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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Interviewee: Rev. Thomas Wright
Interviewer: Alan Fried
April 16, 1991
F: I am interviewing Rev. Thomas A. Wright of Mount Carmel Baptist Church at the
church in his study. [My name is Alan Fried.] Dr. Wright, this interview will be sort
of a second-part following an interview that Joel Buchanan did with you. [See
FAB40, University of Florida Oral History Archive. Ed.] Here we are trying to
focus a little bit more. I think you and Joel spoke about a wide range of topics--
everything from the development of the church and how the church was begun. Here
we are going to be looking--if it is all right--at the civil rights movement, especially
from 1963-64, when you first came to Gainesville, through the present day. One of
the areas that we are looking at is the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights. I
wonder if you can tell us a little bit about how you first became aware of that group
and who they were?
W: I soon discovered that there were faculty members of the University of Florida that
had much in common with the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement
of Colored People]. They also had much in common with several African-American
teachers. So they came up with an organization. They had their own program in
terms of issues that they worked with. They had luncheons that they sponsored with
special speakers dealing with certain issues. There were times when they came to
the NAACP meetings, and we shared our concerns together. There were times when
we worked together on certain issues.
F: Now, you mentioned Dr. [O.] Ruth McQuown [professor of political science and
associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 1961-1984].
W: Dr. Ruth McQuown, as I recall, was in political science. We did not know a great
deal about writing ads to deal with political issues. We did not know a whole lot
about strategies and that kind of thing. Dr. Ruth McQuown helped us a great deal
from her training and experience in the field of politics. So we would meet at night,
and she would share experience with us. When we ran candidates and wrote ads and
that kind of thing, she was a lot of help to us.
F: This would have been somewhere around 1967 or 1968, or was it earlier than that?
W: Well, part of it was earlier than that, because I ran for the city commission two years
straight, [and] I think it was 1964 and 1965. She was a lot of help to us, along with
others from the University of Florida. I mean, [they helped us by] sitting down and
giving detailed information on how to do it and what to do and what not to do.
F: Did you also work with the NAACP national chapter, as well?
W: We worked with the state organization, and we also worked with the national. There
were times when we wrote the national on certain issues and asked for advice. There
were times when we asked for financial assistance from the national office. They
told us how to go about getting the necessary funds for what we had in mind.
F: Who were you working with, both in the state and at the national [level]?
W: At that time Bob Sanders was the field representative for the state. After he was no
longer the field representative for the state, it was Marvin Davies. They had
quarterly board meetings in different sections of the state. They would discuss
reorganizing or organizing a branch. They would have experts there from the Small
Business Administration, HUD [Housing and Urban Development], and several other
governmental departments, and they would share their information with us on how
to get things done in the community. Those board meetings were very helpful to the
local branches. We would deal with issues in various cities, and we would discuss the
issues we were dealing with in our particular cities [and] strategies about how to go
about getting [things] done. [They encouraged us to] stay in contact with the city
commission and county commission. We stayed in contact with Tallahassee; [they
told us that] there were certain people in Tallahassee that we should stay in contact
with. The national and state offices always made themselves available to us for
whatever help we were trying to draw upon.
F: Just going through some of the other names, I would like to find out when you first
met these people and a little about the role that they played, as well. Dr. Paul Hahn.
W: Dr. Paul Hahn was a research person in anthropology of the University of Florida.
He joined the NAACP at the very beginning of our push forward. He not only
joined the NAACP, but was one of our key persons when it came to getting our
flyers and doing research in particular areas and that kind of stuff.
F: What kind of research?
W: Well, if we wanted to know something about voting rights or if we wanted to know
something about any political issue, [he would research it for us].
F: So even though he was an anthropologist he would do that.
W: Even though he was an anthropologist. If we needed somebody to write a flyer or
somebody to write a letter on a particular issue, he would do that for us. We would
stay up sometimes until two or three o'clock in the morning getting out materials and
discussing our next step. When there was a voters' registration drive we would go
downtown and buy the ..
F: What year are we talking about?
W: I am talking about 1964 and 1965 and then after that. We would buy the complete
roll of registered voters, and we knew exactly who was registered on a street. We
would separate those who were registered from those who were not, and we would
paste those who were not registered on a special kind of paper. Then we would call
on those people to register. By buying the roll we knew exactly who was registered
and who was not, and we could just go right down the street by address and separate
them and call on them to get them to register.
F: About how large a group of registrars did you have working with you?
W: From the University of Florida and the community and Gainesville Women for Equal
Rights, we could be talking about sixty-five or seventy people who were working in
different areas of concern. Then after we got them registered and it was time for the
election, we had to organize car pools to take them to the polls and vote. So we did
a lot of that.
F: Another name is Marshall Jones.
W: Marshall Jones was in psychology [Assistant professor of psychiatry and psychology].
While Dr. Hahn was a research person without any particular hours, working under
projects, Dr. Jones was a full-time professor in psychology. Dr. Jones was a devout
worker. Wherever he could fit in to help with demonstrations, with our picketing,
he joined right in and helped. Then there were times when we went to other cities
to help them out, like St. Augustine or Ocala and so forth. They would go.
F: You are right. I am going to ask you in a moment about the St. Augustine efforts.
It is one area that we are especially anxious to find out more about. One question
I guess I should be asking about each of these individuals is if they are still alive and
if they are in the area and if you are in contact with them.
W: I do not know where they are. Three or four years ago a lady who was very active
with us who is no longer here--she comes back every once in a while--told me their
job. Dr. Hahn was living in the Chicago area. He and his wife are no longer
together. I have not heard anything about Dr. Jones since he left here.
F: How about [Alachua County Court] Judge [Stephan P.] Mickle [UF College of Law
class of 1970]? How did you first meet him?
W: Judge Mickle's father took tailoring at Bethune-Cookman College [in Daytona
Beach] when my brother was teaching tailoring, so I met Judge Mickle, his father,
and other members of the family before I came to Gainesville. When I came here
I knew the Mickle family.
F: Was this when you were in Baltimore?
W: No, it was when I was in St. Augustine. That is when I came to know the Mickles,
because at that time he was in a class with my brother at Bethune-Cookman at
F: And he was very instrumental in the movement in terms of getting legal advice?
W: Well, before he became an attorney he was a student at the University of Florida
[College of Law class of 1970]. In 1962, when I came here, I thought of having a
banquet for the youth of the church to really arouse them and come up with a youth
program that they would be interested in. They suggested having Judge Mickle as
the honored guest at the banquet, even though he was a member of the church. So
he was honored guest at the banquet. When everything had just about simmered
down, he said to me, "Many of the things that you have going in St. Augustine, we
need that kind of input here." I had left St. Augustine under a lot of strain and
pressure, and I had almost said to myself that I was not going to let myself get into
that predicament anymore.
But as I sat there that night and listened to him talk about the problems that exist
in Gainesville, I almost concluded that the situation in Gainesville was just as bad
as it was in St. Augustine, or worse. And I sat there that night and said, "It looks like
I am going to have to go back on what I had promised myself about not getting
involved in community affairs." So from that night on I just said, "Well, I guess I
need to do whatever I can with the Lord's help with the problem." Everything was
segregated. There were so many problems.
F: This would have been late 1963 or early 1964?
W: Yes, 1963. The Public Accommodation Bill did not pass until 1964. Then after it
passed, the diehards in the area were not paying it any attention, so we came up with
a picketing program. We picketed all night long. And over at the other church it
was a kind of headquarters for pickets: University of Florida faculty members,
students, and also people from the community.
F: Now, you had been traveling during this period when you were deciding to get more
involved. You had been traveling a little bit around the area before you finally
decided on Gainesville?
W: Well, that is what happened. When the threats got so terrible in St. Augustine I said,
I have to leave here. At first my wife was working in the night-school system in St.
Augustine, and because of my activities they fired her as a night-school teacher.
Then she went down to Bunnell and worked there for a couple of years. Then they
fired her there because of my activities. And I was getting a lot of threats and so
The people in the church who did not understand the movement created some
problem because so much divisiveness developed in the church. They felt that a lot
of unnecessary arousement was taking place, and they figured that I was behind it.
So because of a community, most of all, I thought it was better to leave.
I went to Bradenton, and I preached at a church there. The people wanted me to
come to Bradenton, but frankly speaking, I wanted to serve in a larger, more cultural
community. I went to Daytona and preached at a church there. I went to a church
in Jacksonville and preachevd there. Then I came here and preached, and I fainted
in the pulpit. When I fainted in the pulpit, I was by myself that day. My wife had
not come with me, and neither did any of my children. I went back [home to St.
Augustine] that night, and my wife wanted to know how everything went. I told her
that I fainted in the pulpit, and she said, "Well, I guess you can forget about that
place if you fainted in the pulpit while you were preaching." I said, "Well, I guess
you are right." She said, "I hate to tell you this, Thomas, but across the street the
lady prepared a dinner for the elites downtown, and the discussion around the table
was 'We have to get them out of town somehow, as quickly as possible.'" So I sat
there and talked with my wife until about three o'clock in the morning, and I said,
"We will be leaving as soon as we find someplace to go." I got a letter from the
church stating that they wanted me to come back, that they had called me to the
church in spite of what had happened.
F: Do you feel like your fainting was just the stress and just the nervousness and the
tension that you were under?
W: It was hot that day, [and] stress and nervousness [and] all of it contributed to my
fainting that day. [I was] frustrated and all that. I had a daughter finishing college
and a son just getting ready to go to college, and the church was paying us seventy-
five dollars a week. My wife had been working, but she had been fired. So it was
a very difficult time in our life.
I came here, and there was nobody that had gone back a second time. They told me
that they were giving me a starting salary of $100 a week. That was a $25 increase
in the week. I said to Judge Mickle's father, "My wife needs a job." He said, "We
have been looking into that." After church that night he brought me right over here,
to Mr. Elam Jackson, who was the principal of Duval [Elementary School] at that
time. He said to Mr. Jackson, "This is our new pastor. His wife needs a job." Mr.
Elam Jackson said, "Yes, we have been thinking about that. Can she come to work
tomorrow?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Tomorrow morning at Duval I
would like to have [her] at work, because this is pre-preparation for school." I said,
"Do you mean that?" He said, "Yes, she is hired." Oh, my goodness!
F: I guess one of the questions that I had in reading the first interview was it almost
seemed--and I am not a student of the church the way I should be--like an epiphany.
It almost seemed there had been this moment. But there were really two moments:
when you decided to recommit yourself to the movement, and then when you found
a position with the church. There was a time between.
W: Well, I figured that if I had stuck with the church in St. Augustine I would not have
wound up in the predicament that I was in. There are some ministers from the
religious and theological point of view--Caucasian and African-Americans--who [feel]
that you do not need to get too involved with community. Stick with the church. So
my training had not been in that area of theological conservativism. My training had
been more of a liberal kind of training that whatever the church does in the
community in helping people is only an extension of the work of the church. And
I was wrestling there with which groups I should take. After that banquet that night,
I just decided all over again that regardless of what happened over there, I must live
up to my conviction.
F: Getting back to the list, there are a number of other ministers, African-American
ministers primarily, who were also involved in the movement with you. I would just
like to find out how you first met them and if you are still in touch with them.
W: Some of them I knew. Some of them have passed on. Some of them I met at
Florida Memorial College [in St. Augustine], where I went to school. A gentleman
who was a mortician and a minister here, Mr. D. E. White, I met at Florida
F: Now, he is with Friendship?
W: He was with Friendship. He has passed on now. Reverend Cato I met at Florida
Memorial College. I knew him before I came here. Bishop Williams, who was at
Williams Temple [Church of God in Christ], I met after I got here, and I found him
to be a very supporting person for the community and for whatever I had to do. He
said to me, "Brother Wright, we are so glad to have you in Gainesville. Whatever
you are doing, if I can help out, you let me know."
F: He is a longtime resident.
W: Yes, a longtime resident. Brother White [had been here] for years, and Brother Cato
for years, Bishop Williams for years. Some of those fellows I imagine were born
here. A beautiful relationship exists. They felt that I was a young man who was
coming to the community who had a lot of interest in the community, and whatever
he does in terms of projection of programs they were going to join in and help.
There was a Reverend Jackson who has passed on who helped.
F: What was Reverend Jackson's first name?
W: I do not remember his initial, but he was a custodian at Duval Elementary School.
He was a custodian, and he had some rural churches. The ministers that I found
here were some of the finest people that anybody would want to know to work with
in terms of support. They gave their total support to whatever we decided to do.
F: One name that comes up--and if this is a little bit sensitive [I will understand,
because] I know he died at a fairly young age--is Reverend Ferguson.
W: Reverend Ferguson was one of the finest persons I ever met in my life. United
Methodist. He was not as active as those older men were, but behind the scene he
was, "All right, I want you to know that I am with you. I am with you." I said OK.
When I needed some financial assistance for the NAACP, I went to his church to
appeal for memberships, he was right there helping and assisting.
When he was killed I was visiting my daughter and her husband in Philadelphia. In
fact, I preached for them. My son-in-law pastored a church in Philadelphia. I
preached that morning, and that night we went to pay a visit. On our way back to
the house that night my daughter said, "We got sad news Friday, and we purposely
kept it from you until this particular time. Reverend Ferguson was killed." "What?!"
She said, "As soon as we get to the house you need to call Mrs. Ferguson, because
she does not want to plan the funeral until she has heard from you. We were just
that close. So I called her that night, and she wanted to know when I would be
coming back. I told her that I was leaving Monday. He was one of the finest
persons [I ever knew]. He was not as old as the others, but one of the kindest
persons I have ever met in my life.
F: On Sunday evening, if I have this right, there were meetings where the ministers
would open up for NAACP membership?
W: Here is what I used to do. I used to have an associate minister close out the last
part of the service. I was president of the NAACP for about seventeen years, and
I would have already made an appointment with a minister to be at his church at the
end of the service. So my wife and I would leave, and I would go to that particular
church, and at the end of the service [the minister would] give me about five minutes
to make that appeal for membership. [I] would make the appeal for membership just
before the end of the service, and sometimes before he gave the benediction we
would write up the members. Sometimes I would say, "We are going to dismiss, and
those of you who want to join, come up and join. My wife will do the writing of the
memberships, or somebody else from the church." We averaged from twenty-five to
thirty members going from church to church.
F: That is a wonderful way of [enlisting new members].
W: A membership drive, yes.
F: Had that been your idea, or was that something you worked out with other members
of the NAACP?
W: It was doing an annual membership drive, and there would be members on the board
who were making contacts. But I did this on my own. We tried to add between 350
and 500 a year.
F: That is a huge number of folks.
W: Yes. We did it in Gainesville, and we did it in nearby cities. In the nearby cities we
would have somebody in a particular church have a mass meeting a particular night.
We did it in Hawthorne, Melrose, High Springs, Alachua, and Archer--all those
nearby cities. The minister would plan to have the meeting. I would go and speak.
I would tell them what we were doing, the things that we were trying to get done.
The gist of the speech would be the things that we had achieved. And I would make
an appeal. We got members all over during the membership drive. That is what we
F: You mentioned Philadelphia. I know you were in Philadelphia for some years before
you were in the war. I wonder if I could take you back to that time, to an earlier
W: We--my wife and I--went to Philadelphia in 1942, during the Second World War.
F: I know you worked in the navy yard.
W: Yes. I had really gone to about the fifth grade. I did not finish elementary school
because my parents had several children--there were three children [younger than]
me--and my father was a farmer. So I had to stay with the smaller children while
they went to the field. I did not even finish the eighth grade. In Boynton Beach you
march when you finish the eighth grade. I had missed so much time in school they
would not let me march. Anyway, I went to Philadelphia and my wife worked at 401
Broad Street, I think it was, in a factory where they made silicon. I worked at that
factory at first making cartons for six packs of Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola.
F: So this was not defense [work]. In 1942 it would not yet have been defense-related
W: That was not considered defense work. Then from that job in the same building I
went to another floor where they made electric welding rods for electric welding.
You had to dip them so many different times. I worked there. Then they gave out
of government contracts, so that job was closed out.
Then I went to a place in West Philly where they made these conveyor tracks where
you put boxes on. The government had a lot of use for those, and I worked there.
At first we worked by the hour, something like $1.25 an hour. Then the owner said,
"I want to put everybody on piecework, because we are getting behind," so he put us
on piecework. My job was to put the bearings in those tubes. We had a little
machine that we did that with. I averaged on piecework around 3,000 a day. Well,
when he caught up he said, "Now, listen. I know what everybody can do on
piecework." He said to me, "You average 3,000 a day on piecework." I said, "Yes,
sir, but I was almost out of breath and would not even eat lunch." He said, "Well,
I am putting you on a quarter. I expect you to do 1,500 a day." I said, "I cannot do
that working by the hour. I was almost out of breath doing it the other way. I would
miss lunch. Regular work? I cannot do half that many." He said, "That is what I
am telling you you have to do." I went back to the norm of where we were working,
and he came to me one day and fired me. So then I went to the navy yard and
worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. I was drafted into the service.
F: The reason why I brought up the navy yard [is because] I know that this was right
during the A. Philip Randolph [civil rights and labor leader] and the march-on-
Washington movement [in 1941] and the FEPC [Fair Employment Practices
W: That is right.
F: I was kind of wondering about some of your reflections on that.
W: Here is what happened. President [F. D.] Roosevelt had come up with the FEPC,
the Fair Employment Practices Commission, where they had to hire African-
Americans for government contracts. But along with this, they also had it where you
had to hire people in every area of government--city government and everything else.
So they hired a couple of African-Americans to drive the city bus. And the whole
F: I was going to ask you about the transit strike.
W: Oh, my goodness, the whole group [of drivers] struck. Everybody struck.
F: This was 1943, right?
W: Yes. Just because they hired two. And what a mess! We did not have any way to
get to work to the navy yard, so we caught rides. Then the president came up with
[a plan] and ordered soldiers on the trolleys, one to drive and one to sit in the back
with a gun. And that is what happened. You rode the trolleys until they got it
worked out. After they got it worked out, they hired some more African-Americans.
Those people who did not come back, they just got other people in their places.
During that time a lot of looting and tearing up business places and that stuff went
on for two weeks in Philadelphia. That was a horrible time.
F: And 1943 had been a very violent year.
W: Oh, my goodness! In Philadelphia. So I was drafted into the service and served in
England about six months.
F: What was it like in England?
W: I experienced a lot of shock in England. I was surprised at the degree of poverty in
F: This had been before the blitz, the bombing, was going on?
W: That was during the time that the bombing was still going on. Some was still going
on because you could out at night and hear the planes dropping the bombs. The
next one would be dropped where you were staying. There was a lot of bombing in
F: Where were you stationed?
W: We moved every three or four weeks in England.
W: For the first time we were stationed in Wales. Every two or three weeks we moved
somewhere. Then we moved to Christ Church, England, right on the English
Channel. Every two or three weeks we moved to a different place in England.
F: One of the things I am doing my dissertation on is the integration of the armed
services, and I am really focusing on 1945 to 1950. I have particular interest--not so
much what the class is doing--in the life of an African-American soldier during the
W: Everything was strictly segregated right to the tee. You had different facilities, and
your rationing was different. Everything was different.
F: Your commander was black, or was he white?
F: He was a Caucasian.
W: Yes. The officers were, for the most part, Caucasian, even over a black outfit. They
were Caucasians. All the non-commissioned officers, mostly, were African-American,
but the commissioned officers, for the most part, were Caucasian. A lot of them
were Southerners, and they enforced strict segregation and everything.
F: did you have much opportunity to talk to the British?
W: I talked to the British quite a bit. I was surprised at the prevailing caste system that
still existed. Talking with British youngsters, they just figured that if you were born
into a certain category, that was it.
F: They accepted it readily?
W: They accepted it, and I had a problem accepting that. As I walked around and went
to different places talking to them, young teenagers with good minds, their mind was
set on the fact that this was my lot, and nobody can do anything about it.
F: That is interesting. I have talked to soldiers who were stationed in France, and they
experienced something completely different. They could not abide by American
segregation, whereas apparently the British [saw nothing wrong in a segregated
society]. I have talked to only one other person, but very similar kinds of situations
[were expressed by that other person and you].
W: I guess it is because of the royal family there and then there is another level and
another level here. It is kind of like Plato's Republic: the philosophers [are] kings,
and then your intellectuals, and then at the bottom you have the serfs. So I was
surprised to see how the British youngsters accepted that. I would say to him, "Man,
you do not have to go along with that. What, you expect to be right close to what
your father is? You do not expect to go beyond? No." And that is the actual fact
of those that I talked with.
F: Now, you spent only six months in England, and then you were transferred to Luzon
W: We went to New Guinea first. We did not get off the ship, but we had 500 or 600
sailors get off at New Guinea. From New Guinea we went to Manila, Luzon, the
Philippines. We did a lot of training in the Philippines. Not a whole lot of work; we
were just waiting to invade Japan.
F: Now, you were stationed with the same outfit that you had been in in England?
W: Yes, in the Philippines.
F: [Was there] any change of command?
W: No, we still had the Caucasians at the top and African-Americans as non-
commissioned officers. I was living in the Philippines when they dropped the first
atomic bomb on Japan, and then a few days after that the second atomic bomb. A
few days after they dropped the second atomic bomb we went into occupied Japan.
It must have been about ten or fifteen days--it may not have been that long--after the
second atomic bomb that we went in to occupy Japan.
F: Were you anywhere near Hiroshima or Nagasaki?
W: No, they did not allow anybody near those places. It was too dangerous.
F: So where were you? Where did you move into Japan?
W: We lived in Tachikawa, Japan. As I recall, it must have been about 100 miles from
Tokyo, just about the same distance from Yokohama, Japan. We built runways for
airplanes and that kind of stuff. We did a lot of training. I was there about four or
five months. At that time we had two children, and they told me I could go home
because of the two children.
F: You had gotten married in 1940.
F: And the children were born when? In 1941 and 1942?
W: We had a child born right after we were married, and then we had a child born in
Philadelphia; our second child was born in Philadelphia, a son. He was born not
long after I was in the service, because I got a furlough from Camp Cleveland to go
to Philadelphia when the child was born. I stayed home two weeks, and then I went
F: Then you had to go back to Japan?
W: No, [that was] before I went overseas. I was in Camp Cleveland in Louisiana when
the second child was born. Then I got a furlough to Philadelphia and stayed two
weeks, and then I went back to Camp Cleveland in Louisiana. A few weeks after
that I was headed overseas. There have been two children born after I came out of
After I came out of the service I went to Florida Memorial College in St. Augustine
at that time. They had a special veterans' program. I remember the teacher's saying
that under the GI Bill you can stay here for four years in this particular class. You
can stay one semester, [or] you can stay two or three years, depending on how you
apply yourself. I had only a sixth-grade education, but I penned down, and after the
first semester she sent about five or six of us to Jacksonville to take the test for a
high school diploma. I passed the test, and that second semester, why, I took college
work. I finished college with honors.
Before I finished college, the second semester of my senior year, a lady on the faculty
said, "You are not going to stop here." I said, "What do you mean? I have a wife
and four children." I had been getting ninety dollars a month from the government.
It was rather tough. She [this lady] said she could not afford to do that. She said:
"I am going to Washington, and I am going to the school of divinity. I am going to
put in for you to get a scholarship. Do not stop here." So she got the scholarship,
and with my wife's urging me to do it, [I went to Washington]. She [my wife] said,
"Leave us right here. I am going back to school myself. I will get a part-time job
cooking over in town. You go right on to Washington, and whatever you can send
us, you send." She [this lady] was going to Washington. So I went straight to
[I was at Buchholz High School] and when I left the class, I went by to greet the
principal, Mae Esler. As I looked at that school that looks like a junior college and
left, I said to myself, Gosh, we have come a long way. Mae Esler was a well-
qualified principal [and had] a wonderful personality. According to some thinking,
Buchholz [High School in Gainesville] might be the top high school in the county
[Alachua County]. It might be; others may have other ideas. But I said to myself:
She is the principal of this school. She seems to be doing a remarkable job. [And
she is] a black lady. This is remarkable. Then as I look at Judge Mickle's position
and as I think about Tom Garwood and other political figures and Mrs.
[Representative Cynthia] Chestnut going to Tallahassee, I have to say we have come
a long way. We have come a long way.
But there is a great gap even among African-Americans. When you think in terms
of how far we have gone up and how many people are left at the bottom and the
deplorable condition that they are in, it is almost like living in two different worlds.
Then you have to say, "How much progress have we really made?" When you look
at the suffering at the bottom--the number of people out of jobs, the number of
African-Americans on dope, the number of African-American children having babies
out of wedlock, ..
F: Third-world level of [life].
W: Exactly. You have to look at maybe the 10 percent that went up, but look at the 60
percent that is down there. The problem or problems seem to be so tremendous, you
wonder where the solutions are. Well, with the number of children that are having
children, and increasing by the minute--the percentage of poor children having poor
children--and infant mortality rate at its peak, how do you get programs to really
check this kind of thing that is happening in America? How do you check it? I also
think how difficult it is to get through to poor people of any ethnic group. It is
difficult to communicate with poor people that are really at the bottom of any ethnic
group. What kind of system of communication could you come up with that would
really get through to poor people and say: "Listen. This is what is bringing you down,
and this is what will help you move up. As you remain in that predicament and you
bring a number of children into the world that perpetuate this kind of situation, do
you see what you are doing?"
This is a problem not only for the average local community. This is a problem for
the federal government. The federal government should not take a nonchalant
attitude toward it, but you could somewhat understand their predicament in trying
to solve it, after pouring millions and billions of dollars into public welfare and into
low-income housing and that kind of stuff. There needs to be some close thinking
in terms of welfare reform, and there needs to be some very close thinking in terms
of getting people to be responsible.
F: I was just reading something on education, and in terms of dollars, the amount of
dollars that have gone into education has gone from $70 billion to $200 billion, but
there has been a decline in the real value, because two-thirds of that value is
inflationary. So actually if you compare the amount of money that is now going in,
it has actually shrunk 6 percent.
W: I know. That is what I am saying.
F: I guess what I am asking is--and it is a very real problem and it is a philosophical
question as well--I know in reading your last interview you spoke about building
entrepreneurship and rebuilding the African-American [community], not just the
community in the broader sense, but in the neighborhood sense.
W: I was at the College of Education for about three years as a part-time teacher or
guest lecturer, and I tried to sell to the College of Education the idea of training
community experts that would be there and active in dealing with community
problems. Some people write books in order to make money. That was not the
reason that I wrote these two books [Business Straight Talk for the African-American
Entrepreneur (1990) and Premarital Counseling: The Core (1990)]. The [first] book has
to do with the plight of African-American business and some ideas about what could
be done. The [second] book has to do with premarital counseling and [was] written
in order to strengthen families.
When it comes to rebuilding the community, it so happens that we live in a
democratic-capitalistic society, where power and money count a great deal. In spite
of the progress that we have made, when it comes to entrepreneurship we have not
scratched the surface. We have not made very much progress in that area. Just look
at east Gainesville over against west Gainesville. Ninety-nine and one-half percent
of what you need you go to west Gainesville to buy. It is not in east Gainesville. So
it means this, in so many words: a large segment of African-Americans shop in west
or northwest Gainesville, and the profit goes to northwest Gainesville. There is not
profit left in east Gainesville. You see what I mean?
F: I do.
W: It is almost the same as a rich nation selling everything to a third-world nation. Not
only does this exist in Gainesville, this exists all over America. This book points that
out. You go to east Gainesville, [and] you cannot buy any clothes. You cannot buy
a full supply of groceries. You cannot hardly buy anything. See what I mean? And
that is all over America. Main Street in the African-American community used to
be the business street, from Key West to Seattle, Washington. [That] has gone out
of existence. See what I mean? Fifth Avenue [in Gainesville] is all but dead. South
Street in Philadelphia is all but dead. Georgia Avenue in Washington is all but dead.
All these places where they had the shops, the restaurants, and imported a lot of
people--that does not happen anymore.
The book discussed segregation as a plus and minus. There were certain things that
Caucasians did not support that we had all to ourselves. But when integration came,
the restaurants folded, and many of the things folded, and we went downtown.
So there needs to be a national program of economic development of African-
Americans. The last chapter of this book talks about that. The civil rights
movement was carried on basically by black preachers who were poor and risked
their lives. It is necessary for the African-Americans that have become rich--[Bill]
Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, Jackson, and others who might not be as rich as these are--to
see economic development as a second phase of the civil rights movement. The civil
rights movement was a national movement with the cooperation of four or five
national civil rights organizations, [including the] NAACP, [the] SCLC [Southern
Christian Leadership Conference. [These groups] had their own program, but when
there was a time to move forward collectively they did. All of the strategies that we
used in the civil rights movement, wherever we can apply them to economic
development, that needs to be done with a national program of economic
development. That is what the last chapter of that book is about. Until we come up
with that kind of program, we will still be out here dangling with all the profit going
the other way. There is nothing to really build up the community. The book also
talks about how well the Japanese have done in this country, [as well as] Chinese,
Vietnamese, Koreans, in terms of economic development.
F: Let me ask you a kind of related question. A lot of people had a lot of problems
with the war in Iraq, but one of the things that it did prove was that the African-
American soldier can lead a successful war. All the way through a third of the army
was African-American. Do you think that we are past the image of the Vietnam
soldier and have returned, perhaps, to a point where perhaps soldiers will be able to
show that kind of leadership?
W: I had a strong feeling that if it took two years for [economic] sanctions [against Iraq]
it would have been worth trying, over against what happened. Being a part of the
human race, I cannot rejoice in a war to the extent that you lose 200 and the other
side loses 100,000--and still losing. We still do not know what the outcome is going
to be, because the fires are still burning in Kuwait [and] people are still dying. In
spite of rejoicing in terms of winning, over against all of the allies attacking a little
nation with a crazy man [Saddam Hussein] as the head of the nation, we should have
expected to win. That should not have been a surprise to anyone.
F: Of course.
W: In terms of modern technology and the number of people, we had more force against
that little backward nation than we had against [Adolph] Hitler, because in terms of
technology when we fought the Second World War, we had not developed to the
extent that we have developed. Almost everything we had for Russia, a superpower,
we used against Iraq. See what I am talking about? Along with allies. We do not
have a great deal to boast about. We won over against a nation that did not fight.
We do not have a thing to boast about. There were 60,000 people [who]
surrendered; they did not fight. You have planes in the hundreds taken to other
nations; they did not fight. Is that right?
F: That is right.
W: We do not have a whole lot to boast about. In fact, people ought to drop their heads
in shame and say: "We did a stupid thing. We should have tried sanctions." Now,
the number of African-Americans in the service happened because of circumstances
F: There were no other economic opportunities.
W: "I have a job. I do not want to sell dope."
F: "I cannot get into college."
W: Yes. The army has upped the pay where they pay a good price for being in the
service, more than they have ever paid, and therefore having [people] volunteer to
go into the service is almost like having an army of mercenaries, people who are paid
to fight. We do not have a whole lot to boast about. We have a volunteer army of
low-income people who may be pretty well trained, but yet they did not have a
choice. Do you see what I am talking about?
W: They are there not from the standpoint of patriotism. They are there from the
standpoint of survival.
F: So the World War II experience was a far different kind of experience?
W: Far different thing altogether. Here was Hitler, well equipped, trained, and trying
to rule the whole world, and to compare Saddam with Hitler is completely out of the
question. Completely out of the question. You are dealing with two different kinds
of sickness. See? Well-thinking Americans would say it was the most stupid war we
have ever fought, and the whole thing probably could have been avoided. See what
I am talking about?
F: Of course.
W: The force that we put behind it, the technology and all that kind of stuff, was not
necessary. We saw an opportunity to test a lot of new stuff to see how it worked,
and we did it. And the suffering over against what we got out of it is tremendous.
A hundred thousand people [were] killed, and people [are] still dying of starvation.
[President George] Bush may be riding on cloud nine now, but as they keep
analyzing what happened, Bush is not going to be the same person when they get
through, when the summary is written. He is not going to be the same person. And
he should not be.
F: Do you think he will be re-elected?
W: He may be re-elected, because there are not many people in this country doing hard
thinking. We are rather selfish and shallow in our thinking. He may be re-elected,
but people who sit down and analyze the situation right to the core are [going to
think otherwise. We are spending] all those billions [of dollars] for national defense,
and in America everything is falling apart.
F: It could go into roads and streets and hospitals and textbooks.
W: Everything is falling apart. You name it. Every kind of social problem that you can
imagine [continues to worsen]. As Time magazine said the other day, [the annual
budget called for] $75 billion or $80 billion for new contracts or new weapons.
Billions of dollars. And [in the budget is] an additional $25 million to do something
about infant mortality. Time magazine says, "Our nation must be going wild." When
I read that I thought, I wonder if Bush read this? "They must be going crazy." Time
magazine said the Democrats who objected to the war feel defeated because the
Republicans pushed forward and won, so the Democrats feel the shame and will not
even speak out against these new contracts. Time magazine said we are just crazy.
"The war was still wrong, regardless of who won," Time magazine said. "The war was
For the fighting men, yes, they did what they were told to do. [I am] with them 100
percent. But with the administration? No. American cannot afford to be the
world's bully, whether every little black nation or every little Oriental nation or every
little Caucasian nation gets out of line, we are there as a police to put them in place.
But when Russia, France, England, Japan--those big nations--get out of line, we are
going to sit down and talk about it. We cannot afford to be the bully of the world.
Are you listening?
F: Yes, sir.
W: We went down to Panama and invaded Panama just like that. We went to Grenada
and invaded it just like that. We went to Iraq just like that. It would not have
happened with Russia. It would not have happened with France, England, Japan.
You know that.
F: Yes, of course.
W: I could go along with that kind of stuff. And you do not have to be a genius to see
that. If you are little and poor, we will attack you within days. If you are big and
famous, we will talk it out, or either we will ignore you and just let the situation take
care of itself.
F: As in China.
W: Yes. That is right. Now, you are going to tell me that it [the conflict in Iraqi was
not over oil. It was over oil. Do not tell me that! Iraq fought Iran for eight years.
Iraq was somewhat our friend. We sneaked some stuff to them because they were
fighting our enemy. See? We did not [need to] do anything about that. Not one
thing. Let them knock each other out. Who cares?
F: When the richest of the small countries needed help and the emir [of Kuwait]
needed a gold-plated toilet facility, then we just ran. Now that they are OK, we
W: Yes. Everything that they use they bought from the West. This is a chance to make
some money. They made some money. Russia made money. England made money.
France made money. See what I am talking about? They bought it from the West.
Now, when Iraq moved into Kuwait, where we are getting much of our oil from,
Saddam's argument was this: "Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq--we have the largest portion
of oil reserve of any three small nations in the world." Saddam said to Saudi Arabia
[and] he said to Kuwait: "We do not have anything but oil. We do not have the
technology and the know-how that the West has. We cannot give our oil away. We
need to get top price for our oil, because once the oil is gone, we do not have
anything to fall back on." So he came up with a crazy idea: "If you do not sell your
oil for a reasonable price, I am going to take Kuwait, [and] I am going to take Saudi
Arabia. [Then I will] let you see that this is all we have. Once I take it, we can
come up with a program together to get the right price for this oil, because this is all
we have." He was planning on taking Saudi Arabia. He was planning on doing that.
"This is all we have." Now, to really drive his point home--you said it is not about
oil; I want to show you it is about oil--he set all these wells afire. It is like a child
with his ball. "If I cannot have it, you are not going to have it."
Now, we do not know how far this thing is going. They are still assessing the total
damage of the war; they are still assessing it. Where they are saying 100,000 civilians
[were killed], the number could go to 125,000 dead. You cannot say you won,
because the people did not fight.
F: In the same sense that we need to assess history, there have been two books on civil
rights history that have recently come out, the [David J.] Garrow book [Bearing the
Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
(1986)] and the [Taylor] Branch book [Parting the Waters:America in the King Years,
1954-1963 (1988)]. Have you had a chance to read either of those?
F: I am curious as to your thoughts about the way the civil rights movement is now
seen, in the 1990s. Do you think that it is seen, in the Caucasian part of the nation
and in the African-American part of the nation, as a continuing struggle, or is it seen
as a struggle of a bygone day?
W: You know what? I outlined a crazy book yesterday that I might not ever write--and
I might write it. The book, or the thought, is entitled, "Erase Ethnic Color Labels.
Erase them completely, because white has become another word for superior." That
is how I use the word white. I use the word Caucasian. I will also talk about the
inconsistency in terms of color labels, where even the census bureau [categorizes
people as] black or white, and then as Chinese, Japanese, Mexican-American. I
believe we are going to have to get down to the nitty-gritty in terms of respecting
human beings, regardless of race, creed, color. Unless we come to do that,..
F: We cannot make progress?
W: We are not going to be here to exist. Create a world of one world or none. See
what I mean? Another book I have been dabbling on every once in a while is the
similarity between the Greek religions of the world and the racial culture, and
religious differences could cause this whole planet to be destroyed. I am also
believing that we cannot leave it up to weak, shallow-thinking politicians. There
needs to be a united religion organization similar to the United Nations organization,
and the great religions of the world need to be like a lower house to the extent that
you are saying that this should be done from a political point of view, but we are
saying that this should be done from the standpoint of love and justice. We do not
have that in the world today.
F: In doing my paper on the integration of the armed services, I first took on the
problem as something that I recognized that I wanted to confront my own racism and
I wanted to confront the evil that I saw within myself. I have gotten to the point
where I very, very much understand, because it seems that every time that I try to
find division, when I see the division, [I wonder if] I am seeing it to ameliorate it or
to exacerbate it. My heart-felt intent is to try to get rid of it, but I guess I wanted
to interview you because I really wanted to talk to a minister because I needed to
find out where some of my thinking was going. I really appreciate the time that you.
have been able to spend, especially on the more modern issues. I am not sure if Dr.
Proctor is going to say that this is part of oral history or not; I do not know what he
is going to say. I know that it has been a really important moment in my life, and
I want to thank you for spending your time.
W: One thing we have to keep in mind is that only in the last 600 years have Europeans
been right to the front in terms of world history. I am quite sure that old nations
like Iraq, Egypt, Syria--those old nations from way back--might wrestle with the
feeling that we controlled this thing thousands of years before they came into
existence, and we lost the ball. Many of those nations are mixed nations. They
cannot be classified as Caucasians or otherwise. But we are going to have to sit
down around the table and say, regardless of who was first or who was second, "We
are traveling on this planet together. What affects one affects all of us. The same
sun shines down on all of us."
F: In both senses of the word. Thank you very, very much for your time, sir.