University of Florida Homepage

Florida Voices: African American History In the Sunshine State To The Civil Rights Era, Volume 1 (2012)

Professor Paul Ortiz
(Director, Samuel Proctor Oral History Program University of Florida)

Marna Weston (AAHP Coordinator)

By Ryan Morini, Jessica Lancia, and Marna Weston

The guide has been loosely organized around three basic themes. The first, “Racial Discrimination and Violence: Jim Crow and its Legacy in Florida,” includes clips that discuss clear instances of racial discrimination in various parts of north Florida. Some of these episodes take place before the Civil Rights Movement; others exemplify unspoken or de facto discrimination after the demise of the “separate but equal” doctrine. Examples also range from stark and outright violence to mundane examples of pressure and neglect. Although it is the second section that focuses on the role of black high schools in community affairs, schools are a consistent theme in this section as well, as black high schools under segregation were particularly potent hubs of community activity and solidarity. Two of the clips offer white perspectives on the racism of Alachua County; it is important not to restrict AAHP interviews to African-Americans alone, as the experiences of whites with the color divide can reveal aspects of the operations of racism that might not have been readily visible to the black community.

The second section, “Lincoln as a Metaphor for Community: The Integrating Role of Segregated Schooling,” includes clips that discuss the role of high schools in black communities under Jim Crow. Most of these clips discuss Lincoln High, the highly-respected black high school in Gainesville that was shut down during the move to integrate in 1970. Alumni associations from many of these area high schools—e.g. Lincoln in Gainesville, Mebane in Alachua, R.J.E. in Starke, Fessenden Academy in Ocala—continue to be very powerful organizing forces. Mebane High, for instance, holds an annual reunion on the weekend after Thanksgiving which is attended by hundreds of alumni, and includes a parade, sporting events, speakers and ceremonies, and so on. These well-attended events carry on the legacy of schools closed over 40 years ago, which speaks volumes about the importance of these institutions to a sense of community and of identity. There is an inherent ambivalence in that significance, of course, and that ambivalence emerges in many of the clips in this section: the same institution that bound the community together was also a constant symbolic and structural reminder of the political forces that kept it apart—and in thrall of—white society. The discussion of what was lost in integration is not merely a naïve or nostalgic longing for the era of segregation, but rather, a complex and difficult rumination on community achievements that have not been built upon, but rather lost to younger generations.

The third section, “People in the Limelight of the University of Florida, and People in its Shadow,” showcases some clips that discuss the role—or lack thereof—of UF in the affairs of the black community. It sometimes startles undergraduates to realize that UF was not a bastion of equality in the past, but was an active force in maintaining racial segregation (though this role was doubtless complex and merits deeper understanding in its own right). Some of these clips come from interviews conducted at the annual Association of Black Alumni (ABA) meetings, and many of the interviewees were among the first black students to graduate from the University of Florida. Each unique story speaks to broader truths—and challenges some accepted truths—about the race relations at UF during and after integration. These stories also speak to the disconnect between UF as an institution and community life—despite that many faculty would have maintained that they were opposed to racial discrimination, most members of the black community were largely isolated from UF affairs.

Please enjoy the brief stories contained here, but please also remember that they are just that: brief stories. This CD demonstrates the power of the growing AAHP collection, but no CD can fully convey the depth and richness of the archive that we are generating. AAHP is quickly producing a library of voices, and offering perspectives, experiences, and knowledge of the history of north Florida that would otherwise be unavailable to future generations. We hope that this CD gives some sense of the profound depth of the AAHP endeavor.

Racial Discrimination and Violence: Jim Crow and Its Legacy in Florida

Track 1: Leitha Nichols – “Perline” (AAHP-183, interviewed by Marna Weston)

In this clip, Leitha Nichols relates an incident she recalls from her youth in Putnam County when a young girl named Pearline disappeared. The incident occurred near the railroad tracks, which had ostensibly been a common pathway for black children; afterward, Ms. Nichols suggests that they took alternate routes. Of particular interest in this clip are the importance of safe means of travel, and the quotidian nature of violence (or the threat of it) under Jim Crow laws. In this sense, in addition to the historical reality of the narrative, the railroad tracks are an important trope that speak to issues of segregated space and place.

Date of Interview: January 19, 2009

Track 2: Laura Scott Reaves – Boy shot in the back (AAHP-017A, interviewed by Marna Weston)


In her interview, Laura Reaves recalls the brutality of racism in Perry, Florida—continuing with cross burnings in quite recent years. At the beginning of this clip, Ms. Reaves discusses the difficulty that blacks had in keeping their land, and the frequent burning of buildings that terrorized the community. She then describes an event in which a boy was shot in the back by a member of a white landowning family simply because he disliked the look on the boy’s face. She attributes the impetus for the killing to her belief that the boy’s face communicated defiance—“he was probably thinking, ‘when I get to be a man, I’m going to get you!” As a narrative trope, of course, being shot in the back speaks to cowardice and condescension; that Ms. Reaves recalls such lethal cowardice being unleashed on a mere boy is a truly profound statement on historic race relations in Perry.

Date of Interview: March 6, 2010

Track 3: Mamie Lee Leath – Picking potatoes (AAHP-202B, interviewed by Ryan Morini)


Mamie Lee Leath was born and raised in the Porter’s neighborhood of Gainesville; she can even point out the lot she was born on from the house she lives in today. In this clip, she recalls picking potatoes, and other crops, on fields that used to be near Lake Alice before the University expanded. Embedded in this discussion of labor and the greater value of every penny before inflation, one also finds the insinuation of 1940s racial politics. In particular, when the war broke out, Ms. Leath recalls the institutionalization of “vagrancy laws”—which amounted to the need for blacks to prove to the police that they had a job, and if they had none, they had to stay off the streets after certain hours. However, Ms. Leath also recalls agentive maneuvering on the part of black workers; they agreed to work the fields, but they demanded more reasonable payment. In this process, the money that she could earn by picking potatoes more than tripled.

Date of Interview: November 8, 2011


Track 4: Thomas Holland Fay – “John” (AAHP-166A, interviewed by Ryan Morini)


The Pleasant Street Historic District is recognized as a historically black neighborhood of northwest Gainesville; however, some neighborhoods on the south end of it were historically white. Tom Fay grew up and still lives in his family home in that south end; his family is one of the old families of Gainesville, and he grew up as a member of Gainesville’s white elite. However, Arredondo Street, the street in front of his house, was a main thoroughfare for black pedestrians to get to and from work. In this clip, he relates the story of one such black man who he knew only as “John.” It is telling that even as a member of the white elite, as a child he felt utterly helpless in the face of John’s predicament. In other parts of the interview, Mr. Fay discusses the enduring effect of John’s story on his life.

Date of Interview: March 23, 2011

Track 5: Gladys Thompson – Schools and segregation in Gainesville (AAHP-211, interviewed by Darrius Woods)


Gladys Thompson speaks here about several different issues related to schooling in Alachua County; one of the consistent themes is that of the continued segregation. Foreshadowing the ambivalence about Lincoln High that will become clearer in the next section (below), she relates that Lincoln was “the good old days,” but that schools in the county were only ever created for black children so as to keep white students from having to share space with blacks—including after integration.

Likewise, she relates an ambivalence whereby “maybe it took” slavery to build America, but now that it is built, it is “beautiful.” Ms. Thompson also recalls a courageous moment during a parents’ meeting just after integration in which she suggested publicly that it was “time for the Klan to take their hoods off.” This clip thus profoundly demonstrates the quotidian heroism of Gainesville residents, Ms. Thompson quite notably amongst them.

Date of Interview: November 8, 2011

Track 6: Monica Smith (with Donna Drake) – Garbage collection (AAHP-165, interviewed by Ryan Morini)


Monica Smith is a white woman who moved to Gainesville when her husband was hired by UF in the 1970s. She and Donna Drake are founding members of the Pleasant Street Historical Society, which was instrumental in getting the Pleasant Street neighborhood, a historic black neighborhood east of campus, onto the National Historic Register. Earlier in the interview, they explain that the national recognition came at a time when the city of Gainesville was attempting to drive out the Pleasant Street residents and gentrify and redevelop their lands. This particular clip demonstrates some of the mundane ways that racial discrimination recursively shaped structural violence—in this case, the point of contention was the collection of the garbage.

Date of Interview: March 12, 2011

Track 7: Patricia Stevens Due – Daughter “becoming white” (An Evening with the Dues [public program] – Feb 16, 2011)

Patricia Stevens Due, a prominent civil rights activist, was raised in segregated Florida. She joined the movement in 1960, as a student at Florida A&M University. In this clip, part of a public program held at UF, Due recounts her and her husband’s move from Quincy, FL to Miami, FL in search for a better school system for her child. This resulted in what she describes as the worst thing that happened to her after becoming a mother. Her daughter’s youthful misunderstanding of the nature of racial discrimination itself constitutes a profound critique of that same system.

Date of Interview: February 16, 2011


Lincoln as a Metaphor for Community: The Integrating Role of Segregated Schooling

Track 8: Portia Taylor – A sense of community (AAHP-168, interviewed by Ayana Flewellen)


An “outsider” to Gainesville, Portia Taylor grew up in North Carolina. She is the current vice president of student affairs at Santa Fe College. Her outsider’s perspective in some ways adds valuable perspective on the history of Gainesville; however, in this clip she describes the role of the high school in many black communities, her own merely being an example of a larger trend. Dr. Taylor’s description of her own experiences with high school and its role in her community are strikingly similar to the experiences of the black communities in Gainesville regarding Lincoln High. The discussion then moves into the daily and weekly rhythms that shaped community life.

Date of Interview: March 30, 2011

Track 9: Scherwin Henry – The meaning of Lincoln High (AAHP-174A, interviewed by Marna Weston)


Gainesville City Commissioner Scherwin Henry discusses his experience attending Lincoln High School, a segregated school in Alachua county, and Gainesville High School, an integrated school that used to be all white. It is notable that Gainesville high schools did not integrate until the 1970s, despite that the decision in Brown v. Board of Education was handed down in the mid-1950s. While segregated schooling is now looked upon disparagingly as a symbol of racial injustice, Commissioner Henry talks about Lincoln teachers instilling intellectual confidence in him, and describes a positive educational climate that fostered personal growth and development.

Date of Interview: May 12, 2011


Track 10: Thomas Coward – Teaching real history under segregation (AAHP-049, interviewed by Douglas Malenfant)


Thomas Coward is widely respected in the Gainesville community for his role as a teacher at Lincoln High; in this clip, he describes the challenges of teaching black students at a time when the role of African-Americans in American history was entirely excluded from the history book. Mr. Coward’s attempts to develop an ethical and inclusive curriculum met with resistance and suspicion from white supervisors—and it is worth taking note of the fact that although Lincoln High was an all-black school, whites were present as teachers and supervisors. This clip offers a glimpse into the expression of agency by a black teacher during segregation.

Date of Interview: June 5, 2009


Track 11: Charles Demps – Next to the dump, but the heart of the community (AAHP-193, interviewed by Ryan Morini)


Mr. Demps’s discussion of Lincoln High is a particularly powerful example of the ambivalence with which Lincoln was experienced by the black community in Gainesville. On the one hand, he explains that Lincoln was situated next to the city dump, and so student’s nostrils were assaulted daily with the scent of garbage. However, he also relates the diverse array of educational and vocational opportunities that were afforded by Lincoln, and goes so far as to describe Lincoln as a community institution—“like a church.” This clip is representative of the contradictions at play when a bastion of racial intolerance is also a bastion of community strength.

Date of Interview: October 4, 2011

Track 12: John C. Rawls – Going to, then teaching at, Lincoln High (AAHP-171, interviewed by Matletha Fuller)


John C. Rawls is another former teacher at Lincoln who is widely respected in Gainesville. In this clip, he describes going to Lincoln before he taught there, stressing the powerful impression that it left upon him. As a faculty member, Mr. Rawls felt that the distinguishing characteristic of Lincoln was the willingness to go “to the nth degree” to help students out. When students had issues, be they disciplinary, developmental, or otherwise, Mr. Rawls relates that teachers at Lincoln would work closely with both the student and his or her parents.

At the end of the clip, Mr. Rawls refers to the efforts of the Lincoln High Alumni Association to reinstate Lincoln as a high school, and suggests that teachers going to the nth degree is one of the qualities which the alumni association hopes to bring back. Thus, Lincoln’s legacy is not merely nostalgic or historical, but future-oriented.

Date of Interview: April 13, 2011

Track 13: Patricia Burnett – What was lost with Lincoln (AAHP-029, interviewed by Irene Cardozo)


In this clip, Patricia Burnett discusses the sense of injury and loss that was incurred when Lincoln High was closed down during integration. As with Charles Demps (above), she speaks of pride in some of the architectural elements, but she also consciously draws connections to other black high schools in the area. She thus speaks to the symbolic and ideological elements of both the community significance of Lincoln and other high schools, but also to the ways in which they were summarily, and paradoxically, shut down in the name of racial equality.

Date of Interview: June 2, 2010

Track 14: Albert White – Not taught, but educated (AAHP-022, interviewed by Marna Weston)


Mr. White, who is the current president of the Lincoln Alumni Association, again relates an understanding of the values and capacities which were lost with the closing of Lincoln. This clip is a fitting summary and closing for this subsection of the CD, as Mr. White touches upon and builds upon the themes raised in the other clips. While conceding a need for “progress” and change, Mr. White articulates a common sentiment heard in the AAHP collection—that something intangible, but invaluable to the community, was lost after integration. Lincoln instilled not merely a sense of community, but of identity, and it would appear that nothing in Gainesville has risen to take its place.

Date of Interview: May 25, 2010

People in the Limelight of the University of Florida, and People in its Shadow

Track 15: Sam Taylor – UF, the community, and the symbol of Virgil Hawkins (AAHP-077, interviewed by Dr. Paul Ortiz)


In this clip, Sam Taylor relates the very limited and symbolic contact which UF had with the black communities in Gainesville when he was growing up. Although some community members worked janitorial jobs at UF, he most particularly recalls going to the football games. Memories of the football stadium, where blacks had segregated seating in the south end zone, feature prominently in many other interviews in the collection. However, the University itself seems to have largely constituted a separate world from that of the black community.

Mr. Taylor also relates a second, memorable symbol from UF that he recalls from his childhood—Virgil Hawkins. Virgil Hawkins’ tireless efforts to integrate UF never succeeded in enabling Mr. Hawkins himself to matriculate, but every time he tried, and was denied, Mr. Taylor saw it as the “throwing down of a gauntlet” that led him to achieve considerable success in his own life.

Date of Interview: September 5, 2009

Track 16: Bernard Hicks – Selling Cokes to the Gators (AAHP-031, interviewed by Scott Wood)


Here, Bernard Hicks discusses the ways in which the segregated community of Gainesville, FL functioned while he was growing up. In part, he discusses the self-sufficient and non-consumer-oriented culture as allowing harmonious exchanges, and yet also describes a feeling of injustice when thinking about the material possessions that were unavailable to him because of his race. Mr. Hicks also ruminates on the segregation of a local park when he was a child—and it is notable that he relates that it was the white adults, and not white children, who enforced the segregation.

His memories of selling cokes at UF football games for money as a high schooler, and of the discrimination and outright violence he experienced, are poignant unto themselves, but all the more so when one realizes the deeper economic disparity at play: Mr. Hicks is selling sodas, a luxury drink, at a football game, an entertainment event attended by many affluent Florida alumni; yet he sells them not for spending money for himself, but rather to afford his Lincoln High yearbook, his cap and gown for graduation, and other necessary bits and pieces of community life. It is thus perhaps not surprising that his memories soon move him to recollect Flossie B. McLendon leading the Lincoln band in UF’s Homecoming parade despite not having been invited—once again, we see the strength of leadership and community affirmation that Lincoln High is still remembered for.

Date of Interview: June 8, 2010

Track 17: Madelyn Lockhart – UF faculty and the black community in the 1960s (UF-325, interviewed by Dr. Paul Ortiz)


In this clip, Dr. Lockhart relates that most UF faculty were disconnected from the Civil Rights Movement in Gainesville, and moreover that while some few attended symbolic marches and sit-ins, no faculty took interest in substantively improving the social and economic situation of members of the black community. (For instance, she relates that black schools had no playgrounds.) Dr. Lockhart explains that UF professors did not want to work closely or personally with the black community, and that she herself was reprimanded by neighbors for letting blacks visit her at her home.

This clip reminds us that to understand racism, we must understand it as a system which controlled the actions of whites as well as blacks—seeing the limits of the privilege of being white and economically well-off illuminates the contingencies and contradictions of that privilege.

Interviewed by: December 3, 2008

Track 18: Cranford Ronald Coleman – Death threats, adversity, and fellow athletes’ support (AAHP-138, interviewed by Ryan Morini)


C. Ron Coleman was the first black athlete on a scholarship at UF. In this clip, he begins by discussing the many death threats that he received for merely being offered a scholarship for track, and then explains that at the time he was aware of the threats from locals, but later became aware that even members of the Florida state legislature were attempting to oppose the scholarship. Thus, scale is sometimes deceiving; Mr. Coleman’s face-to-face experiences did not reveal the further-reaching legal and political scrutiny that he was subjected to.

In the next part of the clip, he relates a story in which famous UF football star Jack Youngblood singlehandedly ended the racism in the locker room by sitting down next to him at lunch. This story is exemplary in demonstrating the structural politics of everyday actions; merely sitting next to another athlete one day seems to have been enough to issue a paradigm shift that eased the racial tensions which Mr. Coleman had thus far experienced.

Date of Interview: September 4, 2010


Track 19: Evelyn Marie Moore Mickle – “The same people who invited me, invited me to leave” (AAHP-046, interviewed by Jason Horton)


Evelyn Moore Mickle was the first black student to graduate from UF’s nursing program. Rather than widely celebrating that achievement, for years she was reluctant to admit to people that she had graduated from UF. In this clip, she explains why. In light of the fact that Mrs. Mickle has been celebrated by UF as one of the “firsts”—i.e. one of the first black graduates—we must seriously consider the contradictions that inhere in popular narratives of success and vindication associated with pioneers of integration. While Mrs. Mickle’s travails decidedly do not detract from her achievements, they are also an integral part of those achievements, and must not be overlooked in telling her story. This clip has often left particularly strong impressions on UF undergraduates for the very reason that it disrupts the expected narrative of success.

Date of Interview: June 4, 2009


Track 20: Joseph McCloud – Cleaning up the dorms (AAHP-125, interviewed by Andre Everett)


In this clip, Joe McCloud describes an incident whereby he and some other black students in the early 1970s organized to help the custodial staff. There is inherently a power differential between college students who are not responsible for cleaning up the messes in their dorms, and the custodial staff who are responsible for the students’ messes. At UF, the custodial staff has historically been predominantly black, while the administration and student body have been predominantly white; thus, many people have seen a racial dynamic to this relationship at UF, in addition to the more obvious class dynamic. Earlier in the interview, Mr. McCloud describes remodeling the Black Student Union to mirror the organization of the Black Panthers.

The clip itself discusses student-led organizing on campus, as well as the positive effect that it had for the service staff, and then transitions to Mr. McCloud’s experiences with racism in Gainesville. It is hard today to imagine such powerful and effective student organizing arising spontaneously to defend the custodial staff; this clip, too, has often resonated with undergraduate audiences for that very reason.

Date of Interview: September 3, 2010

Please enjoy the stories contained here. This guide demonstrates the power of the growing AAHP collection, but no document can fully convey the depth and richness of the African American experience in Florida. AAHP is producing a library of voices, and offering perspectives, experiences and knowledge of the history of so that they can be available to future generations. We hope that this guide gives some sense of the generosity and resilience of African Americans in the South.

To receive a copy of this guide and audio CD in the mail, contact AAHP coordinators today.

back to AAHP Resources

For additional information, contact SPOHP, call the offices at (352) 392-7168, and connect with us online today.