Interview with James E. Huger, December 9, 1975

Material Information

Interview with James E. Huger, December 9, 1975
Huger, James E. ( Interviewee )
Button, James ( Interviewer )
Publication Date:


Subjects / Keywords:
African Americans -- Florida
African Americans ( fast )
Joel Buchanan Archive of African American Oral History ( local )
Oral histories ( lcgft )


This text has been transcribed from an audio or video oral history. Digitization was funded by a gift from Caleb J. and Michele B. Grimes.

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Source Institution:
Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
Holding Location:
This interview is part of the 'Florida Blacks' collection of interviews held by the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program of the Department of History at the University of Florida
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INTERVIEWER: Dr. James Button

DATE: December 9, 1975

B: ...interview with Mr. James E. Huger. Let's begin some questioning.
This is section A. These questions are asked to find out how well the
Voting Rights Act of '65 has helped blacks to take part in Florida
politics. The first question is, what year did you first register
to vote?

H: I registered to vote in 1945, I believe.

B: Do you remember what year you were first eligible to register?

H: Several years before that, but I was in the service.

B: So there wasn't any problem as far as your registration?

H: No.

B: How were you registered? Was it a local registration board or a
federal examiner?

H: Local board.

B: Did you ever have any trouble with the local registrar? Did he
ever turn you down when you applied to register?

H: No.

B: Have voting registration drives been held in the district in which
you hold office?

H: Yes.

B: Could you name some of the organizations, local and national, that
have held the registration drives?

H: Yes, the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People] held one. Several of the fraternities on campus over the
years have been holding them as a part of their national program.

B: Do you happen to remember when these voter registration drives were
held? Was it before the 1960s?

H: No, since then. Subsequently.

B: Can you remember about...?

H: In the sixties and seventies.


B: How successful were these drives?

H: Well, you look at it like this. If you do not register but ten people,
you are successful. They did not have the number that any of us who
were involved thought we should have. But the fact that we gave a
number of people the opportunity to register who would not normally
have registered under normal circumstances makes it successful.

B: Was there anything which prevented blacks from registering in your

H: No, other than apathy.

B: What we're looking for is primary things like the registrar turning
it down.

H: Right. But we had no problem. We've had no problem like that.

B: It was a typical problem of all voters in other words?

H: Yeah.

B: The next is a series of nine questions and I just need a very important,
a fairly important, or a not important. Rate how important you think
each of the following items were or are in preventing blacks from
registering to vote in your area. Economic dependence upon whites.

H: Important.

B: Would it be very important or fairly important?

H: It would be in the middle.

B: How about fear of physical violence from whites?

H: Fairly important.

B: Complicated registration forms?

H: Fairly important.

B: Poor registration hours?

H: In the middle, but what we have done here has been to set up registration
drives so that it's available to people after they get off from work.
That's into extended hours.

B: That seemed to have been a problem with everybody, not just blacks or


H: Right.

B: How about registration not held often enough?

H: I think they're held often enough.

B: Apathy of blacks to voting? Would that be very important?

H: That's very important.

B: How about discouraging blacks from registering, like do the registrars
try to purge the...?

H: No.

B: Gerrymandering in .districts?

H: No.

B: Transportation problems?

H: That has not really created a problem.

B: The following questions are asked to gather information on the election
campaigns of black elected officials in Florida. Were you able to
campaign freely? Were you threatened in any way in your campaign?

H: No.

B: Were you handicapped by a lack of campaign money?

H: No.

B: Why did you decide to run for office?

H: It's rather involved. Prior to my running for office, I was appointed
to the Urban Renewal Advisory Board here in this community. I found
that the City of Daytona Beach had done very little in this particular
section of the community for the past thirty years as far as upgrading
was concerned. As a lay person, I could see that they would not do
anything for the next thirty years unless there was some federal inter-
vention. So through the process of Urban Renewal, we were able to get
this section of the community upgraded.
As a result of my involvement there, I became interested in the
political scene because I recognized that many of the problems that
affected this community were solved at a table where we had no repre-
sentation. I felt in order to rectify that situation, I should go
ahead and run for office, and, if elected, sit at that table and help
make the decisions."

B: To which political organization do you belong?

H: Democrat. However, my elections are all non-partisan.

B: You are running as a sort of independent?

H: Right. They are not partisan. They do not have the label Democrat
or Republican on our local level.

B: But you're a....

H: I'm a Democrat, yes.

B: Have you ever received any support from your party of any kind?

H: I've never really requested it, as such. Because as I said, these are
non-partisan elections. But many of the people who work for me are both
Republican and Democratic.

B: Can you name two or three of the most important issues on which you
campaigned? I assume that would be in connection with urban renewal
and improvement in this area in Daytona Beach?

H: Right. Several things, one was the improvement of the community,
second was the strengthening of the economic base, and third the in-
volvement of citizens in government.

B: Do you also think that these issues were the main problems facing
blacks inyour community?

H: Yes.

B: Were there any other problems that might have been facing them other
than the three you've mentioned?

H: They were the most important. We have had very little racial conflict
in this community. That's due, I'm sure, primarily to the presence of
this institution [Bethune-Cookman College] and the man who was the
head of it, Dr. Richard U. Moore.

B: How long has Bethune-Cookman College been in existence?

H: Since 1904.

B: The following questions are asked to determine some of the conditions
which have enabled blacks to win office in Florida. How were you
elected, at large or by district?

H: At large.


B: At large.

H: My first election.

B: Your first election was at large.

H: That was the first time that they had had an at large election for
city commissioners. I was elected to the city commission.
It again grew out of a court suit against urban renewal. The
judge ruled that the city would have to be redistricted in order, as
he saw it, to give those people who were affected by urban renewal a
greater voice. As a result of that, it looks as if a black could be
elected from a district. But the then city commission changed its
procedure and decided that all commissioners and the mayor would be
elected at large. So it was after I had committed myself to run that
I found I had to run at large.

B: How about now?

H: The city commission election is still at large. I am now the chairman
of the county commission. We run by districts. There are five of us
who run from districts and two at large.

B: The last time you were elected it was by district, right?

H: Yes.

B: How many voters are in your district?

H: About 22,000.

B: What percentage of those 22,000 are black?

H: About 30 per cent.

B: About what percentage of blacks of voting age in your district are
registered to vote?

H: I'd say about 60 per cent are registered, but of that number, approx-
imately 30 to 35 per cent vote.

B: Do you think you got any votes from whites?

H: The majority of my votes were from whites.

B: The majority of them?

H: That's right.

B: So what percentage would you say?


H: This last election I didn't even have any opposition so I can't
tell you. I don't know why I didn't this time because everybody else
had opposition but me.

B: It must have been a good feeling, I guess.

H: It sure was.

B: The last election you didn't have any opponents.

H: Right.

B: How about your other elections?

H: The previous election I did.

B: You did? How many opponents were there?

H: There were four in the primary and then two in the run-off.

B: How many were white and how many were black?

H: In the race?

B: Right, out of the four.

H: There were three whites and one black.

B: In the run-off, was there a black?

H: No, white. He was the incumbent.

B: What percentage of the total votes did you get, do you think?

H: Of votes cast, I think I must have gotten about 75 per cent.

B: These questions are asked to determine how well black officials in
Florida have been able to benefit those they represent. In what ways
do you think you have helped blacks in your district by holding
office? You've already mentioned a few.

H: But you have to remember that I am not "a black commissioner," but
a commissioner who happens to be black. I am a commissioner for a
district which is predominantly white.

B: Is there anything that has prevented you from doing a better job,
especially in regard to benefitting blacks in your district?

H: No.


B: The next is a series of questions just like the one before; and it's
very important, fairly important, and not important. How important
do you feel the following are from preventing you from doing a better
job and benefitting blacks? I realize your district is predominantly
white. Office has no real authority.

H: Well, you would have to....

B: I know that's in relation to a lot of things. I know that's a difficult

H: You have to recognize the kind of government we operate under. We
have a county manager form of government. The office itself is part-
time. It is mostly involved in decision-making. It is not involved
in the day-to-day operation of a county. So I would read the question

B: Office has no real authority.

H: The answer would be in the middle. But I'd have to qualify that by
saying the reason.

B: Right.

H: You see what I mean?

B: Yeah, that's fine. That's what we're looking for.

B: If youwant to go into depth in any of these questions, please feel free.

H: Okay.

B: Do you ever feel that you're prohibited by being outvoted by white

H: No.

B: They don't ever try to create a bloc vote against you as a black?

H: No.

B: How about not enough revenue available?

H: That is very important.

B: Unfamiliar with administrative duties. Do you ever feel that you're
handicapped by not knowing what your administrative duty is?

H: Oh, no. Not at all.


B: You're answering no. Lack of cooperation from blacks?

H: In the middle.

B: How about lack of cooperation from state officials?

H: No problem.

B: Lack of cooperation from federal officials?

H: We really haven't had any problem on it. We've been involved in
several federal projects, and they've always been very cooperative.

B: Has criticism or lack of support from the black community hindered
you in holding office? Do some blacks not cooperate with you because
they feel you're only a token in government?

H: Yes.

B: Have no real authority. If your answer is yes, could you please give
an example or go into this a little deeper.

H: It's basic human nature that people have peer jealousies. There are
a number of my peers who fairly well resent the fact that every time
they pick up the newspaper there's a picture of Jimmy Huger in there,
or they turn on television and there's some situation that Jimmy
Huger's involved in. They turn on their radio. This has created some
problems on the part of some of my peers. However, they are not in
a position to say that I'm not effective. They're not in a position
to say that because all evidence points to the fact that I am. I don't
mean to sound braggadocian. I'm merely stating a fact.

B: Do you feel that white officials treat you differently from other
officials or not? Do they consider you a spokesman for blacks?

H: No. They consider me a spokesman for all the community.

B: Your district.

H: Right.

B: So you are able to raise all the issues?

H: Any issue that is pertinent to the operation of this county. Even
though we are elected by districts, that does not curtail our operation
as far as the entire county is concerned.

B: So you're pretty much free to bring up any issues regarding your dis-
trict and the county.


H: That's correct.

B: What services have you provided blacks in your district that they did
not have before you took office?

H: Several. One is we have been successful in getting blacks on every
board or commission, both when I was on the city commission and subse-
quently on the county commission. So we have involved blacks in
government. That's number one. Number two, one of our major concerns
in this community was the lack of a transportation system. Even
though we have approximately a 35 per cent population of elderly people,
we have a large percentage of blacks who are not in a position to pro-
vide their own transportation. So we were instrumental in establishing
a transportation system on this side of the county which has tremendously
improved the movement of people, and particularly the blacks.

B: Do you feel that transportation has helped blacks getting to the polls?

H: We have not had an election since the advent of the transportation system.

B: The next is another series of questions where you answer very effective,
somewhat effective, and not effective.

H: Okay.

B: How effective do you think you have been in each of the following service
areas: police protection?

H: Very.

B: Streets and roads?

H: Very.

B: Housing.

H: In the middle.

B: In the middle?

H: Because as a county we are not really involved in housing, but when I
was on the city commission I was involved in it.

B: If I ask a question and it really doesn't pertain or it wasn't good
to start with, please say so. Welfare?

H: Very.

B: Employment?


H: Same.

B: Parks and recreations?

H: Yes, very.

B: Water, sewage, and garbage?

H: Very.

B: Health and hospitals?

H: Very.

B: Education?

H: Yes.

B: Fire protection.

H: Yes.

B: Transportation's not on there, but I'm going to put that on there to
bring that up to date.

H: Let me point out to you that as a result of our administration, we
have been successful in getting a new correctional center, a new
health center, a new communications center, and a new bus terminal.
All of that has come as a result of our administration.

B: You mentioned before that you've had good cooperation with federal
officers. I assume you've gotten federal funds for your district?

H: Yes, for the county and city. The funds do not come as district
wide, they come into the county and are then dispersed.

B: Could you list some of the more important federal grants you and other
black leaders have obtained for your area? Can you think of any off-

H: I don't think it would be fair to say that these are grants that blacks
have been able to get. These are grants we've been able to get as a
result of community participation. Our water sewer grant, our planning
grants, urban renewal grants--but it's another program now, community
development grants. But this has been a result of activities on the
part of a number of people. I think I would be unfair to say that
blacks were the sole movers in that situation.

B: Or the sole beneficiaries?


H: Or the sole beneficiaries.

B: Have you as an elected official or as part of a local committee been
able to bring industry or retail stores into your area?

H: Yes.

B: Could you list some of these industries or retail stores?

H: Yes, the Volusia Mall has been the major one. I was instrumental in
trying to get EJ. C.] Penney's to develop on City Island. We were
not successful in that, but we did get the one out here to the west.
I am very active in the redevelopment of the downtown area at the
present time. I have been working with members of the downtown
association in trying to get into the community a cultural-sports
complex. We have not been successful in that to this day.

B: How many people do you think the Volusia Mall employs?

H: Oh my god, I don't know.

B: Quite a few?

H: There must be thousands.

B: You've already stated that you have seen that blacks are hired fairly
in local government...

H: Yes.

B: ...commissions and boards. Has federal revenue sharing helped your
district or do you get it by county?

H: It is by county and city, and it has helped.

B: In what way has it helped?

H: In providing more services. Manpower has helped in providing more
jobs for both young and older people. It has given us an opportunity
to do some of the things that we normally would not have done, but we
have assumed the posture that there would be no revenue sharing monies
going into projects that were ongoing. These were projects that we
either could start and complete as a result of it. Rather than to
get involved in ongoing programs with revenue sharing and then
curtailed if we cannot find the money to continue those programs.

B: You've already stated that racial relations in Daytona have been
fairly good.


H: Yes.

B: Have there been any black protests, sit-ins, boycotts, or riots in
the city in the last ten years that you can think of?

H: There's been protests. But even the sit-ins that we had were really
not sit-ins because we had the cooperation of the city administration
when we did this some twelve years ago. Prior to that time, none of the
lunch counters, for example, downtown were desegregated. We were able
to go in and sit down and eat with the cooperation of, as I said, the
store owners, the administration, and the police department, and the
newspaper and all of the news media. It wasn't till several weeks
later that an article just appeared in the paper--just a casual one--
that all of the eating facilities in the community had been desegre-
It was during the late sixties when there were so many upheavals
on campuses. We were able to keep the lid on the situation here in
Daytona Beach until we had a situation out at Mainland High School--a
fight between a white youngster and a black youngster. It spilled over
into the community. They got down to a filling station here on
Volusia,and they turned over a soda machine. As a result of this, a
guy shot a youngster. Immediately the rumor was out that he was dead.
It almost created a problem, but we were able to keep our thousand
youngsters here on this campus fairly well cool. So they did not have
this as a base for operations. In a matter of a couple of days it
fizzled out.

B: The following questions are asked to enable an assessment of black
politics in Florida in general. Briefly, what is your opinion of
Governor Reuben Askew? Do you think he's been favorable in attitude
and policy toward blacks in Florida or not? What is your opinion of
other state officials and state representatives?

H: I would say that Governor Askew has done a commendable job in providing
opportunities for all people. He has appointed blacks to positions
that--we all know that had never been done before. The other state
officials have not been as open with their support of blacks as the
governor. I think that's a matter of visibility. When the governor
appoints somebody, that creates a sensation. When, for example, the
secretary of state puts a black guy in an office, it merely gets a
ripple as far as publicity is concerned. You do have in Tallahassee
and throughout the state a number of blacks in important positions. But
as I said, these are not given the kind of publicity that would spotlight
the fact that blacks are involved in these situations.

B: Do you think that winning and holding office in Florida has been
worth the effort? Could you explain your answer?

H: It has been worth the effort. It is a tremendous sacrifice. The
criticism one gets when one gets in public office, really I do not feel


is justified in many instances. Then, on the other hand, when you
recognize that our democracy is run by people and when you recognize
that every single thing we do is governed by the decision that somebody
makes at a table, then you have to admit that it is worthwhile because
you have been a part of the decision making that affects the lives of
all of the people.

B: These questions are asked to compile an overall group profile of black
elected officials in Florida. Type of office you hold?

H: County commissioner. In fact, at the present, I'm the chairman of the
county commission.

B: Is that decided on by the commissioners?

H: Yes.

B: Do they get together?

H: Yes.

B: The date you were first elected?

H: In 1971 for the county, 1965 for the city.

B: The date you took office.

H: January 1, 1972.

B: Number of times you have run for an office?

H: I was elected to the city commission three times so that was three
elections. I ran for mayor and that was four. I think twice on the
county which is six.

B: What is your age, sir?

H: Sixty.

H: Occupation before election?

H: The same as it is now, business manager for Bethune-Cookman College.

B: Your level of education.

H: Master's degree in business.

B: What is the salary you receive from your elected position.

H: About $4,500. It's just enough to pay gas.


B: I interviewed a man in Lawtey, Mr. Robert Scott, and he gets twenty
dollars per meeting. He says it's just enough to cover his phone

H: Yes.

B: Were you active in the civil rights movements of '60 through '66?

H: Yes.

B: Are you a member of the NAACP?

H: Life member. Lots of life members right here.

B: How about other civil rights groups or organizations like SCLC [Southern
Christian Leadership Conference] or CORE [Congress of Racial Equality]?

H: I have not been actively involved in either of those.

B: Which church are you affiliated with?

H: The United Methodist church.

B: Are you an official in your church?

H: Yes.

B: What is your position?

H: I have two positions in the local church. One, I am a lay speaker.
Second, I am the business manager for the church. On the state level,
I am the chairperson of the work area of health and welfare ministries
and the vice-chairman of the United Methodist Credit Union.

B: Are you in any other community organizations or activities?

H: Yes.

B: Can you name some of them or most of the things you are involved in?

H: The chamber of commerce. I served as governor, vice-president, and
treasurer. I'm part of the Civic League. I served as president of the
Mental Health Association. I served on the guidance board. Statewide,
I am on the Probation and Parole Commission. I served last year as the
representative from the state of Florida to the Commission on the
Future of the South. Governor Askew made the appointment. I have served
in the federal government in education for a number of years. I'm on
my way to Washington now to serve as an evaluator of institutions of
higher education who apply to the federal government for aid.


B: Do you know of any other black elected officials in this area who
have been in office since 1974?

H: Yes, Commissioner Rudolph Matthews, the city commissioner. Then you
have a Mr. White, who is over at Lake Helen who's the mayor over there.
You have in Eustis Mr. Pinkney, who is the mayor over there. Then
you have in DeLand a Mr. Fair, who is the member of the commission in
DeLand; and in New Smyrna Beach you have a Mr. Rhodes, who is a com-
missioner there.

B: What was your father's occupation?

H: He was a minister.

B: What effects on you and your family did running and holding office
have or has had?

H: A very positive effect. I don't know if my wife would agree to that. I
say positive because of the image we have been able to create in
the community as one of the workers for the betterment of the community.
I think it has stood me in good stead with my youngsters particularly.
And my wife, other than the fact that'I'm constantly on the move, has
no problems with it.

B: So you feel that it has been especially good for your children.

H: I think it's been especially good for them.