This Oral History is copyrighted by the Interviewee
and the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program on
behalf of the Board of Trustees of the University of
Copyright, 2005, University of Florida.
All rights, reserved.
This oral history may be used for research,
instruction, and private study under the provisions
of Fair Use. Fair Use is a provision of United States
Copyright Law (United States Code, Title 17, section
107) which allows limited use of copyrighted
materials under certain conditions.
Fair use limts the amount of material that may be
For all other permissions and requests, contact the
SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Kumar Muhabir
Interviewee: AaBram Marsh
UF 271 AB
March 17, 1995
[[Please note that since both the interviewer and interviewee have the same last
initial, I will use A to identify AaBram Marsh]]
M: This interview is being conducted in the basement of Turlington Hall at the University
of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. The time is 3: 30 p.m. The date is Friday,
March 17, 1995. The interviewer is Kumar Muhabir, and the interviewee is
AaBram Marsh. State your full name and how you pronounce it.
A: My name is AaBram G. Marsh.
M: How did you get this name? Who gave it to you and what does it mean?
A: My dad named all of us, including my two younger sisters. He named me AaBram, I
assume (I am not totally sure) that it is the Biblical Abraham's name before he
had it changed.
M: I assume your father was Christian then.
A: Yes. Religion is very expansive in my family.
M: Tell me something about your grandparents. Do you remember them? Do you
recall any incidents or memories?
A: To give a little bit more background, my dad is African American and my mom is
Filipino. He met her during his tour in Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. I have
not met much of her family except for those who have come here because I do
not know anybody. I have never been to the Philippines. I do speak to them on
the phone occasionally and I know that her dad is alive, but I have only spoken to
him on the phone and seen pictures of him. Her mother passed away. As far as
on my dad's side, both his parents are alive. He has a very big family. They are
from South Carolina. They moved down to Florida several years ago in the early
1950s, and lived here ever since.
M: What work does your father do?
A: My dad is a police officer, a detective, with the City of Miami Police Department.
M: Does he live in Miami now?
A: Yes. Both my parents are in Miami.
M: What rank does he hold?
A: He is just an officer.
M: What does your mother do?
A: She is a homemaker.
M: How big is the family?
A: We only have myself, I am the only son. I have two younger sisters, ages twelve and
fourteen. [There names are] Murial and Maureen, respectively. There are three
kids and two parents.
M: Maybe I missed the point, but what other kin do you have?
A: On my dad's side, I have a very large family.
M: He was married before?
A: No. My parents have been married for twenty-some odd years. He has twelve
brothers and sisters. My grandmother and grandfather had thirteen kids. I have
so many cousins. Every time I come home, it seems like there is another person
that I have not met before.
M: What are your sisters doing now?
A: Both sisters are in school. One is fourteen and the other one is twelve. The one who
is fourteen is autistic. The one who is twelve is in a special program dealing with
drama, dance, and what have you.
M: Tell me something about your elementary school life. Where did you attend school?
A: I went to school at Carol City Elementary, which was a couple of blocks from my
home. All of my cousins went there, so when I was there, if you can imagine all
of my dad's brothers and sisters having kids and all us (except maybe three)
living within the same community and going to the same schools. I have always
been around my family in elementary school. I was in gifted, I remember that
much, which is a special program for kids with high iq's. That is how I started
getting into the academics as far as school is concerned.
M: So what you are saying is you grew up in a black community.
A: In Miami, you have a large Hispanic community. When I started elementary school,
which was the mid 1970s and on throughout the early 1980s, there were a lot of
white students also. I had a couple of white friends in elementary school. I lived
in a predominantly black suburb.
M: Did you witness crime, drugs, and so on as often characterized about the black
A: No. That is a very big fallacy, especially being that my dad is a police officer with the
City of Miami Police Department. He is in charge of the juvenile section there.
One thing you will learn if a person spoke to him or another police officer who
deals with those kinds of kids, you will find that everything you see in a black
community exists everywhere else. The only difference is that in many white
communities, a lot of those things are covered so that those communities do not
look bad. As far as me growing up, I never was privy to drugs, stings, buys, and
what have you. Like I said, it is a big fallacy if you deal with the reality of the
M: What are your memories of elementary school life?
A: I was always doing something. It has carried on into college. Even then I was active
in little activities. I was a patrol. I was a boy scout. I was a cub scout. I was
always doing something. Anything I could get involved in, I kind of did. My
friends did it too. That is pretty much the only time I got to see my friends--at
school. Since I had so my cousins, my dad did not see much of a need for me to
go and play in the street, play football, or things like that with my friends, or go
too far away from the house unless I was with my mom or something like that.
M: Do you recall any names of teachers who you think were a strong influence on your
A: I had two instructors from elementary school and from high school that have been
perhaps the most influential in helping me. That is Ms. Wallenstein, who was my
fifth grade teacher.
M: What was her first name, do you know?
A: I do not know her first name. She is now to be Dr. Lawrence. Her first name is
Ketha Lawrence. She was my eleventh grade U.S. history teacher.
M: Were these black teachers?
A: No, Ms. Wallenstein was white. She was from New York. She was a Roman
Catholic just like I was at the time because my mom is Catholic. She had a
definite concern in educating kids. A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on race
as being important. It is to a degree, but if you have an instructor who really
cares about their students learning and going to the highest levels that they can
attain, I do not think race plays any consideration. Ms. Wallenstein got me
involved in gifted. That program is where you are allowed to go to another
school. The school that we went to was Miami Lakes Elementary. That was
primarily white. Going from a predominantly black school to a predominantly
white school was not so much of a shock as it was just seeing what some other
kids did and what they enjoyed doing.
M: While at elementary school, did you experience any form of racism?
A: It only happened at gifted. I had always been aware that my dad would not allow us
(I am sure with my sisters it was the same way). He made sure that we
understood how race is involved in American society. One of the things that
happened was I was in gifted. I was sitting on one side of the room and there
were not too many black kids in gifted to begin with. There was a handful of us.
We were going to this predominantly white school. You get to know the white
kids, and you get to know the black kids. You are pretty much just friends with
anybody. Generally, because the black kids are those you have met, you have a
special bond. You tend to tag along with them just as white kids generally tend
to tag along with each other. I went to gifted one day. These older guys who
were in the sixth grade (I was in the fifth grade), and we were talking. My friends
were on the other side of the room. They said some mean things. It did not
really affect me. I did not go around saying I will kill all the white people
afterwards. It was good to experience, I guess. I can say I had my experience if
M: In primary school, did you receive any special awards? Can you explain what this
concept of gifted is?
A: What the United States education tries to do, the public schools that is, is they try to
put students in scenarios with people of like intellect supposedly. My sister is in
another type of gifted. She is in drama and dance, as well as academics
because she is pretty smart too. What they try to do is put together students who
have high iq scores, above the norm. In order to be selected for gifted, you have
to be given an iq test and you have to score over 120 to be placed into gifted.
There are a lot of things that have to happen. You have to have a teacher who
recommends you. It costs money to take the test, and the school has to pay for
the test, so you have to have a school that is willing to fund it. You need all these
recommendations from teachers that you had in the past. It is difficult as far as a
lot of black students are concerned. When I was going to elementary school,
they did not have a full time psychologist who could dispense the test or if you
had teachers who did not appeal to the intellect of the kid, you could have a very
bright child in a regular class. What gifted was an attempt to do was to bring
those bright children into an area where there were more bright children, pretty
much like what college does but at an earlier level. It brings all these kids
together to use the more creative, logical, and cognitive parts of their mind.
M: What high school did you attend and what made you choose that school?
A: In the U.S. your schools are pretty much planned for you. If you live in a district, that
is the school you go to. You can petition to go to another school or something,
but for the most parts, you just go to that school. I went to all the schools in my
community because I have lived in the same place for my whole life. I went to
Lake Stephens Junior High and then I went to Carol City Senior High.
M: What was you experience there? Did you take up any leadership roles in high
A: It has just been something that I have enjoyed doing, being involved and being
active. In high school, I was involved in small clubs. I played sports. I ran track,
and I played tennis. I lettered in tennis. As far as clubs are involved, I was one
of those kids who was in the know, if you will. I knew what was going on around
campus. I was a photographer for the yearbook and for the newspaper. I was
parliamentarian for student government.
M: Was high school predominantly white or black?
A: It was predominantly black. Since I lived in the community, you generally go to
school with people who lived there. Since those are the people in your district,
you go to school with the people who live around your community.
M: At that school, did you have to tackle any issues that dealt with white resistance
A: No, because I went to a predominantly black school. There were virtually no white
kids. We had a lot of Latino kids, but as far as white, Anglo Saxon, Protestant, or
even Jewish, if you will, there were very few. We had white teachers of course,
and white administrators. The student population was most definitely about 70
percent black. You had maybe 20 percent Latino, and another 10 percent white.
M: Did you move straight from high school to UF or did you go to community college?
A: No, I went straight to Florida.
M: What made you make that decision?
A: When I was in high school, I was pretty smart. I was in honors classes and AP
classes. When you take the placement tests like the PRE SAT, the Preliminary
Student Scholastic Achievement Test, in ninth or tenth grade to see how well you
do on the SAT later. They send those scores to colleges. In my sophomore year
of high school, I started getting mail from different colleges. I started applying my
junior year. I got requests from a lot of your big schools. What happened was I
was looking to go to a predominantly black college, not because of anything
other than the fact that I thought it would be nice to be in a surrounding like
Atlanta and just enjoy that community. In fact, I did not get any letters from any
of those schools.
M: Why not?
A: I found out later that a lot of those schools did not have the funding as far as mail
outs as a lot of white schools do. Therefore, they cannot just send out to
everybody who does well on a test. They have to pretty much pick the highest
scores, and send to those, or people that they know will more than likely go
there. At the time, I did not know this, so I was upset about it. My cousin, who is
my same age (his name is Nathanial Atkins), was going to come here. We were
in the same grade. I had some friends had come to Florida. I applied, and it
was the first place that accepted me. In fact, I was the first senior accepted into
a college or university. I was accepted in November of my senior year, and
everybody else was still waiting on their acceptance letters. Once Florida
accepted me, I was like hey, I am in. No questions asked.
M: Would you have preferred to go to a university near your home?
A: No. I could have gone to other schools farther away from Florida. Schools like
Carlton College in Minnesota and Northwestern in Illinois had tried to recruit me
since my sophomore year. I decided that it was cold up there. I am from Miami,
and it is too cold up there. I wanted to go somewhere far enough [away] where I
do not have to see mom and dad all the time, and close enough that I can come
home whenever I want to. Therefore, I did not want to go too far [away]. I did
not want to go farther than Atlanta, and possibly Howard in Washington D.C. if
they had written me. I wanted to stay in the state and I did not think any other
school other than Florida. I would have hated to go to Florida State. That was
not even a consideration.
M: What year did you actually come to UF?
A: I came here in 1990.
M: During your first year, did you pay your way through, your tuition and so on, or did
you get any kind of assitantship or fellowship?
A: I had a scholarship coming out of high school. It was the Chappie James Teaching
Scholarship, which is for any individual planning to pursue teaching. That is what
paid my undergraduate.
M: What made you decide to major in history?
A: History has always been my greatest subject.
M: Any particular reason?
A: It just come to me. Math I suck at. Science I do not care about. English is for the
birds. If I had to pick a subject, it would have to be history. For instance, when I
was in elementary school, I used to read war books because I loved wars. I
loved to read about war. In eleventh grade, I got a five on the AP exam, which is
the highest score you can get on the Advanced Placement Exam in high school.
That pretty much made up my mind. I came here thinking I was going to major in
political science. I could not get into the prerequisites my first year, so I just said
I will stick with history. It has been that ever since.
M: What has been your experience as a black person now entering UF in 1990?
A: I first got here with my cousin. We associated a lot. I found myself getting involved
with other friends that I met like in my dorm. He came here during the summer,
so he knew some people here. He started hanging out with some of the people.
I met some of them, but I really did not get to know them. I made my own little
group. When I got here, I met kids who were black the first couple of days and
we bonded. What wound up happening was there was the student murders a
week after I got here. I remember my roommate, who was a white guy (I forget
his name), came home one day and said, "Guess what? Some people were
murdered." I said, "Yeah. What is the big deal? If you grow up in a big city,
people die every day." He said, "Well, they are students." I said, "I am sorry to
hear that, but you hear about that every day." When I found out it was a serial
killer killing predominantly white females, it did not necessarily concern me again
because I was neither. I remember me and my friends would always go
anywhere together anyway just because we wanted to hang. As far as the
student murders, it did not affect us. That is how I started meeting people.
M: How did you access the racial situation after the student killing episode?
A: The racial situation at the University of Florida is no different than the racial situation
in the United States. That is you have a group that is in relative power who are
caucasian. They deal with things in their best benefit. You can only expect that
of any person. If you are in charge of something, you are going to manipulate
things so it is in your best interest. I saw that when I got here. As far as
interaction with white kids, you meet them. It is just like white students
interacting with black students at the University of Florida. If you went to a white
student and said, "How many black people do you know," then they will look at
you strange. We hang out in different locals. To ask me to assess the racial
situation when I got here is [[please finish thought]]. People got involved in
their own activities. You associate with people who have your best interest or
your like interest. That is how it was when I got here, at least that was my initial
M: What was the first organization at UF that you first came officially affiliated with?
A: The NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
M: Can you tell me something about that?
A: It is kind of odd. I went to a Black Student Union meeting. That was the first
organization I was involved in. I have a little funny joke about this NAACP
meeting. Me and some of my friends used to roam around campus. It would be
maybe ten or twenty of us just walking somewhere just doing something.
M: At night time?
A: At night time, weekends. At 2: 00 a.m., we would be walking to get ice cream. There
would be ten people. We would pick up somebody at the dorms.
M: Mainly men?
A: No, it was male and female. We would walk through campus. We would know
somebody in a dorm, so we would call them and say, "Hey, do you want to go
somewhere?" Me and some of those friends had heard about this NAACP
meeting at the BSU meeting earlier that week. What happened was we decided
we were going to the meeting. We got to the Reitz Union. We went downstairs.
We were looking for this meeting, and a door was wide open. We looked in and
we saw a white guy sitting at the head of a table and a black woman sitting next
to him. We walked right past it. We thought, "Dang, where is this meeting. That
is the room, but who are those people?" Somebody who was in the back turned
around and asked, "Do you know where the NAACP meeting is?" [[end of this
A: Somebody in the back turned around and looked in, and said, "Hey, do you know
where the NAACP meeting is?" They said, "Yes. It is right here." We thought,
"No, that cannot be." The guy who was sitting there, Karl (a white guy), was
president at the time.
M: President of the NAACP?
A: Yes. Brenda Kwenteng was the vice president. They said, "Yes, this is the meeting."
We went in. It was funny because...
M: What about the audience?
A: Some other people started coming in later.
M: What was the racial makeup of the people who were there?
A: He was the only white person there, and he was president. It was the funniest thing.
Karl is a very good man. He had pledged a black fraternity. He was sitting there
with his fraternity letters on. Nobody could believe he was president of the
NAACP. He was a good man. He was a very good person.
M: So how did you become actively involved in any of these organizations?
A: I started with the Black Student Union. What I did with the Black Student Union was I
was involved in making up posters. I used to make up posters and banners. I
used to do those in high school. I used to make banners in high school. So I did
that here. Since I was a photographer in high school, I was involved in the
statewide step show. I was the photographer for that my first year. What
happened was I just got involved doing that, the posters, and what have you. It
came around for elections that spring after I got here.
M: Spring 1991?
A: I aligned myself with a guy, Tony Crawley. He put in for president, and I put in for
vice president. We won hands down.
M: So you were vice president.
A: I was vice president that next year.
M: For the Black Student Union.
A: Yes, my sophomore year. Then I became president that next December because
Tony had withdrawn after a lot of stress that first semester.
M: Tell me about your term in office in 1992--your term when you were president. What
was some of the issues taking place?
A: Tony and I were president and vice president. We happened to be the only males in
the organization in the leadership role. We had a couple of males who were
assisting cabinet directors, but all of the cabinet directors were female. Not that
there was a gender difference, but that was the gender makeup. What happened
was when we came into office that first semester, I was very rough around the
edges as far as governing an organization. It was very difficult for me to try and
listen to my cabinet directors. As vice president, I was in charge of the cabinet
meetings. Every week, I would have problems with my cabinet directors. They
were getting mad at me. I was getting mad at them. I had some wonderful
directors who were exceptional leaders, but every week. I could not listen to
them, and they could not listen to me. It was just butting heads in the cabinet
M: What were some of your disagreements like?
A: I was very hard on expecting things done my way. I reacted to BSU at the time as if
were almost a living person. If it could breathe, it was alive for me. I wanted to
do so much for it. Because of my inability as a student leader, I was unable to
project that to my cabinet directors. What happened was there was constant
conflict between them and myself. I found out later that Tony was not helping
with him trying to keep some of the heat off of me. What happened was if
someone had a problem with Tony to me, I would defend him. I did not know this
at the time, but he was not defending me at all. So therefore, I was starting to
get a lot of heat. I could see it around my peers on campus. I thought I was the
most hated man on campus. I can remember walking in groups. People that I
knew would be talking. I would walk past them and it would just hush. There
would just be silence. I thought, "I guess I know who there talking about." It
disappointed me. What wound up happening and how this wound up coming to
another level in the end, right before Thanksgiving break 1991, things were
starting to really heat up. A lot of people were upset at me. We had a group on
campus that was vying for the voice of black students. They wanted to use the
Black Student Union as a body to impart their beliefs. That is what I think their
purpose was. What happened was every week they kept trying to make Tony
and myself look bad, and create dissension within the cabinet directors.
Because of our inability as president and vice president, my conflict with my
cabinet directors was not helping things. Tony's inability to head off anything
definitely was not helping anything. In the beginning first two weeks of
November, we were getting a lot of people in our weekly meetings. Anybody
who knows the IBC, the Institute of Black Culture, knows that the upstairs
conference area is not very big. In fact, it was smaller than it is now because
they remodeled. You could at that time seat a good forty people comfortably. [It
was] tightly packed, but comfortable. We were packing people in for our
meetings. This was probably the last time we had a lot of input in the BSU.
[There was] a lot of turmoil if you will. What happened was we were discussing
some of the individuals in that other group putting things out.
M: What were they actually saying, these other individuals?
A: They were saying that Tony and I were incompetent. We did not deserve to be
president and vice president.
M: What was their real motive?
A: The Black Student Union is for all intents and purposes the official voice of black
students at the University of Florida. If any group really wants to understand
what black students are doing, the Black Student Union is the group that you go
to. When you want a press release, you call the president or the vice president
of the Black Student Union, and they will give you a consensus or idea of what is
going on. They wanted to use the Black Student Union as a way to impart their
M: How is their rhetoric different than yours?
A: They were a very left wing [group]. They were far left as far as getting things done.
They had isolated themselves from the student...
M: By left do you mean extremists?
A: Yes. I do not mean extremists like go and burn down the bastille. They had some
very good things to say, do not get me wrong. A lot of what they said had a lot of
truth. They had some very intelligent people involved. A lot of what they said
made people uneasy. A lot of people thought they needed to take that
somewhere. What they wanted to do (this is my opinion) was to use the Black
Student Union as a vehicle to get their rhetoric more incorporated. I think it was
personal. I am pretty sure it was not anything but personal. It was not so much
personal, but they had an agenda. To get to the story, I was a resident assistant
at the time, and I was doing my rounds.
M: Resident assistant for any area?
A: I was resident assistant in Reid Hall in the Broward area on campus. I was doing
rounds, and one of my friends was in the hallway. I ran into him, and he said,
"AaBram I want you to know something. On tomorrow's meeting, they are going
to try to get you and Tony out. They are going to try and have a referendum to
impeach you." I said, "Okay. Thank you for the information." I called Tony, and I
said, "We have got to prepare something." Tony said, "Okay. Whatever." When
we got to the meeting, it was very tense. You could cut it with a knife.
M: Where was it held?
A: In the IBC. You could cut it with a knife.
A: Yes. We got there and it was packed. I stopped counting at 120 people.
M: But you said the place was small.
A: Yes. It fits forty people comfortably. We had people standing. We had people in the
stairwell. We had people in the hallway. We had people everywhere. It was
thick in there. As soon as they started the meeting, they said they wanted to
have a discussion on mine and Tony's conduct.
M: What were the names of the leading figures in this?
A: They will remain nameless. Everybody wanted to do that. We put it on the agenda.
When we were getting to that, they were talking about how bad a job Tony and I
were doing. One of my friends, I will never forget her, Roxy Oliver, was a past
president of the BSU, and one of the people who helped get me involved. She
was a definite influence on getting me involved. One of the people in the group
said it is their fault that we cannot get the funding or some of the things that we
want. Roxy said, "Hold up. It sounds like you do not have a problem with
AaBram and Tony. You all have a problem with Student Government." Right
then the whole meeting changed. They thought, "What? A problem with Student
Government? That is it." It took all the heat off of us. We decided we needed to
do something to get our point made to Student Government. What came about
because of that was the student sit-in which happened in December 1991.
M: This meeting was held of course earlier.
A: Yes. That happened maybe the week before Thanksgiving break. It just changed
everything around. We started planning for the sit-in on Student Government.
M: I understand the sit-in was a big event. Can you recall the incident for me and tell
me about your involvement. What were the main issues because I am totally
A: At the time, Student Government had a very large budget. It is now over $6 million,
but at the time it was about $5.2 million. A lot of groups were feeling very
slighted by Student Government. They were not bringing individuals to campus
that everybody could enjoy. They were bringing individuals to campus that only
one group would really enjoy.
M: Guest speakers you mean.
A: Yes, or activities. The Black Student Union was given $9 thousand out of this $5.2
million to put on all of our activities for the entire year, including black history
month. This was not only a concern that the Black Student Union had, but this
was a concern felt by VISA which is the Volunteers for the International Student
Association. They were concerned that they were getting slighted. They are an
umbrella group for smaller groups. They got less money than we did. If you can
imagine trying to fund twenty groups off of less than $9 thousand. That is kind of
difficult especially when Student Government has millions in its reserves. What
Student Government was doing at the time was spending on money functions
like Celebration which was great. It is an arts festival here at the University, and
giving speakers lots of money. All of that is great. They were doing that and not
allowing other groups who were spending money who were voting to participate
in things that are not only beneficial to their groups, but to the campus community
to show that there is more to the University of Florida than bringing Oliver North.
We have black cultural events. We have Indian cultural events. We have
Filipino cultural events. We have women's cultural events. They had just prior to
this cut funding for SARS, which was a Sexual Assault and Recovery Center.
This was for women, and they had cut funding for that. Women make up 60 to
70 percent of the student body. So like I said, things were done for a very small
group with this big pot of money. What we did was say, "Hey, we have got to do
something about this." We set up this sit-in to vent our frustrations.
M: The sit-in was mainly organized and taking part by blacks?
M: Other groups were affected.
A: Other groups were affected because after that sit-in, the next semester when they
were doing budgets, everybody's budget went up because of that sit-in. VISA
wound up getting over $20 thousand that next semester because of that.
Funding for a lot of other activities went on. They brought more speakers and
better things. What happened was we planned for people to go up to senate
during public debates and vent their frustration. The treasurer of Student
Government at the time was Marna Weston. There were individuals in Student
Government who cut his power as treasurer because he was not going to fund a
lot of frivolous activities. He was having a lot of problems with Student
Government. They were cutting his power. The budget chairman was given
more power than he was in order to keep this little dominant group in charge.
We had some student senators, and everybody went over with the rights that
students have. We went to try and implement those rights. We went over
student statutes and found out how Student Government can do something.
They could have done it right then and there. What wound up happening is they
cut off public debate. They cut it off, and they would not allow these students to
speak. We had some other individuals who went into the Student Government
Offices who had a sit-in right there.
M: That was the first event?
A: Yes. They went up to the Student Government Office, and they sat in. I guess there
was about eight to ten guys who went in. They sat in right there and they locked
the door. They said, "We are not going to leave until you all meet our demands."
They could do it. It was within student statutes to disseminate these kinds of
funds. They did not. All those students who were downstairs came up and sat in
front of the Student Government Office. There was in excess of 200 to 300
people who were sitting in. The great thing about it was we had student athletes
who were not usually involved in student affairs who were involved in this. The
most notable I remember was Errict. He was one of the first people there. He is
now playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was so shocking to see. Then
everybody was there. All these people were there.
M: That was in 1991?
M: You were vice president.
A: I was vice president. I was not involved as far as getting policy done, but I was right
there while everything was being signed. We did not really thing about the
consequences, or police coming in and cracking heads. We knew the University
was not going to do anything because it would have looked real bad for the
University to go cracking heads. I guess we had faith that we would be all right.
Eventually, the budget chairman had signed the SAR (Student Accounting
Report) which is a special form you have to fill out. You had to fill those out in
order to have any money exchanged. It was practically the eleventh hour when
he signed this. He was being prodded to sign this because nobody was going to
leave. We had the provost here. We had the vice president of Student Services,
Dr. Sorensen [Andrew A. Sorensen, Vice President of Academic Affairs and
Professor of Community Health and Family Medicine].
M: That was at the Reitz Union.
A: Yes. All of them came because they were at a banquet. Then they heard wind of
this that the black kids were having a revolt. They just came over. They thought,
"Oh my goodness." The heat was put on to sign this and get this thing done. It
was done. We got our money. Everybody else got their money eventually
because of that.
M: Is it because of the discrimination of the distribution of the funds that this took place
or was there some other bigger issue?
A: That is how it turned into the sit-in. At first it was a lynch mob against Tony and
AaBram. Because Roxy Oliver said, "Hey you all have got a problem with
Student Government," it changed. Then it was thought there are some inequities
within student funding. We looked into it, and researched it. We said, "Hey,
these are what they are." It was kind of nasty after that. This was early in
December. We had another two weeks of school. The next week was dead
week, and then you had finals week. People had things to do. It was nasty
around campus. There were a lot of editorials in The Alligator saying black
people are this. They ask for too much. Why do we not have a white student
union, which they did. Prior to the time I came here, there was a white student
union. They just did not understand due to the inequities in funding and in
positions that black students and other groups had to fight to attain their relative,
even slim piece of the pie. Because they were locked out of certain power
wielding positions, they could not get things that they wanted for their
organization. It got nasty. They just did not understand. They still do not
understand. That is another story.
M: How long did this sit-in take place?
A: In one night it was over.
M: The students sat in for the night?
M: Until what time?
A: This lasted until 11: 30 p.m. What wound up happening was we finally got the SAR
signed. [[end of tape]].
A: What happened was the big problem after that was the police were going to arrest
those guys who had sat in on the Student Government Office. Everybody said,
"No, you cannot arrest them because they did not do anything so wrong."
Student Government Offices are accessible to the public, so therefore, we were
within our rights to be in there. What the problem was they were upset that we
were trespassing or something like that. We had 200 people there. We said,
"No you are not going to arrest them." It was tense for about thirty minutes to an
hour because we had everything signed at about 10: 30. The Reitz Union had to
close at midnight. The question was how are going to get those guys out. We
are not going to let them in to arrest them. The only reason why the sit-in worked
was because of them. Finally, the Student Services individuals gave in
temporarily and let all the guys under cover of darkness [go]. We turned out the
lights, rushed them down the stairwells, and out the building. They got some of
the names. Some of those individuals were brought up on charges. In fact, I
was even brought up on charges of judicial wrongdoing. Everybody's charges
was dropped. Nobody received any judicial punishment.
M: Was it only the University Police that was around?
A: I believe it was the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua's Sheriffs Office
that were downstairs. I remember seeing some other cars. It was quite lively.
M: Since you had to stay for such a long time sitting in, did you not get hungry?
A: People brought food. It was funny. It was sad in that it had to come to this. The
more people that were called, then some people came and brought snacks like
chips. There was a water fountain. People were hungry but they knew their
purpose for being there. Certain things you will have to live without.
M: How did you become president then?
A: The next semester, Tony resigned. Tony just left school. Me being next in line, I was
president. The conflict that I had with my cabinet directors did not change. It had
gotten better in that I had a group of directors who were on my side, and I knew it
now. I finally knew that I had a handful of people that I could count on who had
my back [covered]. Once Tony was gone, they would tell me what happened. I
did not know all of that. They had my back and things changed.
M: How did this one year term that you had as president [go]? Did that relationship with
cabinet members continue?
A: That was my sophomore year. As the years have gone by, a lot of those feelings
have dissipated. Me and most of those people have been pretty cordial
thereafter, not necessarily directly thereafter. As time goes on, the memories
fade. They get to see your flaws and see how you grow in the process. You see
your flaws also. You see how you have grown, and how they have grown. You
become more cordial and understanding thereafter.
M: During your term as president, what major activities took place? What were your
A: Black History Month.
M: Did you start that?
A: Yes. That money we had gotten, we had $30 thousand to spend on Black History
Month. Most of that went to speakers. We had some very good speakers that
month. It was exceptional. We had a very good turnout that year. Things just
went wonderful during that Black History Month. I think the work that we put in to
get what we got paid off. Ever since then, Black History Month has gotten better
and better. I think it is directly in response to what we did then. We would not
have gotten the money if we had not done what we had done. Although a lot of
organizations will never know it, they owe a lot of things to what we had done
that fall. Everybody in that room put their whole academic career on the line. If it
was not for that, there would not be a lot of funding for a lot of student groups. I
can assure you of that.
M: What do you think about the way the Black Student Union is being run now? What
changes would you like to see?
A: This is no so much a Black Student Union thing. I was talking to a friend last night
and my feeling is this. For all of us who have done something at the University,
you learn things. I feel that a lot of these groups have lost some of their flare or
could be doing a whole lot more if they kept in contact with those individuals who
set the precedents before them. I think that is a problem of these groups. They
do not use what individuals have taught them before to make them better. Also,
it is on both sides. Those individuals who were there should make themselves
available to help their constituents in these organizations. I do not see that
happening as often as it ought to because there are a lot of things that really
could be done. I see a lot of wasted potential because a lot of people just do not
know how to get them done. They have not learned it yet. When they learn it,
they take it away. It is gone and nobody gets it, so you see it happening every
year. That is why a minority of the student population is able to retain power. I
am talking about white Greek letter organizations. They keep ties with people
who went through and who understood what was going on. They learned those
and they built upon it. What other organizations, and this is just not black
organizations, but practically every other independent organization, which makes
up a mere 30,000 people on the University of Florida campus, is that we do not
use what people knew before us. Therefore, we get the short end of the stick. I
think if these groups do that, they will be better off.
M: Were you affiliated with any other organization or conference?
A: The Black Student Union was like my springboard into the rest of campus life. I have
been on several University committees, the first of which was the O'Connell
Center Board of Advisors. I served on that in 1992 and 1993. After that I served
on the Reitz Union Board of Directors. I served on that from 1993 until 1994.
Currently, I serve on the University Athletic Association Board of Directors.
Those are just some of the campus committees that I have been on. Along with
that, I help found the North Star Leadership Council, which is a leadership
organization that deals primarily with issues within the black community. I was
tapped into Florida Blue Key, which the oldest leadership honorary at the
University of Florida. Florida Blue Key is in charge of Homecoming, Gator Growl,
and University activities as such. I have also been extensively involved with the
air force ROTC.
M: How did you get involved?
A: This is a big difference if you will. What happened was I had just been Black Student
Union president. I did not go to school that summer. I came back to the
University of Florida, and I joined ROTC just like that. It shocked everybody I
knew. People did not even recognize me walking down campus in my blues. I
had friends that I had known all the time I had been here. I would walk right past
them because they did not know I was in ROTC.
M: Why do you think they were surprised?
A: Generally, if you are not already in it, most people do not just join in the middle of
their college career. Before I came to the University of Florida, I liked to deal with
order. I believed in order. I had certain plans that I wanted to attain before I got
to the University of Florida. By the end of my sophomore year, I had done almost
all of them. By the end of my junior year, I had done everything.
M: What plans were these?
A: Being president of the Black Student Union, getting tapped into Florida Blue Key.
Just being all around active on campus having a pretty good social life of course.
You do not go to college and not have a good social life. I had done those
things. I am from a military family. My dad served in Vietnam. I had two uncles
who served. Two of my dad's brothers served. I have another uncle on my
mom's side who served in Vietnam. All of my male cousins who I have grown up
with, with the exception of two, have served in the military. Therefore, it is just
something that was natural. I should not say natural. I always felt I was always
in competition with my cousins. Even though I went to college, it was not
enough. All of them went to the military. So I said, "Well, I can go to the military,
and I can be an officer. I can outrank all of them." I guess it is kind of strange. I
got involved in the general military course to get a feel for it and see if that is
something I want to do.
M: Where did you take this course?
A: This is here at the University. You have two different sections--GMC and POC.
GMC is a general military course [I took] just to see if I would like it. I did. I went
to field training camp that summer at Shephard Air Force Base. I went directly
into the POC, the professional officer course. I realized that is something I
wanted to do. I wanted to be an air force officer, not to outrank my cousins, but
because I feel it is something that will be very beneficial to my personal growth.
It is something that I know will help me. I will at the same time be helping my
country in the process.
M: You are involved with the air force?
A: Yes, the air force ROTC. This May 5, 1995, I will be commissioned as second
lieutenant in the United States Air Force.
M: What about race relations within the ROTC?
A: In ROTC, there are not too many blacks. I know in air force ROTC, Clifford Colley is
my boy. We have been down ever since I got into ROTC.
M: This is a black guy?
A: Yes. When I got in it was him and two other black males, no females. All of them
were GMC. After that first year that I had gotten in, both of those guys left, so it
was just the two of us. There was another guy who was a first year [cadet],
because we were both second year. He was in also. There are not race relation
problems so much. Like I said earlier, people associate with people of likes and
dislikes. You are going to associate with people who are like you and who like
the music and what have you that you do. We associate together because we
like pretty much the same thing. That is generally how it goes. Everybody is
cordial and very professional. That is good.
M: When you are commissioned, what will your work involve?
A: I do not know. I have not the slightest idea. I will not get my orders for another two
weeks. I do not know what I will be doing in the U.S. Air Force.
M: What are your big plans for the future?
A: I hope to have a fun and exciting air force career. There are a lot of things I would
like to do. In the air force, I would like to teach at the Air Force Academy.
M: Teach history?
A: Yes, if I am fortunate enough. That is why I am working on a masters now so that I
can teach at the Air Force Academy. I think that is the biggest thing I want to do
in the air force.
M: This is part of the navy, the air force reserve officer training corps. Air force being
the idea of aviation.
M: What is the link?
A: The U.S. military has three branches--army, navy, and air force. All of them have
levels of aircraft and ground. Each unit is primarily responsible for the
exploitation of one resource. The army of course is primarily your ground units,
although they have some aircraft, it is basically close air support for their ground
forces. They navy on the other hand are your sea people. They deal primarily
with the sea. They have all the ships and aircraft to exploit the sea. The air force
deals primarily with the air and space. So we have all the missile commands.
We deal with the shuttle. We deal with all of those things.
M: So you do not go up in the air or anything?
A: Oh no. I will not be a pilot. Only 10 percent of the entire air force population deals
with anything like flying. Those are pilots, navigators, and stuff like that.
Everybody else is either combat support which are your flight support units, your
support units which deal with logistics or material, or your air combat controllers
which are ground units that deal with planning air strikes.
M: Can you tell me some of the experiences that you have had while you were a
student here which was not really affiliated to any organization?
A: I will give you a little bit on black student life since I have been at Florida. When I first
got here (1990 to 1991), it was the last year of fun, social, student life at Florida.
Parties were far more frequent. There was more to it than what I have seen
since. There were a lot less rules, and things were less strict then. Within the
black community, most people go to jams, which is a party. A fraternity or
sorority will sponsor it at Norman Gym or the Reitz Union.
M: Black fraternity or sorority.
A: Black fraternity or sorority. They have DJ's and you just dance and party. I
remember one in particular, the Phi Beta Sigma dancethon. That was something
else because you just dance all night. I incidentally won that my freshman year
just dancing, shaking, hopping, and doing all this madness. Now it is funny, but
at the time you do things when you are young. That was not the only social
outlet. A lot of black students would congregate on the set. What the set is is
the area in front of Marston Library where the brick lined trees are. You would
have individuals who were in fraternities and sororities, not only them, but also
your regular students who would just sit out there and congregate during the
middle of class, talk about what it going on, what is happening, and things like
that. That is something I really miss seeing because I do not see that anymore.
M: I still see some black students there.
A: Oh yes. You will see people sitting there. When I came through, it would be full. It
would be stacked. On Wednesday morning from about 11: 00 to 2: 00, it would
just be thick from the bottom up to the top. There would just be people there
milling around. You would go from one pocket to the other pocket and talk to
friends all over the place. It was like information central and the network of black
students. That was really fun. It shed light on what was going on here. Some of
the fraternities and sororities would have their step shows out there. They would
have a group that would come out and put on their routine. In fact, the best
routine that I wound up seeing was in spring 1991, when Delta Sigma Theta had
their line come out. They came out on the little set. The little set is the little area
outside of Little Hall between Little Hall and Carlton. Their young ladies came out
of a limousine.
M: During the day?
A: This was in the middle of the day.
M: During the week?
A: Yes. Everything generally happens during the middle of the week. This might have
happened on a Friday. Generally it happens. One of the fraternities or sororities
will do it, but that was the best one. It was eleven young ladies that pledged that
semester. They came out of a limousine, and it was so live. It was so exciting.
There was not the little food area that is there right now--that circular building. It
was the same brick structure, but there was nothing inside or covering it, so
people could sit all around it. They came out between that and Little Hall. It was
so wonderful. You had those things back then. I am talking about back then like
it is eons ago, but it has only been five years. That was generally the end of a lot
of those activities. I am just really glad that I was here to experience that.
Outside of that, you had activities where students would congregate and
socialize. This happened at Murphree. A lot of black students lived in Murphree
Hall for a while. At the time, a lot of black students used to live in Broward Hall.
They would congregate in the lobbies of the area. We would play spades, listen
to music, eat food, crack jokes, and just do that until the wee wee hours of the
morning. Not that those things are not done anymore, but they are not done to
the extent that it was before. I do not see as much continuity in that. Of course
with every college, you have dating. Everybody dates. We call it creeping. If
you are dating somebody, you are trying to do it on the slide and not let anybody
know. People will see you walking in and out of the dorms. If they see you, they
say, "Oh yes, I saw so and so coming in and out last night." Then they go and
call their friend and say, "Did you know about this?" That still goes on to this day.
That I do know. The whole community made college fun and exciting for me
because I experienced all of that. I did my share of dancing, partying, hanging
out, creeping, and doing all of that stuff. If I had to do it over again, I would not
change anything. I can understand a lot of black students saying I would not
come to the University of Florida if I had to do it over again because their
experiences were horrible. I really wish that they could have had a more
pleasurable time. I can understand. I can empathize because I have seen some
of them. They have gone through some unnecessary stuff simply because they
are black. A lot of white students will get mad that black students will say this,
but they do not understand what a lot of these students have undergone. They
cannot understand. They cannot even understand the concepts of themselves
being white, much less the concept of being black. I have some peers who hate
this place and wish they never came here. They graduate and they leave. They
never come back again. I do not blame them. As far as me, I love it. I have
loved every minute, good and bad. Even during the BSU years, I loved every
minute of it. I would not change anything. [[end of this side]].
A: A lot of those activities were important in making me the type of person that I am. I
am so glad that I went through everything--the good, the bad, and the ugly.
M: So if you had to recommend this to institutions to blacks, would you recommend it?
A: It all depends. It all depends. It is like anything else. We are both in graduate
school. What is your major?
A: Say this is the premier anthropology school in the world, you would of course
recommend that person to come here for anthropology. If it was the world's
premier anthropology school, and the world's worst history program, would you
still recommend your friend, who is a history major, to come here?
A: That is it. Most people can make it through here, but you have to know to some
degree what you want, what you like, and what you dislike. If you know that
person needs a smaller campus [[please finish thought]]. Some people do.
Some people need to go to a school that has 2,000 or 10,000 people. Some
people need that. I would recommend that to somebody who needed that. If you
are talking to some people from the south, you would not recommend that kid to
go to some school up north like Cornell because they would be out of place. You
would not want them to have a bad college career, so you would recommend that
they stay somewhere close to home. Therefore, if you know what an individual
needs. If I saw a promising brother or sister who I thought would fit in well here, I
would recommend it. If I thought they would do better at another school, I would
recommend that. It all depends on what traits they have. There are certain traits
here that will get you very far. If you are aggressive, tenacious, and you like to
get into the mix, Florida is for you. I am not saying that you cannot be anything
but and do well here, but those are the people who thrive here at Florida,
individuals who are go gettum type of people. You could have your comfort
group, but if you do not mind always being tested, thought of as second best by
your peers and showing them that you are better than they are, if you thrive off of
that, you will do well here. That is one thing that black students at Florida will
get. They got [it] before I got here, while I was here, and after I am here. You
will have peers who are white, as well as some faculty members who do not think
you belong here, who think you got here because you are black. They do not
realize that you are just as smart if not smarter than the person sitting next to
you. If you are the type of person like my dad brought up in me that thrives off of
that, [with the attitude] I will show you I am better than everybody in here. If I am
not better, I am up to the top. I am the creme de la creme. You cannot do
anything about it. You will do fine here.
M: What comments do you have to make on this recent splash in the newspaper about
this president of the Institute of Black Culture who was in some kind of trouble.
A: Evelyn Bethune. She was director of the IBC. There were some allegations that
there were some improprieties with money and funds. That is a serious
allegation. I believe that any individual who has been found guilty of such
activities should pay the highest consequences. At the same time, individuals
need to be very cognitive that you do not hammer one person more than you do
other people. Here at Florida, we have had some people who have gotten away
with some heinous crimes. One thing that I hope does not occur from this (I
could see it happening anyway) is that white students and other students will
think that these black people are just nothing but criminals. It will just feed their
misconceptions. What happens as I have seen here and you see in our world
today, particularly in our society, one group of people are stereotyped. Not
saying that there are not good and bad blacks. There are good and bad. There
are all types. Do not just concentrate on the bad. If she did something wrong,
then she needs to be punished. At the same time, do not punish her any more or
less than you have any other individuals who have committed similar if not worse
crimes. We have had professors who have sexually assaulted students. You do
not hear about that. That is not good news. We have had administrators
embezzle money, but you do not hear about that. That is not good news. They
are fired, of course. Some repercussions are made. Do not make her out to be
more of a scapegoat to point out these black people or women are criminals and
therefore we cannot trust them.