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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UF 318 Index
Family history and heritage. Life in St. Augustine. Encounter with President Warren G.
Harding. Life in Jacksonville. Early school life. Depression decade, first job, and night
school. Relationship with grandparents. Speaking Yiddish and celebrating Jewish
heritage. Close, large family unit. Mother's and grandmother's cooking. Relationship
with brothers and age order. Growing up in Jacksonville: Jewish community,
recreational activities, Depression years, growth of Jacksonville, segregation, before air
conditioning, Jewish education and interest in history, movies and radio, graduation
from high school. University of Florida (UF): cost, NYA (National Youth Administration)
job, student population, University College, campus involvement, Gainesville, room and
board, choosing a specialization, football, build up to WWII and compulsory ROTC,
hitchhiking to Jacksonville. Pearl Harbor. Registering for draft. Master's degree and
thesis. 36th Street Army Depot Project. Military service: Camp Blanding and Camp
Shelby, end of WWII. Teaching at UF. Growth of UF. Marriage. Earning Ph.D and
writing a dissertation. History of University of Florida 1853 to 1906: East Florida
Seminary, Florida Agricultural College, Buckman Act, creating Gainesville campus.
Napoleon Bonaparte Broward book. Changing date on University of Florida seal.
Activities on campus. Personal life: meeting and marrying Bessie, kids, building their
house. Jewish Community in Gainesville: Hillel development, personal involvement.
Florida Historical Society. Florida Historical Quarterly. Florida historians. Famous
students. Oral history: national history, Program at Florida, Doris Duke money,
Southeastern Indians project, technology, staff, black history of Gainesville project. Oral
History Association. Relationship with UF Foundation. American Association for State
and Local History. UF Activities: Center for Jewish Studies, Price Judaic Library,
Baccalaureate for arts and sciences students, curator at museum, university archivist
and historian, Gator History book, building identification, building preservation. Campus
changes. Changes in history department. Samuel Proctor scholarships. Festschrift.
Role of Florida history on campus. Hillel. Southern Jewish Historical Society. Tau
Epsilon Phi. Mosaic: Jewish Museum of Florida. Matheson Historical Museum.
Bicentennial Commission. Personal life: in Gainesville, retirement, travels, esophagus
problem-1960s, Allen, Mark and families. Future and current activities.
Interviewee: Samuel Proctor
Interviewer: Mark Greenberg
Date: August 24, 2002
G: This is Mark Greenberg. I am the director of the Florida Study Center at the
University of South Florida, part of the Rosh Hashanah Library System. It is my
pleasure to be with Dr. Samuel Proctor today, on August 24, 2002. We're in the
history department library in Flint Hall on the University of Florida campus. We're
going to spend the better part of a couple of days together doing a life oral
history. With no further ado, let me start, Dr. Proctor, by asking you where and
when you were born.
P: I was born in Jacksonville, Florida, [on] March 29, 1919.
G: What do you know about your family's history or heritage before they came to
America, or their arrival?
P: Let me talk to you a little bit about my family, and I'm going to do it for both sides
of the family. My mother's side of the family, the Schneiders, came from St.
Petersburg, Russia, in the early 1890s, directly to Baltimore [Maryland]. My
father's family came from Poland, and that's the part I'm going to start with first of
Now this means that both families came from Eastern Europe, and that
part of Jewish history is somewhat shadowy. But Jews were reported according
to the archival records in Eastern Europe, probably about the year 1000. Some
probably came up from the Middle East, others came from Eastern Europe,
Germany, and so on. But whatever, that's what they were, and they were there
in very large numbers. My father's family came from Lomza, Poland, and that
was a sizable city and a city of some merit, both economically and intellectually
at the time. It was also in the Lomza gubernia [an administrative territorial
division of the former Russian Empire introduced by Tsar Peter I; Lomza existed
until gubernia were abolished by the USSR in the 1920s], which was similar to
what we would call a state here in the United States. My great-grandfather, my
father's grandfather, for whom he is named, was called Yonkel Bora. They gave
them the Yiddish names, [it] would be Jacob Bora today, but he never came by
anything. I know very little about him, except his name. I know nothing
absolutely about his wife at all. I don't know what his business was. I don't know
where he came from. I know the Jews had not been permitted to live in Lomza
until after the end of the Napoleonic Period in 1815. He may not have even been
born there, he may have emigrated, migrated in from some other place. But the
point is, he was [there]. I know of at least two children that he had. One, of
course, was my grandfather, who once again had the Yiddish name of Yudel, but
later on became Julius, and his sister, Betsy, or Bertha. She was the one who
immigrated first to the United States and settled and lived in New Haven,
Connecticut. I'll get to her later on. There probably was a third person, a third
son, but I don't even have his name, it's just a shadowy kind of thing.
My grandfather, Yudel once again, I don't know anything about his early
life. His marriage to my grandmother, Ida Esther, I'm sure was an arranged
marriage. He came from Lomza; she came from what they called Moshava,
which is today Makow. She was three years older than he was. She was born in
1869; he was born in 1872. So, I don't know whether she was considered an old
maid or what, but anyway, he arrived in Moshava, and that became his home
until he migrates years later to the United States. He made his living by being, of
all things, a tzitzit maker. Tzitzits, you know, are the fringes that Orthodox Jews
wear on their garments under their outer garments. And that's what he did. He
got the wool, he combed the wool, and he made tzitzits. I think he also
assembled tallits [prayer shawls], they're religious artifacts. He couldn't have
gotten very wealthy from that kind of business, but that was his profession. They
had several children together. My father was the oldest of the boys, his brother
Morris, and his younger brother, David. There were two female babies born also
through my grandparents who did not survive, and they had no names as far as I
Now my grandmother had an interesting background. Her name was Ida
Esther Rosenthal. Her father was a man who, in Europe, was called Tsyon, but
in America later, I don't know whether he adopted [a new name] or whether it
translated into [the name] Nathan Rosenthal. He and his wife, who was named
Mirl Hannah Rosenthal, were married. Nathan, I don't know what his business
was in Moshava. By the way, his father's name was Herman and his mother's
name was Fannie. But the point is that he had at least two children, my
grandmother and her brother, by the name of David Meir, and we think a third
child named Joseph, because one of my brothers is named Joseph, and we think
[that he] did not come [to America], and married a woman in Posnan, Poland. As
far as I know, [Joseph] disappeared, although they probably stayed in contact
with each other.
My grandmother's father, Rosenthal, decides to come to America, and he
leaves somewhere around 1869-1870. He comes to New York City. He later
claimed when he was getting his citizenship that he had come in 1865, but that's
impossible if my grandmother was born in 1869. He comes to New York and he
gets a job, I think as a peddler, and saves a little money and sends it back home
to Mirl, his wife, with the understanding that she would now come to the United
States with the family. She decided not to. Whatever reason, we don't know.
Maybe she was afraid, maybe the rabbi told her not to, maybe she thought this
was a good opportunity to get rid of Nathan. But whatever, she refused to come.
After about a year, maybe longer than that, after he had sent money and had
written these desperate letters, when are you going to arrive, and so on, he gave
an ultimatum. He said, I'm too young. He was, by the way, born in 1847, so he
was a young man. He said, I'm not going to live alone, so he divorced her. Now
I was never able to find in the New York records a record of a divorce. But he
must have given her a ghet [a no-fault bill of divorce legally issued by a rabbi], a
Jewish divorce, because she marries again, and she would not have done that
without the ghet.
So he lives in New York, on the Lower East Side, and he meets a woman
by the name of Selma Wolfenheim. She later drops the "en" and is just
Wolfheim. She's [descended from] a Jewish family from Prussia, who had also
come over some time in the 1860s, and they decide to get married. They do that
on March 29, 1873. At that time, he says this is his first marriage. I don't think
he ever revealed to this new family that developed anything about his past,
because when I began doing research in relatively recent years, the handful of
descendants that still remain, all of this came as a mystery to them. In fact, they
were skeptical of this whole story because they had never heard, absolutely
never heard, anything about it whatsoever.
He gets married in her family's home; they lived on Orchard Street, down
on the Lower East Side. All of them I suspect were relatively poor people. He's
still a peddler, and they began building their family. The first child was named
Flora. She was born in New York City in 1874, relatively shortly after, the
marriage was just nine months before. The family at that time were living on
Essex Street, once again on the Lower East Side. The second child was Jenny,
and she was born in Brooklyn, New York. The third child was Della, and Della
was born in Elmira [New York]. They left New York and they moved upstate.
Della's husband was instrumental, as I understand it, in founding the St. Louis
Summer Opera Series, and he began to develop a national reputation. The
fourth child [is] still again a girl, by the name of Hattie, who was born in New
York. By the way, he becomes a naturalized citizen in September of 1876.
In 1883, Nathan and the entire family move to St. Louis, Missouri. His
brothers-in-law had a prosperous skin and pelt business there. St. Louis was an
important port on the Mississippi River. Skins and pelts and furs, there was a big
market for them not only in the United States, but in Europe; they dealt in that.
Nathan had left his whatever job he had in New York, and moves to St. Louis.
That becomes his home for the rest of his life. He goes to work for his brothers-
in-law, and he had a variety of jobs over the years. He was on the road buying
and selling hides and skins. Later he was a buyer in hides and wool for the
Sachs Company in St. Louis, and still another company. He was Vice-President
of the Purity Importing Company, which dealt in wines and liquors. Then, for the
end of his life, he was in the wool business. Nathan died on February 25, 1925,
while on a visit to his daughter Jenny in Nashville, Tennessee. The cause of his
death was kidney failure. He was buried February 27, 1925, in the United
Hebrew Cemetery in St. Louis.
Now the only thing I want to add about Nathan, because that's a part of
the family that we've always heard about, and I guess I'm the first one that's
unearthed these details on him: he obviously never made any effort to contact his
original family. His son David came over to the United States, settled in Chicago,
[Illinois,] and raised a large family there. My grandmother, Ida Esther, came over
and lived in New Haven [Connecticut]. She later moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
They knew that Nathan was living in St. Louis, and he may have known where
they were, but no effort was ever made to establish contact.
In 1915, my father, and I'll mention this later on again, my father together
with a friend was hitchhiking across the United States, from New Haven to San
Francisco [California]. There was an international exposition [the 1915 World's
Fair was in San Francisco]. My father knew about his grandfather Nathan in St.
Louis, and he made it his business to go there, and he contacted him. My father
told him that his grandfather was very pleasant, did not ask very much about the
family at all, obviously knew where they were. They had a very pleasant
meeting. His grandfather did not invite him to his home or anything, he saw him
at his office. That was the only contact that was ever made with Nathan
Rosenthal's first family. So, he disappears from the history of our family.
Mirl, back in Poland, with her religious divorce, marries a man by the
name of David Meir, who owns a small livery stable in Moshava. By the way,
Moshava was the Jewish name for Makow. It had a pretty sizable Jewish
population, it was fairly close to Warsaw [the capital of Poland], it was on a main
route, the railroad route. It survived as a Jewish community until World War II,
when the Nazis moved in. It's there today. The Jewish section of town has been
destroyed, so there are no remnants at all, even the cemetery. But Mirl and
David have children. His name was David Meir Fater. Many of those were lost
in the Holocaust. But at least five members of the family survived the Holocaust.
Several members of the family are living in Israel today, and we have made
contact with them, and we know them and correspond with them, and have
visited over there.
My grandmother had three children. I've already mentioned my father,
Jack Proctor, Yonkel Bora Yidgavich became Jack Proctor, and there's a story
there. His brother Morris [was] two years younger than he. My father was born
in July 1896, my Uncle Morris two years later in 1898. His daughter Harriet lives
in Connecticut today. And their younger brother, David, was born in 1903.
He died and is buried in Jacksonville also. My grandparents came to the United
States after the turn of the century. My grandfather was in the Russo-Japanese
War. He was conscripted by the Russian Army, [and] although he was married
and they were not supposed to take married men, they did. He became a valet.
He didn't have any special skills, and they didn't need tzitzit makers in the
Russian Army at the time. He stayed in service. He never saw any fighting
activity, until the end of the war; 1905, I guess, the Russo-Japanese War ends.
Almost immediately after that, he leaves Europe, leaves Poland, and he comes
to the United States by way of Ellis Island. He goes to New Haven, where his
sister Betsy lived. Betsy had come over in 1893. She married a man by the
name of Kevy Harrison. They had two sons, both have died very young. They
operated a secondhand furniture store.
My grandfather became a peddler in New Haven, and he remained a
peddler all the years that he lived in New Haven. He never became an American
citizen; he was always an alien. Shortly after he arrived and saved enough
money, he sent money back for his wife, Ida Esther, my grandmother, and their
young son, David. David was now four years old when they came, in January
1909, leaving behind my father and his brother Morris with their grandmother,
Mirl, until there could be money sent over for them. Shortly afterwards, that is
exactly what happened. They left in July 1909 from Moshava. Now the
grandfather, his step-grandfather, actually, with his livery stable, was able to get
them across the border because they didn't have any papers. They went from
there by train to Rodderdam [the Netherlands], and they boarded the ship. They
had steerage tickets, and, of course, as children they were even cheaper. The
Newerdam, an American ship, was relatively new [and] had been launched in
1902. They sailed across the Atlantic to New York, where their family met them.
Now my father was exactly thirteen years old when he made this expedition, but
remember that the Russians believed that if a Jewish boy was Bar Mitzvah at
thirteen, and an adult, that he was eligible to be conscripted into the army. So
the Jewish families made every effort they possibly could to avoid that, because
if they were brought in, sometimes it was for as long as twenty years, and they
were lost. So my father traveled as being eleven years old. On the papers on
the ship, he's listed as eleven years old, and his brother is nine years old. They
just reduced their ages by two years. I think that was a perilous journey, to go
from Moshava, two young kids like that, on their own. I have never been able to
figure out whether they went as part of a group or not, but I think not because I've
never turned up any evidence to question that.
They come to the United States, they come to New Haven, and the
family's established there. My grandfather, as I say, had a little horse and buggy,
and he went around buying junk and then they were selling it on the weekend,
which is the traditional way they operated. My father was born in 1896. [It] is
1909, so he's getting up in years. He did not know English, either to speak it,
read it, or write it. He knew Yiddish, Hebrew, and he knew Polish, so he went to
school. They had a special school for immigrants. They called it immediately the
Greenhorn School. He went up as far as the fourth grade. By this time he was
embarrassed by the fact that he's almost a grown man and he's in the fourth
grade, so he drops out. He gets a job delivering the New Haven Register. The
Jewish section was almost immediately adjacent to the old Yale campus,
particularly the area where the law school was located. In those years, and
maybe still now, the newsboys would deliver a newspaper to the professor's
office, and come around the end of the week or the end of the month to collect
what was owed them. William Howard Taft, you know, when he left the
presidency in Washington and went back to Yale as Dean of the Law School, he
was one of my father's customers. My father always took great pride in that.
Anyway, in 1915, he and a non-Jewish friend, whose name was Proctor, I
think it was Harry Proctor but I've never been able to guarantee that, decided to
go across-country. My father always had the wanderlust. They went to San
Francisco. There was an international exposition there marking the opening of
the Panama Canal, it's [the] World Fair. That's when he meets his grandfather in
St. Louis. So they make that journey together, and they travel as brothers. My
father greatly liked the idea of being Jack Proctor, rather than Yonkel Yidgavich.
So later, when he became a citizen, he legally changed his name. And my family,
my boys, have been eternally grateful ever since. As they said, how do you spell
Yidgavich? He came back to New Haven, and from New Haven, he went
traveling again. First to New Orleans. Then how he learned about employment
in Jacksonville, I don't know, but he moves into Jacksonville around 1917. He
gets a job in the haberdashery store, where a man by the name of Schwartz ran
it. He later, as it got closer to World War I, turned it into a military uniform store.
That's where he meets my mother, Celia Schneider.
Now let me go from the paternal side to the maternal side, my mother's
side. As I say, the family came from St. Petersburg, Russia. How they got there
I don't know. You will recall from your own history that when Austria, Russia, and
Prussia divided Poland up, a large section of eastern Poland went to Russia, and
it had a very heavy, large Jewish population. The Russians were glad to get the
labor force, but they were not happy about them being Jews. The Empress,
Elizabeth I, and then later Catherine the Great, set up what they called the Pale
of Settlement [established in 1791 by Tsarina Catherine II to restrict Jews to the
formerly Polish or Turkish border territories of the Russian Empire], where Jews
could live, and if they went out for whatever reason, they had to have special
Well, St. Petersburg was not within the Pale, but my great-grandfather,
whose name was Samuel, and for whom I am named, was a tailor, and he had a
contract with the military. He shortened pants or did whatever was needed.
They were allowed to live in a special compound, and it worked advantageously
for the children because they were able to get a better education than they would
have normally. My grandfather Michael, for instance, became an engineer. Not
an electrical engineer, but one that worked on the trains, and he was on the run
from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Later, when he came to the United States, he
was not able to get into the union in Baltimore because they did not accept Jews.
He was never able to practice his skills over here.
Anyway, his father did not immigrate, but they had a large family. My
grandfather Michael had three sisters, Sarah, Lena, and Rebecca, whom they
called Reba, and who died at a relatively young age, sixteen, of tuberculosis.
Then he had several sons. He had David, Jacob David Jacob they dropped
[because] it was too Jewish-sounding, they say it became David Schneider,
and Lewis and Abe. So it was a sizable family that migrated over to the United
States directly to Baltimore, [Maryland,] and they operated a secondhand store at
214 Utad Street. That building, by the way, survived until about a dozen, fifteen
years ago. I saw it when they were building the new baseball stadium there,
which was just down the road, all of the buildings in that area were demolished.
My grandfather, Michael, who was not able to practice his engineering
skills, held a variety of jobs in Baltimore. He was married to my grandmother,
Rebecca Wolfson, whose father was also named Samuel; her mother's name
was Sofie. By the way, my grandfather Michael's grandfather's name was
Samuel and his mother's name was __ They're living in Baltimore, my
grandfather has a variety of jobs, a large family that needs to be taken care of.
He had all kinds of jobs. He was a tailor; I don't know what he knew about
tailoring. He even got a job one year as a lamp-lighter. They had gas lamps, of
course, at that time, so how he got that job, and it only lasted one year, his
appointment. They even operated, and my mother remembers this together with
her brother David, they would bring milk in on the train in these large five or ten
gallon containers, and then my mother and her brother would then divide this up
into bottles, and they became delivery people of milk. That lasted only a while
because they had a horse and buggy, and a donkey or mule or something, and
the neighbors complained, so they had to get rid of that and that ended their
Anyway, my mother had an Aunt Sarah, Sarah Mehlman, Sarah
Schneider. She married David Mehlman in Baltimore. David was a very
handsome young man, with lots of different activities. He was a photographer,
he did all kinds of things. They got connected up with somebody, and they
bought a pawn shop in St. Augustine. This is how the family comes to St.
Augustine. In 1907, they bought a pawn shop from a man by the name of
Tarlinksy, on the corner of Washington Street and Bridge Street, and they moved
down to St. Augustine. They never had any children of their own. They later
brought Sarah's sister Lena, and her husband, Abe, to St. Augustine, and they
had an establishment on Washington Street, a saloon. The two families lived
next door to each other. The Fagan family now lives in Jacksonville, and the
Mehlman family survivors also live in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach.
Anyway, the Mehlmans have no children, and they're desperate for children. So
they bring my mother's older sister, two years older than my mother, my Aunt
Minnie, [to live with them]. My mother was born in November 1898. Aunt Minnie
was born in November 11, 1896. She always said she was born on Armistice
Day before there was an Armistice Day. Anyway, she comes to St. Augustine to
live with the Mehlmans. It's while she was there that she meets a man from
Jacksonville by the name of Alexander Spevack. [He] would come over often
from Jacksonville, [he] had friends there, played cards. So they got together,
they liked each other; my aunt was a very handsome woman. Alex had a thriving
business, a very fine dress shop on Bay Street in Jacksonville called
Alexander's. They were married in the Mehlman home in St. Augustine in 1916.
They moved to Jacksonville, have a house on Beaver Street, and are living the
good life with young couples in Jacksonville.
The Mehlmans now don't have anybody, so they brought my mother down
from Baltimore to live with them. She comes to Jacksonville first because Minnie
is now pregnant with their first child, my cousin Marjorie. My mother stays in
Jacksonville until Marjorie is born, and then she comes to St. Augustine to live
with the Mehlmans. She wasn't there very long, long enough to take some piano
lessons at St. Joseph's with the nuns, but that didn't last very long. She was not
musically inclined. She didn't like St. Augustine, thought it was too small. It was
too dull. She didn't like what the Mehlmans wanted her to do in the store and the
house. So one day, when they were at the store and she was home this was
all plotted out ahead of time she packed her things and she went to the bus
station. She got on the bus and she came to Jacksonville. She left the
Mehlmans behind. She left a note for them to tell them she was moving out so
they wouldn't think she was being abducted or anything. She moves in with Aunt
Minnie and Uncle Alex, and she begins working in the store.
In the meantime, I told you my father was in Jacksonville, and he was
working with Mr. Schwartz in the store a great cross street from what was then
the railroad terminal. He lived with the Bono Family, the [founders of] Bono's
Barbecue. Of course, Mr. Bono then was a tailor; it was his son David that got
into the barbecue business. They lived on Duval Street. There were several
people that lived there, [it] is rumored. Anyway, my father would come up from
Schwartz's to up the road. It was only three or four blocks, and he met my
mother. It was a love affair almost from the first moment. They dated, they went
to the dances at the YMHA [Young Men's Hebrew Association]. That area was a
small ghetto for the Conservative and Orthodox Jews that had begun moving in,
in the 1890s. One of the episodes, he took her boating in a rowboat or canoe or
something on the Trout River, and the boat turned over. He always said, I saved
your life. I think they were close to shore anyway, and waded to shore. But they
were married in Jacksonville in May 1918.
Now remember my father is an immigrant at the time, and he no longer
works for Mr. Schwartz. He gets a job in the shipyard. There were several
shipyards in Jacksonville at the time, and he goes to work for one of the small
ones in the inventory office. He always said, I don't know how to build ships, but
I know how to count parts. The shipyard was called Hilyer-Speringer-Dunn
Shipyards. I don't know anything about them, but he was an inventory clerk
there. He worked until the end of the war.
They were married in 1918, and I'm born the following year. When they
were first married, they lived on Monroe Street with my mother's aunt, Lena
Fagan. Then they rented an apartment on Duval Street, a two-story house, and
they had the apartment downstairs. The Peltz family, Harry Peltz, lived upstairs.
They became, from that moment, lifelong friends. It's kind of an interesting turn
that it was through their daughter that [my wife] Bessie and I met each other.
She arranged our first date together. So the relationship with the Peltz family, as
I say, was a good one, and it continued from the time that I was a baby until they
When the war was over, the shipyards begin to close, and my father got a
temporary job with a clothing store on Broad Street. Then through some
connection, maybe it was through David Mehlman, [who had] St. Augustine
connections, because they were still in the pawn shop business, and doing well
in St. Augustine. Although they were to leave there pretty quickly because my
other uncle, Abe Fagan, had the saloon, and, of course, Florida, along with the
[rest of the] nation, went dry, and so they moved to Jacksonville. They had made
money, though, in the saloon. My uncle, David Mehlman, who called himself
Honest Dave, that was the name of the store, also had made money and owned
a couple pieces of property. Small buildings on St. George Strait.
Anyway, my father, through whatever connection, gets a job on the Florida
East Coast Railroad, which had its headquarters in St. Augustine. So, [while I
was] a baby, we moved to St. Augustine. On the corner of St. George Street and
Cathedral Place, where the Barnett Bank is located today, there was a building
called the Bishop's Building. There were stores downstairs, and there were small
apartments upstairs, and that's where we lived. Now, my father worked on the
train, and you remember the old days, or maybe you don't remember it, Mark.
They had a dining car on there, but not too many people went to the dining car.
They had these people going up and down the aisle selling sandwiches and
coffee. That was my father. He was making the run from St. Augustine to Miami
and back. In the meantime, my mother was operating a small gift shop-fruit
stand-magazine place in the Florida East Coast Terminal. She didn't own it, she
was just working there.
I guess the greatest episode was in February [of] 1921, just a few weeks
after the presidential election, [when] Warren G. Harding [Republican president
from 1921-1923, when he died of a heart attack] arrives in St. Augustine. He had
made a triumphal boat trip down, and he's getting prepared for the inaugural,
which in those years, you know, was March 4. He comes into St. Augustine,
there were no security problems then as there are today, and my mother was
there with me. As he was crossing through he saw me, and he walked over and
picked me up. That was my contact with the Presidency, and he put me down. I
thought they could have picked a more respectable president [for me] to be
picked up [by], but anyway, that was my contact with greatness.
Shortly after that, my father had the opportunity to buy a small grocery
store in Jacksonville on Myrtle Avenue, and that's what they did. They left St.
Augustine and moved to Jacksonville. In the meantime, my brother Myer was
born in September 1921, and my brother Dave was born in September 1922.
Myer on September 26 and David on September 16. David's bris [ceremonial
circumcision] was held in the synagogue because it was Rosh Hashanah. We
lived on Elder Street, just around the corner. In fact, the earliest, absolutely the
earliest memory I have, I couldn't have been more than three or four years old,
although Myer and Dave were already born. My father didn't get the grocery
store, I think, until 1923. I got up, and in my nightgown I walked from the house,
which was just a few feet away. We were there alone, you wouldn't do that with
children today, and walked over to the store. There was my mother and father
wondering what was going on, and of course they quickly hustled me back home.
The other early memory I have is my first episode in school. The building was
East Riverside, and my birthday is March, that's when I would have been six
years old. But my father got the bright idea that I was smart enough to start
early. So he registers me the previous September, and tells them I'm six years
old, which of course I was not. Well, it wasn't very long before they found out
what my true age was and evicted me from the school. So that was my first
beginnings as a student.
Later on, when we are no longer in the grocery business, and you've seen
that picture of me then, that mom-and-pop store which my parents had. Those
kind of stores were very common at the time, little neighborhood stores. The
area that we lived in was a black neighborhood on one side of Myrtle Avenue,
and a blue-collar section on the other side. Elder Street was just a one block
street, it was not paved at all. We lived in that little cottage for a while, then
moved across [the] street. I remember that. I had an apartment there. We
never owned the property at all. The man who owned the building was [of] the
Knauer family. They still live in Jacksonville. Then my parents' store, and then
next to that was a little dry goods store, Jewish-owned, and we knew them very
well. Once again, their descendants live in Jacksonville, and continue to be
friends. My father stayed in the grocery business about two years, then had an
opportunity to sell it to a couple, the Eisenburgs, who came down for whatever
reason from Atlanta. Then they sold it to the Meides, which was I guess a Syrian
family that had a few stores like that. My father had the opportunity to buy a
small department store on Florida Avenue in the 1200 block, which he did. So
we moved out to that area, and had a small house right around the corner from
the store. [We] lived there for a short while until we moved to 355 West Seventh
Street, on the corner of Perry, to a big, two-story house.
In the meantime, my brother George is born on February 22, 1925. His
name was supposed to be Joseph, but the doctor said, you can't name him
Joseph, this is George Washington's birthday, and George and Joseph became
George. The "Joseph," I think, was that brother, my grandmother's brother back
in Europe, that we know nothing at all about. But obviously by this time he's
dead, and they know about it. So my grandmother insisted on naming him for
him, and that's the way it was.
Anyway, that's the story of my early life. My father has the dry goods
store, and we're living in Springfield, which was near the synagogue now. It was
not an exclusively Jewish ghetto, but there were lots of Jewish families in that
area. I was close enough in those years to walk to the synagogue, which I did
four times a week when I came home from regular classes, for Hebrew classes.
Our school, Ninth and Perry, is now Beulah Beal [Young Parents Center]. I
registered there in the second grade and then started the third grade. They
decided that I had enough skills, so I skipped the third grade and went into the
fourth grade. It went through the sixth. Then I went to junior high school, Kirby-
Smith, which was several blocks away, but close enough to walk [to] also. That
was the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades, and [I] did very well there. I
remember when I was in the eighth grade, there was a contest to write poetry,
and I wrote a piece about citrus. It won $10. I think the Civitan Club, or one of
the luncheon clubs, [held the contest,] and they invited me to the luncheon at the
Roosevelt Hotel [converted into a retirement facility after a 1963 fire].
G: Do you remember the poem?
P: [Laughter.] Right! I read the poem.
G: But do you remember it?
P: No, I don't remember it. I think I ought to look it up in the paper, maybe it's in
there. Then, I remember, each year we did a Shakespeare play in literature. In
the eighth grade, we did A Midsummer Night's Dream, they decided to portray it.
I became the Duke, Duke Theseus, is it? It was such a marvelous success in
school that they put it on downtown in a small building that the veterans were
operating there. We did that for three nights. That was my experience on the
stage. I didn't become an actor as a result of that. Then we moved from West
Street to Evergreen Avenue, and we lived there for a while.
G: Were these progressively larger, nicer homes?
P: Not necessarily. The biggest and nicest home was the one on Seventh Street,
Seventh and Perry. That was a very lovely home. None of them did we ever
own, they were all rented properties. But the one on Evergreen Avenue was very
nice. My grandparents lived across the street. There were six or seven Jewish
families in the neighborhood. My grandparents on my mother's side, in the
meantime in the 1920s, had moved from Baltimore down to Jacksonville. They
operated a small clothing store, and not for very long. It was not successful, and
my grandfather had a sundry store. It was right around the corner from
Evergreen Avenue, and, as I say, we lived across the street from them. Their
youngest son [was] Nathan, who was three years older than I, and he and I
became best friends. He's the one I lived with as a freshman when I came to the
university. He was a senior in chemistry at the time. Then from there we moved
to Riverside, and we lived on the corner of Ernest and West Street, in a house,
729 West Street. Then [we] moved eventually next door into a house that my
grandparents had lived in. All of these were rental to begin with, but my father
bought the second house at 735 West Street. That was the only piece of
property they ever owned, though.
We then transferred schools. From Kirby-Smith I had finished at Kirby-
Smith, although we were living in Riverside. So it was a kind of cumbersome
thing. I would leave school, this is when I was in the ninth grade, walk to where
the Spevacks were now living in Springfield on Fifth Street, and stay there long
enough until it was time to go to Hebrew school. I went to Hebrew school for one
hour, Monday through Thursday. My father picked me up there, and then we
went home. So it gave me a long day, but it didn't seem, as I look back on it
now, to be very arduous. There were a lot of other kids doing exactly the same
thing. And I never became what you would call a Hebrew scholar, with all of that
going to Hebrew school. When we transferred, moved to Riverside, the senior
high school was Robert E. Lee. I went there the first year.
In the meantime, of course this is the Depression decade. When the
boom bubble burst in Florida, and the hurricanes came in 1926 and 1928, it
devastated the economy of this state. A lot of small business operators were
wiped out, including my father. My father lost everything. He went to work
selling sheets and blankets and so on. Mainly to black, but also to blue[-collar]
white customers who were also very poor, and could only pay maybe fifty cents
or a dollar a week. As I say, times were very hard for the Proctor family. In the
summer of 1935, through a connection, I got a job working in a wholesale liquor
place. A Jewish family owned it; it was Southern Liquors, one of the biggest in
the state. In those years, we had just become wet in Florida a year or two
before. The state collected an excise tax on each bottle. What you had to do
was open up the cases, lay the bottles out on a flat surface, and put a stamp on
there, affix a stamp on there. Then [you had to] pack the bottles back into the
case, [and] seal them up so they could be delivered to customers. So I worked
back there with a couple of Jewish guys. Erwin Canner, who was a good friend
of mine, and a couple of the others. I was paid the lordly sum of $12 a week,
which at that time was considered very nice.
G: Now, were you out of school at this time?
P: This is the summer of 1935. At the end of the summer, with consultation with my
parents and a lot of indecision, I decide to drop out of school and to finish up at
night school. And that's exactly what I did. I worked from 1935-1937 and
contributed money to the support of the household, and I went to night school.
Classes were in Duval High School. There was a lady there, a teacher, who was
very kind to me. I took the regular academic courses. I also learned how to type
and do things like that. And I finished up with my class and graduated in June
1937. So, nobody was the wiser [of] my departure from the academic career.
G: So you were at the end of your sophomore year [when] you decided to leave,
and [you] did your junior and senior years in night school?
P: Yeah, two years.
G: How were you as a student?
P: How was I as a student? I was a very good student. Obviously, I had no
problems. I took the courses I was supposed to take, and I obviously made
decent grades. I don't remember my getting on the scholarship roll at all, and I
don't know [if] they had scholarship rolls for night school. And I wasn't the only
one doing this you see, at that time, this was not an unusual sacrifice to be
making. Lots of people were doing the same thing. So in September 1937, I
came to the University of Florida.
G: Okay, we're going to stop there for a second. I'm going to work back a little bit
because I have some questions about some of the earlier things you said. Much
of what you told me about your family, I know, is your own research done in the
last several years. How much interaction as a child did you have with some of
the folks you told me about this morning? Did you know your grandparents well?
Aunts and uncles, great-aunts and uncles?
P: I was very fortunate. It's a long-lived family, and my grandparents on my
mother's side lived just several doors away from us. And I was very close to my
grandfather, Michael. When I came home from school, I passed in front of their
house, and almost always he was sitting under the porch in [a] rocking chair
waiting for me to visit a little bit. He told me lots of stories. For instance, he told
me he was in St. Petersburg the day in 1881 the tsar [Alexander II] was
assassinated. He was downtown; he was, I think, eleven or twelve years old at
the time, and he heard a commotion. He didn't hear any shots, but he heard a
commotion of crowd noises and people running. So he ran to where [they came
from, and] by that time the police had arrived and had blocked off the streets, but
he quickly learned what it was. Of course, this assassination of the tsar greatly
weakened the position of Jews, because the courtiers were looking for whoever
was responsible and blamed the assassination on the Jews. The situation
became even more critical, and government-sponsored programs came about.
And of course, this is what encouraged the large immigration to the United
States, a hundred thousand plus or more every year. This is when my family, my
mother's family, left St. Petersburg. So in answer to your question, did I learn a
lot, yes. I learned a lot from my grandfather, and I learned a lot from my father.
My father talked a lot about his past, and I learned from some of the other
members of the family. I was very family-oriented, and in some ways, kind of a
favorite of the family. I was the oldest male grandson. So I regret the fact that I
did not ask a million more questions. But at least it gave me a background of
things to work on.
G: Did the family speak Yiddish?
P: Only among themselves. My grandmother, my father's mother, Ida Esther,
spoke Yiddish all the time. In fact, they moved to Jacksonville in 1940 from New
Haven. It was just the winters and all were too much for them, and my
grandfather was too old to be a peddler and all of those things. But my
grandmother had a black maid. Everybody had blacks working in the household
at that time. So, as I remember, she talked Yiddish to the maid, and the maid
talked southern to her, and they seemed to have communicated well with each
other. But my mother spoke Yiddish always to her mother, they conversed in
Yiddish, but not with us. My grandfather talked to me in English. It's interesting
also when my grandfather came over, he was still single, and he came to
Baltimore because his aunt, Rachael Epstein, lived in Baltimore. My
grandmother came over because her sister, Sarah Wolf, was living in Baltimore.
They were just a young couple. My grandfather did not know how to speak
Yiddish. They did not speak Yiddish in their home in Russia, they spoke
Russian. My grandmother didn't know anything but Yiddish. So my grandfather,
to pursue this romance, had to learn how to speak Yiddish, which he became
very accomplished in doing, and both of them had to learn how to speak English.
G: Did the family, were they proud of their Eastern European heritage?
P: Were they proud of it? Yeah. They did not try to forget their past at all. They
had really not had an unhappy past at all, they had not been subjected to a lot of
these things. I don't think life was very generous for my father's family in New
Haven, and certainly he was not happy about being scooped up and put into the
Russo-Japanese War, which he had no commitment for one way or the other.
My grandmother never liked the Poles at all. She always, when anybody said
anything about it, she gave a couple of spits. I think what happened, according
to my father, is that she got into an altercation with a Polish police officer in
Moshava, and they threatened to lock her up for a day or two. So she never was
happy with them from that point on. Anyway, they came to New Haven as I told
you, where my grandfather's sister Betsy and her husband, Kevy Harrison, lived.
I want to mention that the Harrisons had two sons. The second [probably means
"first"] son died when he was four years old, he was scalded. A pot of hot water
fell off the stove and burned him almost completely. The second son died of
leukemia, acute leukemia. I have a vague recollection of them in the 1940s.
They both died in 1943-44, and they're buried in New Haven.
G: How about religion? Jewish holidays, foods. Tell me a little bit, especially as a
young kid, how you celebrated holidays. What role, besides Hebrew school,
Judaism played in the family.
P: We celebrated every holiday. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur [were]
particularly big. In those early years we walked to the synagogue, we did not
drive at all. And sometimes, when we lived on Evergreen, it was a distance to
walk, and it was hot.
G: Traditional service?
P: Traditional service. It was an Orthodox synagogue that was trending toward
Conservative, but it was an Orthodox synagogue to begin with. The Orthodox
synagogue had been organized in Jacksonville in the early 1900s. Rabbi
Benjamin, who was not really an ordained rabbi but was the accepted rabbi
there, married my parents. He officiated all the brisses, and everybody in the
community loved him, and he was well-respected by everybody. From that
synagogue, which was old and small, they moved to one out on Third and Silver
Street. My father played an active role. He was on the board of the synagogue.
And yes, we involved ourselves in all of the holidays. Rosh Hashanah, Yom
Kippur. We got new clothes, we went to services, everybody in the family fasted
on Yom Kippur, we always had big Seders, usually at my grandfather's house.
Then when he got too infirm, my mother took over the role. It was not unusual
for us to have twelve, fifteen, eighteen, twenty people at the Seder. Purim was a
big deal. We went to hear the Magilla reading. That was a big operation.
Sukkot, we all participated in that. We went to Sunday school in addition to
Hebrew school. Me and all of my brothers were Bar Mitzvah. They didn't get
big, extravagant parties in those years, but we did. And we had a very close
family relationship, not only with my grandparents, but with my aunts and uncles.
We didn't ever do anything alone. If there was anything in the family, all the
family was included first of all.
[End side Al]
G: You were mentioning, as we switched tapes, about the family. Large family, got
along well together.
P: Very large family, got along extremely well. Everybody kind of lived close
together. My Aunt Minnie and her family lived just a few doors away from us. My
grandparents lived five doors away from us on the corner. So we saw each other
often, and nothing went on that went unnoticed by the rest of the family. You
couldn't do anything without them knowing about it and wanting to know why they
hadn't been included. Now there had been a disruption in the family between the
Mehlmans and the Fagans that went back over some business matters in the
1920s. But the Fagans withdrew from the family, and we never, ever, even to
this day, remain close to that part of the family. Their children grew up, their
grandchildren grew up. We did not know them. We ourselves did not know the
cause of the disruption, but it happened. That was the only failure in the family
itself. We had relatives that lived in Baltimore. My mother's brothers lived there,
and we remain very close to them. If we ever went to Baltimore, we stayed with
them. When they came to Jacksonville, they ate with us and they did things. So
it was a very close, traditional family situation.
G: Tell me a little bit about cooking. I always like to ask about food. Old world
P: Yes. I wouldn't say that my mother was the greatest cook in the world. In later
years, after the decade of the thirties, and my father became more lucrative, they
became party people. They loved to go out, and my mother particularly loved to
play cards with her girlfriends for small stakes, penny and a nickel. But they
played three, four, five times a week. So she didn't have too much time to cook.
But some things were [her] specialty. She knew how to make a gefilte fish like
no other person in the world, and she was very careful on the kind of fish. She
went to the wholesale fish market to get exactly what she wanted. She knew
how to pickle herrings, and she became famous for that. I wouldn't say she was
the greatest baker in the world. When Purim came she would bake humentash,
but you needed kind of a sledgehammer to get through the dough that she had to
get to the prunes that were there. So on a score of about one to ten, I would give
her maybe about a five, or if I was feeling real generous, a six.
My grandmother was also, neither one of them [were] great cooks at all.
They cooked traditionally. Threw everything into a big pot, and that was it. They
were too poor to serve caviar, but they were very Orthodox as far as food was
concerned. They all kept kosher homes. My mother bought all of her meat from
the kosher butcher. They would call up, she would tell them what she wanted,
and within an hour or two he would deliver it from downtown all the way out to
our house. So that's how it operated. And as I say, Passover week we kept.
We didn't eat anything but matzo. We had two Seders. A few years, they tried
making their own wine. My father was a concocter. He went into the root beer
business one year, too [laughing]. Suddenly, in the middle of night, they heard
these explosions. They thought somebody was breaking into the house. And
what it was, it was the root beer. It was foaming off the tops of them. The corks
or whatever was there, were exploding out. That ended his bottling activity. My
mother said, that's enough, you're not doing any more of that. It's surprising, we
lived in a small house, with three bedrooms and one bathroom. My mother and
father and me and my five brothers. And yet we seemed to have survived it. I
don't remember anybody thinking that they were deprived of anything.
G: How did you get along with your brothers?
P: Fine. Got along with my brothers very well. Always have, and continue with the
surviving ones. We were very close. We talk to each other all the time. But
growing up, of course, there was a variance in age, and they had their own. And
then, of course, when the war came, and four of us were in service. I was at
Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and I'll tell you about that in a moment. My brother
Myer was in the infantry in Italy. My brother Dave was a bombardier in the Air
Force in England, and George was in the Marine Corps in the Pacific, and was
badly injured in an incident in Okinawa [Japan]. But I got along well with my
brothers. But when the war was over and everybody returned, of course, they
took advantage of the G.I. Bill, and they went to the University of Florida. My
brother Dave is the only one of the family who did not. He went to the University
of Texas at El Paso, because he had married a girl from El Paso. And when he
was ready for school, the university in Gainesville had already started the
semester, and he didn't want to lose any more time. All the rest of them were
But they developed their own friends. Kids that they had grown up with
continued to be their friends through college. Our house was always a kind of a
meeting place. And they would come, whether we were home or not, they would
come into the house. My mother didn't lock the doors, and it got to the point
[where] she had this big salami. She would buy five-pound salami, and they
would know which shelf [it was on]. They would just come in and fix their own
sandwiches, and cook. And sometimes you found them, you walked in the
house, and there was one of them sleeping on the couch or something
[laughing]. Totally uninvited. These are friends they still have today, who recall,
oh yeah. They call my mother by her first name, Celie, her name was Celia
Schneider Proctor. Celie used to do real good [laughing]. But yes, I was very
close to my brothers, very close to their wives.
G: What's the difference in age? Remind me. You're the oldest.
P: I'm the oldest. The youngest was Irving, who's now deceased, and Irving was
born in 1933. So we're all fairly close to each other.
G: You were born in 1919, though.
P: I was born in 1919. My brother Myer was born in 1921. Dave was born in 1922.
George was born in 1925. Saul, I think, was born in 1928. And Irving was born
G: That's fourteen years. So he's born and you're in the middle of high school. Did
you have responsibilities? You have to change Irving's diapers?
P: [Laughing.] I didn't have to change his diapers. But everybody took it. Irving
was mother's favorite.
G: He was the baby.
P: He was the baby. Before Irving died, he'd had four wives. But we all got along
very well together. And as I say, my two brothers in Jacksonville see each other
and eat together often. We see and talk to them on the telephone two or three
times a week.
G: So tell me again. Remind me of the extended family. You had two sets of
grandparents in Jacksonville, correct?
G: Equal time split between them, that worked out well?
P: Well, the one that lived a few doors away from us, I saw every single day. The
other grandparents who came down later, in 1940, lived on the other side of town
near the synagogue, so they would be able [to go]. My grandfather went to
services everyday. So they had a small apartment about a block away from the
synagogue. So I saw them maybe once a week or twice a week.
G: You were already twenty-one by the time they arrived.
P: And they took great pride in me. When I became an appointed, that [means I]
was only an instructor at the University of Florida, when my grandmother, my
father's mother, she went, I could have been the Prince of Wales. [She said,] my
grandson is a professor [laughing].
G: Tell me a little about growing up in Jacksonville. You mentioned some
neighborhoods. Did you interact mostly with Jewish kids? Was there a good mix
P: No, there was not a good mix. We had very few, very, very few non-Jewish
friends. There were a few non-Jewish neighbors around that we were friendly
with, but everybody we knew and socialized with were Jews. First of all, the
neighborhood was not completely ghetto, but the neighborhood was maybe
seventy-five percent Jewish. So you didn't have to go out seeking people. And
remember, I didn't do my final two years at school, so I lost a lot of contacts I
might otherwise have had with non-Jewish people. But my cousin, Clara
Spevack, was only three months older than I was, and so we had some of the
same classes. We walked to school together. And my cousin Marjorie. Clara's
now deceased, but Marjorie is still living in Jacksonville. We all went to school
together, so we had Jewish friends. We did not have many non-Jewish friends.
And whatever mix there was in the neighborhood was a very casual mix.
G: Was the Jewish community in Jacksonville accepted by the larger community?
Or were there good relations?
P: There was fairly good relations. There were no major anti-Semitic attacks or
situations that came up. There were two synagogues. As I say, it started out
Orthodox, but was becoming increasingly Conservative, as it is today. And my
family continues to be active. My brother Saul was the president of the
synagogue. They now call it the Jacksonville Jewish Center. In the 1920s, when
they built this edifice, they thought they would have a synagogue and a
recreation center. The Depression changed all of that, but the name stuck. So
it's still Jacksonville Jewish Center today. We remained very active in the
synagogue. As I say, it was Conservative. There was a Reform synagogue of
German-Jews that had been established in the early 1880s, the second oldest
congregation in Florida. The oldest is in Pensacola. There was no close
relationship between the Reform and the Orthodox. You did not have friends in
the other, as though they were living in two separate cities in all. That was not
unusual in the South. Bessie said that when she was growing up in Atlanta,
having a date with a boy from the Reform is just like having a date with a non-
Jewish boy. They were the same thing. And that was true in Jacksonville. Even
today, while there's a closeness, more of a closeness today, there's still many of
the old families that you don't know anything about.
G: Recreation. Did you go out to the beach? Was there a Jewish beach in
P: No, there was not a Jewish beach. Jacksonville Beach, which was about sixteen
or eighteen miles away, was where everyone went on the weekend, on Sunday.
Everybody went to the beach on Sunday. You went early in the morning. You
lay out there and get sunburned, much more than was healthy to do, as we now
know, but we did. So, all the Jewish community, the Jews that went to the
beach, and lots of them did, were congregated down near the Casa Marina
Hotel. There were benches along there, and that's where you went. You
brought your lunch, in a box of sandwiches, and you ate those on the beach. My
parents never went in swimming, but we did because the bathhouse next to the
Casa Marina had a pool. You could only get in with a key, so you'd pass the key
back and forth between the fence so you only had to pay one admission. That
was not an unusual situation at all. We did go to the beach often. There was a
lot of activity on Sunday at the beach, including, there was gambling there. They
had roulette, and my mother and her girlfriends who played cards during the
week went up to play roulette. They didn't lose or gain very much, maybe ten
dollars, but they thought it was absolutely wonderful. And we were there from
morning, we usually got out there about 11:00, until after dark. And that was the
main activity. My father was always a great baseball fan. He would go to the
baseball games, and he would take us along too.
G: Who was playing in Jacksonville at the time?
P: Jacksonville Suns. And we went to the movies a lot. There were a lot of
theaters, movie theaters, downtown. I remember in early years, when I was a
kid, that my mother would go once a week to the Palace Theater, which also had
some acts, live acts. And she would usually take me, the others were too small.
We went to the movie. Then we went to Woolworth's or Cresses' [department
stores], which had dining. You know, one of those things, and get a drink. So
there was a big time operation.
G: Let's talk a little more about the Depression. You mentioned that your father's,
this would have been the department store, didn't survive the Depression.
P: It did not survive.
G: And your decision to leave school, was in part, or in large measure, the result of
the Depression and your desire to help.
P: It was totally as a result of the Depression and the need of the family for the
G: How did the Depression affect the larger Jacksonville?
P: All the same way. My Uncle Alex, who no longer long ago had his dress shop.
He had closed it and moved to New York with the family for a variety of reasons,
and [when he] came back the Depression was on. He and my father worked for
L. B. Price, the same company that sold goods on installment plan. Times were
very hard in Jacksonville for the Jewish community, and, as I guess, for the non-
Jewish community. And this was not an untypical situation. I don't think we ever
went hungry at all. I don't remember being deprived of anything like that. On the
other hand, I'm sure that my mother bought the things that were the least
expensive. The banana boats used to come into Jacksonville, and my father
would go down and buy a whole one of those huge stalks of bananas that had
maybe a hundred or hundred fifty bananas, for maybe fifty cents or seventy-five
cents. And he would hang it on the back door on the little porch in the back, and
that was our dessert. You needed something, you went out and pulled off a
banana [laughing]. When you emptied the stalk, you went and bought another
My parents were very close to each other, very close to each other. I'm
sure there were arguments from time to time, but I don't remember anything
ferocious. I don't remember anything threatening their marriage at all. It was a
real love match, I think, from beginning to end. They were very close to their
children. I mean, they were greatly concerned about our academic progress, and
everything that we were doing. There was nothing that was secret from the
G: Did your mom continue to work? You mentioned she had -
P: No, no. My mother never worked outside of the home. She had worked in the
store, both in the grocery store and worked in the dry goods store, but once that
closed, she never left the home to work at all. She really had no skills to work.
The jobs were very scarce during the 1930s, and after that my father's business
improved, [so] there was no need for her to work.
G: How is Jacksonville changing during this time? Is it growing significantly?
P: It's growing tremendously. Jacksonville starts out by being, for Florida and for
the South, a sizable city because it's a port city, and the railroads ran in and out
of that. So it always had a growing population. And it was not yet competing
with South Florida, although that was beginning as a result of the land boom of
the 1920s. So Jacksonville was the paramount city. This is where the business
operation, the banks, were located. This is where people went for capital
investment. And then, of course, with the end of the war, things began to change
dramatically. For one thing, there had been a lot of military activity in and around
Jacksonville. Camp Landing, which was about forty miles away, was a training
encampment which had at one time maybe as many as 70,000 [people]. They
would come into Jacksonville on weekends. Then there was the Naval Air Area,
which in itself had always been a military area, going all the way back to the
Spanish-American War. Then during World War One it became Camp Johnson.
So, a lot of those people stayed on. They liked what they saw, they thought the
economic opportunities were good.
So Jacksonville began to grow. Of course since then it's been
outdistanced by Miami, Tampa, Orlando. It's always been a politically
conservative community. I think because the financial interests] are there, and
people like Alfred Du Pont and Mrs. Du Pont live there [Alfred Du Pont moved to
Florida in the 1920s, taking control of several Florida banks, the Florida East
Coast Railway, and west Florida real estate which later became the St. Joe
Paper Company]. It was the home for the Atlantic National Bank and the Florida
National Bank. I think that was what made it as conservative as was. Integration
did not come easy to Jacksonville, but the Jewish community got along very well.
Jews did not really exert themselves visually in the early years. There were no
Jews who were members of the political community.
G: But there were the Delinskys.
P: There was a Delinsky in the nineteenth century, when Jacksonville was much
smaller. Morris Delinsky, who was the mayor of Jacksonville, and also one of
the founders of the Reform congregation in Jacksonville. But after that, in the
twentieth century, you don't get very much activity. The rabbi of the Reform
synagogue, Reo Kaplan, did organize an inter-faith service for Thanksgiving that
worked very well with the other ministers. But those were just isolated incidents
G: Tell me about growing up in a segregated city. Did you have much interaction?
At one point the store, you mentioned, was in a black neighborhood. Did you
have much to do at all with African Americans?
P: Well, when we lived on Elder Street, and I was really a young child, it seemed to
me, as I remember, we always had a black maid. Even when we were very poor,
we had a black maid. You paid them about $2 a week, and they did, they
washed, and they ironed, and they did all the things there. Also, when my father
had the grocery store he had a small car, and there was a black man by the
name of, I think, Julius, that drove the car. My mother never learned to drive, but
she always had this chauffeur to drive her around. This enabled my father to get
goods back and forth from wherever they were needed in the city. We had very
little contact beyond the maids coming in. Although I didn't think it was the least
bit strange at the time, and nobody ever challenged it, the maids always came in
by the back door. My mother always had [for them] their own plate and forks, as
though you thought they would contaminate you if they ate out of [your] china.
But you accepted that without any question about it. And my mother didn't feed
them that well. It seemed to me she had sardines and orange soda and so, but
they thrived on it. So that was as far as it went. You really had no black
playmates or black contact with individuals at all.
G: Certainly not at school.
P: Not at school. And I remember some of the black maids that we had who told
stories about their families, stories I can't remember today. Whether they were
true or not I don't know, but about slavery days and things like that. They
themselves were not slaves, but their grandparents were.
G: This I think will be of special interest to Madison and to Rebecca: tell me about
Florida before air conditioning.
P: [Laughing.] Well, you didn't seem to notice that it was hot, but it was very hot in
the summer. And not only that, you remember, we hadn't figured out how to get
rid of mosquitos in those early years. So we got plagued with a lot. It was very
hot. At night it was hot, almost too hot to go to bed. My mother had this big
black fan, which she turned on and sat in front of. And we sat out on the porch,
or we went for a ride at night. My father would pull out the car, and we'd all get in
it to go for a ride to cool off. I remember on occasion he got us outside, and he
would get the garden hose and sprinkle it all on us to cool us all over. So that's
how life went on before there was air conditioning, because nobody ever thought
about the possibility of providing some coolant that would make life livable for
G: Were iceboxes still the iceboxes where the ice delivery man came and put a big
P: I remember that. We had one of the early refrigerators though, electric
refrigerators. But a lot of things got delivered. We had milk delivered to the
house every morning. We had the meat, the kosher meat, that came from
Safer's downtown. There were three kosher markets in Jacksonville at the time.
Hammerman's, Becker's, and Safer's, and my mother bought from Safer's.
There was also two bread companies, and they would come out too. So the
bread truck would arrive with Jewish bread, bagels and so on. You didn't have to
go to the stores very much. Most of the stuff you wanted was right there
delivered to your house. As I say, my grandparents kept kosher, my mother kept
kosher. My mother, she loved to eat out, she loved to go to restaurants. She
didn't have any trace of food in the house, but it didn't concern her. She went
and had chicken or steak or something in a restaurant. My mother and father
were very flexible.
G: When you were growing up, you mentioned Hebrew school for an hour after
P: From 4 to 5:00.
G: And then Sunday school. What did your Jewish education comprise? What
were you learning?
P: I don't know that I was learning very much. We learned how to read Hebrew,
which we did not translate. So I learned how to read Hebrew, which I know today
when I go to the synagogue. We learned a little bit about the prayers, the
Shamans one. I wouldn't say that we had the greatest teachers in the world.
Sunday school was more enjoyable. A lot of the Sunday school teachers were
people from the community who volunteered their services. And you got some
Jewish histories and Jewish interpretation. Some American-Jewish history, I
remember. And I was fascinated with it. I'd always been fascinated by history,
and this was just another area that I did not know anything about.
G: You mentioned being fascinated by history, and this is obviously something we're
going to need to talk about as we get into your professional career. Had you had
many history classes as a junior high or high school student?
P: Yes. I took all the history classes, all the social science classes that they offered.
But their curriculum was not a greatly varied one back in the 1930s. When I got
to the University of Florida, of course, the situation was different. There were
only three people in the history department when I came here, Jimmy Glunt
[James David Glunt, chairman of the comprehensive humanities course], Ancil
Payne, and James Miller Leake, [who] was the chairman of the department.
Leake taught Southern history. He was a great Civil War enthusiast, and was
very much interested in biographical history. Ancil Payne taught English history
and medieval history. And Jimmy Glunt taught Latin American history, which I
did not take very much of. In high school I took anything they offered. I took
French for two years and did not learn anything much about it. I know how to say
a few words today. I wouldn't call myself a French scholar in any way. But I took
the academic thing. You had to take shops at that time, also. I remember I had
a great deal of difficulty building a bird cage [laughing].
G: How were you in the maths and sciences?
P: Not very good. I think one of the problems that I had was when they skipped me
in the third grade. There were certain fundamental math [elements] that I
missed, which I regretted always. It was just, I needed that underlying part. Like
my father, I couldn't build an airplane, but I knew how to count the parts.
G: Social life as a high school student? Did you have a crowd of friends?
P: Very little social life. First of all, if I was working, I got off at five o'clock in the
afternoon. I didn't have real girlfriends at all. We went to parties and activities in
which there was a crowd, but I had no special romance at that time in my life.
And once again, you didn't have a lot of social activity because everybody was in
the same economic boat that you were. I didn't have a car. I didn't have access
to a car. So I traveled first, when they had them, [by] street cars. Then they
were all replaced by buses. So if you went anywhere downtown, you went by
bus. But you did an awful lot of walking, which didn't seem to be particularly
unusual. For a little bit I worked, before I got the job at Southern Liquors, on the
weekends I was a package boy at the grocery store at Five Points. We would
get off at 10:00 at night on Saturday night the store didn't close till then and
we had to stay to clean up and get the vegetable bins back in order. Then I
walked from there, almost midnight now, to our house, which was a good mile
and a half through the park. I would hesitate doing that today.
G: Hurricanes, other storms? Especially in the 1920s.
P: You know, Jacksonville always escaped the hurricanes. The devastation of
South Florida in 1926 and 1928 was a heavy storm in Jacksonville, and trees
blew down and [there was] some damage to building. But it was not a hurricane.
So I've lived in Florida all of my life, and have never ever experienced a
hurricane. You know, one of the things I ought to tell you about is my experience
in World War II.
G: Yeah, I want to do that. Let me think. There were a couple of other things.
P: We had a radio. A Spartan radio on Seventh Street. We listened to the radio. I
remember "Amos and Andy" was a favorite in the household, as it was. You
could walk down the street and not miss anything because every household, the
windows were open [because] there was no air conditioning, and you could catch
the entire program without missing anything and it did not interfere with your
walking. Yes, we listened to the radio a lot. We went to the movies. As I
remember, [a] single ticket for me was about twenty-five cents. And the
difference was when you were thirteen. And, of course, you were always trying
to convince them you were not thirteen yet. The woman selling the tickets would
look at you and say, I think you are. No ma'am, I'm not yet. I will be next week.
Sometimes you got away with it, sometimes you didn't.
G: Were there particular shorts? The newsreels, I know, are important at this time.
P: Well, of course, when you went to the movies, you saw a lot. You saw the
feature picture, you saw the news, you saw at least one cartoon or comedy,
sometimes two. If you went to the Florida Theater, you also got a music
program. The organ was there. They'd stop the showing and you would sing
along with that, and they had the words on the screen. If you went to the Palace
Theater, there were acts that they brought in. So you got a lot for your money in
G: The newsreels. Especially as we get into the mid- to late thirties, things are
P: Very important. The Time magazine began putting out a series of newsreels.
You saw a lot of the build-up of military and Germany and so on that was going
on in Europe at the time.
G: What did you think? What did the family think? You still had family in Europe.
P: First of all, we didn't think we had anybody in Europe. We thought everybody
had left. We didn't realize that we had lost people in the Holocaust until well after
the war itself. I really turned up more of that information than anybody. When
the war was going on, now, of course, to begin with, you didn't know about the
Holocaust or the problems with the Jews, that came much later. But we didn't
ever know that we had anybody over there that needed to be saved or that kind
of thing. I remember there was some talk around 1946-1947 about two women
who had been saved. My great-uncle David in Chicago had kept up with them.
But no effort was made, to my knowledge, to save them, and as it turned out, the
two women ended up in Israel. The "March of Time" was what the newsreel was
G: I think we've done a satisfactory job with the young Samuel Proctor.
P: [I] lived a completely normal life growing up, nothing dramatic. We did not travel
except to the beach. Occasionally [we went] to St. Augustine, particularly if we
had visitors coming in from Baltimore. I mean, I didn't get to Miami until 1939. I
was grown by that time. We didn't have the money, nor the interest, nor relatives
to visit or stay with, and it was pretty unthinkable about staying in a hotel.
G: So you graduated high school in the evenings in '37.
P: Well, I went to the graduation, the normal graduation, along with everyone else.
But all the courses that I had taken at Duval High School at night had been
transferred to Robert E. Lee, so as far as their records are concerned, I was a
normal student there. And there's no indication on my diploma showing that I
was not a normal three-year student.
G: How did you manage to get all those classes in, in the evenings, when everybody
else took the same amount of time going?
P: Well, first of all, I had taken an excess of courses in my first year, not that many.
And I took the number that I needed. I didn't get into a lot of electives and that
sort of thing, so I missed out on that. I didn't have any art classes. I didn't have
any music classes. I didn't have any P.E. I took the basic courses that I needed
G: Were you athletic as a kid?
G: Not much of a ballplayer?
P: Not much of a ballplayer. I liked to go swimming, and we would do that when we
went out to the beach. But you couldn't do much swimming in the waves out
there, and you did more socializing with your friends than you did anything else.
G: Were you an avid reader?
P: Yes, I was always an avid reader.
G: What did you read?
P: I went to the library often. When I was in junior high school and we had made
the move, and I'd walk over from Kirby-Smith to my aunt's house and then to the
synagogue, I went by the library they had in Springfield. I was there so often that
they got to know me. So they would save, for instance, all the Tarzan books that
came in, the new ones. They'd put them aside so I would have first clock at
them. I just read adventure stories. I read a lot of American history stories,
which I enjoyed very much. But I was an avid reader. I wasn't a buyer of books.
I didn't collect books at all, but I went to the library very often. I was there once
or twice, maybe more often, every week.
G: When you graduated in late spring, 1937 -
P: I worked that summer, too.
G: At the same, at Southern Liquor?
P: Same, at Southern Liquors.
G: As you were finishing up, and knew you were going to graduate, was college a
P: College was always a definite. College was a definite as far as I was concerned.
College was a definite as far as the family was concerned. There was never any
question but that I was going to college. Particularly, we already had two in
college. My mother's brother David, next to her, was a doctor in Baltimore. He
had gone to John Hopkins University. That had called for a great sacrifice on the
part of the family to get him through there. So we already had that example.
Then my Uncle Nathan, Nathan Schneider, with whom was my friend, he was, as
I say, also at the University of Florida. So there was never, ever, ever a question
about am I going to college or not, it was just a definite that I was.
G: Was the University of Florida always where you were going to go?
P: That was the only one we ever considered. That was obviously the only one that
we could afford. We certainly couldn't afford anything out-of-state. But there
was never any question; that's the one I wanted to go to.
G: Do you remember how much it was to go to school?
P: Yes. The year I came, in 1937, we had no tuition then. So what you paid were
fees. For the two semesters it came to about $60. And of that, I think $10 went
to the infirmary, $3 went to the Alligator [the UF campus paper, later The
Independent Florida Alligator], $8 were so you got all the athletic tickets free. So
it got divided up like that. I think my first bill was $23.
G: What were your plans, in terms of a course of study?
P: Well, I was thinking already about law, to begin with. I was a little bit vague
about things. First of all, I needed a job. When I came to the campus, I was able
to get one without any difficulty because the NYA [National Youth
Administration], which was a New Deal agency that had been set up, they helped
students in the high school to finish high school and to go to college. It paid $15
a month, which is not very much, but on the other hand, it was a lot for that day
and time. I would say at that time maybe, J. Ed Price [UF's first counselor for
World War II veterans] was in charge of allocating the jobs. He had an office in
the basement of what is now Anderson Hall, and then we called it Language Hall.
The dean of students, [Robert C.] "Bob" Beaty, had his offices in that building,
and J. Ed Price was his assistant. I would say at least maybe fifty percent of the
student body on the campus had NYA jobs. All the professors' assistants, the
men working in the cafeteria, the library students, were NYA, because the
university didn't have any money to hire students to do that. So this is where it
My first job was [as] a student assistant for a man in the College of
Business, economics. He had just come in, and he was turning his dissertation,
Caldwell and Family, into a book, which the University of Tennessee Press was
going to publish. He had an office on the second floor of what is this building?
Flint Hall, which did not look as wonderful as it looks now. I worked there.
Then I had a variety of other interesting jobs on the campus after that. That
lasted about a year, then I worked for the General Extension Division down in the
Seagle Building. They had two floors, and on one of the floors, they had a small
library. In those years there were many, many schools throughout Florida,
particularly in the more agricultural, non-urban areas like Lafayette County and
Taylor County, that did not have high schools. If they had, they could not afford
libraries. So this library was set up to furnish them, on a temporary basis, books.
So we had cartons that would hold thirty or thirty-five books. The order would
come in from Starke, we need books for the third through the sixth grade. Then it
was my responsibility I had nothing to do with the purchase of the books to
go to the shelves and pick off three in literature, seven in math, and so on. We
would pack them into these boxes, take them downstairs, there was a mail room
downstairs, and they would go off to Starke for two months. All they had to pay
was the postage on it. Then they would ship those books back and you would
replace them with other books. This at least gave them the basic library that they
needed. So I worked for a woman named Bernice Mims [head of the
Departments of General Information and Visual Instruction] down at the General
Extension Division for a while, and enjoyed that very much. I was dealing with
books of course, which I liked very much. I got downtown everyday by walking.
G: How many students on campus? Did it seem like a crowded place?
P: Well, it was a very empty campus by comparison with today, of course. On the
eve of World War II, there were about 3,200-plus students on campus which
doesn't sound like very much, but it still made the University of Florida one of the
largest universities in the South. There were a handful of women. Women
started coming [to the University of Florida] in 1925, and by 1937, 1938, 1939,
[there were] maybe about a 100, 125 women in law school, in agriculture, and so
on. Although some of them were beginning to take the basic University College
courses. We had our first cheerleaders, women cheerleaders, in 1937. Then, of
course, the war came, and the explosion of students came in 1946.
G: What did you take first? How many years?
P: Well, remember that the University College was set up by Dr. Tigert [John J.
Tigert, president of UF 1928-1947, Commissioner of Education during Harding
and Coolidge presidential administrations] in 1934, [and it] went into full swing in
1935. Dean [Walter J.] Matherly, from the College of Business, was the first
dean. They called it the General College. It later changed its name to University
College. The concept in general education was being in practice in lots of
universities. The system that we had here was a combination of what was at
University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota. Robert Hutchins, who
was the president of the University of Chicago [1929-1951, a vigorous defender
of academic freedom], was a good friend of Tigert. Tigert leaned on him for a lot
of suggestions and ideas. The idea was twofold. One, you should not
overspecialize. A doctor needed something beyond just medical knowledge. He
needed a little bit on religion, literature, music, and so on. These courses would
give you that. Also, Florida desperately needed the kind of program that would
educate you as quickly as possible because a large number of students dropped
out after the first or second year because they couldn't afford to stay. So the
idea was that you would give them a general education. The C-courses, as they
came to be called, comprehensive courses, were six in number. The first one
was later called American Institutions, it was first called Man in the Social World.
Bill Carleton, who was probably the best orator we ever had at the University of
Florida, was chairman of that department. It was a combination of history and
economics, a little bit of political science, a little bit of contemporary religion, and
G: But all about America?
P: All about America. It was a two-semester course. The second course was the
physical sciences. You didn't go into the laboratory, but you heard about
chemistry, physics, and so on. The third course, because the first four were the
freshman year, number three was Reading, Speaking, and Writing. They didn't
call it English, they called it that. That's exactly what you did. You had reading
assignments, which you had to report on. You had writing. You went [to] a
writing lab once a week, and you wrote a small essay. You were judged on the
way you wrote, your spelling, and so on. [It was] reading, speaking, and writing,
[so] you had to speak. Occasionally, you had to get up and make a presentation
before the class, a public speech, and you were graded on that. C-four had two
parts, two semesters: one was math, and the other was a basic psychology
course. C-five was the humanities, and that's where you got art and music
appreciation, religion, some philosophy. Though C-five and C-six were in the
sophomore year. C-six was biology. You didn't go to the biology labs often,
although you had access to them. So every student who came in had to take
those courses whether he or she wanted to or not. And at the end of the second
year you got an associate of arts degree. You didn't have a chance to take
history. In your second year there were electives, and that's when I began to
select the history courses and the political sciences courses which I wanted.
G: How did you do in the various, in the six C-classes? Did you get through them
P: I did fine, yeah, I had no problem. I wasn't what you'd call a dramatic A-student
throughout, but I was doing pretty good. My freshman year was kind of difficult
for me to get started, learning how to study and taking these kinds of courses.
But then I got turned on, and I would say that my bachelor's degree was probably
a good, strong B-plus. It was enough to give me a fellowship for my master's.
G: In addition to working and taking classes, did you get involved in Greek life?
Were there other activities?
P: I didn't get involved in Greek life, although I'd had an invitation to join one of the
two Jewish fraternities. They were Jewish fraternities because the non-Jewish
fraternities were not allowed to accept Jewish boys in their charters; they could
only take white Christians. But I could not afford to belong to a fraternity. They
invited me to dances, and I went. I participated in those kinds of, all activities
that went on on the campus, social activities. I went to the various artists'
presentations, which were then in the auditorium. I participated fully. I worked
on the Alligator. They had a couple of clubs and international relations clubs. I
was active in that. So I played a role outside of the classroom.
G: What did you do for the Alligator?
P: I was a reporter, and went to a lot of counties. [They] had county clubs then, so I
would go to their meetings and report on what they were doing.
G: Tell me about Gainesville. What did Gainesville look like when you arrived in
1937? Had you ever been to Gainesville before?
P: I had been to Gainesville once before, in 1933 or 1934. The first member of our
family [to go to UF] was my second cousin George B. Mehlman, you know, Sarah
Mehlman, I told you about them in St. Augustine. George and his sister, Bertha,
were adopted, and George came to the University of Florida. He did his
undergraduate work here. He was one of the earliest Jews in the ROTC
[Reserve Officer Training Corps] program, he was a lieutenant. He graduated
law school, I think, in 1933, and I came for his commencement. His mother and
father, my aunt and uncle, invited me to come down. So I saw Gainesville then.
I don't have much memory of it. I remember the drive from Jacksonville being a
long one because you had to go by way of Lake City, and then around. But
when I came in 1937, of course, to live, I lived in a rooming house on what is now
NW 15th, which was then Washington. If you know where the University Press is
located, in that red brick building, it was across the street from that. Mrs.
Johnson, a widow, ran it, and she rented out the rooms on the top floor. I think
there were about four rooms. We paid about $7, maybe $8 a month. We
provided our own linens and made our own bed. But she provided the room and
the bathroom. There was one bathroom to service all the boys. There were
about eight or nine boys that were living on that floor and utilizing it. That's
where most of the students lived if you didn't live in the dormitories or fraternity
house. It was close enough. [There were] very few, very few cars on campus at
all, so you didn't have any parking problem. What is now parking areas were
grass areas at that time. Like the big stretch in front of Criser Hall, Peabody Hall,
all the way to 13th Street, which is a giant parking lot, was a grass area at that
time. I was intrigued, I mean, this was a beautiful campus then, as it is today.
We had a wonderful library here. We had things that I had not had great access
to, so I really relished everything here. I had made some good friends here. Of
course, Nathan was here. We ate together. My $15 from the NYA, my second
year I got promoted to $20 a month. My family sent me about $5 or $7 a month.
But it was easy to get along. You could easily eat on seventy-five cents a day
G: Where did you take your meals?
P: Where did I take my meals? I took them in the eating places. There was a
restaurant right on the corner of what is now 13th Street and University Avenue.
In the widening of 13th Street, that building was demolished. It was called the
Varsity. The same family, the Hammonds, that owned the restaurant that
became the Purple Porpoise, also owned the Varsity. You could get breakfast
there or on campus. There was a small establishment in what is now the
basement of Dauer Hall, the Florida Union. You could get breakfast for fifteen
cents. Coffee, toast, and I think you could even get a small glass of orange juice
for that price. Lunch was twenty-five cents. It included a meat and two
vegetables, all the iced tea you could drink, and all the rolls you could eat.
Supper was thirty-five cents. You could do very well and not be hungry at all.
You weren't eating caviar and that sort of thing, but that's what everybody else
G: You mentioned friends. Are there some people that you recall from your
undergraduate days, either that pop to mind or that you're still friends with?
P: Well, I'm not close to any of them, but occasionally I will meet somebody on
campus coming through. Oh, Sam Proctor, do you remember me? Oh yeah, I
remember. I didn't make any lifelong friends like that. I had a lot of casual
G: You've got through at the end of your second year. You finished, I guess, what
would have been the A.A. degree. You had your six comprehensive classes, and
you were able to start specializing. How did you choose to specialize in what you
specialized in, and then what classes did you take in that specialization?
P: By this time it was pretty sure [that] I was going to become a history major. By
that time that commitment had already been made.
P: I'm still thinking about going to law school, and a history major I thought would be
a wonderful opportunity to add to my application for law school. I had no idea
when or what was happening. Also, the war hysteria was beginning to build up
around 1939, 1940. There was always that uncertainty of where am I going to be
next week or next month or next semester for me and for all of the other students
on campus. I was intrigued with the history program, and I had become a good
friend of Dr. Leake. I'd go to his office, which was on the south end of the first
floor of Peabody Hall, and he would tell me about different courses. I took every
course he offered, and I took all the English courses that Ancil Payne offered. I
took a lot of the political science courses, and I also started taking French again.
I had a pretty full schedule. I didn't take any of the science courses, because
once you finished the A.A. degree, you had met the requirements of the courses
that you needed. So you were completely free to take the things that you wanted
to take as far as your major was concerned.
G: Do you remember any of the papers you wrote as an undergraduate?
G: Did you have to write a lot?
P: Yeah, you had to write a lot. Boy, you sure had to write a lot on exam. Dr. Leake
gave essay examinations. He would stand up at the board and he would write
twenty-five essay questions. Twenty-five essay questions which you were
supposed to answer in three hours. The exams were three hours long. They
were really involved questions. You had to know the subject and have done a lot
of studying ahead of time. I mean, he didn't say evaluate the Constitution, but it
came pretty close to that. By this time I was getting A's in all of the courses,
particularly the history courses, I was taking.
G: Did you get involved in sports? You know, going to football, going to basketball.
P: Oh, I went to all the football games. You didn't much go to the basketball games,
we didn't have much of a basketball program here, we were not very active. But
I went to every football game.
G: How were the Gators back then?
P: [Laughing.] Well, great. Great.
G: Were these the days before national championships and the SEC [Southeastern
P: No, we didn't, no, we weren't in them. We didn't rank in those kind of things.
The biggest game was the Georgia game. Along with everybody else, I went into
Jacksonville for the Georgia game, thumbing my way into Jacksonville and
having a wonderful weekend there. One of the two Jewish fraternities, now the
Phi Lambda Phi, but then Phi Beta Delta, always gave a dance at the Roosevelt
Hotel, and everybody went to the Phi-B-D dance. I remember enjoying that very
[End side A2]
G: From lunch. This is Mark Greenberg, director of the Florida Study Center at the
University of South Florida, and I'm with Samuel Proctor on August 24, 2002.
We're in Flint Hall at the University of Florida in the library. We've spent the
morning together and have gotten you up to -
P: I'm still an undergraduate.
G: You're still an undergraduate, but it's about 19 -
P: 1939, thereabouts.
G: Things are starting to heat up in Europe. The Second World War will have, I
guess, started that September. Tell me about your last couple of years as an
undergraduate, and also your thinking about your future. Law school, other
P: All right. The war is on in Europe, and we're hearing about it in the newspapers.
It's still a long way away. We're reading about it on the front pages of our local
newspaper, the Gainesville Sun, and the Florida Times Union in Jacksonville.
When we go to the movies we see the "March of Time." But that's as far as we
get, we're not personally involved in it yet. Life is going along pretty placidly here
at the University of Florida. The ROTC program, of course, is heating up,
because we were a land grant university dating back to the 1880s. We have
compulsory ROTC for our freshman and sophomores, and of course, those who
go beyond that were automatically made second lieutenants. I don't think there
was a stepped-up program there. There's no awareness or getting ready for the
United States to participate. Nationally there's a lot [of] resistance to the United
States becoming involved in the war in Europe. This is not our problem. This is
their situation. Let them solve it. We're not involved. We don't want to go to
war. There had been this negative attitude toward rearmament ever since the
1920s. Of course, we had dismantled our ships, including the U.S.S. Florida,
which had been dismantled in 1932. The bell from that ship came to the
University of Florida, and it's still here in the north end zone of the stadium.
That's the closeness that we came. But obviously, as the war progresses, and
as the Germans become more victorious and take over more and more of
Europe, I think things began to be alarming to some people. On the one hand,
we were saying, let's not get involved, it's none of our business. On the other
hand, people led by Franklin Roosevelt and others are beginning to think about it
from a positive point of view. For me, I'm a student. I finish up my sophomore
year. I get out of the University College. I'm now in upper division, as we called
it, junior and senior years. I'm beginning to take the history and political science
courses that I enjoyed so very much. My grades are excellent now, they're all
A's, so I have no problems academically whatsoever. I'm still working on
campus; I always have a student job on campus. I'm doing a variety of things
that I enjoy doing.
G: Are you still ROTC, or did you stop after the first two years?
P: Oh, I stopped after two years. I hated ROTC. I used to get up on Thursday
morning and hope it would rain so we wouldn't have to have drill at all. Anyway, I
was not involved in it, so I didn't feel threatened in any way whatsoever. My
program was coming to class, going home, doing my work. I went home
regularly, although I did not have a car. Along with the other students, we
hitchhiked everywhere. We wore the little orange beanie caps that we were
given as freshman that identified us. Everything in Gainesville, all the business
activities and the entertainment activities, including the movies, were all
downtown. If you wanted to go downtown, you either walked the mile from 13th
Street, or you sat in front of what is now the filling station, but was the SAE
[Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity] house, with your little beanie cap on. Within
seconds or minutes somebody stopped to pick you up and take you downtown.
Then to come back to the campus, you stood in front the Seagle Building. You
went downtown to the movies. There were no restaurants downtown. The
Primrose Grill, that was seventy-five cents for dinner. You ate there if you had a
visitor, but ordinarily you didn't eat there.
That's how you moved around. On the weekends, as was true in my
case, I went to Jacksonville. I would hitchhike, with my little beanie cap, out to
the Waldo Road and East University Avenue. You stood on the corner there. If it
was a big weekend, there might be a dozen or so boys out there, and you took a
number so that you got on in order. If you were going to Tallahassee, you stood
in front of what is now Denny's and the Holiday Inn on the corner of 13th Street.
[It] was another fraternity house, I think Phi Kappa Phi was there. The beanie
cap was your entry into everything. [If] people knew you were a University of
Florida student, they had no hesitancy in picking you up, and nobody was
suspicious of anybody in those years. You picked up people easily along the
roads, and did not get into any troubles or difficulties as a result. So, that's how
life went along for me. Then Pearl Harbor comes. The whole situation, dramatic
situation, changed. I'm in my senior year now.
G: Where are you on December 7, 1941?
P: I was in Jacksonville that weekend. Not apprehensive, along with anybody else.
Sunday morning, my father's in the living room with the radio on. He heard about
it first of all, and immediately called out for all of us to come in and listen. We
spent the rest of the day, that Sunday, listening to the news as it was coming
over the air. For some strange reason, I decided to go downtown to see if there
was any activity there. I had to go down by bus, which I did. Absolutely
desolate. There wasn't anybody on the street. There were no cars moving. So,
I got back on the bus and came back home. Wasted time, as it turned out.
The next day, Monday, there was a lot of talk on the campus. You began
to hear about boys who were saying I'm going, I'm going, I'm leaving. This is
December now, the end of the semester. I remember Tigert called an assembly
for the auditorium. I went to that along with everybody else, at which time he
cautioned everybody of taking any precipitous moves. He said, we don't know
where we are. We don't know what's going to happen. Stay in school, finish up
the semester. You need your education. The government will decide where you
want to go and how you want to go, and all of those wonderful things. That's the
way it turned out. As it turned out, there were a number of students who did not
come back after Christmas. They went home and they decided to go into the
military. The university made arrangements to give them credit, because at the
end of the Christmas holidays, when you came back to school in January, you
had two weeks still of classes. Then you had your exams. Then there was a
week break, and the new semester started in February. They gave them credit
depending upon their grades and so on. So nobody lost any hours or anything.
I was not affected by that. I wasn't going into the military or anything. So I
finished up my senior year here, once again, majoring in the history classes and
the political science classes that I took. I took political science mainly from
Manning Dauer, who was the acting chair of it. History and political science were
a single department, and did not divide until 1949. Dr. Leake was chairman of
both, but Manning really ran political science. He would become the first
chairman of political science when the division took place. Rembert Patrick
[renowned professor of Florida and Reconstruction history, a member of the
Florida Historical Society] was also already on campus. He would turn out to be
the first chairman of the history department when the split finally took place.
Anyway, I became aware of the possibility of getting a fellowship on the Masis
program. I'd already taken so many courses, I had overtaken on courses, that I
really had enough hours to meet the requirements for a master's degree. What I
needed, however, was to write a thesis and to take a language. Well, the French
[track] was an easy one, I took it without any difficulty. I wish I knew now as
much French as I knew then. So that left writing a master's thesis. I knew I did
not have much time because it became available, I think, in July, and it would run
through until the next June 30. I had but really twelve months to do a master's
G: Had you received any kind of draft notification or had any idea when you would
P: Nothing, nope. I had registered for the draft. We had to register here on campus.
Anybody who was eighteen, eighteen I think, or twenty-one, I've forgotten. They
set up tables over in the basement of what is now Dauer Hall. They had a place
down there where they had billiard tables, and they moved those out of the way.
They also used Bryan Lounge upstairs. I registered for the draft. The guy
registering me was a good friend and a fellow student, Sidney Aronovitz from
Miami [1920-1997, judge in US Second District Court for the Southern District of
Florida], whose brother [Abraham Aronovitz] was once the mayor of Miami.
G: Did you have any choices? Were you able to make any?
P: You didn't make any choices. You just registered for the draft. You did not
indicate any branch of service or any kind of military activity that you were
interested in, or that the government wanted you to be interested in. I received a
card, which I still have. Anyway, I went to see Dr. Leake about a master's thesis
title. I said Dr. Leake, I'd really like to work on something dealing with Florida.
By this time, my interest was Southern history, and most particularly, Florida
history. He said, I would not encourage that. He said, I have nothing against it,
obviously, but, he said, we just don't have any research sources here in Florida.
He said, I don't know where you'd get enough material to do a master's thesis.
He said, by the same token, I don't know where else you'd go unless you're
redoing something that somebody else has done.
Well, I remembered when I was in junior high school, in Kirby-Smith, we
had a newspaper called the Echo. I think I was the co-editor of the Echo. Each
issue had come out maybe once a month. It was not a big deal at all. Each
issue carried a biographical sketch of one of the teachers, and I remembered that
the art teacher in the sketch, which I did not write and I did not know her at all,
said that she was the daughter of a former governor of Florida, Napoleon
Bonaparte Broward [1857-1910, riverboat operator who ran guns to Cuba before
successfully running as Florida's Progressive governor (1905-1909) by
challenging corporate interests while promoting Everglades drainage for citrus
farming]. I don't know why that little item stuck in my mind, but I told Leake about
that. He said, why don't you go to Jacksonville and see if you can run her down,
she may still be living. So I hitchhiked into Jacksonville. I went to the school
board office in downtown Jacksonville. I gave her name, and I'll think of it in a
minute, and sure enough, she was still an active teacher teaching art at a school
out in east Jacksonville. I took the bus and went out there, and found her room.
[I] let her know that I wanted to talk to her about what I wanted to talk about. She
said, school will be out in about a half-hour. Wait for me and we'll talk. So that's
what we did. We went to her office and I told her what I wanted to do. She was
immediately taken up with it, immediately supportive of it. She said, well, we
have papers, we have my father's papers. But of course, they don't belong to
me, they belong to my mother, and she is visiting my sister Betty in Connecticut.
She said, but I have the car, [so] why don't you come with me to the house and
we'll talk a little bit. So we drove into Jacksonville to their house on East Church
Street, a house that was built a two-story, big, rambling house shortly after
the 1900s, or maybe even before then. A wooden house. The Browards were
poor. They had no money at all, and the thing desperately needed painting. But
it was comfortable and had a lot of the original furniture in it. I met her daughter,
We went upstairs onto the second floor in the big hallway, and there were
all the papers in letter boxes, on two or three shelves that had been attached to
the wall. [It was] very near an open door, so that you got the constant movement
of wind and insects and so on. I began looking through the papers. They had
not been cataloged at all, they had just been stuffed into these letter boxes a long
time ago. When Broward died in 1911, he was the president of a tugboat
company. Mrs. Broward, [for] whom Broward Hall on this campus is named, ran
the operation for six, eight, or ten years, and then sold it. So when she sold it,
she moved all of the personal papers and business papers into these boxes into
the house. They said, why don't you go ahead and get started on the project.
She said, I don't think my mother's going to object to it at all, she's probably
going to support it very enthusiastically. That's what happened when Mrs.
Broward came, and I became like a member of the family, [by which] I mean they
welcomed me all the time.
G: You did the research in their home?
P: In their home.
G: What did you find? Tell me about the papers.
P: Well, the papers said everything. The papers had a lot of, there were some
business items from the tugboat company, but they mainly dealt with his political
life. Everything from the time that he was appointed sheriff back in the early
1880s, at the time of the yellow fever epidemic. It went right on through his
whole career. I put the papers in order. Which they later came to the University
of Florida as a result of my persuasion, the family gave them. In addition to the
papers, I had his daughter and granddaughter right there, and his sister,
Hortense, was still living in Jacksonville. They set me up with a lot of people to
meet and talk to. So I had, it turned out, very rich sources of material on
Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, both before and during the time that he was
G: Did you know anything about him before?
P: I knew a little bit, not very much. Of course, I quickly learned all there was. I
read everything that was available, which was not very much at all. [This] was
true of every Florida governor. As it turned out, however, he became, in my
evaluation, the strongest governor. [He was] the most effective governor of the
first half of the twentieth century in terms of the kinds of programs that he
endorsed. He was anti-business. He was considered a liberal, not on the race
matter because there was no such thing, but on support of public schools and on
taxation. Of course, for the Everglades, he did a lot of damage down there
because he built the canals which drained off the water, and overdrained the
area down there. But his idea was good, that you drained this water off and you
have all this fertile land that can be converted into farmland and get people jobs
and an income. Anyway, I start my work. In addition to the Broward papers, I
needed the newspapers. I needed the Florida Times Union, which began in the
1870s as a Republican paper in Jacksonville, and they also had an afternoon
paper there, the Jacksonville Journal. Both of those, there was no microfilm in
those days, but the papers were bound in these large binders. I went down and I
met Mr. Caleb King, who was the editor of the Florida Times Union, and told him
what I was trying to do. He was very supportive, very cooperative, too. He made
arrangements for me to use all of the papers. He brought all of the papers into
this room, and gave me a desk and a place to work. That's when my work
began, and you remember I'm working against time because I only have less
than a year to do all of this.
G: You're living in Jacksonville full-time?
P: No, not at all. What I did was to come to Jacksonville on either Wednesday
evening or Thursday, and I went directly to the Florida Times Union. I worked in
the Times Union papers turning sheet after sheet after sheet, which was
fascinating because, of course, you read the ads and you read a lot of stuff,
taking notes. I worked there all day Friday. Then I left there about four o'clock
on Friday afternoon, and I went out to the Broward house on East Church Street,
and I worked there Friday evening. [Then I] came back and worked all day
Saturday until evening. Then on Sunday, I went back on the highway and I came
back to Gainesville. I did that every week. Every week I came to Jacksonville
and I worked at the Times Union a full day, and at the Browards' a day and a
half, almost two days at the Browards' counting night time.
G: Did you have responsibilities in Gainesville that forced you to -
P: Well, I had job opportunities. I was doing work here with professors [that] I was
working on. Plus I had a tutoring job, too.
G: What were you tutoring?
P: They had asked me if I would tutor this guy who wasn't doing very well, and they
wanted to pay me $50 a month. I said, I'll take it. So I had a lot of
G: What did you tutor him in?
P: History. I don't know what's ever happened to him, but I got my $50, and I think
he passed all right. Anyway, I nearly killed myself. As it turned out, I wrote a
560-page master's thesis. That was stupid. What I should have done is to just
do his governorship, which I could have done in a couple hundred pages. But I
started with the family. His grandfather, John Broward, had played a political role
in Florida. The family's history was very interesting, and I got all of that. Then I
got caught in the yellow fever epidemic, and the sheriff, and the Corbitt-Mitchell
fight, and it was one exciting thing after the other. Then he builds the Three
Friends, the tugboat that takes the military goods and patriots to Cuba before the
Spanish-American War. To do research, absolute brand-new research, and to
write a 560-page thesis in two semesters, eight or nine months, was a
phenomenal job. Remember I'd not only had to write it, I had to get it typed. My
cousin Bertha Mehlman typed it for me. She charged me all of $15, and I
provided the paper for the thing. So, I got it done, I got it finished, and I got the
master's degree in the June 1942 commencement. I'd got my B.A. in June 1941,
so I got my master's in 1942. I don't know if anyone else has beaten that record
or not. Then, of course, the master's thesis became the basis for the biography
on Broward later on [Napoleon Bonaparte Broward: Florida's Fighting Democrat,
Gainesville, University of Florida Press, 1950 and 1993].
G: What did Leake say when he saw your 560-page -
P: Well, he was very pleased with it. But it was a joking matter because people
would see me, [E.] Ashby Hammond [professor of Florida history; Professor
Emeritus of the History Department] was on the faculty by this time, Rembert
Patrick, and they would say, here's Proctor coming with his book. He called my
master's thesis my book. Anyway, I did it. That takes me up to the summer of
1942, and I'm away from Gainesville now, back to Jacksonville.
I thought I would be able to get a commission in the Navy. Well, I couldn't.
My eyes, none of those things worked out. So I had to sit back and wait for the
draft to hit me. To make up the time, I got a job working in the U.S. Army
Engineer's office in Jacksonville. I went there, and my job was to work in the
office checking the contracts that the military entered into for food, clothing, and
for whatever they did. I'm there now about four or five months, not knowing
anything about law, and not really needing to know a great deal. The chairman,
the head of the department, calls me in one day and he says, Proctor, how you
doing? I said, fine. I certainly wasn't going to say bad, and I was doing all right.
I was satisfied, and I was getting my pay at the end of every two weeks. He said,
well, I've got a new assignment for you. He said, I'm going to send you to Miami,
we're opening up a project there called the 36th Street Army Depot. He said,
we're moving in some trailers, and we'll have some soldiers there, to make food
available to them. He said, we've got to pave the area, it's not going to be a big
deal. We're going to let about a dozen contracts maybe, and I want you to be the
man in charge of the contractors, it's not a big thing. He said, if you have a
problem, I'm as close as the telephone.
So, I packed my things and I go down to Miami on the train. I get off at
14th Street, which is where the depot was then. I take a bus out to where the
office is. Well, we go out 36th Street to the end of the line, and the bus driver
says, this is as far as I go. I don't know if you know Miami, but it's where the
fronton [jai-alai arena] is now. I got off the bus with my two suitcases and stood
on the curb, and pretty soon somebody came along and picked me up. When I
explained what I was looking for, he took me there. What I found was a one-
story, ramshackled wooden building that had been built back in the 1920s, when
they hoped to develop that as a boom-time project and didn't. It had no water,
none of those things yet. The man in charge was an army major, and he was
very nice. Two or three other non-military people were in the office, and that's
how I got started. His name was Blaise Nemeth. Major Nemeth went into the
nearby suburb and went to the clerks. [He] said, I've got half a dozen people
who are working on this new project, and we need housing. So the clerk made
arrangements with people that he knew in the community who would rent out
rooms. I had a very nice room in this house that had been built in the 1920s.
The room had been built for a servant, so it had a separate entrance and a bath
and so on. So I started working there.
Well, very quickly this small job of the 36th Street milit. Army Depot turned
into a major project, because they launched the plans for the North African
invasion. They turned this into a big base because the soldiers could come
down, then move down to Recife, Brazil, and cross over to Africa, which was the
shortest way and the safest way. What we were to do in that small way turned
out really to be the 36th Street Airport today. The international airport is where all
of this started. Of course, it covers many, many, many, many acres more than
what it did back in 1942. Anyway, I worked there in Miami, doing very well in
charge, and I became more adept at correcting and detecting the errors on the
contracts and so on. The draft notice came through. Well, Nemeth was very
upset that they were calling me right in the middle of all of this, so he got me a
draft deferment. He asked me if I'd mind, and I said no, the longer I stay out the
better I like it. So he got me a draft deferment for six months, which was the only
one I could get.
Then, in July 1943, I went into service. I was called in [to] Camp Landing,
Florida. That starts another interesting story. I'm there like all of the other
recruits. You know, you've got your clothes off, they're checking your heart and
all those kinds of things, assigning you space in a tent, and giving you the
clothing you needed. The call came out, and I hear my name over the loud
speaker to come to an office. I found the office and went in and saluted to the
officer who was sitting there. He said, Proctor, sit down, I want to talk to you. He
said, I've been going through your papers, and I'm interested in you. He said, I
want to tell you about a project that we're developing that you might be interested
in. Up until then, the army had not been drafting illiterates. But now, with the
African campaign and with the manpower situation, [it] meant that they needed
them. What they did was to set up what they called special training units to
provide these people with a fourth grade education, as far as reading, speaking,
and writing were concerned. They would come in, they'd be drafted like
everybody else, and they would go to classes on the base or the camp for four or
five hours in the morning, and take classes in reading. [It was] basic reading
because these were grown men, but many of them were illiterate. You were
giving them reading material like for the first or second grade. You weren't trying
to get them a great education, but you wanted them to be able to sign their
names instead of putting an X for the payroll. You wanted them to be able to tell
time, to read a road map, to do things that would help them not get lost or
whatever it was. So, he said, these special training units are being set up and
we're looking for people who have an education to work in them. He said, are
you interested? I said, I certainly am, that's right down my alley. So he assigned
me to one right then, he put me in the office. I was not in the classroom, but I
was in charge of the G.l.'s who were the teachers. Immediately I got elevated, I
was a corporal. The first week I was in service, I became a corporal. Which is,
in itself, it kind of doesn't often happen.
Anyway, I worked in that for several weeks, several months in Camp
Landing in Starke. Then I got transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi. There I
continued with the special training units. Once again, I was the individual who
did the assignments of the noncoms to go into the classroom. Not alone, but [it
was] mainly me. [I] created new materials. We would get our reading and other
materials from Washington in packages, but I started a little newspaper, which
then they would write, giving them the writing experience. I created some
reading materials for them, nothing very elaborate, involved, or too difficult to do.
So that's how I spent my time in the military. I remember the first time I
went home, about two or three weeks after I was drafted, with that stripe on my
shoulder. My mother said, what is that thing doing on your shoulder? I said, I'm
a corporal. She said, impossible. They don't promote you the first month you're
in service. I said, well, they did in my case. So I became a technical sergeant
eventually. I was always enticed to go to officer's candidate school, but I wasn't
about to leave the position, the job, or the work that I was doing. I was really
enjoying my job. I was the most non-military person you ever saw. I never was
on KP duty, I never fired a gun even in training when I was in service, I never
went on a hike. I did absolutely no basic training whatsoever. I lived in the tents.
I ate, obviously, the food that everybody else ate noncom, and wore a uniform. I
was very chummy with the officers, because the officers were assigned, too, to
these things. They were supposed to be doing the job I was doing, assigning.
So they were just sloughing off, they were depending on me to do it. They would
come in the office and say, Proctor, is everything all right? [I would say,] yeah,
then they would take off. I would be left behind in the office, of course.
Anyway, that was the story of my military career. I got to know some of
the people in the nearby town of Hattiesburg. I remember the Adler family. Joe
was in the army in the same kind of program that I was, so, of course, he was
near home. They invited me to have dinner with them on occasion. There
weren't many, there were no more than maybe four or five Jewish families in
Hattiesburg at the time that I knew of.
G: What did you think of Mississippi in general? Did you get much out of the
P: Well, my contacts with Mississippi were fine. I'd heard all these terrible stories.
Camp Shelby was not the greatest paradise in the world. It was an ugly camp in
an ugly area of the state. We occasionally were able to get an opportunity to go
to Biloxi and Gulfport for an evening and have dinner down there, which we did.
The nicest thing is that we were close enough to New Orleans [Louisiana] so that
we could go there with a weekend pass. That was very nice, because there were
dormitories for a dollar a night in Mercy Hospital. They had set aside an area for
G.l.'s. There were some other places that you could go to get a bed and a
shower. Being in New Orleans was very nice. Of course, it was crowded with
G.l.'s. Everywhere you went the streets and sidewalks were crowded, but it was
very pleasant. I didn't see very much of Mississippi. I never got to Vicksburg, for
instance, but the parts I saw I liked. I went to Jackson a couple of times, and you
know, as you drive through, there was nothing wrong with anything there, you
I was there from the fall of 1943 until the early part of 1946. I got out in
March 1946. The end of 1945, however, they disbanded the special training
units because the war is over and they don't need them anymore. So they
transferred me to the counseling program. It was my job to counsel G.l.'s, mainly
coming back from overseas, about educational opportunities, where to go to
school, how to apply for the G.I. Bill, or if they had particular health needs, if
there was a sight impairment or whatever. They sent me to New York, and I was
there for about a month or six weeks, I've forgotten. [I was] in this training
program in which they took you around to different places. During the day you
had classes and counseling and so on. But it was very pleasant, because you
didn't have to work all day. On Park Avenue, they had a place, 79 Park Avenue,
I think, was the address, where they had tickets for the military. All the shows in
New York, all the concerts in New York. All you had to do was appear there in
uniform and pick up what you wanted. Well, I had my evenings free and my
weekends free. I must have seen twenty plays. I saw everything that was in
New York and ran out of places, and went to Philadelphia one weekend. I'd
fallen in love with the New York theater. Anyway, I was then released on March
G: I want to come back and ask you a few different questions. The vast majority of
your teaching took place at Camp Shelby.
P: My teaching both of those activities started in Camp Landing.
G: Remind me again, how long were you teaching at Landing before you went to
P: About five months.
G: What kind of folks, I mean obviously they're illiterate, largely African American?
Some whites, both?
P: No, no. A lot of them were from Appalachia, and you did not have integrated
classes. Everything was segregated. The only integration that you had, as I
remember, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi, was the hospital. In the wards you had
black and white patients, but you didn't have them anywhere else on the camp.
These classes were either all-white or all-black. These were people, some of
them were adults, and it was amazing what they didn't know. Some of them had
never used a flushed toilet before. It seems strange now today, but fifty years
ago that wasn't strange. They didn't know how to tie shoes, so we had to teach
them things beyond just reading and writing.
G: When did you begin to learn about what was going on to the Jewish community
P: You began hearing stories about it, I think, by the end of the 1940s. But they
were so horrendous, so horrible, you really didn't believe them. You really did
not believe that those things were happening. You didn't know how the rumors
got started. You just couldn't give them serious thought, to think that they were
actually taking people purposely and murdering them. I mean, that was just
beyond comprehension. I don't remember any rebellion against it. I do
remember [hearing about it], at least, on two occasions, though. I was in New
York with my father, and one time we went to a big rally in Madison Square
Gardens. Rabbi Steven Wise [Reform pioneer and Zionist, founder of the
American Jewish Congress] was the speaker. He was telling about the horrible
things that were happening in Germany, and the necessity for the American
Jewish community to push Washington to do something about the situation, to
change its attitude toward allowing Jews to come into the United States. I don't
know that it did any good, but I remember we were there.
G: Where were you when you heard about D-Day [the invasion of Normandy,
France during World War II on June 6, 1944]?
P: D-Day? Well, I was in camp when we heard about D-Day. Earlier, we had been
shocked by the death of Franklin Roosevelt [April 12, 1945] that had come in on
radio, and I remember hearing about that. I was outside of the cabin, and
somebody said, listen to this, and they announced that Roosevelt was dead.
Then we saw the pictures of the procession from Warm Springs to Washington
and all. On D-Day, of course, there was a lot of enthusiasm, a lot [of]
celebration, and a lot of activity in the dining room, but VJ Day [August 15, 1945]
is in my mind more. This is another interesting thing. They moved troops around
the country. Camp Shelby was a training camp, so after they finished their basic
training or whatever, the detachment moved to where it was going to be located
for its next stop. They moved by freight trains and whatever was available. I
went along as the medic in many cases. I knew absolutely nothing about
medicine. I mean, if anything was serious they would take it, but I was there if
somebody had a headache, if somebody had an allergy, and I had my little case.
Anyway, I was taking a group from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to Ft.
Washington in Oregon or Washington state. It was a nice trip. We went all up
the central part of the United States. I went to all fifty states, forty-eight states
then. We get to Seattle, Washington, or wherever it was, and we drop them off
and sign the papers. Then I had my leave. I had arranged to have a two-week
leave. You accumulate leave time. I was going south to San Diego [California]
because my brother George, the Marine Corps man, had been badly wounded in
Okinawa. He was in the hospital in San Diego and I was going to go see him.
So I start south. I'm in San Francisco. Now, then you could not come directly
into San Francisco, you had to stop. I was on a bus in Oakland, then [I had to]
cross the ferry into town. I remember as we were crossing on the ferry we got
the word on the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima. Everybody, you could tell
from the action and from their faces, was thrilled to death that that had
happened. It was obvious it was the very end of the war. Anyway, we go on into
San Francisco, and we're there maybe a day or so, and I go south by bus to Los
Angeles. I'm getting closer to San Diego now. As it happens, I was in Los
Angeles, in Hollywood, when the VJ news came through. Of course, it was a
tremendous jubilation. Shouts and whistles were blowing, horns were tooting,
and so on.
G: Jubilation in the streets?
P: Jubilation in the streets. Horns tooting and so on. As it happened, I'd already
been there a day or so, and I had made arrangements, had signed to go to the
home of Edward G. Robinson [stage and screen actor and real-life philanthropist
best remembered for his portrayals of gangsters]. Hollywood personalities made
their houses [open to the public]. He was a famous art collector, and it was to
see his art. I don't know whether we went into the house or not. Because of the
event, he cancelled that program. I also did go to the home of a well-known
comedian. I think his name was James Gleason [he likely means Jackie
Gleason, who portrayed Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners TV series]. I
think so. Anyway, I went to his home, and I remember he had a swimming pool
in the backyard. I didn't go swimming, but there were other G.l.'s there too. I
met Bela Lugosi [Transylvanian stage and screen actor best known for his
portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 film version of Bram Stoker's novel]. He was
swimming in the pool with his daughter. I thought it was his granddaughter. He
looked so much older than she did. Anyway, on VJ-Day, that night there was this
huge concert that was only for the military, and I was there. Almost every star in
Hollywood, Danny Kaye [Renaissance man and gifted actor of film, television,
and theater], Frank Sinatra [unique "swing" vocalist and actor], I mean,
everybody you could possibly, possibly think of was there. [They] did a
performance or a skit, or just said "Hello" and "We bring you greetings," or that
kind of thing. Then afterwards there was a dance, and I went to the dance. I
danced with the famous German -
G: A German actress? I know who you're talking about. I can picture her, I just can't
remember her name.
P: I got a wonderful picture of her, too. She was a beautiful woman. I didn't get a
chance to dance with her very long because somebody tapped me on the
shoulder. Anyway, I met a lot of people there that night. I don't know if you
remember the name Alexis Smith [Canadian who achieved minor Hollywood
success as an actress in the 1940s], I kissed her. I had a good time there. The
following day I left and went down to San Diego to visit my brother George.
G: Tell me about him. What had happened to him?
P: Well, he had been in a, I guess some sort of an enclosure on Okinawa, and a
bomb exploded and set the building afire. He was caught in there and was badly
burned. He still has scars on his legs from the burn, from the fires that were
there. He was in the hospital maybe six weeks or more, and I visited him. Then I
left and went by El Paso [Texas]. My brother Dave had been stationed at Fort
Bliss, then he went to school in El Paso. He had met Celie Goldberg, and they
got engaged. So I stopped there to meet the Goldberg family, to let them know
that Dave was really Jewish [laughing], and that he was safe. Then I went back
and was able to get into Mississippi. So I really did a circuitous trip and got a lot
done, and it was very fascinating.
G: It seems, not necessarily strange, but unfortunate, that your military service
extended by almost a year at least after this surrender in Europe.
P: Well, that was not unusual. You got out on the basis of points, and they counted
the number of months that you were in service. If you were overseas in combat,
the points accumulated. I didn't have much to go on. I didn't come in until July
1943, and I certainly did not have any military service at all. So I was among the
last, but not last, to get out. My last months in there turned out to be very
pleasant, I was in New York.
G: You know the war is over and you're figuring it's just a matter of time until you get
P: And of course you are planning your own future. I knew I still wanted to go to law
school, so I made a lot of inquiries and started writing a lot of letters, and I was
getting some positive responses. For instance, I got a response back from Yale
accepting me, but on just the smallest scholarship support. Very small, it was
almost nothing. I got a much bigger offer from Ohio State, it was a full fellowship.
I had made up my mind that that was where I wanted to go, because the money
counted a lot, and Yale didn't impress me that much. So that's where I was
planning to go when the big offer came from the University of Florida.
G: Tell me about that.
P: Well, my brother Myer, the one next to me who had been in Italy, was already out
of service. He was in school here. He was in political science with Manning
Dauer. He was married to Marjorie, and they were living here. They did not
have any child at that time yet, but they did have a daughter [later], and they
moved into Flavet ["Florida Veterans" campus housing area]. Anyway, Myer is
walking down the hall of Peabody, this is obviously after March 2, sometime at
the end of March or early April, and he meets Bill Carleton. Bill, you know, was
the chairman of the freshman social sciences course. Bill stops Myer, whom he
knows, and chats a minute. [He] says, how's Sam? Myer said, oh, he's just fine.
Where is he? Oh, he's home in Jacksonville, he's out of [the] service. Bill
brightens up his face. He said, that's wonderful news. Myer thought, what's he
got to do with it? That's wonderful news. [Carleton] said, I'm going to call him.
So he goes into his office, which was in the basement at Peabody Hall, and he
places a long distance call to me in Jacksonville. He says, Sam, I just saw Myer.
I know you're home. He said, I want to talk to you. I said, about what? He said,
about teaching. I said, Bill, are you crazy? I said, I don't know anything in the
world about teaching, and I'm going off to school in the fall to Ohio State. He
said, listen, we're overwhelmed with students. The G.I. Bill had passed, and
from 600 students in 1945, they now had registrants of 6,000 students. I mean, it
was the most dramatic turnaround you can imagine. He said, we have them
coming and going. He said, if you don't do any more than just stand up in front of
the room and call the roll, it will be better than nothing. I thought to myself, I
could use the money to buy clothes and all. So I go to Gainesville and talk to Bill,
and decide to do what he wanted me to do, to teach. That's what I did that
G: What were you teaching?
P: Social sciences. The freshman social science course, that's all. Classes were
just overwhelmingly large. You had the G.l.'s there, and they were all serious
students. They weren't playing around because they had already lost this time.
What they wanted was to get a degree and get out, get a job, and get rich. So
they didn't mess around. They came to class, they did everything. In addition,
the state now insisted that school teachers had to have a degree. A lot of them
didn't have it, so a lot of them started coming to summer school. So the classes,
and they were all in temporary buildings then, were eighty, ninety, a hundred.
Fortunately you gave [a] machine-graded test then, and the board of examiners
was in the Seagle Building, so that saved some time. Anyway, I taught that
summer and I loved it. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
G: What content? Tell me a little bit about what was social sciences class. What
topics were -
P: Well, we taught the syllabus, which is what we taught from, had been written by
Bill Carleton and Paul Hanna [professor of humanities and social sciences].
They covered all aspects of American history, but not the traditional way. You
didn't start with Christopher Columbus and go through chronologically. The
same thing was true of the economics areas. What you had were big questions
that were raised, and you were supposed to discuss these things in class. Not
necessarily come up with a final answer of this is the way that you did it, or this
was wrong. It was mainly to encourage discussion. Of course, there was
enough on it so that you could have questions on the test, and the questions of
course were all machine tests, so you had choices and you picked out the one
that was the correct one. Anyway, we had classes, and [the] full classes [were]
very active. The campus was unbelievably busy because you had all of these
students. Remember when they came, there were no facilities available for them
here. There had been no construction on the campus except a dormitory that
they had gotten federal money for. They were able to finish the first unit of what
is now Dauer Hall, which was then the Florida Union. In fact, they had to close
Murphree, part of Murphree, because it was in such bad shape and they didn't
have the money to rehab[ilitate] it. But now, suddenly, overnight, you need these
laboratories, classroom buildings, libraries, and everything else.
George Bowman, who was the vice-president for business affairs, made
arrangements to bring these military buildings. [They were] mainly from Camp
Landing. There was a WAC [Women's Army Corps] station over at Lake City,
but other places. He had brought them in from other places. The federal
government, of course, was glad to get rid of them for a dollar a building or
something. Once you bought them, you had to figure out a way to get them from
Starke to Gainesville, which was not easy at all. There were not many movers of
buildings available. And once they got onto the campus, you needed a roofer,
and you needed a plumber, and you needed an electrician. Once again, you
didn't have many of those available in Gainesville. Even with good wages you
didn't have them, because if they were living in Jacksonville, there was plenty of
work for them to do there. They didn't have to come to Gainesville. So there
were a lot of trying conditions here. A lot of trying conditions.
G: Trying conditions space-wise.
P: Well, I was going to say, in every block almost on this campus there was a
temporary [building]. Right where we were, for instance, there was a two-story
temporary building. They used everything they possibly could. We had classes
in [the] evening, a lot of classes in the evening. Even some Saturday classes.
First of all, housing was a problem. They had some military barracks out where
the airport is today. They converted those into places for students to live and ran
a bus back and forth between it and the campus, which was not an easy way to
operate, but that's what they had. Then they began having women. We weren't
co-educational until the fall of 1947, but women who were veterans, of course,
had the right to come. And many of the veteran students that came had wives
now. We didn't have families before the war, and those women wanted to go to
school, too. So that was a problem. You didn't have any women's restrooms, for
instance, in these buildings.
Everywhere there was construction going on. It was hard, in some
instances, to maintain class because of the hammers that were going on. In front
of Library East there was a one-story building that was used for registration, and
then they turned it into a library reading room. Everywhere you looked, except
on the Plaza of the Americas, were temporary buildings, and huge numbers of
students. Even the problem of parking [first] began to be a problem because a
lot of these people had cars that pre-dated the war. There had been no car
manufacturing during the war itself, but the cars still ran. Not easily, but they did.
So all of those problems were there. But the university got through the
problems, and the students were excellent. As I said earlier, they were anxious
to get out, and they did everything you asked them to do and then some. Plus
the fact you couldn't fool around with them. You started talking about England,
they had been to England. They'd been to a lot of places that the instructor had
not been. So I found it to be the best [group of] students that I ever dealt with at
the University of Florida. I was very excited and pleased. When the end of the
summer approached, Bill talked to me about continuing. I said, Bill, I love what
I'm doing, but I cannot afford to do it. I've got to take this fellowship and think
about my own career. He said, well, let me suggest the possibility of having Ohio
State postpone the fellowship for you. He said, we're working out a lot of deals
with universities around the country. So I said, well, see what you can do. A
couple weeks later he called and said that everything is taken care of at Ohio
State, and they'll write you. [They] have postponed the fellowship until the fall of
1947. So I stayed on for one year with the idea that I would teach 1946-1947,
two semesters. By the summer of 1947, I was committed to doing what I wanted
to do. I wrote to Ohio State and thanked them for their generosity, and decided
that this was what I wanted.
[End side B3]
G: As we switched tapes, you remembered the German actress that you -
P: I'm going to say that right now. The actress, the beautiful person that I danced
with and whose name I forgot a moment ago, was Marlene Dietrich [German
stage actress noted for her "bedroom eyes" who moved to Hollywood, starring in
a number of American films before withdrawing from the spotlight]. I don't know
how I could have forgotten that. But I remembered that when I was a baby I
dealt with the president of the United States, Warren G. Harding, and now when
I'm a G.I., it's with Marlene Dietrich. So I guess I'm improving my standards.
G: It's the summer of 1947, I guess, right? That's when you make the decision to
forgo Ohio State law school -
P: And to stay in teaching. I had the rank of instructor. The rank for two years is an
instructor, 1946-1948, then assistant professor.
G: I wanted to ask you, when does it become a profession or a career for you in
terms of, did they offer tenure track at that point?
P: Well, it was much less formal than it is today. First of all, the chairman decided
who got tenure or not. I remember that you didn't talk about tenure very much. I
got a letter from Bill, I guess in 1949, after I'd been here, maybe 1948, telling me
that I had tenure. It was as simple as that. I didn't get it from the dean, I got it
from the chairman of the department.
G: In '47 and '48, are you continuing to teach the social science class?
P: Only the social sciences. I did not teach anything for the first three or four or five
years except the social sciences course. Patrick was teaching Florida history.
The numbers of that were not overwhelming, and he was able to take care of that
very well by himself. It was only later on, with the growth of the university and
the interest in state and local history, that I began to be able to teach Florida and
G: You have a master's degree and a manuscript that people, still today, think is
your dissertation, 560 pages [on] Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, but it is only [for]
a master's degree.
P: It was only a master's degree.
G: How do you earn your Ph.D.?
P: Well, when I decided that I was going to stay in teaching, I knew I needed a
Ph.D. if I was going to get anywhere. In the summer of 1948. In the meantime, I
had met Bessie and we had gotten engaged.
G: Let's finish this story and then we've got [that].
P: But that summer before the wedding I went to [the University of North Carolina
at] Chapel Hill. That was where I thought I would get my degree. I would go
there in the summers and worry about the dissertation later on. So that's exactly
what I did. I took a course from Fletcher Green [member of the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill history department faculty from 1936-1966]. I've
forgotten two or three courses, [but] whatever the summer curriculum was. I did
very well, got good grades. [I] loved Chapel Hill. [It's a] magnificent campus
[with a] beautiful library. I liked the instructors I had. I had no complaints about it
So I finish up the semester, I come back to Jacksonville, get ready, go up
to Atlanta, and we get married and spend the first year here in Gainesville. The
next summer, the summer of 1949, although I had committed myself to Chapel
Hill, we decided it would be wiser from a money point of view and everything
else, for me to go to Emory and live with her parents in Atlanta. She wanted to
be close to them. Her father had asthma, and she just wanted to be close to
them, and it made a lot of sense. So I took courses at Emory, which I thoroughly
enjoyed, too. I had no problems whatsoever.
G: [Do] you remember who you studied with there?
P: I don't remember names like that. It was while I was in Atlanta [that] the phone
rang one day. It was Manning Dauer on the phone, calling me from Gainesville. I
thought something had happened here. Manning said, explaining the reason for
the call, that the university this is 1949 was getting its plans ready for its
centennial celebration in 1953. They had just had a meeting in Dr. [J. Hillis]
Miller's office [UF president from 1947-1953, who focused primarily on building
construction and increasing staff for the expanding postwar university]. He and
[Henry] Phil Constans, who was then chairman of the Speech Department, were
the co-chairmen of the arrangements, [and they] had met. I don't know who else
was at the meeting, he didn't tell me. They decided that the university needed a
history, and they wanted to persuade me to be the person to do the history.
What he said was, I'm just leaving you with the idea now. I'm not trying to
persuade you to do anything, but when you come back at the end of the summer
we're going to have a meeting in Dr. Miller's office to talk about this. I was
intrigued with the idea, but I knew nothing about where the archives were, if we
had any archives, or whatever. So I come back to Gainesville for the fall and I'm
teaching. We have the meeting in Dr. Miller's office, which was then in Anderson
G: This is the fall of 1949.
P: Phil Constans is there, and Manning is there, and I don't know who else.
Anyway, they're telling me about the book, a history of the university. They didn't
say about a book, [but] a history of the university which they want me to do. I tell
them about my plans to get a degree at Chapel Hill and to work on my Ph.D.,
now that I'm a member of the faculty. Dr. Miller said, of course we don't want to
discourage your working on the Ph.D., that's what you need to do, but why don't
you take all of your courses elsewhere, transfer them all back to the University of
Florida, do your dissertation on the history of the university, and get your degree
here? Well, that made a lot of sense, because I could get it at full pay. So that's
exactly what happened. I never went back to Chapel Hill. I took some
correspondence courses and they agreed to let me take some University of
Florida courses. I took my German exam here, which was a little bit ridiculous
because I didn't know very much German. But I was fortunate.
Let me just stop and tell you about my German experience. I knew some
German because I knew Yiddish. I could understand Yiddish, and there were a
lot of words that you know that are similar. I began, on my own, reading German
fairy tales. Grimms' Fairy Tales, Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and so on,
that I picked up in the library here. I knew enough about the story so that I could
learn something. I began increasing the quality and the quantity of the stuff that I
was working with. When I got up to a book that dealt with a man who had been
shot down during World War II in the Atlantic and was able to save himself by
floating on a raft or something, I said, well maybe I'm ready for the exam. So I
applied for it and I was given the exam, a big sheet of paper like that. I was very
fortunate because the paper that I had to translate dealt a lot with Charlemagne's
campaigns. While I didn't know very much about Charlemagne's campaigns, it
had a lot of geographic places there which I could easily translate. I could begin
to put things together, and obviously it was enough because they passed me on
my German exam. Anyway, I start working on the history of the university.
G: So you took some courses at Chapel Hill and at Emory, and then some more
correspondence courses from Chapel Hill. Did you have to pass, what we now
call today, comprehensive exams or anything like that?
G: So you just earned enough credits to begin dissertating?
P: Right. So I start working on the history of the university. I had an office in Library
East up on the fourth floor, a little cubby hole office. In the meantime, the Florida
Historical Society had moved onto this campus through the help of Rembert
Patrick. So we had its library up on the fourth floor of Library East, also.
G: Where had it been previously?
P: St. Augustine. Anyway, I found out about the institutions that had predated,
preceded the passage of the Buckman Act [1905 state legislative act
consolidating Florida universities into the University of Florida in Gainesville, the
Florida State College for Women, and the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical
College for Negroes]. There was very little on them, very little. There was not
even a listing of the men who had served as principal or presidents of these
schools. So it was following one step after the other. I went to Lake City on
several occasions and got to meet some of the people there. Through them I
was able to get some of the yearbooks, and some of the other paraphernalia,
that dealt with the Florida Agricultural College. The same thing was true here.
There were still some people whose grandparents, grandfather had gone to the
East Florida Seminary [that] still had a catalog here [or] a poster there. I was
able to pull these things together. It was not easy. It took me about a year and a
half to two years to just gather the data that I needed to do the writing.
G: Let me ask you a couple [of questions]. Now the East Florida Seminary, [is that]
a Baptist [seminary]? Tell me just briefly.
P: When you use the word seminary in the nineteenth century it has nothing to do
with religion, it's another name for an educational institution.
G: It was located in Lake City.
P: No-no-no-no. Let me give you a little bit of this for the record. When Florida
became a territory in 1821, two years after that Congress turned over to the
territory some land, about 92,000 acres of land. It had not located the land yet.
It was public land for the future support of our education. In the 1830s, 1837 to
be exact, Congress passed a bill authorizing the establishment of a University of
Florida, naming it University of Florida, appointed a fourteen-member board of
trustees, and stipulated that at least half of this public land that they had given in
the twenties could be sold or disposed of. That would provide the income
necessary for the buildings, faculty, and so on. Well, nothing happened. I mean,
they passed it, but no university came out of it. In 1845, when Florida became a
state, the federal government turned over additional land to Florida, about a half
million acres plus two more townships, another 90,000 acres for higher
education. So it was a substantial amount. But once again, it hadn't located it
anywhere and no selling process had yet been set up. In 1851, the legislature in
Tallahassee said, we're now concerned about higher education and we want to
establish at least one, and maybe two, institutions of higher education. They
issued an invitation to communities all over Florida [that] if you're interested in
getting this institution, what are you going to give us in the way of money or land
or both? Well, they had no response from anybody.
In the meantime, a man had come down from Vermont by the name of
Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury [founder of the East Florida Seminary]. He brought
with him the idea of setting up a private school in Ocala, which he did. Ocala
was just a little village at the time, so it provided support for the local kids in the
community. He opened the building in 1852. He and others hear about this
invitation from Tallahassee. He says to the board of trustees, which is what they
had for this little school, why don't we offer our property to the state and we'll
have the school, and the state will pick up the tab for the teacher's salaries, and
so on? Well, that made a lot of sense to the taxpayers in Ocala. So he goes to
Tallahassee and he makes this emotional speech telling about the wonders of
Ocala and its future, its economic and population growth, and all of those
wonderful things. Well, the state hadn't received any other offers, so it accepted
the Ocala offer. Thomas Brown, then the governor [Florida's second governor
under statehood, 1849-1853], on October 6, 1853, signed the bill which took over
a heretofore private institution, East Florida Seminary. It became a public
institution, the East Florida State Seminary.
It remains in Ocala through the Civil War. It's opening and closing,
particularly when the war begins, because the faculty, they only had two or three
faculty left. It was really just a local school. At times they didn't have any
students older than fourteen years. The first year of the school was kind of
haphazard. Gilbert Dennis Kingsbury had been very popular. By the way,
coming down from Vermont to Florida, he changed his name to S. S. Burton.
Why I don't know, but that's the way he went [into] Florida. Anyway, there was a
faculty of four in this little school including himself, two men and two women.
One of the women was a woman from Vermont. As it turned out later, it was his
girlfriend, Laura. He brought her down. Everything is going along fine until one
day Laura finds out she's pregnant, and it wasn't the kind of thing you can hide in
little ol' Ocala. So everybody immediately thought it was Kingsbury or Burton.
He denied it, of course, but it made sense that he would be. So they had an
open meeting and he offers to resign, and they immediately accepted his
resignation. So she resigns, also. That was 50 percent of the faculty, so the
University of Florida closed its first year.
G: What's it called? Is it not still East?
P: East Florida State Seminary.
G: So the name "University of Florida" -
P: University of Florida does not emerge until the Buckman Act is passed [in] 1905.
I just said that facetiously. Anyway, here in Gainesville there's a man by the
name of James Roper who comes down from North Carolina, first to Tampa, and
then Gainesville. He's also an educator, and he opens a private school on the
corner where the Florida Theater is now. They call it The Palace. As you go
down to the corner there was a penny store there, for a long time now there's a
night club there. He had a little building on that corner which was too small, so
they bought property where the Methodist Church is on Northeast First Street for
$5. That's where his school was located. He goes into politics, he becomes the
state senator from Alachua County, and in 1866 he puts through a bill which
transfers the East Florida State Seminary from Ocala to Gainesville. He turns
over his property to the state and they begin to operate. It stays here in
Gainesville as the East Florida Seminary, beginning to give collegiate degrees in
the 1880s until 1905.
The second school is the Florida Agricultural College in Lake City. It starts
out as a result of the Morrill Land Grant Act [July 2, 1862, signed into law by
President Abraham Lincoln], which was passed by Congress during the Civil
War. [It] gave each state 30,000 acres for each representative it had in
Congress for the purpose of setting up schools of industry, engineering, and so
on. Well, the southern states became eligible after the war, and Florida received
its 90,000 acres in 1870. [Florida had] two senators and one congressman.
Then there was the question of where was this college going to be located.
David Levy Yulee [1810-1886, U.S. Senator from Florida, 1845-1851 and 1855-
1861; known as the "Father of Florida's Railroads"], who had made a lot of
money on the construction of the railroad, offered land here in Alachua County.
But they needed money also in the city, and this county just didn't have the
money, so they looked elsewhere. They then looked at Eau Gallie, Florida.
They bought land there, cleared it, put a fence around it to be an agricultural
place for the cattle, put up a couple of barns, and other things.
The election of 1876 came along, which ousted the Republicans and the
Democrats came in. Well, the Democrats refused to have anything to do with
that campus because it had been enacted by the Republicans, so they
abandoned that without ever [having] the first day of classes there. Years later,
the buildings were turned into a small tourist motel. Then they started looking
again. In 1844, they accepted Lake City's offer, and the Florida Agricultural
College opened there, and the Florida Experiment Station came four years later.
There were two other schools. One was down in Bartow, which had started as a
private school, The South Florida Military Institute. The state took it over and
changed its name to South Florida Military College. It was not co-educational as
the other schools were. Then the fourth school was the St. Petersburg Normal
and Industrial School "normal" was teacher training, which the state took over
in 1902. Those were the four schools abolished under the Buckman Act,
together with the school for women, the school in Tallahassee was co-
educational to begin with, the school for blacks in Tallahassee, a teacher's
training school in DeFuniak Springs, and an agricultural institute in Kissimmee.
All of those were abolished by the Buckman Act. The new universities
were created. [There was] one for white male students to be located east of the
Suwannee River, one for white females west of the Suwannee River, and one for
black students. They created a board on control [and] charged it with the
responsibility of locating these institutions together with the State Board of
Education. There was no problem with the black school [and] no problem with
the women's college, which was known as the Florida Female College until 1909,
when it became Florida State College for Women. The big controversy was over
the University of Florida's location. A number of cities claimed their interest in it.
Jacksonville said, we're the largest. St. Augustine said, we're the oldest city.
Ocala said, this is where it all got started. But the two main contenders were
Lake City and Gainesville. Lake City thought they had it in the bag because they
had a good campus, they had some decent buildings including a museum, they
had faculty including some Ph.D.'s, it was in a good location not far from
Jacksonville, [and] the railroad ran through Lake City. They didn't really make a
big fight for it, but Gainesville did. Mayor [William Reuben] Thomas, Thomas
Senior [leading Florida businessman], and others, formed the P.R. Committee.
They roamed Florida and they promoted Gainesville wherever they could.
When it came down to the final results, it was Gainesville by a very narrow
margin that won. They located the university here with the idea that they would
stay in Lake City for one year because they had the buildings and the campus
there, [so they could] get this campus ready because there was nothing but trees
here. So that's what happened during the fall, winter, and spring of 1905-1906.
They cut down the trees and they built Thomas and Buckman Halls and a small
building on the campus where Turlington is now located. They opened in
G: You unearthed much of this research?
P: Yeah. Almost all of it.
G: So it's both a centennial anniversary that the school administration is going to
use, and it's your dissertation. Tell me about what the school does with all of
your research. How was the centennial celebrated, and what role do you play?
G: First of all, I end the dissertation in 1906. That's all I had time to do. So I never
went beyond 1906, which is what the university was mainly interested in, the post
period. But I had done a mammoth job in finding this earlier material. I had
wanted the University Press to publish the first volume, which they were reluctant
to do until I did the second volume. So I didn't concern myself, I became
interested in other projects. To gather the material for it, Miller not only
appointed me the Historian, but the University Archivist. I became the first
archivist on campus because, as I found documents and so on, I didn't want
them to get lost. We had already lost giant amounts of things. I had them
transfer everything we possibly could to this cubby hole I had on the fourth floor
of Library East. Miller said, you need a title. He said, they won't pay any
attention to you. They may not pay any attention to you even with the title, but he
said, you're going to be the University Archivist. So it was as simple as that. In
the old days they could do a lot of things they can't do today.
G: The Napoleon Bonaparte Broward book, what's happening to it during the late
P: Well, I completely on my own decided to try and convert that into a book, which I
did. I rewrote it page after page, leaving off a lot of the early stuff on the family
history and so on because I needed to cut it down. Then I turned it over to Bill
Haynes [professor in College of English and UF's first Director of the Press], who
was the director of the press. He had been a member of the English faculty, but
he was now directing the press.
G: How old was the press at this point?
P: About six or seven years old. The press had come into being, also, quite
interestingly enough. The state was going to celebrate its 100th anniversary in
1945, [because] we became a state in 1845. The state institutions, all the
institutions, were asked to participate in that activity. Well, Patrick had come
onto campus, and Dr. Tigert invited him to write a history of Florida because
there was no history of Florida available. That's when he began the work on the
Florida Under Five Flags. They planned to publish [it] in the paperback edition,
then send [it] out free to high schools and institutions around the state.
In the meantime, there had been an investigation of the university
because of a death of a student in the infirmary. During the war, about 1944, I
think, before the war was over, this student who was a diabetic went into a
diabetic coma. They put him in the infirmary. There was no doctor on campus at
that time, but a couple or three of the doctors in town took care of students, and
they sent an emergency call to whoever it was. They were so terribly busy
downtown because they were understaffed there, [that] there was six or eight
hours before there was a response, and the boy dies. The family is notified, and
that's the way it was. In 1945, a full year or maybe even longer than that, a letter
arrives from the mother of this boy to the president's office, filled with all kinds of
accusations about neglect, and so on. She had some political connections in
Governor Millard Caldwell's office [1897-1984, Florida governor, 1945-1949, and
later Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court], but I don't know exactly what
they were. Anyway, there was a member of the Board of Control, a doctor from
Live Oak, I think, who didn't like Tigert. He launched an investigation of the
university, charging neglect and all, and the student's death was just an example
of what the university wasn't doing. It led to some hearings, and some nasty
things were said about Tigert, a lot of untrue things were said about him. It was
implied that he was an alcoholic for instance, and that he had gone to the funeral
of one of the deans and was so drunk he fell into the grave. Actually, it turned
out; he was at a land grant meeting in Chicago at the time. When all of that
happened, they were reluctant to start distributing Florida Under Five Flags as a
freebie, so they had to figure out a way to get it done. They created the
University of Florida Press to publish it, and it's a hardback edition for trade.
G: Now who's the "they"? Who spearheads this?
P: Well, certainly Patrick and Tigert were the two main responsible for that, and I
don't know who else. Bill Haynes was a professor in the College of English, and
he became the first director of the press. Fortunately, he had a very smart wife,
Helen Haynes. She wasn't on the payroll at all, but she did a lot of the editing
and the work on the press. So that was their first publication. So they had a
book or two or three out when I presented my Broward [manuscript] to them.
G: Which was when?
G: When did you present the manuscript?
P: I guess about 1950. No, earlier than that.
G: Do you recall, was it before you started working on the history of the university?
P: I was doing both of them at the same time. About 1950-1951, I presented it to
the press, and they accepted it. I don't remember a big deal, but they had sent it
out to a couple of readers. I worked with the lady. It was a very small staff.
They were on the fourth floor of what was then the law school, Bryan Hall. [It
was] just two or three people up there working at that time. [Then] it came out.
P: '53, I think, '52 or '53.
G: And you finished the manuscript that was essentially the University of Florida
from 1853 -
P: From 1853-1906.
G: Am I correct in thinking that it's really through your research that the University of
Florida is able to accurately date itself to 1853?
P: Yes. It's through me that it dated itself accurately to 1853. Although, on the seal
to begin with, starting in 1905 with the Buckman Act and the abolishing of these
schools, 1905 is the date on the seal. That's the way it was for a long time. In
fact, in 1930-1931, the University celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary, its silver
anniversary. There was a big international Latin American conference here.
That's when they named the plaza the Plaza of the Americas. Dr. Tigert was
never happy about the fact that when he went to other universities as a
representative of the University of Florida, in the academic procession he was
way down at the end of the line because they place you based upon the origin of
your school. So he was able to get the dean of the law school and a couple of
others over there to look at the possibility of doing something about the situation.
They found that there were two or three funds. One of them was the Seminary
Land Act, all that land that had been given to the state for higher education by
Congress. They had begun selling that off, and the income from that had been
distributed to the institutions. That was still going on after 1905 after the
Buckman Act. On the basis of that continuation of funding support, they decided
to see if they could not change the date on the seal. The Attorney General of
Florida agreed, and that's when they came up with the 1853 date.
G: But you needed to, essentially, prove it.
G: And that was your job. So they knew. I mean, they're celebrating their 100th
anniversary in 1953, asking you to write a history, but they still need some proof
that it is in fact their 100th anniversary.
P: Well, that's what they got, so in 1953 we celebrated the 100th anniversary. In
1936, without any fanfare and without any publicity whatsoever, the date on the
founding of the university was changed from 1905 to 1853. The date on the seal
was changed. If you look at the publications, in 1935, it's 1905, in 1936, it's
Now, Tallahassee immediately was aware of the change. They had had a
free school in Tallahassee in 1826, which the state took over in 1827, just as they
had the East Florida Seminary four years earlier. So Tallahassee changed the
date on its seal from 1905 to 1827. That's the way they went until two years ago
when Sandy, whatever his last name is, the president of Florida State University
[Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, President of Florida State University, 1994-2003],
got the idea of changing the date on their date to 1851. [That] is when the
legislature sent out the invitation but nothing happened. He wanted the
university to follow suit. Well, I was asked, and I said it was ridiculous to change
the date from 1905 to 1853. It would be even more laughable now to change it to
1851, so they haven't done that. But Tallahassee has changed its date to 1851.
We're going to celebrate a sesquicentennial next year, the 150th anniversary.
G: What became of the research for your dissertation?
P: Nothing was lost. All the archives that I had collected, all the notes that I had
made, all the documents that I had collected, all of the correspondence, and I
had huge amounts of that, and information. I didn't do any oral history
interviewing yet, but I talked to a lot of people in Lake City and elsewhere. All of
that was saved, and all of that is now in the University of Florida Archives. A lot
G: When does the university confer a Ph.D. on you?
P: In 1958.
G: So why the gap? Your research is finished.
P: Well, my research is finished [up to] '06, but I still needed a little bit more. I don't
know what it was.
G: How many Ph.D.'s had the history department conferred prior to you receiving
yours? Was there a Ph.D. program?
P: There was a Ph.D. program, yeah. I think the first Ph.D., I did a check on this a
few years ago, it was in the 1950s. So I think maybe two or three had already
been given. I know I was not the first one. A man who taught at the University of
South Florida, in fact, was the one who got the first Ph.D. [A] very heavy-set guy
with a mustache, I've forgotten his name.
G: So in 1958 you receive your Ph.D. How is your teaching changing? How are
your responsibilities on campus changing in the fifties?
P: Well, as always, I was involved in more things than I should be. I continued my
activities of collecting data wherever I possibly could [for my] manuscript. I didn't
turn anything down. Whether it was a piece of junk or not, I kept it. As I say, all
of that is in archives now, unless they've thrown some of the useless stuff away,
which I would have encouraged them to do. I taught Florida history on the
second floor of Peabody [Hall]. I taught a night class, three hours a night, [and]
had a very large turnout. I had no teaching assistants then, so I graded all of my
own papers. I thoroughly enjoyed it whatsoever. I continued to teach American
Institutions, the C1 course, and from time to time I taught a course in Southern
history. So I taught, at least to begin with, about four courses a semester. In the
early 1960s, Rembert Patrick, who had been, really, the editor, but he carried the
[title of] assistant editor [of the Florida Historical Quarterly] because Julian Young
was still around and alive [and] he carried the title, although Mr. Young didn't do
anything anymore. Rembert Patrick, or Pat, as we called him, was the editor.
[Herbert] Jack Doherty [a professor of social sciences] was the assistant editor,
and I was in charge of the book reviews. Pat decides to leave here and accept a
position as graduate research professor at the University of Georgia. He turns
over the editorship to Jack Doherty. Jack is just getting settled in that when he's
offered the chance to become chairman of the American Institutions course,
which I strongly advised against. But he liked the fact that it carried that title, and
it also carried an increase in money. So in 1962, I guess it was, I became the
editor of the Florida Historical Quarterly.
G: Before we touch upon that, how did you get a chance to start teaching Florida
history if Rembert Patrick had been principle?
P: Well, because it got to the point where you could teach a second course. Mine
was the catch-all of the night class on the second floor of Peabody Hall. He
taught the Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
G: I think we need to get caught up with your personal life. You're married through
much of the 1950s.
P: Let me tell you about all of that, too. I'm not married at the end of the war when I
get out of service. I'm living in Jacksonville and I'm living at home. Then I move
to Gainesville to teach and I live in a room. There was no apartments here. The
real estate situation was very tight here, very tight. One day I get this call from
this friend in Jacksonville. I told you about our association with [the] Pelles
family. Helen Pelles Diamond tells me, you're coming to Jacksonville this
weekend, I've got somebody I want you to meet. Bessie was coming down from
Atlanta. She had a new alligator pocketbook, I guess it was, and she was
looking for alligator shoes to match because she and her mother were going to
go to Europe. They were going to go to England. Her mother is from England,
[and] she had not been there. Many years the war is over now and they're going.
They went on the Queen Elizabeth I. So she's coming to Jacksonville to look for
shoes. Helen Diamond says, I'm sure you'll find shoes, and the re's somebody I
want you to meet. I was the somebody. So that's what we did. Under Helen
Diamond's tutelage, and Helen Diamond, who lives in Jacksonville, still takes
credit for all of this, we met. I liked her, and she obviously liked me, but she goes
off to Europe.
G: Tell me about [what happened] before she goes. You took her out?
P: I took her out. She was there for a weekend. We took her out and she goes
back to Atlanta. I didn't see her anymore, but we started to correspond. Shortly
afterwards she goes off to Europe. I thought about her a lot, but I'm in
Gainesville and she's somewhere else. I don't remember this exactly, but I'm
sure she's right, when she got back there was a letter from me that I had written
saying, I hope you are still single. So we took off from there. This is, I guess,
late 1947 or early 1948. I began going to Atlanta, meeting her, meeting her
family, [and] getting along very well with everybody. We had a wedding on
September 8, 1948, in her brother and sister-in-law's house.
G: How many times had you seen her prior to getting engaged?
P: I don't know. Prior to getting engaged maybe a dozen times, because I'd been to
Atlanta a lot.
G: You get married. Big wedding? Well, if it's in a house -
P: We get married and we go to New York on our honeymoon. [We] had a
wonderful time. [We] saw "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Marion Brando [and]
stayed in this nice hotel facing Central Park. As it happened, her cousin had
gotten married just a week before us, and they were in New York on their
honeymoon, too. So we got together with them a lot, ate together and all. Then
we left New York by train and went to Baltimore, where my uncles and aunts
lived. We met the family there and they had a big party for us. Then we came to
Jacksonville and Gainesville. As I said, rentals were very tight here. There was
no apartment buildings then. But there was a house over in East Gainesville that
had been converted to four apartments. We were able to rent one of the upstairs
apartments, furnished. What had been a front porch had been screened in, and
that became our bedroom, which, it was cold in the winter. Next to it, what had
been a large bedroom now became our living room. Next to it was a bathroom,
and next to it was the kitchen. You had to go through the bathroom to get into
That created a problem once because one day, there's a knock on the
door. I had come home from class hot and tired. We didn't have a car, so I was
doing a lot of walking. I had decided to cool off by taking a bath. We didn't have
a shower. So I take off all my clothes and put them in the bedroom, which is the
former screen porch separated by this living room. I'm in the bathtub when the
doorbell rings. Two ladies had come to pay a social call on Bessie. In those
olden days, you remember, women came to greet new brides and new residents
and so on. Well, one was Mrs. Leake and one was Mrs. Payne, Ancil Payne's
wife. Well, Bessie immediately closed the door into the bathroom, of course, but
I'm trapped in the bathtub. They're sitting there, chatting about the weather and
about Gainesville and all. I could hear them, but meanwhile, my clothes are on
the other side of them. Finally, in desperation, I hear Bessie say, would you like
something to drink. I knew it was time for me to get the hell out of there because
she would have to open the door to come through. So I dart out of the bathtub
and got into the closet. I stayed there until she got the drinks. Of course, she
saw what was going on as she passed through. Eventually they left. Well, I
guess I shouldn't put this in the tape but I'm going to do it. As it turned out, when
she asked the two women if they wanted a drink, Mrs. Leake said, yeah, about
that much. So Bessie got her some ginger ale, about that much. Later on, very
later on, we found out that Mrs. Leake was an alcoholic, and that what she meant
was a real drink.
G: When do the kids come along? When's Mark born?
P: Mark was born in 1951, three years after we were married, [in] July. We were
married on September 8, 1948, and we'll be celebrating our fifty-fourth
anniversary in a very few days. Then Mark was born in July 1951, and Alan was
born in July 1954.
G: Where were you living when Mark was born?
P: Well, we had moved out of that apartment, which we didn't like and was
overpriced, but we had no choice in the matter. They built the Greenmore
Apartments. I don't know if you know where they are, but they're two blocks
down University Avenue. There's a bank down two blocks, [and] just in back of
that are some apartment buildings. Bessie learned about those buildings, and
she was able to line up our name on a list. So we moved into a one-bedroom
apartment, brand new. It was very nice [and] close to the university. That's the
way it was. Our first car was a secondhand car that I bought from Ashby
Hammond, a Chevrolet.
G: Tell me about Mark as a baby.
P: Well, Mark and Alan were both wonderful babies. Almost as good as Natalie
G: I take it you were happy with boys?
P: We were very happy. We were very pleased. Our parents were very pleased
with Mark and Alan. They were good babies, smart babies, they caused us no
trouble. They weren't sick or obstreperous or anything like that. We enjoyed it
G: You didn't mind they weren't daughters.
P: No. I mean, they were good, happy children. Bessie had involved herself,
already, very actively in the Jewish community, so we had built up a coterie of
friends here. We went to synagogue often, not because we were that religious,
but it became a social thing to do. We had a lot of non-Jewish friends. There
was a lot of more camaraderie in the department than you would find today. Of
course, it was much smaller then than it is [now]. You knew everybody; you
knew their wives. People entertained each other at their homes. Not big, formal
dinners, but a lot of things like that which I don't think happen anymore. I mean,
each semester the chairman of the department had a reception for new faculty. I
think that would seem rather strange to them today, but that was true. So we
had a lot of good friends. We went to the movies, we went out to eat together a
lot. We went as a family, the kids came along. There was a cafeteria in the
shopping center on Main Street, which is no longer there. We ate there a lot with
G: When did you build the house?
P: 1954. We bought the lot the year before and we had an architect and a builder,
Fred Mason, who had built other houses for people we knew. We built the house
just exactly the way we wanted it, and at the price we wanted it. Of course, if you
tell people what you paid for it then it's ridiculous, it's almost hard to believe.
G: And you're still in that house today?
G: That's the house you're in today?
P: That's the house we are in today. We moved in [in] August 1954. Alan was
about three weeks old when we moved in there, and he grew up in that house.
Mark was three years old.
G: You mentioned the Jewish community. Tell me about the Jewish community in
Gainesville in the forties and fifties.
P: There had been Jews living in Gainesville since the 1860s. The Moses Endel
family came down from Virginia in the 1860s, and there had been Jews here ever
since. Not large numbers at all. You had one [family] that lived here for a while
you were interested in.
G: The Brown family, yep.
P: You never had more than eight or ten or twelve, that kind of thing. None of them
[were] rich. All of them [were] operating small retail stores around the downtown
courthouse square, grocery stores, sundry stores, shoes stores, that sort of thing.
They maintained a Jewishness. They held services in private homes. If there
was a big event they brought in a rabbi. When one of the Endel boys, for
instance, got married in the 1880s, they brought the rabbi in from Savannah to
officiate. In 1882, the synagogue was organized in Jacksonville. To begin with,
it was an Orthodox synagogue. Within a very short time it became Reform. The
two Endels from Gainesville [Marcus and Jacob Endel, owners of M. Endel and
Bro. dry goods store, and later their own clothing companies] were among the
charter members of that synagogue. Anyway, that's the way it operated until the
In 1920-1921, Joseph Weil arrives here. Alex Brest was the first Jew to
serve on the faculty. He was out of Jacksonville, an engineer. He didn't stay
here very long. He went to Jacksonville, went into private engineering business
there, and made a huge amount of money. When Jacksonville University was
organized they began to work with him. If you go to the campus now, there's an
Alex Brest aquarium, Alex Brest dormitory, Alex Brest tennis complex. Anyway,
Joe Weil was a good friend of Alex Brest, both of them were engineers. When
Weil got married in Baltimore, he and Mrs. Weil came to Florida on their
honeymoon. On their way back [to] wherever they were going, Pittsburgh or
Baltimore or wherever it was, they stopped in Gainesville to visit Alex Brest. Alex
said, there's a vacancy on the faculty here, and Joe Weil didn't have a job, why
don't you apply for the position. Weil did and he got the job, so he became a
member of the Gainesville community. Under his leadership, the Gainesville
Jewish community began to develop more of a visibility, a consciousness. He
wasn't the only one, but he was the one that was best-known.
Anyway, under his leadership, a congregation was formed in 1921 and
was chartered. [They] immediately began making plans for the erection of a
synagogue. Once again, they had had services in private homes, and religious
services were in the Messianic temple, the second floor of the Messianic temple
on Main Street. They bought a lot not easily, because there was no money in
Gainesville in the Jewish community. They bought a lot, and I think they paid
about $4,000 for it, and then they arranged to build the building, which is still
standing today. In 1928, they dedicated the building. That became the
synagogue right on through the thirties. In the meantime, the Jewish community
is growing a little bit. Joe Silverman arrives in 1932 or 1933, the Grossman
family comes in, the Copplawoods family comes in. So around the eve of World
War II, you have about twenty or twenty-five families here, substantially more
than in earlier years.
G: Are they still mostly merchants, or are some of them associated with the
P: Very few [are] associated [with the university]. Weil was here, and by this time,
Weil is a dean of engineering. Very few Jews [are on] the campus. One or two,
but that was it, and they stay here for a short time. There wasn't any anti-
Semitism, but there wasn't any pro-Semitism either, here. There wasn't a large
Jewish enrollment, but there was a substantial number. Both of the fraternities
were full. So the community starts to grow. In the war period, because of the
presence of a few Jewish students, but even more importantly, the fact that
Jewish soldiers were coming into Gainesville on the weekend, they had a Jewish
chaplain here. They didn't call him a Hillel director, but a Jewish chaplain, a
In the meantime, the B'nai B'rith had become interested in developing
Hillel on the campus. There was a man from Jacksonville by the name of Philip
Selber who was here as a student in 1935. He just died earlier this year. Philip
got together two or three students and they went down to Palm Beach, where the
Florida B'nai B'rith was holding its annual convention, and made a plea for the
establishment of a Hillel at the University of Florida campus. [The] B'nai B'rith
agreed that it was a good idea and gave them $200 to get the thing started.
They came back, and there was a house on the corner of University Avenue and
Tenth Street. I don't know if you know where the Georgia Seagle house is, [but]
directly across the street on the corner there's a little flower shop there now.
Behind it, there's a two-story, grey-painted house. That house stood on the
corner where the florist place is now. It was later moved, [because] where the
florist place is now was a filling station. Anyway, it was in that house that the first
Hillel was organized. With the $200 they rented two rooms in that house [and]
had some magazines and things there. Then when the war was over, and
suddenly there was this tremendous increase in student enrollment at the
University of Florida, including Jewish enrollment, then B'nai B'rith became more
interested in doing something on a more established basis. So where Hillel is
presently located, that was a dirt street at the time, that lot was purchased for
$5,000. A recreation building was secured from Camp Landing, I think for $100
or something, but it had to be moved. It was moved, and put onto that lot.
It became not only the Hillel for the Jewish students, but kind of a social
center for the Jewish community. We would meet there. Once a month a group
would hear news and stories about Israel and so on. There was a lot of, once
again, work between the women. They baked cakes, they did things for the
students. We had our Sunday school classes upstairs. All of those things were
happening. But once again, everything was growing. The Jewish community
was beginning to grow with the growth of the university. Jewish faculty were
coming in. When the medical center opened that brought a lot of new Jewish
faculty, the growth of the Veteran's Hospital administration here. So Hillel
became too small. So we bought property. I was the president of the
congregation at that time. We bought property on the corner of 33rd Street and
16th Avenue, which 16th Avenue was just then getting paved. We bought four
lots. We built the building with the idea that it would be the first of two units, that
it would be the educational building and later we would build a synagogue itself.
In the meantime, we used the downtown building for synagogue and turned this
into an educational building. Eventually, we closed the place downtown and we
sold that property. We consolidated everything into one building and we were
exploding in that. Then through Phil Emmer [South Florida builder who founded
Emmer and Company in 1954, now Emmer Development Group, and is
responsible for many of Gainesville's homes and apartment communities], we
had the opportunity to buy the land where the synagogue is now located, and we
built the present building.
G: Which isn't too far away.
P: Well, it's not too far away, but it's about a mile beyond that. We have now about
300 families in the congregation. There's been a drop in the congregation
because we now have other alternatives, as a Reform congregation. There's a
lot of people who, at one time when we only had one synagogue, that was it, but
now they have the opportunity [to go elsewhere].
[End side B4]
G: [The] Jewish community of Gainesville. While we took a break, you asked me to
ask you what were you doing. How were you involved in the congregation?
P: Well, to begin with, as I told you, the congregation was very small [at] the
beginning of the 1950s, but growing. But we did not have a rabbi. Pop
Grossman, Frank Grossman, was a __ and he conducted the service. Others
like me, Dick Dresdner [Richard David Dresdner, professor of chemical
engineering], and Ted Landsman, tried to do the English readings and do a little
sermon from time to time. I played a very active role in the community, very
active in the synagogue. Bessie played an active role in the sisterhood. She
was very actively involved in that. I was elected president, I think in 1957 or
1958. I inaugurated a lot of things. The Friday evening late service I did. I
started the first bulletin which went out, and a junior congregation on Saturday.
[There was] a lady here in town by the name of Gussie Rudderman, Mike
Rudderman, whose family had been living here a long time and had been very
active in the synagogue. Gussie and I decided while I was president that we
needed to do something revolutionary about the looks of the synagogue. As it
happened, there was a man that had a store in downtown Gainesville, Sam
Michaels, who was changing his air conditioning in the store. He said, I'll give
you this air conditioner, [but] I don't know if it will work or not. But we took it and
we were able to get it fixed and install the air conditioning. Up until that time they
had just used a big fan, which was not very comfortable on the holidays. We had
black benches in there, and Gussie got the idea of painting all of them white. My
wife's family is in the floor covering business, and my brother-in-law gave us
enough very fancy floor covering, blue, I think, I've forgotten. We built a new ark.
Nobody saw any of these things because nobody came to services in those early
years. [On] Rosh Hashanah night, we opened the synagogue. When people
came in and saw it they could not believe the transformation that had taken
place. I mean, they were absolutely amazed to see white and light and cool and
all of those wonderful things.
Anyway, I was president for one year. They wanted me to run again. I
said look, I've done my job enough to last five years. But I continued to be an
active member of the board. When we bought the property on 32nd and 16th
Avenue, where our second building was located, I was very much involved in the
acquisition of those lots and also in the construction of that building. Cupert
Construction Company built the building, and I had known them because they
had built buildings on the campus, including the DEP house on Fraternity Row.
So I'd gotten to know a lot of people, and they were the low bidders on this.
They did a very good job. As I say, this was supposed to be just the first unit of
two, [but] it never happened because we outgrew it too quickly. Now we're right
where we are and we've outgrown what we have. They're talking about building
onto the social hall, building onto the classroom building, and doing all those
wonderful things. All we need now is money.
G: Let's come back to your university career. We have one major research project
in the early 1950s, you've got the history of the University of Florida. Are there
other [projects]? Are you publishing articles at this time on other topics? What
are your research interests in addition to the [history of the University of Florida]?
P: All of these things that I deal with from that point on and continuing deal with
Florida history, Florida political history, some Jewish history, [and] some
Southern Jewish history. That was a secondary interest of mine, not a minority
interest, but a secondary interest. So I was publishing things in both of them. I
was becoming very active in the Florida Historical Society, not only from the
quarterly point of view, but in the administration, in helping to set up the annual
meetings and doing a lot of those things. One of the things, and Patrick has to
be given the credit for this but I was also involved and Jack Doherty was
involved, we turned it into a larger organization, a more visible organization, and
one in which the academic community played a much more forceful role. Up until
the end of the 1940s it was an organization of a few dozen people. Maybe a
dozen, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five at the most, would turn out for the annual
meetings. Papers were given about little local subjects, an institution, a woman's
club meeting, or something like that. We turned it into, as I say, Patrick
particularly, turned it into a larger-scale organization. Part of it was the fact that
the quarterly itself had moved from Pensacola, with Mr. Yonge [Philip Keyes
Yonge, 1850-1984, active in Florida's educational system and a president of the
Florida Historical Society], to Gainesville. When he presented the P. K. Yonge
Library to the University of Florida, he came himself as the curator. He was the
editor of the Florida Historical Quarterly, so he brought that with him. The
university agreed to support the quarterly, which it did until recent years, so that
in itself gave it more of an academic atmosphere than it had had before. It
continued to attract the academic community involved in either research, writing,
or teaching Florida history at all of the [Florida] universities, but that's no longer
true, I understand, with it.
I was involved in the quarterly. I was involved in the society and [was]
very active in the society in every way. I knew everybody, all the members. We
tried to alternate [presidents]. One year we would have an academic as the
president, [and] the next year a non-academic, so that everybody had
representation. I became very involved in the American-Jewish Historical
Society. I went to my first meeting there about 1949-1950, and read a paper on
the Jewish life in Florida, if I remember correctly. The society was still in New
York then, it had not yet moved to Waltham [Massachusetts]. I continued to play
an active role in the American-Jewish Historical Society. I went to the annual
meeting, I became a member of the academic advising counsel, and I, once
again, knew people in the organization and got along very well and enjoyed it.
G: You assumed the editorship of the quarterly in -
P: About '62, I think.
G: Tell me about your editorship. It's a long editorship, lasting -
P: Thirty-one years. I enjoyed every minute of it. I realize now that I probably had
undertaken more than I should or needed to, although I didn't feel harassed or
taken advantage of at any time. I was teaching, by this time I was teaching at
least two courses each semester, I had established the Oral History Program in
1967, and I was the editor of the quarterly. I was the editor of the quarterly, as
you know, with a single person as the assistant editor, and the secretary in the
office who was doing all the correspondence for everything.
G: As you think about your editorship, especially in the early years, did you have a
philosophy as an editor? What you were looking for?
P: My philosophy was not something that was sitting there waiting for me to
develop, but I wanted it to be more academic, more intellectual, [and] more in-
depth than it had been. I thought it was important for people to have local
information, but I didn't think the Florida Historical Quarterly was the place to put
all of that. So I wanted to have things that had statewide interest. I wanted the
articles to be well-organized, well-researched, and well-written, and I think we
were able to get that. I worked out the system of sending articles out to a board
of editors, which had not been done before. I instituted a much broader book
review program than had ever been done. During the 1930s, under Mr. Yonge,
he didn't review books at all unless they were major things dealing specifically in
Florida history. I broadened that out during the time that I was editor, so that we
reviewed books that dealt with Florida, certainly, but also books that dealt with
Southern and national topics if they impacted Florida, like a biography of Martin
Luther King [Jr.], for instance. So I think we turned the quarterly into a very
substantial journal. Pat Dodson [Mayhew Wilson Dodson, 1929-1975,
encouraged historic preservation in Pensacola, FL], who was very active in the
Florida Historical Society, operated an advertising agency in Pensacola. He took
it upon himself, he volunteered, to have his agency redesign the quarterly.
That's when we adopted the blue cover and [started] using the picture on the
cover, which I thought was very effective.
G: Tell me about the state of Florida history. When you wrote your Napoleon
Bonaparte Broward master's thesis, how many Florida historians existed?
P: Very few. Charleton Tebeau [author of A History of Florida (1971), professor at
the University of Miami] was probably the best known Florida historian at the
time, down in Miami. He was a very effective teacher, [he] had a large student
following, and would eventually do that [with the] history of Florida. In
Gainesville, I guess Rembert Patrick was the best known, particularly as a result
of his Florida Under Five Flags. Other than that, you had almost nobody. Over
in Tallahassee you had nobody that was associated with Florida history at the
university. You had Dorothy Todd, the state librarian, and she was very
interested. There was no University of West Florida and there was no University
of South Florida in those early years, so that everything was concentrated at
Miami or the University of Florida.
G: But the numbers continue to grow.
P: The numbers continue to grow. With the growth of those universities, and the
expansion of those faculty, they began to include Florida history on their
curriculum, and they began to find people who could teach Florida history. Bill
Rogers [professor emeritus of history at Florida State University] emerges,
Martin LaGodna, who has since passed away, at the University of South Florida,
Bill Coker [deceased professor emeritus of history at the University of West
Florida], [and at the] University of West Florida, Jane Dysart [professor of U.S.
history, a member of the historical/underwater archaeology faculty]. You can
begin to name those that began to emerge in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.
G: Did you have trouble finding things to publish? Did you have a glut of material?
P: We never had a problem of really worrying about filling out an issue of the
quarterly. We always had articles that were waiting to be accepted and waiting
to be published, so there was never a starvation that we went through wondering
are we going to have enough articles for the next issue so that we can publish it
on time. That did not happen. We always had more books to review than we
really had room to review them. We had to be careful since the society was
paying the printing bill. We had to be careful of how many pages we printed,
because it jacked up the price and we might not be able to afford it. But we were
getting increasingly more support from the University of Florida in terms of what
they were willing to pick up the tab for.
G: Tell me about the relationship between the quarterly and the society in those
early years. The society officers were still in St. Augustine?
P: The society had moved from St. Augustine to the University of Florida. It had lost
its chance to get rent free in St. Augustine. With Rembert Patrick's ability, and
his influence at the university with the library and the university, they moved it to
Gainesville. A member of the University of Florida history faculty, Williamson,
began to also work with the society. He went out into the field, gathering
manuscripts and so on. The society brought over one woman as secretary, a
lovely little old lady whose name I cannot recall. They were on the fourth floor of
Library East. There are two large rooms there. One room was used as the
library and one room was used for their office activity, and I was around the
corner. They were there for about three, maybe almost four, years. [The]
University of South Florida opens up, and they wanted the collection because
they thought they were going to teach Florida history and make it a big thing. So
upon that agreement, they moved the collection from Gainesville to Tampa and
installed it in special collections there. As it turned out, South Florida did not use
the collection very effectively. [They] did not get into Florida history for a long
time. But the secretary, or whoever was in charge of special collections then,
paid for by South Florida, also became the director of the Florida Historical
Society Library, which is what they would not do for Nick Wynne [executive
director of the Florida Historical Society].
G: Are you developing relationships with graduate students at this time? When do
you start mentoring graduate students and having master's and Ph.D. students
under your [wing]?
P: I think I was starting it in the fifties already. Graduate students were appearing in
my classes. I don't remember who my first graduate student was, but by the end
of my career I had about thirty master's and Ph.D.'s that I had taken care of
during the years.
G: Were most of them or all of them Florida historians?
P: All of them were Florida historians, yeah.
G: Tell me a little bit about [it]. Who went through your classes? Not just graduate
students, but future leaders of the state?
P: Well, shall I start with Bob Graham? Bob Graham [former Florida governor and
U.S. Senator] was in my Florida history seminar about 1957-1958. I've forgotten
whether Bob was already married or not, but he was a young student on campus
in graduate school. He was there with Norman Lipoff [prominent Florida lawyer
and UF Levin Law School graduate] from Palm Beach, whom I had known
because he was a TAB. Stuart Blumberg [president and CEO of the Greater
Miami & The Beaches Hotel Association], who I knew very well, and a couple of
other people that I knew. Neil Salonen from Jacksonville, I would say that's one.
They have come and gone. If you teach fifty years, you touched the lives and the
lives touched you in many ways. It would be difficult to start thinking up
individuals that I had because I've had no continuing relationship with them.
G: But there are several prominent Florida historians. Eugene Lyon [adjunct
professor of history at UF, archaeologist and historian of early Florida
colonization] was one of your students, is that right?
P: Well, Eugene Lyon was one of my students, I had forgotten about him, and I was
on his committee. Lyle McAlister [UF professor of history] actually chaired his
dissertation, however. Sherry Johnson [assistant professor of Latin American
History at Florida International University] was one. You can keep naming them
and I'll see whether they were or whether they were not.
G: Let's finish up with the Florida Historical Quarterly. You go through, I know, a
series of editorial assistants, and I'm proud to have been your last.
P: Well, I was very pleased, and I needed the support that I got. I could not have
operated it without the editorial assistants or, as Mr. Brown would say, the
assistant editors. I didn't care what title they had myself because their
responsibilities didn't change at all, but without them it would have been
impossible to have continued. I was doing too much, and I depended upon them
for editorial expertise and all kinds of things. I wanted to be the one to make the
decision, and I always insisted that I run the quarterly without outside
interference. I didn't want anybody on the board or anybody in the Florida
Historical Society office to tell me what to do and what not to do. I'd gone
through that once when one of the presidents, and maybe one of the directors,
wanted me to institute a genealogy section in the quarterly. I resisted that and
that didn't make them happy, but I said, I'm running it and I'm making the
decisions. I know that has changed dramatically now.
G: For me, of course, there's a gap. I know of the quarterly's early history, and then
we get into the later periods into the nineties when things begin to change. So
unless I'm missing anything, you're essentially the editor of the quarterly from
1962 into -
P: [The] nineties. Yeah, for thirty-one years.
P: '93. I retired then and I thought that was it. Then George Pozzetta [ethnicity and
immigration historian, professor of history at the University of South Florida] was
the editor. George died suddenly and that left you to run things. I came back out
and used my name as the editor of the thing for one year.
G: There's some issues surrounding the leadership of the Florida Historical Society.
I'm not sure if you're comfortable talking about it, but things change,
unfortunately. By many people's assessment, it's unfortunate that things begin to
change in the eighties that affects the relationship between the quarterly and the
University of Florida about a decade later. What's your relationship with the
society as we get into the late eighties and early nineties?
P: Well, my relationship with the society continued to be very warm, very close, very
intimate, in fact, until the middle of the 1990s. I did not have a problem with the
society in any way whatsoever, I was not unhappy with anything, until they
started the move to move it away from the University of Florida. They resented
the fact that it was at the University of Florida. So the other universities,
particularly with [the University of] Central Florida, wanted to do anything which
they felt would demote the University of Florida, whether it was the society, the
quarterly, or the engineering world, or whatever it might be. So they endorsed
anything that came along. Nick Wynne, I think, wanted to become more and
more and more in control of everything that went through. I guess he felt that as
the director he had the right to do that. He resented the fact that I was running
the quarterly from the University of Florida. The University of Florida, you know,
did not do anything. We didn't ask the society for anything, and the society didn't
offer us anything. So that's when the relationship began to cool down. As you
know, it turned out that they were able to get University of Central Florida to
agree to take on the responsibility to do some of the things that the University of
Florida was doing as far as money support was concerned, and they seemed to
be willing to do that.
G: Some in the society might claim that by the late eighties or into the 1990s, that
the University of Florida had essentially taken over the quarterly and thought that
it was its own journal.
P: Well, the thing was, they were just imagining that, because the situation had not
changed anytime from the fifties on. The fact is, I was the one who was running
the show, not the University of Florida. But the fact is, I was at the University of
Florida, so they made that identification as though it were [true]. But it had never
changed. It was exactly the same over the years that it always was. We never
added to our responsibilities or power [and] we didn't diminish any of it either.
The leadership in the Florida Historical Society became increasingly unhappy
with the University of Florida's role in the quarterly. They also became unhappy,
I think, about the quarterly itself. They felt it was too academic. It was too
"intellectual" for the kind of member they wanted to attract in the Florida Historical
Society. That the people they were trying to move into it, people interested in
Florida History but not necessarily college people and so on, would be turned off
by highfalutin articles, and that they wanted more of the day-to-day kind of thing
that you find in American Heritage. That philosophy was encouraged by the
leadership of the society, and I was unwilling to make the changes there. I was
not willing to make it any more intellectual, more involved, than it had always
been. I just didn't want to change the status of the quarterly.
G: Let's talk about oral history.
P: Have we finished with the quarterly? [Do] you think we've said enough?
G: Well, I mean, we could name names.
P: Well, I've named Nick Wynne. I haven't named anybody else because I don't
know anybody else to name, and I'm not going to name anybody else that I don't
G: I mean, obviously I'm involved with you because I am your last editorial assistant.
Then I'm George Pozzetta's editorial assistant, and then you and I are back
together for a year before it leaves for Central Florida. Of course, I have my own
views of this thing which are not relevant here.
P: I think that we were publishing an excellent journal. [It was] well-recognized not
only in the South, but nationally. I think we were achieving the goals that we had
set for the quarterly when Patrick took over in the 1950s, for I had not deviated
from that path at all.
G: I want to think [of] kind of an overview of the quarterly. Is the quarterly changing
Florida history? Is the quarterly a response to changing? Are you trying to be
out in front of how Florida history is done?
P: I don't think that any of those things are happening. I think the society's
membership has declined so precipitously in the last few years and the quarterly
is not being read by as many people as it once was. You don't find it's being
footnoted in articles and books and journal articles elsewhere, which I'm very
sensitive to, as it once was. I don't think it's made the impact either in the South
or within Florida itself. People used to come up to me and say good things about
the quarterly, or things they didn't like about the quarterly, which at least
indicated that they were reading the quarterly. Well, there's no reason for them
to say that now, because I'm not the editor and have nothing to do with it
G: But it was your goal, while you were the editor, to make the quarterly the
foremost [of journals].
P: And I think we achieved that. It was certainly one of the foremost journals in the
South, and I think it was a very effective journal as far as the state is concerned.
G: We can come back to the quarterly if things occur to us, but let's talk about oral
history. We've got a few minutes left on this tape and then we'll stop for the day.
P: How did it come about?
G: Yeah. I mean, that's a whole brand new field of study. Where were you when all
of this ?
P: Oral history begins, as you know, at Columbia University in 1948. It had been
thought about [for] a long time, and some activity, which you might call oral
history, although it wasn't, had been involved. In the 1930s, for instance, one of
the WPA [Works Progress Administration] projects was the Florida Writer's
Project, and interviews were gathered here. They weren't taped interviews, but
they were gathered. They were interviews. People like Zora Neale Hurston
[African American folklorist and author], for instance, went out and interviewed
individuals and wrote down the answers. Stetson Kennedy [a collector of folklore
and oral history who exposed Southern racism], from Jacksonville, was another
one who was involved, and there were many others. They gathered a lot of
important information, not only from the descendants of the slaves, but crackers
and fisher-people, and people [whose] stories might otherwise have been
forgotten. So there was that kind of activity going on in Florida, and it was going
on in other states, too. The Florida Writer's Project was not an isolated situation.
You had North Carolina, South Carolina, [and] all over the United States. So you
had, even before World War II, what we today would label embryonic beginnings
[of] oral history. You even had some taping. The Smithsonian Institution, for
instance, had taped some of the music of some of the western Indians. Of
course, [it was] on tape recorders that we would consider very archaic today,
wire recorders and things like that. But it was not until World War II when a lot of
the taping apparatus became more available.
A program starts at Columbia University, and it's very successful. It went
to the shakers and makers of history. This is Eleanor Roosevelt [humanitarian
who transformed the role of First Lady as wife of President Franklin Delano
Roosevelt], for instance, Herbert Hoover [Republican president, 1929-1933].
People like that were being interviewed. Of course, everybody took pride in the
fact that now you not only had their memories, but you also had their voices.
Then other universities began to move onto the scene. [The] University of Texas
began a history of the oil industry. [The] University of California at Berkeley
started an Earl Warren Project [governor of California and controversial US
Supreme Court Chief Justice (1953-1969)]. They eventually did about 160 tapes
on Warren, starting from his life as a student [and] going all the way through his
academic life, his political life, the work on the Supreme Court, and so on.
Moshe Davis [1916-1996, visiting professor at Hebrew University in Israel after
1959, where he founded the Institute of Contemporary Judaism], who had been
in New York and a good friend of the people at Columbia University, had made
alia, and was in Israel. He had always been interested in community history,
Jewish community history. He knew all about oral history from his association
with Columbia. So when he got to Israel, he set up an oral history program there
with Holocaust survivors, which was not easy because he realized that people
remembered best in the languages that they were familiar with. So it was a
problem of not only getting the Holocaust survivors to cooperate and talk, but to
get the right kind of people with the right kind of language qualities to do the
questioning. But they were able to do it, and that program still continues today.
By the middle of the 1960s, there were about sixty oral history projects, most of
them relatively small, but some larger, like Berkeley, in existence in the United
We were not yet involved in the thing. They had a meeting at Lake
Arrowhead, California to decide if there was a future for oral history, and if so,
what was that future going to be. Was it going to be history? Was it going to be
anthropology? Was it going to be archives? Was it going to be library? What?
They decided to accept the invitation of the representative from Columbia
University to send out a notice to institutions all over the United States, notifying
them of a meeting the following November 1966 at the Arden House [donated in
1950, the first conference center in the United States]. [This] was the country
home, and now the conference center for Columbia University. It had belonged
to the Harriman family [ambassadors W. Averell and Patricia Harriman, who
granted both the Arden House and a generous endowment for the Harriman
Institute of interdisciplinary Russian studies at Columbia University]. The
invitation, the notice, came to the University of Florida, came to the library.
In the meantime, I had become more and more identified with Florida
history here because of the Broward activity and so on. I lamented the fact, as I
was doing research for articles and other things, how poor we were as far as our
library resources were concerned. We fortunately had the P. K. Yonge Library
here, but the operation in Tallahassee was miserable. They had nothing there
but the state library, which occupied space in the basement of the old Supreme
Court building. I realized too that we had all of these wonderful politicians
walking around, like Spessard Holland [Florida lawyer, namesake of the UF Law
School administration building, Florida Senator 1932-1940] and others, if we
could just tap their memories. So when the notice came to Margaret Goggin
[director of libraries at UF], who was then the librarian and a good friend, and I
had the archives office in the library, Margaret said to me, why don't you go to
this meeting? I'll pay your way and [you] see where it stands, [see] if this is
something the University of Florida wants to become involved in. So I did. I went
to New York, we met at the Columbia house in New York City, [and] we went by
bus up to the Arden House. It was an unbelievable meeting.
G: Who was there?
P: Well, Frank Freidel [Jr., Harvard professor of American history] was there, [Henry
Steele] Commager [professor of American history at Amherst College] was there,
Alfred Knopf [publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.] was there. The leading people in
that area were there. I had never been to a meeting where I found more first-rate
people like that all assembled under one roof. The building itself was beautiful.
It was set in this park, and it had snowed just before we arrived. [It was] a light
snow, so all the snow was on the trees and on the ground. There were deer
grazing out. The building of the house itself had these little maids that were there
serving coffee and hot chocolate. There were bowls of apples strewn around.
Anyway, it was fun. Out of it came the organization of the Oral History
Association. I came back to Gainesville all enthusiastic, and Margaret said, well,
let's give it a try. Well, I had an office then in Library West, the old P. K. Yonge
Library, on the fourth floor, you remember that, because of the quarterly. I had
that little office in there. We had a typewriter, a four-drawer filing cabinet, [and] a
student assistant, I think we were paying thirty-five cents an hour for it at that
time, and we became an oral history [program]. [We] developed an Oral History
Program. We got [the] teaching resources [department] to build us a recording
set. We didn't have any money to buy a recorder, so they built one with two
microphones on it. Margaret did put up some money for tapes.
The first interview I did, as I think I've told you, was with Mama Brady, who
was the first Dean of Women on campus [1948-1966]. She had come here upon
the invitation of Dr. Miller. He had met her at Columbia. When she got out of the
Marine Corps, she was working on a Ph.D. there. Mama was our cross-street
neighbor and a good friend, and she agreed to do the interview. So the first
interview I did was with her. Maybe I told you the story. We did it in our
backyard, which turned out not to be a wise thing because later on we heard the
sound of bugs going through and so on. We didn't realize how sensitive the
microphones would be. But it was a very good interview [and] she answered all
of my questions very cooperatively. She goes home and I started to play the
interview and I got nothing but a blank. So I was very upset about it and I
thought there was something wrong with the tape recorder that they had made
on campus. So I took the tape to the campus on Monday and played it on a real
tape recorder and I still got a blank. Then I realized that I had forgotten to hit the
record button. So I'd gone through two and a half hours of recording without ever
recording anything. I explained to Mama that the machine had malfunctioned.
But we redid the interview and it was as good the second time as it was the first
time. So that started us on the Oral History Project.
The big leap was when we became involved in the Doris Duke support
[heiress to the J. B. Duke fortune, a philanthropist contributing to numerous
social and cultural causes through the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation]. I got
a telephone call one day from this man from the University of Utah who identified
himself, and he said, I understand you have an Oral History Program at Florida. I
said, yes, we do. I didn't tell him how penny-enny it really was. And a library?
Yes, sir. That's interested in Indian history? Yes, sir. He said, I'd like to come
down and talk to you and some of your colleagues about an oral history project
dealing with the Seminole Indians. Since he was paying his own way, I said,
come on. John Mahon was the chairman of history, Charles Fairbanks was the
chairman of anthropology, and there were a couple of anthropology students who
were working on the Florida Indians. So we all got ready for the visit. He came
and we entertained him very nicely. [We] took him to lunch and showed him
around the campus and the library and all of those things. He was here for two
days, I think, and left and went back. He said to me, why don't you prepare a
budget [as] if you were going to start an Oral History Program. [He said,] we
want a one-year program with the Florida Seminoles, prepare a budget.
Well, John Mahon and I had never had a penny up until that time. I'd had
a homemade tape recorder. So we put down a lot of things. It came to about
$40,000 dollars. We sent it out to Utah and didn't hear anything for a couple of
weeks. I thought what he did is got it and threw it in the garbage can. Then the
phone rang and it was he. He said, Proctor, I got your budget. He said, it's not
worth a damn. I said, what's wrong? He said, you're in North Florida and the
Seminoles are in South Florida, in Hollywood. How are you going to get down
there? He said, you need transportation, don't you? And do you have a
telephone? Anyway, he said, I've approved the budget, but I increased it to
$60,000. So that's really what put us on the map. Before it was all over we got
about $240,000 from Doris Duke. She had begun giving support to oral history
programs in the sixties mainly to western universities, six or seven of them, [in]
South Dakota, New Mexico, Utah, [and] for a short while, to UCLA. Her
argument, or at least her foundation argument, was that the library was filled with
books about Indians all written by non-Indians. The tape recorder would give
these otherwise voiceless people an opportunity to talk. So the one year with
Seminoles they thought would be a good idea, and that's where we became
involved in it. As I say, before it was over, they gave us $240,000. Most of it
went to sponsored research. It didn't go through the foundation, so the university
didn't take anything off the top. Since Mayan and I were already on the payroll,
we didn't take anything. So we got a lot of action out of the dollars that we spent.
It worked successfully. Mahon, Fairbanks, and I went down to Hollywood and we
met the leaders of the tribe, who liked the idea and pledged their support. As it
turned out they didn't do very much, but at least they were cooperative, and
certainly were not negative in any way about anything. So we did that the first
year, and then they asked us to expand it beyond that and turn it into a
Southeastern Indian Project. They really wanted us to go into the Caribbean too,
but I knew that that was foolish. We didn't have the expertise [or] the personnel
to move that far away, so that's what we did.
G: Who did the work? Who were your oral historians?
P: Well, it depended upon where we were going. In Virginia we did very little. We
worked with a woman faculty person at one of the universities, I think at Norfolk
or so on. In South Carolina, when we worked with the Indians there, we worked
with two local people, including an Indian woman [named] Francis Wade. When
we did the Indians in Alabama, the Poarch Indians, we worked with an
anthropology professor at FSU. So it depended entirely upon where we were
going. We didn't try to do much of it ourselves. Tom King [dissertation based on
oral histories of Seminole Indians led to his Ph.D. from UF in 1978], I don't know
if you remember Tom, [he] worked with me on the quarterly for a while, we sent
him down to work with the Seminole Indians. He went down with his family, lived
in a trailer, and became friendly with a lot of Indians. He did a lot of excellent
interviews. Tom is now the director of the Oral History Program at the University
of Nevada at Reno. Anyway, that's the story. We collected about 800 interviews
with Southeastern Indians. We created a center for the study of Southeastern
Indians with me and John Mahon as the co-directors of it.
G: Well, even though we're in the middle of our fifth tape, we've switched days.
Today is now August 25, 2002. We are continuing an oral history: Mark
Greenberg with the Florida Study Center, and Dr. Samuel Proctor, esteemed
professor of the University of Florida. [We're at the] same location and we're
going to continue. We left off yesterday afternoon talking about the Oral History
P: The Oral History Program.
G: Excuse me. Right, the Oral History Program. We were talking about the Duke
money that you received and the Southeastern Indians program. Let's just finish
up with that. What was the outcome?
P: Well, the Doris Duke money that came in, about $240,000 that came to
sponsored research, and the fact that we didn't have to take anything off of the
top, really put us on the track of big-time operations. It allowed for travel, and we
were able to use the Duke money for things other than just the Duke project.
The purpose, of course, was to secure interviews on Indians living in the
Southeastern U.S. John Mahon and I together formed the Center for the Study
of Southeastern Indians. We determined that we would limit it to the northern
border, [which] would be Virginia down through Florida, the Everglades, the
Muskogee and Seminole Indians, and from the Atlantic coast over to the
Mississippi River. We would not go beyond into Louisiana Indians, the
Oklahoma Indians at all, or the urban Indians. We did work with urban Indians,
eventually, in the Baltimore area. [These were] Indians who had left South
Carolina during the war years looking for jobs and had moved into the
Baltimore/Washington area, and their families still lived there. They were mainly
working in industrial activities. So that was the outcome. We were very
successful with the Duke money. We spread it very beautifully, very wisely. We
got about 900 interviews, and we really reclaimed, or recovered, a lot of history
that otherwise would have been lost. Many of these Indians did not know very
much about their own history, and in this interrogation that we were doing, a lot of
it came to the surface. All of the tapes have been transcribed, they've been used
for a variety of purposes over the years, [and] they've been very successful. So
it was money that was wisely spent. After about 1974, the Doris Duke
[Charitable] Foundation, which had its offices in New York on 57th Street,
decided not to support oral history anymore and they went into other activities.
G: What sorts of things did you do with the money? I'm thinking particularly about
technology. How were the interviews conducted? What did the office look like in
the days before computers?
P: Well, we'd always had a problem with office space. I had an office in the P. K.
Yonge Library on the fourth floor of Library West. I had a small area there, even
before Oral History, because of my editorship of the quarterly. We needed to be
close to sources so we could check out the authenticity of footnotes. When the
Oral History [Program] begins, and it begins very slowly, we interviewed only
people in the general area, because we didn't have, to begin with, any money for
transportation. So all of the early tapes had to do with the history of the
university, which made sense anyway because I was the university historian.
That was very fortunate, because we caught a lot of memories that went back as
early as the early 1920s. [We had] people who were involved in the
establishment of some of the early schools on campus, journalism [and the]
I moved out of the space in P. K. [Yonge] and moved around the corner to
a larger office. Then we needed even more space. The museum had recently
been completed, and J. C. Dickinson [appointed director of the Florida Museum
of Natural History in 1961], after a visit from John Mahon and me, agreed to allow
us to move there, which we did, on the first floor where anthropology and
archaeology had its offices. To justify and to explain what we were doing there, I
became the curator of Florida history for the museum. Although I did not have
many responsibilities, people were giving things, manuscripts or artifacts
involving Florida, [and] I was asked to look at them, evaluate them to decide
whether they were worth [anything], [see] if they were authentic, and that sort of
thing. So we were very happy with our space there. We had two nice rooms. I
had a beautiful office. I used some of the Duke money to buy some furniture.
We carpeted. All of the bookcases in there came from Rayford [site of the
Florida State Penitentiary], the convicts manufactured bookcases. A lot of offices
on campus were furnished that way. We had an office next door where the
secretary was located, and where the students who were working on the
quarterly, and also doing the transcribing, were located. We were there for about
twenty years. With the growth of the museum it was obvious they needed the
space, and eventually, we moved out of there to Yon Hall.
G: First [you moved to] Anderson [Hall].
P: Yes, that's right. We moved from the museum to Anderson, in offices that at one
time the registrar had used. [It was a] very small, constricted space. In the
meantime, we had turned over a lot of the tapes, the file cabinets, to the library,
which was going to be the eventual destination of all of the material anyway.
From there we went to Yon Hall, and from Yon Hall we've moved to Turlington.
G: Tell me about technology in the early years. You mention using a reel to reel for
your very first interview.
P: No, I didn't use a reel to reel. I used a regular machine, but it was one that was
locally manufactured on campus. Teaching Resources created it for us. We had
reel-type machines, and in addition to the tapes that we were ourselves
collecting, we were getting [tapes] from local historical societies [as] gifts.
Lakeland Historical Society sent us up a collection of interviews they had done
with old-timers in the area. Many of these came to us on reels. We had two reel-
type machines that came to us as a gift from the library, and we used those.
Then we were able to transfer those to audio tapes.
G: Those very first interviews that you did, were they done on the audiocassettes?
P: Yes. All of them were done on the audiocassette. I did not record on anything
other than the audiocassettes. We thought that the reel-type would give us a
clearer sound for music tapes, but we weren't in the business of collecting music,
although we do have some Seminole music in there.
G: Tell me a little bit about other significant projects within the Oral History Program,
P: The biggest thing I think was the university history, all of which, well, I would say
about 90 percent of them, I did. Others have done others since then. We did
about 400 interviews, and I tried to spread it [out] so that I got a broader picture.
For instance, I did a number of the librarians to get a history of the library. I did a
series of interviews with all of the chairs of the history department. We did
interviews with people in the various sciences. We did a whole string, and
continue to do, interviews with people who are connected with the medical
center, starting right from the very beginning with the original faculty. So I tried to
spread it around the campus. We even did one of the early coaches. So we got
a lot of that stuff. Our technology was pretty much the same as it is today. We
took a tape recorder, which in those early years we bought from Radio Shack for
about $60-70, put a tape in the machine, and started.
G: [In the] early transcriptions, did you have Dictaphones?
P: Obviously we didn't have computers in those early years, so they put
Dictaphones on, listened with the ear, and typed what they heard coming through
the machines. It was a long, arduous process, obviously. We did have a public
relations point of view, because we transcribed everything that came through the
ears. [We typed] the sentences that did not end, the wrong pronouns, all of
those things. We did not have time or money to edit and correct things, and then
retype a sixty, eighty, or a ninety-page manuscript. So we sent it out raw to the
individual, explaining that it was a raw tape and that it would be cleaned up later.
Well, a number of people were offended by that. They thought we had added the
mistakes. I know there was one man here in town who, when he heard and saw
his manuscript, there were a lot of "you knows," and he objected to that. He said,
I don't talk that way. He said, I asked my wife [and] she says I do not talk that
way. He said, some smart aleck in your office did that on purpose. Of course,
we had the tape. So we had those kinds of problems. Once computers came, of
course, it cleared things up and we were able to move more rapidly because we
were able to correct things very quickly on there. Although once again, we'd still
send out the manuscript to the individual for checking, to make sure the dates
are accurate, the names are spelled correctly, and so on.
G: With the Duke money gone by the mid-seventies, how was funding occurring?
P: Well, it was not an easy kind of thing. We were finally able to get the provost's
office, Gene Hemp [longtime administrator, vice provost of UF until 1999], mainly,
was cooperative always, to pick up the tab for the secretary. So we were able to
get Roberta's salary. What he did was to allocate money, and it went through the
dean's office, so that we never dealt directly with the provost's office in Tigert
Hall. Also, the dean added a little bit to it. We never had an abundance of
money. We had a graduate student who was always assigned to us from the
history department. He was mainly, and sometimes it was a she, was to work on
the quarterly. Occasionally, very occasionally, we were able to use that person
for an oral history, but that was not his or her primary responsibility. We had
some volunteers, not many. We did not go after volunteers, and perhaps we
should have, because Julian has worked them very effectively. So we just
struggled along. The money came from Tigert Hall from the dean's office and
from [the] history [department]. To begin with, for a relatively short while, a
couple of years, we got a little bit of support from the library, but not very much.
G: By the time I came along in 1990, you had an Oral History Coordinator, a
graduate student from the history department, as well as someone working on
P: No, no. We have never had more than one person from [the] history
[department], that's all they were willing to give us. Some years I had to argue to
G: I'm trying to think, because when I started, we had the rather heavy-set guy who
went on -
P: Yeah, but he was not paid by [the] history [department]. You're talking about the
guy that later goes to law school and goes out to Pensacola.
P: He was a native of Gainesville.
G: I wish I could remember. So where did he come from? Where did the funding
come from? Because that was a helpful position for you.
P: Well, that money came from the dean's office.
G: So, as I recall, you had Roberta, who goes back how many years with you?
P: About eighteen or nineteen years now, it seems like forever. Maybe even longer
G: And you had an Oral History Coordinator, a graduate student.
P: Who was responsible for supervising the activities. Roberta didn't do that, the
coordinator did that. He turned over the transcripts, the tapes to be transcribed,
and assigned the individuals the jobs they were supposed to do.
G: When I started with you, I was your graduate research assistant, but spent some
time as an audit/editor. So you effectively made use of -
G: Of me, and taught me how to do everything.
P: Well, that was not an unusual way [to do it]. Out of necessity we had to do those
things. So you weren't the first one to be multi-purposed.
G: And I'm glad you didn't. I wouldn't be an oral historian today if it wasn't for you.
Let me ask about other projects, we talked [about] the medical school [and]
university. Were there other significant blocks of interviews?
P: Yes, yes. Through the cooperation of Jean Chalmers [Gainesville real-estate
agent and prominent civil rights activist], who was then on the city commission,
and later mayor of Gainesville, she was able to get us money. I think about
$15,000, if I remember correctly, to do a project on the blacks of Gainesville.
That was a very effective one. We were able to contact a local man by the name
of Joel Buchanan [the first black man to attend newly desegregated Gainesville
High School in 1964, member of the UF department of special and area studies].
Joel, and he did it on a volunteer basis, knew everybody, and he got along
particularly well with elderly blacks. What we were trying to get was teachers
and preachers and people who had been in business along Northwest 5th
Avenue, kind of a middle class. Joel was just perfect for that, and he enjoyed
doing it. So that was a very effective project that we did.
[End side C5]
G: [When] we switched tapes, you were mentioning Joel Buchanan and the black
history of Gainesville as one of the projects.
P: That was a very successful project, the black history of Gainesville. We called it
the 5th Avenue Project because most of the people were living in that general
area. We found the people that we worked with, some of them political activists,
some of the ministers, to be very cooperative, and happy that we were gathering
this kind of information. Everything was transcribed and we made a copy
available to each person. We had a reception in the library, as I remember, and
we invited all the individuals that we had interviewed to come to us that night. I
spoke, and Joel spoke, and we had refreshments. I guess we did it at the
museum, not the library, and we gave each person a copy of the transcript.
We did, of course, many different projects, small, medium size, [and]
some large. One of the ones I remember was a history of the Jewish community
of West Palm Beach. They had gotten a small grant and approached us. I did a
lot of the interviewing myself. I went to West Palm Beach and talked to people
about the history of the community, where people came from, and what
happened to them over the years. Of course, those transcripts are in our
collection today. We did interviews on the Jewish community of Jacksonville
using volunteers to work there, including my cousin, Doris Proctor. Remember
we started in 1967, and our first interview, the one with Mama Brady, was 1969.
Now we have, according to Julian's count, about 3,800 interviews in the
collection. It's the largest oral history archives in the South, and really one of the
major ones in the United States.
G: What kind of usage did you get by researchers and other folks throughout the
P: Usage? Well, it was not as widespread as I had hoped it would be. Part of it
was because we didn't really know how to advertise ourselves. You don't put a
notice in the Alligator and say we've got all these oral history tapes. I found that,
even in the history department, there were dissertations and theses being done,
and we had material available that would have been useful to the researcher,
and they did not know about it. So that was a problem. So for a long time, the
stuff just lay there and it was not being used very much. That [has] changed now
over the years. We have now students all the time using it. Right from the very
beginning the news media took advantage of it, particularly the Gainesville Sun
and the Florida Alligator, as you can imagine, with the tapes that we had on the
history of the university. We've had increasing numbers of individuals who are
using the material. You can see that it's being quoted. When Julian came
aboard, he was responsible for launching the effort to name the oral history
[program] for me. [He] went through the procedure here on campus, the
committee on naming buildings and projects. So it has since been called the
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, but I have a difficult time getting Roberta
to say that when she answers the telephone. She just says "Oral History."
G: Let's talk about the Oral History Association. You're there in '67 at Columbia.
P: At the Arden House, the conference center belonging to Columbia. I said '66
[earlier], [but] it was '67, November 1967. As I think I said earlier, I was
absolutely enthralled with the conference and the people who were there. I
mean, where are you going to find a conference where you're sitting at the table
having dinner with Freidel, Commager, Knopf, and people like that. I came back
to Gainesville and I talked to Margaret Goggin, the librarian. She was most
cooperative, as always, and we set up the program. At this meeting we launched
the Oral History Association. So right from the very beginning I could be called
one of the founding members, not the only one, obviously, but I became a dues-
paying member. I began going to the annual meetings and getting to know
people. The Oral History Association, to begin with, was very small. [It was] a
limited number of people who joined the organization, although they tried to
broaden the base of membership as much as they possibly could. In the early
years, because of the small number involved, we were able to go to places that
were environmentally nice, so that we went to some very beautiful places around
the United States. But the membership increased, it became increasingly larger.
Because I was one of the most faithful attending, I became involved in the
administration of the organization. I first served on the board, I think for three
years, which was the period that was allocated. Then I became vice-president of
the organization, and then in 1975, I was the president. The meeting that year
was in Asheville, North Carolina, and I was responsible for the program. [This is]
one of the interesting things that happened in setting up that program. Some
weeks before the meeting, I was on a plane coming out of Washington, [and I
was] sitting back in the economy section. This man comes in and the seat next
to me is vacant, and he sits down and we begin a conversation. I recognized him
immediately, it was Dean Rusk [1904-1994, U.S. Secretary of State under
presidents Kennedy and Johnson]. Dean Rusk, by this time, had left
Washington, and he was teaching in the law school at the University of Georgia,
so he was en route back to Atlanta, Georgia. So, of course, I took advantage of
his presence and began a conversation. We were together on the plane [for]
about two hours. When he began asking me what I did and I told him about oral
history, he evidenced his distrust of oral history, the fact that you were asking
people to remember things that happened twenty-five years earlier, and what
might happen to the material when you placed it in an archive. So he was just
generally others were like that. I remember Barbara Tuchman [1912-1989,
author and historian noted for her works spanning the Black Plague to World War
I] was also one that was hesitant about the validity of oral history. Anyway, by
the time we got to Atlanta, we had become very chummy and I told him about the
meeting that was coming up. I asked him if he would be willing to be one of the
speakers to talk about the negative parts of oral history. He said, well, here's my
card. Stay in touch and I'll see. I can't tell you what my calendar's going to be.
Well, as it turned out, he was free and able to come, and he attended the
meeting. He gave a talk on Friday evening at our dinner meeting. Bessie and I
had a reception for him. We had a suite, as [I was] the president, so we had a
suite for him. We took pictures of me and Dean Rusk together. He left the
following morning, he didn't stay for the rest of the conference. I said, Mr.
Secretary, be sure to send me a bill of your expenses. He sent me a bill, I think,
for $18 for his gas from Athens to Asheville, and return. Of course, we had
provided him with the room. But there was no honorarium, no nothing, except
the $18 bill that he had.
So I continued being active in the Oral History [Association] as a past
president. I, obviously, knew all of the leaders in the organization, as I continue
to do today, although the organization is much larger today. It's like the history
department faculty, new faces, new people, [and] new names, most of which I
don't recognize anymore.
G: What was the purpose of the association? Especially as you talk about Dean
Rusk and whether or not oral history is valid.
P: Well, when oral history begins to develop in the 1950s and 1960s, there was the
question, is this a professional activity? I mean, this is something that was
brand-new. People had not been doing research using a tape recorder. The
traditional way was to go into the library with a pencil and a pad to gather your
material, write it down, and then transfer it to whatever you were working on.
Now, suddenly, tape recorders appear on the scene. A lot of people were
hesitant about them, and tape recorders were not as sophisticated as they are
today, anyway. When they had the meeting at Lake Arrowhead in '66, there
were approximately sixty projects in the United States that they counted. There
may have been more than that, but that's what they always give as the figure.
There was the question, now if we gather this material, what's going to
happen to it? Well, the American Historical Association said, this is a history
project, why don't you just affiliate with us? The Library Association said, well,
this is going to be the final destination of these archives, maybe you ought to be
part of us. So that was what it was. These national organizations were looking
for new members, and this would be an opportunity for them to gather. So the
meeting at Lake Arrowhead was to decide whether they would become part of an
already existing national organization, or strike out on their own. That's why
Louie Starr, who was the assistant director of the program at Columbia
University, invited us to come the following year to the conference center to
discuss and to decide what we wanted to do. The decision in '67, then, was to
strike out on our own and to become an independent organization.
G: Do you remember those deliberations? What was the rationale?
P: The rationale was that, yes, we're history, and yes, we're library, and yes, we are
archives, but we're separate and we don't need to be a part of another existing
organization. We're talking now just about a few dozen people. The Oral History
Association was not a giant organization, [and] it's still not a giant organization.
At that time there were other oral history programs elsewhere in the world. I
think I told you about Moshe Davis' efforts to gather interviews with Holocaust
survivors, which were converted to microfilm in a program that The New York
Times had. They no longer do that, but we have some of those microfilms here
in the library. Other libraries throughout the country, of course, acquired them
also. But the rationale was that we can do it on our own. As I say, it was a
small, very cohesive group. They got along beautifully together. We enjoyed
getting together for the annual meeting. But the programs begin to develop.
Obviously, oral history was going to become a very popular research activity. In
addition to the program in Israel, others began to develop. The American [Oral
History] Association was always the largest and the most influential in the world.
We cooperated once with the program in Canada. In fact, our 1976 meeting was
in Canada, which kind of made it interesting because that was the bicentennial
year and we were going outside of the United States. In time, a international
Oral History Association was organized. I never became involved in that, but a
number of the individuals in our organization became officers and members of
G: Here I am. It's 2002, late in 2002, and I've got a digital video camera, lavaliere
ear microphones, I've set up lights, and my camera's on a tripod.
P: We didn't dream of all of that back in the 1960s and 1970s. I carried a tape
recorder that, as I say, we bought from Radio Shack and were glad to get the
$60 to buy it. We had some tapes and we had a yellow pad and a pencil, and
that was our equipment. As I say, to begin with, we made a lot of mistakes. My
interview with Marna Brady, for instance, was in my backyard, and we got a lot of
extraneous noise. We finally learned that we needed a special kind of a
microphone that checked the wind velocity so that we wouldn't get that kind of
noise coming in, because when you work with the Indians often, you had to work
G: You see a bright future?
P: I see a very bright future, of course. Julian Pleasants, who now directs the Oral
History Program here at the University of Florida, who took over for me and
who's doing an excellent job, he's not overwhelmed, but he's being approached
very often to do projects. We're constantly being called on the telephone by
people who know somebody who has this wonderful story to tell who's living
down in Tavares or in Panama City. We have to always say we don't have any
money for transportation; what you need to do is get some local historical society
or some local agency to do the project for you. But Julian is approached to do a
lot of kind of oral history activities. Very interesting projects. The Everglades
restoration, for instance, [and] the contested presidential election in Florida are
just some of the things that we're involved with. As my time allows me to, and I
don't strain myself at all, I've been gathering interviews with top business leaders
in Florida. I've recently done one [in] the last month with Clark Butler from Butler
Plaza here, and he tells a very interesting story. Out in Pensacola, in early July, I
did one with Fred Levin [prominent Pensacola attorney who in 1998 gave the UF
law school the largest cash donation gifted to a public law school], the guy who
gave the money for the law school naming. I've got another one scheduled later
this month, or early next month, with Luther Coggin [philanthropist and donor to
the University of North Florida who made his fortune by gradually purchasing car
dealerships in North and Central Florida] in Jacksonville, the automobile
magnate. I'm going to set one up with Bill Emerson [retired senior vice president
and national sales director for Merrill Lynch, prominent UF business school
donor], the alumni who was into stocks and investments in the Atlanta area for
many years. I'm also doing things dealing with the history of the medical center.
G: Tell me about your relationship, or at least the Oral History Program's
relationship, to the [University of Florida] Foundation, because I know by the time
I get here in 1990, there's a strong relationship going.
P: Well, there's a strong relationship. I think that I was the binder, I was the
individual, because I was active in the foundation. Certainly as a fund-raiser,
although I wouldn't say I brought millions into the foundation at all, but I became,
in some ways, and Ralph also, the representative [of] Jews on the campus.
When they were trying to massage somebody in the foundation and so on, we
were utilized for [a] luncheon or dinner or whatever it might be. Because of my
interest in oral history, that was part of the baggage that I carried into this kind of
a relationship. Now, in more recent years, the foundation has asked us to
interview individuals, which helps to open the door for things that they want to do.
This top business leaders of Florida [interview series], for instance, is a very
effective instrument for them to use. It really flatters somebody when you say,
we want to do an oral history interview, the story of your life is interesting and
important [and] it will become part of the archives. In the early years, people
used to wonder what's going to happen to this when you told them it was going
into a library [and that] anybody was going to be able to come in and get all of
this information. Of course, we assured them we weren't looking for tabloid
information. But now people are very flattered. Some of them, I know, wonder,
why are you not interviewing me? Aren't I important enough to be interviewed?
From this point of view, the foundation has played an effective role. We wish
they would do more in terms of money support.
G: Why don't we talk a little bit about the American Association for State and Local
History. I guess there's a tie between the two missions.
P: All right. That was an organization that got started after World War II to do
exactly what its title talked about. Of course, [because] of my interest in local
history and Florida history it was made to order for me, and I became involved in
the organization. [I] went to its annual meetings, served on its board for a
number of years, and played an effective leadership role in the activities of the
association. I got to know all of the important people [and] they got to know me.
In the 1970s, at the time of the bicentennial, one of the projects that the
association took on to do was to encourage a book for each state in the Union. I
was on that publications committee. I know that the one I was totally responsible
for was Gloria Jahoda's Other Florida. I knew Gloria [because] she had done
book reviews for the quarterly [and] she was a good friend. I went to Tampa, sat
down with her, she was not at all reluctant. It wasn't the kind of traditional history
of Florida that I was seeking, but it was what she was writing. It's a book, I
guess, which is still in print today, although she's no longer living today. But
increasingly the association became disinterested in local history and more in
museums. As a result of that, I began to fade away from it, because museums
was not my dish and I didn't want to get involved in that kind of thing. So I'm not
a part of that organization, but up through the 1970s I was a very active member,
and a very active participant at its annual meetings and in all of its activities.
G: Did you serve in any leadership role in the organization?
P: Well, [not really,] except I was on the governing board for three years.
G: [Do you] want to turn to some of your UF activities?
G: [The] Center for Jewish Studies.
P: Okay, that's an interesting project. The religion department operated here with
Delton Scudder [UF Department of Religion founding chairman from 1946 into
the 1970s] as the chairman of it. The history of the religion department goes
back all the way to World War I, when there were some soldiers on campus as a
result of a contract that the university had entered into with the Army. The YMCA
[Young Men's Christian Association] located itself on the campus in a small
building, about where the infirmary is located today. It became the major
recreational activity on the campus. The campus was small and there wasn't
much else for the regular students to do, either. When the war was over, Mr.
White, who was the director of this YMCA, continued to operate. Dr. Murphree
[UF's second president, 1909-1927, who organized the university into four
separate colleges], the president of the university, was a dedicated Christian,
although he was a liberal man and there was no bigotry involved there although
he was anti-Catholic and made no bones about that. He encouraged the YMCA
to stay on campus. Mr. White wanted to organize a building on campus. They
knew, though, that church and state would disallow the legislature from
appropriating money for a church building on the University of Florida, so they
transferred their goals to a recreational center to be known as Florida Union.
They began collecting money there. William Jennings Bryan, who now has
moved from Nebraska to Miami, Florida, is a friend of Dr. Murphree. They had
met at church meetings, state meetings, and national meetings. He came to
Gainesville on occasion, at least a half dozen times, as a guest of the Murphree
family. [He] spoke on campus and was involved in lots of things, and he agreed
to become the chairman of the fund-raising for this building. They did raise some
funds, [although] they were not totally successful. Part of it is because the boom
was collapsing just at the time that they were raising money. They had deposited
a lot of the money that they had raised in a Gainesville bank, and the bank
closed and they lost that money. But there was some that was still remaining,
and when they built what is now Dauer Hall, but then was Florida Union in the
1930s, they were able to use that money.
The religion department continues to be active. In some way, they
claimed responsibility for that money, so they were given jurisdiction over the
second floor in the Union building. It was the only area in the building in which
you could not smoke, and Delton Scudder had his offices there. There was a
little reading room up on that floor. If you walked down [there] you see all of the
same things there today. Well, with the growth of the university in the 1950s and
early 1960s, they begin to expand the religion department, expand the
curriculum, and so on. They decide to experiment. They bring, and I remember
Scudder talking to me about this, Michael Gannon [Distinguished Service
Professor of history at UF] in as an instructor. Mike Gannon was a priest. He
came over from St. Augustine to be in charge of what they then called Crane
Hall. That building no longer stands, but in its place is the Catholic Student
Center today, on the corner of University Avenue and 19th Street. Mike Gannon
was hired as, I think, an adjunct professor, and he was very effective. So when
they decided there was no protest about a Catholic, it was safe to bring a Jew
onto the campus. So Scudder did whatever search was necessary, and Barry
Mesch [specialist in medieval and modern Jewish thought, later Stone/Teplow
Families' Professor of Jewish Thought at Hebrew College] arrived here to be a
member of the faculty.
In the meantime, there was a growing number of Jewish students on the
campus. Hillel was here for some of the activities, but there was no academic
program. So one morning, and I don't know who was responsible for calling it,
maybe it was Mesch or somebody else, we had a little informal gathering at Joe
Silverman's house. We had it there not because Joe was that dedicated [to]
religion, but it was close to the campus. I remember we started talking about the
need to organize the Center for Jewish Studies. It came out of that with the
cooperation of the Department of Religion, and Barry Mesch became the director
of the Center for Jewish Studies.
G: Do you remember the year?
P: [It was] about 1973, I think. He, as a result, added some courses in American-
Jewish history and some Biblical history. In addition to Mesch, eventually there
was two or three other people added with the growth of the curriculum and the
growth of the student enrollment. Well, Barry was a very effective teacher and a
real intellectual, but he was not great when it came to raising money and that sort
of thing. After a while, and I say a while, maybe ten or twelve years, Barry
decided that he needed to spend his time more effectively writing a book, which
would give him a promotion rather than just trying to raise money for the Center
for Jewish Studies. So he gave the notice to [Charles F.] Sidman, who has now
arrived on campus, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, that
he's giving that up. Well, Sidman called me into the office, and he said, Proctor,
what are we going to do? I said, well, we're going to get a replacement. We're
not going to let this die. He said, you're right, and you're the replacement. I said,
Chuck, I'm not the replacement for the Center for Jewish Studies. I said, it would
be laughable to appoint somebody like me. I am not anybody that's recognized.
I'm not an American-Jewish historian or any other kind of biblical historian. I'm
Florida history, Southern history. I said, you can't appoint somebody like me to a
program, you've got to get a scholar. So he said, well, we don't have any money
for a line-item, because Barry Mesch was still holding onto his line-item. He said,
what I want you to do is to explore the availability of money, and you'll see how
successful you are and come back and we'll talk.
Well, I conferred with Ralph. What I did was to compose a letter, which
Ralph read and edited somewhat, and made up a list of people to send it to.
[These were] individuals that I had gotten to know mainly through the TEP
fraternity that we had stayed friendly with, but [also] individuals I knew in
Jacksonville, anybody that I thought we could tap for money. I wrote this letter
and said, I'm putting a $1,000 into the pot, these are the reasons, this is the
program, this is what we're trying to do, and we don't want the program to end
here at the University of Florida. Will you support it? Will you put $1,000 or will
you put anything in it? Well, I didn't know what to expect, but I was not very
optimistic because I've gotten letters like that myself and have not responded to
them. But it was absolutely amazing. Within weeks, three, four, five weeks, the
checks began to arrive. Before we turned around we had collected about
$85,000, which was a phenomenal amount when we were asking for $1,000 or
less from people. So I went back to Sidman and I said, it worked, we got the
money. He was also absolutely amazed that it happened and that [it] happened
so quickly. He said, all right, we are going to hire somebody. He said, I will find
a line-item, and we will keep this money that you have raised for programming.
So that is exactly what they did. They set up a search committee, with me
as the chairman of it. Warren Bargad [died 2003, specialist in Hebrew literature
who was appointed Samuel Melton Professor of Jewish Studies and director of
the Center for Jewish Studies at UF in 1985] was our person that came aboard.
We went through the regular search process of advertising and getting letters.
[We] went through [them], making it a smaller and smaller pot. Warren
happened to be in Israel at the time. He had all of the credentials. He came
here from [Spertus] College in Chicago. He was the assistant dean there, so he
had the administrative experience. He had worked in Israeli poetry, so he had
the academic support that was needed. He was young and energetic, so we
were very pleased to get Warren. He did a very good job as teacher. He, once
again, like Barry Mesch, was not a very good fund-raiser at all. So, a lot of that
responsibility continued to be mine. That is where the Melton money came from.
Sam Melton [businessman and philanthropist who has donated more than $15
million to Jewish education], out of Ohio, had been in the plumbing business,
manufacturing plumbing parts. [He] had made a lot of money. He had a winter
home in Boca Raton, a small condo right on the beach. He was married to
Florence, it was a second marriage for both of them. She was very much
interested in education. Sam had become interested in the University of Florida
in sort of very interesting way. There was a graduate student here working on a
Ph.D. in psychology. Ted Landsman [a clinical psychologist who taught at UF,
active in the Gainesville Jewish community] who is no longer living, he is
deceased now, was his director. This guy, an Israeli, needed money. One day,
he went to the library and he found eight or so foundations that might be willing to
support him; one of these was the Melton Foundation. So he writes a letter to
each one of them. Shortly afterwards, he gets a letter back from Sam Melton
saying, I will support you. He wasn't asking for a giant amount, just $2,000-3,000
a year. Sam had never met him, but was willing to support him.
That was his [Sam's] first contact with the University of Florida. Upon that
basis, we decided to exploit it a little bit. We went down to Boca Raton, he and
Florence were there for the winter, with the idea of asking for $600,000 for a
chair in the Center for Jewish Studies. He laughed at that. He thought it was
ridiculous. He was not going to give that amount of money to the University of
Florida. Although he had founded and subsided the Center for Jewish Studies at
Ohio State. He had also put a lot of money into the Jewish Theological Seminary
Education Program in New York. So, we knew that he was not anti-education or
anti-centers for Jewish studies. While we were there, and he had said no, I went
into the kitchen with Florence. We were getting some drinks for everybody, four
or five of us that were there. She said [to me], don't let Sam scare you off. She
said, you might not get $600,000, but be persistent, don't leave here without
getting some money. So as the afternoon continued and our decision continued,
he agreed to give us $100,000. That is what we came back to Gainesville with.
The idea was that we would put the $100,000 into the history department and
hire someone to teach American Jewish history or Jewish history. Later on we
got another $100,000 from Sam Melton.
Sam is now deceased, but Florence is very much alive. She just
celebrated her ninetieth birthday. She has been going around the country,
organizing the Melton Educational Programs. They were very supportive to
Israel, they helped found the high school there which carries Sam's name. So
that is how the Melton money came [to UF]. Now as I understand it, the Melton
money has been transferred to the Center for Jewish Studies. It is not lost at all.
Sam was very persistent. When he gave the money, he didn't give a check to
the Foundation, he said, I am going to give you bonds. He said, either you will
agree to use my money to buy US Treasury Bonds or I will buy them myself.
Well, at the time that he was buying them [it] was during the Carter
Administration, and the interests were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen
percent. That is where those bonds are right now, earning a very substantial
amount of money. I would say that Sam was smarter than almost everyone else
that was involved. They came to Gainesville one time, [Marshall] Criser [UF
alumnus who presided over the university from 1984-1989 before retiring in order
to practice law] was president and we met together in his office. That was their
only visit here. Bess and I became good friends of theirs. I did an oral history
interview with Sam upon Florence's request. It is in our [Florida] Business
Leaders project. We will hear from her for Rosh Hashanah.
G: What became of Jewish Studies under Bargad? Did it grow?
P: It grew in terms of curriculum and the number of people involved. It never had its
own faculty, and that is true with all the centers. But it has continued to attract
scholars from other departments history, political science, anthropology, and so
on. It has brought some Israelis over to teach, either they were already in the
United States or came over to teach for a semester. The program has grown so
[that] it attracts both Jewish and non-Jewish. Hebrew is now accepted as the
language for the master's and the Ph.D. Jewish history is an acceptable major. It
will not be long before they are offering the master's degree. It is growing, it
grew under Warren [Bargad], and it continues to grow under Ken Wald [political
science professor and director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UF]. He is a
very effective administrator.
G: Tied to the Center for Jewish Studies is the [Isser and Rae] Price Judaic Library.
How did that come about?
P: Well, the Prices [Jack and Samuel] received a letter one day from Bill Stone, who
was the major fund-raiser at the Foundation. It was a letter that was being sent
out all over, encouraging people to make gifts to the University of Florida through
the Foundation money, land, or whatever. The Prices had some property,
some land here in Gainesville on 23rd Avenue, and they decided to turn that over
to the University for tax purposes, and that is what happened. The evaluation
was about $400,000, it was up there near where Ryan's Steakhouse is today,
Main Street and 23rd Avenue. Not exactly on the corner, but near there. So, of
course, that was a very large gift. We had never gotten anything like that.
In the meantime, we had acquired a library. And that too, goes back to
earlier years. I was always interested in the acquisition of Jewish books. Of
course, they were not going to allocate very much money in the library for Jewish
books. They didn't have much money for any books to begin with. This is going
back into the late 1940s to early 1950s. There was a rabbi in Jacksonville, and
he and I became good friends, and through him, the Reform rabbi, he was able
to get the Jewish Chautauqua Society [interfaith education program of the North
American Foundation of Temple Brotherhoods] to make a contribution of books
which we could select every year. So he would send the list down and I would
work with the librarians and we would select the books. So that, in a very small
way, began to build a collection. Then, of course, with the creation of the Center
for Jewish Studies and the development of programs and courses, you needed
research materials available. Even though you weren't offering graduate
courses, students were doing research papers and so on.
So, the library began to grow. The library itself allocated more money, the
religion department allocated money, so things began to happen. Barry Mesch
had an uncle living in Chicago, Rabbi [Leonard C.] Mishkin, who had been a
major book collector over the years. [His collection] included a lot of magazines,
journals, and that sort of thing. He had bound them together and had full sets of
things. He and his wife were thinking seriously about moving to Israel, this now
is in the 1970s. Of course, to do that he needed to dispose of a lot of things,
including his library collection. We knew about it because of Barry Mesch, [who]
was his nephew and he let us know about. We became very interested in it. The
fact that it was so voluminous, and it had a lot of publications which had been lost
in other libraries, particularly overseas libraries during the war, that it was sought
after. There was about six or eight universities interested. We had the inside
track because of Barry. The university asked Charles Berlin, from Harvard
University, who was the Judaica scholar and librarian, to go out to Chicago to
look at the collection and give us an evaluation. He came back just bubbling.
The letter that he wrote said, don't pass up the opportunity of acquiring this, it
has material that we do not have at Harvard and which they do not have at
Columbia, it is one-of-a-kind. So, it then meant that we could buy it.
So we needed $200,000, which was the price that Rabbi Mishkin set and
which was a great bargain price. But the foundation didn't have the $200,000.
So Bill Stone and I went from one end of Florida to the other in an effort to collect
that amount of money, which we thought was going to be relatively easy. There
were a lot of rich Jews living in Florida by now and Jews are interested in
education. Sam Proctor knows everyone and all he has to do is ask for the
money; it is like a faucet being turned on. We got turned down, turned down,
turned down in place after place after place. We even had some Jews who said,
I don't support Jewish causes. So we came back to Gainesville without being
successful at all. Harold Hanson [physicist and UF dean from 1969-1971, at
which point he became the vice-president for academic affairs] was then the
vice-president of the University. Harold said, we are not going to lose this
opportunity. He said, after all, when I was growing up in Minneapolis or wherever
it was, I was a shopasko. He said, we are going to get that collection. So the
university put up the $200,000. That is how it came about and we acquired the
Well, that immediately put the University of Florida on the map, and they
made space available. It was about this time that the Prices give the land, and it
was [a] suggestion then that we name the library for the Price family. Their father
Isser was already dead, but their mother, Rae, was still living, and it was my idea
that if we named the library [after them] that they would be very generous. Which
they weren't particularly; very friendly to the university, the foundation, Center for
Jewish Studies, but no real money has come out of it. Although they are working
on the Price family right now. So that is what we did. We name the library the
Price Library for Isser and Rae Price. We had a big dinner one night here, a lot
of people were invited and came. They recognized me and gave me as a gift a
set of the Jewish encyclopedia, which was a magnificent gift. So we now have a
top-notch librarian in charge over there.
G: How did Bob Singerman [author and Judaica Librarian at UF] come?
P: Just through the library. It was part of a search and he applied for the job and
they offered it to him. They have never regretted it one minute. He has been a
G: Nor have I. He was incredibly helpful with my dissertation.
P: The only unhappy thing is that when they were re-work[ing] Library East, they did
not have room for the Judaica Library, and they put it down in Norman Hall.
[That is where] the education library is located. So it is out of the way, it is not
easy to get there. But, according to the plan, there is going to be additional
library [space] constructed just in the back of Library West. When that is done,
and I think that they do have the money for that, then the Judaica Library is
suppose to move into that space.
P: The baccalaureate, which was an activity of the College of Liberal Arts and
Sciences, was concocted by Michael Gannon. He thought that it was a good
idea, and it turned out to be a very successful idea. It was given on Friday
afternoon, the day before commencement. The students who were getting
degrees were invited to come together with their families. Right from the very
first time, I was asked to do a little sketch on some aspect of University history.
That is what I did. The first year, the auditorium holds about 900 seats, it was
about two-thirds full. But from that point on it was standing room only. Every
year I gave a little humorous business. It became very popular. I continued to
do it for about ten or twelve years. When I finally decided to retire in 1996, I said
that is enough.
G: When did the baccalaureates start?
P: I would say about 1988 or 1989. But you have to give Mike Gannon really credit
for the whole thing.
G: Now, was it just arts and sciences students? Or university-wide?
P: Arts and sciences students only. It was very nice. It was five o'clock in the
afternoon, which was pleasant and it lasted just one hour. The Civic Chorus of
Gainesville sang, and outside there were tables with some punch and cookies. It
was really very nice.
G: I remember going. I thought, when I graduated in 1997, you gave a talk that
P: I gave the commencement address. I have given the commencement address
twice, once in 1978 or 1979 and then 1996 or 1997.
G: That was not the year I graduated. Was that the commencement address about
that professor at UF who had been fired back in the 1920s for use of a textbook
or something? I remember working with you on a wonderful story. I wish I could
remember his name.
P: Well, there was a man here who had been fired earlier, he was the chairman of
the history department. This was back in 1911. He had written an article which
challenged the business of slavery, about whether it was moral or not. It so
upset some of the Confederate organizations, like the Daughters of the
Confederacy, that they brought pressure against the university and they forced
G: I remember that story. Was that commencement?
P: That was a baccalaureate. When I gave the commencement address, both
times, I gave kind of an overview of the history of the university. On both
occasions, the commencement was limited to 12-13 minutes. I tried to give light,
humorous kind of things.
G: You mentioned earlier your role as curator at the museum.
P: To justify using space at the museum, J. C. Dickinson named me curator of
G: But when you were working on your 1853-1906 history, did you have a
responsibility in the library?
P: Well, I had an office in the library, because of the quarterly.
G: But no title?
P: I had no title. But I was always very close to the P. K. Yonge Library from the
very beginning. I was a good friend of Julian Yonge, and a very good friend of
Rembert Patrick. When the P. K. Yonge Library was in Library East, on the first
floor on the south end, under the stairwell, I had an office there, next to Rembert