Interviewee: Barbara Higgins
Interviewer: Stuart Landers
Date: August 18, 1992
L: This is an oral history interview with Mrs. Barbara Higgins. It is being conducted
in Mrs. Higgins's home in Gainesville, Florida. Today is August 18, 1992, and
my name is Stuart Landers.
We were talking a little bit about your family running the grocery store here.
H: Well, this is my home, and I was born Well, I was not really born in this house.
We lived on what was called Springhill at that time, and this is called Sugarhill.
L: So you were born in Gainesville.
H: I was born in Gainesville. At that time I was the only member of my family born
in Florida. My mother was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and my daddy was
born in Oglethorpe, Georgia. My sister was born in Cordele, Georgia.
How we got to Gainesville was that my dad was a cook, and he cooked on the
train. The man who was opening the White House Hotel here, which was on
Main Street where Sun Bank is now, was on the train. The food was good, so he
said, "I would like to talk to the cook." Eventually Daddy came out and talked to
him. He told him, "I am buying a hotel in Gainesville, Florida, and I would like for
you to come and cook for me." So that is how we got to Gainesville.
I was on the way then; I was not born, but I was on the way. By the time they got
into Gainesville in January I was born.
L: January -
H: January 14, 1926.
L: You mentioned a sister.
H: Yes. There were just the two of us. Most people thought that we were twins.
My sister died last year of cancer, on October 18, so now I am alone.
L: She was how many years older than you?
H: She was two years older than I am.
L: So your parents moved to Gainesville, and your father took this job as a cook.
H: Yes, as a cook.
L: When did your family take over the grocery store?
H: He came as a cook at the White House Hotel. Then this guy (I do not know who
they were) bought the Thomas Hotel, also, so he moved over to the Thomas
Hotel. They ran both of the hotels. He moved to the Thomas Hotel. I do not
know if the man that ran the White House Hotel was the one that ran the
Thomas or not, but, anyway, they gave him more money, so he went over there.
Then he began to work at the University of Florida at the It is still there on
campus; well, it was. I cannot remember the name of it, but it was on University
Avenue. A lady ran it at that time.
L: Was this a restaurant?
H: A restaurant right across from the campus.
L: The College Inn?
H: The College Inn! That is what it was. He worked at the College Inn.
L: This was [when]?
H: Oh, this was way back in like the early 1930s when the University was all boys.
Then my mother used to teach school at first, here, and on the side daddy would
bring all the boys' white shirts and all home, and she would do the shirts for like
twenty-five cents per shirt. Then he would take them back. Then he started
working for the law fraternity. He worked there for years. So he would work at
the law fraternity in the fall, and in the summer he would go to Asbury Park, New
Jersey. Well, Ocean Grove, really, because that was the resort. He worked in
Ocean Grove for many years.
I can remember 1939; that was when the world's fair was in New York. At the
end of that summer he sent for my sister and me to come to New Jersey at the
end of the time, because Labor Day was the time that they would always close
the houses in New Jersey. He sent for us, and we stayed with him for a week.
Then he carried us to New York to see the world's fair. That was really exciting,
because that was when television was introduced. We were all excited about it.
L: Before we get too far, can you give me your parents' full names?
H: My daddy's name was Albert Higgins. My mother's name was Annie L. Higgins.
I was married, and I was a Bryant, but after I divorced in 1966 [I took my maiden
name back]. My mother died, and for business reasons when I divorced I took
my name back. Well, I had a daughter, so that is one of the reasons I use the
Mrs. I did that for business reasons because they left me property, and I did not
want it to go in someone else's hands. So when I divorced I took my name back.
L: Your father, you said, was from Connecticut.
H: No. My father was from Georgia.
L: Your mother was from Connecticut.
H: My mother was from Hartford, Connecticut.
L: Did she have any problems with, or how did she feel about moving to the Jim
Crow South from the North?
H: Well, I tell you what. She was born in Connecticut, but her family moved back to
Georgia. She was in boarding school and went to school in Cordele, and that is
where she met my dad. His train was running from Cordele to somewhere. (I do
not know where.) She was teaching school when she met him. I think on
weekends she would be riding the train to go home, and I guess, as she used to
say, she used to hate for men to whistle at her. When she would go to get on
the train, [she would be] standing there waiting to get on, and the car passed
where they were all hanging out of the window. She said they would whistle, and
she just despised that. But then, after she had gotten on the train several
weekends to go home, he came into the car one day, and he saw her and
started talking. She did not like him at all [at first], but eventually she did. Then
they got married. They stayed there in Cordele, and he still worked on the train.
She still taught school.
L: Were you in Gainesville during the Second World War?
H: Yes. That was 1942.
L: Do you remember anything about the war?
H: Oh, yes, because that is when I was in college.
L: Where did you go to college?
H: I went to college at Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach, Florida.
L: Tell me about that.
H: Well, when I went to Bethune-Cookman, we had only about 7 boys in the whole
school, and we had about 350 girls.
L: Now, this was all black, right?
H: All black. Yes. If you have not heard, Mary McLeod Bethune had come to
Daytona Beach with $7.50 that is the story. She wanted to do something for
blacks, so she bought this home, and she opened it up and started a little private
school. There was a school called Cookman in Jacksonville, and they sort of
merged. She got together [with them], and they came to Daytona. So she
began to build, and she began to get people from over on the beach to come
and to help build the college.
L: What year did you start school at Bethune-Cookman?
L: And you graduated [when]?
L: With a degree in -
H: A B.S. in business. When I was younger I used to love to read True Confessions
and that kind of thing, those love magazines. The secretaries used to have such
a good time, and I wanted to be a secretary. So no one told me that black
women, or girls, would not be able to work as secretaries anyplace. So when I
graduated from college and came home, there was no job for me. What I had to
do was substitute teach.
L: How was that?
H: Well, that was okay, but I did not want to teach school. I substituted out at
LaCrosse. Then finally a lady who wanted to teach school was a secretary in an
insurance office. She decided that she was going to go back to college.
Someone knew that I had just finished [college] and wanted a job in business, so
they told her. Then I started working in that insurance office.
L: What was the name of that insurance office?
H: It was Central Life Insurance.
L: Was that a black insurance firm?
H: It was a black insurance company. What they did was they began to [enlarge
their operation]. A district office was here in Gainesville, but they worked out of
Ocala and Gainesville, so we took care of both the places. They had agents all
over in all of the little area counties. But then they moved to Ocala, and they
were not paying me enough to go to Ocala. When I first started working, believe
it or not and that was in about 1949 I was getting only sixteen dollars a week.
So that was not enough for me to move to Ocala.
L: You spoke briefly about getting married. [In] what year did you get married?
H: It was really right after 1947, when I got out of college.
L: What sort of opportunities [did you find]? You said that you could not get a job,
or that you had a hard time.
H: Everything was segregated at that time. There were no black businesses that
needed a secretary, unless it was an insurance company.
L: Were there many black doctors, dentists, [or other professionals]?
H: No. Dr. Parker was the only black doctor we had, and he was Dr. [Edgar Allen]
L: He is the dentist, right?
H: Dr. Cosby is the dentist, but his father-in-law, who was Dr. Parker, was the only
black doctor we had.
L: What was life like before the civil rights movement in Gainesville?
H: Well, it was pretty good for me. It was in 1932 when my grandmother died, in
Georgia. My mother had been sick just before, so the last of May, when my
father went to New Jersey, he had called my grandmother and asked her to
come stay with us because my mother was ill. She came and stayed all
summer. I guess around the last of August she said she just had to go home. At
that time we were sending telegrams. You did not call on the phone; there were
not that many phones. So Mama sent Daddy a telegram telling him that
Grandmother wanted to go home. He asked if she would stay for just another
week, because he would be home. She said, "No, I have to go."
So we came over to the house over there, because we were living on Springhill
at that time. But we came over here to Sugarhill and got Deacon J. B. Boykin,
who was a member of our church, to stay with us at night, because he was what
we called a "watermelon thumper." [laughter] I do not guess you know what that
H: When they harvest the watermelons, there is always someone who goes to the
field who can tell if they are ripe by thumping them. They mark them, and then
the people go through cutting them. Then they pick them up and put them on
the truck. So that is what he was, a watermelon thumper.
L: Now, you wanted him to live with you.
H: We wanted him to stay with us during the evenings to keep anyone from coming
in and bothering us. There was nobody but Mama and the two of us.
L: Now, when did you get the store here?
H: Well, what I am trying to get at is my grandmother. My grandmother said she
had to go home, so we got Deacon Boykin to stay with us in the evenings until
Daddy came. Just before Daddy even got home my grandmother died.
Well, she had 180 acres of land in Georgia. What she had done was she had
gone home we do not know what kind of feeling she had, because she was not
ill and sold all the land except 40 acres where the house was. She put the
money in the bank in each one of her children's names. After she died we all
went to Georgia to the funeral, of course. Daddy came by Georgia and picked
us up on his way from New Jersey. There was a judge in Americus, Georgia -
that is where she was, in Americus, Georgia, and that is where Jimmy Carter
lived and she had gone to him and told him what she was going to do, and if
anything happened to her what to do. So right after the funeral he gave each
one of the girls their money and the boys, because Mama had three brothers.
When we got home Daddy had already bought this land here, so he began to
build. They built the two-story building, but he never finished the top just the
bottom, where he started the grocery store. It was started with the money that
my grandmother left.
He went from this grocery store to one in Porter's Quarters. It was on the corner
of Depot [Avenue] and 5th Street. He went from there [to other locations]. He
had one out in Copeland; the little store that is out in Copeland now he built. He
was out on 8th Avenue, where Tom Coward has a Laundromat. There is a little
business plaza not far from 15th Street. There is a little business plaza there,
and he had a grocery store there. At one time we had four grocery stores. Over
here near Williams Elementary School where there was a Laundromat but now
Mr. Jennings has just opened up a little 7-Eleven that was one of his grocery
stores. He moved from the corner of 5th Street and Depot and moved farther
down on 7th Avenue and 5th Street, right on that corner. He had that whole little
block in there. So at that place he had a grocery store, a barber shop, a pool
room, and a restaurant.
L: Does this mean that you all were one of the wealthiest black families in town?
H: Well, I would not say that. He was the turner-over of things.
L: Was your family somewhere near the top [of the economic ladder in the black
H: Well, we did not consider ourselves as such. We were not, I will say,
hobnobbing with the bigwigs. My daddy did not usually do that. When he died
everybody said (they called him Mr. Al), "Mr. Al never enjoyed himself." I said,
"Well, we could not say that, because he enjoyed himself when he was making a
dollar." Therefore he enjoyed himself, because that was his life: he wanted to
make another dollar. He never closed up. Now, he would close up the other
stores, but this one here, no way! I mean, he closed up only on Christmas Day
to come up here to eat. He would stay closed for about one hour for all of us to
have dinner together. He always cooked in the back downstairs, and when my
mother took sick we would all eat down there because he always wanted his
children and everybody to stay together. So whenever he cooked he cooked for
everybody. You brought your husband, your family, and everybody. If you
wanted to cook at home, okay, but if you wanted to eat here you could. It is just
one of those things.
L: What church did you go to?
H: We went, and still do, to Springhill Baptist. That is over near Lincoln Middle
L: And your family has been there -
H: For years. My mother was one of the "pillars," as we called them, at that church.
L: Were you at all active in any organizations after you got married and, I guess,
during the 1950s?
H: Well, at that time, at the early stages, we had only a social club that we could be
in. We had like community social clubs. The first thing I was a member of was
the Ultra Modernettes Club, which was a social service club. We did things in
the community. We had a meeting every two weeks, and, of course, we would
go from house to house and have big meals and this kind of thing.
As time went on, I was very active in the civil rights movement.
L: When did you start?
H: How I started was this: My daughter graduated, and the same time that she
graduated was when the black kids went to the Florida Theater and were going
to have the sit-in or the stand-in. That was 1963.
L: So she graduated in the spring of 1963.
L: From Lincoln High School?
H: Lincoln High School. During that time was when all the parents were trying to
get things straightened out and all.
L: You said the parents were trying to ["get things straightened out"]?
H: They were trying to get into it and try to give them some of the things that they
wanted. I will put it that way. So what we did was we banded together and
began organizing groups so we could talk to them. We felt like it would be better
talking than going out and fighting. So we all got very involved in the NAACP, of
which I became secretary and was secretary for eighteen years.
L: Starting in 1963?
H: Well, I do not guess 1963. I will say it was maybe 1965 when I was secretary.
Reverend [Thomas A.] Wright must have gotten here in 1962. Anyway, he
became president, and Reverend Alexander was the president. He was an older
minister. The young NAACPers did not want him because he did not want to do
anything, but he accomplished things in his own way.
H: Yes. Charles Chestnut [Ill] and few of the others went out to the University and
had a sit-in at the I do not think I remember the name of that restaurant on
13th Street. Anyway, they went out there.
L: The Humpty Dumpty?
H: Humpty Dumpty. That is what it was. They went out there, and that is when I
really got involved. I was already a member of the NAACP. Then they began to
have meetings and demonstrations on how to protect yourself and all of this kind
of thing, so we were trying to get the children [involved]. If they were going to do
it, you need to know what to do, and all of that stuff. We had a lot of people from
the University to help us, and I think that has a lot to do with our progress, being
in a university town, getting teachers from the North -
L: White or black?
H: White who really wanted to do something and to help us. Now, quite a few of
them wrote books on us, but they still taught us something.
L: Oh, teachers from the University.
H: Yes, teachers from the University. But they still taught us a lot, because we were
really green. We did not really know what was going on.
L: Did you ever get involved in an organization called the Council for Human
H: Yes. We used to have meetings every third Sunday at what is now know as the
Rosa B. Williams Center, but it was known as the community center at that time,
or the recreation center.
L: Was this earlier than the NAACP period?
H: No, it was all about the same time.
L: What all do you remember about that organization, the Council for Human
H: That was white teachers from the University, and we would just come together,
have potlucks, and talk about problems, and they would try to see if they could
help us solve them and this kind of thing.
L: Did that organization accomplish much?
H: Yes, it accomplished a lot. In fact, quite a few of us were upset when we
disbanded because they thought that maybe we had done all we could. We had
done quite a bit. What this particular group did was work with the government,
with county and city government. That is what we would do. We would go to
them and meet with them one-on-one. Maybe a group would go and see the
county commissioners; maybe a group would go and see the city commission.
Now, [this is] how I got my job at the courthouse. After I started working at this
insurance company, they moved away, and I started working at the county
agent's office. That was one of these separate-but-equal things. The county
agent's office dealt with 4-Hers and farmers. Mr. English Green was the county
agent; he has just passed about, I guess, four months ago. Anyway, I worked
there, but it was only a half-day job. After I worked there the half day, then I
worked at the [Alachua General] hospital as a nurses' aide. I worked there from
3:00 [p.m.] to 11:00 [p.m.], and I worked for Mr. Green from 8:30 [a.m.] until
About two or three months before Shands, opened in 1958, I left Alachua
General and applied at Shands because Shands was paying more money. I got
the job at Shands. It was just three blacks that they had hired, and the other two
were midwives. I was one of the three. I was working then from 4:00 [p.m.] to
12:00 [midnight]. Then I started working from 12:00 [midnight] to 8:00 [a.m.], on
the midnight shift.
L: Shands was still segregated at this point?
H: Well, no. Shands was okay. What had happened was when I first started
working at Shands, all of Shands was on one floor, the third floor, of the hospital.
That was the only floor that was finished. They had the babies over in labor and
delivery, and they would keep the moms over there. Each wing was full of
patients that would come in, because they would only take patients that had very
acute things that other doctors could not handle at that time. The west wing was
GYN, and the north wing was pediatrics. Everything was on the one floor.
Then the Christmas of 1958 they had finished the fourth floor, so we moved up.
We moved everything but OB/GYN up on the fourth floor. At that time at Shands
everyone who would come into Shands would be in isolation. I remained on
OB/GYN on the third floor.
L: As a nurses aide?
H: As a nurses aide. What they did was they tried to have the family concept, and
they were cutting out midwives. So you could have a baby, really, for forty-five
dollars, and you could stay until you were really well. What they would do is you
would have the baby, and then they would leave the baby in the room with the
There was a young girl who was twelve years old who had a baby, so they turned
her over to me. I was supposed to sort of teach her how to take care of the
baby. What I found out was when she got tired of the baby she turned over.
The baby would cry or whatever, and it did not matter to her because she was
just tired. So she was treating it as a doll. Of course, I got very upset about that
and sent my daughter off to boarding school, because she was twelve years old
[laughter]. She wanted to know, "Mother, why do I have to go?" and I said:
"Because Mother works all the time. She is working trying to make things
better," because we were trying to buy a home.
The one reason I was trying to buy a home was because my daddy always
thought that no one was good enough for his children. I told my husband: "We
have to buy a house. We just have to buy one to show Daddy that we can do it."
So we were working. He had two jobs, and I had two.
Then he wanted to buy a car, and we started buying new cars. He did not have
the same idea that I had, so we never ended up showing Daddy that we could do
So I sent her off to boarding school. She went to Camden, South Carolina. At
Camden they had what they called Baldwin Haven-Mather Academy, and it was
a co-ed school. I hated to take her all the way to South Carolina, but that was
the closest one I could find. She went for two years.
L: Did she like it?
H: Well, yes. At first she did not. You know how that is. That is just like any kid
going to college. They miss the family and everything. But then the next year
she went, and she was glad to go because she was supposed to be one of the
people to welcome the other group to come in.
I came home one night after the second year she was supposed to go back, and
she was waiting up for me. I said, "What is wrong?" and she said, "Mother, I
want to talk to you." Her daddy had been to get me from work, so he came in
and sat down. I said, "What is going on here?" She said, "Mother, I want to
come home and go to school." I said, "You do?" She said: "Yes. I know why
you sent me away." I said, "Why did I?" She said: "Because of something that
happened on your job. But they taught us all about sex and everything at
boarding school, so you will not have to worry." She said, "I want to go to
Lincoln," which always was our high school, "because I want to be Miss Lincoln.
Mother, I will have to go from tenth grade to be Miss Lincoln," so I said okay.
She went on, and she was Miss Lincoln!
The NAACP Youth Council started picketing.
H: Right, the College Inn. Now, I do not know. Was it the College Inn? because it
was on 13th Street, and the College Inn was not on 13th Street.
L: The Humpty Dumpty.
H: The Humpty Dumpty. Yes, that is right.
L: And there was an incident at the Florida Theater.
L: Then in the fall of 1963 the college students started picketing the College and
the Gold Coast, which were right across from the University.
L: In October of 1963 the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights [GWER] formed.
What can you tell me about the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights?
H: I did not join them at the beginning. The first integrated organization I joined was
the Democratic Women's Club. I joined that. I had met this lady. I had started
working at Mrs. [Alma] Bethea's office, who was the supervisor of elections. I
was working part time. I had met a lady named Dorothy Rainbow. I was in the
office when I met her, and she asked me if I wanted to join the Democratic
Women's Club. I said, "Maybe so," and I did. When I joined that Judge Adkins's
wife, Edna Adkins, was the president. Actually, I think I was at that time the only
black member they had. They seemed to nurture me. I mean, they wanted me
in everything they had. I even went out to Mrs. Adkins's home from one thing to
another all the time. They were getting me involved in some things.
One of the experiences that I had at that time was that Judge and Mrs. Adkins
had a maid, and I felt real something having someone black to serve me. I
cannot describe how I felt the first time I went out there and had lunch when she
L: Were you uncomfortable?
H: Yes, I was a little uncomfortable. Now, there will always be someone who is
going to be a maid, there is always going to be someone who is going to iron
clothes, there is always going to be someone in every facet of life that is going to
be doing everything. But at that time I had begun to work that we would make
things better for everyone.
I am getting in front of myself, but when I became president of the Gainesville
Women for Equal Rights was when the VA Hospital opened. We knew that even
the maids and the people in the custodian area would have to have a test.
L: Did you get a job at the hospital?
H: No, I did not get a job at the VA.
L: What kind of test did they have to take?
H: For jobs. The test would be for jobs, regardless of what kind. What we did was
we began to get people ready for tests. You can know the anxiety you have.
You are probably not now, but when you used to even think of a test you would
get [very nervous]. All the anxiety would be so high until you just did not know
what to do. You would be very nervous and everything. So what we were trying
to do was to get them ready for the test.
One good thing about the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights [is that] we had
women in it that had husbands in everything. Regardless of what you needed,
one of those women had contacts and would be able to get it. We were not able
to get one of the tests, but someone had worked in the VA and knew about what
would be on the test. So we had things like [practice sessions with] people that
worked in the dietary department [for instance]. You would have to know the
difference between an orange and a lemon. I could just ask that question, and
people could not tell us the difference between an orange and a lemon, that the
orange was sweet and the lemon would be sour, or that the lemon was smaller
than the orange, because they did not think.
What we did was, the first thing we would do is have a lecture on different things
to sort of work them into the test. Then we would give them the test. Then we
would say: "Take it home this week and read it over. Think about it. Then next
week when you come back we will give you the same test." We did that. Then
the next week we would give them something else. That is why a lot of the
people were able to get hired at the VA, because of the tests that they had had.
L: Were these all black people?
H: All blacks. Yes.
L: I know that GWER tried to target anybody that was poor or low income.
H: Yes, they did. We could not get many [whites involved in this program].
I will tell you one thing that happened during integration. When everything was
segregated, all the people beyond Evergreen Cemetery were white, and all of
those people would come to the store here and buy groceries from my parents.
They would come and buy something that they forget to get at Lovett's we had
a Lovett's, and we had a Piggly Wiggly. There was another one, the first one
that came here as a big supermarket, but I cannot remember what it was now.
Anyway, they would come and sit with my mother out front, because Mother had
about four rocking chairs, I think. Every night the people from all back in here
would come up here to the store. All the kids would come. We would play out in
the road, and Mama and all the other people would sit in the chairs and sit
around. These [white] people would come. I mean, they used to bring Mama
[presents]. One white lady made Mama a quilt. They would bring Mama what
they had. They would come up and sit with her. Some of them even had credit
accounts with her.
L: Were these people that worked at the University?
H: No. They were just people, low-income whites and, I guess, middle class. We
called middle class then just above poor, but now they call middle class a little
higher than that. But integration came, and Mama lost a lot of her white friends
because they did not seem to want to come then when they had come before.
They used to sit and eat with us and everything. I do not know what happened.
The only reason Mrs. Bethea hired me was [because] the Civil Rights Bill had
passed. Now, she told me the first time I went to get a job that she would hire
me, but she first told me that the county commission did not give her enough
money. The county commissioners said, "We gave you the money that you
asked for, so do not put that on us."
L: So she tried to pay you less, in other words? She tried to get away with paying
H: No. She did not hire me. The main thing was she wanted to, but it was because
her friends would say something about it if she hired me. So the minute the Civil
Rights Bill passed and it was okay to hire blacks, she hired me immediately.
When she hired me, I will never forget my first incident. She had told me to take
some paper and go over to the clerk of the circuit court's office. One of the
ladies at the clerk of the circuit court .. I walked in . I do not know if you
should put this on that [tape]. But that is one of the reasons that I am glad
Buddy [Irby] is going to go be clerk of the circuit court, because they still take
their time in waiting on people.
Anyway, I walked in. They were talking, and they waited until they were finished.
Then they got up and came to the counter. I told the lady I know who it is, but
I will not call her name that Mrs. Bethea had sent those papers over to be filed.
She looked at me, and she would not even take the papers at the moment. She
wanted me to stay there, I guess. She said, "Hey, girls, come and see Alma's
new girl." Here I am on exhibition. Here are all these people coming from out of
the back. But that did not bother me. I try to tell people all the time, "It does not
matter to me what people call me. It does not matter to me what people do.
When you have gone through the civil rights era, you do not worry about it
anymore. You know you are not what they call you. You know that you are not
what they say. So you just go ahead and do what you know you are supposed
to do." So that never bothered me.
L: One thing that is important to what I am doing is, How did you meet and get
involved in Gainesville Women?
H: The way I did was I was a member of the Democratic Women's Club. I met
some ladies out at the Democratic Women's Club who were members of the
Gainesville Women for Equal Rights. I cannot remember who now, because
everybody was a member. Anyway, they had asked me to come over. Now,
there were some black women in it already.
H: They sort of thought that people like me would bring the Gainesville Women for
Equal Rights down because I did not teach school. Now, black schoolteachers
back in those days thought they were the cream of the crop. Then it ended up
where the NAACP, Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, and all of these
organizations had to get them out of trouble, because when schools integrated
and they were giving them tests, we had to stand up for them. So then they
began to come down to our level.
L: That was why I asked you earlier about your father owning all of these
businesses, [about] where your family stood in the black community.
H: Now, my dad was one of these kind of people [who felt] "I do not care who you
are." He felt like this was his castle. You did not come in his castle and bother
him. Now, the bread people, the soda people, the people that sold greens and
the Pepsi-Cola What I am trying to say is you did not come in and bother him
at home. Therefore, we did not get so much the brunt of the segregation
because he sort of sheltered everybody. He felt like he was just as good as the
next one, so you did not bother him.
My daughter went to Fisk University in Nashville, and she also went to A & T
[North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University] in Greensboro, North
Carolina. She got a master's degree from the Ohio University in Athens. [It was
only when] she got to Athens, Ohio, that she knew that there was a lot of
segregation. She was in trouble [laughter], because she always said, "Mother, I
never knew how bad segregation was until I got in Athens." But she made it
through there. Then when she got out of there I was a little upset because she
was not the same girl that had gone there.
L: It had changed her.
H: Yes, it changed her some.
L: So did the black schoolteachers in the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights
change their attitudes?
H: No, they did not. In fact, I was the first and only black president that they had.
They were in there first, but they did not want to be president of the Gainesville
Women for Equal Rights. I guess they felt like they had too much to do or
something of this kind. But during my term of president I was real proud of the
things that we accomplished. I did not accomplish them alone. It was just at that
time that they were accomplished.
There used to be two welfare places. It was not HRS at that time; they were
called welfare places. There was a Colored Welfare League, and then there was
the regular one downtown. The regular one downtown would only give black
people money when they had given it to all of the whites. Then they would bring,
say, about $200 down to the black Welfare League. My friend Mabel Crawford
was the secretary. They would bring it down there, and they would give people
only like $7.50 and $10 and $12. Of course, at that time that was a lot of money.
Actually, no one downtown even thought of these things. We, the Gainesville
Women for Equal Rights, went to talk to the county commission, and we talked
to them one-on-one. Sid Martin that is where we really learned to love him -
helped us to get these things all ironed out. See, we got all of these
constitutions from the different parts of government. We read them; we found
out where these laws had been on the books for X number of years. Nobody
had paid them any attention. But we felt it was time to get them changed. So
they changed the welfare thing. Mrs. Daisy Martin was the director of the
welfare, and they just let her run it.
Then we went into trying to get clerks at the stores. I will never forget Maas
Brothers had just come here, and all the people that they had hired had been
white. We were in there there were about five of us to talk to the manager.
One of the incidents that happened was a girl from the University had come in,
and she had on pants. In fact, she had on jeans and just a regular shirt, and
they had brought her back in to him for him to sign her papers, and she was
hired. This black girl came in (which we did not plan), and was all dressed up in
a suit. He did not hire her. Of course, we really got in on those kinds of things.
L: You put pressure on Maas Brothers.
H: We did.
L: How did they react?
H: They were slow in hiring, but they did hire.
L: They did not put up too much resistance?
H: No. They felt that they could not. Then we began to go to all the stores -
grocery stores. Now the [Gainesville] Ministerial Alliance is really fixing to get on
Publix because Publix does not have any [black] cashiers in most of their stores,
and a lot of people go to Publix. Most black people do go to Winn Dixie because
Winn Dixie's prices are better, but then some people want to go to Publix, too,
because Publix has things that Winn Dixie does not have. But they do not have
any black people working in Publix, or very seldom.
One other thing. I have begun in the last couple of months (I would say last year
was the first time) You know when they hire students, and the city had the
students, and then they let them go to the I have forgotten what the program is
called, but they are hired out each year to places for learning how to work.
L: In the summertime?
L: I do not know what it is called, but I know what you are talking about.
H: I called over at the recreation center, and I wanted to know what time the
ceramics class was. The person who answered the phone said, "Yeah. No,"
and all this. I said, "Where is the lady who is over the center?" "She gone to the
sto'." I got real upset about that, because she was supposed to be there to
learn. Are you going to let her answer the phone like this because you do not
want to be bothered? Just like McDonald's and all the fast-food places. They let
the kids work behind the counter. Well, why can't they teach them how to be
corporate owners, or how to get a franchise? Why can't they go in and work with
you closely to learn the business part, rather than [keep you in positions like]
handing out the dishes, the food, and what have you? That has been one thing
on my mind that I am really going to work on next year. I am working this year,
so I am not going to work on it. But next year I am really going to work on that.
L: Other than job opportunities and getting people hired in places, what other big
things did GWER accomplish when you were president? What else do you
remember doing a lot of?
H: Really, we just worked to get things better that particular year. We did work on
the government and jobs. Back in that time, like 1962-1963, I think I was
president. It was 1962-1963 or 1963-1964 or something like that. I cannot
L: I think it was 1966-1967.
H: 1966-67. OK. Well, I have a pen that they gave me when I retired, and it has
the year on there. We were more interested in making things better for people.
We felt, as I do right now, that jobs and that kind of thing [are very important]. If
you can have a job where you can make money, [you are much better off]. You
know, one of the greatest things that I wanted when I was young and when I got
out of college was every summer I am digressing a little bit now we had the
grocery stores, and we had to work in the grocery stores. But for two weeks
every summer, or maybe a month, we had to go and work on another job. I had
worked at Ideal Laundry; I used to iron handkerchiefs and do things in the
laundry. I have worked down at Atkins crate mill during the summer. I have
picked beans and hoed potatoes and this kind of thing, because Mama always
said that if you get where you cannot work or will not have a job or something,
you will know something other than what you are going to be going to school for.
See, I detested the grocery store. That is why I went to college, I feel, because I
hated it. My dad opened this grocery store when I was five years old, and until I
went to college I had to work in that grocery store!
L: So you did not want to spend your life doing that.
H: I wanted me a nine-to-five job. That is all I wanted [laughter].
L: When you were president of Gainesville Women, how much time were you
spending doing the organization's work? How much of your time was that taking
up? Do you remember?
H: No, because we were just doing what we had to do whenever. What I always
would do was this: we had committees that were going around doing jobs, but I
asked that each committee give me a written report. "If I cannot go with you,
give me a written report." Most times if you want to know something you call the
president. Now, I did not want not to know what was going on, to have someone
call me and I would have to say, "Well, you will have to call the chairman and
find out and let them tell you." I wanted to know. So they did that, and they were
really good with working with me. They felt real good. I had a white vice-
president who was Dee Richardson. They went to Boone, North Carolina. We
kept in touch for a long time. Her husband taught at the University.
L: Were you close to Joan Henry?
H: Yes, I was very close to her.
L: Tell me a little bit about her.
H: Joan was the president before I became president, and she really was the light in
my life. I wanted to be as good a president as Joan was. She really helped me,
too, because I had told her I wanted to be a real good president if I could, and
she helped me a whole lot. I can never forget. Now, they had never done this
with any other president, but when I became president I asked them that we
would have [coffee meetings]. We had three coffees, and we had them in
different sections of town. At these three coffees I was able to meet all the
members. As we would meet the members, I would ask for their help and ask
them what they would like to do and this kind of thing, so that helped me to get
my committees. I did want it to be as if it were something that I was doing. I did
not want it to be as if I was doing something that someone else had done, or that
I was really having all of this help. I needed the help, but I wanted it to be
something that I could look back on and say that it was something that I sort of
started to doing.
The board meetings were fantastic, because in the board meetings we would
bring up problems. For instance, someone out here would come to me and say
(and people still do that): "I am having a problem at my job. Can your
organization help?" I would call the person who was in charge of that with
GWER, and they would say, "We will get right in on that." I would say, "Set up
the appointment, and I will go."
We integrated the Boys' Club.
L: Was that easy to do?
H: No. We had a little problem in doing that. That is why we got the southeast
[club]. The Boys' Club was right up here on Waldo Road.
L: The segregated one. The white one.
H: Right. I feel sometimes that we all have a little segregation that we put out.
[There were] things that they would have in the office that they would try to make
me part of, [but there were] some things they would have that I would not even
What I am trying to say is this. The Boys' Club even got Mr. Grant, who is black.
They hired him from way out of state somewhere to come in to help organize.
They brought him at this Waldo Road Boys' Club as the director. But soon they
got enough money to build the Southeast Boys' Club. Then they put Mr. Grant
here, and then they kept that one for a while. Then they built the one over there.
Now, I know they accept the kids at either one, but still, regardless of where it is
or what it is, there is still a little bit [of segregationist tendency in all of us].
L: So they kept the Boys' Club segregated by simply moving the two farther apart?
H: No, I am not saying that. I am not saying they kept it segregated. But they were
pretending I will put it that way that it was going to be one Boys' Club. Then
they go and put this one way out here. There are quite a few blacks that live out
there, but most of them are older people that live out in that area. They really
have to bus kids in to the Northwest Boys' Club.
L: In the late 1960s a lot of these white faculty wives, or a number of them, started
getting interested in the women's movement and in feminism and things like that.
H: Oh, I know. The newspaper used to call them "coffee drinkers." That is what
they get over coffee and sit down and decide on what the government is going to
do. That is what they used to say all the time.
L: Did you get involved in any of these feminist things, any of these women's rights,
women's movement things?
H: Not per se. I sort of worked with the whole thing.
L: Did this interest you?
H: No, [I was not interested in] women's rights. Never. Not altogether. I want
women to have rights. If I am going to do a job that you can do, I want to get the
same money. I can remember, just like on the job where I am now, one of the
girls (and I am not going to call her name) had been there for a long time. Then
a man was hired, and he had not been there six months, and his money had
gotten to be where her money was. So this is just the way it is.
L: But you never got involved in an organization to fight that kind of thing?
H: No, not especially for women's rights.
L: After you did your year as president, were you still active?
H: Yes, very much so.
L: Were you active in the NAACP, too, at the same time?
H: Very much so.
L: How many jobs were you working at this time? One, or were you working two
H: One time I was working three. I worked at Chestnut Funeral Home. I was
Charles's granddaddy's secretary for I guess about five years. I did that from
1:00 [p.m.] until 5:00 [p.m.]. I would come home and sleep. I would cook dinner
and maybe go to bed until 11:00. I would get up and go to Shands at 12:00
[midnight] and work until 8:00 [a.m.]. I would come home, change clothes, and
go to the county agent's office and work from 8:30 until 12:00 [noon]. [laughter]
I did that for five years. When I got through doing that, working for five years that
way, I did not have any more than I did when I worked one job. You know why?
Because I knew I was going to have money, so I would spend it rather than [save
it]. I would buy things that I really did not need. But that is life.
L: The Gainesville Women for Equal Rights fell apart or stopped being active and
just sort of disintegrated in the early or mid 1970s. Were you around then? Do
H: I have always been here [laughter].
L: Were you involved with them?
H: Yes, I was involved with them.
L: Why do you think the group fell apart?
H: Well, I think we probably got complacent. We thought that things were much
better, that they were going to do all right, that they did not need a group like
ours. Not as much. That is the same thing that happened to the Human
Relations Advisory Board. They thought that they did not need a group like ours
anymore because things were better.
L: Things were better.
H: Yes. We thought they were, and they were.
H: Now, I meant to say the Human Relations Council, because I was on the Human
Relations Advisory Board for the city. I will never forget. It was during the time
when they integrated the bars. They would not take us together. Now, if I had
my husband and you had your wife, they would take those kinds of groups. But
they would not take mixed couples. People kept coming in saying, "We want to
go to ABC [lounge]." There was this big one on [NW] 13th Street where Mother
Earth is; that was the really big one, and they were having all kinds of things in
that, so they wanted to go. They would not let them in.
I will never forget Ed Johnson, who was the editor for The Gainesville Sun; he
was the chief editor, and he was on the board. There were two or three people
from the University. When they first started this Human Relations Advisory
Board, they did not have people coming making application like they do now.
They were picking people to be on it, people that they thought would do things.
So I will never forget Ed Johnson said, "Mrs. Bryant (that is what I was), we can
go to ABC and integrate and see what they will do." I laughed. He said: "Well,
why are you laughing? Don't you know that that is what we are trying to do?
You act like you do not want to go with me." I said: "Well, Ed, let me tell you. I
don't really go to bars." He said, "Well, couldn't you just go with me this once?"
So I said, "OK. I will go with you." We had planned to go on Thursday evening
at 6:00. About that Tuesday they integrated, so we did not have to go. So we
did not ever get there; I did not have to go against some things that I believe in. I
never have been a bar person.
L: So the Gainesville Women accomplished a lot of the things they wanted to?
H: Yes. In fact, they are the ones that turned this town around they really are -
because they were working women.
L: What has happened in terms of race relations in Gainesville since the mid
1970s, since GWER ended, and in the 1980s? Have things continued to get
better? Have they leveled off? Are they getting worse? What do you think?
H: Well, I do not know if we need an organization like that. I think what we really
need is for everyone who is in a position to do the right thing. Now, that is what I
think. I think that if everyone comes forth and does what their job description is
to be, then I think that this town would work. I really do. We should not need
those kind that go in and force someone to do something. Although there are
still problems. Of course, now things have changed so we have a lot of black-
on-black problems. It used to be, when I was young, they would only fight. They
did not ever cut and kill. Right down the street here from me they used to have
what we called a juke joint. They would probably fight or something, but that was
all. They did not kill each other and that kind of thing like they do now.
I say it is because my mom brought me up different from what people bring their
children up now. Now, I would not dare say anything in a loud way around my
mother because I knew that I would probably be getting up off the ground. I just
knew better. Everybody ate together. When my daddy cooked at the University
he would always come home and eat. He never would eat his own cooking. I
never could understand that, but my brother-in-law was a cook, and he did not
eat his. So I do not know what it is.
But my dad would eat his breakfast before he would leave, and we would have to
eat it at the table. My daddy would get off from work around 1:30 or 2:00 every
day, and he would come home, and my mother would have what we called a
dinner. Then when he got off in the evening and came home and ate, Mama
would have supper. The table would be set, and she would put the food on the
table, and we would sit there and eat it. Then we would get our discipline around
the table or whatever. They would ask us what happened in school or what
Mama never had to lock the door. If she was going down the street to we had
a good friend; her best friend was Mrs. Dennis Mrs. Dennis's home and we had
gone to somewhere, we would come maybe to play with someone. We would
come home, and the screen door was unlocked. All we did was go in. If Mama
was not home we would play or do whatever. We had a radio. I have that radio
now. It was a Victor. It was long like this, and you could see all the tubes. We
used to play that. That was our radio.
After we left the New York's World's Fair in 1939 and TVs began to come out, we
were the first ones that had a TV on Sugarhill. We were the first one that had a
telephone. We had no problem there. Our phone number was 420W, and it was
a little phone on the wall. Everybody on Sugarhill, if they got a phone call from
the people they worked for, we had to go get them, and then they would come
back and all of that. Well, we were living downstairs at that time.
L: But they were all your customers, too.
H: They were all our customers. We delivered groceries. I was driving a car when I
was nine years old, but only around in here. Almost every time I would go
around this corner somewhere I would have a flat tire [laughter]. I would say
people put nails out there, but they did not. We used to deliver groceries and all
L: You described when your grandmother was here she would sit on the porch, and
people would come and socialize.
H: No, that was Mama, my mother.
L: Does that kind of thing still happen today?
L: Why not?
H: I do not know. I never thought of that. Like me. I never go down unless I am
going out the door. I guess we do not have time. Maybe that is it.
L: And your door is locked, and you have a fancy buzzer system.
H: Well, see, Mama was semi-invalid, and Daddy fixed that so she would not have
to go down and open the door. So I am just taking advantage of it right on.
L: The reason I am asking the question is I am wondering what happened to the
community, because it sounds like up through the 1950s, I guess, or even later,
it was close, and people got along fairly well, but now it is very different.
H: Just like when I worked. We have another story, and my family lived up there.
My sister's family lived across the hall. This was my parents' apartment here.
Daddy wanted all of us to be together, so when I was working and my daughter
came home from school, well, she would be right here with Mama, so I did not
have to worry about her.
L: Where is your daughter now?
H: My daughter is in Lakeland, Florida. Her husband is a minister. Now, when she
finished Ohio University she got married. She came home, and they had this big
wedding. Her husband is from Virginia. She met him at A & T in Greensboro,
North Carolina. She brought him home, and they got married. He went back to
Athens to get his master's degree, and they worked as a dorm something. She
worked while he was getting his master's there in Athens. She thought that was
really something, because to go to a school and then they hire you to work the
next year, she was real pleased about it.
Then when he got his master's he got it in one year, like she got hers, because
she is a very smart girl, I must say so they went to Evanston, Illinois. She
worked in one of the schools as a counselor, and he worked as a football coach
at one of the high schools. [He was] not the coach, but one of the coaches, say,
like the scrimmage coach or something like that. They stayed there for two
years in Evanston. Then they left and went to New Orleans. She said that they
had this job market. I know I see it at the University at the end of the school year
that you can go in and sign up for jobs, when companies come in. Well, at that
time it was still really sort of segregated, so they had gone to all the black
markets--I will put it that way. [The markets] were in New Orleans, so they went
to New Orleans. He got this job in Richmond [VA] at Virginia Union University.
So they moved from Illinois.
She came back here and stayed with me for that summer, and he went to Texas
because whatever he was going to be working in at Virginia Union he had to go
to Texas and get something for summer school, during the summer. So we left
and met him at Norfolk at his mother's, and then we went on over to Richmond.
They got settled. They stayed in Richmond for twenty-two years.
During that time he was not a minister, but then he became a minister. He
worked at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Richmond. He left
Virginia Union and worked there. He left then and went to divinity school, to
seminary, and he became a minister. So he was pastoring a church outside of
Richmond. He would always come down here to workshops and all because he
said that Florida had good church workshops. He would pass out his cards and
stuff like that.
This church needed a minister, and they found his card. Somebody presented it
and said, "Why don't we try him?" They did, and they were called to the church,
First Baptist Institutional Church in Lakeland. That is where they are now.
L: How many grandchildren do you have?
H: I have three girls. The middle one I carried just Saturday to [Florida] A & M [in
L: She just started college?
H: Yes. I just want to show you the picture. That is what I was trying to get this of
my family history. That is my daughter, and that is my oldest granddaughter.
She goes to Polk Community College. When they moved here from Richmond
she wanted to stay because she wanted to graduate with her class, so she came
here last year. They were reluctant to pay the out-of-state tuition, so she started
going to Polk Community College. Well, that is where she still is. This one we
just put in A & M, and this one is thirteen, so she still has a few more years.
L: I guess I will let you get to your prayer meeting.
H: Out here we do not have a pastor now, and we are trying to keep the church
together, so everybody tries to [pitch in and do what they can].
L: That makes perfect sense. Now, does your church change ministers every so
H: No. That is the Methodist Church.
L: Well, I would like to thank you for letting me interview you.
H: Well, I rattled when I talk. I might get here and jump way over here. I am hoping
that you can find something from it.
L: I think we got a lot of valuable information.