tuskegee,
was enter on what they called a work year. During that work year, you did not
take classes by day, you worked various places on the campus, and stored up
resources of funds in the business office. Your second year, you could start you
regular day program of study.
B: You were a work year student?
M: In fact, I went to Hampton in 1933. I graduated in 1938. That is five years. I not
was stupid or dumb, but I put in the first year as a work year. Then in the next
four years, I was able to go to class by day, continue to work, and earn my keep.
B: What did you do on campus? What was your job?
M: My first year, I worked as an orderly in the office of the director of agriculture. I
was orderly during my work year. That is where I spent most of my time. After
that year, I became the operator of the milk delivery system on campus.
Naturally, the college had a huge dairy farm. They were bringing milk into the
station. I, then, had to get up early in the morning, get my horse, hitch him to the
wagon, and deliver milk to faculty members and other people on the fringes of
the campus who wanted to get milk from the college.
B: Now you mentioned you were a work student. Let us discuss how this pay took
place. Did you receive money, and then pay the institution? Or did they create
an account for you?
M: Whenever you started the work program, you were given a wage. You were
credited with whatever you earned. Now if you needed some money to buy a
pair of shoes, socks, or a shirt, you could draw. Even in 1935 and 1936, you
were in the Depression experience. In fact, it was during the administration of
Roosevelt. They would put the money [away] for you. There was a daily wage
they knew they were going to pay you. You would accumulate that credit in the
business office. After your work year is over, you could start and they would take
out whatever you had to pay for a semester. We were on the semester [system]
at that time. They would take out expenses for class, dormitory rooms, and other
expenses you had to pay. You then could continue to work, as I said. I worked
operating the milk delivery system. They still would continue to give you credits
B: That was your second job. Did you maintain that delivery position until you
M: Up until my senior year.
B: Did you have to wear uniforms on campus?
M: No. I told you once before we had no uniforms. You dressed in your regular
business suit and necktie. Jeans were not en vogue at that time, so everybody
wore nice suits and neckties.
B: Now was Hampton College related to a church?
M: No, it was a private school. Actually, it was funded by rich philanthropists in the
B: During your stay at college, did your family visit you periodically?
M: No, my parents never did get to Virginia. These were the Depression years. In
1935 and 1936, rural families did not have the kind of money it takes to move.
Very few people owned automobiles in those days.
B: You were there from 1933 to 1938. Did you come home?
M: Once. I stayed there three and one-half years. I would not have gotten home
then, but it just happened that Tuskegee Institute was having a cooperative
program in judging contests. They invited Hampton to bring their agriculture
students down to Tuskegee. When I got to Tuskegee, there was a man there
who had taught me agriculture when I was in the junior college in Montezuma.
He knew me. He looked at me while I was visiting Tuskegee from Hampton. He
said, "Boy, would you like to go home to see your parents?" I said I would love it.
He took me in his car, and we traveled from Alabama over to Montezuma,
Georgia. That was the only visit I had with my parents from 1933 until I came
home in 1938.
B: Was it a big, proud experience when you came back home? Here is a son who
went away to college, and all of a sudden he is home.
M: Well naturally, do you not think that I, as a student or a child, would enjoy seeing
M: We had not visited. We communicated, we wrote, but we had not seen each
other in about three and one-half years. That was a joyful experience.
B: I bet it was. How long were you home?
M: I only stayed a weekend. We had to make it back to Tuskegee.
B: You said you came down to Tuskegee as part of a judging team. Judging what,
M: Mules, chickens, cows. At that time, we did not deal with field crops. In fact, in
my area of judging, we had different students participating in different areas. I
was judging chickens, hogs, cows, and mules. Those were the animals you had
to [judge]. They would give you a team of five or six chickens, three or four hogs,
and you would have to judge which one met the best standard in terms of what is
a good animal. You had to make that decision on your scorecard.
B: Your tenure at Hampton Institute was an all-black college. Was your faculty
B: They were mixed?
M: They were white.
B: Is there anything that stands out in your mind about your experience at Hampton
whether it was academics, entertainment, or speaking?
M: Actually, it was the fellowship. We had students from all over the nation. I got
out of the narrow confines of Georgia and got into the broad experience. The
other thing that was very influential, and I appreciate it, was the cultural
exposure. Hampton naturally brought to the campus some of the great
entertainment--plays, artists, and dancers. I remember distinctly there was a
group Shawn Dancing Man (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING); they were
spectacular. We also had other musical experiences. I think I have some
pictures of that, Joel. During this time Mrs. Roosevelt was quite active.
B: What Roosevelt are you talking about?
B: Who are you talking about when you say Mrs. Roosevelt?
M: Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of FDR. She paid a visit to Hampton during my
time there as a student. Talk about putting on a spectacular show for the first
lady. You can imagine Hampton Institute was called in to put on a show for Mrs.
Eleanor Roosevelt. We had a chance to see Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt. I know
you are too young to know, but Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady in those
years, was quite a spokesman for social issues vitally affecting America.
B: Did she speak to you all?
M: Naturally, she spoke in our auditorium.
B: There is a lot of history about Mrs. Roosevelt and Mrs. Bethune being together.
Did you have a chance to be in her presence?
B: Mary McLeod Bethune. Now we are at the point of graduation. You graduated
from Hampton in 1938 with a degree in what, sir?
M: Agriculture education.
B: Did any of your family come to your graduation?
M: I am afraid not.
B: You were there by yourself?
M: I graduated without the presence of any of my family.
B: I see. I just finished interviewing the former president of Wiley College. He
mentioned how he had a lot of contact with his students. While you were at
Hampton, did you have many dealings with the president of the college?
M: Very seldom. Every once in a while the president would speak. We had weekly
assemblies. I believe those assemblies were on Friday. Various members of the
college were interesting would speak. Occasionally, the president would be the
speaker at one of those weekly assemblies.
B: Now you had gone from Georgia to Virginia. You had your bachelor of science
degree in agriculture. What did you plan to do at this point?
M: I planned to get a job.
B: Did you plan to come back to the south?
M: I did when I got my degree. You see, in those days when you graduated, they
would give you a few hours to vacate the campus. I made arrangements to catch
the train and head back to Montezuma, Georgia. At that time, there was a
director of agriculture for black schools. I made it to the office of the director for
agriculture for black high schools and sought a job as a high school teacher in
B: Did you get one?
M: I got a job.
B: Where was that first job?
M: That job was in Fort Gaines which is on the Chatahoochee River. The
Chatahoochee River divides Georgia from Alabama. Fort Gaines is right on the
border of that river. I got a job there in that high school. Do you want the name
of the high school?
M: The high school was State High School, which was named for the old man who
was principal. [He] really should have been retired when I got there. In honor of
his service, they let him stay. They named that school for him.
B: What did you teach? You say agriculture. Did you teach all the students?
M: I taught only the boys who were enrolled. In those days you had two programs.
You had home economics for girls, and you had agriculture for boys.
B: Was it required?
M: All of my classes were in agriculture. You have got different classes in high
school. You would teach one grade at one period. Then another grade would
come to you. All of my classes were in agriculture. That is the only subject area
B: Did all the boys have to take agriculture?
M: All the boys took agriculture. Those were limited curriculums in high schools in
those days. Naturally, you had English, math, and civics as they called it, but
you had to take a vocational class. Most of those girls took home economics.
Most of the boys, at that time, took agriculture. You did not have the diversity of
technical training that you have today in high schools.
B: You say you taught a course in agriculture. What did that encompass?
M: Growing chickens, hogs, cows, breeding, and all of the techniques you have to
know to be a successful farmer.
B: How long did you stay at this school, sir?
M: I stayed at that high school about five months.
B: Why did you leave?
M: I left there to come back to my home county, and was employed by a unit of the
Department of Agriculture. That unit was known as the Farm Security
B: Tell me what that department meant.
M: Those were Depression years. Plantation owners and rural people had suffered
more from the Depression than had industrial workers. A lot of the farmers in the
country had begun to lose their farms. The Farm Security Administration was a
government agency created under the administration of Roosevelt who bought
land, more or less, by the thousands of acres [from] bankrupt [farmers]. That
agency divided those farms into small family farms, anywhere between eighty
and 100 acres. They would reestablish black farmers as well as white farmers
on those small family farm units.
At that time, the Farm Security Administration employed people in three areas.
They would employ men who were trained in agriculture to supervise farming
activity. They would hire a woman who was trained in home economics to work
with housekeeping, canning, and doing other things that made a home an
interesting place for farm families. They would hire a nurse who took care of
health problems. So they had three areas; home economics, agriculture
supervision, and health supervision. All those jobs were under the administration
of the Farm Security Administration.
B: So you were the person who took care of agriculture?
M: I supervised farm activities.
B: So you spent time dealing with people who owned the farm?
M: Well, people who were reselling. Let me tell you what usually happened. In
those days, much of the land in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina were
owned by large plantation owners. When those plantation owners became
bankrupt, they were about to become dispossessed of land. The government
stepped in and bought it, as I told you. They bought it by the thousands of acres.
Then they would reorganize those plantations into small family units.
B: Would they give the land to the people?
M: [The government] let him buy it. They would build a small family home. They
would provide the farm they resold. They would give him farm equipment. They
would buy animals for him. They would help him get cows. [The government]
would help him get all the livestock, chicken, and hogs he needed and would
start him on a purchasing plan. They would give him so many years to pay off
the land on which they had been resettled.
B: Now how many years did you work for the FSA?
M: I started in December, 1938. I worked with the FSA until 1942. I was a farm
supervisor with the Farm Security Administration for about four years.
B: Now you had come home to the county in which you had lived. Did you have any
dealings with your father as a farmer?
M: My daddy still was operating his farm.
B: He was.
M: In fact, for the first couple of years, I lived at home with my dad and mother even
though I was grown and doing my own independent, professional work. I still
lived in the house of my dad.
B: You mentioned the Depression. What were you getting paid when you worked
for the FSA?
M: When I started in the high school, I told you ag and home economics teachers
would get a pretty decent salary. Frankly, my first pay as an ag teacher in Fort
Gaines, Georgia was ninety dollars a month. That is what I earned. The FSA
salary was $125 a month.
B: So you had done very well for yourself. You went from twenty cents a day to
$125 a month.
M: There is a difference in being a farmer and a professional ag teacher. It is quite
a long distance, Joel.
B: Yes. You were a young man, and I assume that some of these people with
whom you were working were much older and had many years of experience as
farmers. Did they receive you very well?
M: Very well indeed. In fact, they were very proud to have somebody they knew
who had grown up in the community. In fact, I supervised some of those people
who used to go to church with me at the church school, Harrison Chapel. Many
people had children, boys and girls, who were the same age [as me]. They
delighted in having what they called a home boy come back home and work with
them. They delighted in that, and it was a pleasure.
B: Now in 1942 you left that position. First of all, before you left there, did you feel
you were doing the very best you could and that this was a very good program
for negroes at that period?
M: I enjoyed helping people. Talk to your grandparents or somebody. Do you
remember what happened in 1941?
B: No sir.
M: Let me tell you.
M: Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Japan became the enemy of the United States.
The fact that the United States had become involved in World War II, [meant that]
eventually the federal government had to commit itself to war. It began to cut out
most of the programs for rural rehabilitation. I stayed with that job until the
program was reduced and reduced and reduced. I had to go into another area of
work in 1942.
B: Do you remember the day that happened?
M: You better bet I do.
B: Where were you? What were you doing?
M: When the announcement came?
M: I was sitting at my breakfast table when we got the news over my radio that the
Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I said, "Lord, that should not have
happened." I knew we then were going to declare war against Japan.
B: Did you fear you would be called into military duty?
M: At that time Joel, all of us who were old enough had to register. During those
days, I had to register and make it known that I was eligible for induction into the
B: Did you fear you would be called?
M: I did not fear, but I suspected I would.
B: All right. Tell me, what was your next position?
M: Since my job with the FSA had been eliminated, I had to seek employment
somewhere else. I then was employed by Fort Valley State College, the private
high school and junior college. The state of Georgia bought that institution in
1939 and converted it to one of the state colleges for blacks, Fort Valley State
College. I applied for employment as a teacher. As a matter of fact, I went to
Fort Valley to open up a department of agriculture. When Fort Valley was bought
by the state, it was a liberal arts college. In 1941, a fellow graduate of mine from
Hampton Institute had been employed to open up a department of agriculture at
Fort Valley State College. In 1942 when he learned that I lost the job with FSA,
he invited me to join him as we developed a department of agriculture at Fort
Valley State College. So beginning in 1942, I became a member of the faculty at
Fort Valley State College teaching in the department of agriculture.
B: How many years were you there?
B: Two years--so it was 1944.
M: In 1944, I got a letter from the president saying, "Greetings." You knew what that
meant. I already had registered with my registration agent for the army. In 1944,
I was sent as a candidate to join the army.
B: At this point, being a teacher did not have any bearing on whether you would
[called] to active duty?
M: Joel, at that time, the United States got all the manpower it could recruit from
everywhere. [Laughter] I have to tell you that for a year or two, we were exempt.
Farming was considered an essential industry. Those of us who were in
essential industry were spared induction into the army until the drain on
manpower became so low that [the government] had to reach back and get
anybody and everybody into the armed services.
B: So you were at Fort Valley Junior College from 1942 to 1944?
M: It was not a junior college; Fort Valley now is a senior college.
B: It was a college, excuse me. It was a four-year college. You worked there as a
teacher of agriculture?
M: We opened up and started a department of agriculture to train agriculture
teachers for high schools in Georgia. I worked there from 1942 until 1944.
B: Then you went into the army.
M: In May of 1944, I was inducted into the army.
B: From where did you go? From where to where?
M: I was inducted at Fort Benning, Georgia. That is the major army camp near my
hometown. Fort Benning, Georgia, is where I was inducted into the army.
B: You went from there to where?
M: I taught. Ask me what I did when I got into the army.
B: What did you do?
M: At that time, the army had exhausted the supply of articulate blacks. So you
know what happened in many of the camps? They started what they called an
army training center, and they employed people who had degrees to teach in
those schools. The army started inducting boys who could not read and write.
[The army] had to initiate an education program so they could learn. You could
teach them how to identify a word or a sign. What is a church? We put a cross
on top of the church, and we would teach them that here is a church with a cross.
In other things, we would teach them the essentials of soldiering, operating in
the army. You had to give them a lot of signs that the army used to convey
B: So really, in going from the college into the military [doing the same thing]. You
were a teacher.
M: For a year or two.
B: So you were a part of the Army Training Department from 1944 until when?
M: I stayed in the army two years. I taught a year. The war was so successful in
Europe. Of course, we were having difficulties in the east. The army stopped
recruiting those young men who could not read and write. The war was going so
well we did not have any more need for them. So they cut out the Army Training
Program for . let us not call them illiterates--but they had not been educated,
trained, or anything. They cut that program out. Then they started shipping
those of us who had been teaching to other posts. In 1945, I left Fort Benning.
Guess where I went?
B: Where did you go?
M: I went to a transportation camp out in (PLEASE IDENTIFY),
B: To do what?
M: To be trained in transportation. I stayed there about six months. Then I was
shipped to Boston for about six months in a port. There was a port where ships
were being loaded to send materials overseas.
B: In essence, you skipped the first of your training? Let us go back to 1944 in the
Army Training Department. These boys could not read and write, so you were
teaching them basic what?
M: Basic reading. We did not deal too much with complicated math. All we had
wanted them to do was learn how to read so that if they came across any sign of
with which they had to deal, they would be able to understand what it was saying.
We really were teaching them how to communicate. That was the basic thrust of
their training--communication. We were not issuing any high school degrees or
anything of the kind, we merely were teaching how to function in an army
B: Did you have to dress in a uniform?
M: Yes, you wore a uniform.
B: Did you teach all day?
M: It was full day; that was the schedule.
B: It was required for them to come?
M: We had so many hours. They would bring in a group of students, and for about
two or three months, you would teach that group. Then that group would be
shipped out and given an assignment to go where the army needed [them]. A
new group would be brought in.
B: It was 1944 during World War II. You were teaching at the Army Training
B: Were you teaching all-black soldiers or were they mixed?
M: Joel, in those years the army was just as segregated as any other part of the
country. We had units at Fort Benning that were all-black. The students that the
[army] was bringing in to be trained in this school were all black. Now if they had
white students, they were over in the white area. At that time Joel, most of the
army establishment was segregated.
B: You were at Fort Benning, Georgia. The program that you were in was for black
M: Black enlistees. If a student was called by his registration office [and] could not
read and write up to par, he was sent to Fort Benning to be enrolled in the
program of training that those battalions were teaching or conducting at Fort
B: Were many of these people who were called to serve not able to read and write?
M: At that time Joel, most educated young men were in the army, but we still
needed additional service men. I cannot remember the name that you call them,
but these enlistment agencies that were getting men to register had educational
training. They knew when you finished high school, or when you had just
dropped out at sixth or seventh grade.
B: These were like the draft boards.
M: That is what I am talking about--the draft boards! They started sending men into
the army who they knew had a low academic level. If they found out that
academic level was low when they sent them to a camp, that station at that camp
where would send them to a unit. These units were all over the United States.
B: Give me a personal experience. Here you were, you taught agriculture--how to
take care of cows, cattle, and fields. Now all of a sudden, you were teaching
these people basic skills. Was that frustrating for you?
B: Did you enjoy it? Give me an experience about it.
M: Let us see. I am in the army. You are in the army Mr. Joel. I was able to adjust
to my experience. Let me tell you, surely my training was in agriculture. They
did not just grab me and say, "Now you are going to teach this." When I was
went to Fort Benning, they put me through a couple of months training. They had
supervisors or directors of these army training [programs].
See, you went on your own. These programs were organized almost like a
university or a college. There was a director. Even though you may have a
college degree, that did not mean you knew how to teach the curriculum that
would be proposed and operated in the training program for these recruits. You
could have a doctorate, but you still had to go through a couple months training.
So you got some training [and] you knew exactly what you were going to teach
and how you were going to approach the teaching process. It was not hit or
miss. It was purely organized and purely structured.
B: Mr. Mathis, tell me something about the classroom experiences you had teaching
in the army.
M: Actually Joel, most of that was to teach basic communication. We dealt with a lot
of symbols that one had to use. As you very well know, when you started
performing out in the war zone, you had to know how to read signs, like road
signs. You had to know about building signs. If you came into [contact] with
anything dealing with army materials, you had to be able to identify it. That was
the kind of content with which we were dealing.
We were not trying to produce high school diplomas, we merely were trying to
deal with those basic experiences a soldier needed if he was going to perform
effectively and not fret. If he came to a crossroad, he had to know how to read
signs so he naturally would turn in the right direction. He had to know different
signs that were operated in the army.
We had to learn how to go by [military] time. As you know, we did not go by eight
o'clock and six o'clock. We went 1600. What do you mean 1600? What do you
mean 0200? We had to teach those kind of terms that were used in the army.
As you know, the signal for nighttime and daytime is different on an army clock
than it is in our regular clock.
B: Explain that to me.
M: I can say nine o'clock. You know you start at 0101--that is the first hour in the
night. You come around the clock until you get to 0900 you next one is going to
be 1000, 1200, and 1300 until you get to 2400. Now let me tell you what is
significant. Suppose a soldier makes a mistake between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. That
difference in those twelve hours could result in a whole company being destroyed
because you did not get the material to them when they needed it.
You have to make sure you set the hour to 0300 to 0500. [The hour] 0500
means that this is early in the morning. Instead of saying 5 a.m., you say 0500.
That is different from 0900, 1000, 1200, or 2300. So you have to teach those
kinds of things so a soldier will know how to function with army communication
B: Was there a difference between those army men who were able to learn and
those who were not able to learn?
M: Actually, we did not kick anybody out because he was too stupid to learn when
we got through with the training program. It may not have been as effective as it
should have been, but once we put them through the program, Fort Benning
shipped them out to other camps where they could become active in the army.
Some of them were going overseas.
B: I see. Now you taught there for one year, then you moved in 1946 to a
M: (PLEASE IDENTIFY), Louisiana. I do not know how to spell it.
B: You were there for six months. Six months after that you went to another [place].
M: We went to a post in Boston. We were jumping for joy. The situation in Japan
out in the China Sea was terrible. Personally, I did not want to go into the China
area. I wanted to go overseas because the war was on the downgrade in 1945.
The (PLEASE IDENTIFY) phase [was] in Europe; we wanted to go
where everything was almost over. We thought since we left Louisiana and went
up to Boston that we were going to head out over the Atlantic and next to
Europe. Lo and behold, after our time in Boston expired, they put us on a troop
ship, and sent us across the northern United States out to Seattle, Washington.
In 1945, they put me on a ship in the Seattle port hauling out to Okinawa.
B: You went there?
M: From Seattle, we headed to Okinawa. I was on Okinawa when the bomb was
dropped on Japan.
B: Do you remember that experience?
M: Do I remember it? I remember when we read about it. In fact Joel, we were
almost close enough to see the flashes from the bomb. We got to Okinawa
before it was secured completely. I was scared. Let me tell you something
about Okinawa just briefly.
M: I was given an assignment which was pretty decent at that time in the corps. I
was given a transportation program. I was at the office in a camp. I was to
dispatch equipment from one place to another. So I was sitting at a desk on
Okinawa directing the movement of heavy equipment on the island. Whenever a
Japanese fighter would come over, the aircraft gun would start shooting, and
they would darken the whole area. I sat up there so scared that one of those
Japs still hiding on that island would slip in and cut my throat. [Laughter]. I sat at
the desk in fear. That was my experience.
B: How long were you in Okinawa?
M: I was in Okinawa about fifteen months. After Japan surrendered, the army
started deactivating companies and you would come back home. But they had a
point system. You got points according to how long you had been in the service.
I did not go in, Joel, until 1944.
B: Right. So you were one of the [lower] ones who probably did not have many
M: I was on the low end of the pole with how many points I had. I remember we
used to go to movies after the war was over. We would sit down and they would
start talking to a kid who had a wife and children. The guys would holler, "Man,
get all the points you can. They want you to come home!" It really was amusing
to know the soldiers on Okinawa were anxious and pleased with the number of
points they had accumulated because they were going to catch the ships first
heading back to the states.
B: On the ship on which you went over, I assume there had to be several hundred
soldiers on board. Was it segregated?
B: All the ships were segregated?
M: Yes. All activities in the army were segregated in those days. Even if they had
whites on the ship, they put you in different sections on the ship.
B: That is interesting.
M: We were a segregated unit on board that ship.
B: Were your commanding officers white?
B: But the lower responsibilities of the officers were black?
M: What do you mean officers? You mean noncom (noncommissioned)? They
were black. Your company commander and his lieutenant were white.
B: You mentioned that you went to the theatre and to the movies. Were there
separate facilities for black and white?
M: Well, no. When they set up a theatre for movies, all people could go in Okinawa.
There were segregated movies in the states. When you got out overseas,
naturally they could not put up so many theatres. They all were open air.
Anybody who wanted to see the movie would go and sit. Now they might sit in
different sections, but blacks and whites were at the same theatre.
B: This could be a premature question, but I am going to ask it. There you were,
serving in the military for the government. You were part of World War II. You
were black and things were not equal. Did you ever think about [whether] you
should be there as a young black man?
M: Joel, I have to admit it. My experience had conditioned me to accept it. I grew
up in the South where there was quite a difference. I have to go back and give it
to my dad. My dad taught us to adjust to our experiences. So far as we were
concerned, we had understood that there was quite a gulf between blacks and
whites. Even as a little black boy, I never had any confrontation with whites.
They had taught us to avoid all kinds of confrontation and adjust to the situation.
I grew up with that.
I grew up with a dad, who, as I told you, rented--he was not a sharecropper. He
was independent. Joel, I learned some of my independent attitude from my dad.
Even though there was a great gulf in the relationship between blacks and
whites, nobody ran over my dad. My dad was tall in terms of his relationship [to
whites]. Everybody respected him--even the whites in that community had high
respect for my dad, whom they called Bill. But they knew Bill was a man. That is
a part of my attitude today. I do not demand people like me Joel, but I do
demand that you respect me as a man. I think I learned this and acquired this
from my dad.
B: So the war is over, and you were sent from Okinawa back to where?
M: We entered San Francisco. We came in on the Pacific Ocean and debarked at
B: Did you, as a boy from the South, spend time out there looking around and
seeing what the world was like or did you come back to the South?
M: When you came back, the army sent you to a place which was what we called a
separation center. They had the separation center. I believe my separation
center was in Atlanta. So once we debarked from that ship in the San Francisco
area, we might have spent the night there. The next day, you boarded the train
and made it to Georgia to your separation center.
B: What did you do then?
M: When you got to the separation center, you were sent back [home] with army
transportation. They paid the fare, whether you rode the bus or train. You came
back to your hometown.
B: So you came back home?
M: I came back home. My dad was dead when I got back. My dad died while I was
in the service, but my mother still was living. So I came back to the house where
my mother was.
B: I see. We talked about you being out, growing up, and so forth. We have not
talked about the family. What else happened with your brothers and sisters?
M: All of my brothers went into the service. None of my sisters went to college.
They got married and started raising families. Every brother younger than me--
none of the ones who were older than me--but the three who were younger than
me entered the service. They were in the army.
B: Are there any brothers and sisters who went into academics like you did?
M: No. I am the only one. I had one sister who completed a college degree, but she
died several years ago. But I am the only brother. I can go back and talk about
the experiences. I am the only one who grew up with this rural experience that
proceeded on to college. There were a few who left when they completed their
education [from] those rural churches. There were two or three young men and
young women. There were a lot of them who went to this junior high school, but
only one or two of them finished high school at Fort Valley.
B: Why were you the one who went on and got the degree, and the other brothers
and sisters did not do it?
M: I told you that one sister was much younger. She was the baby sister. She got
the college degree. The rest of them did not have the attitude. They did not
want it. In fact, dad was not able to send all of them. So even some of the ones
who were younger than me accepted getting married instead of trying to go to
high school and college. In fact, that was true, Joel, of most rural young people
at that time. There were very few people in rural areas who had any ideas of
going on to high school. By the way, let me point out that the school I went to in
the city only went through the ninth grade. It was way down the road before rural
areas developed high schools for blacks.
B: So you were definitely a very unique child [because you were the only one] of the
fourteen to get the education, to travel, and to come back.
M: Part of it was due my aptitude and interest. I always had an interest in books.
They made itself manifest, and I was pushed in that direction, not only by my
parents encouragement, but by teachers who came to know me.
B: Now you had [been] in the military, World War II. You are out [of the military] and
back home. What did you do then?
M: When I got back home?
M: I teamed up with my brother for about a year and a half. We operated the farm.
He did most of the work. Let me tell you, Joel, what happened when I came out
of the army. You may not know this. You may not have heard it. You could go
into business. If you did not earn a sufficient monthly income, you could make a
report and the government would provide you with a check. So [that is] what I
did. In fact, my brother and I had entered into this agreement before I went into
the army. We had bought 200 acres of land.
B: You and your brother?
M: We entered into a cooperative relationship for a farm. I did not stay out there and
work, but he did. He was farming the land, and I went into the army. He stayed,
and when I came out of the army, I listed myself as a farmer. Naturally, if you
know anything about farming, you do not begin to get your money until you begin
to reap crops and put them on the market. In late June or July, there is very little
to sell unless you are growing livestock. We were growing field crops: cotton,
peanuts, and corn. I did not have any income during those months. I would
make my report to the government, and I would get myself a government check.
I did that for several months, Joel, until I got sick of it. I said, "Shoot, I am
deteriorating sitting here doing nothing but making out these reports." So I
applied and became a teacher. What happened is that soldiers who came out of
the army could enter a program. If they were farmers, they could set up a
program. Superintendents of schools would do this. They would set up a
program for students who were out of the army. They could enroll in those
educational programs, and they could get GI checks.
I taught agriculture to ex-Gls. These were boys who came out of the army and
were getting the GI Bill to do farm work. They needed a teacher. So I got a job
teaching at a high school in Swainsboro, Georgia. That is about sixty miles from
Savannah. I taught there from the time I quit with the farm with my brother until
B: Were these GIs a part of the regular classroom, or did they have special
programs for them in the evening?
M: They were not enrolled in high school. They would come a certain number of
days during the week. We could use the high school facilities for the class. We
were teaching those young boys (ex-GIs) how to be successful in their farming
enterprises. Just as the GI Bill financed men to go to college, the GI Bill was
paying these ex-soldiers to [get] this training. They were getting paid for going to
school while they were doing their own farming. I was teaching in that program.
B: At this time, had [gotten] married or were you still single?
M: I was married before I went into the army.
B: Oh, tell me who was the person you married.
M: I married a young lady from Savannah, Georgia. I have a son who was born in
B: How did you meet this young lady? What was her name?
M: When I came back and started working with the Farm Security Administration in
my hometown, there was a man who was principal of a local high school. He got
ready to have his closing program for his high school. He knew a young lady
from Savannah. He had her come up and help him with his musical program as
he was closing out his high school program for that year. I happened to meet
her. We dated while she was there in Montezuma, Marion County, helping him.
We continued our communication. The next year, I journeyed to Savannah, and
we got married in Savannah.
B: Did you have a church wedding?
M: No. We had a very common house wedding. We married at her house.
B: At her home. What was her name?
M: Her name was Katherine Golden (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING).
B: How many children did you have from that union?
M: We have one son. That was before I went into the army. I was inducted into the
army in 1944.
B: So they stayed home while you went into the military?
M: Actually, for all practical purposes, we were separated, but we had not completed
the divorce. We started the divorce before I went into the army. My lawyer told
me, "You better let this stop right here because if you initiate the divorce now, the
jury is probably going to put you on alimony payments because you have got a
son. The army ain't going to have nothing to do with it. When you come out of
the army, you are going to owe all the payment this judge has imposed upon
you." He said, "Take my advice, and let this divorce lay wait until you get back.
If you do not get back from the army, that will take care of itself. You let it stay
right there." We never did get back together as husband and wife.
B: I see. How many years did you teach the GIs?
M: In 1948 I stopped teaching and started grad school. I was eligible for the GI Bill,
so I went to college in 1948 under the auspices (in terms of money) under the GI
Bill provision, like many other soldiers did.
B: Where did you go?
M: I went to Western Reserve University (now known as Case Western Reserve
University) in Cleveland, Ohio.
B: Now was that a black institution or white?
M: The schools in Ohio were integrated. So blacks and whites were at Western
Reserve in 1948 when I got there.
B: You got a master of science degree in what area?
M: In sociology. I got a master of science degree in 1950 at Western Reserve.
B: Was your experience there pleasant?
M: Yes indeed. I learned a lot.
B: What was unique about it?
M: It was unique because I had the experience of dealing with urban boys, and I got
a chance to experience some good teaching with good professors who had no
bias whatsoever. I learned a lot about the philosophy and attitude of urban white
boys. Being a rural boy growing up in a rural setting, I never thought about being
a city alderman or anything. I got to learn a lot about city government. Those
little boys were studying, digging in hard because they wanted to get a good
record. They looked forward to becoming city officials. I was enjoying that
B: Was this an all-male school?
B: You were speaking of all boys. You had more dealings with men than women.
M: Actually, in the class that we were in, most of them were men in those classes. It
was coed all the while. It was one of the earliest coed schools. Most of my
classes in sociology and urban affairs were men.
B: What made you go to this institution? How did you decide to go there?
M: Actually Joel, in 1948 most colleges were overcrowded. They would put you on
waiting [lists], even Atlanta University. I tried to get in Atlanta University, but
there were no openings. I was surprised when I sent my application to Western
Reserve that they admitted me. I do not know whether they were trying to get
some negroes to come to the university or what it was, but the reason I went to
Western Reserve at that time was that I could not get in to the other universities
where I wanted to go. So I jumped for joy when Western Reserve admitted me.
B: You just used a term that you used for the first time this morning--negro. What
were you called then? Were you colored, negro boy, black boy, African-
M: Frankly, I do not ever remember that term coming up at all. We never did deal
with ethnic terms at all. Negro or colored never came up. I had some white
friends; we were very good friends. Never did the issue of race enter into our
relationships. That was one of the things that was very pleasing to me. Let me
tell you what was amusing, Joel. I know you would like to hear this. I had a
degree in agriculture education. When I started grad school, I decided I was
going to shift to a liberal arts program.
B: I noticed that.
M: When I was registering, the director of the department of sociology looked at me,
and we tried to figure out my curriculum. He said, "Look, why do you not
continue in education? Your undergraduate training is education. If you are
going to shift to liberal arts and sociology, I am going to have to insist that you
start some of the basic courses. You do not know anything about sociology. I
am going to have to put you in some of the earlier courses." I said, "Sir, I do not
care where you put me, just as long as I can be in the department." [Laughter].
The first semester at Western Reserve Joel, I could only take one course in
graduate sociology. All my other courses were in undergraduate sociology until I
had acquired sufficient background in the area of sociology to proceed toward my
master of science degree. So I stayed there for three semesters. I finally
graduated with a master of science degree in sociology in the summer session of
B: What made you make this change?
M: I got tired of farming. In fact, farming was not fulfilling my curiosity for
educational achievement. If you want to say it in the raw, I got tired of dealing
with dumb farmers. I preferred to go into the area of liberal arts, Joel. Frankly, to
be honest with you, I did not see future fulfillment in the area of agriculture. The
kind of aspirations I had were not being met with the agricultural experiences I
had both as a teacher and developing the department. I thought I would get
richer fulfillment by getting into liberal arts, so I could get full opportunity for my
educational qualities as well as my educational aspirations.
B: Did the GI Bill pay for you to travel to and from college?
M: It did not pay for my transportation to college. I had to use my own funds. As I
told you before, I had been teaching GI students in an agricultural program. I
used my own resources. My admission fee, my books, and all of that, plus a
special monthly stipend was provided to me by the GI Bill. All of my educational
expenses at Western Reserve were paid through the auspices of the GI Bill.
B: Where did you go from there, sir? What did you do then?
M: After completing work in the third semester at Western Reserve, I then
proceeded to apply to Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois, so I could continue my
work. It happened that Western Reserve did not go beyond a master of science
degree in sociology. They were not offering doctoral degrees at that time. After
completing work at Western Reserve, I applied to Northwestern in Evanston,
Illinois, so I could complete my work toward the doctoral degree.
B: Did you finish, sir?
M: I did not complete the doctoral degree at Northwestern.
B: How long were you at Northwestern?
M: For two years. I stayed at Northwestern until 1952. At that time, my GI Bill funds
ran out. I exhausted all the financial opportunities in the GI Bill, so I had to seek
employment at that time.
B: What did you do then, sir?
M: It so happened I had sought employment at different colleges. Bethune-
Cookman at Daytona Beach offered me employment as the dean of students. In
1952, I left Northwestern, and proceeded to come to Daytona Beach, Florida, for
a job at Bethune-Cookman College.
B: You said you had exhausted all your funds for the GI Bill. Was there a limit?
M: The GI Bill would provide a year of education for every year you had spent in the
B: Oh, that is how it was.
M: That is the way it was. I had four years for GI eligibility. When that ran out, I had
to seek other sources of income.
B: Do you think if you had had the funds to continue that you would have gotten
M: I am sure that I would have. My grades were reputable.
B: You came to Bethune-Cookman in 1952 in what position sir?
M: I came as dean of men in 1952.
B: What did that mean?
M: That meant that I had to supervise a program as it pertained to the dormitories
and other activities of the men on that campus.
B: Did that include academic work as well?
M: No. The dean of men dealt only with the supervision of living arrangements and
the important mental behavior at the institution. It did not include any academic
B: I see. How many years were you in that [position], sir?
M: I was in that position of dean of men for two years.
B: Were you hired directly by Mrs. Bethune?
M: No. It happened that Mrs. Bethune had retired from the presidency of Bethune-
Cookman. A person by the name of Richard B. Moore had become president. It
was under his administration that I was employed. Mrs. Bethune still was alive
and occupied her home on the campus. Richard B. Moore had succeeded her
as the chief administrator of that college.
B: Let us talk a little bit about Mrs. Bethune. Did you have any dealing with her
M: Not administratively, but as the ex-founder and president, naturally, we were
invited to meet her. In fact, Dr. Moore requested all new personnel visit with Dr.
Bethune. It was my privilege visit with Dr. Bethune in her house on campus in
1952 when I was employed as dean of men at Bethune-Cookman.
B: Share with me that experience, please.
M: Actually, it was indeed a pleasure and an experience to sit and converse with
Mary McLeod Bethune. As you may know Joel, if you read her biography, you
will learn that Mrs. Bethune was a unique individual. May I share with you the
fact that she had quite a relationship during the FDR administration? She had a
good, high-level relationship with Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of FDR. She
became director of the National Youth Administration in the Roosevelt
administration. She was the founder of Bethune-Cookman College. The college
is named after her. It was interesting to know and talk to her about her
experiences that she began that institution, how she had seen it grow, and her
One of the things that impressed me most Joel, was her concern about the
young men. She took genuine interest in the development and supervision of
young men. She wanted to make sure that they were given the kind of
supervision that would make them grow into first-class generals in their dormitory
experiences and their behavior on campus. Mrs. Bethune wanted them to get
the kind of attention that would result in them becoming first-class individuals.
This conference with her inspired and motivated me to give that position my very
best as I dealt with young men who enrolled at Bethune-Cookman College.
B: Did you see her on campus very often?
M: She did not move about on campus; in fact, she did this. After Richard B. Moore
was appointed by the Board of Trustees to become president, she stayed in the
background. She did not want to interfere, and she made this clear to many.
She stayed in the background, giving him all the opportunities he needed to
actually function as the real president of the college. So she did not move about
too much. Every once in a while, she would come to an assembly and speak to
the students in the general assembly. Other than that, you did not see her
moving [about] the campus very much.
B: Was she a very impressive looking person?
M: She was a very dominating person. She was indeed an impressive looking
person. You could see class in her every move. All her statements radiated the
class, sophistication, and intellectualism you could see in an individual. She was,
indeed, quite a lady.
B: [During] your tenure at Bethune-Cookman, did any of the prominent white
individuals whom Mrs. Bethune was with come to campus?
M: Occasionally, we would have visits from people that had been in contact and in
relations with Mrs. Bethune. People would come from far and near for fellowship
and to visit her campus, of course.
B: You mentioned you had a conference with her in her home on campus. Was that
a very impressive home?
M: Actually it was a two-story building, and it was very well appointed. She kept it in
first-class condition. The equipment in the home was first class. It was no
B: It was not.
M: It was first class.
B: I guess you felt honored to be at her institution.
B: You were the dean of men for two years. After that, what did you do, sir? Of
how many students were you in charge?
M: At that particular time, I would say we had anywhere from 4,500 men attending
B: Did the men have to live on campus?
M: No, they did not. You could attend Bethune-Cookman by renting a room and
living in the city if you wanted. There was no residential requirement. We did
have dormitories so those who came from other cities could live on campus in
B: Were they controlled by sex?
M: Oh sure. At that time, we had no mixed dormitories. We had separate
dormitories for men and women.
B: Did you have a curfew?
M: So far as operation on the campus, yes we did. After 10 p.m., men had to leave
the residence area for girls and go to their own dormitory area. That was the
regulation as it pertained to supervision of students--male and female
relationships--on our campus.
B: Did you have many problems with adhering to those requirements?
M: No. We set rules, and I have to admit that at that particular time, the behavior of
the men were pretty cooperative. Every once in a while there a minor problem
might have arisen. Setting up the rules as we did, we did not have any major
problems with the behavior of our men. The behavior on our campuses was
pretty reasonable. We had not gotten into this new area of freedom on
campuses. At that time, we were pretty rigid and the rule was set. They
complied with it very nicely.
M: Joel, you have not asked me, but let me tell you what happened. I was in the
Bethune-Cookman administration for about eight years or better. Let me explain
what happened in between.
B: All right, please do.
M: During the first two years, I served as dean of men. That was from 1952 to 1954.
In 1954, Mrs. Bethune died, and the person who had been dean of students was
promoted. He moved up from the dean of students on the campus to the director
of the foundation. After the death of Mrs. Bethune, her house was converted into
a museum and a foundation. We called it the Bethune Foundation. The man
who had been dean of students was elevated from that position to director of the
foundation. He set his office up and operated out of the campus residence of
I then was promoted from the dean of students to the position he had vacated. I
became dean of students for Bethune-Cookman, which means that I had the
supervision of the total program for students. I was then the supervisor of the
dean of women and the next person who was employed as dean of men. I was
director of the total student program.
B: Approximately how many students did you have?
M: At Bethune-Cookman?
M: Anywhere from 700 to 800 students at that time.
B: Were they mostly from the state of Florida?
M: They were for the most part. There were a few students who were recruited from
out of state for the athletic program for football and basketball. At that time Joel,
you only had [athletic programs for] men. There was no basketball for girls at
Cookman at that time. There were a few men who were recruited out of state to
play on the basketball and football teams.
B: Why did the girls not play athletics?
M: It just happened that Bethune-Cookman and most colleges at that time, including
Florida A&M University, did not have girl athletic teams.
B: Now you were saying Mrs. Bethune died in 1954. Do you remember anything
about the funeral?
M: I was part of the funeral. As you can imagine, we paid a decent and a high
respect as we interned Mrs. Bethune. The college got permission to have her
grave on campus. You can imagine that we paid high respect to a high-level
program as we went through the service. May I tell you who preached?
B: Yes, please.
M: Howard Thurmond (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING), who then was the dean of.
I do not remember the university right now. Howard Thurmond was brought in
to preach the eulogy of Mrs. Bethune. He flew in, preached that eulogy, caught
his plane, and made it back to the institution where he was dean of religion.
B: Was Mrs. Roosevelt still living at that time? Did she attend?
M: No, Mrs. Roosevelt was not there.
B: Was the funeral held on campus?
M: Yes, in the auditorium at the college. [That] was where it was held. I told you
she was buried on campus [and] the funeral and everything else was held right
there in the college auditorium. We then proceeded to the grave site on campus,
and [we had] quite an internment ceremony for Mrs. Bethune.
B: How long were you dean of students?
M: For about seven years.
B: Tell me about that responsibility. Did you enjoy it?
M: It was a very enjoyable experience. It included a lot of planning and supervision
to conduct the affairs as it related to counseling. You had to have counseling
programs which operated through the academic program. As dean of students, I
was involved with all aspects of student affairs on campus. It was enjoyable.
Naturally for that size college, it was an enjoyable experience. It was
demanding, but it was not overbearing.
B: What prepared you for this experience?
M: Let me explain my education at Northwestern to answer that question. When I
enrolled at Northwestern, I thought it would be [good] to get some training in the
area of counseling. Counseling was coming to the fold at that particular time. I
was permitted by the department of sociology to take a class each semester in
the department of education. I did a dual program at Northwestern University.
My major concentration was in sociology, but each semester I was able to enroll
in a course focusing on counseling in the college of education.
It so happened Joel, in 1952 before my G.I. Bill was exhausted, I was able to
secure enough hours in the College of Education to qualify for a master of
education degree in the department of education. I graduated from Northwestern
in 1952 with a degree in education majoring in counseling. I came away then
with two degrees: one [master of science] degree in sociology from Western
Reserve in 1950 and a master of education degree from Northwestern with an
emphasis in counseling.
B: So you were pretty much prepared for this job as dean of students?
M: I was prepared for it because I had trained to perform as a counselor or a
supervisor of a counseling program in a college or university.
B: [With] the prominence of Mrs. Bethune, [who] had gotten support for her school,
did you have a decent budget and facilities with which to work.
M: I operated with complete resources, but at that time we did not set our budget
according to areas. The Division of Student Affairs did not have a special budget
that was designated. Bethune-Cookman operated on a total budget. The dean
of academic affairs, the business office, and the Division of Student Services
provided for funds as the need arose. In setting up the budget, there was no
specification as to how many dollars you had for your budget in a year.
Whenever we had expenditures, the business office made those funds available
through the total budget of the college.
B: Is there any personal experience you remember in your role as dean of students
that you might want to share?
M: Not particularly Joel. There was nothing specific that I can focus on that would
be worthy of special identification. When you have total responsibilities for the
area of student affairs, you get a lot of experiences, and you come in contact with
a lot of people who work with you and [whom] you enjoy. For instance, there was
a close relationship between me as dean of students and the dean of academic
affairs. We all had a close relationship.
Our commitment at that time, Joel, was for the total development of students in
all their experiences at the college, whether it was in the classroom, the
dormitories, or the social experiences that were made available to students.
[There were] good relationships with the dean of academic affairs, the dean of
women and her program with the young ladies, and with the dean of men as he
supervised the affairs. All those things gave you the kind of experiences you
remember and enjoy as you function as a member of the college family.
B: I know Bethune-Cookman is a predominantly black institution. Was it still all-
M: Yes, it was all negro.
B: Faculty as well?
M: No. There were white teachers. It so happened, as I mentioned earlier,
Bethune-Cookman was independent and was associated with the Methodist
Church. The faculty employed both blacks and whites. We had a mixed faculty,
but our students were predominantly black.
B: How long were you at Bethune-Cookman?
M: I was at Bethune-Cookman for eight years.
B: When you left there, where did you go?
M: At that time, a community college was developing. The state established a
community college in Daytona Beach by the name of Volusia County Community
College. At my dismissal from the position at Bethune-Cookman, I was
employed as a counselor at Volusia County Community College. That was one
of the many community colleges operated by the state at that time. I was
employed at that college in Daytona Beach.
B: Are you saying to me that when you went to Volusia Community College this was
the beginning of the junior-college era in Florida?
M: No. At that particular time Joel, community colleges had been developed all over
the state. If you get the history of the development of community colleges, you
will find that they had begun to blossom in 1958. Volusia County was way down
the road so far as developing community colleges. Daytona Beach had been in
Daytona Beach for a number of years before Volusia County Community
College. You ought to know Joel that in those years there were separate junior
colleges for blacks and whites. The state had not become integrated at that time.
There was a junior college in Daytona Beach for whites, and then they
developed one for blacks.
B: The one for blacks was named what?
M: Volusia County Community College.
B: So it was a black college for black students.
M: Black students.
B: And you went there as the counselor?
M: I was employed as a counselor. My role was to perform counseling services and
teach one course in sociology. We did not have history back then. This was the
beginning freshman year. I served as a counselor and taught one class each
semester in introductory sociology.
B: Was this the first year for Volusia Community College?
M: That was the second year. The first year I was still at Bethune-Cookman. When
I was dismissed, or when my tenure was completed at Bethune-Cookman, the
junior college was expanding into the sophomore year. It had begun naturally
with the freshman class, and then it was moving into the sophomore year, the
second year, so we had a sophomore class. I was employed to teach in the
sophomore area as well as to serve as a counselor for the whole school body.
B: You were counselor for one year. What did you do the next year, sir?
M: Joel, I have to admit it. My tenure was short at community colleges. After that
one year tenure at Volusia County Community College, I was not rehired. In the
meantime, a junior college was developed in Putnam County in the city of
Palatka. I was employed then to come to the college in Palatka, Florida, to serve
as a teacher in the area of social science.
B: This was also a negro college?
M: It was. In those years Joel, whenever you talked about junior colleges, you were
talking about junior colleges for whites and a junior colleges for blacks. They
were separate in those years.
B: How long were you at the junior college in Putnam?
M: I was at the junior college in Putnam for four years. At that time, the junior
college movement was beginning to move into the direction of integration.
Collier-Blocker was the name of the college in Palatka. We named it after two
renown educators who had been in that county. The junior college was named
after those two educators: Collier-Blocker were the two person for whom the
college was named. The problem in this college in Putnam County was such that
we never did get a sufficient number of students to justify the continuation of that
junior college. In 1962, that college was discontinued and the students were
transferred and brought to the other major college, which was St. Johns Junior
College in Palatka. [After] the discontinuation of that college in Palatka, I came
B: You came here to do what?
M: I came because I was hired by a black junior college in Marion County in Ocala
named Hampton Junior College. This college in Ocala was named after a
prominent black dentist who had served many years with distinction for many
years in the city of Ocala. This college was segregated college.
B: You came as a counselor?
M: I came as a teacher in the area of social science. The president asked me to
render some service as it was needed. My original employment was as a
teacher in the area of social science.
B: Did you see much difference in the quality of the students and the facilities
[between] Bethune-Cookman and the black community colleges?
M: No. The quality of the students were equal. All of them came out of high school.
The students who graduated from the high schools in those cities were just as
good as the quality of the students who had come to Bethune-Cookman. There
is only one thing you have to understand about junior colleges. If [students] had
a high school diploma at that time, you were required to admit them to the junior
college. At Bethune-Cookman, the registrars had the discretion of deciding
whether the high school transcripts of students justified admission.
B: So junior colleges had an open-door policy?
M: Yes they did. [It was] the same with Bethune-Cookman. As a private institution it
was anxious to get many students enrolled. There were very few occasions
when a student was denied admission if that student had completed and earned
a high school diploma. Your high school diploma was your admission to Bethune
Cookman as well as the junior colleges. There was an agreement with the junior
college program in the state that any student who earned his high school diploma
could enter the junior college.
B: You came here to Hampton Junior College. It was called the junior college or
M: At that time, it was called community college.
B: The administration for those facilities came from where? The president, the
faculty, and staff--were they local citizens? Did they come from high school into
M: The faculty came from different areas. Some of them probably came from out of
state, Joel. Usually when a junior college was started for black students, it did
not keep up with the establishments of junior colleges for white students. As the
years went by, it was eventually decided that a junior college opportunity should
be provided for black students. Those junior colleges were built usually on the
campuses of the high schools.
B: Oh really?
M: Yes indeed. I surmise that foresight resulted in those campuses being built in
high school areas because it was understood that eventually there would be
integration of educational resources throughout the state. If you had built a
facility out in some separate spot, it may have stood there vacated with no use
whatsoever. What happened, Joel, is that most of the junior college facilities
were built on the area in proximity of the high school. This played a fundamental
role. High school enrollment was growing and expanding; it is continuing to do
so today. When high school enrollment expanded, they could easily move over
and utilize the facility that originally had served as the junior college facility. That
was the reason why. You ask about the person there. What usually happened
Joel is that the principal of the high school was promoted or elevated and made
president of the local junior or community college. I would say that happened in
95 percent of the cases. Very seldom did anyone go out of the state and bring
presidents to these black junior colleges. Usually it was the [promotion] of the
high school principal to the chief administrator of the local, black community
B: How many years were you at Hampton Community College?
M: Actually I began my work there in the fall of 1963. I served as a teacher of social
science my first year, which was 1963 and 1964. In 1964, the man who had
been dean of students and registrar at Hampton Junior College retired and went
to Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia. I then was promoted from a
teacher of social science to dean of students and registrar at Hampton Junior
College in the fall of 1964.
B: How many students did you have?
M: I would say we had anywhere from 200 to 300 students at the junior college. I
was at Hampton only two years Joel. In 1963 and 1964, I was teacher of social
science. Actually, I taught a course in sociology and one course in world history.
In 1964, as I told you, the man who was dean of students and registrar resigned
and went to Fort Valley State College in Fort Valley, Georgia. I then was
promoted to the dean of students and registrar at Hampton Junior College for the
1964-65 school year.
B: So you were the dean of students and registrar during 1964 and 1965.
M: In my second year at Hampton Junior College. At that time Joel, all the black
junior colleges in Florida were discontinued, and all the students in black junior
colleges were transferred to white junior colleges. The white junior college in
Ocala was and is Central Florida Community College. I transferred all the
transcripts for the black students and all the tenured faculty from Hampton Junior
College in the spring of 1965 to Central Florida Community College. The state
had issued a virtual edict that any teacher who was tenured at a black junior
college was to be transferred to the white junior colleges. Those of us who were
not tenured were not employed at those white junior colleges.
B: Was there any planning for this to take place? Were you all aware that they were
going to close the negro junior colleges and merge them with the white junior
M: We were informed. For instance, in Marion County at Hampton, we were
informed in 1964 that we had only one more year to operate. So we knew during
the fall of 1964 that we were going to close at the end of that [school] year. We
knew in 1965 there would be no more [black] junior colleges in the state of
Florida. So all the black junior colleges were discontinued in that year.
B: In 1965 they closed.
M: The administrators and the teachers knew those colleges were going to be
B: What happened to the facilities?
M: Just as I said.
B: They became high schools?
M: Those facilities were given over to high schools that were in the campus area
where they were built. So Hampton Junior College facilities became high school
facilities in 1965.
B: And all the students were admitted to Central Florida Community College along
with the faculty and staff who had tenure. Were you tenured?
M: I was not.
B: You were not tenured?
M: As I told you, I began teaching at Hampton in 1963. I was there from 1963 to the
1964 [school] year. I was there in 1964 to [the end of the school year in] 1965.
The requirement was that you had to have three or more years of service before
you could become tenured.
B: I see. Was that an easy transition from Hampton to the community college at
M: As far as my experience is concerned, all I did was transfer the high school
transcripts. For me, it was not difficult. I have to admit that there were some
teachers who found it a little bit confusing and difficult to adjust to the transfer
situation. Some of them went to Central Florida and stayed one year. Then they
transferred or sought employment elsewhere. So with that group who were in
tenured positions, they may have found some difficulty in adjusting to the
experiences on the white campus.
B: Now had the Civil Rights demonstrations began to take place here in Ocala in the
1964 to 1965 year?
M: Oh yes. It had been going on. It had not gotten deeply involved in the school
situation, but if you go back to the business of the Civil Rights Movement, it had
been growing and growing. There was a dominant minister by the name of
Frank Pankston (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING) who had led that movement.
He was a teacher in the high schools. [The Civil Rights Movement had not
reached the high schools or the junior colleges in a great degree at that time. It
was in years to follow that those particular situations developed. At that time,
there was not too much difficulty. I think the students who transferred had a
rather accommodating experience at the white junior colleges. We did not have
serious demonstrations. In fact, Joel, you might know that most of the problems
occurred in high schools when they were integrated. That is when you had your
most serious problems.
B: Since you did not have tenure, and you did not go to the Central Florida
Community College, what did you do at this point?
M: The same year Hampton was discontinued and integrated, an integrated junior
college developed in Gainesville, Florida. You ought to know about that junior
college, Joel, because I remember teaching you at that junior college. It
happened that the president who was at Central Florida left Ocala. He was
president of Central Florida Community College, but he resigned from Central
Florida Community College and accepted the initial presidency of the junior
college that was established in Gainesville.
B: His name was what?
M: Joseph Podice (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING). It was my good fortune to be
employed by Joseph Podice as a teacher of social science at Santa Fe [which]
was established in 1965. I was employed in 1965 as a teacher of social science
at Santa Fe. You might want to ask which courses did I begin as a teacher
there? My two fields of specialization as a teacher were introductory sociology
and marriage and the family. Those were the two courses I taught at that school.
It might be interesting to note that in 1965 I was the only black teacher employed
with the original faculty at Santa Fe in 1965.
B: The only one?
M: I was the only black teacher employed in that faculty.
B: It seems you have had an assortment of jobs. What caused you to get all the
M: Are you saying to me, Joel, that I got fired a lot?
B: No you did not get fired, it just seems like you went different places.
M: It so happens that there are circumstances that resulted in my termination. At
Bethune Cookman I was terminated because the Board of Trustees at Bethune
Cookman advised Richard B. Moore, who was president at that time, to reduce
his administrative staff. The college employment had become heavy in
administration. So you needed to keep a dean of men and a dean of students to
look at the close-up supervision. The one that could be terminated was the dean
of students, so that is why I left.
Now at Volusia County--I was there only one year. I was not radical, Joel. There
was a nationwide movement to deal with the integration of colleges. The
president of that junior college was invited to come to a national conference
[about] the issue of integrating colleges and universities. While I did not
encourage [it], I did not discourage the attendance of this particular [conference]
by the president of the student body. The president thought I was negligent not
to discourage him because at that time he was afraid to have his student body
participate in the integration movement. I refused to discourage this student from
attending. [The president] thought he did not have further use for me at his junior
college, so I was discontinued there.
In the meantime, a junior college was established in Palatka, and I was fortunate
to be invited to become a faculty member. We stayed there four years, and I
think I told you the enrollment never reached a level to sustain a junior college. It
was discontinued and students were admitted to St. Johns. At that time, I was
offered employment at St. Johns, but I had negotiated and been offered a
position at Hampton. So I left Palatka and came to Ocala. I worked in this junior
college, as I have already said, for two years. After those two years, black
colleges were cut out all over the state.
B: How did the community take that sir? Did the black community accept it very
M: On the whole, I would say that it was accepted reasonably. I mean, there were a
few boys who thought it would be good to keep a segregated junior college. On
the whole, everybody accepted with reason and good judgement, so there was
no overt resistance or demonstration to keep the junior college. When the
integration came, everybody accepted it graciously as one of the eventual
outcomes [of the Civil Rights Movement] anyhow. We knew it was going to
happen sooner or later.
Joel, this was happening at the high school level as well--the integration of
education. I do not have to relate to you the problems blacks experienced when
the schools were discontinued or integrated. The general feeling was that it was
something that was happening, and whites and blacks had to accept it as an
eventuality. While there was some resistance, on the whole, it was accepted as
B: When you came to Hampton Junior College you moved to Ocala to live?
M: Yes I did.
B: Have you been here since then?
M: I have been in this same house you are sitting in today. It happened I was able
to acquire this particular residence.
B: You have been here in this facility?
M: I have been living here since I came in 1963.
B: You went to Santa Fe Community College as its only black faculty member. Why
did you not choose to move to Gainesville?
M: My wife had secured employment in Marion County. Junior colleges at that time
were under the supervision of the local superintendent of schools.
B: Were they?
M: Yes it was. When Joseph Fordythe (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING) introduced
his faculty to the superintendent of schools in Alachua County. He met me and
he suggested to me that he would be glad to give my wife employment. We had
established a home here. She had been employed in the Marion County School
System and she did not want to leave. I did not want to sell my house and move.
So I said to her, "Honey, you stay right here, live in our house, and teach in
Marion County. I will commute from Ocala to Gainesville."
B: How long did you do that sir?
M: I did that for five years.
B: You were teaching both black and white students?
M: Sure, it was an integrated college, Joel.
B: Did you enjoy that experience, sir?
M: I was a teacher. As far as I was concerned, teaching was my business. I told
anybody who registered I had no respect or concern as to whether the student
was black or white. My concentration was on the subject matter and effective
teaching technique. The grades of the students made no difference to me.
B: Who did you marry, sir?
M: I married a young lady when I was teaching in Collier-Blocker Community
College in Palatka. I met her in the junior college when I taught at the Volusia
County Community College. She was a sophomore when I met her. She
proceeded to complete her work and go to Florida A&M University. I married this
young lady when she was a senior at Florida A&M University.
B: Her name?
M: Her name was Betty Jean Young.
B: You married her. Did you all have a family?
M: We did not have a family in those days. For several years, we had no children.
We left Palatka and came to Ocala. She came with me to Ocala. Fortunately for
her, while I was employed at the junior college, she was employed in one of the
elementary schools here in Marion County. Through the years, we were
teachers. I [was] at the junior college, she [was] at the elementary school. In
1970, God blessed us with our first and only child. Do you want her name?
B: Oh, please.
M: Her name is Minyon Michelle (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING) Mathis.
M: I told her to sign her exams and tests the three-M girl. Minyon Michelle Mathis.
Let me tell you about her.
B: Please do.
M: Okay. She finished one of the late developed high schools here in Marion
County--Vanguard. This young student graduated with honors from high school.
She proceeded to Florida A&M University and graduated in the College of
Business and Industry with honors in bookkeeping and accounting, Joel. After
completing her work at Florida A&M University, she enrolled at the University of
Florida. She graduated in December 1993 with a master of accounting degree in
taxation. She is now on her way to Atlanta, Georgia, to work with an accounting
firm. She has been a very successful student.
B: She took after her father.
M: I do not know. Maybe it is a gift from God.
M: I am not going to make any claims. I have been very proud of her academic
skills. Academically she has been very gifted.
B: Did you get involved in the Civil Rights Movement here in Marion County?
M: No, I never did get involved in it.
B: Why did you not, sir?
M: I did not feel the urge. There were enough people who had been around a long
time. There were enough young people. While I did not object or criticize, I
never became involved actively in Civil Rights demonstrations.
B: Did you feel that what was happening was going to take place and was needed?
M: I thought it was very [good] at the time. I fully believed in what was being done. I
believed in the civil-disobedience philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. So I had
no objections to seeing it. I do not mind telling you Joel, when the high schools
here were integrated, there were some very critical days. That is why I would go
on campuses and talk to the administration. I never became an active
participant. That is not my style, Joel. I believe in high-level and intelligent
negotiation to achieve those kind of purposes. I do not participate, while I do not
condemn it. I never believed in active, overt demonstration.
B: Did you ever encounter any problems as the only black faculty member at Santa
Fe Community College?
M: No. I have to credit Joseph Fordythe, a distinguished administrator. It happened
that in the establishment of Santa Fe, he recruited teachers from all over the
United States. He had diversity. There were a lot of them, as you could imagine,
who were wise, distinguished professors at the University of Florida who came
over and served as teachers and administrators at Santa Fe Community College.
It created, Joel, a very lovely environment for both whites and blacks. I
experienced no animosity or racism at Santa Fe. Joseph Fordythe set the stage,
and he believed in being a good teacher. That was his forte. So far as grades
were concerned, he was not concerned about your rate, and he did not tolerate
any aspects of racism. As you can imagine, in the second or third year, as the
college grew, other black teachers were employed. In that initial year, 1965 and
1966, there was only one black faculty [member] at Santa Fe --Ben Mathis.
B: Mr. Mathis, why did you leave Santa Fe Community College?
M: It just happened that in the 1970 and 1971 school years, there was quite an
upheaval by black students at the University of Florida. The man who had been
employed to supervise and deal with the issues affecting black students resigned
and left the University. I believe his name was Roy (Ishman) Mitchell
(Coordinator for Disadvantaged Students and Minority Groups). I believe the
vice-president of Student Affairs requested a replacement for that position.
It happened that his wife, Evelyn Hale, was teaching at Santa Fe. She and I had
come to know each other. I believe it was through her that she recommended to
Dr. (Lester Leonard) Hale, vice-president of student affairs (appointed 1967), a
man at Santa Fe whom she thought he should recruit to do the job. He called me
at Santa Fe and asked me to come to the University for an interview. I went out
to the University and talked with Dr. Hale. He offered me a job as assistant to
the vice-president for Student Affairs.
I would come over and work out of his area in Tigert Hall dealing with minority
issues at the University. I then went back to Fordythe, and shared with him the
invitation I had to join the University of Florida and requested a leave of absence.
Fordythe granted me a leave of absence. Fortunately, I did not get fired at Santa
Fe. I requested and was granted a leave of absence. In 1971, I became an
employee of the University of Florida as vice-president of Student Affairs.
B: You were there to work with minority students and their concerns on campus at
M: Let me explain what was happening. The same year I was employed Joel, there
were other areas that had begun to employ blacks. There were special programs
set up to accommodate special students who were brought to the University
under special arrangements. The young man hired to direct that program was
Elmer Tosse (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING). You probably remember Elmer
Tosse. At the same time, students requested a special house where they could
have an Institute of Black Culture. A black administrator, James Carter
(PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING), was employed to run that. In the meantime,
there were some blacks who were employed in the counseling area in the
University College. Quite a diversity of blacks were employed in 1971. My
responsibilities and relationships with black students were more or less limited at
that time. Frankly, if you want to know my specific responsibility [it was to] travel
the state and recruit black students from junior colleges and high schools. My
major function was to recruit minority students.
B: Did you find that difficult to do?
M: Well, there were certain difficulties I faced. For instance, many black junior
colleges and high schools had heard about the controversy that had engulfed
black students during the initial tenure at the University in 1970 and 1971. It was
quite a task to convince them that they would encounter a favorable attitude at
the University. I faced that kind of opposition. I was relatively successful in
getting a sizable number of blacks from junior colleges and high schools to seek
application for the years 1971 and 1972. That was my first year.
B: Were you able to give them incentives to come? What were their incentives?
M: We were able to offer them financial assistance. We were able to share with
them the kind of provision and services provided for blacks at the University. The
Tosse Program was one inviting feature. They were told they get all kinds of
educational assistance to help them with any academic problems they would
face. Plus there was another young lady who was hired in Student Affairs who
would give them personal counseling and assistance. Overall, we were able to
convince them that they would encounter a rather pleasurable experience at the
B: Did you have a quota you had to fulfill that year?
M: No, nobody gave me any quotas. The idea was to get as many quality students
as you can. That was the recommendation that I worked under. There was no
quota that I had to fill. We did not deal with quotas at that time. The idea was to
get as many quality students to come. Joel, I can tell you what the facts were.
After the upheaval the black students experienced, the officials (the dean of
education, vice-president for student affairs) wanted to see many other [black
students] come. I do not have to tell you the pressure the University was under.
After that particular upheaval, the University felt obligated to do all it could to
increase black enrollment.
B: Was this a mandate by the federal government that they do it?
M: The federal government did come in and suggest that the University [increase
black enrollment]. At that time, universities all over the United States were
encouraged to increase the enrollment of black students. In fact, the University
of Florida had to compete with the recruitment of black students at other high-
level institutions all over the state.
B: Did you have any difficulties going into the high schools and the communities?
Did you go mostly into high schools and/or community colleges to get your
M: I went to both. While the reception at the junior colleges always was favorable,
there were one or two occasions where a white principal articulated [disapproval].
In fact, they communicated with Lester Hale saying that they did not want
anybody coming to their school recruiting black students. That was in the minor
areas. Most of the principals all over the state were very receptive to my visits to
their high schools. There were only one or two who communicated to Hale that
they did not want him to be sending any black recruiters to their schools.
B: And you did not go?
M: No. If they did not want me, I did not go.
B: If they did not want you, you did not go there.
M: Hale advised me, "Ben, if they do not want you, just forget it. Go to those who
want you." There was one black principal who did not understand what the
mission was, and he did not want me to come to his school. It was an all-black
B: Did you talk to him about it?
M: I went. I did not know him. It happened that he was a graduate of Bethune-
Cookman. He had graduated before I got there. I explained [it] to him. I talked
to him over the phone before I went, of course, and told him what I was doing.
He opened the door, and said, "I did not understand that. You are perfectly
welcome." He arranged for me to meet with his seniors.
B: Was your role just to get the applications of the students? Did you follow them
through the process whether they were accepted or not?
M: All I did was encourage them to communicate with the college themselves. I left
the burden of application to the students.
B: So your role was just to make contact with the students?
B: Did you take applications?
M: I did not take applications with me. As I said, I left the responsibility of securing
applications to the students.
B: I see.
M: There was a man who is still there, who followed me out of the office of the
registrar. He took applications to high schools and to junior colleges.
B: Who was that?
M: John Boatwright (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING).
B: How many years were you assistant to the vice-president for student affairs?
M: Five years. I began employment at the University of Florida in the fall of 1971.
On June 30, 1976, I retired from the University of Florida after five years. By the
way, speaking of commuting, I still lived in Ocala. I commuted from Ocala to the
University of Florida every day for five years. So for ten years I commuted from
Ocala to Gainesville--five years to Santa Fe and five years at the University of
B: You said in the first year that the role changed. While you were the assistant to
the vice-president from 1971 to 1976, what was your role--just to deal with black
M: Actually, I did not have to deal with black students when they got on campus. As
I said before, there were other blacks who had been employed. There was a
young lady who worked in the Division of Student Affairs; her name was Joyce
E. Pelt (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING). She dealt with problems. Black student
problems went to her desk. I had no contact with problems. If there was a
student who I had recruited, and that student was experiencing difficulty, they
were privileged to come to my office. My office was in Tigert Hall in the area of
the vice-president for student affairs. My office was just opposite his. They could
come to Tigert Hall and talk with me. This lady who was employed by Student
Services, Joyce Pelt, dealt mostly with students problems. I had very little to do
with the problems of student on campus.
B: What was your major role after the first year in this capacity, sir?
M: If there was a convention of students on campus and we thought there might be
some need of supervision, I was invited to participate with the student affairs staff
to assist with that. Predominantly, I traveled. I traveled all over the state, from
Jacksonville to Miami, from Orlando to Palm Beach and Pensacola. My
predominant role was to travel to the high schools and junior colleges in the state
and recruit students. That was my major function. I had very little to do with
minority affairs on campus. Other blacks were employed at that time.
B: I see. Were you looking for a certain type of student? Was it a requirement that
they had to have a certain grade point average? Did they have to go into a
certain major at the University of Florida? Or were they just accepted as
M: We were trying to get high-quality students. We were looking for students who
seemed to suggest that they could succeed. I want to tell you what actually was
happening. I can name the people if you want me to name them.
B: Please, sir.
M: When I got to the University, there was a young man named Randolph Brassey
(PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING). I understand Brassey now is a successful
minister in Orlando, Florida. When I got to the University of Florida, there was a
special program designed to help students who had low academic records.
M: Right. Those students were brought in and put into a special-service program
and given special assistance academically so that they could succeed. It was a
special program set up and operated under the supervision of Randolph Brassey
at that time. He was succeeded by Manuel Mango (PLEASE VERIFY
SPELLING). I believe Mango is still operating that special- service program. We
did enroll some students whose chances for success were not as bright as some
others who were recruited. We recruited some good, quality, high-level
academic students. There were some who needed special assistance. Students
submitted their applications to the office of the registrar. It was the policy of the
office of the registrar to admit a certain number of students who showed a slight
academic deficiency. [They] were brought in and put in this special-service
program to help them achieve the level of success they needed.
B: Was this a federal program or was it a University program?
M: I do not know the details, but I am going to surmise that there was some federal
assistance. As you know, the federal government was providing special funds
for the universities all over the United States. Those federal funds were tied in to
service to minorities--a diversity of Asiatic, Hispanic, and blacks. So some of
those policies probably operated out of mandate by the federal government
inasmuch as it was providing money. I would suggest that some of the funds
used in these programs were provided by the federal government.
B: Ben Mathis is going to school in Jacksonville and it is an integrated school. Did
they simply have an assembly for you to meet only with black students to talk
about being admitted to the University?
M: Yes. My focus was on black students. You probably know that the University
had more applications from white students than it could accommodate. There
had never been any great need to recruit white students. If you study the rolls at
the office of the registrar even today, you will probably find that there are more
applications from whites for admission than the University can accommodate.
That is not the same story with blacks and Hispanics. Minority students always
have been the focus of recruitment.
B: Did you feel you were successful at getting the numbers?
M: I felt I was reasonably successful in getting a sizable number of students to apply
and get admitted to the University. The enrollment continued to increase in spite
of that upheaval in 1971. I can say I had certain anxieties as to how successful I
was going to be in my first year. As I pointed out before, the high-level officials
knew they were under constraints or mandates to get black students on campus.
I felt a little anxiety and apprehension as to how successful I was going to be.
Thank God the enrollment came up pretty decently that first year. After that, it
continued to increase.
B: So you were successful in that role.
B: Now you lived in Marion County and drove to Gainesville daily. Did you have a
difficult time recruiting students from Marion County?
M: I never kept a record, Joel. I cannot answer. I would say I was successful in
Marion County. I did visit the high schools here, but I visited them in all the
counties. I would suggest that my success probably was equal all over the state.
B: Did you deal very much with the top administration at the University of Florida?
During the period you are talking about, Stephen C. O'Connell was president
(1968-1974). [People have said] O'Connell [was] not the most practical person to
be [president] at that time. Did you have any association with him?
M: I did not have too much contact with [him]. The person I had most of my contact
with was with the office of the registrar. I believe (Richard Holmes) Whitehead
was registrar (appointed 1971) when I was there. Occasionally, I would have the
chance to see and talk to the president. For instance, on one or two occasions
he was invited to come over to a demonstration at the Institute of Black Culture. I
had a chance to sit down and talk with him. I should not have to tell you that very
seldom did low-level administration have contact with the chief.
B: I see. Do you remember very much about how the Institute of Black Culture
M: Actually, I only know a little bit about it. I was not involved in it directly. I
understand that black students had their experiences at the University. They
wanted a center that would focus on their heritage. That is what happened at
that center. There were a lot of items and artifacts accumulated to display the
black experience. Black students were instrumental in securing that building and
those artifacts so that they could go there and get some kind of satisfaction out of
themselves and their history. I did not play a part in the inception, and neither did
I have any part in the supervision of that institute.
B: Was there a black faculty and staff caucus when you were there?
M: Yes, there was. I keep repeating [that] in 1971 there was quite an extension of
blacks in the University system. Let me share something else with you. Even
though I did not complete my sociology studies at Northwestern, when I came to
the University of Florida as a member of the staff (assistant to vice-president for
student affairs) I got permission from the director of the Sociology Department to
continue my graduate studies at the University. You know what his request was?
M: "I will permit you to continue as a student, Ben, as a student in sociology
provided you teach a class for me in the Department of Sociology." During the
time I was at the University of Florida as an administrator, I also was given a
teaching credential. I was on the teaching staff as well as the administrative
staff. I had administrative credentials as well as instructional credentials. I
taught a class each year in introductory sociology at the University of Florida.
B: Did you?
M: I did.
B: Now did you feel you were given the very best and that you were being fulfilled?
M: Yes, I did.
B: Here is Ben Mathis, a boy who started out in Georgia on a farm. His father grew
peaches. He had made this tenure through educational enrollment. He was at a
predominantly white institution in Florida. How did you feel to be there as
assistant to the vice-president of student affairs?
M: Joel, I felt tremendously good. I thought the experience was something far
beyond my wildest dreams. When I look back over my experience, I have to
thank you, Heavenly Father. I have been very, very fortunate. I have had
tremendous experiences. Let me tell you--I have contributed to it myself. It did
not fall down from the sky. My academic acumen, intellectual curiosity, and my
intellectual commitment have all converged to keep me moving in the direction
that I have moved. When I retired from the University in 1976, I felt I had a real
productive and enjoyable life history individually and professionally. I did not feel
cheated at all. I have felt complete fulfillment in terms of my personal and
professional life. I am still enjoying that satisfaction today.
B: Are you?
M: For instance, let me tell you [this]. After retirement, I did not just sit down. For
about six years I served as a volunteer at the American Red Cross office. My
service was to fulfill the role of contact with overseas soldiers. I ran that office for
about six years as a volunteer. I served for four years with AARP, the American
Association of Retired Persons. I had been involved in the Marion County
Democratic Executive Committee for a number of years. Individually, I have
participated in the campaign of many people who sought political office.
B: So you have been pretty busy.
M: I have not sat down and deteriorated. I have kept myself physically and mentally
active through the years, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
B: Before we get to your retirement, let us go back to one moment. Will you say
that coming from the community college, Santa Fe, to the University of Florida
that that transition was a very smooth one?
M: It was. I think--I am not bragging--I have brought the ability and expertise to
perform in each area that I have served in professionally. I have found an easy
transition. Dr. Lester Hale, who was vice-president for student affairs, was a nice
person with whom I worked. He was a congenial person. He was an
understanding person. He made my work joyful and gratifying. I had a wonderful
experience in most of my work relationships. I enjoyed my tenure at Bethune-
Cookman. The students respected me, the faculty respected me. I have been
successful in most of my work experiences.
B: Do you feel that has to do with the individual?
M: I think I have contributed a lot to it. It is my genuine opinion that a person creates
his own experiences. The first thing you ought to know is what the job is. You
ought to ask yourself, "Am I willing to perform in keeping with my competencies
and abilities?" If you do that, you can create your own experience. For instance,
I have had tremendous success in relationships.
Even today when I deal with people in the community, both black and white, I
may not be admired, but I am respected. You know why? I keep myself in such
a disposition that people respect me. I think that has been a large part of my
experiences professionally and personally. I keep myself in a position to
respected, if not admired. I think an individual creates his own little circle and the
nature of that circle in which you exist. You have a large command of that. If
you keep yourself in that circle, people who enter will give you what you are due.
B: Was the University reaching out to the black community when you came in to
recruit black students?
M: Not exceptionally, but it was.
B: It was?
M: I think the University was reaching out to make students feel they had every right
to enjoy the services and facilities of the University. I did not have any extreme
racial experiences that made me think this University did not have a genuine
commitment to serving all the citizens of the state.
B: When you left in 1976 did you still feel you had made a change?
M: Personally, I could not have said that. I felt I had performed a function that the
University appreciated, and I thought I had enhanced the outreach that the
University was making to all citizens of the state.
B: You had brought an equality to the number of students at the University of
M: If you are asking, "Do you feel, Ben, that you contributed?" yes, indeed. I feel I
made a significant contribution to the program at the University of Florida.
B: You have been retired 1976 to 1994. Have you ever thought about teaching a
class here and there?
M: No. I really have enjoyed my retirement. When I was working in this volunteer
program at the American Red Cross, I did comply with certain hours. Other than
that, I was taking advantage of the opportunities to do whatever voluntary service
I would do at my own leisure. I have to admit it--I enjoy the leisure I have in my
retirement. It is competent to be able to do what you are doing when you want to
do it, and not under any compulsion or mandate. I have enjoyed that, and I do
not want to give it up.
B: Have you thought about writing some of your memories down?
M: No. I had a lawyer whom I assisted in his program of election to his position.
B: Who is this person you are talking about now?
M: He is a judge now. Hale Stanford (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING), who is a
judge in the fifth district. He said, "You had such variety of noble experiences.
Why do you not write?" I have not given it a thought.
B: You have not given it a thought?
M: Not a thought.
B: What would you say your role is now as a retiree? What are you doing now?
M: My most satisfying experience is being a director. I now and have been assistant
to the superintendent in Sunday school at my church. The present
superintendent has suffered an illness, so for the past year and a half I have
been the superintendent of my church Sunday school program. Just last week, I
was the director of what we called a week of vacation Bible school. I am helping
direct a weekly program on Wednesday, which is our usual prayer service and
Bible study. I have received such rich fulfillment doing that.
As I told you before, I am participating in an organization that we have created in
Marion County known as the African-American Council. This is a grand, county-
wide organization. We are trying to enhance two or three things. We are trying
to enhance the enrollment of black electors, black voters, and we are trying to get
them sensitized to the importance of the vote in terms of issues and problems
affecting black people of Marion County. I find a lot of satisfaction in that. We
are trying to recruit competent and able black candidates for elected positions:
county commissioner, board of education, city council. We do have one person
on the city council. Lorenzo Edwards (PLEASE VERIFY SPELLING) is his
name. He was director of minority programs at Central Florida Community
College. Fortunately, we have a young man who already has declared that he is
going to file as a candidate for membership on the Marion County School Board.
B: Why have you not run for an office?
M: I have enjoyed retirement. I do not want to submit myself to the rigors one
encounters in seeking elective office.
B: Is that a very selfish statement, sir, with all your knowledge and experience that
you could share with the global community?
M: No. Frankly, my position is that I am more of a supporter, a via the candidate
rather than being the candidate myself. I enjoy working to help a person. Let me
tell you somebody I have supported, and she would admit that she knows it. I
have been so proud of her political career. She is now Representative Karen
Thurmond out of the Dunnellon, Florida, area. I was a strong participant in her
campaign when she was [running for] the legislature in Tallahassee and when
she declared her first ever candidacy for the office. I always have enjoyed it.
This is where I get my satisfaction, rather than putting myself out on the firing line
as a candidate. I can do that objectively rather than subjectively. I think I can
make a much better contribution objectively working on the behalf of somebody
else than I could working for myself as a candidate. It is not that I have anything
against it, but I do think that sometimes political positions create crooks. I do not
want to ever be a crook.
B: [Laughter] Have you seen a change in the behavior of black students over the
years? Are black students different today than they were ten years ago?
M: I do not want to make a definitive assessment of that question, Joel. I can say
this to you. Nothing remains constant in terms of behavioral activity. Surely
there is a difference. I do not think the commitment--I regret this--of black
students is as strong as it once was. I do not think they get the incentive or the
motivation to do that. Now I am all for the integration of the school system. It is
an experience that I think is worthwhile. I do not think black students are getting
the motivation. I do not think they are getting the encouragement they need. I
think there has been a decline in ambition. I know in years past there was a
strong desire of black students to succeed.
Let me tell you what has affected some of that. Once upon a time, the only area
where blacks really could achieve any economic independence was through
professional education. That has changed now. Blacks have begun to make
niches for themselves in industries [such as] carpentry, bricklaying, [and] those
things have opened the opportunity. Blacks now are able. I employ a brother to
work on my plumbing system in my house. When he presents his bill, I look at
the bill and say, "This man is making more financially than half the teachers in
B: That is right.
M: As blacks begin to see those opportunities, they may be [losing interest] in
educational aspirations. Once upon a time, the only way you could feel high
level was to be what? A teacher. Blacks are beginning to look [elsewhere]. Let
us look at the total picture. There is a decline in the commitment of the social
department. Our social system is declining. Our family structure and the validity
of the family is declining. I regret and lament the decline of these aspects of
social experience for students and families. I think we need to go back and
recover it. I yearn for the experiences I knew in my family life. [I wish those]
could be recaptured in our present-day families.
I remember my student group [when] we went to that little church school in Fort
Valley. I wish our black students could recapture the kind of interest,
commitment, and the whole behavioral structure. I am sick of the crime and
delinquency that exists among young people in our present society. I wish they
could recapture the kind of experience I knew as I grew up in a community where
old folks who knew my parents were concerned about my behavior and would
report it. My parents gave them the privilege to discipline me if they thought I
was way out of line. You do not have that now. I regret the depths to which
social quality, aspiration, and achievement has declined in young people.
B: Do you feel that integration has helped cause this problem among the young,
M: Let me tell you. I think integration has been a good thing. I think there are
certain deficiencies or shortcomings with it. I think it has been a good thing. I
think it gives an individual the kind of self-worth he would not get if he was
segregated in his total experience. For instance, I told you we had white
teachers in my college, and I went to Hampton Institute. That was the second
time I had experienced contact with whites as instructors. That contributed no
end to my self-image. I got a different picture of who I was in relationship to
anybody whether you are white or black. I think that can be.
Let me tell you what I see as the major issue. I had a lot of people who have
been interested in encouraging me to succeed. I think a lot of that absent for
some individuals. For instance, I know this has happened. Let us take a school
that is integrated where you send young kids in lower grades. You put them in a
sea of white students. You have five teachers who do not take a personal
interest in the equal identification and self-development of that student. That
student may become lost and alienated in an environment where he cannot
identify with the kind of relationship he would experience and enjoy.
B: Do you think we will go back to neighborhood schools?
M: I do not know. Are you equating that with whether or not we should have
segregated schools in the black community?
M: I hope we do not. I hope, even though there [are complaints] about
transportation, our schools will have a mixture of all people: Hispanics, Asians,
blacks, whites. That is a wholesome thing for people to grow. Here is my
grandiose ambition. I am going back to Martin Luther King, Jr. I am hoping that
one day our American democracy will begin to look at and accept an individual
on the basis of who he is or what he can become rather than on the basis of his
color. It is my hope that one day this attitude and philosophy will pervade our
whole American structure in the business and educational world.
I was in a meeting a few days ago with the editor and writer of one of our local
papers. She was a woman. She [asked] why do you not have this same attitude
of integration in religion. I looked at her and I said, "Let me tell you. The
integration of religion was not derived from blacks. We black folks will welcome
any white person who wants to come to our church. He can join if he wants. It
does not operate from us. If the white church was a nigger, I think that would be
an ideal attitude that would suggest we are truly realizing the democracy of God
where all of us are God's children." The facts are that you find more resistance
in the white community than you do in the black community.
B: Has it been very fulfilling for you to live here?
M: I am not going to raise any criticism of Marion County. Let me tell you what had
given me credit. It amused me. I told you I was not tenured. I had two master of
science degrees and was virtually on the doorstep of a doctorate in sociology.
When Hampton Junior College was discontinued in 1965, Central Florida refused
to hire me as a teacher on that campus.
Let me tell you what happened in 1978. It so happened that I was appointed to
the Board of Trustees at Central Florida. I was able to operate or function on the
board that hired the president. The president was the employee. I said, "I am
functioning on the board where I can look at the president." I can say, "Look you
would not hire me as a teacher, but now I am on the board that can dismiss you."
[Laughter] Marion County has been very good to me.
B: But you have been involved.
M: I have made my name. For instance, there was a time when we blacks knew the
city was not giving our section of the city its just due. We went through the
negotiation channels until we found out some other means had to be achieved to
get what we were due. We sued (when I say we, there were two other people
who joined me) the city of Ocala. We won the suit. Much of the paving and
writing you see up and down the streets of Ocala that were neglected and
ignored for years were achieved through massive litigation against the city of
Ocala. We filed a federal suit.
B: So you have been really involved.
M: Up to my neck. I have enjoyed every minute of it.
B: How many years did you serve on the Board of Directors of Central Florida
M: Ten years. I was on the Board of Trustees. You serve at the pleasure of the
government. You get an appointment. So every few years you are discontinued,
and another appointment is made. Fortunately for the black community, a
woman who was a retired school teacher was appointed to succeed the seat I
occupied on the Board of Trustees at CFCC. The point I wanted to emphasize is
that I was refused admission in the teaching family of that college, but yet I am
qualified to serve on the Board of Trustees.
B: That is interesting. If you had state his motto about his life, what would that be?
M: That motto would be in very simple words. Whatever you set yourself to do, be
the very best that you can be. Give it your best. I feel this way. If you give the
best of what you have, the best will come back to you. Do not be second rate
because of your own negligence. Give your very best. Treat every man right
and demand that you are treated right. Do not accept anything less.
B: Is there anything that you want to share that we have not talked about yet?
M: Joel, I think we have talked enough. I have enjoyed your visit and interview. I
look forward to seeing whatever you plan to use with the information I gave you.
It has been my pleasure to talk with you.
B: Thank you. I have enjoyed talking to you. If there are any other points we have
not covered, make a note of them and we will get back to it.
M: Let me say to you, as you proceed to edit this, if you find there are any gaps you
want to clarify, feel free to give me a buzz. Come back and get whatever
additional you need to fill it in as you want.
B: What are you going to do with all these books that you have in your study and in
M: I am going to leave that up to whoever succeeds this house, whoever gets it. I
am going to enjoy looking at them, and reflecting on the pleasure I had as I
explore what I have on my bookshelf. You taught child psychology. You taught
general psychology. You taught sociology. You taught United States history.
You taught European history. I just look at them and get so much satisfaction
from saying, "Do you know what? You had a wonderful teaching experience.
You enjoyed the fellowship with the fellow teachers. You enjoyed the students."
When I look at the avalanche of books there on the shelf, I say, "It is out of those
books that you developed your lesson plans and teaching techniques."
B: Do you have a collection of all your lesson plans somewhere?
M: I have thrown them away. I have been out of the teaching profession for so
B: You have been out for a long time--almost twenty years.
M: In fact, I do not mind telling you that I have a filing cabinet out in the garage. I
was going through some of the drawers. I saw some teaching things and I said,
"Man you are not going to use these anymore." So I gave them to the garbage
B: Thank you very kindly.
M: It has been my pleasure.