Interviewee: Rosa B. Williams
Interviewer: Stuart Landers
Date: July 25, 1992
L: This is an oral history interview with Mrs. Rosa B. Williams. We are talking in her
office at the Tacachale center in Gainesville, Florida. Today is July 25, 1992,
and my name is Stuart Landers.
The first question I would like to ask you this morning is: What does the B stand
W: Bell. But I do not like Bell, so I just use B.
L: OK. When and where were you born?
W: I was born in Starke, Florida, in 1933.
L: Did you grow up there?
W: No. My mother left there, I guess, when I was probably about six months old.
She went up to South Carolina with my father.
L: What were their names?
W: When she died she was Catherine Hays, but my father's name was Lucius
Williams. She had remarried.
L: Did you have any brothers and sisters? You mentioned your brother earlier.
W: I had four: two brothers and two sisters.
L: And how many are older and how many are younger?
W: My brother is the oldest. My older brother in Archer is next. I am next. My sister
that died was next. The other one was the next one.
L: So you are right in the middle.
L: Did you grow up in South Carolina?
W: No. My mother and father separated. My auntie, from the story I was told, came
up there, I guess, when I was about one year old. She got us and took us to
Willacoochee, Georgia. We stayed there for a while. Then we ended up here. I
can remember that real good. I guess I was about six years old.
L: And you have lived in Gainesville ever since?
L: What was your childhood like?
W: It was a very happy one. We lived on NE 2nd Street now, but during that it time
it was old North Virginia Avenue. The house is still standing. One of my aunties
was in one house, and my mother and another auntie were in another house,
which was a large house. My mother's kids and her kids were all in this same
house, so there were plenty of people living around there. It was real, real
friendly. We had lots of fun. We had more fun than these young people have
these days, because everybody was looking after each other. Mama and them
looked out, and everybody took care of each other. They planted gardens and
they shared gardens and things. In the late afternoon we did not know
anything about air-conditioning and fans and all then we would sit out on the
front porch or in the front yard or build a fire. We just had lots of fun.
L: A nice, good, happy [childhood].
W: Yes. Where Publix is over here on Main Street, at that time where Publix and
Eckerd's drug store and all those places are, and Pic n' Save and all those
places, were just woods. Some of our friends stayed over in that area, so those
people sold their land to I guess the people who built Publix. We used to walk
across there where Pic 'n Save is and pick blackberries.
L: How was your school? What was your schooling like?
W: It was fine. We did not have what the white schools had. The black teachers did
what they could do, and under the circumstances it was fine. There were some
kids inside there who had more than myself and a bunch of other kids, but it was
fine. My mother and them sent us off to school and everything like this. It was
not, I would say, up to par like it should have been, remembering now and
thinking back, but [I thought] it was fine during that time. It was really fine.
L: OK. What schools did you go to?
W: I went to what is A. Quinn Jones school now on 7th Avenue. Then my mother
met my stepfather and moved to Bronson, Florida. I went to high school in
Bronson, Florida. Then at that time the black people's school stayed in Bronson.
When you got to the seventh grade you were either transferred to Archer or
Williston. It just depended on what part of town you were staying on. If you lived
on the side that was going to Otter Creek, you were transferred to Williston, but if
you lived on the other side coming towards Archer, then you were transferred to
Archer. So I went to Williston High School, Williston Vocational School.
L: In reading the interview you did with Joel Buchanan [FAB 6, University of Florida
Oral History Project], I got the impression that you went to Lincoln High School
for a little bit.
W: Well, A. Quinn Jones was Lincoln High School.
L: I see. Do you remember the Second World War? Do you remember anything
during that period of time?
W: I remember some of my family was off in the war, but I do not remember too
much about that.
L: What was Gainesville like in the 1940s and 1950s, when you were eighteen,
W: I can put it from my side better. Black people cared more about each other
during that time. You did not see all the drugs and things going on. You did not
see all the stealing and breaking into houses. You could sleep on your front
porch all night long, and somebody would go by and say, "You had better get up
and go in the house." People took care of each other. There was more
compassion for each other. People did more for senior citizens and tried to help
them. This thing was just completely different from what it is now. Now it is just
like crabs [in a barrel]. Everything and everybody is out for themselves and all.
It was not like that then.
As far as the whites, I saw what was going on [that was] wrong, but my mother
and my auntie and them, they made sure that we never had to go on welfare or
anything. They made sure that we had food. It may not have been what we
wanted, but we were kind of sheltered. [Instead of] going downtown or doing
something, we just stayed right around the house.
L: What did your mother and your aunts do for a living?
W: They worked as a maid and took in washing and ironing. They worked as a maid
in the daytime and washed and ironed clothes in the nighttime.
L: Did you know anybody or did anybody in your family work at the University?
W: Not during that time, no.
Most of the people during that time Do you know where K-Mart is out here on
23rd [Avenue and North Main Street]?
W: Right over there by where K-Mart is was a place called the creosote plant [Cabot
Koppers], and McCoy Lumber Company was across the street [23rd Avenue]
where those other buildings are. So that is where the average black person
L: Men and women?
W: Men. But, now, the women they had a moss factory here you know the moss
up in the trees?
W: They used to pull moss and go down there and sell it, and they had people
working down in that place. They had people working, and they also had a crate
mill here. I am not sure if that is the same crate mill that was in Micanopy, but
there was a crate mill, and that is where the average black people worked then.
L: What were they using the moss for?
W: I do not know, that is one thing I never found [out]. But they had a moss factory
here. That is how lots of people would make money, just like people pick up
cans now and sell them. You used to see people pulling moss out of the trees
and selling it. That is why when I go out on the University of Florida campus and
see moss, we talk about the days when people used to pull it and carry it. You
saw them with a big croker sack on their backs walking. That moss factor was
somewhere over there around Depot Avenue and Main Street. I have forgotten
L: That is very interesting. I cannot imagine what use people would have [for
W: Well, some black people made mattresses out of it, but it was still kind of hard. I
do not know just what they did when they got to the factory because I never went
inside there. I have been up there when people were selling the moss, but I
never went inside there. Black people would just walk up there and just carry.
There was a crate mill, also, where black people worked.
L: Making boxes or crates?
L: You mentioned a little bit about relations with whites. Was that a bad situation?
W: Well, it was bad in some cases. The maids and people, for instance, my mother
and my auntie, that worked in a home, the white people made sure that they
brought food home for their families and things. But on the other hand, black
people especially black males were really talked to really bad during that
time, I mean, "nigger" this and "nigger" that. It just was a really bad scene. The
women did not catch it as bad as the men did.
L: Why do you think that was?
W: I do not know, but that was the way it was. They just got off better. Black
women seemed to get along better with the white race than the black men. It still
is. A black female, even now, would stand a better chance at getting a job than
a black male. There is something about that black male.
L: OK. What about voting? When did you start voting?
W: When I was about eighteen or nineteen years old.
L: Did you have any problems registering?
L: Did you know of anybody having any [problems or] getting harassed?
W: Not here. I do not know. What I did have problems with [was] when I went to
the library to get a library card.
L: Was this during the 1950s? Was this early?
L: What happened then?
W: Well, I filled out the application. They had to check my reference of what church
I went to, and [they] talked to the neighbors and things like that, and did a whole
bunch of background checks. I was about to get tired of it when this one white
lady, Jane Sterrett [wife of UF professor of music Delbert Sterrett], who I also
was working for at that time, kept on pushing me and pushing me, and I kept on
going back up there. They were trying to send me to the library which was on
NW 1 st Street at that time the black [library]. Blacks were not supposed to go
downtown. They were supposed to go around. Then they say, "Why not pick
out the books you want and we will send them around there," and I would not
accept that. Finally they gave me a card. But it was a lot of harassment. I was
told to go around there and all.
Everything was separate at that time. Even when everybody goes over to HRS
[Health and Rehabilitative Services] now to get food stamps or welfare or toys or
something, people went on NW 1st Street then. They used that building, the
Rosa B. Williams Center (that was named after me) for all that kind of stuff. It
just was a separation. I am not so sure now if some things maybe should have
stayed separated like that.
L: It sounds like the community was a lot better organized.
W: They were because they learned how to depend on their own selves, not to sit
back and wait for all this handout coming. And you had to go to school. The
education was a really important part then, and you had to go to school. There
was not all this not going to school. Someone could see me out there doing
something and they would criticize me, and my mother would do the same thing.
But now you cannot say anything to nobody else's child. Then HRS came in
with all the child abuse I am not saying we do not need it. We do need it. But
you still have to make some children toe the line. So I am not so sure if in some
cases we were not getting along better back in those times.
L: OK. You mentioned a church. What church were you a member of?
W: At that time we went out to what was eventually named I cannot think of the
name at first, but that church burnt down, and they rebuilt it. Then it was Mount
Zion Missionary Baptist Church. We stayed there for a long, long time. Then my
family went and joined I do not know what Methodist church, but the younger
people stayed on as Baptist. I just recently, about eight years ago, went in and
joined the Methodist church myself.
L: Is this the Greater Bethel [AME Church]?
L: Was the NAACP around and active in the 1950s? Do you remember anything
W: I think so. I think they were. Mable Dorsey probably could tell you more about
that. I think she was the secretary [of the Gainesville chapter] when it first got
L: OK. Are you a member of the NAACP now?
W: Not now.
L: Were you during the 1960s?
W: Yes. I was a vice-president.
L: Was that an active chapter?
W: It was during that time. That is why I am not a member now, because the
NAACP, as far as I am concerned, here in Alachua County, is not doing
anything. They have a forum every once in a while to hear somebody speak, but
they are not getting to the issues that need to be addressed out in the
community, so [I am no longer involved].
L: Were they in the 1960s?
L: What were they doing?
W: Any kind of things, like if someone had a complaint against some store
downtown or some job, especially education, [the NAACP got on the case]. We
brought suits against the school board on Head Start and all. We did lots of
things out in the community that the NAACP should be addressing.
L: [I have one more question] about the black community back then. Who held
power? Who was on top?
W: I do not see anybody as on top. We all worked together. It was a group of
people young and old who just got out there and worked together. I would say
the most powerful thing that was going on was we had a group, and I do not
even know if we had a name. We used to meet up in Mount Carmel [Baptist]
Church on 5th Avenue every night. We used to meet up there and make plans
of what we were going to do, whether it was voter registration or picket
somewhere or doing something. But lots of people were out there working
during that time, so I would not say there was any one particular person [who
was a clear leader], and that is including my own self, also. We all were working
as a group.
Pretty soon we got a bunch of ladies from the University of Florida white to
come over to help, also [Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, GWER].
L: I will get to that in a minute. You told Joel Buchanan that your first job was
working for the Alachua County Hospital. What did you do there?
W: I ran the elevator.
L: What was that like?
W: Taking people up and down. I used to sit on a stool all day long. You could not
just push [the appropriate floor button] and it would go up. The elevator had one
of those crank things, so you had to operate it. Now you only see those . I
know Shands has one in the hospital where someone operates it. I guess it is
for special things, going up and down. But at that time all of them were operated
by hand, so all you had to do was sit on that stool and go up and down, up and
L: Was that a good job? Were you treated well?
W: Yes. I never came in contact with anybody except people who were riding the
elevators. And a person who relieved me--they would get on, and I would get
off. When time came to get paid, I was getting I think it was twelve or thirteen or
fourteen dollars a week. It was not much.
L: When did you start working for Jane Sterrett?
W: Somewhere during that time in the 1950s. I left the hospital I cannot think of it.
It has been a long time.
L: Who were the Sterrets, and what kind of people were they?
W: They were living right across from Alachua General Hospital, and I met her over
at Alachua General Hospital. Actually, she was riding on the elevator. Some
friend of hers was sick. They were very, very nice people. They were one of the
most unique couples that I have really run across. They really had a heart out
for people I do not care whether it was white or black. She and I just got to be
friends at that time.
She asked me if I knew of a good person to baby-sit, because she needed a
babysitter. I asked her what time, and she said, "Oh, in the afternoon." I told her
that I probably could do it my own self, so that pleased her very good. I started
to baby-sit for them, and then I went on full time; I just started from that. But we
were more like a family. When I would get there we all would sit down to eat
breakfast together. If I worked until after 5:00 we all would sit down and eat
supper together. She and I ate lunch together every day.
L: Was she treating you differently than other black women who worked in white
houses were being treated?
L: She treated you more as an equal?
W: Yes. The lady who was working behind us, during lunchtime she and the lady
who was in the house never ate lunch together. She had to eat her lunch out on
a little breezeway, porch-like area, whereas Jane and I sat down in the house
and ate lunch together right there. That was one thing. They insisted on starting
to do it. They would not let me eat in the kitchen or separate from them.
L: Do you remember what they did for a living?
W: They were music teachers.
L: In the high schools? At the University?
W: He taught at the University of Florida, and she taught music in her house. She
was a private music teacher. When integration I do not know if I would say
integration, but when blacks and whites at P. K. Yonge [Lab School] started
going out and dating each other, they were scared to go anyplace else, so she
would let them come over to her house, and she would have parties and things
for them, and so if the whites and blacks wanted to socialize they could do it.
L: This was later, after they brought the schools together?
L: When I talked to you a couple of weeks ago, you mentioned being involved in
the Council for Human Relations. Can you tell me everything you can about
W: That was a group which was organized with both blacks and whites. That is the
group that was organized [by] Dr. Ralph Thompson [professor of business] (I
think he is still at the University) and I cannot think of this other man's name now.
But they were the ones who went around and got that group organized. As we
went along they got more and more people in. I was trying to think how I got
involved, because that is where I met Jean Chalmers for the first time, Jean and
her husband [David Chalmers, professor of history]. But I know when I started to
go around there, lots of the senior citizens around here now, like Mr. A. Quinn
Jones who does not go out, (I think he is 100-something) lots of those people
were involved with it when I started going.
What we would do [was] we all would bring a covered dish, and we would have a
meeting first and talk about the issues, what issues should be worked on, what
person was going to do this, how this was going over here, how this committee
was doing, what we should do, make plans to try to help smooth the integration
of the places. J. C. Murphy's was up there on the corner of University Avenue
and 6th Street. One of the committees I served on [had the] job of going up
there and telling the manager that we (the black people) did not want to take
over his store; all we wanted to do was to be able to sit down at the lunch
counter where we spent our money inside shopping. If we wanted to sit at the
lunch counter and get a soda or get a hamburger, we wanted to be able to.
Furthermore, the blacks did not have all that much money to spend, so he was
not going to have an overflow of black people sitting there every day. So that
was one of that committee's duties. You know, just general things. We
discussed what progress we were making and everything. We had people like
the man who was the manager come to our meeting, and we would talk to him.
We were working on getting people some jobs with the telephone company and
places like that. What would happen [was] we would send a black person up
there, and they told them no. Then we would turn around and send a white
L: Who would be told yes, probably.
W: Yes. So we did things like that.
L: You mentioned an integrated trip to Gold Head [Branch] State Park.
W: Yes. That Sunday we went there were lots of people. I never would have
thought I would have seen back in those times that many black and white people
come together to go off on a long trip like this. And somehow I do not know
how the sheriff deputy from here came down to what is the Rosa B. Williams
Center now, and I guess they called the other police, because we had a great
police escort all the way there. When we got there the place was just packed
full. We thought we were not going to have any picnic area. But as soon as we
blacks started walking in, all the white people just got up and left. There were
two bus-loads of people there from Jacksonville, and boy, I will never forget that.
They got on those Greyhound buses real fast, and Jean Chalmers said, "Well,
we have all the tables we need now." [laughter] But it was fun. That was a
really fun time. That is the first time lots of blacks, including myself, had ever
been to a beach. We really had fun.
L: That is a nice park, too.
W: Yes. We carried picnic lunches and things. And the policemen stayed with us
the whole while because I guess they thought something was going to happen.
Because that was the first time any blacks had ever been to Gold Head.
L: Was it against the law for blacks to go there?
W: I do not think it was against the law, but during that time blacks just did not go
places like that. You just did not do that. I do not think anything was against any
law. I think that was just a rule that was set up.
L: OK. You mentioned meeting Jean Chalmers at an HRC meeting. How did you
get involved with the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights?
W: I knew you were going to ask that. If I am not mistaken, I think that group was
formed either from the Council on Human Relations which you are talking about
now, or this group that was meeting up at Mount Carmel. But I had been
working with those women. We needed some strong help with things like the
Boys' Club and other things downtown that we knew the blacks could not do.
Some people who had jobs and things that, as we said, the establishment was
paying for, paying their salaries, we did not want them to do it and to lose their
jobs. So somebody I am not sure who it was; Jean or some of those ladies -
came up with the idea of forming the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, which
was supposed to be mostly University of Florida wives. Business people around
here could not hurt them and their paycheck out there [laughter]. I am not sure
who got there, but I know they came from their seeing a need [for things] that we
just did not have. Everybody who was working for the establishment got with us
and tried to attempt to do things.
L: Other than losing your job, what sort of risks was a black woman taking by
joining a group like the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights?
W: I do not think anything.
L: Mainly economic?
W: Yes. I wish you would talk with Mable Dorsey, too, because I have been told that
there was a time when the NAACP had to be a secret around here, that they
could not have an open meeting, and that Mable kept all their records hid out in
her car or garage. There is some kind of way I heard all that; I am not sure
about it. That probably would throw more light on what you just asked me.
L: Is she still around?
W: Yes. She is still active in her church and everything. She is a missionary now.
You do know what a missionary is?
W: She is very much into church religious work and things now.
L: Is she a member of Mount Carmel or Greater Bethel?
W: Greater Bethel and all the churches.
Another thing that happened during that time Let me see if I can phrase it right.
For instance, Robinson's Market. (I am just using that as an example.)
Whenever we were having community things in the community, we always went
around to Robinson and some other places getting donations if we were having
something for the kids, because the black people spent their money inside there
quite a bit. So if we were going to serve the kids hot dogs, to keep anybody from
spending any money we always got donations from blacks and whites. So, for
instance, during that time if I was involved in lots of things against the rules that
the white establishment had set and I went in Robinson's to get something, they
would tell me, "No, no, no. You are with that old group out there. You go on
back to that group." They would be open about it. It was not something where
they were painting a picture to see, but in the end you would feel it some kind of
L: Robinson's Market was a white-owned business?
W: Yes, he is white, but I just use him as an example. He still owns a business on
Eighth Avenue. But he used to be downtown. They changed [street names],
and I cannot think of the street name now.
L: So the white women were leading the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights
because they were the ones that could do it safely and could not be touched.
W: Yes. Black women worked with them, but when they would go and sit down with
someone like Neal Zimmerman [director of the Boys' Club] and people like that, it
would be them.
L: Why did that group appeal to you?
W: Because they were doing something in the community that needed to be done,
and we had to have somebody to do it. Even at that time, or at an early age, I
knew whatever we were going to accomplish we could not do by ourselves. We
had to have white [help]. The whites could get their foot into doors that we could
L: I understand that a lot of the black women who were involved in GWER were the
[public school] teachers.
W: They were.
L: Was there any sort of stress or tension between the ladies who were teachers
and you and some of the ladies who were not teachers?
W: Yes. When GWER first got organized and first started going [late-1963/early
1964], I tried to get a ride with one or two of the black teachers to a meeting.
They did not know for sure if they were going. They did not know. They had all
kinds of reasons [for not giving me a ride]. So the meeting was at the home of
Joan Henry (she is dead now). She did not live very far from me, across 13th
Street. She said, "I will come pick you up." I said, "I do not want you to do that."
She said, "Yes, I will come pick you up." When she came to pick me up, when I
got back there, these three ladies that I had called were already sitting there.
When they saw that those women knew me I had been sitting down in some
planning meetings with them, and this was the first big meeting that they were
having that they were inviting other people to. When they saw that, I had no
problem then. But at that time when they tried to offer me a ride home I refused
it. I told them: "No. I will get back home [some other way]." I never would
accept a ride from them. I felt that if I had to walk there or take a cab or
something there, I still would have been sitting in a corner from them. But when
Joan came to pick me up and we walked in, Joan had this huge, big room, a little
bit bigger than this room, and everybody was sitting around. Jean Chalmers and
Shirley Conroy and Jane Hiers and a whole bunch of them said: "Oh, there is
Rosa. Come on in." Everybody knew me, so I felt that they [the black teachers]
would take a different look at me. But it was too late then.
Then Barbara Higgins, who is black, was elected chairman. They did not like
that one bit. Some of them [the black teachers] said that if they were going to
get a black chairman they should have a teacher or something.
L: Do you think their attitudes improved or changed over time?
W: It has not improved. What they do is hide it more because they know I will go
out there and get something done. I could care less about them standing over
there. I do not even bother. I will talk to them and treat them nice, but I do not
spend my time trying to socialize with them because the other groups and things
are more important. It is not only me, but other people know how they are.
See, that is where white people make their mistake. (I am going to use Kay
Banks as an example.) They will say, "I get Ms. Banks to help me because she
is well known around here." Lots of times, in most cases, Ms. Banks would be
the worst person you could get to call, because Ms. Banks is not out there with
those people every day. Ms. Banks has a good house set up on the hill and
everything like this, and she is not socializing with these people. You call Ms.
Banks to send her out there, and that just turns people off.
L: That is kind of unfortunate.
W: Yes. But that does not apply to Kay, because she will tell you in a minute she
cannot walk from door to door. But she will give you some of her support like
taking somebody somewhere or doing things like that. Lots of people just do
this. We have a bunch of retired teachers around here in this town, and we were
trying to get them--I am talking about black [teachers] to work in a tutoring
program with some of the kids that needed some tutoring that their parents and
grandparents could not give them, and we cannot get one of those people to do
L: Today? Now?
L: How well did the white women and the black women get along?
W: Real fine. I think they got along real fine. They seemed to really understand
where people were coming from and how they felt about things. Some blacks
that have made it up to teachers or doctors or lawyers want to forget where they
came from, especially if they came up real poor. They want no part of that. I am
not defending them, but that is just how some of them are. They want no part.
That is why lots of them once they get on their feet real good will buy a house
somewhere way out and will not even go down in the areas like Fifth Avenue,
Porter's [Quarters], or somewhere. I guess that reminds them of their childhood,
so they stay clear of that.
I have not figured this one out yet, either, why a white person from a good
background will want to come over here in this area and work and be able to
communicate with us better than some of our own blacks.
L: Were any of the white ladies in GWER very southern, southern born?
W: I cannot remember.
L: I know that you worked with Jane Sterrett for a long time before you got involved
with the Gainesville Women. As a result of working with them, did your attitudes
or knowledge about white women change?
W: Yes, it changed a lot. I learned that all white people are not bad. That may
sound a little bit silly, but it really did. They helped me to understand a whole
bunch of things, just like we have bad on both sides. A lot of black people teach
hate and all in their house, about hating whites. It is on each side, and I learned
that from her, that on each side there are people that are really unique people.
L: Do you think it happened the other way? Do you think the attitudes of the white
women changed in any way?
W: I think so. I think they learned a lot from us and from being out there with us. So
did the young white students. We had lots of young white students out there at
L: Now, once GWER came together and formed and got organized, they started
doing a lot of different activities: recreation, picketing, voter registration, tutorial
programs. What were you mainly involved in with that?
W: The voter registration part, the recreation part, and the picketing part.
L: What do you remember about picketing?
W: That it was real hot one day. [laughter] But it was kind of fun. Janet Allen and I
her son works around there in the computer room now were always pals, a
team of picketers marching together. There is nothing, I do not think, to
remember about it. We just did it, and it was really, really hot. I was never
scared of getting hit. The only thing I was worried with was what would I do if
someone spit on me, because I do not think I could have taken that too good.
L: Did anyone get hit or spit on?
W: No. It all was peaceful.
L: No mobs formed?
L: You picketed in front of the Florida Theater.
W: Yes, and also the College Inn near the University of Florida and also out here on
13th Street. I cannot remember what hotel that was. It was not Howard
L: The Manor Motel?
W: No. It was a little small one. I forgot even the reason why Charles Chestnut at
that time he was head of the youth NAACP asked us to go out there to
support. I cannot remember why they even picked that place.
L: What about voter registration?
W: What we did back in those days, we went around door to door to see how many
people, say on this street, were not registered to vote. Then we got names and
addresses and things. Then when we were set up, we would not set up out in
the community. We would go and get people and take people downtown. They
would have the office open at a set time, say for instance from five to eight or
from seven in the morning time, and we would transport people. That is how we
did it. Now we go out in the different areas, but during that time we were
transporting people downtown. We knew exactly what time to pick them up and
everything like that. We went door to door first. Then we came back, and
somebody would compile that information. Then we went back to set times on
when we were going to come and pick them up on that day when the voter
registration was. So we just kept it going just like that.
L: How did the registrar, the voting officials, react?
W: I do not know. I cannot remember if it was Joan, Shirley, Mitzi, or some of them
that handled that part.
L: Mitzi Austin?
W: Yes. She was a lawyer, and she was working with us, also.
L: Do you remember anybody having any real trouble getting registered at this
L: It was just a matter of getting the people to do it.
W: Yes. Here in Gainesville, registering to vote, being able to go into a restaurant to
eat, and being able to go into some motel to sleep was not as hard, say, as
Ocala or Palatka, as some of those places were. The thing that we had a hard
time with was the most important part: for our kids to be able to participate
equally in the Boys' Club and things like that, or for people to get a good job.
You would go to the Florida State Employment Office, and if you were black the
only thing they would refer you to, as we would say, was cleaning somebody's
bathroom. They would not look at you for anything else. They would not even
look during those times for a good cook job in a restaurant. Just clean up, just
the dirty part of it [was the only kind of job blacks could get].
L: I understand that GWER had a big battle with the Boys' Club in 1965.
W: They did.
L: What do you remember about that?
W: I remember just sitting back and laughing about it. Neal Zimmerman had always
been king on the hill, and anybody that went up against him he just ran herd
over, just got them out of the way. The people lost patience and just gave it up;
they just threw up their hands.
L: Who was he?
W: He still is with the Boys' Club. He was the director of the Boys' Club, and he still
is. But it was fun to see him go up against the Gainesville Women because they
just would not back away from him.
L: Was that successful eventually?
L: I understand that at one time there were two Boys' Clubs.
W: There were, and there still are two Boys' Clubs. During that time when it was two
Boys' Clubs, the second Boys' Club, which was supposed to have been for
blacks, had nothing in it. I mean, it was just as bare as bare could be. The
director of that place, who was black, Sam Grant, they gave him nothing. He
was just like an outcast: "You go over there. We do not to hear from you, we do
not want to see you." That was what they were fighting about. If it was going to
be that way, to get the kids up there in the main Boys' Club, which at that time
was right down here on Waldo Road. Do you know where the social security
office and all that is down there? It was right in that area. The boys were put
into that one that was out on Waldo Road.
But then the community people decided that the Waldo Road was getting heavy
with traffic and it was too dangerous for the people to be going up there on the
Waldo Road. At that time the Boys' Club was getting ready to build out here in
the northwest area a bigger Boy's Club [2700 NW 51st Street]. Well, we knew
that the kids were not going to have transportation to get over there, so we
pushed and got them to build one over here in the southeast area [1100 SE 17th
Drive], which is really, really super. It is fine. So they did that, and it has been
running ever since then.
L: The Boys' Club is mainly recreation?
W: Recreation and tutoring programs and education programs. The Coca-Cola
Company just put some computers out in that southeast one, and they have
University of Florida students helping with a bunch of different kinds of education
programs. I cannot speak for the northwest Boys' Club, but the one on the
southeast is getting away from [nothing but] recreation all day long. People are
taking a harder look at the education part. There are so many kids these days
with their grandparents or with somebody that is working two jobs or a one-
parent family, and they do not have time to help them with their school work.
Just like me: if I had a child with this new math, I could not do it, I would have to
get somebody else. Therefore, the Boys' Club and other groups are trying to
pick up on that, where that child needs help. They are getting someone in to
tutor that child in what that child needs in school. So they seem to be leaning
more towards that.
Now, they have baseball games, basketball games, and football games; they do
that. But like you used to go, five years ago I would say, to the southeast Boys'
Club, and all you would see them doing was shooting pool all day long or playing
Ping-Pong all day. That is not the thing now.
L: They call it the Boys' Club, but back in the 1960s and earlier, did they let little
W: No. They did not start it with the girls. They just integrated that. Actually, they
just did that since the Girls Club has been built.
L: Was there a Girls Club in Gainesville back then?
L: So what was there for the little girls?
W: Nothing. I guess they felt more like little girls would be better off at the house. If
is funny you should mention that, because we did not even think about
[something for the girls to do]. The whole while we were dealing with the Boys'
Club we did not even think about the girls. I think maybe at was] because the
issue was there.
L: Picketing, voter registration. [Tell me about the] integration of the United Way
W: The same group, the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, decided that that
board needed some blacks on there, so at the annual meeting, if you were a
member of the cooperation everybody was allowed to vote. So at the annual
meeting we did not say anything to anybody that we were going to do this. A
bunch of us went up there, and when the time for the election [came] when they
finished with their slate, Joan and them started to nominate. They nominated me
from the floor. And I won.
L: Because you had packed the membership.
W: Yes, we did.
L: What did you do on the United Way board? What did that involve?
W: Sitting on the board, looking over people's applications and things [to determine]
what was going to get United Way funding. I did not think I was going to get it.
That was the only reason why I let them nominate me. But when I got it I hated
it. But then it got to be really good because I got a chance to have my say-so on
how the money was being spent. I was on that board about seven years, and I
voted against the Boys' Club every year. Lots of us did, but we were just out-
L: Let me see if I understand this right. First GWER went after the Boys' Club, and
then, because the United Way was funding the Boys' Club, you went after United
W: Yes. There is still a battle going on with that. Neal Zimmerman has his whole
family hired as his staff, and they get a good salary. That is the thing that I was
fussing about, not the money that was going to the Boys' Club. It looked like it
was a conflict of interest when he had his wife as his secretary, his son as the
director over this, the director over that. He had his whole family hired. And he
still has them hired.
L: That does not sound right to me.
L: I know that GWER was involved in a lot of kindergarten and day care [projects].
W: Yes. They had a grant. (I cannot think of the name now.)
L: For Best Day of the Week?
L: Were you involved in writing that grant or working on it?
W: Not the writing, but helping to recruit people to help with the kids and things like
that and to find a director. Ron Burnett at that time was the director, and [I was]
going out there just, say, volunteering. I cannot write grants and things. My job
is not sitting at a table doing paperwork. Mine is more with people.
L: Talking to people and organizing.
L: In doing my research, I found a letter to the editor of The Gainesville Sun that
you had signed as a field worker for the Alachua County Coordinated Child Care.
Can you tell me some more about that organization?
W: Yes. You know the Title Twenty daycare centers, just like Bell Nursery, St.
Augustine, the Northeast Daycare Center at Kennedy Homes, Friendship
Daycare Center? That is what that is. Those are the daycare centers that get
funding through Title Twenty. The mothers have to have a certain amount of
income in order to get their child placed in there at no fee or a reduced fee.
L: What did you do as a field worker for that organization?
W: Recruiting people. The Title Twenty daycare centers have to have, in order to
pay their staff, people to fit into that category, which is no fee or reduced fee, or
else they hardly get any money. I would go out at that time and knock on
people's doors to see if they were eligible for the Title Twenty. If they were in
school it was free. I started out doing that. Then I was a cook one time, and
then I ended up being the eligibility certification person.
L: You worked for Bell's Nursery?
L: I also understand that you were involved in the Community Action Agency.
L: What did that involve? What do you remember about that?
W: It, still again, was a field representative. That was kind of a part-time position
after 5:00 when it first started. Some of the white people downtown at the
courthouse asked me to apply, and I said no because the ad said they wanted
somebody with a master's degree and this, this, and this. What that person was
going to do was knock on some doors and help get people get organized to see
just what kind of improvement they wanted for their neighborhood. Howard
Wester was the county administrator during that time, and he said, "You do not
need any damn master's degree to go knock on a door and talk to people in your
own neighborhood." So I applied, and I got the position. Two more people got a
position, also, because we had to work out in the city and county and recruit
people so they could start getting Community Action Agency funding. But we
had to have people in the neighborhood organizing and involved in it, and they
have input in the grant writing. So that was what I did.
That job at that time was after 5:00. Then when they got the grant funding I was
still working with them, because I was only to Bell's in the morning-time and then
working with them in the afternoon and at night. The people we had see mostly
were people who were working, and they did not get off from work until 5:00, so
we did not go on until around 5:00.
L: Did that organization make any real changes?
W: It was making lots of changes until the government changed itself. Even when I
left there, just like Newberry, where Newberry Daycare Center is, they had a staff
person there with an office, so if somebody needed some information or help
from the county health department or HRS [or] anybody, that person was
working with the community and helping them get organized, teaching them
more self-help, how to do this and how to do that, not to sit back and wait on
But somehow along down the line after I had left there, somebody had changed
the rules and put everybody in the office over here in town. If you want them,
you go to them. But it is no more like a self-help program like it was, just like, for
instance, what we have going on down on 5th Avenue today. You do not just sit
back and wait for someone to come do it. You get out there, and they show you
how to do it. Or why did you run out of food [in the middle of the month]? If you
do not have any bills and you have $300 in food stamps a month, and that is
what you have to eat off, why in the middle of the month are you out of food?
What happened to the food stamps? [We had programs] just to show you how
to balance things like that. But they do not do that anymore.
L: OK. In 1972 you are listed as the chairperson of the Health and Welfare
Committee for GWER. Now, I understand that earlier, in 1966, women from
GWER went to Tallahassee and lobbied for changes in the state welfare laws.
Were you involved in any of that? Did you go to Tallahassee?
W: No, I did not go up to Tallahassee with them. Other people went. It was
different people who were taking care of different things. Because I was
working, I could not go.
L: OK. Again, it is a white faculty wife who does not have to work who can go.
W: Yes. But, now, there were some black people who did go who were welfare
recipients around here. There were some blacks who did go. Savannah
Williams was one of them. I cannot think of the other three or four, but there
were about four blacks who did go. But they were getting money; they were
getting checks every month. They were getting some kind of thing that would be
considered as welfare.
L: In the late 1960s the schools were integrated, and the way this worked, I think, is
that they closed most of the black schools and moved the black children into a
lot of the white schools. They closed Lincoln High School. How did the black
community react to this?
W: Well, I think that was one of the worst things they could have done because they
had a school there that they could look up to. A lot of people here had
graduated from there, and it had one of the best bands around here in the state
and a really good football team. People just really got along. I think the people
were mad about it. I was mad also about it. But I did not see any reason why
they should close it.
L: I have heard people say that Lincoln High School was one of the centers of the
W: It was. It really was. If it needed repair, they could have repaired it. There was
no reason to close it.
L: Do you remember any violence as a result of the school's closing?
W: Yes. They had to send the police down there. There was rock throwing, brick
throwing, a riot all around the school. But some of the teachers from the school
came out and talked to the [students], and the students went on. But I just do
not think it should ever have happened.
L: They should have moved more white kids into the black schools?
W: Yes. I am not sure if all this integration is doing any good, moving them around.
I think it should be more of a neighborhood school. I do not like the idea of these
little kids being on the bus that long being transferred from one end of town to
the other. I think it should be more of a neighborhood school. I think you get
better from the kids then.
L: It becomes more a part of the local community.
L: OK. When I talked to you earlier I asked you about feminism and about the fact
that in the late 1960s a lot of white women became feminists. Now, what was
your reaction to that, and how did black women react?
W: Well, for me as a black woman personally, I just did not have time for that,
because we had more issues. Those white ladies were feminists because they
chose to be. If they choose to sit home and not work and get bored, that was
them, but I did not have any other choice. I had to get out there and work. So
some of their complaints that they had just did not interest me any at all,
because I figured that they had those complaints by choice, that they wanted to
L: So would it be accurate to say that equal rights for blacks was very much more
important and basic than women's rights?
W: Yes. I am not against women getting equal pay, and I am not against women
being treated as equal as a man. But even now if I had a choice of going to a
feminist meeting on something about women's rights and going over here and
working with a group helping somebody, I think I would choose that group. I am
not saying that women do not have a legitimate reason to have equal rights. But
sometimes there is always going to be some other group that is centered around
its own self and what is happened to them. They are not concerned about the
whole issue, just something about what has happened to them, and they make
an issue out of that. I do not want to do that. I have more important things to do.
If I am going to fight for somebody, it is going to be for something that I can see
what is right.
L: So you are, of course, much more interested in the community.
L: GWER does not exist anymore.
L: It seems to have fallen apart or run out of energy in the mid 1970s. Why? Do
you have any idea?
W: I think people just got tired, and a lot of the women went to work. They got jobs,
and they went to work. Joan Henry got a bad bout with cancer, and that kind of
threw all of us for a loop. She died. Mitzi went to school. Lots of people just
turned their attention to other places. Now, that does not mean that they do not
stay and help in local community things. But I really think that people just got
burned out. I think some of them felt like, and I can agree, it was about time that
we as a black community they had brought us a long way should take over
the ropes and do lots of the things ourselves. I do not blame them. They came
in when we really, really needed them, and they brought us for a long way. And I
think that is how some of them felt, which is true. There is no reason why we
cannot do this instead of always sitting down waiting for handouts.
L: You are referring to "them." Did you feel that the Gainesville Women for Equal
Rights was really your organization, your group?
W: No. I felt like it was a whole community group, because whatever they were
doing, some of the white people may not have understood, but in the end it
would benefit everybody. It would stop lots of the problems that people were
having, just like Ocala and Palatka close around here were having battles with
policemen and dogs and things like this. Because of the Gainesville Women for
Equal Rights, I think the whole community benefitted. It did not turn over
overnight, but it turned over more smoothly. I think it was not my organization or
them. I think it was a whole community organization, because it was the
community that benefitted from it.
L: How did the police and the Old Guard white Gainesville families react to this?
Did the police change for the better over time?
W: Well, the police during that time See, during the time all this was going on, lots
of white students got involved also, and there were lots of white females and
white males down all over the black community. Of course, the police
department whites did not like that. They did not care as long as you and I would
talk, but when they would see a white female talking to a black male, then that is
when the hell came in. The policemen got into it, the battle, trying to run They
first started picking on the white females, trying to run them out of the black
community. Then one of the girls I never got the full explanation of this had
some kind of really rich parents somewhere up in New York, and the police
picked her up from 5th Avenue and 6th Street they were going door to door for
something and took her back to the University of Florida campus and dropped
her off. She called her parents, and her parents came down here, and they
made a big old issue about it that they were picking only on the white females,
not the white males. So then they started looking at the white males. And here
we go again; I cannot remember just what happened to make them turn around.
I just really do not know during that time.
L: Well, because of the University, there were a lot of white people in this town that
W: Yes, and as fast as the policemen would get one or try to get someone
[inaudible]. They even arrested one or two of them, and then they would send
At that time also the University of Florida was supplying backup help in Ocala
and Palatka. I never will forget: The Gainesville Sun had this article (I do not
know whether they still have this paper) in there about the University of Florida
may have to close down if all the professors were out on picket lines, or some
kind of thing that they had. But after the women got involved, the professors got
involved. Now, that may have been the reason why the police department at that
time [inaudible], but I know they were How can I say it? I will not go as far as
to say Hitler, but they wanted people to know that they had the nightstick. It was
not so much shooting people, but it was hitting them with that nightstick [that]
they were doing.
L: Maintaining power with force.
W: Yes. I do not think any of the students ever got hit around here, but I know of
one incident where a black [was beat up]. We were picketing not the Walker
house, but I forgot this place's name. It was down on University; it is torn down
now. We told everybody not to ever go up there by themselves but always to go
in a group. But this one black guy, I guess, made up in his mind to go. He went
up there. They told him to come on in, to sit there by himself and have some
coffee or something. When he got in they put out the lights, and they beat him
up pretty badly. That is about the only incident we had around here. I cannot
remember one with the police. I am not saying that they did not happen, but we
just did not know about it.
L: OK. I know that you were very involved in political campaigns, political activity.
We talked a little bit about Byron Winn's campaign [for city council in 1961]. Can
you tell me about working for him early on?
W: We just felt like we had to get somebody out there on the city commission who
understood where we were coming from and understood why we wanted this and
why we wanted change. It was very important that we do this, so it was a real
pleasure to go out and knock on doors, to get people out to vote, to see that they
did go out to vote on that time. It was a real hard campaign. Of course, I work at
the poll now, but I used to take those days off from work, especially if it was a
candidate who I really wanted to win, and just go out and get people out to vote.
I made sure to call all day long and everything. It was important to us that Byron
L: This was the first time he ran?
L: You mentioned a victory party.
W: Yes, at the Elks and Masonic Lodge up on the corner of NW 3rd Street and 4th
Avenue. That was the only victory party he had, to tell you the truth. The white
establishment, as I call it, knew he was working with us and knew he was trying
to support us and things we were doing, so he was just like an outcast to them.
You just do not do things like that. When he integrated the Primrose [restaurant]
he owned that it was referred to him then that they would "break his back."
What they meant that they would ruin him, put him out of business, which they
did. Blacks could not afford to go eat every day or something like that. I guess
Byron was doing something he felt that he had to do, which I appreciate.
L: Who else did you and GWER members and other people in the black community
try to get on the city commission or county commission? Who else did you work
W: I remember Byron Winn, and we got Neil Butler. The county commission was
Jack Durrance and [somebody whose] last name was Davis (I cannot think of his
first name) [and] Ed Turlington.
L: Was this a successful thing to do? Did you get these people elected?
L: Did they start making changes for the good for you?
W: Yes, they did some things. They did not do everything. You cannot do
everything that we want, but they did some things. They were more fair than the
other ones that we had worked for.
L: You mentioned also being a member of the Democrat Club. What exactly is the
W: It is a club that [supported the Democratic Party and its candidates locally]. The
Democrat executive committee has certain policies that you have to go by. You
have to sign an affidavit that you will always support the Democrat candidate
who was running, and you had to sign all kinds of things that you would do this
and you would not do that. The Democrat Club was more like a social thing.
You can choose to be in that. You do not have to go through all this stuff.
Everybody supported whoever they supported and got in donations to help
candidates and things.
We just kind of lost our interest in meetings because everybody was going on
into their own little groups, into different areas and different things. When
Lawton Chiles was running [for governor] this last time we found out that people
were going to come together only when there was an issue like that and it was a
candidate race. But when there are no races going on, there was no sense in
trying to meet, because we never had a good turnout. We met morning, we met
noontime, and we met in the afternoon. But if it was not close around election
time of some important election, you could not get people out. The whole while
Lawton Chiles was running we had people meeting. We had three or four
different groups meeting. One group was meeting in Carl Baskin's place, one
group was meeting in the Heritage Club, and one group was meeting at First
Politics is something funny. You have to have a good candidate. You have to
have some reason to meet. Just like the executive committee or the Republican
Party. People just go their own little way, and they just will not meet until an
issue comes up. Now everybody is saying: "We have to get together. We have
to get together." But when the election is over, you will not be able to find
L: Speaking of people saying, "We have to get together now, today," what are you
going to do this fall? What do you plan to do?
W: Work in the election. I am going to work for Bill Clinton. You probably will not
believe this, but I am going to work real hard for [state's attorney] Lynn Register.
The sheriff race is the hottest issue around here. We are going to have a
meeting tomorrow on that. I do not know what we are all going to do about that.
There is a group of whites and blacks that is going to meet tomorrow. I am going
to work for [Florida Congressman] Arnett Girardeau [from Jacksonville], who is
running for a congressman's seat. And I am going to work for [Florida
Congressman] David Flagg [from Gainesville].
L: Are you doing anything for Beverly Hill?
W: I have some of her signs at my house, but I am kind of laying a little bit low in
that race. Let me tell you why. I am going to vote for her. I went out to [circuit
judge] Stephan Mickle's daddy's house last night for a party for Ms. Glaser, and I
went because Stephan Mickle's father always did everything that I asked him to
L: Is that Andrew Mickle?
W: Yes. The people were there and everything, but I felt kind a little bit out of place.
L: OK. I have just a few more questions. First of all, you mentioned the Rosa
Williams Center on NW 1st Street. How did it end up with your name on it? How
did that happen?
W: You will have to ask Jean Chalmers about that. That was a complete surprise to
me. She was the mayor at that time, and I understand they had spent about
three or four months on putting that together. That is one thing most I do not
know. You will have to ask Jean Chalmers. It was a surprise. It happened at
night at city hall, and it really was a surprise.
L: Were you happy about it?
W: Yes, I was real happy, but I was mad because I had to go up there, and it was a
football night. The time that was coming up, some of my friends, I understand,
could not get there until about 8:45, and I was mad. They pulled me up there
and said that the city commission had some concern about the funding for
United Gainesville for Porter's Phase I. I was mad about that because I said,
"They would do it on a football night." I went up there fussing. I told them that
they could have called me if they had any questions. I was really mad. I aired
this out in an open meeting. [I told them:] "I do not appreciate this, not one bit. If
you have some problems, tell me first. Do not do it in an open meeting." Jean
said, "I am sorry, but it is already on the agenda, and we are going to have to do
it." Pretty soon I kept seeing my friends come in, like Dr. Banks and Dr. Cosby
and Rodney McGallion and some people from the community and my sister. I
said, "What is everybody here for?" Then when that came up, I found out. I
almost passed out [laughter].
L: They had pulled a fast one on you.
W: Yes. But it was fun. Then the day they dedicated it was really fun also. I did not
realize all those people had gone there. They really did a whole lot of effort,
sending out invitations and things like that. It really was something nice. I did
not care about missing the football game so much.
L: Does the center serve the community well?
W: Yes. That was one of the places I was supposed to have gone to this morning,
and I did not. But I will go by there this afternoon. There is a dance group that
will be there on Saturday morning from 11:00 to 2:00, and they teach the kids -
some of them are about like this all kinds of African dances. They have
someone from there who is doing it, and they are good.
L: I guess the last question is: Do you think what happened in the 1960s, the civil
rights movement, was a success?
W: I do not want to say no because I know lots of people lost lots of things, including
their lives. In some ways it probably did. But the same thing is still here in lots of
places. It is just more, as I say, swept under the rug. You do not see it out
openly or as blatant as you did during the 1960s. We still have the thing with
jobs: people have low-paying jobs, [there are] not enough jobs, people do not
have jobs. We still have the same thing with the black male being painted as
being dumb, even from an early age in school. He is out of school and on the
street corner getting into drugs. Nobody is addressing that problem. We still
have the problem of people being hungry and homeless. Nobody wants to even
look at that. We have more of the same thing open now.
See, when I was coming up on North Virginia Avenue [now SE 2nd Street] and I
said I was out there with my auntie and things like that, if someone came by
hungry and needed somewhere to sleep or something, people took care of those
people. But now nobody wants to even see them. So I would not say all that
much has changed. It is just more decorated now. If somebody said, "I do have
some blacks hired," they would grab and one black person and hire them and
put them in a key position with no responsibility or say-so.
L: Well, is there anything else you would like to add to this?
L: I would like to thank you for talking with me.