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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida.
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA PERSONALITIES
ALTON CHESTER MORRIS
DATE: March 13, 1975
J: This is an Oral History interview and it's March the 13th, 1975.
My name is Robert Johnson and we're in the Ford Library of the
Florida State Museum on the campus of the University of Florida.
This morning I'm going to talk with Professor Emeritus Alton
Chester Morris of the Department of English here in the
University of Florida. Let's begin with just some basic information,
Dr. Morris. You born when and where?
M: I was born in Forest City, Florida, which is a little town about
ten miles from Orlando. My family then moved to Sanford, where
my father was in the trucking business.
J: Citrus trucking?
M: No, vegetables.
M: Then when I was about fourteen, the family moved to South Florida.
My father had learned of some squatter's claims down on the
east shore of Lake Okeechobee, and he moved the family to what is
now Pahokee. We stayed there, lived a very pioneering life for
about almost three years. Finally we moved to West Palm Beach,
where I went to finish my schooling. I graduated from Palm Beach
High School, and then I took off to the University of Florida.
J: Did Palm Beach become a tourist center...
M: Oh yes.
J: Would you say very much so?
M: Very definitely so. Before I came to the University of Florida,
however, there was a need for a fourth grade teacher out at
Pahokee. I went to school one day as a junior--I believe it
was--and the next day I was teaching the fourth grade. The
next year I was an assistant principal in a new Northborough
Palm Beach school, where as a senior I taught in the daytime
and went to school at night.
J: A senior in high school.
M: A senior in high school, yes.
J: Were there any regulations on teacher certificates and so forth
in those days?
M: I had to get a temporary certificate for the first year, after
which I secured a permanent teaching license after passing the
State Teachers' Examination, administered by what was called a
Flying Squadron, which came around ever so often and gave teacher's
examinations. I passed it and got a second grade's certificate.
Superintendent W.S. Sheats was State Superintendent at the time.
J: As a senior in high school you were eligible to teach in Palm
M: Yes, after passing the State examination, I finished my high
school teaching in the daytime and graduated from Palm Beach
High School from my night school attendance.
J: Excuse me just one second. I want to put this down. You were
born February the 6th, 1903. I think we left that out. Just
to get some perspective here.
J: 1903, O.K., sir.
M: I first came to the University of Florida in 1921 to take some
summer courses, and then I returned to the University of
Florida in 1923 to!begin my work for the regular A.B.E. degree.
I was fortunate enough to get an available state teacher's
scholarship, which helped put me through college financially.
J: Let's backtrack just a little bit. Did teaching in high school
give you an interest to perhaps go on in teaching on the college
level -at Florida?
M: Oh yes, no question about that. I didn't start my career by
teaching in high school; I taught the sixth grade.
J: Sixth grade?
M: Sixth grade, yes. That's where I made a definite decision to
become a teacher. I liked it.
J: What was Gainesville like when you arrived? Of course having
been reared in Florida you were used to small, little sleepy
southern towns. What were some of your first impressions of
M: Well, it was a very beautiful place. From Thirteenth Street
down to the main square was a double street with a row of palms
in the median. And from Thirteenth Street on out to College
Inn was nothing but a clay road; and when we used to go across
the street to the College Inn on rainy' weather, we would bog
up to our shoes in mud. So we were all very glad when Gainesville
paved those streets.
J: This was across from Peabody just where the College Inn is now.
Of course, a different building.
M: College Inn is across from Buckman Hall. The campus was--I thought
at that time--a very beautiful place. The landscape department
was setting out oak trees at that time south of Language (now
Anderson) Hall. A little later on the landscape department
beautifed the Plaza of the Americas with small live oaks. And
those oak trees where we walked in between them, we now walk
under them. When the University began its interest in Latin
American Studies, each of the twenty-two nations in Latin
America donated a live oak for the Plaza, and placed a bronze
marker to designate the donor. One of the most beautiful areas
on the campus then was the beautiful, unboxed, massive long-
leaf pines that had to be removed when the Business Administration
building was built.
J: What buildings were here then? Let's see, I guess Peabody and
then the old law school.
J: Flint Hall, perhaps?
M: Language Hall, Flint Hall, Buckman Hall, and Thomas Hall. I
stayed in Thomas Hall. We boys were always trying to find some-
thing to do, playing pranks on one another. One of the favorite
pastimes was to get up on the second floor and throw bags or
buckets of water on someone passing. Our interests were very simple
in those days. Nothing such as they are today.
J: Water on students I take it, no faculty members.
M: That's, that's right.
J: Well, I imagine it was a nice place to go to school in those
days. Where did you eat mostly? At the College Inn or down-
M: I had to supplement what the scholarship gave me financially,
and so I started out raking yards at what was known as Mrs.
Stripling's Boarding House. Finally I was elevated to dish-
washer and then finally I became headwaiter there. So all
the time I was an undergraduate I held that position there.
J: Were there required courses? Naturally there were required
courses in those days. How was the curriculum set up? You
were interested in English, I take it, just about from the
M: That's right. Well, at that time there was a rather stern
curriculum. We had to have one science course, one mathe-
matics course, one English course, and one social science
course. These were required, for every freshman took just
about the same thing the first year.
J: Any outstanding professors you recall that influenced you?
M: Well, one, my English professor was Professor W.A. Little.
J: This was for whom Little Hall was named?
M: No, not that Little.
J: I see.
M: He wasn't related to Dean Little. Professor Little was one
of the finest men. He had a great deal to do with shaping some
of my ideas. Then, of course, Dean A.W. Norman was a great
influence so far as my educational interests were concerned.
Dean Norman, who was dean at the time, was very helpful and
J: He was the dean of Education, I guess.
M: Yes, the dean of the College of Education.
M: And Dr. Jimmy Farr was a very fine lecturer. I received some
of my inspiration for English from him. And Dr. T.M. Simpson
was a very fine mathematics teacher. I took two or three
philosophy courses from Dr. Hayford Enwall, Sr. He was of
Swedish descent and he always gave high grades and especially
to the football players; so his classes were always crowded.
And I remember very distinctly Dr. Enwall's reading along
out of Westermark's Epistemology textbook. In the back row
was a whole group of football players. Finally one of the
students, I believe it was Mr. Oosterhoudt, who was on the
football team, stopped him and he said, "Dr. Enwall, will you
tell just in plain language what that means?" He said, "Oh,
Mr. Oosterhoudt, if I should put that in plain language it
would lose its meaning."
J: Was the football team stereotyped or were they good students
in those days?
M: No, they were about average for football players at that time;
they were not outstanding students really.
M: Oh, there were a few very fine students then back in those days
on the team. I remember Bill McRae, with almost a straight A
average. He later became Judge McRae.
J: It seems to be one extreme or the other with football players.
M: That's right.
J: What did you do besides dropping water balloons for entertain-
ment? Was there a movie downtown, I guess? And then of course...
M: Oh yes.
J: ...a lot of outdoors.
M: There were movies and a lot more student activity in which the
student body as a whole participated. We had a lot of fun
sending the football team off to out-of-town games in the fall.
We would have a pajama parade and march down University Avenue
to the station. Football players at that time usually left
on trains. And before the game we would have a great big
bonfire on the campus and then we'd march down. We used to
stop by Dr. Jimmy Farr's residence and let him give a pep talk.
And then we'd march on to the station on present day Main Street,
when the band would play to send the team off. In those days,
to show our appreciation to the team, we would meet the team
when it came back to Gainesville. In those days, some of
our excess energy we got rid of by having a tug-of-war between
the sophomores and the freshmen. There seemed to be more
overt rivalry between the different classes in the early years
of the university's life. In addition to the tug-of-war between
the classes, we had what was Sophomore Day, when the fresh-
men would try to tie up as many sophomores and take them out in
the woods and leave them. And then they in turn would return
the compliment on Freshman Day, when we freshmen would try to
hide to keep them from finding us. The event didn't last but
one day, but it made quite a hilarious time for both classes.
J: Sadie Hawkins Day or something?
M: That's right.
J: I guess the campus, almost everyone at least knew each other
by sight in those days.
M: That's right.
J: Faculty and the student body?
M: That's right.
J: Who was president at the time?
M: Dr. A.A. Murphree.
J: What about President Murphree? I was going to just ask, what
was the general student body's attitude toward President
M: He was a very fine southern gentleman. He was a muchly loved
president. We were all terribly distressed when he died. He
was so fair and yet could be very firm and positive with students.
Things seemed to move along with equanimity back in those
days. We didn't have any trouble between faculty and students
or students and the president, or the administration. There was
a mutual respect between the two. I have served under five pre-
sidents and four acting presidents.
J: Could we list those now just for the record?
M: Yes, Dr. Tigert [John J. Tigert], I suppose, did as much to make
this a real university as any president.
J: He followed whom?
M: ...President Murphree.
M: After President Murphree's death, Dr. Jimmy Farr who was head
of the English Department, served as acting president; and
then after Dr. Tigert's retiring, Dr. Harold Hume became acting
president. Dr. J. Hillis Miller next became president, I
believe. After Dr. Miller died, Dr. J. Allen served as acting
J: This was around '48, wasn't it?
M: That's right.
J: '47, '48?
M: And then Dr. Allen was acting president before he went to South
Florida. Dr. Miller was, I think, one of the most able presidents
was had during his tenure at the university.
J: And so he more or less gave the University of Florida the be-
ginning of a national reputation.
M: That's correct.
M: And it was during his administration, too, that we had the
president's home built. I remember that he and the business
manager kind of got into trouble about the building of the
president's home. They built that home without legislative
approval out of incidental funds that they had collected.
When the legislature met the next time they wanted to know
why such a project was completed without legislative sanction.
Dr. Miller was determined that we should have one. Dr.
Miller was the one who, with Mr. Shands [William A. Shands]
and others, was responsible largely for getting the medical
center through the legislature during his administration.
Both Dr. Reitz [J. Wayne Reitz] and Dr. Stephen O'Connell
were able presidents too. I think Dr. O'Connellhad more dif-
ficulty with students than any president that I've ever served
under. It was just a disturbed age, and he had to bear the
brunt of it. But I have admired all of the presidents we've
had. They've all been able men.
J: It's a thankless job in many ways.
M: Yes, it is.
J: President Murphree and all the way up to the present time,
presidents have each of course contributed to the growth
of the university. It's a shame we've had to lost the personal contacts with the administration
that once was possible.
As the university grows naturally you just lose that spirit of
togetherness once felt between faculty and the student relationships.
M: That's right.
J: What made you decide to get your M.A. now here? Here again
you were interested in continuing on into college teaching and
naturally you had to have your M.A.
M: That's correct. I had to have the M.S. in order to get a
part-time assistantship. I really needed it for a part-time
assistantship; moreover I was getting married, and I had to have
a job, and the M.A. was a must in order to get a teaching job
with a university.
J: You met your wife here in Gainesville?
M: No, I met my wife out on Lake Okeechobee. Her family moved
back to West Palm Beach and so did mine. She went off to
school in Daytona. It was in Daytona that I proposed marriage.
We were married in West Palm Beach back in 1928.
J: You had just graduated.
M: Yes, I had just graduated. I was getting ready to get married
and I didn't have a job. Just on the way home from finishing
my M.A. degree, a telegram came and I was offered a job out
at Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College. I was very
happy for this opportunity. I accepted heartily, but I stayed
there only one year as an instructor. As a matter of fact
I was asked back, but Texas was just a little too far away
from Florida to suit my wife and me. I was invited to teach
a summer term in 1929. That fall I was given a permanent
appointment with the English Department.
J: And you were fortunate of course because this was the beginning
of the Depression and you more or less had your niche planned
out before it got too bad.
M: That's right.
J: And you were able to stay on. When you came back now, who was
head of the Department of English?
M: Dr. Farr.
J: Dr. Farr. I guess you had quite a teaching load in those days.
M: Well, we taught eighteen hours and sometimes we'd have as many
as thirty to forty students in a freshman class; so it was
a rather strenuous teaching assignment. We didn't grumble
about it, for we were all glad to have a job at that time.
I started out making the handsome salary of $1620 for the year
J: How was the campus affected by the Depression? Were salaries
cut back any?
M: No, we were always paid promptly each month. There was always
a rumor rampant that we wouldn't get our next month's salary.
But the state never failed this. Of course banks went broke.
My family lost everything they had in the banks, and what
little savings I had, I lost in the Phifer State Bank here.
So it was a strenuous time for all of us.
J: Did the student body fall off any this time?
M: No, the student body has had a progressively larger enrollment
each year. When I first came here there were fourteen hundred
students, with about three hundred freshmen. And it's been a
steady growth ever since that time. And I don't know just
exactly where we'll put a cap on it somewhere or not, but...
J: There's been talk, of course, of just letting this university
grow as large as possible and keep it with a graduate emphasis.
M: Yes, that wouldn't be a bad idea.... With the excellent libraries
we have here and this fine museum, I think it's a wonderful
place to have a graduate center.
J: From '29 to '39 you were here and then you went to North
Carolina for research and your Ph.D. and then you came back
here. But this first decade generally speaking was important
to you, as your career was just starting off. What was the
atmosphere academic-wise here? Were the English teachers
happy with their jobs? Were the students interested in their
studies? Was the library adequate?
M: Well, in my own department Professor Robertson [Charles Archibald
Robertson] was very much interested in building a library.
Every scantling of money he could get, he would buy books.
So in our department we've had a rich holding in the library and
it's continued to build. The holdings over there in other
areas are especially fine. In some of the other departments,
however, I don't think they were quite as assiduous in building
up the library as Professor Robertson was, and to him is due a
great deal of credit for his library contributions. Of course,
after the war the university really experienced its greatest
growth then. And things became very congested around here.
That's where we had to bring in all these little shacks that
we've been trying to rid the campus of. All in all, little
dissension in the university, but it was rather smooth-running
until more or less recent years, I would say.
J: University College has always been a controversy. Any insight
into it that you'd like to discuss? Some of the problems with
U.C. coming about?
M: The University College was brought here almost by fiat by Dr.
Tigert. He felt--and so a number of schools in the country felt--
that the curriculum was entirely too restrictive and that we
ought to give students a wide base and introduce them to the
broad areas of knowledge. And he felt that the University
College plan was the best way to accomplish this; so
Dr. Tigert almost decreed that we would [have] a University
College and he appointed a committee of Winston Little, Percy
Black, and Dean Matherly [Walter J. Matherly] to bring this
into being. Some of the staff members--the more conservative
of the staff--didn't like the idea at all and so there was,
from the very beginning, a feeling that the University College
idea was the wrong direction the university should go.
J: This didn't necessarily represent engineers and law people versus
humanities people either, did it? There were some of both sides
M: That's correct. Of course the professional schools felt that
this was a little bit too restrictive and was restricting
the curriculum too much because the professional had a certain
number of professional courses that had to get in in a four-
year curriculum and they felt that the University College was
not a good thing. Some staff members, however, felt they
wanted their students to have a broad base on which to build.
Some of the professors who did not approve of the University
College used to speak of the Little-Black-Matherly Committee,
of which Dean Matherly was the chairman.
J: How did Dr. Black, being a chemist, feel about it?
M: Well, I think he was, at heart, for the changes...in favor
of it because he had the position he had in helping to in-
augurate the change.
J: I'm sure.
M: He had no alternative. But I think in the main he was in
favor of it, and several of the professional schools acquiesced.
J: I think agriculture, perhaps, had some of the most opposition to
it, from just what I've gleaned in the last few times I've spoken
with people about it. But generally of course it was complicated,
M: Yes, it was and there's always been opposition ever since the
beginning of the University College. There's been an animosity
between the lower division and the upper divisional English.
That was one of the most unfortunate things that's happened
here, so far as my relationship with the two divisions was
concerned. I was a kind of go-between between the University
College because I helped institute the freshman English course
that started out--C3 as it was called. And then I had to be
loyal to my own upper division where I was budgeted. I was,
therefore, caught in a kind of cross-fire between the lower
and the upper division, and I tried to serve as a kind of
peacemaker between the two. I helped to do that on many oc-
casions. If I had any one thing that my tenure here helped
to accomplish it was to help keep these two working together
as amicably as they could under the circumstances. With each
one having a different budget and having control of interchangeable
staff members in both lower and upper division, trouble was
created. Now fortunately that ill feeling has dissipated
and the two departments are working together amicably at this time.
But it took a long time to bring about that change.
J: Dr. Robertson was the department head...
M: That's right.
J: ...at this time. Was this a formal position with him or did
this come about with your contact between upper and lower
division? In other words, was this an administrative position
you served on in the Department of English?
M: Well, partly. It wasn't administrative until later.
J: You were just caught in the middle?
M: That was just my position with an allegiance to both. I taught
in upper and lower division. And since I had some stake in the
freshman English course, of course that put me in a position
where I felt rather kindly toward the University Colldge. And
at the same time I hastened to admit that I had a fervid loyalty
to my own department, too.
J: Is this a good time to talk about the Southern Folklore Quarterly?
Of course, you were editor on it.
M: Yes, and founder as well.
J: From '36, I think, to '66. How did you get on to this bandwagon?
I know you've been a folklorist yourself for some years, and I
guess it tied in very readily.
M: When I was thinking in terms of going away to graduate school,
fortunately I had a friend who asked me, "Does Florida have
any folk songs?"
And I said, "I don't know, but being a native I would like
find out just for my own curiosity." Dr. Tigert was president
at that time and he was very much interested in what I was
planning to do. I decided that I would see whether or not there
were folk songs here, and so I started with a program on WRUF.
Red Barber each week would play some folk songs and ask for
people who knew them to send in songs that they knew. So from
that source I collected a lot of material. Among one of the
communicants was a very fine old singer at Newberry, and she
sang over eighty-some-odd songs which I recorded with some
equipment that Dr. Tigert made available. So that was really
the beginning. Back in the Depression we had what was called
the National Youth Administration. Dean Beaty [Robert C. Beaty],
who was chairman of that program and representative here of
that National Youth Administration suggested that I prepare a
project and put some of these high school students whose parents
were just on almost starvation situation. So I worked up a
project of about a hundred different workers throughout the state
with my wifeI kind of supervisor to help me in organizing this.
We got this program underway, and the material started pouring in--
all kinds of material, not only folk songs but early settler
stories and all kinds of yarns, superstitions, proverbs and just
a wide range of material.
J: Quite a response, I guess.
M: Yes, it was.
J: Very gratifying.
M: That material was most valuable to me in my teaching as well.
Some of my students used some it in master's theses and that
kind of research. The bulk of it, however, has been placed
into the folklore archives at the library, which the university
and the English department are setting up now of the unused
When I went off to college for my doctorate at the University
of North Carolina, there was a Professor Arthur Palmer Hudson
who had written his dissertation on the folk songs of Mississippi,
and I had learned from his counsel. I showed Dr. Hudson the mat-
erial that I had collected and he said, "You have a doctoral
So that's how I really got interested in working in folklore.
And out of my dissertation, I published the Folksongs of
Florida in 1950 with the University of Florida Press. About
that time there was quite an interest in folk material and so
I did a lot of lecturing about Florida folk. folklore, and particularly Florida folksongs.
J: How did the Quarterly come about? Had this been going on before,
or was this originated with you in '36?
M: Yes, it was. As a result of this interest there was need in
this country for a folklore journal that was not oriented
toward anthropology--something that would be slanted towards
social sciences and literature in particular. So I con-
ceived the idea of publishing here a Southern Folklore Quarterly.
We had an organization, Southeastern Folklore Society, and that
society needed some kind of medium for its folklore interest.
So we conceived a journal that would be broader than the
Journal of American Folklore which, as I say, was highly
oriented towards anthropology.
J: Dr. Tigert and the University of Florida Library were cooperative
in this enterprise with their financial support?
M: Very much. Well, we didn't have a University of Florida Press
at that time, but it came into being later. Dr. Tigert was
very helpful in helping us get this inaugurated. One folklore
authority said of the Southern Folklore Quarterly, "It did as
much as any one thing to wrest folklore studies in this country
away from a strictly anthropological bent."
If the Quarterly has any one thing to contribute to
to American folklore scholarship, I suppose that's the greatest
contribution we've made. We did publish each issue a folklore
bibliography, which ran sometimes as much as a hundred pages
of bibliographical items, and it went all over South [Southern?]
America. Southern Folklore Quarterly has gone all over the
world. Soviet Russia has been a subscriber from time to time.
The journal is in the hands now of very capable men. The
department is bringing in some folklorists, and the interest
that people like Ed Kirkland and I started in folklore studies
is really coming to fruition right now. We have two full-
time folklorists with the present editor a linguistic professor.
So I think the Southern Folklore Quarterly is bound to continue
to make a contribution to the folklore studies of this country.
J: I'm sure you look at it as one of the high points of your career.
M: Yes, when I was editor, I gave priority to articles that dealt
with the utilization of folklore expecially in literature. And
I think that focus still remains, though it should expand into
linguistics or other related interests, for folklore is a very
J: Are there any generalizations you can say about Southern folklore?
Is it derived, for instance, from say, seventeenth-century England
more than other...?
M: Much of it is, yes. This article I'm, I'm depositing here with
this personal reminiscing tells the story of a nineteenth,
eighteenth-century song, really seventeenth-century song, that
came over here and changed quite a bit. This folklore interest
turned out to be the main circus for me and I had to put the
brakes on in order to keep it from becoming just that, because
my literary interest is in the Romantic period of English
About ten years ago, especially when I had some additional
administrative responsibilities, I decided that I would
curtail my folklore interest and let some of the other young men
take over. But my folksong interest was largely responsible for
my being asked to teach two summers at Harvard University, which
was one of the high points of my career so far as I'm concerned
J: Was this on Southern folklore in general?
M: No, this was on American folk ballads and songs.
J: I see.
M: And it gave me an opportunity to not only live in New England,
which I had often wanted to do, but to be associated with a
very fine university. And it was one of the high water marks
in my career as a visiting professor to several institutions.
J: You must have enjoyed the libraries up there and everything.
M: Oh, yes. We had what was called a listening room where students
could go and listen to folk songs with nothing but equipment and
records all in the room.
J: Well, the university's been around since 1640. I guess it's
bound to have some collections and so forth. You said you had
some administrative matters to take care of. Now we haven't
necessarily left folklore as such. We can always come
back to it as it works into your career. But ware there ad-
ministrative positions in these days that you were involved in
in the English department?
M: When the University College was started, for a year or two, I was
co-chairman of the Comprehensive English course, C-3. But in
more recent years, however, as our chairmen of the Department of
English would go elsewhere, I was asked to serve about five
years as active chairman of the department.
J: I see.
M: And I must say that five of the most pleasant years of my life were
spent in administrating the English department, which has
a very fine group of men, pleasant for me to work with.
J: Were these the days when the foreign langauges were under
the English department or was this earlier?
M: No, at the time when I was acting chairman they were separated.
But there was a time when, when Professor Clifford Lyons and
Professor Robertson were heads of the English department. There
was a division of language and literature and they were chairmen
of that division. But later it was separated into the different
departments. This separation was, in a way, a very good thing
for the development of the languages all the way around. It was
a good move on the part of the administration to make that shift.
J: I guess English was one of the first areas of graduate study
here, wasn't it? I think pharmacy was first...
M: That's right.
J: ...and then perhaps chemistry. I guess English soon after that.
M: History soon after that, that's right.
J: How was the graduate department set up in these days, after
the war? It had gotten rolling pretty well by then, but any
headaches earlier in the twenties and thirties that you recall?
M: No, I am not sure.
J: You may not have had much contact.
M: No, I didn't at that time. I was mainly coming up the ranks
as an assistant instructor, assistant professor, associate
professor. So in the early days of the department I did not
have too much to do with the administration phase of the
J: Dr. Morris, let's just talk about some incidental or odds-and-ends
type situations and happenings over the years while you were
here at Florida, or Southern experiences. You mentioned some-
thing about going out to Oklahoma.
M: Yes, there is out at Anadarko, Oklahoma, a hall of fame for
notable American Indians. The time came for Osceola, the
Seminole Indian chief, to be placed in the hall of fame, where
all the outstanding American Indians are memorialized. And
the committee asked me to come out and give the dedicatory address
when Osceola was placed in the hall of fame.
J: Was this an Indian committee or was it white?
M: It's a national committee that has charge of the hall of fame.
J: I see.
M: I gave the address; and as a result, the governor of Oklahoma'
made me an Oklahoma colonel which was a somewhat unexpected honor
that came my way. (For a copy of the address, see pages 326-328
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Autumn, 1958.) I'll be very glad to
give you a copy of that speech for the record here if you care
to have it.
J: What did you emphasize about Osceola? I'm curious, because he's
sort of a folk hero.
M: Yes, oh, he's that. But he was a...
J: Scoundrel in ways.
M: Yes, but I'll let you read the article.
M: And I think that'll put that in the record for you.
J: Surrounded by Indians you couldn't have said too much.
M: That's quite an interesting festivity there. They had in con-
nection with it the most beautiful Indian dances I've ever seen.
I might mention one of my interests in Florida folklore is
the Florida Folk Festival, which twenty-odd years ago, Mrs.
Lillian Saunders and a member of the Florida Music Club came
to see me and asked me if I could help them in forming a folk
festival. And I happened to know of Sarah Gertrude Knott, who
had been directing the National Folk Festival for many, many
years. I suggested to them that we bring her down immediately
to start the first Florida Folk Festival, which was a tremen-
dous success at the Stephen Foster Memorial. And it's been going
continuously ever since then with possibly a one-year hiatus.
And that has done as much as any one thing I suppose to focus
attention on Florida folklore. It's become one of the fine
festivals not only in this state but in the country. Miss
Thelma Bolton is now the director, and she has done a marvelous
job over the years. I am serving as folklore consultant for the
Florida Folk Festival, and we're hoping that this organization
will continue to thrive as it's done in the past. It was quite
appropriate that there at the Stephen Foster Memorial should be
something like that because it's just natural for a folklore
interest to center there along with other cultural activities.
J: There always seems to be a danger to me in folklore of authenticating
folklore, as being for instance Southern folklore. Is there much
corruption of folklore over the years?
M: Well, here in Florida for instance there are a few indigenous
ballads, but most of them have been brought here from everywhere,
and that's one reason why the folklore in this state is so
rich. People come from everywhere. Not only the New World
people from Georgia and Virginia--and what have you--but also the
Old World people. We have here in Florida the Greeks at
Tarpon Springs, the Czechoslovakians up in Masaryck Town
[Hernando County], the Slavic peoples out from Sanford in a
place called Slavia. In De Funiak Springs there is a Scotch
settlement. Over on Karona [Flagler County] on the east coast
is a Polish settlement and of course the Spanish in Tampa and
as well as in St. Augustine and the Minorcans that have come
into St. Augustine. All of this has made the folk materials
in this state a very cosmopolitan body of material. People
who came from all over different sections of the country--
especially from Virginia and Georgia and South Carolina and
North Carolina--all have come to settle in this state and
have brought a lot of very fine folk songs from the eastern
seaboard region, where so many of the English settlers came from.
So, all in all, the folklore in Florida is very rich, but it
is not what we might call indigenous. Some of it, however, in
my book do reflect the Florida setting and events: The Miami
hurricane, for instance, or the disaster that took place over
at Daytona Beach, Lee Bible's racing to his tragic death and
things of that kind. But in the main it's material that has
been brought here, with sometimes its taking on the Florida
coloring, place names and that kind of things.
J: What is folklore as compared to country western?
M: Yes, well, it has to be something of that, I don't know how
to explain it, but it's blowing in the wind, so to speak.
Some singer or some yarnspinner heard [it] and then he
passes on to this children or that some mothers have
passed on to their daughters and sons. It has to pass through
oral transmission to be folklore. That's the reason why the
Stephen Foster songs are not folklore, but folk verse, for
the simple reason that there is one standard version of that.
In folklore you've got to have several different versions of
sayings, interpretation or how the song is sung to make it
genuine folklore. It must show it's been through oral transmission.
(For an illustration see the enclosed article "The
Rolling Stone: The Way of a Song," which appeared in Southern
J: I see.
M: And so if it hasn't done that it is not folklore. I shouldn't
be a bit surprised if some of these rock n'roll songs passed on
from memory may in turn become folklore. But at the present
time they are not.
J: So "Suwanee River" although we identify it...
M: That's right. It is a song loved by the folk but with no
evidence of oral transmission.
J: ...as a Florida song it's not really folklore.
M: No, it's a lyric song with only one version.
J: ...because it was printed and copywrited and typewritten.
M: That's correct. And of course there are some folklorists
that are very puristic. They insist upon a large number of
different variants in order to compare. But there are some who
have seen a song just pass through two or three different
periods and would be willing to accept it as folklore.
J: I guess with the modern facilities now of top checking and so
forth, there's a good collection I guess being carried on
here at the university. This is going to be housed in the library
you say or is it already here?
M: Yes, there are people beginning to build it. And they will add
to it. The folklore archive is a very modest beginning, to be
sure. But this material that I have collected is going to be
deposited there as a part of it.
There have been a number of folklore organizations
throughout the country and I have been president of some of them.
In order to foster this folklore interest that we had in this
region, we started what was known as the Southeastern Folklore
Society, which lasted for about three or four years when we
joined with the South Atlantic Modern Language Association.
This amalgamation was a good thing because it broadened our
interest and also our membership, too. Each time the
South Atlantic Modern Language Association meets there's
always a section of folklore that is representative of this
J: What do you think has caused the interest in folklore in the
last few years? Is it the type of song that's being sung now
a lot? Of course, that's a commercial aspect, but has this,
or do you think it's always been like this? Southerners
have always been interested in folk singing.
M: In folklore interest, there seems to come a kind of wave in which
you have a heyday of interest. I suppose the interest in American
folklore began back when Cecil Sharp, an Englishman, was senti
to this country at the expense of the British government to
find out what English folk songs had been transplanted to
America. And he is, I would say, largely responsible for en-
gendering an interest in folklore in this country. And then
J: This was in the thirties?
M: No, earlier than that, the early twenties. He had taught us
that there is a great deal of folk music in this country, and
it was then that American scholars began collecting throughout
the country. And for many of the states there are folk song
collections now of one kind or another. The emphasis has been
on folk songs more or less recently, but interest in folk tales,
proverbs and superstitions and the like has its interest too.
There are all kinds of organizations now. For instance,
there's a proverb committee of the Modern Language Association
that's trying to collect as many proverbs as they can in this
country. The same thing is true of the superstitions and other
types of folk materials. So this interest in folk music has
largely come about because we were told--we were shown--that
we did have a rich body of folk music here in this country.
When Dvorak came to America, the story is told that as he was
crossing the Atlantic he asked someone, "Is there any American
The respondent said, "No, there's no American folk music."
So he said, "Well, I can't believe that." So when he got
to this country he found this rich body of Negro spirituals and
out of that we have the New World Symphony. So, we did not know
that we had this mixed body of folk music until the first
quarter of this century. Certainly the heyday came within the
second quarter of the century.
J: At least it became an area of research, didn't it?
M: That's correct, and it's serious research. For instance, some
universities have whole departments of folklore. Indiana
University and U.C.L.A. both have rich offerings and Ph.D.s in
folklore. So that's an outgrowth of this interest in folk
material. I think, too, that we have become a little more
aware of our American heritage as time has gone on, and as a
result this is just one aspect of it. There are many other aspects.
J: There are high and lows in this, or course, also.
M: That's correct.
J: A widespread development?
M: That's right.
J: During the Depression years Americans turned inward to their
M: Correct, and this patriotic fervor sponsored an interest in
M: Interest in...of course, in this state and in many states. The
Federal Writers Project collected a whole raft of materials
dealing with cultural history; and out of that we have the
Florida Guide, for instance.
M: We've come out with that. And the government deliberately
helped to sponsor this interest in our own culture.
J: How do things stand at the university now as far as the
folklore? I noticed, I know you mentioned the collection
that's being gathered and so forth. You said there are two
folklorists here now that are specifically interested in
this? Are there courses offered in....
M: Folksongs, the folktale, and folk music.
J: ...Southern folklore?
M: Yes, we have. We have folklore courses and they're proving rather
popular. As a matter of fact the College of Education has dis-
covered that one of the resource materials that they can use
is folk materials. And so we get a lot of students that come
over to take our courses from the College of Education, too.
And then of course this present interest in folk music has caused
some students to become interested in courses we have in folk-
lore. Our interest has been confined mainly to folk songs and
to the 'folktale. I shouldn't be a bit surprised if some of the
other aspects of folklore won't develop as time goes on.
J: The "Uncle Remus" Tales, I take it are, of course, an example
of the folktale.
M: That's correct.
J: Was it Joel Chandler Harris gathered these? I guess these were
probably almost lost, weren't they?
M: They were just about, but you'd be surprised how many of the...
J: And fortunately he kept it.
M: ...Uncle Remuses we still have. Well now, they're disappearing
now, but I can remember one, one singer, one yarnspinner that
gave some of the most original "Uncle Remus" tales, and she
didn't get them from Uncle Remus. They were-just in her family
conditioning. That's been recorded by the Florida Folk Festival
Association at the Foster Memorial. I might say that everything
that's been presented at the Florida Folk Festival has been
recorded. So that's a body of cultural history there, too,
available for further study.
J: Have you noticed any aspects of history, for instance, in this
connection with folklore? Of course now I'm thinking of oral
traditions that have been handed down in certain Appalachia areas
of why their family came there, what they did during the war
between the states. Any aspect of that, or has it been strictly
folklore as far as music and any historical aspects you noticed?
M: Well, in some of this material I've collected there are some
settler yarns, and some of the collected folksongs deal with
Florida history. A few have been published in Folksongs of
J: Pioneering days.
M: Pioneering days and that kind of thing, describing certain com-
munal gatherings like log rollings, quilting bees, the kind of
social events where groups are getting together to either work
or play together and entertain one another.
J: Something like a Foxfire publication.
M: That's right. We have a very interesting Scotch settlement in
the Euchee Valley that's called Eucheeanna (?). These people
have come, they settled there from North Carolina and then finally
moved on down the foothills of Appalachia into Western Florida.
They didn't sing many Scotch songs, and I was very surprised
at that. But they certainly could tell some interesting Scotch
yarns about life in that area. The McKinnons, the McCaskills,
the Gillises and the McDonalds and their families are still there.
J: This would be in Western Florida?
M: That's right.
J: Western Florida and Alabama.
M: That's right.
J: Moving in there I guess inrthe early nineteenth century. Let's
go back to the campus just a little bit. You mentioned some-
thing at the beginning that we should just talk about in a lighter
vein. You know, your experience of those involved in the panty
raids here in the late forties or fifties? I'm sure that was
one of the highlights of your career. I think it's something
we ought to mention. How did this come about? Was there a
yearly panty raid type thing?
M: It was a fad that lasted about two or three years. Every now
and then someone would start a new panty raid, or something of
that kind. But that fad has died out. But it was quite
serious here for a while.
J: That's why I'm curious. Did the administration frown on this?
M: The administration frowned on it because in those days boys
were not supposed to frequent girls' dormitories, and they .!.
weren't supposed to do some of the things that they were doing.
And this was the kind of fad--like streaking more recently--
that was short-lived. But it lasted two or three years. We
hear of some remnants of this tradition breaking out now and
then, but nothing like the major ones we had.
J: What year was this? You recall?
M: I don't recall really. It was, must have been in the fifties
J: Going by the pictures it looks like '53 or '54.
M: Then it was serious business though. As I say, the administration
frowned on it and set up about four or five committeesto apprehend
and recommend punishment to students who had taken part. The
photographers were there, and that made the students easy to
identify for the work of the committee, for which I was
chairman of one of them. This episode had created quite a bit
of upstir in the state. Parents came here, wanted to appear be-
fore the committee to see if they could get their sons freed
from the charges. The penalty meted out was not very severe.
Maybe two or three of the leaders may have received suspension
or so, but in the main I think it blew over, but not without
excitement on the campus.
J: Times change.
J: Of course, when the campus went co-educational after the war,
this may have had something to do with it.
M: That's right.
J: A great influx of girls. Before then we students had to go to
Tallahassee for some feminine companionship.
M: There've been outbreaks like that before the panty raid era. I
can remember one time long ago during Dr. Murphree's tenure,
there were about forty-nine of the sophomores decided they
were going to shave the heads of freshmen, and they did--
forty-nine of them. Dr. Murphree called the forty-nine in and
suspended them for doing that. And these men who had their heads
shaven formed a club called the Forty-nine Club. A few years
ago they had a reunion here at the university at one of the
alumni affairs. Anyone who was in the Forty-nine Club was
urged to come back, and many of them did.
J: No hazing generally was allowed then in those days, I guess,
except in the various fraternities.
M: Oh, there was plenty. There was plenty of hazing among
fraternities and other organizations. I was glad to see the
hazing custom die out. It's frowned upon now by the more
sophisticated fraternities, it seems to me. Some of them
may have some vestiges of it still, but in those days it was
quite a violent pastime, taking men out and leaving them fifty
miles away from home with scant clothing on or tied up in some
forsaken house. It was pretty serious. Leaving them tied
in the woods and not letting them know where they were.
J: There seemed to be more class consciousness in those days than
it is now. Now all students today don't pay much attention to
their class affiliation, because I guess the quarter system
comes and goes so quickly.
M: And there was consciousness between the colleges too. Especially
the law college and the agriculture college didn't get along.
J: I can understand that, yes, generally.
M: I don't know whether you want me to tell this or not, but it
seems as if the lawyers had gone into a section where there were
a lot of agriculture students and put their beds on top of
Buckman Hall. Well, that activity was designed to embarrass
the agriculture students. So they did, in order to get even, went
down to the cow barn, which was right here on the campus, and
got a cow and put that cow in the dean's office and gave it a
certain medication and left it there for the night and went
J: I should have asked Dr. Becker about this. He could have told
me about this.
M: So when they came back the next morning there was a janitorial
job that needed to be done. To soften that kind of rivalry
between the colleges we became more civilized and instituted
contests of games between the colleges. For instance, the
teacher's college would play the agriculture college and that
kind of thing, and other athletic matches.
There was a lot of school spirit in those days. We used
to have a large campus bonfire before each football game. I
don't know where we got all the wood to have these bonfires,
but we tore down fences and did a lot of questionable things
to get wood for the bonfire, which usually took place between
Buckman and Thomas Halls out there.
J: Well, I know those days are long gone. I imagine most college
campuses were like that. I doubt if you'd find very many that
still preserve the spirited atmosphere nowadays except
maybe the very small colleges around the country. I take it,
going by what we've said, that you enjoyed your tenure here
at the university. I think it was a career you have to be
M: I don't regret a-minute of it. Forty-five years in serving this
university, it was good to me. I have certainly been happy with
my tenure here and with the administration for the positions
I've held. It's been pleasant the whole way through.
J: I think just the friends you make are probably the most rewarding
aspect of it over the years.
M: That's right.
J: What are your plans now? Still doing some writing and so forth?
M: No, I have not been so active.
J: Involved, I guess, in a lot of state-wide things?
M: At the present time Dr. Bertha Bloodworth and I are bringing
out a book on the place names of Florida. The University Press
has accepted it. We hope it may come out as a centennial edition,
because I think it's appropriate. Now that's another, shall I
say, adjunct of my folklore interest. I have been many, many
years collecting Florida place names and Dr. Bloodworth took
that collectanea I had assembled and wrote her dissertation
from it. And so she and I then have taken her dissertation
in more recent years and revised it for a book.
J: There's a M.A. thesis at P.K. Yonge [Library]. This is not
the same thing is it, of place names?
J: It's a very cursory treatment. What is your theory on Orlando?
I've always thought it was Orlando Reeves, but do you have
any other ideas?
M: I really don't know. I wish I did. There are so many of those,
J: Oh yes.
M: I could check, if I had my file here I could check.
J: Some of them are really obvious, of course. Others you wonder
M: That's right. But I don't, from now on I don't believe my
interests will be scholarly, though I still like to keep up
with what's happening in my field. Too, I'm co-author of two
college texts which I am now revising. But my last publication
I suppose will be that because I've got another interest at
the present time and I'll pursue that until...I just love
J: Yes, yes. Being your own boss pretty much.
M: Being the boss of my time and not having to meet classes and
being responsible for what department members do and that kind
J: Have a chance to travel any?
M: Well, my wife and I have been to Europe three times. And I'm
not sure whether we'll go again or not. We'd like to. We
J: I think we've covered a lot of ground here today. You've been
M: Whatever there is of value, you may take the wheat and let the
chaff be in the interview.
J: All right, I think it's mainly wheat we have here.