Interviewee: Ann McGhee
Interviewer: Stuart Landers
Date: January 20, 1993
L: This is an oral history interview with Mrs. Ann McGhee, being conducted in her
home in Tampa, Florida. Today is January 20, 1993, and my name is Stuart
Can you give me your full name?
M: Annie Alexander McGhee. Alexander is my maiden name.
L: When and where were you born?
M: I was born in Madison, Florida.
L: Can you give me the year?
M: Let us leave that one [laughter]. You know how we ladies are.
L: Did you grow up in Madison?
M: Yes, I did. [I grew up] mostly around Madison County, in a place called Pinetta,
Florida. It is between Madison and the Georgia line. This is where most of my
childhood was spent.
L: So this is up in the panhandle area?
M: No, the panhandle is farther west; this is more north. It is halfway between
Tallahassee and Jacksonville.
L: Who were your parents, and what did they do?
M: My parents were Dennis and Annie B. Alexander. He was a farmer, and he did
truck farming. He had some type of product growing all during the year. Each
time he would get sales for these particular vegetables and things that he was
growing. Aside from vegetables, he grew sugar cane, tobacco, cotton, and all of
those things like that.
L: Did he market them himself?
M: Yes He was a small truck farmer. [He also grew] watermelons. During those
days, there was some farmer communication. Trucks would come and get these
vegetables and things for sale.
L: Did your mother work?
M: No. There were eleven of us I am the youngest one. She could not work. She
was more of a housewife. However, she was a seamstress and did take in a lot
of sewing. But she really did not have time to work outside the home.
L: Well, her job was raising the eleven of you. Really quickly, how many brothers
and how many sisters [do you have]?
M: I have seven brothers and three sisters. And I am the youngest.
L: You said that you grew up in Madison County. Did you go through high school
M: Yes, I finished what was called the Madison County Training School at that
particular time. However, that school burned and a new school was built, which
is now being used as a junior high school. [This all happened] since integration.
The others go to Madison High. But I was in one of these segregated schools,
which was called Madison County Training School.
L: Was it in Madison?
M: Yes, it was in Madison. It was not the only high school, but it was the largest one
in the county.
L: How big of a town was Madison, would you say?
M: It must of had a population, I would say, of less than 20,000 at that time.
L: I take it that it was fully segregated the whole time?
M: Fully segregated. I am amazed at the integration that has taken place in that
particular county now, far more than I see here in Hillsborough County.
L: What is different? In what ways?
M: Well, the smaller the county, the closer-knit the families are. It was always
somewhat like that, but it was a case in which [we interrelated] on the social
level, other than friendliness. For instance, if you had a white neighbor who lived
down the road (and we called them roads, because we did not have streets),
they would be very cordial to you, and if you were in need maybe they would
send food or something. If someone died, they would send food or something
like that. Just everything except, "Come sit down at my table and have dinner
L: So it was at least neighborly?
M: Yes, I guess you could say that.
L: So you graduated from high school. Then what?
M: Then I attended Florida A&M University, where I met my husband. We then
married, and so forth.
L: Would you give me his full name?
M: His name is Rayfield Murphy McGhee, a native of Tallahassee, Florida. He and
I both attended FAMU.
L: What was FAMU like? About when was this?
M: This was from 1944 to 1948. He finished in 1947, because he graduated in
three years. It was a small black school. I do not think that we had more than
3,000 students there at that particular time. But it has grown to become a very
outstanding school. We have had many graduates from there that have turned
out to be outstanding people in their fields.
L: What were you studying?
M: I majored in elementary education. My husband's majors were biology and
L: Were you both planning to be teachers?
M: Well, my husband had planned to be a doctor. Somewhere along the line, he
lost that interest. I knew all of the time that I wanted to be a teacher. Really,
during those days, there really was not very much more that we could do, no
matter how high our aspirations were. In order to get a job, more than likely we
just had to go into the teaching profession.
L: Was that considered one of the better jobs, given the limited opportunity?
M: Well, it was just about the only job for a college graduate during those times.
The schools were small, therefore many of us went into education. That was the
more open field; there would be more jobs available. Even for a math major;
usually in the high schools there was only one math teacher in many of the
schools, or only one biology or science teacher. It was nothing like it is today,
where you have several teachers.
L: You graduated in 1948 with a B.A. in education?
M: With a B.S. in education.
L: Were you married before you graduated?
M: Soon afterward; we married in 1949.
L: Other than getting a degree and doing schoolwork, were you involved in any
other social activities while at FAMU?
M: Do you mean social or civic things?
L: Either. Both.
M: I was a member of several organizations in school, like the Young Women's
Christian Education, the Education Club, the Glee Club, Dramatists, etc.
L: What happened after you graduated and got married?
M: My husband and I got married and moved to Gainesville. That is where I say we
matured. Neither of us grew up there, but I would think we matured there,
because of the age at which we went there. We remained there for quite a long
period of time. We had two sons. My husband went back to school and got his
master's. Later on, I got mine. He became a science teacher at Lincoln High
School, and I was able to get a job as an elementary teacher. We became more
involved in other things. I have always been interested in politics and things of
that sort. I have never gone into it, however, because my husband does not care
for it. While there we were able to get involved in many things. One of them was
the Gainesville Council on Human Relations. I think that was one of the first
things that we became involved in.
L: That is something that I think is very important, but before we get into that, when
were your sons born, and what were their names?
M: Rayfield McGhee, Jr., was born in 1951. Vincent Pierre was born in 1954. They
both attended school at P.K. Yonge. (We will discuss how they managed to do
that later.) They are both attorneys now in Miami.
L: You said that your husband and then you later got your master's degrees. At
M: Tuskegee University. My husband received his master's in education from
FAMU. He later received his doctorate from the University of Florida.
L: And you went to Tuskegee?
M: Yes. That is another outstanding black college, and I liked black colleges in that
time. We gave our children the opportunity to attend whatever school they
L: How did you get involved in the Gainesville Council on Human Relations?
M: It was just a matter of meeting some of the people at the University of Florida.
During that time, it was not popular for the University community to have
activities with the black community. There were just two different worlds. There
were a few professors and their wives interested in forming this council. During
that time, we were not allowed to have meetings together in Gainesville. So
what happened was that some of the professors would get the building, and then
we would meet. Later on I think it was found out what was happening, but we
still met at houses and places like that during that time.
L: How long had you been in Gainesville before this involvement began?
M: I cannot remember. I guess I would say more than four or five years. I really
cannot remember the date that we started with that.
L: So we are talking about the mid 1950s. Who were the faculty members and their
wives that you first started interacting with at this early time?
M: One of the [couples] was the Chalmerses [David and Jean], because Dave had
been instrumental in working with us throughout the times. I really cannot
remember many of the other members; I will ask my husband. I know Bobbie
Zeman was a person who was very interested.
L: Well, who were some of the other members of the black community who were
M: We had Barbara [Higgins], Al Daniel, Marie Adams, Savannah Williams, and
Rosa [Williams]. Those are the only ones that I can think of right now, but I am
sure there were a few others.
L: Was Dr. Cosby involved early on? I know he was involved later on.
M: I am wondering if he was even there at that particular time, because he came
later. I am not even sure if he was with the council or not. I know that he helped
out a lot with the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights [GWER], but I am not sure
about the council.
L: One thing that I am not really sure about is that I know there is a separation
between the University community and the white and black Gainesville
communities. Is there one black community in Gainesville, or does it have parts
and divisions in it?
M: That is one myth that I am glad you asked about. So many times we feel that we
have leaders for this group or that group and so forth, but I would not think so. I
would think that it is one community. However, you are going to have some
people who will act upon certain situations, and you have others that will not. It
is just one of those things. But I do not think that we think of that as being two
separate [communities]. Are you referring to some of the blacks that have
moved into the northwest, or were you thinking strictly about the southeast area?
L: One of the things that seems to have happened after the civil rights movement,
in the 1970s and 1980s, is that the middle class people tended to move away.
There tends to be a split between very low income black people and more
affluent black people.
M: I think that happens in any society. Don't you think so? It is just a matter of a
circle of friends which one associates with. But I do not think it is anything more
than what usually happens in a community. Birds of a feather flock together, I
L: OK. So you are putting together this Gainesville Council on Human Relations.
What did it do? How did you organize it?
M: These people met together, and they saw the idea that the black community and
the white community should come together. We met [for] about three or four
years. From that council, I think we got a branch for the Gainesville Women for
Equal Rights. I think that came from that also, because some of the people
who were working with us on the council became members of GWER.
L: Can you remember [any members of GWER] other than Mrs. Chalmers?
M: Well, we had Bobbie Zeman. I think she moved to Jacksonville. We had Clara
Leibman and Shirley Conroy, to name a few.
L: Rosa Williams made the transition, right? Was she in the council?
M: Yes, I think she was in the council.
L: One thing that I was going to ask you to do is mark this list for me. I took all of
the lists that I could find and put them together.
M: Ginny Albury was really one who was interested during that time. You want me
to mark the ones that were in the Gainesville Council for Human Relations?
L: Yes, the ones that you can distinctly remember.
M: Edna Ambrose was one. Chloe Atkins, Gene Beardsley, Shirley Conroy, Patricia
Creel, Pat Detweiller, Pat Fabrick, Pat Farris. There was one woman who
separated from her husband, because she became so involved [in GWER].
Jean should know who she is.
L: These were men and women in the Council, right?
L: What sorts of things did you do during meetings?
M: We would discuss certain issues, and so forth. Actually, the Council made us
aware of a lot of things which we were not aware of. During that time, a lot of
things were kept from the black community.
L: Like ... ?
M: Certainly information; we were not really cognizant of the fact that things were
happening. So they really kept us abreast of the current issues of the day.
L: Local political issues?
M: Yes, mostly local.
L: I think Mrs. Williams told me that you often had potluck dinners at these things.
M: Yes, we would bring food. We would have picnics together. We would socialize,
get to know each other.
L: Do you remember a bus trip picnic to Goldhead State Park? What can you tell
me about that?
M: As I remember, the people were somewhat amazed to see blacks coming there.
I do not want to get this confused with another place we went, but we really were
afraid. As I recall, there was not any incident. But it was a strange and unusual
happening for blacks to be there. We had a very good picnic, but we were a little
frightened of the people there you know, the stares and things which one can
L: This was a Council picnic?
L: What was the other one that you mentioned?
M: When we went down to Levy County to a park, Manatee Springs, I guess the
person at the gate must have called the highway patrol. By the time we went
through, there were several highway patrolmen there. They did not bother us,
but it was somewhat frightening. Being down in Levy County during that time
was not very popular.
L: That is where Manatee Springs is. That is a nice park.
M: We spent the evening, but I have never been so frightened in all the days of my
life. They did not say anything to us, but just to see how the cops came so
quickly [scared us]. None of us were arrested, but they were there. When we
went out on the boardwalk, I guess all of my bravery came to me. Sometimes it
is not what one says but just how one looks at another individual. So we took
chances, and thank God none of us were hurt.
L: Can you remember any other testing attempts?
M: When my children and others enrolled in P.K. Yonge school, as parents we were
naturally concerned that there would be incidents. I feel now that some of the
achievements that my sons made there were never given to them. I remember
once my son came home from track and said, "I think I broke a record today" in
the high jump or whatever it was he was doing. But it never was given to him. It
so happens that the P.E. teacher later worked with my husband. He said, "I
really think that Rayfield broke a track record." But it was about ten years later
when he said that. My other son Vincent graduated with honors from P.K., but
he was never admitted into the honor society; he even graduated with honor
from the Holland Law School. Neither was Cosby's daughter, who was a very
bright student. They could not receive those high honors.
L: When did they start school at P.K. Yonge?
M: Rayfield graduated in 1969, and he started in the seventh grade. It must have
been around 1963 [that they started there].
L: How difficult was it to get them in?
M: When we decided that we wanted to integrate P.K. [Yonge] there was a lady by
the name of Dorothy Rainbow. I do not know if her name is on this list.
L: She was in the Council?
M: Yes. When we talked about integrating the school, we wondered how we were
going to get the application forms, because we knew they were not going to give
them to us. So she went there to get the registration forms. When they asked
her how many she wanted, she told them ten. She said, "You should have seen
their eyes" [laughter]. They gave her the applications, and we applied. Six to
eight students were accepted. Reggie Davis, Ralph Johnson, Marva Coward
(Tom Coward's daughter), one of my sons (Rayfield, Jr.), Cosby's daughter
Joyce, Sheryl Duncan, and some other child. What the school administrators did
was put them all in a different section.
L: By themselves?
L: Was this before or after Joel Buchanan and Reverend Wright's daughter went to
Gainesville High School?
M: I believe it was afterward. They were probably the first ones.
L: You [the Council] held discussions, and you went on trips to test segregated
facilities. Were there any other things that you did?
M: None that I can recall right now. Those are the most important things that we
did. We worked at meetings; we would meet at night sometimes, in order to get
some of the things going.
L: Do you remember any white people involved in this Council or Gainesville
Women for Equal Rights who were not attached to the University of Florida in
M: I cannot remember any. Those I knew were from the University community.
Most all that I can think of were connected with the University.
L: So how did the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights come about? How did you
get involved with that?
M: Somewhere along the line, during [my involvement with] the Gainesville Council
on Human Relations, I met some of the ladies. They began to find out about
some of the blacks in the community. We were all invited to come attend the
meetings. If I remember well, GWER was formerly the University Women ...
L: Faculty Women for Equal Rights?
M: I do not think Equal Rights was there; I think they were University Faculty
Women. I believe they were, until they decided that they wanted to integrate
their group. I think that is the way it came about.
L: As I understand it, the NAACP Youth Council began picketing in the summer of
1963, and had the two students who were arrested at the Florida Theater while
trying to buy tickets. Then the college students formed an organization with
some of the first black UF students and started picketing in front of the College
Inn. And then the faculty wives became involved.
M: I do know, [but it seems to me] that if it had not been for the students and the
faculty wives, I do not think Gainesville would have been as easily desegregated
as it was. But I do not recall that particular incident.
L: Were you at all involved in the NAACP?
M: Oh, yes.
L: Was this before or during the Council time?
M: I think before the Council. Now, I was not there in the early part, like Mable
Dorsey and some of the others, because I moved to Gainesville [later]. They
had formed the chapter; Councille Blye and all of them had formed a chapter
then. I joined them later. So the early part, the beginning of the NAACP, I do
not know [about]. Mable Dorsey should be able to tell you that.
L: Do you remember anything about the Youth Council and its activities?
M: I do not recall that, either.
L: Other than Mable Dorsey, do you remember anything about the leadership of the
NAACP in the early 1950s?
M: The time I remember, the time I came aboard the NAACP, was soon after
Reverend Wright came to town.
L: Early 1960s?
M: Yes. That is mostly when I became involved in the NAACP. Prior to that time,
we were working with GWER and the Council, so the NAACP was not that active
during that particular time. But I think Savannah Williams might have been one
of the persons who was with the early members of that group.
L: Does the NAACP chapter change mainly because of Reverend Wright? Is he
the active leader that comes and ..
M: Yes, I think more was done after he came. For one thing, the times were
different. I guess he could get more support. Prior to that, Gainesville was really
a segregated place with [a policy of] no growth. They were not particular about
any type of growth being done anywhere. The Old Guard was there, and right
now (when we left) they were talking about wanting no growth for the city. So
that not only meant as far as businesses were concerned; they wanted the status
quo. So it was not easy. I can sympathize very well with them not being able to
get many things accomplished at that particular time.
L: Do you remember or were you involved in the city political campaigns, especially
with Byron Winn's election?
M: Yes, but not very much. I did more after Neil Butler and all of them began to
come in. I do remember Byron Winn, and I think I did work some, but it was a
very minor role that I played in that particular campaign.
L: So the faculty wives formed this organization and invited the women from the
black community. It sounds like you got involved in the Gainesville Women for
Equal Rights very early on.
M: Yes, I did.
L: What are your earliest memories of its meetings?
M: We met in various homes. One of the first things that they were doing was that
they were very interested in getting some black professors at the University. In
order to do that they knew that we needed housing. I believe that was one of the
earliest things that we worked on: desegregation of housing. We realized that if
black people came to Gainesville, there were not any decent houses for them.
Most of the blacks that owned decent houses were living in them. That was one
thing that we worked a long time trying to get: houses.
L: What sorts of things did you do specifically? Do you remember?
M: It was mostly paperwork and trying to get the groundwork done and
implemented. That was one of the most [important] things that we could do.
After that, we began to work on trying to get someone on the city commission.
Unless you get someone in these places, offices and things like that, you do not
know what is going on. After that I think we began to work on trying to get Neil
Butler elected to the city commission, which we did. I am sure that you heard a
lot about him.
L: Yes. He was elected in 1969.
M: I think it was something along that line.
L: Were you involved in his campaign?
M: Sure. We had to work hard and long. One of the things that GWER people did
was that they were very supportive. Those who knew about politics and things
like that would help him along the line and coach him in many ways. He made a
very outstanding commissioner.
L: He was mayor commissioner.
M: Yes, he was.
L: So the Gainesville Women, then, were fully behind .?
M: Sure; they were fully behind desegregation of the schools, and also
desegregation of the communities.
L: Do you remember a voter registration project?
M: Yes. We also worked on getting kindergartens in the school.
L: Can you tell me more about that?
M: It was the Kindergarten Alert program.
L: Shirley Conroy told me that GWER spent one summer trying to get children from
lower income families white and black into kindergarten. They had to get
shoes for them and had to go door-to-door to get mothers to register. Do you
remember anything else, [such as] medical examinations?
M: We had to do everything just as we have to do now, especially with the program
that they have, Headstart. We had to make most people aware of what the
program was about. If parents were going to send their small children out, they
wanted to know more about it. This is what we did: we went around from door
to door and registered the children. Whatever they needed, we helped them get
it. I think we got quite a few children in that year.
L: Were the families and the mothers mostly interested, [or] did they resist this
M: No, most of the women were very amenable to the idea. First of all, a lot of
people did not even know about the kindergarten program; it was not in all of the
schools, I do not think, at that particular time. In order to get more of the people
into the schools, they had to be made aware of what it was like.
L: What school are you teaching at at this time?
M: I was at A. Quinn Jones Elementary School.
L: It was all black at the time?
M: Yes. As you know, it was right in a low income neighborhood.
L: It did not integrate until the whole system was integrated?
M: No. One lady sent her daughter there, Carol Thomas; she was enrolled there.
Other than that, [there were no other white students]. She was the only white
that was there.
L: The more I learn about her, the more she seems to be an unusual person. Was
she the only white woman from GWER who sent her children to an all-black
M: Yes, she was.
L: I have not been able to make contact with her. Do you know if it was an easy
thing [for her] to do?
M: Well. I'll be frank with you: it was not very easy for the child. It is just like putting
one black [child] into an all-white school. Some of the kids were not very nice to
her. Naturally, the teacher would see that and do something about it. But it is a
very lonely situation for any child to be in, white or black.
L: Do you remember a truck or a trailer that was painted up like a schoolhouse and
driven around [as part of the Kindergarten Alert recruiting drive]? Someone had
shown me a photograph that they thought was connected with this.
L: Do you remember an earlier battle on the part of GWER to get the Boys Club
M: Oh, yes. [I remember] the person who was in charge of the Boys Club, Neal
Zimmerman. It was not an easy task. The Boys Club was on the corner of
Waldo Road and 8th Avenue. What they did was just close it down rather than
L: That was the white Boys Club, right?
M: Yes. And then, in turn, they built the one for the blacks, which I strenuously
objected to, and I still do not think it is a good idea.
The man who built Lincoln Estates donated some land, and they built a Boys
Club directly in the heart of Lincoln Estates.
L: This is a black neighborhood, right?
M: Yes. And I think the whites were without a club until they built the one over in the
L: Under pressure from the Gainesville Women to integrate the Boys Club, they
shut down the all-white one?
M: Yes. When black boys began to go there, it soon faded out.
L: They then built one in the heart of the black community, and only later built one
in the white area? Did many white parents send their children to the one in
M: I do not know, but I doubt it very seriously because of its location. We had a
long discussion about the fact that they were saying (before I left) that they would
have to admit girls. There were not any girls in the one in the northwest. I think
that was a ploy to prevent as many girls from going over in the Girls Club,
because that did not come about until after the Girls Club was built in the
northwest, that they decided that girls had to be admitted to the club in the
L: But this is many years later. Did the Gainesville Women or anybody ever think it
was strange that there was only a club for boys in the 1960s?
M: Not that I am aware of. I think people were more concerned about boys than
girls. During that time, girls were kept more at home, rather than the boys [who
were] in the streets.
L: Do you remember a Best Day of the Week program?
M: No, I do not recall that. That was by GWER?
L: Yes. [It was] a program to bring black and white children together on Saturdays,
to play together and learn that everybody was special, that everybody had
M: It does not come to my mind right now.
L: Do you remember a project called Home and School, or HANDS?
M: Slightly, but I will tell you something else that is foremost in my mind. It is the
fact that GWER implemented the volunteer program in the county.
L: Tell me more about that.
M: There were two ladies; a lady and I. I am bad with names. She and I read an
article in Reader's Digest that, in Virginia, parents were going to the schools and
helping out. She and I brought it to the attention of the Gainesville Council, and
then GWER picked it up also. It began as a pilot program at Williams
Elementary School and J. J. Finley. And from there it caught on.
L: [Was this] before or after the schools were integrated?
M: This was before.
L: Did a lot of the GWER women volunteer?
M: Yes, some of them did.
L: Was this still going on when you left Gainesville?
M: The volunteer program? Oh, yes. It is a major success throughout the state of
Florida. I do not know what they would do without parent volunteers in school.
L: It started in Gainesville and spread throughout the state?
M: As far as I know. We hadn't heard of it before, and we had gotten it out of the
Reader's Digest. It began somewhere in the state of Virginia.
L: I will have to track that down then. That sounds very important.
M: I have an article. Before you leave, I will try to get it for you.
L: What do you remember about the closing of Lincoln High School?
M: Many of the students there were irate because of the fact that they felt
integration should be a give-and-take thing, that some [whites] should come over
to Lincoln, and then some of the blacks should go to G.H.S. [Gainesville High
School]. But the county saw fit to just close Lincoln, period.
L: Do you have any memory as to why they shut it down?
M: Because they did not want the whites to come over there. Lincoln Middle
School, when I left, was known as one of the best middle schools in the county.
Whites and all other colors are there.
L: Was the shutting down of Lincoln mainly the county school board that we are
M: Yes, I would say [it was] the county school board. During that time, we had a
superintendent named Tiny Talbot. He was one of those persons who I would
say was a staunch segregationist. He just did not believe that the whites should
be over in that area. Naturally, he would need some help in order to do that. So
Lincoln was closed, and later they built Eastside [High School]. [Lincoln] was
mostly in the black community, [while] Eastside was not directly in the black
L: Were there any moderates that you can remember on the school board?
M: None that I can recall. During that time, the school board members were elected
from each of the municipalities in the county. I think that is a good way. You
had a commissioner from Archer, one from High Springs, one from Alachua, one
from Waldo, and one from Hawthorne. Those people would run for the school
board within their municipalities.
L: For the county commission?
M: For the school board. Later on, they were elected at-large.
L: Did the Gainesville Women ever try to get anyone elected to the school board,
that you can recall?
M: I am wondering if Charles Chestnut was the first one to run for the school board.
Not that I recall for the school board, but I know Reverend Wright ran for the city
council prior to Butler, but he was defeated.
L: Do you remember Cora Roberson running for city commissioner?
M: Yes. The Gainesville Women sought her out and asked her to run. They really
helped her a lot.
L: They initiated it?
L: I know that she was a member. That is interesting. OK. A lot of people have
told me that Lincoln High School was more than just a school, that it was a
M: A community center?
L: [It was] a place where the community would come together for a variety of
reasons, that it was the public center of the black community.
M: Well, I think it was more of something that the people treasured. But I do not
remember having activities and such there, other than regular school activities.
They figured this was their alma mater, so they naturally did not want to see it
discarded. I think this is why most of the students were fighting so hard to keep
L: What did they do? What kind of actions did they take?
M: They marched, I think. They did not have a riot there, but they really made
themselves known. I think they appeared before the school board, if I am not
mistaken. But they really protested in every way they knew in order to keep
Lincoln from being closed.
L: Did the teachers participate?
M: If they did, I imagine they had to do it as backing the students, without showing
their hand. I am sure they could have easily been fired if they had known that
they were working hand-in-hand with the students. It was not that popular, you
L: That leads me to another question. One of the white women that I interviewed
said that the membership list of the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights was
always kept a secret.
L: Why was that?
M: Naturally, some people could have lost their jobs had they known they had been
working undercover in order to get some of these barriers broken down. Oh,
yes, they could have lost their jobs. Teachers as well. And I am sure that some
of the professors, some of these ladies' husbands, could have lost their jobs too.
L: I know that the University administration did get rid of a number of professors
who were social activists.
M: Yes. I do not know whether this is why Carol Thomas and her husband
separated. I know he remained, and she soon left. And you know what? After
they separated, her landlord would not renew her contract for her house. She
was forced to move. She was living down there near the Alachua General
Hospital. She could not get a contract back, so she had to move.
L: Was it because the neighbors were seeing blacks coming to her house?
M: No, I think it was more the landlord realizing that she was active in the
desegregation process. He just did not want her there.
L: Your sons entered college in the early 1970s?
M: Yes. My oldest son attended Johns Hopkins University for two years and then
transferred to the University of Florida. He was a political science major. My
younger son, who is three years younger, attended and graduated from Florida
L: Was your oldest son at the University of Florida when black students protested
and withdrew in large numbers?
M: Yes, he was. We had just paid tuition. He was there.
L: Did he withdraw?
M: Yes he did. They were protesting for more black professors. Well, you know, as
usual, "no black person is qualified." But they found some who were qualified.
Dr. Thomas Cole came in, then Ron Foreman.
L: Did the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights take a position on what the black
students were doing, in relation to the University?
M: I cannot recall any positions taken. I think during that time we were starting to
desegregate some, but they just were not bringing in any professors at the
L: I think the students were also upset because there was no active recruitment of
M: But I think the major thing was that they felt they needed some role models
there, some black professors.
L: During the 1970s, after that, very slowly they did build up the number of black
University professors. Did it ever get any better? Did the University's practices
for hiring ever change?
M: I do not think many people are pleased with the number that they have now. I
think we do have more qualified people. For us to be qualified, it means that we
have to be super-qualified. We cannot just be qualified. It takes more for us to
be qualified than for other people.
L: The double standard. When do you think the Gainesville Women were at their
strongest, or their most active?
M: I would say in the 1960s. Like I say and I say this with all sincerity had it not
been for GWER, I do not think that we would have had an easy transition.
Things went very smoothly with no incidents at all, and I think it was because of
the groundwork that GWER had done. We spent many nights, sometimes until
2:00 and 3:00 in the morning, trying to get things mapped out and plans
implemented. It was just smooth. I think it was a case where the city or
community did not realize what was really going on as far as the meetings and
plans that were being made.
L: What happened to the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights?
M: We worked until we felt that we were really not needed as much. But I think the
major thing that happened was that a lot of the ladies went to work.
L: A lot of the white women.
M: Yes, a lot of the white women went to work. So naturally, I cannot say that their
priorities changed, but things changed because they did not have as much time
as they had before. When we first began, there were not many whites working;
none of those ladies were working. I guess economic times began to change, or
something happened, because they all began to work.
L: Some of the women I have talked to told me that they had taken on most of the
major issues by the early 1970s.
M: I think things were going well or better. I do not think that it is going well [yet],
but it is better [laughter].
L: Did you get at all involved in feminism?
M: No. I guess I like being feminine. Now, I really think that a lady should be paid
the same as a man for doing the same type of job. But there are some jobs that
I do not think are good for a women. Like a telephone repairperson going up on
houses and poles and things like that. Is that what you are referring to?
L: The reason I asked is that some of the white women involved in the Gainesville
Women [for Equal Rights] in the late 1960s and early 1970s became interested
in women's liberation.
M: I did not work with that. But, like I say, I have a line drawn somewhere along the
line there. Maybe I am wrong.
L: Were you involved in social activism of these types after the Gainesville Women
[began to fade], throughout the 1970s? Did you stay active in the NAACP?
M: Oh, sure. One of the things I forgot to mention that we did with the Gainesville
Women was that we used to have gatherings together, have parties and so forth.
Everybody would come, and we would have a nice time.
L: Were these purely social [gatherings]?
M: Oh, yes.
L: Was there ever any conflict with where you were having meetings, as far as
meeting in white neighborhoods?
M: No. It was only after its inception, after the movement began, that we could go
anywhere and nobody thought anything of it. I do not know how their neighbors
felt, but I know our neighbors did not care when they came to our community.
L: You were talking about the parties. Did GWER have a purely social aspect? It
had a lot of things that it wanted to change. Was there any of the women's
social club aspect to it?
M: Yes, I guess you could say that. Sure. A lot of things we did were social as well,
at certain times of the year, aside from picnics, potluck suppers, or something of
that sort. [At] Christmastime we would all get together.
L: Do you ever remember any discussion of bringing men into the membership?
M: I never heard that. But I must say that the men were involved. It is very seldom
that we wives do anything without involving our husbands; sooner or later, he is
going to do something. I never remember them mentioning them to become
members, because I guess we always thought of them as being members.
L: Unofficial members. So did your husband attend meetings?
M: Not so much meetings as social affairs and events. But if he had, [and] other
men and husbands would drop by, we thought nothing of it. But it was mostly
ladies that were involved.
L: When I asked you earlier what happened to the Gainesville Women, you said
things had become better but they were still not where they needed to be. Was
progress towards better race relations made in the 1980s? What do you think
still needs to be done?
M: Although the doors are supposed to be open, they are not open but somewhat
ajar. People are not as open with prejudice as they would like to be, or [as] they
were in the 1960s. But underlying that, one way or another it is still there.
L: We desegregated public facilities and changed the laws. What do you think is
the way to end these deeper divisions and to change this thinking?
M: I think that [one way would be] if everybody would look at someone as being an
individual. One thing I strongly resent is that people look at the black race as
being one person or one thing. They do not realize that each one of us is an
individual. We have our individual personalities, we have our individual
ambitions, we have our individual intellects. We are not a composite of people.
We are a group of people working together. It really irks me when I hear
someone say "you people" or "your leader." When I left, everybody was saying,
"Rosa Williams is your leader." I say, "We don't have a leader. We are not a
tribe." We all come together with ideas and things like that. So just do not think
of us as being a pack or something [laughter]. I think when people realize that
we all need to be dealt with individually, I think that will be better and let us
proceed to our potential.
L: When did you move from Gainesville, and why?
M: My husband and I moved about the last week of February of 1992. We had
thought about relocating all along. When we moved to Gainesville we did not
plan to stay. My husband just had a job there at that particular time. We were
going to stay there until we found another job someplace else. We always
wanted to live farther south. And guess what? We stayed for about thirty-seven
I always wanted to make sure that my children attended a private school, or
rather a laboratory school; that is what I always had in mind. But I am not sure
whether that was the best thing or not. During the time that they went they did
well, but I think that they could have done better someplace else.
L: In what kind of conditions do you think they would have done better?
M: I think they would have been able to be exposed to a greater variety of things.
During the time that my children went, P.K. was just experimenting with blacks. I
do not think they were involved in as many things as they could have been.
However, they were involved in several activities. I [just] do not think that they
reached their potential there.
L: Would they have gotten a better education at Lincoln High School?
M: I would say at G.H.S., because of the reason that G.H.S. offered more courses.
Now, I went out and talked with the teachers about my son. He was advanced.
My youngest one was advanced even when he was attending Howard Bishop
[Middle School]. So by the time his senior year came, he did not have many
courses to take. So guess what? He's having fun! I had to go out and get
something done. He was able to go over to the University of Florida and take
some courses. P.K. was a school where parents had to really show a lot of
interest in their children; they did not push them in any way. I do not know
whether they are doing better than that now, but they did not then. Parents really
had to keep abreast with what was going on, or else their child would get lost.
L: I do not know very much about P.K. Yonge. Is it the one that the College of
M: Yes, it is a laboratory school for the College of Education. I think it is better now,
because I have a friend who works there, and she has mentioned that it is better.
L: Did the two of you retire from the Alachua County [school system]?
M: The school board. I was a media specialist at Littlewood Elementary school. My
husband, when he left, was director of the Chapter One and Migrant programs.
L: You have lived here since early 1992.
M: Yes. It is a great change.
L: In what ways?
M: First of all, there are more things to do. I like the arts. There are many different
people coming in and so forth. I like to shop, and there are many places to shop.
There is something cultural to do all of the time. If we do not get it here, we can
get it in St. Pete, Clearwater, Lakeland, or someplace like that. David
Copperfield was here recently. He is a great magician.
L: I am from Jacksonville, [and] living in Gainesville, I kind of miss out on the wider
M: I was working with the performing arts center with Phyllis Bleiweiss before I left,
and I liked that. We were beginning to get a few cultural things there.
L: Is there anything else that I have overlooked or that you think is important for me
to know about the Gainesville Women [for Equal Rights] and the civil rights
movement in Gainesville?
M: I would like to say that we owe a lot to Jean and to Dave Chalmers, Shirley
Conroy, and the others. I am sorry that I cannot remember those other
professors who were instrumental in helping us to get Gainesville desegregated.
L: Do you remember the Joneses, Beverly and Marshall Jones?
M: Yes. They were very instrumental.
[End of the interview]