Interview with Dr. Thomas R. Sprenger (August 15, 2000)

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Interview with Dr. Thomas R. Sprenger (August 15, 2000)
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Spatial Coverage:
Manatee County (Fla.) -- History.


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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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program, Department of History, University of Florida
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This interview is part of the 'Manatee County' 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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Samuel Proctor Oral History Program


Interviewee: Dr. Thomas Sprenger
Interviewer: Ben Houston
Date of Interview: August 15, 2000


Dr. Thomas Sprenger, former chairman of the Manatee County school board, details how he settled
in Bradenton and ran for election to the school board on page 1. He contextualizes those events by
relating how the board had previously dealt with the busing issue amid the politicized atmosphere
in county politics at that time (page 2), especially given the burgeoning Republican presence in
Manatee County. Dr. Sprenger recalls the response he got when he went to register as a Republican
(page 3). He also gives his opinions of various actors in the Manatee County schools, including
former superintendent J. Hartley Blackburn and other board members (page 3), and newly-hired
superintendent Jack Davidson and school board attorney Kenneth W. Cleary (page 4-5); see also
page 14 regarding assistant superintendents Philip Doyle and Bill Bashaw.

Dr. Sprenger comments on the general racial climate in Manatee County in the 1970s on pages 5-6,
as well as noting that his daughter was directly affected by the busing order handed down by the
federal court in 1970. He talks about his impressions of some vocal segregationists in the county
on pages 6-7. Pages 7-9 deal with background leading up to the forced busing crisis of 1970,
including the zoning plan rejected by the board in 1968, the teacher walkouts in Florida in that same
year, and the various citizen committees which formed to protest busing. On page 10, Dr. Sprenger
talks about Jerome Pratt, Manatee County state representative and attorney for these afore-mentioned
citizen committees, particularly commenting on Palmetto as a basis for the committee's support as
a more racially sensitive area of Manatee County.

Pages 10-11 contain Dr. Sprenger's feelings about Governor Kirk, whom he supported and even
campaigned with in 1966. Page 12 treats Kirk's early coordination with the school board regarding
the busing situation, and page 13 begins the week of Kirk's intervention, starting with April 5, 1970.
Dr. Sprenger shares some opinions of Kirk's involvement on page 14. The week's events are
covered in pages 15-18, including the involvement of various Florida political figures (pages 15-16),
Dr. Sprenger's resignation from the board, which was never accepted (page 16), the extensive press
coverage that the situation garnered internationally (page 17), and the six-hour hearing in Tampa
before Judge Krentzmen (pages 17-18).

Dr. Sprenger concludes his interview with some comments on Kirk's handling of the affair (page
18; 21), his opinion of Judge Krentzmen (page 19), the perception that the school board was resisting
integration rather than busing (page 21), the affect that the busing issue had on race relations on
Manatee County (page 23), and the significance of this situation to American history (page 23).
Interestingly, Dr. Sprenger talks about his feeling "betrayed" by Kirk's withdrawal (page 18) and his
decision to send his daughter to a private school for a year (page 19-20). A further reason for Dr.
Sprenger's disenchantment with Kirk was the former's revelation of Kirk's essential liberal-leaning
tendencies, which implicitly break Kirk from the mold of such segregationist governors such as
Faubus, Wallace, and Barnett (page 22). Other possibilities for interviews and archival research
round out the end of the interview (page 24-25).

Interviewer is Benjamin Houston
Interviewee is Dr. Thomas R. Sprenger

H: It is August 15, 2000, and I am in the home of Dr. Thomas Sprenger. Dr.
Sprenger, thanks for meeting with me today.

S: My pleasure.

H: You were telling me earlier you are not actually a native Floridian.

S: No, I am not.

H: How did you find yourself down in Manatee County?

S: I finished my last year of training, which was the only non-university training I
took in my specialty, which was at Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida, I
decided to look around and decide if we want to stay in Florida. We were
thinking about going to North Carolina at the time. I was in the National Guard,
and I knew a man who was in the grocery business down here. He said, you
ought to come down to Bradenton and look around, so I did. I looked at Ocala
and interviewed with a group in Orlando and elected to come to Bradenton. I was
the first orthopaedic surgeon here.

H: How, after establishing your medical career, did you find yourself interested in
joining the school board?

S: I just felt that education had gotten me where I was, and I thought that I might be
able to make some contribution and to [have] some people on the school board
with some educational background. [In] the previous race for the school board
two years before, two fellows got into [a fight] on the courthouse lawn I thought
[Manatee County] could do better than that.

H: So you were first elected when to the school board?

S: I just ran the one time in 1966.

H: Could you go into a little background about the situation of the Manatee County
schools in the 1950s and the 1960s, as you were aware of it?

S: I did not get here until 1961, so I cannot tell you anything about the 1950s. They
had a long-time superintendent here. The superintendent was an elected job at
the time. The schools were considered good in Manatee County, as far as we
knew at the time we came here.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 2

H: How had Manatee County dealt with both desegregation and the bussing issue
prior to when you came here in the 1960s? Obviously, it came to fruition in the
1970s, but it had a history of being an issue.

S: Well, yes, I think there was some reluctance in both the white and the black
communities to the integration at the time because I think most people liked the
idea of neighborhood schools, having their children being able to go to school in
the neighborhoods where they lived. I know that became very evident to us with
our domestic help, a black lady. In fact, we still have her. She raised eight or nine
children. She said that she did not want to have to run around to a whole [lot] of
different schools for PTA meetings and things like that. I would say not
everybody was happy in having all this moving [students] around.

H: What was your actual position and duties as a school board member? What did
that entail?

S: When I went on the school board, I was elected chairman at the first meeting. As
a thirty-five-year-old guy, suddenly I was the chairman of the school board. The
Republicans had never controlled the school board in Manatee County. There
was a prevailing issue, basically, that put us on the school board at that time.
That issue was the fact that the-then superintendent of schools, Mr. J. Hartley
Blackburn (whose name I am sure is familiar to you from these interviews) had
told a previous school board to close [a] school, and they voted to close it. The
people out in Myakka City, which is far in the eastern part of this county [and] it is
very rural, were very unhappy about having their kids bussed forty-five minutes
to nearly an hour into Bradenton to attend school. That was an issue that I think
was significant in getting all three of us Republicans elected. I received 72
percent of the vote, Mrs. [Betty] Rushmore 60, and William Lacey about 55

H: Would it be fair to say that the climate was fairly politicized around the time of
your election?

S: It was politicized as far as the fact they were very unhappy with the
superintendent. Therefore they had made the decision to change out three [of
the five] Democrats who were on the board. When I got ready to run, I did not
know this was how it would all happen, but that is the way it did.

H: It was somewhat unusual for Republicans to be elected in Manatee County at
that time, was it not?

S: In 1962, when my wife and I went to register-we got here in 1961 and in 1962,
we decided to register to vote-we went down one Saturday to Cortez Plaza
Shopping Center where they had a registration area set up. I said we would like
to register Republican, and the lady said, you cannot. I said, what? She said no,

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 3

you cannot register Republican. I said, I do not understand that, why can I not
register Republican. She said, you will not have any vote. I said, what do you
mean? She said, everything is decided in the primary. I said, I think we will just
register Republican anyway, so we did.

H: Discuss your feelings and impressions regarding, for starters, J. Hartley
Blackburn. Obviously, his actions galvanized you to run, but when you were
interacting with him as a school board member, what was your take on him?

S: Mr. Blackburn was a very smart man. He was a very astute politician. He had
been elected to the job, and he had been in the office maybe twenty-four years
or something like that. He was very strong in state education. He and Floyd
Christian [former Florida Commissioner of Education] from Pinellas County and
Crockett Farnell from Lake City, they basically controlled education in the state of
Florida. They were the ones who really understood [school financing]. I do not
know [if] they developed what was called the minimum foundation program for
how school funds were to be filtered down from the state to the counties through
the formulas. They were so complex, I am not sure I ever really understood it. I
knew he was not happy to have us come on the school board. It was pretty
obvious. But I think I had a satisfactory working relationship with him.

H: How about the other school board members?

S: [Of] the other two Democrats, one was Jack Marshall who was a realtor on Anna
Maria Island. He did not take kindly to Republicans on the school board, but I
think he tolerated us pretty well. The other one was Raymond Turner who owned
a dress shop here in town and was in the Rotary Club. I was in Rotary Club with
him. Basically, I think they realized that times were changing and accepted us.

H: How about Mrs. Rushmore and Mr. Lacey?

S: At times, I thought Mr. Lacey made some rash statements in the meetings and
did things that I thought [could have been done] better from a professional
standpoint, but they basically got along with him all right.

H: And Betty Rushmore?

S: She was a former school teacher from northeastern Kentucky. In fact, [she and
her husband attended] to the same church that we [did]. They got along with her
all right.

H: I understand that about that time, the school board decided to switch to a board-
appointed superintendent?

S: Right. That did not actually come about until 1967. We were well into our first

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 4

year, and there had been a lot of talk [in the community] to get politics out of the
board and have the superintendent appointed. Hillsborough County had already
done that. We lived in Tampa our first year in Florida, in 1960 to 1961, and it
sounded like a good idea to me. I basically ran the campaign [in the county].
None of the rest of the school board members were really very active in that. I
am the one who pushed it, and won. It was not a smashing victory, but we
[received] maybe 55 percent of the vote for that.

H: Was that simultaneous with Mr. Blackburn's retirement?

S: I think he realized that he probably would not be reappointed.

H: With the Republican majority.

S: Right, with the Republican majority, so he elected to retire. As I recall, he met
with Mr. [Kenneth] Cleary, the school board attorney, first, and they figured out a
way that [Blackburn] could leave the school board and [have] a smooth
transition. We [made] him a consultant for a period of time after the new
superintendent was in.

H: That new superintendent was Dr. Jack Davidson.

S: Correct.

H: Your impressions of him?

S: He had [good] credentials. He had been a superintendent in southern Indiana,
and then he went to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. It looked like he was a bright young
guy. It looked like it would be a nice change for the county.

H: Did he fulfill those expectations?

S: I would say that I was not as happy with him as I [thought I would be]. At times,
he seemed like he wanted to be apolitical, but then he would be critical of
political things. I think he was accepted in the community very well. He socialized
in the community, played golf. I am not a golfer, so I do not know the golf course
and the clubhouse lingo and all that stuff that goes on. But I think he was very

H: Your impressions of Kenneth Cleary?

S: Ken Cleary, I was one of the spearheads to place him in that position. I thought
he did a good job. We took some criticism for appointing him to that job because
he had served as the counsel for the Manatee County Commission. In 1960, the
first year we were in Florida and we were still in Tampa, that was the first year

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 5

Republicans ever really controlled anything in Manatee County. They got the
control of the county commission at that time. Some people used to joke and say
he was the sixth commissioner. He was strong, I think, in advising us legally and
telling us things that we should do and really could do. I thought he was a good
leader for us in his job.

H: I understand that a lot of people seem to feel that Mr. Cleary perhaps, like the
commission, had a disproportionate influence on the school board. Could you
comment on that?

S: As I said a moment ago, I feel that he did give us strong advice [about] not doing
political things that might get [us] into legal problems. I cannot give you examples
right now, but his advice I would say was strong.

H: As the events in the 1960s began to develop towards the actual pinnacle in
1970, did you feel that the board was unified in their opposition to bussing?

S: I think so, yes.

H: Including the Democrats?

S: As I remember, yes.

H: So there was not any sort of dissension, however creative....?

S: No, I do not think there was a schism in the board over that issue.

H: Did you have any kids who were going to be affected by the bussing decision?

S: Yes, we did. Our daughter was in school. We lived in the south end of the
county. [During] my last year on the school board, we had [our new home] under
construction. If I would have been re-elected, I would have had to resign
because I [would be moving] out of the district. The way [our daughter was]
affected actually came about with the decision that Judge [Ben] Krentzmen
[federal judge in Tampa] made. That is primarily how she was affected by this.
Otherwise, she really was not affected.

H: How would you characterize the racial climate in Manatee County during the

S: I thought it was relatively calm. The NAACP [National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People] leadership here, they were active. You did not
fear being around in the county. In fact, I had to go to the hospital a lot at night
and things like that. I thought that it was satisfactory. You know, [in] the 1960s,
[there were] some very militant black people. I would occasionally see that in my

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 6

office and places like that. They complained about the waiting rooms and things
of that type, but I did not think it was really different than other places in the

H: Did you feel that on the whole the interaction between the races was fairly calm?

S: I thought it was. I guess practically every county in Florida was under court order.
The school boards were trying to comply with those court orders. I did not really
feel that there was any great unrest among the average blacks in Manatee
County. When I ran for the school board, I went to the black churches and
campaigned and said, I am where I am today because of getting an education. I
am here because I want to see everybody get an education. I did not really feel
that there was a problem.

H: Can you comment on some racial incidents which happened in the schools in the
late 1960s? I believe there was one at Southeast High and then two at Manatee

S: That is getting to be [quite] awhile ago to remember exactly. I can remember that
there were some issues, and Mr. Blackburn would bring that to us and explain
that to us [during] the board [meetings] or call us. Basically, I believe they had to
have the sheriff's department there on some of them, but it was because of kids
getting into things. You know, a little bit of reflection of the times.

H: But you do not remember the specific incidents?

S: I do not remember the specifics.

H: Does the name Jimmy Harrison mean anything to you?

S: Yes, I knew Jimmy Harrison.

H: And Maurice Fleming?

S: Maurice Fleming, I am sure I have met [him]. He was, as I recall, a prolific writer
to the newspaper. He wrote a lot of [letters to the editor]. Jimmy Harrison was a
staunch segregationist. Before I came here, LeRoy Collins was down here one
time while he was governor [1955-1961]. Jimmy Harrison took his boat out on
the Manatee River; I believe it was during our annual De Soto Festival. We used
to have a [DeSoto] landing [re-enactment] right down here at the national park
where De Soto came on shore, supposedly, on May 30, 1539. I guess [Harrison]
had a big sign on his boat, Impeach Collins. I knew him. His family had been

H: I understand that he and Maurice Fleming were involved in the Citizens' Councils

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 7

of Manatee County.

S: Yes, I think that is correct.

H: What sort of presence did they have in Manatee County?

S: I do not remember the Citizens' Council, but I know they were [a] strong
segregationist type [of organization].

H: Did you feel that they had a vocal presence? Did they have a majority in the

S: I do not think they had a majority in the county. At times, I think that a lot of
people in the county looked at them as being somewhat obnoxious. They had a
following. I mean, it was not a great following, but they had a following.

H: This is kind of a tangent, but I was wondering if you recalled how long Dr.
Davidson had been in Oak Ridge. The reason why I am asking that is because
Oak Ridge was actually the first place in Tennessee that desegregated its
schools in 1955.

S: I do not know, but I am going to guess maybe three to four years, probably no
longer than that.

H: That would have been before his time, then. I was wondering if you could talk
about in 1968 the zoning plan that the school board was deciding about?

S: You are talking about where they were going to place the kids in school?

H: Yes, sir. They wanted to replace the freedom-of-choice plan with the zoning plan,
and that was voted down.

S: You mean the school board voted it down?

H: Yes, sir. In 1968.

S: Yes, okay. I think the majority of people wanted freedom of choice, as I recall. I
do not remember a big ruckus in the black community that they wanted [busing].
I think maybe the NAACP leadership may have been pushing that. I do not
remember that. I cannot remember the black minister who used to be the head
of that.

H: Was his name Reverend Lazier?

S: Yes, that is it. Lazier. I think he probably pushed those things harder than most.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 8

H: What was the school board's thinking about these plans?

S: I think the school board basically believed in freedom of choice and
neighborhood schools, but if the court ordered us to do something different, then
we would have to do it.

H: My understanding is that in 1968, the school administration itself, as opposed to
the school board, was actually calling for the zoning plan and recommending the
zoning plan. I believe they felt it would help alleviate overcrowding in the

S: I do not remember that specifically.

H: I was wondering if you felt that there was any connection between the Florida
teacher strike and the resultant Manatee County situation?

S: I think we led the state in teacher walkouts. I think we had something like 85
percent. I interpreted that as Mr. Blackburn being unhappy with us new members
on the school board, and I think he had a hand in that. I do not know if that had
anything to do with integration and segregation.

H: I am sorry, he had a hand in what?

S: In encouraging the walkouts. If he had not, I do not think there would have been
that high [of] a percentage of walkouts. We had one principal who walked out. I
do not remember if there were others, but I remember him because I had taken
care of his family, his children, and he went to the same church we did. We had
to call him in for a little conference with the school board and explain to him the
difference between officers and enlisted [men], you know, in the military. I mean,
you are part of the administration when you are a principal. You have to support
the teachers, but you are the leadership. Basically, we explained to him what
exactly was the right behavior to take in this situation.

H: It sounds like there was a lot of contentiousness, all sorts of events...

S: There were a lot of things going on at that time, and I used to joke that I sure
wish we had some time in the school board meetings to talk about education.
We had to buy the books, we had to approve the hamburger [meat and other
food items]. Then, we had to [study] all these plans and so on. We had to build
new schools, but we did not really ever have very much time to talk about
anything nice and innovative in the educational process.

H: My understanding is, and I was hoping you could clarify this, subsequent to the
1968 zoning plan that I asked you about earlier, apparently the Supreme Court
handed down the decision which barred all freedom of choice plans that the

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 9

school board was currently acting under. My understanding is that the board
decided to ignore that Supreme Court decision.

S: I do not remember that. Maybe we did, but I do not remember that we did that.

H: If it jogs your memory, I understand that Kenneth Cleary said that the schools
had been making enough progress towards integration that he did not feel the
Supreme Court decision would be applied to them.

S: That sounds like the way he would have operated. I am sure that if he had felt
that we had [not] made enough progress, he would have said so and [then] we
would have voted for those plans.

H: When you say the way that he operated, can you elaborate on that?

S: As I said earlier, he gave pretty strong advice. He was not wishy-washy about his
opinion on things. If he gave advice, I was comfortable enough that it had sound
legal foundations.

H: I was wondering if there was any coordination between the school board and the
various freedom of choice organizations, the citizens' groups that sprung up to
combat bussing?

S: I do not remember that specifically, no.

H: I think one of them was Freedom of Choice. Another one was Save Our
Neighborhood Schools, SONS.

S: That may be. I do not remember much of that.

H: Can you comment on how effective those groups were as you got closer to the
1970 situation?

S: [The community] ignored what the courts recommended. Mr. Cleary said we
needed to [comply with] the court orders.

H: Does the name Fred Baity [head of anti-busing citizens' group] mean anything to

S: No, and I saw that name when I read through Mr. Cleary['s interview]. For the life
of me, I cannot place [him].

H: How about Mr. Jerome Pratt?

S: Yes, I knew Mr. Jerome Pratt.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 10

H: And your impressions of him?

S: Jerome was a politician, and he was an attorney here. He was in the legislature.
He had ambitions. I know that he definitely wanted to be elected to the U. S.
Congress, but it never worked out for him to do that, to get to that point in his
political career. He was from the Palmetto area. We used to joke here in
Manatee County that if you want to consider the Mason Dixon line, that is the
Manatee River, but [here] north is south and the south is north. On the north side
of the river, there was much more of a push for segregation than on the south
side of the river. Probably the reason for that, there was a much higher
percentage of a black population on the north side of the river.

H: Did you have any interaction with the Florida School Desegregation Consulting
Center, based at the University of Miami?

S: Is that something that the school board hired, that we had to come up here and
do a study or something? That is ringing a little bit of a bell, but I need more to
jog my memory.

H: I do not know whether they were hired or whether they were imposed upon, but
they were a think tank that was charged with creating...I believe they created the
Plan A, Plan B, Plan C options for the bussing situation.

S: Okay, that sounds logical. I mean, specifically to remember them though....No.

H: As I understand the legal situation revolving around bussing, the Caroline
Harvest lawsuit, as it got closer to 1970, Governor [Claude] Kirk [of Florida 1967-
1971] filed a request for intervention with the court. This would have been very
early in 1970, I think. I was wondering how much he coordinated with the board
before he did that?

S: I do not remember any coordinating with the board. He may have, but I do not
remember it. Cleary would probably remember that better. I was busy practicing
medicine, too, at the time.

H: When did your term as chairman end?

S: My term as chairman ended after my first two years. Usually, they elect the
chairman for two years, so I was chairman from January of 1967 to January of

H: Okay, and Mrs. Rushmore replaced you?

S: Mrs. Rushmore then became chairman, yes. She wanted to be chairman, so we
elected her as chairman.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 11

H: So you do not recall any interaction with Governor Kirk before the bussing
situation came to a head?

S: Do you mean as far as the schools were concerned?

H: Anything.

S: He and I ran at the same time, in 1966. When he visited Manatee County, I
drove him around Manatee County. I had an old Cadillac convertible. We put the
top down, and we drove around the trailer parks, [now] called mobile home
parks. He was a flamboyant guy. Bo Callaway [former secretary of the Army]
was running for [governor] in Georgia, and I guess he knew Bo. He [knew] what
Bo was doing, and he would talk about that. But once he was elected governor, I
think the next time I saw him was when he showed up [to visit the Florida Army
National Guard] at Camp Blanding. [I was] with the National Guard. The adjutant
general, knowing how flamboyant [Kirk] was, had [for Kirk] a camouflage cap
fixed up that said CINC, Commander-in-Chief, because he was a [reserve]
Marine Corps major. Then [Kirk] also picked a black aide [at] the time that [H.]
Rap Brown [Black Power militant leader] came to Jacksonville. I happened to be
at Camp Blanding at that time when we were mobilizing troops to go up there.
We did not know what was going to happen to the city of Jacksonville. In fact,
the first black officer [in] the Florida Army National Guard was from Bradenton, I
knew him before he was selected to go to Officer Candidate School. He was a
second lieutenant, I think, at that time. Azel Johnson is his name. He is retired.
[He] worked] in housing here for the city of Bradenton. We had to go get him out
of Burger King and say, hey, the governor wants you. He was going in directly to
Jacksonville and meet with [H.] Rap Brown. [Azel said,] boy, I was scared.

H: Would it be safe to say you considered yourself a Claude Kirk supporter?

S: Oh, I was a Claude Kirk supporter when he ran, yes.

H: Did you feel that the burgeoning population of Republicans in Manatee County
influenced Kirk's decision to intervene here?

S: I do not know what exactly caused him to do that. Sarasota County, of course,
was, to my knowledge, the first county in the state of Florida where the
Republicans outnumbered the Democrats.

H: Certainly, the Republican population was increasing in Bradenton.

S: It was emerging. As people were moving in from the Midwest, I guess there were
more Republicans moving down here than Democrats, and you saw more
Republicans elected. We were part of that story, yes.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 12

H: My understanding is that Claude Kirk met with the school board on February 10
before the bussing crisis to talk over strategy about how they were going to deal
with the court case.

S: What day of the week was that?

H: Before the actual situation when he first ordered the suspension was in April.

S: You are talking about when he met with us. Yes, I think he did come down and
meet with the school board one time. I had forgotten about that, but yes. I do not
remember much about that meeting. I guess I really never expected him to do
what he did.

H: Were you aware that Dr. Davidson had written a letter to both President
[Richard] Nixon [1969-1974] and Vice President [Spiro T.] Agnew requesting
their intervention in Manatee?

S: I probably was aware of it at the time. I probably shrugged it off, thinking that at
that level they were not going to worry about this little county down here.

H: Were you aware of any sort of coordination between Governor Kirk and
President Nixon in regards to the Manatee situation?

S: No.

H: I also understand that the school board or some portion of the school board went
to Tallahassee to meet with Governor Kirk right before the week of the crisis.

S: Correct, yes.

H: Were you a member...?

S: No, I was not. I was busy working, so I did not do that. I was not chairman at that
time anyway.

H: Who went, do you recall?

S: I think Mrs. Rushmore went as chairman. I guess probably Bill Lacey went. I do
not know.

H: Okay. And Dr. Davidson, would he have gone?

S: I am sure he would have gone, yes, as far as I know. I mean, that was a long
time ago.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 13

H: Do you remember anything of what transpired when they brought it back?

S: Not specifically.

H: So, we are up to Sunday, April 5. This was when there was a meeting with the
board when Governor Kirk and Lieutenant Governor Raymond C. Osborne
issued the proclamation suspending the board. Do you remember that?

S: Yes, that was that Sunday evening. I remember that. I guess I was a little
surprised by all of this. I was a little bit concerned, I would say, because just to
be taken out of office, really, it was not a felony or anything but I was a military
officer. I did not know how that would reflect on me. I thought I had a pretty good
professional reputation, and so having to be removed, I was kind of taken aback
by it all.

H: You were not expecting the suspension?

S: I really was not. We knew it was going to happen right before it happened, right
before the meeting. Maybe we knew the day before. I do not remember exactly,
but I was a little surprised by it.

H: Who else was at that meeting, do you recall?

S: As far as I know, the entire board was there.

H: Any other governor's aides? I can drop some names if it might help.

S: You mentioned Osborne. I guess he was there.

H: Robert Dooley Hoffman?

S: I do not know that person.

H: Lloyd Hagaman?

S: Lloyd Hagaman. That name is familiar, but I do not know what he was or

H: Bill Maloy?

S: No.

H: Robert Warner.

S: No.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 14

H: Did you feel that the suspension, Kirk's order, was legal?

S: I assumed that it was because he was the governor. I assumed that he had legal
advice saying it was legal, so, yes, I assumed it was.

H: Did you feel that it would help the situation in Manatee County? Were you for it
or against it, once you got over your initial surprise?

S: I do not know that I was really for it, but I was not 100 percent against. I realized
it was a political situation. This whole thing was steeped in politics, the whole
issue. I understood that. Basically yes, as you know, I came out later and
supported the decision because he was opposed to "forced cross-bussing,"
which was my position also.

H: What had to be done as a result of this order, with regards to specific day-to-day
administration necessities in the schools?

S: He dismissed the board and the superintendent, and he came down and sat in
the superintendent's office. We did not really anticipate that the governor would
stay there long, but he had taken over the school system. He was the guy giving
the orders.

H: I know this would have been more under the auspices of the administration, but
do you recall what had to happen once that order was put into effect?

S: I do not remember that, no.

H: While we are speaking of the administration, could you share your impressions
of Colonel Philip Doyle [assistant superintendent, Manatee County schools]?

S: I thought Phil Doyle was very fair guy. He retired early as a lieutenant colonel,
had seen war service. He was very loyal to Mr. Blackburn. I think he was a loyal
employee. He worked hard for the school system. He was getting a little bit,
maybe, old for the rigors of the job because those were tense, hard days for
those people. [Tape interrupted.]

H: You were speaking on Colonel Doyle.

S: Right. I had a very satisfactory [relationship] with him and with his wife, who was
a nice lady. I feel Doyle was a first-class citizen.

H: How about Bill Bashaw [the other assistant superintendent, and later

S: I did not know Bill as well at that particular time. He also attended the same

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 15

church we did. I do not remember whether he was in [the] finance [department of
Manatee County schools] at that time. I guess he had gotten back from the
University of Florida, gotten his doctorate at that time. I do not know whether he
was a teacher, but he left and went back to [University of Florida], and then he
came back. Bill is a very quiet man. I do not know whether you [have]
interviewed [him] yet or not, but he is a very quiet guy, at least he always was
around me. At that time, he was not a easy person to get to know.

H: On Monday, April 6, you have a new superintendent. Do you recall what you
were doing then?

S: I was working. I probably was in the office [in the morning] with surgery in the
afternoon or something like that.

H: The school board did not have any interaction with what was going on during the
week? Were they just being apprised of events?

S: Yes, right. I think somebody kept us apprised of events because we were no
longer school officers.

H: But clearly you were kept up to date with the situation as it transpired.

S: Sure, but exactly what happened each day and all that, I do not recall that.

H: My understanding is that immediately after the initial suspension order was given
by Governor Kirk, Kenneth Cleary immediately started setting about trying to
marshal support in the legislature for restraining the governor.

S: Yes.

H: Were you involved in those attempts?

S: No. He handled all of that.

H: I understand that the school board at that point went to Tallahassee.

S: Some of them did. I did not.

H: Do you recall if you had any sort of political allies who were supporting the school
board and Kenneth Cleary?

S: I do not remember that. I was not really involved in that sort of thing.

H: What about Wilbur Boyd? What was his position?

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 16

S: Wilbur Boyd was a state senator and long-time Manatee County resident, a good
friend of Lawton Chiles [U. S. senator, 1971-1989; Florida governor 1991-1999].
Being a senator, he would be the one that Cleary would work with. [Tom Gallen],
I guess, was up there at that same time, too.

H: How about Congressman William Cramer?

S: I really was not aware [of] Bill Cramer's involvement. I just did not recall it until I
read the [interview] from Mr. Cleary there. I just do not remember Bill Cramer
being involved in that.

H: Was there any interaction with Floyd Christian at the time?

S: Could have been in Tallahassee with the people who went up there but not with

H: Do you recall who went up there with Mr. Cleary?

S: Not specifically, no.

H: There was a news report that you submitted a resignation that week.

S: Right, I submitted a resignation that week in support of the governor from the
standpoint that he was against "[forced] crossed bussing." I did not know what
was going on, so I talked to a few people I knew, and they said if you support
him, that would show signs that you are supporting his position. I said, well, what
difference is it, I am already removed anyway. So, I just did it.

H: And what happened? That did not last long, did it?

S: It did not amount to anything.

H: After the week was over, was that resignation ignored?

S: You mean when Kirk reseated the board?

H: When Kirk left.

S: No, that resignation apparently was never accepted. Anyway, it did not amount
to anything. After the trial in Tampa, I do not remember how many days later it
was, we were reappointed. It was all over.

H: My understanding is that during the course of the week, there was a second
suspension. In other words, on Sunday, he laid down the original suspension,
and then later, the board was reinstated, and then Kirk re-suspended them

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 17

midway through the week.

S: I do not remember how we got reinstated, whether it had something to do with
the state Senate or Floyd Christian or what. Then Kirk came in, I guess, from
another legal avenue and did the whole thing over again. By that point, we were
kind of like a political football being kicked around.

H: So you were fairly remote from the actual events that were going on?

S: Yes, I was because I was not the chairman anymore, and I had my civilian job
[medical practice], so to speak.

H: Were you aware of the so-called standoff with the U. S. marshals?

S: Oh yes, that was quite a thing for Manatee County. I mean, the marshals
apparently came in and kicked the door [of the Superintendent's office] down
and served Kirk, I guess, a subpoena. I do not remember whether they bodily
removed him or not.

H: No.

S: At any rate, not only were we making local news, we were making state news
and we were making national news, and somebody told me we even made the
London papers. I had friends in Indianapolis who knew me, and my name
appeared on the front page of the Indianapolis Star. They wondered what the
hell is going on in Manatee County down there? What are you doing down there?
So, yes, we were aware that we were big time political news.

H: But you were not there at the administration building when that was happening?

S: No, I did not see the event.

H: I bet you wish you had.

S: I wish I had a videotape of it.

H: The Thursday of that week, there was a hearing in Tampa before Judge
Krentzmen, a long six-hour hearing. Did you attend that?

S: Yes, I did. I testified.

H: What were you impressions of that hearing?

S: I guess we were all a little surprised when ex-Supreme Court Justice [and former
governor of Florida] Millard Caldwell showed up as Claude Kirk's counsel. That

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 18

gave some credence because this guy, let us face it, he was [a] highly respected
individual. Therefore, he kind of made it look like that maybe there might be
some reason legally where he could stand on this issue. I did not think
Krentzmen [conducted] himself very well up there. I was not impressed with him.
I had been in [medical] practice nine years at that time. I [had] testified in quite a
number of civil cases, injury cases and things like that. He asked one witness a
question. I have no idea what the question was, but it brought the house down.
The witness did not give the answer that Krentzmen [expected], and Krentzmen
said, well, this goes back to law school, you never ask a witness a question if you
do not know what the answer is.

H: Would that be the point where they were asking Mrs. Rushmore about the
schools being desegregated, and she replied, we already were desegregated?

S: It could have been, but I do not remember specifically whether it was or not.

H: Do you remember giving Kenneth Cleary some medication?

S: I do not remember that specifically. I read that in his transcript, that he had
something that I told him to take. As an orthopaedic surgeon, I never carried pills
around. I really do not remember. I just cannot believe I really did that.

H: Why do you think that Kirk ended up withdrawing from the Manatee County

S: You mean why he withdrew from the issue after the court and all that?

H: After that week, why he left.

S: For me, it was a letdown because at that time I thought he was sincere. I thought
that he was really trying to do something to get this issue resolved, this "forced
cross bussing." He was never, as far as I know, a segregationist, and I was not
either, but I thought this "forced cross bussing" was bad. I was disappointed. I
guess it was just a way to make political mileage.

H: So did you feel betrayed by that?

S: Yes, I did.

H: And was that the common sentiment?

S: You know [that was] thirty years ago. I do not know [about the others], but I was
disappointed, yes.

H: Were you aware of any interaction between Governor Kirk and the Justice

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 19

Department and President Nixon?

S: No, I was not. I did not know that we were working at that level.

H: What happened with the school board in the year after Kirk left? How did you
feel that the transition to bussing went?

S: Well, see, I went out of office the same time he did.

H: When Kirk left?

S: Yes. See, he was not re-elected.

H: No, I mean when he left Manatee County.

S: Well, I thought Krentzmen did a stupid thing. I really thought it was. I feel that
having judicial robes on does not necessarily make you smart. Mr. Cleary is a
little bit wrong on the amount of time that was involved that year because our
daughter was involved in that. She was forced to go to another school. There
was nine weeks left in the school [year] when that order came down, and we had
to do it and do it right now. The length of [the] school [term] is thirty-six weeks, so
we had half a semester. Most anybody who has been around education knows it
takes a couple of weeks to get settled in and this sort of thing. They might as well
have just dismissed school for the last nine weeks for what it cost us to go
through all that. We accomplished nothing. I thought that Krentzmen was
vindictive, and I did not think he was prudent. I think he was punitive. I was not
impressed with him.

H: What about the arguments that Krentzmen made that the Manatee County
system had been resisting integration ever since the Brown decision before that
and thus his ruling on busing was past due?

S: That was his opinion. We did not feel that way. As you mentioned one time, we
felt that we had done enough with the neighborhood schools, freedom of choice
and that sort of thing. He had his opinions, and we obviously had ours.

H: Go on beyond 1970, then. How did the schools go in that last year of your term?

S: The last nine weeks of school, as I recall-I remember more from the standpoint
of our daughter who was in [fourth] grade, I guess, at the time-it was just
ridiculous. Private schools were springing up. My wife and I would have kept our
daughter in the county school system, but we did not know what was going to
happen and I was going to go off the board anyway. So, we elected to use one
of the private schools.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 20

H: May I ask which one?

S: St. Stephens. She went there until she finished junior high school and then went
back to the public schools.

H: How about the subsequent year after that nine-week period? How was the
situation with the schools then?

S: I guess we were whipped dogs. I mean, not only did we have to do what he said,
we had to do it right then. I do not remember that we accomplished anything,
other than just [going] through the ordinary motions of being a school board and
approving the teachers and stuff like that. I do not think we did anything. I do not
remember anything we did.

H: Why did you end up leaving after that term?

S: Because we lived in the south end of the county, and this house [where the
interview is occurring] was under construction. If I had been re-elected in
November of 1970, when we moved in here in February of 1971, I would have
had to resign. I could not do that to the people of the county.

H: Why did Jack Davidson leave?

S: I think that Manatee County was too small potatoes for him. I think he wanted to
go up another rung or so on the ladder. I think he thought maybe we were
probably a little backward in Manatee County, so he went to Austin, Texas.

H: Do you know if he is still alive?

S: I do not. I was wondering about that the other day because his wife was a lovely
lady, and they had some nice children. I think they had a couple [of children], but
I am not sure. We maintained a little bit of contact with them after they left,
maybe for a year or two or three at the most, you know, at Christmastime and
stuff like that. Then he accused, was it Nixon or somebody? This was after he
left here, [he accused President Nixon of speaking with forked tongue. That was
in the press and was picked up locally]. I just felt that he probably asserted
himself sometimes a little too much in the wrong way maybe, I do not know, but I
was just not as happy with him. [At first] I was really an enthusiastic about [him]
being here, about seeing the first appointed superintendent to come in, a guy
that was really going to come down here and put some zip in the system and all
this sort of thing. It was disappointing.

H: Did he leave on good terms with the board?

S: It seems as though he left after I went off the board. Do you remember the day

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 21

he left?

H: No, but it was not much longer after 1970.

S: See, I went off in January of 1971. I imagine he left after I went off the board. I
do not remember being part of the selection of [Bill] Bashaw [as superintendent].

H: I would like to move now to some of the more contextual questions revolving
around the situation. Some people have suggested this whole situation was in
large part an ego contest between Judge Krentzmen and Governor Kirk. Do you
agree with that?

S: It could well have been. Kirk had a big ego. There is no question about that. I did
not know Krentzmen well enough to know whether he did or not or whether he
was just stressed out with this whole thing, you know, of all the pressures and
stuff that was going on. That would be hard to say, whether Krentzmen had an
ego. [I only saw him] one time, that day I testified, the show cause hearing. It
was a show cause of why he should not be held in contempt of court, he being
Governor Kirk.

H: I imagine Judge Krentzmen was pretty unpopular around these parts.

S: Terribly. I am sure he could not have been elected for mosquito control.

H: How did you feel about Kirk's handling of the situation overall?

S: I did not think it was handled well. I thought if Kirk really wanted to be a martyr, to
go down as a legend, he would have gone to jail. I mean, where are you coming
from on that? We thought this was an issue that was important to you, and here
you turn around and just withdraw after Krentzmen does it because of a $10,000
a day fine and jail sentence. There was enough people [to raise money for
payment of a fine]. He could have stayed in jail for two or three days, and he
would not have had trouble raising $10,000 per day. He might have become a
legend, I do not know, but I guess he just decided he had gotten all the mileage
out of this he could get. I felt abandoned, yes.

H: A lot of people have raised questions about the whole public relations revolving
around this whole week and that the board and Kirk were portrayed as being not
anti-forced bussing but instead anti-integration. Can you comment on that?

S: I think the press played it that way, that we were against integration of schools
and so on, and it was not true. We had tried to go along. We knew that was the
law of the land, and we were trying to go along with it. As I said earlier, the
University of South Florida still says that he was against integration [Dr. Sprenger
refers to hearing this claim this on the radio years after the Manatee busing

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 22

crisis]. I think that was a misinterpretation of the issue.

H: On the part of the school board, did you feel like you could have done things
differently to sort of counteract that impression?

S: In hindsight, maybe we could have. None of us had ever been through anything
like that before, being removed by the governor and so on. I guess, hey, maybe
we ought to go out and get a PR firm or something, but that kind of stuff did not
cross my mind.

H: How did you feel about the comparisons of Governor Kirk to Orval Faubus, Ross
Barnett, and George Wallace [segregationist demagogic governors of Arkansas,
Mississippi and Alabama respectively]?

S: I did not think that he was in their league. I did not think he was a segregationist.
I mean, I did not think that was exactly fair, but he did come through with that
type of support after the fact. So maybe, I do not know.

H: How do you feel the Manatee County situation affected Kirk politically in the next
election? Do you think it was a factor in his defeat?

S: No, I do not. I think I know what the factor of his defeat was, but I do not think
that was it.

H: What do you think that is?

S: Claude Kirk turned out to be a fairly liberal type person. Particularly when they
went to the national convention, I guess in [1968], when [Nelson] Rockefeller
[former governor of New York] was running [for the Republican nomination for
President]. Yes, maybe it was in 1968 when I first became disenchanted with
Kirk because he was trying to get the vice presidential nomination with Nelson
Rockefeller [Nixon's opposition in the 1968 Republican presidential primary]. I
was not impressed with that. I mean, Rockefeller was not my kind of Republican.
I think he was fine for New York State but not for Florida. I guess I became
disenchanted with him at that time.

H: Did you still vote for him in 1972, do you recall?

S: I do not recall.

H: So you feel that his liberal leanings becoming apparent is what hurt him in 1972?

S: I think so. That, plus the fact that he was totally unpredictable. He was just off
the wall. It was just like this. This issue, he jumps on it and then drops it. I think
people just thought there was no substance to him.

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 23

H: How did you feel this situation affected race relations in Manatee County?

S: I do not recall whether there was any real problem. We just went ahead and did
what we had do because the courts said we had to do that. I do not recall race
relations deteriorating or anything.

H: Do you feel that there was any way that a Republican could be genuinely
committed to civil rights while still maintaining their principles of less government
interference? Are those two naturally irreconcilable?

S: They are difficult to reconcile. There should be a way to do that, but I guess that
was kind of just the way it was. [Not] being in political science enough to know,
[but] there should be. I did not think Nixon was a segregationist, stuff like that.

H: Is the most a Republican, in those days, could have been for civil rights is just to
not be a segregationist? Is there anyway they could have been....?

S: You mean be more pro-active? Is that what you are saying?

H: Sure.

S: Should they have taken more of a leadership role? I think they probably should
have taken more of a leadership role because traditionally, with going back to
[Abraham] Lincoln [U. S. president, 1861-1865] and blacks registered [as]
Republicans until Franklin Roosevelt [U. S. president, 1933-1945] brought all the
[minorities] together. He was a brilliant politician, you know? So there should
have been a way. Somebody should have figured out a way to handle that

H: What do you feel the significance of the Manatee County situation is to American

S: Other than we opposed the "forced cross bussing"...we were basically
supplicants of the court. I think Krentzmen handled it wrong, and Earl Warren
[former chief justice of the Supreme Court] handled it wrong. This is the way I
looked at it, and I have thought about it a lot. The Brown decision came down
when I was in medical school. My wife was at the University of Kentucky. We got
married, and she came up to Indianapolis [Indiana] when I was an intern. They
did not want her to teach school there because she had gone to [college] in
Lexington, and they did not think she could teach black children. That principal
really got to me. I mean, we just thought that was wrong. We had accepted all
this sort of thing. Now, the way they went about it was wrong. If the Warren court
had said okay, next year, kindergarten is integrated, and each year after that
kindergarten is integrated, and the next grade and the next. Twelve years later
as they entered the senior year of high school, the schools would have been

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 24

integrated. People would have accepted it, I think, in a much easier fashion. I do
not think we would have had all these kinds of problems. Then when Krentzmen
comes along and says, I am tired of this, I am stressed, or by golly, you are
going to have it my way or no way, and you got nine weeks of school left to go? I
mean, I do not think judicial robes makes people smart.

H: Are there any anecdotes or memories, or impressions of people that I have not
touched upon in this interview that you feel are important?

S: Not that I can recall right off-hand.

H: Who else do you think I should talk to in regards to this? Are there any other
members of the school board still alive?

S: I am trying to remember when Dr. Bob White came on the school board. I think
he was on the school board at that time. You probably should talk to Bob.

H: Ted Griffin?

S: Was he on the school board for a little while? Raymond Turner died, and there
was an appointee. I cannot remember Jack Marshall, whether or not he ran
against that next time or not.

H: Is Jack Marshall still alive?

S: Oh no, he has been dead a long time. Then there was another fellow who was
on the school board, [owned] Florida Outdoor Advertising, Bob Cox. He is
probably still around. He is older than I am. He is probably not quite as old as
Ken Cleary though.

H: And I am sorry, did you say Ted Griffin is still alive or not?

S: I do not know about that.

H: Anybody else?

S: Well, you said you were going to interview Bill Bashaw. He is a good one. Phil
Doyle is gone.

H: I have been trying to contact individuals from the African-American community to
talk about it. Would you have any recommendations in that regard?

S: Is Lazier still around?

H: I do not know. I have had trouble. I tried to contact the NAACP, and they do not

MCBC 9 Sprenger page 25

respond to any of my calls.

S: Okay. This would be good for them. I will think about it, and I will get back to you
if I can come up with anything.

H: In terms of the school records, are the school board records available from this

S: I suppose they are. I mean, I never went back through old school board records.
I have got a lot of old newspapers over here if you want to look through some.

H: I would like to see that. Can you give me any advice on what to look for if I look
through the school board records? Is there anything that would be not apparent
to someone not familiar with the school board that might be occurring under the
surface? Does that question make any sense?

S: Oh yes, it definitely makes sense. You know, you earlier brought up Jimmy
Harrison's name. He was a rabble-rouser. It seems like he had an uncle or
someone who wrote that letter to Krentzmen that you asked me earlier about.

H: Was that his uncle?

S: I do not know. I am just trying to think. I know a guy up there in that area of the
county who I was thinking that might not have been Harrison['s uncle]. I
went and talked with him one time. He was far to the right, and he probably could
have written that letter. I am sure he is long gone. He was not a young man at
the time.

H: So in terms of the school board records, anything I should be alert to in those

S: I do not think so.

H: Will they just speak for themselves?

S: I think so, yes.

H: If there is nothing else, I thank you for your time.

S: You are entirely welcome.

[End of Interview.]