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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
INTERVIEWEE: Florie Debose
INTERVIEWER: Joel Buchanan
DATE: January 11, 1983
J: Mrs. Debose, what is your name please?
D: My name is Florie Debose.
J: Where were you born, Mrs. Debose?
D: Right here in Gainesville.
J: About how old do you think you are, Mrs. Debose?
D: The house caught fire and burned the Bible. I'm around 70.
J: Have you spent all your life here in Gainesville?
D: [I've spent] practically all of my life in Gainesville. Of course, I've gone
on trips for a couple of years like that but I come right back to Gainesville.
J: Mrs. Debose, do you recall where you were born or where you were raised at
here in Gainesville?
D: Well, I was reared on Church Street.
J: What is Church Street called now, do you know?
D: Fourth, I think, if I'm not mistaken.
J: Is the house still there?
D: Yes, the house is still there.
J: Can you tell me something about the house? About the size?
D: It's a two story house, I can't remember what the number was.
J: Mrs. Debose, did you have any brothers or sisters?
D: I had three brothers and three sisters.
J: What number were you?
D: I was the baby, the seventh child.
J: Can you tell me something about your mother, father, their names? Where were
D: I really don't know where they were from. We had to be careful about how we
talked to our parents because any older person could whip us.
J: What was your father's name?
D: My father was named Andrew Debose.
J: And your mother?
D: My mother was named Hester Debose.
J: You married a Debose?
D: Yes, I married a Debose and my maiden name was Debose.
J: Mrs. Debose, can you remember anything about your childhood? What it
D: There wasn't very many children in the neighborhood. We used to play every-
day with the few children that was there and my brother built me a playhouse
in my mother's garden. After that all the children came to my house. There
was a girl in our neighborhood who was a teenager. We were small, but she
would come too because there were no other children her age in our neighbor-
hood. She would play with us.
So they would come to my playhouse and they would bring greens if their
mothers picked greens. Some of us would steal a piece of meat. [laughter]
We'd steal a piece of meat, and some would bring meal and flour, and so we
would cook and eat it. This was nice and clean. They'd cook in old pots
and pans and things like that.
This older girl would say, "I want to be your mother because I'm older than
y'all." So we agreed for her to be our mother. She got into the place where
she would whip us just like our mother would whip us.
J: So she actually became a mother for the children in the playhouse?
D: That's right.
J: They all came to your yard because you had the house in your yard.
Mrs. Debose, do you recall where you went to school and when you started
D: Yes, I went to school at the Union Academy.
J: Can you recall where that was?
D: I don't recall just what street it was then, but now it's Second Street.
J: Can you recall your teachers' names when you first started school?
D: Lucy Merle was one of them, and Mrs. Davis was another.
J: How did you get to school?
D: We just walked to school.
J: Can you remember very much about the school? Was it a one-room building?
D: No, it was a two-story building near the McPherson Center. That's where
the school was.
J: Can you remember anything about your teachers or being in school back in
D: They were very nice teachers. I just can't recall all of their names right
J: Can you remember anything about one incident that happened in school?
D: I tell you what really hurt me in school. I've always wanted to sing and
Blanche and I were supposed to sing a duet. I can sing that now.
J: Sing it for me.
D: together. They didn't let me sing. My teacher was very sweet but
I thought she was mean. I know better now. I got to one place in that song
and I don't know whether I didn't carry my voice up or bring it down. Anyway
she waited until the very last. The girl that was taking my place didn't have
but one or two days to practice.
J: Did she let you sing it?
D: No, because I can't sing. I just say that because I really want to sing so
bad. I always wanted to sing.
J: Can you remember that song?
D: "Evening time, evening time, so beautiful, evening time." There's more to it.
J: Were you a little girl at the time you sang that?
D: We were small children.
J: Mrs. Debose, did you get married? How long did you stay at home?
D: Yes, I got married real young.
J: Do you remember how old you were when you got married?
D. I'm quite sure I was just in my teens.
J: Do you recall the year you got married?
D: Yes, I was married on July 4, 1911.
J: Who did you marry?
D: I married Alex Debose.
J: Where did you get married at?
D: I got married at Rebecca's, my sister's [place]. She was a Debose because
she married in the family, too.
J: Can you remember very much about your wedding?
D: We had a lovely wedding and the wedding was right there in the living room.
We had a lovely time.
J: Can you recall what you wore to the wedding?
D: I think it was a beautiful long pink dress.
J: Did you stay with your sister or did you move into your own place?
D: Well, we stayed with her about a year after we married.
J: Where did you move to?
D: Well, we moved into a four room house. We were renting from Mrs. Sapp
and Mr. Sapp for about two to three years and then we built this other
little house right here.
J: Where is that house located that you built?
D: Next door.
J: What's the address?
D: It's 1020 Northwest Sixth Avenue. We have lived there ever since.
J: Mrs. Debose, what did you do after you got married?
D: I was a housewife. My husband didn't want me to work. He said, "If you go
to work, I'll stay home, and you will take care of me." I have sold different
things for different companies. I don't know what it is to go out and have a
J: Have you enjoyed being a housewife?
D: Yes. My God, I sure have. [laughter]
J: Mrs. Debose, how many years were you married to Mr. Debose?
D: I was married to him nearly fifty years until he passed away.
J: Did you have any children?
D: We were going to have a fiftieth-year wedding.
J: Did you have any children?
D: I had one.
J: Who was that?
D: Her name was Otee Debose.
J: Mrs. Debose, do you remember how you met Mr. Debose?
D: [laughter] Yes, I certainly do. My mother used to make me sweep the porch
every morning. Before I'd go to school, I'd have to do a little cleaning.
Every morning I'd go to the front porch to sweep the porch. At the same time,
Mr. Debose, my husband who I married, and Lonnie Brown would be together.
They'd come by my house every morning. They would say, "Good Morning," and
I'd say "Good Morning, Mr. Brown, Good Morning Mr. Debose." And so I'm, but
I wasn't paying no attention to where I was speaking and next morning they'd
come by and "good morning, good morning," and I'd say "Good morning, Mr. Debose,
good morning, Mr. Brown." One morning they passed while I was sweeping. I
spoke and they just laughed. They said, "She spoke to me first this morning."
Then, I found out the score. They went down the street just laughing and
having fun. I'd say, "Momma, you know those two mean who come by here every
morning when I'm sweeping that porch? They laughed at me." She said, "Laugh
J: You even married one of them.
D: Uh huh. I married Mr. Debose. After we married and were talking it over,
I said, "Lord, I was so embarrassed when you passed by me and spoke to me
like that." He [told me he said] "You know that's a cute young girl and
I'm going to marry that girl." I spoke more to Alex than I did to Mr.
Brown. I spoke to both of them. I said, "Mr. Brown, Mr. Debose, Mr.
Debose, Mr. Brown."
J: And you ended up marrying Mr. Debose.
D: They said, "One of us is going to marry that girl and the one she thinks
the most of, she is going to speak to that one first."
J: Is the Debose family a big family here in Gainesville?
D: Yes. It was a large family.
J: Can you tell me any of the members of the Debose family here in Gainesville?
D: There's Edith McCullen. They have a sister named Sarah.
J: Were you related to Mr. Debose?
D: Oh no.
J: There were two different Debose families. That's amazing!
D: There's other people named that same name.
J: Of course! Mrs. Debose, you said you lived with your sister before you got
married. What kind of work did your sister do?
D: My sister ran a boarding house with a very large two-story house.
J: When you say boarding house, what do you mean?
D: She would cook for some of the people in the house. Dr. Parker was one of
the people that she cooked for.
J: Did she rent rooms?
D: She used to rent rooms.
J: Did she rent to just anybody?
D: No, she was very particular about who stayed there.
J: She did the cooking for them. What about the cleaning?
D: After I was married, she said, "Now, Florie, I want to help you. You're
going to cook a week." So you cook a week. They gave me money when I cooked.
I furnished the food for the week I cooked.
J: Can you recall what a meal cost back then?
D: You could get a good meal for about a dollar and a half.
J: What did it cost to rent a room? Your sister did charge you for renting
D: About five dollars a week.
J: So about a dollar a night. You were a housewife. How did you keep yourself
D: I would save money and sell my mottos. Sometimes I'd sell products for
J: What did you do for entertainment?
D: We would have nice big entertainments and things like that. I'd have parties
and we would play whist. We would have partners. They'd put your name there
and put my name here facing yours.
J: Did you go to nightclubs or theaters?
D: We had swell clubs: ladies clubs, and the boys had a club, the Better Boys of
Gainesville. We had the Better Girls of.Gainesville. They would entertain
us. They would have a big dance, or a banquet with a hall.
J: Where about was the hall?
D: The hall was on Arrendonda.
J: Do you know the name of the hall?
D: IThe Rising Sun Hall was one.
J: Did you all go to Fifth Avenue Club.
D: No, I never went there.
J: Were there theaters?
D: Yes, we would have theaters and movies.
J: Do you recall any important entertainers that came here?
D: I'm trying to remember. He used to come here every year in a show, a big show.
J: Mrs. Debose, what kind of work did Mr. Debose do?
D: His trade was painting. He was working at a hotel at the time we married.
J: What hotel was that?
D: The White House Hotel.
J: Where is that?
D: It was the Thomas Hotel.
J: It was the Palace Hotel.
J: Mrs. Debose, you've been here in Gainesville all your life. How have
you seen the town grow?
D: Well, it really has made a big change. The first automobile I ever saw was
here in Gainesville. It was a Ford. A colored woman was driving, Stella
Nolle's daughter. I was excited to see an automobile.
J: What did you do for entertainment after you got married?
D: I would have parties. I would entertain McPherson, and teachers. People
would ask me about letting them have parties here. I stopped letting them
come and have parties. They would come around ten o'clock. My husband and
I would be right in the same room. This particular time they just brought
all the stuff. One would be playing the piano. My husband and I wouldn't be in
here, we would be in the room there. Give them this part of the house and
they'd be in here dancing and going on. I looked out and didn't see a light.
The light went out. My husband was very quiet. I never heard him curse. He
was just such a good person. I was the wicked one and came through the other
part of the house through the bathroom to the kitchen and I stood there at
the door. It was dark and they were dancing. I said, "Well, my goodness gracious,
I can't see nothing. You got it so dark in here, you have no lights on." One
of them said, "You're not supposed to see, you're supposed to feel."
J: That was it?
D: They ain't been here since. [laughter]
J: Mrs. Debose, were you a member of any clubs in Gainesville?
D: I'm a member socially. The Elks is one of them.
J: Who was the president then?
D: I can't think.
J: Name another club you were a member of.
D: The University Club. I was president for years. I organized it and named it
the University of Florida Club.
J: Were you a member of the church?
D: Mt. Pleasant Methodist Church.
J: Do you remember your pastors?
D: They used to go to Sunday school but I didn't keep up with the pastors in
our church. We had BYPU.
J: Was your family considered important in Gainesville? You were from a good
family in Gainesville?
J: Are there members of your family living now?
D: Of my immediate family, I'm the only one.
J: Any nieces or nephews?
D: I have a nephew, Reverend Adie Rivers.
J: He's a minister in what church?
D: He's a minister in Fort Lauderdale.
J: That's your nephew or great nephew?
D: Great nephew.
J: Mrs. Debose, can you recall how this area was ten, fifteen and twenty
D: I'm the oldest one on this street.
J: Who else was on this street when you built this house? Were there any
D: No. Miss Mahallia Night's house was next door and she was living there.
Ms. Roberts' house was on the corner. Ms. Redman's house was next to my
J: Did most people own those houses?
D: The majority of them owned their own houses.
J: Would you say the neighborhood back in those days was pretty and nice?
D: I didn't know. It didn't suit us.
J: If you had to compare, do you think times are better now than they were then?
D: In a way. In a way I guess times are better.
J: Tell me one reason why you think it's better.
D: Everybody is making more and wages have gone up. They're living in lovely
homes. I think it's a lot better improvement.
J: You just talked about black people or colored people living better. Are you
aware of any problems black people had years ago?
D: They don't lynch them like they used to.
J: You remember that?
D: I remember when these people were lynched in Newberry.
J: Did they lynch people in Gainesville?
D: I don't know. I always stayed away from violence.
J: Did you have it difficult as a black person growing up in Gainesville?
Was it hard for you?
D: No, not for me. I never had problems with whites because they all seemed to
J: If you had to tell me one thing you miss from years ago, what would that be?
D: I used to enjoy going to dances at the boys club and the girls club. But
they didn't have them together. The boys would get together and invite the
better class of girls.
J: Where was that held?
D: At the Rising Sun Hall and Johnson's Hall.
J: Can you remember the outfits you wore to one of the dances?
D: No, I can't remember.
J: Somebody told me that your favorite color is red, is that true?
D: It's my favorite color. I love red. Hattie Chestnut and all of us [love red].
J: Who is Hattie Chestnut?
D: She is my first cousin, my aunt's daughter. Yeah. We are sister's children.
J: Can you tell me something about Hattie. Is she related to Charles Chestnut, III?
D: Yes. That's his grandmother.
J: I'm going to close our interview for this evening. How have the young people
changed from when you were a young lady to now?
D: There's a big difference.
J: Do you think for the best or for the worst?
D: I think it's for the best.
J: You've lived on Fifth Avenue for years. Was this always called Fifth Avenue?
D: No. It was called Seminary.
J: It is said that this section is a bad section to live in. Has it always been
D: No. This has always been the better part of town.
J: What do you mean a better part?
D: Well, you didn't hear of anyone getting hurt or killed.
J: So it's changed. Were most of the houses over here owned by the people or
were they rented houses?
D: They were mostly owned by the people. Celia Austin stayed in her house with
her brother. Ms. Redman stayed in the house next to this one. And Celia
Austin stayed in that next one.
J: Have you enjoyed living in this area?
D: Oh yes. I don't want to live anywhere else in Gainesville. I've been here
like I say, all my life.
J: Have you been comfortable?
D: Yes, very comfortable.
J: They say it's a rough part of town, but you're saying that's not true. It has
changed in the last years, is that right?
D: This part of the town has that name now. I was raised on our street, Sixth
Avenue. I think it's nice.
J: What about the school in the area? Did you have a school over here?
D: Yes, Lincoln School and Jones Elementary.
J: Can you remember anything about the war?
D: No, I didn't let my husband go.
J: You didn't let your husband go? How did you keep him home?
D: I was sick and he wasn't well.
J: He could stay home then?
D: Yes. They told him he didn't have to go.
J: Was it hard times?
D: No, it wasn't hard times. I just didn't want him to go over there and get
J: What about the Civil Rights period during Dr. King's time? What did you
think about that period when he was doing a lot of the demonstrations away
D: He was just one of our leaders and such a good leader. I just don't know what
to say about him. I hate now to even think that he died.
J: What did you do during that time?
D: I prayed. I don't know what I was to do. I know quite a plight.
J: Mrs. Debose, one final question. Did you ever rent rooms here in your home?
D: I had one room in the back that I rented to a fellow. He was such a fine
person. He lived here for years and years. He was one of the first men
that went to the VA hospital here. He came and the next day they opened
for business, so he went there.
J: It's said that when blacks come to town, teachers and people working at the
hospital, they had to get a place to stay. They usually stayed in very fine
homes. I guess your house was one of the places which you would take people
in if they were fine ladies and gentleman. Is that correct?
J: Thank you.