Interviewee: T. B. McPherson
Interviewer: Joyce Miller
Date: December 10, 1976
J: Today is December 10, 1976. This is Joyce Miller, and I am interviewing Mr. T.
B. McPherson in his home in Gainesville, Florida. We are going to talk about life
in Gainesville in the 1930s and his connection with the school system during that
time. I would like to start, Mr. McPherson, by asking you when you came to
T: I was born and raised in Gainesville. I was born in Gainesville May 28, 1908.
J: When did your family come here?
T: My family was here a long time. I can not tell you how long they were here, but
they almost were homesteaders in the very early days of Gainesville. I went to
elementary school here, and I finished high school here in 1928.
J: Was the elementary school that you finished at Union Academy?
T: That was Union Academy.
J: And the high school?
T: Lincoln High.
J: Lincoln when it was located where A. Quinn Jones is today?
T: Right. I finished in 1928. Then I went to college at Florida A & M [Agricultural &
Mechanical University in Tallahassee, Florida]. After I had been to college two
years, during the summer months I came back and was a principal for a country
school. You did not have to have a whole lot at that time. If you had your
classwork very well outlined and you were coming through, you were perhaps
ready for it. They used to stress fundamentals when I was coming through.
You teach everything you learn, particularly how to spell. You know the rules for
spelling words ending in y form their plurals by adding ies. The words that had
meaning to them were pretty well drilled in fundamentals, so it was not a rough
job. I took this job.
J: Where was this school?
T: A little place out from Gainesville called Long [inaudible]. It is between here and
Archer. It was really near what you would call Arrendondo, back in the woods.
J: Was it just a summer school?
T: No. At that time they did not have schools. Schools had lasted for awhile, but
those rural schools ran into the summer months. To be frank with you, I was
supposed to have been the principal, and there was a woman, Marie Adams,
who was one of the assistant teachers. She retired, too, this last year. She
taught with Miss Eloise. I was the principal and we had a fairly good school.
We did a pretty good job in the fundamentals, that is, spelling and reading and
J: What years did you do that?
T: In the summers of 1930 and 1931. Then I finished school at Florida A & M with
a bachelor of science degree in 1933.
J: In what particular field did you have it?
T: I had two fields. I had health and physical education, and I had social sciences.
I came in and taught at Lincoln High under Professor A. Q. Jones. I also
became the coach of Lincoln High School in 1933. We developed some fairly
good ball clubs. For my first seven years here I did not loose a ball game.
J: You did not lose any games?
T: We did not lose any games for the first seven years.
J: If I remember right, you went to nationals a couple of times.
T: We had a few of the top teams in the country. We played a team out at New
Orleans once. We played a team in Brookhaven, Mississippi once. We had
been to Nashville, Tennessee. These were the top black teams. You really
never heard too much about the black schools at that time, anyway, except in the
South. However, I feel like we did a good job with it.
J: Was Charles Chestnut coaching sort of as a fun thing to do prior to your taking
T: It was, yes. It was usually in his spare time. Charles Chestnut was a great
lover of people. He set so many principles down. He worked with a lady
named Mrs. Sanchez. The thing that really made him click was he always had a
smile. He was always willing to do or go out of his way, and he made quite an
impression upon all kinds of people, white and black, at that particular time.
Usually when Charles Chestnut, Senior said anything he had the backing of
nearly everybody in the community. I liked this about him.
I stayed with some whites while I was in high school during the week. I
worked with Mrs. E. T. Guy, who was a prominent worker in the Presbyterian
movement at that time. She saw me playing hooky from school one day, and
she called me and said, "You are Eleanor's boy, are you not?" I said I was
Eleanor's boy, and she said, "What are you doing out of school?" I said I was
selling candy for the school; "I like my money." She asked me how much I had
earned, and I said, "Nine dollars and eighty cents." "What were you selling?"
she asked. I was selling [inaudible] chocolate candy. She looked at me and
smiled. She put me in a car, and carried me back out to Lincoln (at that time)
and paid the people there nine dollars and eighty cents. She gave me a job and
would pick me up a lot, most of the times in the afternoon. I stayed there during
the week. I lived on the University of Florida campus all during my high school
career. I came home sometimes on the weekend. My job was to kind of clean
up around the house.
I give them a lot of credit because before I did anything after school, I had
to read and study. They had a place for me there to study. I ate from the table
right along with them when I came up. Now, she wanted me to be like Charlie
Chestnut. That was one of the persons that she wanted me to model around.
J: She lived on the campus, did you say?
T: On the campus. I would like to tell you exactly where the place was. It used to
be where the Baptist Student Center is [on West University Avenue].
J: Is she still alive?
T: No, she is dead.
J: Do you recall when she died?
T: She moved away from here after I went away. She moved back to her home
which was in [inaudible], Tennessee. She did a lot for me, because I met a lot of
people at that particular time. When I did get out of school a lot of them knew
me. When I came back to Gainesville as a coach, I got interested in community
It was kind of rough for black people along in that time. Believe it or not,
sometimes we walked in the middle of the streets. There was a lot of lynching
that went on in the Newberry area. But they did not bother people who had fairly
good names. Now, I can not say whether or not all of this was not true. But
people who had fairly good names and who tried to do right got along all right.
Can you imagine that the Klu Klux Klan was in its glory at that day? Can you
imagine the Klu Klux Klan came into town and they would tell Charlie, "Keep your
people off the street at night. The Klu Klux Klan is coming." We stayed off the
I just happened to be a lucky young fellow when the movement was
beginning to really move. They had a professor at the University of Florida who
was very prominent at that time. I remember Head Senator [William] Shands,
who was not a senator then, but was a very popular fellow at that time.
Reverend U. S. Gordon, at that time, was the Presbyterian pastor. I can recall
several prominent others who say this [was a?] disadvantage that blacks were
J: Did you have trouble using University facilities because you were black? I know
Mr. Jones recalls not being able to use the library.
T: You could not talk about using the University. I can remember.... I would rather
not say some of the things that would reflect [poorly on the community], because
I do like Gainesville and the area. You have seen so much change, and you just
hate to go back and review some of the bad things. It was not all that bad,
because you did have a lot of good people here who did not go along with these
things. But it has been a rough time here in Gainesville.
J: When you were living with Mrs. Guy, where did your family reside? Where was
T: They lived over down on 714 Northeast Old Place. I had a mother who thought
a lot, too. Basically, my mother had worked for Senator [inaudible] Clark as his
maid. When we came into the world, she spent a lot of time with us, but she
took in a lot washing and ironing. My daddy was a carpenter. The one thing I
have to acknowledge about them is, with all the meanness [that was going on
around us], they always taught us something a little bit different. Never be angry
or react unreasonably. What I mean by that is that a lot of times people say
something and they just had to smile. It was not because you were black. You
were in trouble, too, a lot of times because other people had a little black skin,
and they felt they were much better than you were.
I can see my mother now as she would go to buy food. Sometimes it was
ham[?], but she did not want her children to go. She bought the ham[?], and we
would take what you call cooking [inaudible], what you usually call it, and scrub
them off good. Daddy had a philosophy and I am proud of him for it that you
never go to bed hungry. Sometimes they would cook mush, which was just
meal and water. We would add some syrup water, but we did not go to bed
hungry. And they taught us love. They spent a lot of time drilling love into me,
so it was not a rough job to get along with people when I moved out to the Guy's.
J: In 1928 you left to go to college, and then you came back in 1933. Were the
black families still hurting from the Depression, or were conditions so bad for the
black family that the Depression did not have any particularly worse effect on
T: No worse effect. They got along all right. To start off with, there were not a
whole lot of jobs if you did not get a job out of the University, such as a
washwoman. You did not hardly hear of any hard work. It really did not effect
us a lot.
J: So, basically, a black could only work at, say, cleaning jobs or some kind of
maintenance at the university?
T: Along that time they had chauffeurs, too, and they had maids. A lot of them
worked as chauffeurs and maids.
J: But there were some blacks like Charles Chestnut, who owned his funeral home
at that time.
T: Yes, he owned a funeral home.
J: There were some black doctors.
T: Dr. Parker and a Dr. Ayer, both of them. Dr. Ayer has got a son that teaches
now at Eastside, Bobby Ayer.
J: Were there any other black doctors or professionals, dentists, or attorneys in
T: Well, we had Dr. Jenkins, who was a dentist. He came here late, in the 1930s.
Very fine fellow. He died later.
J: You mentioned Dr. Parker and Dr. Ayer. What do you recall about them
particularly? Do you remember them personally?
T: Both of them were great fellows. Dr. Parker did a whole lot of deliverance of
babies and things around there. He was a fellow that told me that he delivered
me as a baby. As I grew up and got to be a good curse, he said, "Boy, I brought
you into this world."
J: Were blacks permitted to use the hospital, or did they just go to the doctor's
office for deliveries or for illness?
T: In the early days we did not have too many hospitals.
J: What I was referring to is later on in the 1930s when they finally did have the
Alachua General Hospital or the beginnings of it.
T: I am not really sure whether they did any practice or anything. I think Dr. Banks
maybe broke the ice; I am thinking right now that really recall [?].
J: Dr. Banks?
T: Yes. C. W. Banks, who was then about the first black doctor to go into a
hospital. That is right.
J: Do you think it was as early as the 1930s, or perhaps later on?
T: No, it was later on.
J: It was later?
T: I am almost certain.
J: So most of the black doctors would just practice in their offices?
T: They did not have but two of them. They had to practice in their offices.
J: Was it unusual for a black man from Gainesville to be going to a university, even
if it was a black university?
T: No. A few of us got jobs working. We did not have a whole lot of money to get
into the schools. We were from Gainesville alone, and we had quite a few kids
on the football team, I know. We had a very good football team. Charlie was
the coach of the football team, and we played a lot of the top negro colleges in
the country. We played Clark University here. The university was not all that
bad. We just were at that point in time where it was a dark day for people that
had not had [inaudible] people, and I turned around and said this: "We really
need to play a football game." We played after the University of Florida. We
played Clark University from Atlanta on the University of Florida campus. That
was old Fleming Field. You know where Fleming Field is?
T: That is where we played our football game. We did not play over there when we
got Kirby Smith School, but Fleming Field used to be the place where we played
our football games.
J: But this would be the high school playing against colleges?
T: Yes, we played against colleges. That is where Charlie Chestnut gained fame.
We beat Bethune-Cookman College and the Florida Normal College. We did
not beat Clark University; we played them to a 0-0 tie. After I came down here, I
played a lot of the college b-teams. But along in that time we played the real
colleges. There were not a whole lot of teams anywhere, whether they were
white or black. You see, we were limited in the early 1930s.
J: Did the black students who played for Lincoln have a good chance at football
scholarships to Florida A & M or some of the other black colleges? Were there
football scholarship for blacks?
T: They were limited. They could get you a job working; that was the only way.
J: That is what they would do?
J: So if you could not afford to go to college, then they would find you a job, and
you would be able finance going?
T: Yes, they would give you a job. If you were a good athlete you might have a job
working in the afternoon, polishing the doors or working in the dining room
somewhere. You did have some assistance.
J: Do you recall any other particular black who went up with you about the same
time to [Florida] A & M?
T: Oh, yes. Most of the [black] Gainesville [athletes]. There was Alfonso Green.
J: Is that Aaron Green's family, or is this another Green?
T: This is another Green. The Aaron Green family came along, and I taught Aaron
all of the rules. Oh, we had maybe five or six of us who went to school up there
at that particular time.
J: When you came back and you began coaching at Lincoln, what were finances
like for the team?
T: Ha! Wait till you hear this!
J: Were you financed through the school board or was it just through community
T: I am glad that you asked me that. [When I was in] my last year at Lincoln I was
good enough for people to talk about sending me to a good school. At that time
they had a coach at the University of Florida named Nash Higgins, and then they
had another coach, Charlie Bachman. They were very interested in seeing me
get in the school. I could not have gotten into the University of Florida, so they
did a lot of negotiating and got me into Florida A & M College. They gave me
three months [inaudible]. In other words, you did not have to do anything that
first three months in school. They were very nice to me. They kept up with me
after I got out, and that is where I got a jump up on a lot of the kids, because I got
a chance to go to New York and coach in school.
Along in that time Knute Rockne was a great coach. Knute Rockne
[lectured around the country], and he came in for lectures at both New York
universities. Luckily I got into one in 1935. I had completed my [bachelor's]
work, and I got in as a [graduate] student to Columbia University in the summer.
Columbia had just been to the Rose Bowl and had won it in 1935. But I had
such a good record and recommendations up there that I got a lot of breaks and
work study [jobs]. I had worked in recreation and had a pretty fair record with
the National Recreation Association. I had been to a lot of the new school.
When you had something good to offer, I have to acknowledge that people
really would back you whether you are white or black. If you were black, you
just did not come up to the standards, they thought. It was very beautiful thing
for me to have gone to Columbia.
I had been going to a class in anatomy, and during this class I just really
did not understand the terminology. Josephine Rathorne was the professor. At
that time, she was the greatest anatomy teacher in the world. She was
supposed to have been really tough. She wrote most of the books. I just did
not understand [some things], so I just made up my mind not to bother her in her
classroom. I waited until she got back in the office one day. I went back to her
office and I said, "Miss Rathborne, I would like to talk with you. I am from the
South, and I am interested in physical education. I am interested for a lot of
reasons. I teach a lot of boys and girls, and they have beautiful faces and little
skinny bodies and legs. That terminology you are using up there I do not
understand it." She just fell over her seat. She said, "Well, I will tell you what.
I noticed that. Now here is what you do. You come back tomorrow and I will
help you." She got some books. The next day after class she said, "At the end
of classwork today you can come by my building and I have something for you."
She gave me a lot of books. Then she gave me that first B just to keep me
[motivated] after she found out that I had the right attitude. I made the A's from
there on, and she told a lot of people about it. It just tickled her because at that
time she told a lot of professors some things about me. Another fellow there
named Dr. Bancroft met me one day and introduced me to the director of
officials. He told them about me, and then he got me in a class there.
J: Were there other blacks at Columbia when you were there?
T: Oh, yes. We had a fellow who was the outstanding player in 1935, Manny
Rivero, when they went to Rose Bowl. I got introduced to him. He found out I
was usually in the library. I would go sit in the library. No question about it. I
was in a big school, and they laughed at me. I did not know anybody but the
instructor. Miss Rathborne sent him to talk with me. He came one night and
asked me if I had trouble with getting the book, and I said no. He said, "Well,
come on, let me introduce you to some people." He introduced me to some of
his friends in the library. [inaudible] time to time he would come [inaudible], and
we became friends. In other words, I do not owe anybody anything, but their
were people who have made a lot of sacrifices for me, and those are the people I
have met. I have found out one thing: if you try to make yourself more than what
you really are and have the wrong attitude, you could not get it.
When I came back home, I had a master's degree. I got my masters from
Columbia in 1939. After that the National Recreation Association used me a lot
for speaking all over the country. My speaking was a little bit different and I
knew it. It did not worry me at all. I hear people talking about how they came
from "up the country," but they had the same problems that blacks in recreation
and playground. My job was to go in to little towns and talk to the people about
opening up a playground in those areas. I would sell it to the city fathers, and
then get out and go somewhere else. That is what I did in the summer. When I
came back to Columbia and they found out I was doing that, they sent me to
upstate New York to an exclusive white playground.
J: White playground?
T: Yes. It was white. It was really in a neighborhood with people who had money.
I learned a lot in that job.
J: You were in Columbia from 1935 to 1939?
T: Right. But, you see, now, I went to Columbia in the summers.
J: Just in the summers?
J: Why would you come home here?
T: To work and teach.
J: And coach?
T: [Inaudible] and then coach. When school was out, I went on my way back to
J: You were out there just for the summers for, I guess, about four summers?
J: When you were coaching at Lincoln, how was the financial situation. Did you
have enough money for equipment? Did you have enough money for uniforms?
T: Well, let me pour it out to you. That is the reason I did not get into that, and I
should have gotten into it. It is a beautiful thing. You heard me mention
[inaudible] and Charlie Bachman. They knew me, they knew my attitude, they
knew how I felt. One day a fellow made the statement that the University was
not fit for their children because they were not winning all their ball games at that
time. I said, "Well, give them a lot of the good players and some of the money."
Somebody told me that and [inaudible] and all of the things from the University,
like the University got uniforms and things. At the end when they quit using the
uniforms, I got the choice of all the equipment. When I got ready to mark off
fields, I would go out there and borrow the seats. We used to play games out
there, what is now the fairground. But I would go and borrow the seats, borrow
a truck, and haul them, put them up in the afternoon, and take them back. So,
you see, I have had a close relationship with the University coaches.
J: Did the public school system finance you at all?
T: No, there was not any money there. We had to make it. We had people like
Gus Cox, who ran a furniture store, and Sam Nixon, who ran a hardware store.
They used to come out to our games. I did not know what they were doing, but
at the end of a game sometimes on the Saturday morning they would give a
good deal of money to kids to buy food. It was just to get them together. That
was a kind of entertainment. A lot of the things that I needed I could get it on
credit at Baird hardware. Sam Cox would give a lot of money. We had a lot of
people. I do not know what they were doing, but they gave a lot of money in
J: There were a lot of members in the white community who would give money?
J: You mentioned that the school system did not have the money to finance you
football team. Did they finance the white team? Was there enough money for
that, or was there just no money?
T: I do not think there was too much money there at all, or too much interest, either.
I will tell you one thing: they had a team, and my relationship was a lot different,
which is the reason I got along so well there. I came in with the right attitude for
a day like that. My kids had to come out of poorer sports, which was way down
on the other end. They used to throw bricks, but I stopped that by talking to my
kids. [inaudible] I will tell you who was the coach at Gainesville High School.
Howard Bishop was the coach over there.He later became superintendent.
They had a lot going for them.
J: He was the coach at the Gainesville High School at that time?
J: I am glad you told me that, because I interview him Monday and I will have to ask
him about that.
T: This is what we did. When they went off to play, I sent them a telegram and
wished them success. That changed the wheel; that changed the whole thing
around. Coach Bishop told me "If I can do you some good, call on me." That
was the best psychology from then on. A little later he became the
superintendent, you see, and I had a lot of things that worked out. I like to talk,
but I am not telling lies. I am just telling some of these things that I guess had to
happen that way.
J: How was your relationship with A. Quinn Jones, as principal-and-coach
relationship, or as friends, or whatever relationship you had?
T: I was a little boy when Jones came here to teach, and I shall never forget that
one day I wanted to bully up and jump on him and probably kill him. When I
grew up, and I had been an honor student and went to college. When I came
back he hired me. Sometimes things got rather tough. We caught hell as much
sometimes from my own people who they had appointed in the jobs. They had
appointed a fellow named Rath Jones to what they called the negro supervisor.
Boy, if you did not kiss him or just hang around him, he would give you hell, and I
just was not that type of a student.
J: He was hired by whom?
T: The school.
J: The local schools?
J: To take care of the black schools?
T: Yes. He was what they call a supervisor. But Professor Jones always
encouraged me: "Do your best. Just forget about it. Put your best to it. I know
what you are going up against." I want to point out to you that he was a
tremendous inspiration, had always been. I have seen the man who had no
library come in and make the table for the library and make the chairs for the
library. I saw that he was a well rounded type of person, and he was making the
things that he needed in the schools. Not only did he physically make them, he
had the spirit to put on drives with some of the outstanding black citizens at that
time, like selling pies, until we got an accredited high school. We were the first
accredited high school in the state. He is also well versed. He taught a
language and was pretty well up on it. We had Latin in ninth grade. We had
Caesar in tenth grade, Cicero in eleventh grade, and Virgil and Horatio in the
twelfth grade, which meant you were fundamentally grounded. This was the key
to the English language, and we were pretty well ground in everything. He
taught a lot of these things. Professor Jones was to that school what the
foundation of a building was. He turned out a lot. I mean he spent particular
time in teaching everything, and he did.
J: What was the comparison in the buildings themselves between the Gainesville
High School and Lincoln? I understand from Mr. Jones that the building
themselves were fairly similar, but the outside beautification was financed more
for the white schools than for the black schools. Did you find that also true?
T: Slightly. The material and stuff come from a lot of the people who were
interested in the community. They would plant trees and hedges. I can
remember some of the people at that time made donations. Also, the Professor
[Jones] was an agriculturist. He did a lot of the work himself. Look at the
tables. They had no tables in the library. Tables in the library were built by him.
The work shop, the carpenter shop--most of that stuff was put out there and
developed by Professor Jones. He was a tremendous, tremendous leader who
never knew what it was to stop working night or day. For example, look at the
debate teams we had all of these times. We were exposed. I will you this: I felt
very proud that we learned the fundamentals of the English [language]. When
we moved up to around eighth grade we were in declension contests. When we
hit eleventh and twelfth we were debating. When I went to college I made the
debating team my first year. They were terrific, and you stayed there to teach.
You had to teach, but they had some dedicated teachers at that time.
J: They actually had a debate team at Lincoln in the 1920's.
T: Yes, but it was only local. I mean, we debated class against class, up against
T: Now, when I hit college, they had what was known as the freshman-sophomore
debate team, and two of us on the freshman debating team were from
Gainesville. We were the freshman. Then I went on from there.
J: Who was the other from Gainesville?
T: Rick Roberts. His name was Thornton Roberts. His brother teaches at Harvard
University in Atlanta. Then I went on from there. My freshman year I was
almost determined to change from athletics to debate because I really learned a
little bit, too, while I was in high school.
J: Did you teach as well as coach, and who were the other teachers at the school?
T: Yes. I taught a lot of things. When I first came I taught history, government,
and health education. Then a little later on I got more interested in athletics
because I saw a lot of girls with pretty faces and a lot of boys with pretty faces,
but their bodies were not well developed. That is where I got the idea that I
really wanted to go into physical education and into coaching. I had already
been success as a coach, but I wanted to get into physical education because I
wanted to see kids develop. I told Miss Rathborne that, and it was one of the
scoring points that caused me to do all right in anatomy up there [at Columbia].
J: Who were some of the teachers that were also there in the late 1930s?
T: I had an assistant phys. ed. teaching coach from High Springs a little later on
named Lou M. Strom. Back then we did not have as many teachers back then.
We had a Mrs. Robertson.
J: Is this Strom related to the Mrs. Strom who retired about five years ago from
T: Right; that was his wife. At that time there was also Mr. B. F. Charles. He used
to write; later on he wrote for the Gainesville Daily Sun. We had D. L. Robertson
out of Tallahassee who taught science. They did not have a whole lot of people
teaching in school; you did not have a whole lot of money to operate on for
teaching school. When I finished high school we did not have but five in the
senior class. The first senior class that went out from Lincoln High School had
eight, and six of them became nurses. One of them was a scientist who had
taught in several outstanding universities, and one of them was a newspaper
editor. He teaches at Harvard University right now.
J: About how large was the school by 1935 or 1936? Or how large was the senior
class by that time?
T: Well, it grew from year to year. When I came back to teach we had as many as
120 in the senior class.
J: So about how many teachers would you have? First of all, you had grades
seven to twelve?
J: When you came back?
T: When I came back we were seven to twelve, and we really had grown then. I
was talking about the four and five students when I was in high school.
T: It had grown. It was growing all along. They were closing down all the little
country schools and bringing them into Gainesville. You used to see a little
country school in about every little case. Then after a while they started closing
them and bringing them into Lincoln.
J: By what means? Did they have buses that would go out and pick up the
T: They had a bus.
J: What kind of advice would you give your team members?
T: You know I was stinker. I really was a fundamentalist in that thing. I believed in
doing things perfect. I believed in them being students; I wanted them to be
outstanding as students. Believe it or not, I walked the streets at night trying to
find some of my team on the streets. I had a lot of pride that I had instilled. I do
not know where I picked it up, but the team had its own Glee Club. We had our
own kids that would go out to speak, and a lot of times when I would be invited to
speak I could send my students. Some of them did as good a job as I did. We
had our own debating team.
J: The team did?
T: Yes. Right on it. We had a lot of pride. The thing is, Professor Jones and the
others did a tremendous job for the first few fellows that they turned out from
Lincoln. The first five or six classes were fundamentally right in just about
everything. You had the fundamentals when you came out.
J: How many members did you have on your football team?
T: Oh, now, I was the one who broke the record with football. They usually had
twenty-two, it seemed, but when I came here I had the most unusual team. I
had coached up in Tallahassee, the B squad at A & M and the high schools in
Tallahassee. The high school would play a football game once a year, and the
B squad played two ball games a year. I was the coach of both the high schools
in the city. I had another fellow, Chappy James; both of us coached.
J: Oh, Chappy James, General James.
T: Yes. Both of us coached together. When we did come down we had the
general idea, and a lot of the kids followed me here.
J: How many players did you have?
T: I had somewhere around thirty-five or forty kids. It was something to scare
every one of these high school teams because at my house I had little house in
the back. We fed them, we slept them. There was my mother and father, but
we fed them. They did not have anything fancy. It was the same thing you
heard me talking about lima beans, or getting these hams and things down
there but, oh God, has it paid off.
That was a tremendous group. We had a boy who walked in here the
other day and I felt so proud; he is an executive for Eastern Airlines. The phone
rang and he said, "Do you know who I am" I said, "No, I do not know who you
are." He said, "My name is Dean [inaudible]." I had not seen him in forty-two
years. He said he had just gotten a car now and wanted to drive out to see me,
and he did.
But now I had kids going on to teach college. You see, I stayed with this
place. I stayed with the school system for forty-eight years, and I feel pretty
proud that I never wanted anything. I never had any money. I could not have
any money with this, but the greatest payoff there has ever been is to turn out so
many kids all over the world. It sounds rather funny when I say this, but I
mean particularly in the United States. I am proud of helping kids get into the
money. Except for two weeks I went to the Sugar Bowl one year for a two
week vacation I worked all my life. My wife and children have suffered for it
some, but it has paid off. I do not regret a penny I did not get. I did not have
too much money, and what little I had was going right back in this to buy food for
J: You used your personal money to pay for the kids?
T: Yes. Yes. But in all these little towns like High Springs every kid just about
wanted to come to Gainesville after I came in here.
J: About how much were you making at that time?
T: Ha! My first job as a principal, I made $25 a month. It cost me $16 a month to
stay out there. When I came to Lincoln to teach, they paid me $48 a month.
Up until I had been to graduate school at Columbia I had not made over $60 a
month. So, you see, I had nothing. I would go to a fellow named Shands
downtown and borrow some money to go to school in the summer.
I had the most unusual thing happen, however, after I had been to
Columbia. A fellow who had been a classmate of mine in high school named
Johnny Glasper was fixing to get in trouble one day playing cards, and he got
angry with me. He said, "I thought you would come to New York to be a smart
boy." I said I did not have any money; "I am trying [inaudible]." He said, "Well, I
will tell you what. If you want to be like this, I want no part of you." He had not
gone any further than tenth grade. "If you want to be somebody, I do not mind
My mother and daddy did not have money then, and [inaudible] talking
about Columbia. It did not cost me but about seven dollars a week to stay there,
and for maybe about five dollars I could eat. Every weekend I would come
home, and my landlady would say, "Your friend's been by." He would have paid
my board, and he would have left me five, sometimes seven dollars. He would
not let me pay him back. He and his brother run a business. I collect his rent
now for him. He has a brother named Willie Glasper who runs the Air-Way Dry
Cleaner now, and I do all the collecting of the rent. I handle his business for
him. John is the one who sent me to school.
I will be frank with you. That is the reason you hear me talking about
being obligated to children and boys. I never would have gotten through school
if it had not been for him. I can remember when my mother was very low sick
and a telegram was stuck under my door with three stars. "Come at once.
Your mother's going." I did not have one nickel. I had to walk. I walked up to
142nd Street and left word. The next afternoon I was on the train coming back
But now I tried to be nice to people. This is important: I do not care
whether you are white or black. This is success. You do not fight back and
cuss back, and all you try to win friends [inaudible].
When I got back home there was a fellow running a [inaudible]. When my
mother got well enough for me to get my Master's degree, he asked me one
morning, "When are you going back to school?" I said I was not even going
back. He asked what was the matter, and I told him. He [inaudible]. Then he
asked, "Well, when could you get back?" I said, "I could get back tomorrow. I
could get back today." He said, "How much would it take?" I told him $70.
The man gave me $70, and I got back in school. You see, I have had this type
of thing. This has had a lot to do with the attitude in my entire life toward people.
J: I can see that.
T: I am talking about getting along with people.
J: I am curious about your relationship with Chappy James. The reason I am
curious is I heard him talk at Gainesville High School once and I was so totally
T: He comes out of Pensacola. Concerning his background, his mother was a
teacher, and all the children went to A & M. They really taught them at home.
They did not see high school until around their senior year. When they came to
A & M they were my classmates. Five of us would stay in a room at A & M.
They had a big double bed, and the first night I got there, I got in a fight with a
fellow from Pensacola. Chappy was my friend because he was on the football
team, and we went to all the same schools, and we did just about all the other
J: Does he come by here when he was in town?
T: Oh, definitely. I was over there and I saw he and his brother about a month ago.
J: What about blacks going into businesses in town? Could they go into a theatre
or the businesses when you were here in the 1930s as a coach?
T: Oh, yes, you could go into businesses. It was just the things that had the social
outlook that you could not get in, like a whole lot of clubs and organizations.
You just did not look, and the time was not right at that time.
T: It was not only here; it was everywhere. Let me pour it out to you that we were
treated a lot better in the Southland than they were in New York. They talked a
lot of trash in New York, but New York was hell as much as anywhere else. It
was the same in the other places, too. You see, I have a lot of experience in
that. I told you I worked in these little towns to set up playgrounds, but there
was nothing like that here. This is mine to tell you: they come from up in the
country. I would rather have had somebody being sincere down here who really
wanted to see you progress but wanted you to stay on your side of the fence. I
am sincere about this. You heard me say this about Illinois and these types of
places where the National Recreation Center sent me. I was talking to city
fathers and trying to sell them our idea for getting some playgrounds started.
Shoot, I used to hear our kids tell me about going up in the country, man. See, I
had as much respect for these people down here. What they said, they meant.
They were real.
J: Right. So you could go into any of the grocery stores, department stores, and
shop, but you could not go to a theatre or belong to most of the social clubs in
T: No social clubs at all if you did not have any money. What would you want to be
in there for? You could not have made it, anyhow.
J: Did most blacks, then, spend their spare time maybe in church-related activities?
T: They did a lot of church-related activity. They had some of their own social
affairs. We had our parties and things and all of that. We had a little of this
color thing among ourselves. You were a certain color of skin, and you were
classified as a kind of up-to-date group. There were a whole lot of us here. Let
me say something about what my mother gave me. A whole lot of time you go
to party where they were. They would not tell you not to come; they were not
particular about your coming. You see, this has been one of the things that has
existed over the years, and we are just beginning to come to the point now where
we are beginning to realize people are people and that you can advance. This is
the reason I have got my attitude as I have. I found out that trying to love people
is getting people to love people. I want to go down there and not lose my
[inaudible]. "You do not want me here? I do not want to go to where you do not
want me to go."
J: One of the things that A. Quinn Jones mentioned is that one thing you could do
as a black person is sit downtown around the courthouse and no one would ever
come up and say, "You are black; you do not belong here in this seat. Will you
T: Yes. That was on one street. That was on Union Street. That was where
somebody wants you to work. They come along and this is it. You see fellows
right now almost sit on that side of the courthouse square waiting for somebody
to come along and hire them.
J: So it would not be just to sit down and relax?
T: Well, they could relax. Nobody bothered them, but I have seen a time they
would pick you up for vagrancy. That is what they called it in their book. But let
me pour it out to you. I have seen the rough times, but the families who knew
how to handle it and had the right attitude never had any trouble. I can
acknowledge that you felt that you were human and you were all these other
things, but you had a long way to come.
All the people there were not black. Some of the people that I could sit
with and start to call to you were not in the Sunland Training Center. You did
not have a black face anywhere on there. You heard me talk about Senator
Shands and Preacher Gordon and those types of fellows. They had an
organization, and Charlie Chestnut, Dr. Mead, myself, and maybe Professor
Jones those who were supposed to have been the good-thinking blacks we
met once a week.
The idea first was used to bring the [inaudible] in the wagon. That was to
pick up the refuse. Come midday you had to be eating there. They go in the
back they called it the ice cream wagon and get the refuse and bring it right
out in the front. That was the first thing after we got out of school that we started
to fight. Senator Shands, I had a lot of respect for him.
[End of the interview]