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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
The Dr. James Button Project
INTERVIEWEE: Robert L. Hall
DATE: July 25, 1975
I: The following questions are asked to find out how well the Voting
Rights Act of 1965 helped blacks take part in Florida politics.
What year did you first register to vote?
H: I want to ask a question.
I: You may ask.
H: When you're saying when did I register to vote, does that mean what
year I registered myself to vote? It was on my twenty-first birthday.
I don't remember the exact date of that.
I: You first registered when you were first eligible? There was no
H: There was no problem there whatsoever.
I: You were registered by a local registration then?
I: Did local registrars ever turn you down?
H: Never. At that time we had registration that was done individually
through the county and city. We didn't have a joint registration.
In order to be eligible to vote in the city,you had to register at
city hall; and to be registered to vote in the county or the
national or state election, you had to do it at the county court-
house. But since that time this has been changed to do it all at one
I: This is in Martin County?
H: This is in Martin County.
I: Have voter registration drives been held in your district?
H: Yes, I myself was successful in doing that some years ago. In fact,
when I first ran for political office back in 1957, we sponsored a
voter registration drive which was fairly successful. Each year since
that time we have done the same thing. I've done two again when the
age limit was dropped from twenty-one to eighteen to get the younger
people involved and that's been very successful.
I: This is since 1967? What are some of the organizations other than local
or national organizations that sponsor drives?
H: The NAACP [National Association for theAdvancement of Colored People]
has sponsored registration drives for local groups that I've been
affiliated with in the Martin County Community Affairs Committee, which
is all black. Many other civic organizations have participated in the
voter registration drives.
I: These have been held in '67 and every year since.
I: What about before this time? Before '67 were they as frequent?
H: No, they were not. People just awakened to this voter registration
thing since we as blacks started running for public office. The older
people of course had registered to vote many years ago. That has never
been a problem in Martin County, but people just didn't.focus on the
idea of registering to vote until there was some concern.
I: Were they very successful?
H: Yes, I would say so. They have had a lot to do with my election.
That's the reason I would say it was successful.
I: Is there anything to prevent blacks from registering in the district?
H: None whatsoever.
I: I have something that you have to rate; and if you'd like to, just call
each item out loud and explain why you rated it as you did. [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
H: It kind of depends on whites. I would say very important. The main rea-
son is that most of the businesses are owned and operated by whites which
has a lot to do with the economy. So I would rate that very important.
Fear of physical violence from whites; I would say not important because
we haven't had any real serious violence here in Martin County. I would
say not important on the complicated registration form because I think
they're very simple. People could not have had any problems of that type.
I think the hours of registration have been real good. From time to
time we take the register books out in the districts and use the hours
to the advantage of the working people. So I think it's been very
important. Maybe I said it the wrong way.
I: This is very important in preventing blacks from registering?
H: No. It's not important because it has not prevented them from registering.
I think the hours have been set to meet their....
H: Right. I feel that in Martin County and Stuart that registrations
have been held often enough. We always put on registration drives
prior to an election, and it gives everybody who hasn't registered a
chance to register. So I would rate that important.
I: These responses are in preventing blacks from voting. So now this
isn't important at all.
H: Okay, so not important.
I: There's one more part to that that I didn't write down here: the
effects of reregistration. How important is that in preventing
blacks from voting?
H: I would say not important because we haven't had any problems with
Indifference of blacks to vote. Would you explain that just a
I: I assume that he means that there might not be the interest in the
black community in voting. Is this the case in Martin County or in
H: I would say not important because since we as blacks have started to
run for political offices the interest of blacks has picked up quite
tremendously. So not important.
I: There's one last one also and it's the drawing of district lines.
H: Within the city we presently run at large. We don't have a district
book. Right now we are in the process of trying to draw districts
whereby each one of the five members of the board will probably serve
the district. Some are for it and some are not, so I don't know how
it's going to work.
I: Are you for this?
H: I'm kind of leaning at this point. I'm kind of looking the situation
over. I'm trying to get public opinion on just what way I would go
on this matter. At this point I couldn't say whether it's going to
be very important or not, because my mind is not made up to that point.
I: The following questions are asked to gather information on your campaign.
Are you able to campaign freely?
H: Yes, very definitely.
I: There were no threats or anything like that?
H: None whatsoever.
I: Were you handicapped by a lack of funds?
H: No, I've never been handicapped with funds.
I: Why did you decide to run for office.
H: Because Stuart has been my home all of my life. I was born and raised
here. I've gotten active in civic organizations and the needs mainly
for the black community. In my younger days I attended the school
board meetings, county commission meetings, and city commission meetings
trying to get things done for the black community. At the time I
didn't feel like they were being treated fairly and given their share
of tax dollars. These are some of the things that prompted me to run
for political office.
I: So it's completely your own decision. You weren't approached by any
H: I would say that I was approached by a group, but I had it in my mind
from time to time to run for political office. Maybe I would say with
their approach and concern, this probably did have a bearing on my
running for public office.
I: To which party did you belong?
I: What are the two or three most important issues on which you campaigned?
H: Better recreation, more trash and garbage pickups, better street
lighting facilities, and better homes are the most important issues.
I: Were these the main issues, problems, that were facing blacks at the
time you were campaigning?
H: Right. Along with fair honest government. I felt that at the time
there was not fair representation for blacks, and this was one of the
main reasons for my running: to give blacks representation.
I: So we don't cause any confusion, how many different elections have
you run in?
H: I've been with the city now for six years and the terms run two years
successively. My first try for public office was as a commissioner.
I was defeated. This was in the year of 1957 Esic]. Two years later,
1959 [sic], I was elected and the two years after that I ran unopposed.
Next year I had opposition. The end of this year I'll be coming up
for reelection again.
I: You said '57. Are you talking about '67?
H: Right. I'm sorry, '67.
I: So you ran unopposed in this past election....
H: I did receive opposition in the past election two years ago.
I: In '73.
I: The fact that you have no threats in your campaign and you weren't
hindered by lack of finances applies to all of your campaigns?
H: This applies to all my campaigns, right.
I: Did your issues remain basically the same?
I: The next section the questions were asked to determine some of the
conditions which have enabled blacks to win offices.
I: You were elected at large?
I: In all of your...?
I: How many people are in this area?
H: Approximately 8,000 in Stuart.
I: What percentage of this is black?
H: Twenty per cent.
I: About what percentage of blacks of voting age in your district are
registered to vote?
H: I would hate to answer that question because I really haven't done
any research on that within the last few years. I would say 5 per cent
give or take...that are registered.
I: So 5 per cent of the eligible blacks are registered?
I: About what percentage of blacks who are registered to vote do you estimate
actually voted in your elections?
H: If there are 5 per cent that are registered to vote, I would say I got
31 per cent.
I: Do you think you got any votes from whites?
H: Yes, definitely.
I: What percentage of your total votes came from whites?
H: It's hard to estimate the amount.
I: Especially since you had more than one campaign.
H: Right. I really don't know how to give a percentage of white votes
but I've always got a good turnout of white votes, not in all of the
elections but every one that I have won since my time of office.
It's hard to say really. I'd hate to give a figure or percentage on
I: In the election in which you won office, how many opponents did you
H: In my very first try for public office, there werethree of us in the
I: And in the following...?
H: I had no opposition in the following....
I: And in this past one?
H: I had only one opponent.
I: Of these how many were white?
H: There was none white.
I: You always ran against...?
H: I'm sorry, in all of the elections that I had opposition?
I: Uh huh.
H: There were two in the first.
I: The one that you were elected to?
I: The past one it was...?
H: It was black.
I: Black opponent?
H: Just one.
I: What percentage of the total votes did you get?
H: I almost know that. Should have gathered this information. I think it
was 80 per cent.
I: This is in your first?
H: No, this is in the last....
I: The last one?
I: Would it be about the same in the previous, too?
H: In the ones that I didn't receive opposition I really don't remember
the amount,but the percentage in the first one were a little bit less
than 80 per cent. I would say I got 50 per cent of the vote in that
election, which was a very low key election at that time.
I: That's confusing with all your elections.
I: I'm sure you don't think about your percentages all the time.
I: In the following section, 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've helped blacks in your dis-
trict by holding office?
H: By completing most of the things that I represented or used in my cam-
paign. As far as better recreation, I am real proud of my recreation
program in the black community. I've been able to get basketball courts
and tennis ball courts. Before my election in the black community
there were very small youth centers. I've been able to expand that and
just recently I've completed a softball and baseball field in the black
community with lights. The ground upkeep has been improved.' I would
say that in the recreation it's 70 per cent of my campaign promise
has been completed. The better lighting facilities, I've completed 80
per cent of that in my term of office. The housing has not really been
satisfactory at this point but I'm still working on it. I've started
to upgrade the community and get private developers to come in and build
homes in the black community. I've completed some of that through their
cooperation but I'm still not satisfied with the amount of skills presently...
within the need of homes in the community.
I: Has anything prevented you from doing a better job and benefitting blacks
H: No, I've always received the cooperation from my fellow commissioners.
I: Another one of these.
H: The number one questions says, office has no real authority. I feel that
the office has authority so I would rate this as not important. Outvoted
by white officials. I would rate that as not important because from
time to time we all see the same.
I: Is this a five-man commission?
I: You are the only black commissioner?
H: I'm the only black, yes. When you say not enough revenue available,
the way it stands now with the economy....
I: Nobody has enough.
H: I would say there's not but then we are operating with sufficient revenues
but still can get more. So I would rate it, at this point, not important.
Unfamiliar with the administrative duties. I feel like from my time of
office in the city I'm familiar with all of the administrative duties of
the commissioners and the city manager to a certain point. So I would
rate it not important. Lack of cooperation from whites. I don't receive
any strong opposition from the whites. It's not important. Lack of
cooperation from state officials. It's hard to say that we don't get
good cooperation from state officials. I think at some time, we as city
officials are confused with the criteria of the state office. This is
due to the filing of applications for certain things. For instance,
when we apply for permits and sometimes we don't see eye to eye. But
overall I think the cooperation with the state officials in the city
works out pretty good. So I would rate it this time not important. Then
I would pretty well say the same thing for lack of cooperation from
I: You missed one in there.
H: Oh, lack of cooperation from blacks. I don't feel that I receive too
much of resentment from blacks. It's like in any other thing when
you're in authority you got some that with and you got some
that do not so I would rate it not important.
I: Have you established a good rapport with the youth?
H: I would think so, yes. I've attended the centers at times in the
afternoons mainly when the kids are out playing basketball, tennis, and
softball. In fact, I participate in a lot of things. I worked with
the PTAs a few years ago and Boy Scouts, and I feel like I have a very
good pull with the young people. I feel that here recently, in the last
election of mine, that the young people played a great part in my re-
election to office because I use them a lot in my campaigns.
I: Has criticism or lack of support from the black community hindered you
from holding office? That is, do some blacks not cooperate with you
because you're only a token and have no real authority?
H: Yes, I must say that there are some that feel that way. I think it's
that way throughout but it has no real seriousness to it. I think that
sometime this comes through pure jealousness.
I: But there's no...?
H: A lot of times it comes from people who don't really understand the func-
tions of office. By your being one person, they feel like a lot of times
you're not doing your job. But it depends on the cooperation you get
from your commission. You're only one vote. It's just a matter of not
having a real understanding of what the officerholder has to go through.
I: But if you've needed blacks supporting your community, they'd rally
behind you basically?
H: Yes, 100 per cent.
I: Do you feel that white officials treat you differently from the other
officials,or do they just consider you a spokesman for the blacks?
You're only allowed to raise on certain issues pertaining to the black
community in your commission meetings?
H: No, we don't. I don't feel that way. We work for Stuart. Of course
they do look to me to be the leader for the blacks. They feel like I
know things the black people--I would say their needs more so than they do.
There are certain times I've noticed that when issues come up by blacks
from requests, they would more or less hold back and see what my talk would
be like and see what my feelings are on the project or the proposal be-
fore they would take any sides on it. As far as cooperation from my
commissioners on most issues, we usually decide these things together.
I: You've already gone over this. What services have you provided blacks
in your district that they did not have before? You've pretty much gone
over the recreation and....
H: Right. In the black community before I was elected to the commission,
there were adequate streets put into the black community. This was
due some twelve years ago because housing for the low income people
were being put in. Of course, the federal agencies at that time made
sure that there were sufficient streets and sidewalks in the community.
The sewer was put in at that time. So the black community has benefitted
from most of the main facilities throughout the city.
I: These are how effective you think you have been in each of the following
service areas in terms of benefitting blacks.
H: Police protection I feel has been very effective. Streets and roads, I
think I explained that, very effective. Housing, I would say somewhat
effective. Welfare, I would say somewhat effective. Unemployment, I
would say somewhat. It's pretty low. It's down now due to the economy.
Park and recreation, very effective. Water and sewer and garbage, very
effective. Health and hospitals, this is not handled through the city.
It's mostly to the state and county, but I feel that it's very effective.
Education which is handled by the local Martin County School Board, I
feel that there is adequate education so I would use it very effective.
Fire protection, I'm pretty close to the fire department because I am
one of the volunteer firemen. I feel that we have a very good volunteer
and paid fire department.
I: Have you received federal funds for your district at any time during
your election and campaign?
H: Yes, in some recreation programs.
I: Could you possibly list some more important federal grants, possibly
with the amounts?
H: In my district? You're talking about in the black community? I'm not
able to give any figures on it. I don't have these off hand. But we
have received a considerable amount of federal monies that have been
spent in the community in the recreation program.
I: Is this recent?
H: This is within the last two years.
I: Have you as an elected official or part of a local committee been able
to bring industry or retail stores to your area?
H: No, not as of yet. I'm too working on that. Industry, I don't think I'll
ever be able to get it because of the size of the community. I am working
on some type of shopping center and things that might be able to go in
the community when the land is available through private owners.
I: Have you been able to see that blacks are hired fairly in local government?
H: Yes, I have.
I: Could you give some examples? Have there been problems? Since you've
come, have things been handled a little better?
H: There was no real problems just that I feel like they were slow in doing
the hiring. We've hired them in the city. We've hired and I've been
very successful in getting some of the county offices. We have a black
lieutenant who is in the police department. We have a black sergeant
who's in the police department, which happens to be my brother. We have
girls that are working here in city hall in the departments. We have
police dispatchers. We have them working in the water plants, water
testers and what have you. In the county, we've been able to get them
in the clerk of circuit court office and tax collector's office and a
few other places around. I'm not really satisfied with the amount that
we have at this point but it is better than what it was before I, as an
elected official, took office.
I: Has federal revenue sharing helped your district a lot?
H: Yes, it has but it has helped the total city. I haven't had any, I
can't just pinpoint any one or two things that revenue sharing has
helped in one particular district. But we've used revenue sharing money
throughout the city for whatever the needs were. These things are handled
through our city manager who heads the administration, and we sometimes
sit down with him and go over the needs of the area. I haven't had any
real problems in any projects done through any of the revenue sharing
federal programs in the black community.
I: Have there been any black protests, sit-ins, boycotts, or riots in your
city in the last ten years?
H: There haven't been any riots but there have been boycotts in the city
of the local restaurants. There was, at one time, a protest around city
hall too. This had to do with the shooting of a black man and
during that time by one of the policemen. There has been a few protests
around the courthouse for similar things but we haven't had any major
problems in the city of Stuart or Martin County.
I: I guess these boycotts of the restaurant would be the most important...
I: ...besides the demonstration. What were the effects?
H: Very good. This opened the restaurants and the town's open to blacks.
I: Was this in the sixties that this was happening?
H: Yes, more or less in the sixties.
I: The following questions are asked to assess 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 policies toward Florida
H: Yes, I think he has been. I have a lot of respect for Governor Reuben
Askew. I think he's been one of our better governors. I've met with
him on several occasions, and I've looked at his campaign when he first
ran for governor of office real closely. I think he's a fair, honest,
I: What is your opinion of other state officials and state representatives?
H: The ones that I've had any dealings with, mainly the local representatives
that represent Martin County--we don't have any that lives directly here
in Martin County. Most of them are in Palm Beach County. Senator
Philip Lewis, I've known him for some time, and I followed his campaigns
very good. I've been able to get a lot of cooperation from Senator Lewis.
I: Do you think that winning and holding an office in Florida has been worth
H: Yes, I do. I just feel like--you're talking about me or for blacks?
I: Has it helped yourself and has it helped the black community that you
H: Yes, I think it's helped me quite a bit in a lot of ways: self-prestige.
I feel that it has helped my people in the same way because it gives them
some dignity. It gives them a feeling of pride to know that they do have
black elected officials that they can always call on. They always felt,
and I felt the same way at times before being an elected official, that I
could not approach white politicians or political officeholders and get
any truthful information. I feel that black people have felt this; and
now they have the opportunity of electing blacks,they feel that they
have somebody to turn to.
I: So you definitely feel satisfied with
I: Did you receive any support from your political party?
H: No, as far as finances. But support, yes. You might well know that my
office is non-partisan. We don't run on party lines when you run in
the city. But by being with the party, of course, I've received good
moral support from them. I have served as president of the local
Democratic clubs which was made up, percentagewise of whites.
I: There was one thing I did want to go back to. Am I correct in then
saying that only 5 per cent of the eligible blacks are registered?
H: Yes, that's giving a figure. NowI'm not ever sure that that's right
because I say I haven't evaluated the percentage of blacks. It's always
been 20 per cent black population of registered voters throughout the
city,and when you even go to the county registrar it's always worked out
about the same thing as 20 per cent. When you come down to the people
that are registered to vote then I thought I would use the figure of
5 per cent. Maybe I'm low on that. I'm not sure.
I: I was going to say, because that is rather low. I mean you couldn't be
satisfied with just 5 per cent of
H: No, not really. I just threw out a figure there. I'm really not sure
of the total percentage of the black registered voters. Could be pos-
sibly 15 per cent which would probably be a better figure I would think.
I: We can get the figures from....
H: Yes, because I had it but I don't have it at hand. I got all this stuff
I: I don't expect you to be all the time.
I: Next questions are just asked to compile an overall group profile and
no individual answers will be revealed. Type of office you hold is
I: The date you were first elected was in '67, did you say?
H: No, it was in '69.
I: What month was this?
I: You took office in January?
H: I was sworn in the last Monday in December. So it'd be '69.
I: The number of times you've run for office before?
H: I think it's four, yes. I was defeated the first time around and that
was in '67.
I: Your age?
I: Occupation before your election?
H: I operated a lawn service.
I: Your father's occupation?
H: My father's deceased.
I: We're just curious as....
H: Oh, my father was in the lawn service business, like I am now, and he
had a nursery.
I: The extent of your education?
H: Twelve years.
I: Salary received from your elected position?
H: Like $200 a month.
I: Were you active in the civil rights movement of '60 to '66?
H: Yes, at some times as a member of the NAACP.
I: The church to which you belong?
H: Baptist. The name of the church?
I: Are you an official in your church?
I: Are there other community organizations to which you belong?
H: Yes. There's the Martin County Community Affairs Committee.
I: Kiwanis, Elks, whatever?
H: No. Volunteer fireman, thirty-second degree Mason, state potentate
for the Shriners.
I: The next question is thought provoking. What effects have running for
and holding office had on you personally, on your family?
H: Very good effect.
I: You've had no problems along the way?