Gidden’s Transcript: Audio tape side A
Today is December 13, 2001. This is Judith Kent speaking from the private home of the Reverend and Mrs. Giddens. [Also present and participating is James Allen. Reverend Giddens begins speaking as the equipment is being set up.]
Rev: my Father came from Whitman, Georgia. My Mother was born and raised in Neoga. They moved here [Espanola, Florida] in later years. This was the only place that you [Blacks] could buy land and own your property. So, her grandmother bought property on the corner up here long years ago and she moved in with her grandmother. Her mother had died in Neoga. That left her with her Daddy and then her Grandmother. She lived with her Grandmother until way up in age, she did. Then after she died her grandmother died my Grandfather finished raising her in Espanola. This was her home right here [points].
Allen: You know, for some reason I thought that you all came from the Hastings [Florida] area. I know you spent a lot of time up there with the church and everything.
Rev: Yes. In fact the house I was born in is right next door to that lot over there. I never did live in it; the city tore it down. I was raised in a house down here where the Mickens live at now. It [the house he was born in] was an old raggedy house that they tore down and built a new house now. That was the house I was raised up in. I went to church/ school right across the street there in the church house. There was a church house in those days we didn’t have schoolhouses we had church houses. The church house, that is what we used for a school. I went to the Church of God in Christ Church I attended it I was raised up in that as a kid and that is where I went to school at, right there.
Allen: Were your folks very religious? Were they brought up in the Baptist Church or in this church that you talk about? Was that the one that was prevalent at that time in this area?
Rev: All right. In the olden days you had the Church of God in Christ Church here, you had the A.M.E. Methodist sitting down below my sister there, you had the Baptist church sit here. You had three churches here. But I was raised up in the Church of God in Christ, were I went to school at. But my Mother and her Father were raised up in the Baptist Church. When my Mother and Father married they both went to be together they united with the Church of God in Christ, so I was brought up in the Church of God in Christ as a kid. In later years we changed over to the Baptist Church. Now the Methodist Church, it eventually closed down because of membership wise. When the membership got so low here in the Church of God in Christ, the members that were here, they left and went to Bunnell to the Church of God in Christ. That’s when my Mother in her later years she changed over and come over with her Daddy back to the Baptist Church.
Allen: Interesting. Judy, did you want to
Kent: Yeah, How did your grandparents and parents make their livelihood here?
Rev: My granddaddy, who lived in Neoga Neoga was the main source in this County here and they had turpentine and what you call “crossties”. You might not know about crossties. Mens had an axe about so long [gestures with hands a distance of two feet] and called that a “broad axe”. Then they had a regular axe and they had a cross cut saw. They would walk up to a tree, saw it down and take that big old wide [axe] about so long and they would cut it down the side of it cut a slab off of it make a square out of it for crossties, railroad crossties.
Kent: Oh, for the railroad.
Rev: Yes ma’am, we called them crossties, but railroad ties is what they were. That is the way that they made their living, turpentine, railroad ties and a farm area back out here but mostly back in them days they mostly stayed to the turpentine. You had Neoga and right above Neoga a place called Dunellen. That was another turpentine area; two turpentine areas right in one and all of them belonged to at that time owned by a man named Mr. MacArthur, lived out of Jacksonville. He owned both of those. My grand father raised his family mostly up in that area.
Kent: They had housing right there?
Rev: They housing right there, you know the houses they had at that time. Each family had a house to live in about a one bedroom house was all they had to live in.
Allen: Did they call those “quarters”?
Rev: Yeah, they called them quarters. They called them “turpentine quarters” is what they called them.
Allen: So the person who owned that had those houses built and because you worked there you got to live in them.
Rev: Yes, that’s right, because you worked there you could live in them, but you could never own them. When you start owning you got to come to Espanola and buy. When it got first platted off as a place where you could buy a man called Knox-Jones come from St. Johns Park. His name was Knox-Jones and he bought this strip of land in here. He platted it off, he lotted it off and that is the main way this got started. People from Neoga started buying property and coming here to build them a house on, in Espanola.
Allen: So that’s how you got the [street] name, Knox-Jones here?
Rev: That’s right. He is the one that platted it off, the Knox-Jones subdivision.
Kent: Was he a Black man?
Rev: He was a white man; he was a white man.
Mrs. Giddens: It was interesting to know that he didn’t have no measurement. He would step it off and give you fifty feet, the width, and 100 feet long. He would put a stake down and wherever he would stop that was where your lot would be considered.
Rev: All right now, later, my Father brought his mother from Whitman, Georgia. She bought the only lot over there by her sister where she built her house at. My Auntie, which was my Daddy’s sister, she owned that house still standing there now that little house there. And right there was the house I bought. We was all right there together when I got up in age manhood wise; I bought me a piece of land. When we bought it, it already had houses on it. We bought it from Knox-Jones it cost us $75 to get a lot fifty foot wide and one hundred-fifty foot long for $75.
Allen: That was the next question I was going to ask you, how much you had to pay during that time.
Allen: Now to have the house built, of course you negotiated with the builder?
Rev: No, mostly what we did was most everybody find them one of those saw mills and they cut a lot of stuff that would be ground up now, they used to throw it away. Those slabs out to the lumber park? A lot of people go to the saw mill and get a slab that they were going to burn; they would go and build them a house out of it slabs [of wood] off of it. In fact, this house here right now, this house is built with one by fours. That house over there is sheeted with, one by fours rough one by fours, they wasn’t planed down. One by fours looked more like two by fours, because it wasn’t planed down. That’s the way they built the house over there. You [Mrs. Giddens.] want to talk?
Mrs. Giddens: OK, I would like to first introduce myself; I came in as Essie Mae Mack from Hastings. I finished from Hastings High School, graduated from there in 1945. I was the val [valedictorian] of my class at Hastings, so my president of the Florida Memorial College (which was located in St. Augustine, St. Johns County) granted me a scholarship for two years. I was able to go to college and spend two years there, having been a rather bright student.
A lady was walking on the campus at St. Augustine and say to me, “Essie, I’ve heard so much talk about you. I know where you can get a job teaching.” She said, “I know you are quite young, but suppose you ask your mother if she would be interested in you getting this job and let me know tomorrow and I will carry you down to Flagler County.” So, I talked with my Mother and she said, “Essie, you are so young, you’ve never been away from home no further than St. Augustine. Providing I can go to Flagler County and find you a decent place to stay, then I will say yes.” So I related this to Miss Melissa Heard; in turn she decided she would bring me to Flagler County. I walked into the County office (this is in the year of 1947 because I had the two years at the college) and the Superintendent hired me without a resume or anything. They were looking for a young person to fit in at Espanola. He hired me, and that was in around June when I made this contract with him.
Kent: Do you remember who he was?
Mrs. Giddens: John Clegg.
Kent: [Nods, laughing]
Mrs. Giddens: At this time (in August) I came here, right out of college, ready to go to work. I had a lot of ideas of what could be done. They didn’t have a building here for a school, so we used the Baptist Church School that he was referring to. It was a small building I had about 35 children, first to eighth grade. So I said, “Now here I am with this job, I know how to group them, so I must get busy.” What I did, I had about two or three in first grade, about three in second, four or five maybe in third, all the way up to eight grade. I started teaching them; I placed them in groups according to their ability to master certain skills. If by chance there was a little first grader who could master second grade reading, I would place that child with second grade. If by chance there was a fourth grade child could do seventh grade math I would place them with that group. All that year we worked out and the children and did so well. They were so excited about school right in their own neighborhood ‘til school was supposed to turn out at three-thirty, we probably would keep going ‘til four thirty or five o’clock before we would go home! [laughing] We stayed here at this building for a period of time.
Later on there was a grocery store around there and a building. Rev. Paul Cooley owned this building. He rented the building for the County use and at that time we still had first to eighth grade. We also had a Supervisor by the name of Miss Cameron. She would come to visit the school at least twice a week. She was just amazed at the things that the children were doing. So, since we had a larger building, we decided to set up a cafeteria and let the older girls learn how to prepare food. We set up a clinic among the children, because the doctor We set up a band, everything that made a sound, that was our instrument. We would get milk cans, combs and put a paper over it and blow the comb, there was a sound they could hit, two or three forks together, whatever made a sound was our band. So now if we have a band, we need a majorette group. What did we do about that? We found three or four girls that wanted to be in it. They would get cardboard and cut the hats, put the little bills on, attach the strings around the neck and of course at the top we would get crepe paper. If our colors were red and white, you had one row of white, one row of red, one row of white until you get your hat made. What did you use for the other part? They would make little simple dresses, very short tennis [dresses]. When you got ready for a baton, we couldn’t afford to buy a baton, so we got a broom handle and paint the broom handle white and put candy stripes of red. So therefore we had a red and white baton, we had hats and every other month we would have a parade. We would invite the Superintendent and many others from Bunnell to come out because we had enough music everybody was beating something. The children were really excited about that.
As I said, I worked here until 1957 when they decided to move the school to Bunnell. At that time I was placed in a classroom with a fourth grade class, which was quite enjoyable. And the next year they put me with the sixth grade.
Mr. Buddy Taylor when they built the Belle Terre Middle School [later renamed Buddy Taylor Middle School] I was one of the first to choose to go to the Buddy Taylor School. Those were my last years there, and I retired in ‘87, which was the most rewarding year. I had a little statement I made: [reads aloud from a paper]
Last year at Buddy Taylor School, my last years were my best years. I left with pride; I left with dignity. Many times people are forced off a job. But I left when I felt that I had given my best service and it was quite enjoyable.
The school that we have over here [points] is the oldest school left in the County.
Kent: Here in Espanola?
Mrs. Giddens: In Espanola, and by the way, it was my idea to get a format of how a school should be built. So we went over to Pomona Park, two or three of the parents here. We saw the idea of the windows and everything. We came back and raised monies selling ice cream and peanuts and pool our money together and we built our own school. And in doing so the County didn’t have any responsibility, no more than putting the furniture there and furnish the electricity. The reason we built our own school the parents were so excited with me being here, doing so well with the children that they had me to compose a letter to the County School Board and ask permission to remain here as long as we stayed. They granted us that, so after they granted us that privilege and then we were able to built our own school. After I left a lady by the name of Ida Mae Wiley she is in a nursing home now she utilized the same building for a kindergarten class. She would gather all the little ones and carry them out there and she was a very good teacher. She taught them the alphabet; she taught them the things that kindergarten teachers are doing now in public schools.
After then, I was also privileged the year of integration, when most of the teachers were a little frightened about going down to the high school. Mr. Craig was Superintendent at that time; he came to my classroom. He said, “Mrs. Giddens, I have a new task for you.” I said, “What is it, Mr. Craig?” He said, “Seems like all your co-workers are afraid to go down, you know and integrate and be with the other teachers, but I know you have that initiative and you will do it.” I said, “Send me tomorrow, I’m ready to go!” So sure enough at the beginning of that school term I was there bright and early. We met, had a chance to meet one another. I started working with a beautiful young lady named Linda Readers, I never will forget her name. We did so well there! They were very cooperative and at the time our principal was very easy to get along with. That is how we really worked out integration.
Kent: How did the children do?
Mrs. Giddens: They did real well, because they were watching our movement. They felt that if we as teachers could get along, then they could do the same.
Kent: How about the parents? Were the parents OK with it?
Mrs. Giddens: Well, the parents were a little reluctant at first. But when I would come back and other teachers would come back and assure them that their children were at safety, we didn’t have that problem. Then from time to time, everything got better. I shall always remember when we set up clubs. We had different clubs and we would always make sure that both black and white children would be in the clubs so we wouldn’t make them think that they were isolated in just one group. They worked real well together.
But like I say, my most impressive year was at Belle Terre [Middle School], working with Buddy Taylor.
Kent: That was a nice way to end your career, on such a good note.[Bill, link to the award to Mrs. G from the school here?]
Mrs. Giddens: Yes, it was. I had an opportunity like in administration. I shall never forget, he [Buddy Taylor] said to me, “Mrs. Giddens, you have such a love for children, one thing that I want you to do is to set up you an office and set up your own plans. What can we do to keep the children on campus without having to send them home?” So the first thing that I did, I got me a tape recorder and whenever a child would have a problem in the classroom I would always bring the child in and let them talk how they could have solved their problem let them be the person to say, “I did this, but had I done it the other way everything would have been all right.” In doing that, we were able to keep the children on the campus. It wasn’t a matter of sending them home about some little minor problem, because we knew that once we sent them home, the parent would be at work, no one there to supervise them. We were doing the child more harm than we were good. So the method that we used to keep them there Today I can look over some of the children that I have taught and they can thank me for having encouraged them to stay in school. OK, I’m going to let Reverend
Allen: I can agree with you how Buddy Taylor was in reference with the kids at school. There was times that kids had to go, regardless to what the problem was, they had to leave the school. There were some new rules were in effect, and a lot of them didn’t have transportation or anybody to pick them up. So, he would just get on the phone and call me [at the Council on Aging Transportation Department] and say, “Will you pick this kid up? She’s got nobody at home, can you take her over to the [Senior] Center put her to doing something? Talk to her, maybe you could talk to her about her problem and so forth.” That’s the way he was.
Kent: That’s Buddy Taylor?
Allen: Buddy Taylor. Many times he did that, especially after he found, “Well, I’ve got somebody I can call on to get transportation.” The only other way is for them to be on the school bus and the school bus could only go back at a certain time of day.
Mrs. Giddens: He was the type of person who really wanted to know the children and work with them.
Allen: I had some questions since we are talking to Mrs. Giddens. One of the questions I had was you stated what college you attended but was there a church program at that time that selected the kids from the church to go to school and assisted them.
Mrs. Giddens: Not at that time. They didn’t have too many programs. I should have mentioned also, after I made my two years at the college I was able to come out and teach, but I went back during the summer to complete my other two years. Plus, I had extension work from Florida State. I would go to Jacksonville and take special courses. But at that time, to answer your question, churches just didn’t have that much at that particular time.
Allen: Now that you are retired, are you happy that you are retired or would you prefer to back in the school classroom? Are you content?
Mrs. Giddens: I can certainly answer that! I have served well in that particular job. I know that there was more work for me to do. I put in forty years there and retired over fourteen years ago. Let me just relate this; I am a very religious person. I just love the Lord. I was sitting to my desk one Thursday morning after having worked forty years and this little inner voice said to me, “You have done well, but I have greater work for you to do.” I tried to ignore it, but all of a sudden it came back to me again, “Give up this job, I have greater work for you to do.” Immediately I got up and went into my Principal’s office and said, “Mr. Taylor, I have something to tell you.” (I didn’t try to tell him about what was going on in my mind.) I said, “I’m going to have to give up this job at the end of the term.” That was November. He said, “Oh Mrs. Giddens, you will be around here for the next forty years with us.” I said, “No, I’m going to have to give it up.” Immediately after that I had him to call Mr. Miller (the Assistant Superintendent at that time). I related that to him, but I didn’t tell him why I was saying that. When I released that from me that Thursday morning around ten o’clock, I felt like a little cloud just floating all through the air. From that day on I was so happy. I was so happy, then in June Mr. Taylor say to me, “Mrs. Giddens, before you leave us you are going to have to speak to us.” So I got an opportunity to speak to the entire school. I encouraged the teachers to keep doing their work.
The results of my leaving I was appointed President of twenty- two churches [in the Florida General Baptist Convention]. I have been serving in that capacity over eight or nine years. I have had the opportunity to go to the state conventions places I had never gone before. I have been to California; we go to Philadelphia next year. We went to Denver Colorado; we go to Miami to visit the college [Florida Memorial College]. We went just recently last month and we raised the college something like $207,000. This is the type work to answer your question, I am finding far more to do now.
Allen: Gee, I thought you were just out here enjoying your retired life.
Mrs. Giddens: Not only that, (My husbands winking, he doesn’t want me to talk; he knows I love to talk.) not only that, I am Chairman of the Clean up Project of Espanola. I’ve been doing that for two years. I go around and motivate the people to get their yards and everything cleaned up. I am the Superintendent of my Sunday school and I just have so much to do. I just recently took the old school building that I am talking about this idea came name of it is going to be “The Exchange House.” You bring in something; you carry out something. This is a new project that I am doing. To answer your question, I am happy doing what I am doing.
Kent: I would be interested to hear how the Reverend got into his profession. What was it that called you or motivated you to take on your ministry?
Rev: It had been really depressing me heavily for some time what really lead me into the Lord was I know that you have seen those silos at the cement plant out there [at the Lehigh Cement plant]. I had a brother in 19 what year was it? 1957- ‘56 what year Frank was born? It was 1956. He fell off of a building in October of that year and was killed. He was my favorite brother; he was the third one of us, my second brother. He was just seventeen years old, a kind, gentle lad. He come in and fell off at the cement plant, and he died in my arms. Now I came in all that year and into the next year, I could not give him up. I just crying and weeping, weeping and crying, then the Lord got to my heart. He spoke in this inner voice saying, “It could have been you; you would have been lost.” I wasn’t saved. And from that time forward I began to change my life around. In l957 I united myself with the church. I had always been with the church, but I didn’t have the Lord like I did then.
And from that forward, I had been in the church about three years the Lord said, “I’ve got another job for you.” My pastor was Reverend Genie Robert. I told him the Lord had called me to preach. He said, “I know he would, he working on you.” So when he died, in 1967 (I think it was) I became the pastor of the church here, behind him; I’ve been here ever since. I also have a church in Palatka, Florida. The Lord led me to have two Sundays here and two Sundays in Palatka. The Spirit of the Lord says, “You go home and come up every Sunday”. That’s what I’m doing now, every Sunday.
Since I got to be the Pastor, I am also the Vice-Moderator of the churches where Mrs. Giddens is serving as the President. I served as the Moderator of the St. Johns River Baptist Association for seventeen years. We erected a building in Hastings under my leadership that we use as the headquarters. This building accommodates some churches from Flagler, St Johns and Putman County.
Allen: You don’t remember, but you took me to that and showed me when we was up there.
Rev: You seen the building. Now that I got out of the Moderator, I am still I’ve gotten out of moderating, but to keep that going I came back in under somebody else as the Moderator to keep it going. Enjoying it, too. I wouldn’t take nothing but the ministering part, oh Lord!
Mrs. Giddens: This may vary a little, but back to the house, it is interesting to know that this house was built by the original house $575 was all the lumber that we had to put in there. My Mother sent a carpenter from Hastings, Mr. Jones. He built this house. We had the first electric lights; we only paid $25 for the electric lights. We had the first telephone ($10); we had the first television. His Father was living in Newark, N J. He sent us a television down and the entire Espanola community would look to us for television at night; they would look to us to make their phone calls and we were the only ones with electric lights.
When I married I met my husband when I was teaching around at Reverend Cooley’s building he won me over apples. He would bring some apples and leave them there and from time to time and we finally decided to go and get married in 1949. When we got married this lot was only $75; we had to pay for it. He decided he wanted him a grocery store, which he really forgot to tell you. We went to Sears Roebucks and Co. and with Reverend Cooley’s guidance “You buy this machine, put in the mud” what is it, cement?
Rev: Well, you mix the mud up dry. It is a block machine like about that square. [gestures with hands about three feet square] I followed that old man, Paul Cooley on the corner here. I always say I wanted to be like him. I bought my own block machine I went to the bank I didn’t have no money. Mr. Creel let me have $65. He let me have it. I went down to Sears Roebuck and got me the machine and went to the cement plant and I get my cement and my shell and brought it home in my truck. I would be up at twelve and one o’clock at night making blocks. You put your mud in the machine dry you pack it in there and makes your block. Next day you take them out in the sunshine and the sun drys them. I got some blocks out in the yard right now. There was a grocery store; I’ll show them to you when we go out there. I had a grocery store here. He [Cooley] had the first black grocery store; I had the second black grocery store here following him, I wanted to be just like him. I also had a gas station here a gas pump. So gas, groceries and meat, out in the yard there.
Allen: I was going to ask that question, who influenced you. But now I’ll ask you, [Mrs. Giddens] “Who influenced you, as far as why did you choose teaching?”
Mrs. Giddens: My principal, Mr. W. Harris when I was around nine or ten years old, he saw a lot in me. Many times he would call me and say, “Essie, you’re smart, young lady. Decide what you want to be in life.” I would say to Mr. Harris, “I already know what I want to be.” He say, “What you want to be?” I say, “I want to be a teacher.” My Mother say when I was about five, I would pull up the grass out of the yard and get me a stick and attach it to the grass and let the root of the grass be the hair. And she say I would be down on the ground at five [saying], “Say ‘A’, say ‘B’, say ‘C’!” you know. She say to my Daddy, “You know, I think that little girl is going to be a teacher one day.” Everything that I know, like cursive writing, I taught myself. My work, I would come in and I would master it myself. And when I learned how to braid hair around eight years old, and I taught my cousin how to do her fingers and braiding hair.
My dad carried me to graduation exercise. I said, “Dad, if I finish school would you buy me one of those hats they are wearing on their head?” He said, “I certainly will if you finish school.” I knew at an early age I wanted to do something with my life.
Allen: Since you have been out of teaching, [phone rings] what do you think of the system now? Small break here. What do you think of the system now?
Mrs. Giddens: I think that the teachers and all are doing a wonderful job. I think that the parents are beginning to get more cooperative. [phone rings] I get a little disappointed sometimes when I don’t see the children with the interest now that they had during the days that we were working with them. I don’t know whether it is because they do most of their homework at school or what have you. Years ago, children would spend more time and one thing was impressive [phone rings] based on the three R’s back in those days. [phone rings] They had to learn to read, write and do their math. [doorbell rings] I think when they get the basics they can add all this extra.
Allen: You go on, with her, I’ll get the door. [A worker from the County Code Enforcement Department arrives to pick up a copy of Voices From Espanola: The Espanola Listening Project from Mrs. Giddens. He plans to present it to Governor Bush who is scheduled to visit Bunnell on Friday, December 14. He leaves after a brief chat.]
Mrs. Giddens: Reverend Giddens, give her one of those. [He gives copies of the booklet to Allen and Kent] This tells about the project and things that we have done and we have something about the schools in there and everything.
Allen: You talked about the first school Espanola and you say it is still here.
Mrs. Giddens: The building is still here.
Allen: The building is still here. That one that we see coming as we drove in?
Rev: The one right next- door here, right next to the Church. It is a school building, but it is not County owned; it is community owned. The Pallbearers Organization owned the land, so we built that building under their leadership. However, the Pallbearers Organization has given the St Paul Baptist Church a forty-year lease. The church has plans to remodel the building.
Allen: Very good, that’s a good idea.
Rev: We can’t get back to the original owner, we can’t get too wide a grant thing; we will have to do it ourself.
Allen: We talked about the town of Neoga. There is nothing out there anymore that exists other than that little lake that’s out there.
Rev: I haven’t been out there in so long. I was told I have been intending to go out there for a while you can tell where some of the houses once stood in the area. You got to get the right person to get in to the area now because it is owned by private people.
Allen: Yes, it is all fenced in now. I was talking to Ben Coley and asking him if there was any structure at all so that we could all try to get that preserved. Everybody that we talk to talks about Neoga, it seemed to be the big little town at that particular time. In history and I don’t know if you are aware of this or not they said it was an Indian village there. The Indians readily admitted blacks into their village you know, the run-away slaves and so forth? They intermingled and so forth, and of course Andrew Jackson who was responsible for chasing the Indians away making sure that they went west came in and took the slaves and put them back on the plantations. All along Old King’s Road were the plantations so they didn’t have far to go.
Kent: When we were talking about integration it occurred to me to ask about voting here. Have you been able to vote in elections all your time here?
Rev: I never had a problem voting. Never in my life, ever.
Kent: From the time you were, like twenty-one?
Rev: No ma’am, I never had a problem voting.
Rev: I know that for years people in old days Paul Coley, he was the first one that I know of that came out that I knew of as a kid and voted and registered. I never heard him say he had a problem with voting and registering.
Kent: Good. [Jim Allen looks with interest at his copy of Voices from Espanola] We have a copy of that in the library. I’ve looked at that.
Allen: I am glad to have a copy. Dante Hall [a young man pictured in the booklet], how is he doing?
Mrs. Giddens: He is doing real well. He is in church; he has a job.
Allen: We had him in several of our summer programs.
Kent: What was his name, Jim?
Allen: Dante Hall.
Mrs. Giddens: He is a mannered young man.
Allen: Yes, he was so nice.
Mrs. Giddens: I carry him to all my trips when I go to Miami and different places.
Allen: He always seemed to keep the other kids in line, too.
Mrs. Giddens: He does. He wants to do what’s right. He is a neat young fella; I told him, “You know you can dress!”
Kent: What do you see as the challenges of the County in the future? What do you think we should be concerned about and working on?
Rev: I think housing program is one big challenge.
Rev: Yes, housing still needs to be worked on broader than it actually is. I sit on the Housing Task Force for the Board of County Commissioners for the low-income people to have housing and all. We have a program called the SHIP [State Housing Initiative Partnership] program where if you qualify you can get up to $10,000 for buying your house. We have a lot of people leaving out the Project [government subsidized low income housing] and buying a home in Palm Coast, like in the Lehigh Wood Area and Quail Hollow area. But there is a lot of land there still be for people to buy homes here and all. A lot of people still in the Projects need to buy a home. We have some living here [in Espanola] renting houses and they should be buying a home. The demand and need is for low and moderate-income people. The County is doing good, but there is room for improvement.
Allen: The grant that they got to upgrade the houses here, [in Espanola] in most cases they would tear the house down and rebuild it. Reverend Giddens is the one who kind of selects the people who get the houses.
Rev: I am the onlyest one on that committee. When they first got started it was sort of a [unclear] for the County, been there for about nineteen years, I stayed on top of it with the [County] Commission. I stayed on top of them, even when the Court House fell apart when they were remodeling, they were talking about, “We have no place to meet now.” Raymond [unclear] I never will forget him, he served as chairman. We moved to the Methodist Church, our meeting, trying to maintain our connection. Finally they would get in line, stay in line and we got into the block grant business got that development block grant to bring it to the area to get new homes. Every year, they voted on this, we have a program now I was on the task force for that we build three replacements every year. We are doing two a year now. We are doing one in Bunnell and one in [unclear] one in the Hammock (I think the other one is). Then we come back we are going to do three more, two more out here and three more houses and we will be all through out here on this program. Bimini do not qualify, because that was one of the only areas that we had here when the County was started and all. They had these old run-down houses that needed it badly, so we were putting a lot of emphasis on houses being built here in Espanola. Now that Espanola got some pretty good housing, we move into other areas of the County with replacement homes and all.
Allen: When they put in for the grant the first time, Espanola could not get it because somehow Espanola was connected to Palm Coast and the per-capita income here did not allow them [to qualify for the grant]. But they continued and prevailed to get the housing out here because they had gotten it in Bunnell at the time. They couldn’t get it out here, but they kept on working and got it.
Rev: Stay on top of it. (I want to share something with you. I thank God for it.) When we got our first grant (Development Block Grant) we didn’t have enough points, so we came in on second place in points, and the County down south did not meet the guidelines, so that allowed us to come up in first place.
When we got the grant the court system of the Health Department told the Planning Department that they would never issue a permit out here because of the septic tanks and water and all. So I talked to Ken Cody, you remember Ken Cody, at the Planning Department and he would say, “Rev, we can’t get no permits, so we are tied up.” So, I said, “What you saying to me, we not going to get the housing?” He say, “No, with the septic tank, we will not issue one.” So I made an appointment to what is the name over at the Health Department Bill, Bill Criplin he was a good friend of mine. So I said, “I got to talk to you.” He said, “Come on out, come on.” I sat down, I said, “Bill, I know that we may not meet the code.” I say, “But I have been all my life I’m not saying this was healthy for me but I drink that same water.… People out there have houses, own land not able to build houses. I understand that you all are not going to give permit because of the water and septic tanks and everything. I know you got the rules and all, but some way or another you all have to waive the rules. We got to have the housing. We want you to do that for us, please.” He say, “OK, Rev, let’s go down here.” We went down there to the other department He say,” Reverend’s got a problem, it’s in your hands now. Tell him what you told me, Rev.” So I told him about it. “A rule is a rule, I just can’t do it”, he say. “OK,” I say, “no problem.” I went on back to the job at the gym and about five on Friday evening. Ken comes “Rev!” he say, “Did you go to the clinic?” I say, “Yeah.” They say, “Man, you shook them up over there!” They was up ‘til midnight figuring out how to build us houses.” I say, “Thank God for it.” That’s how we got houses out there.
Allen: Very good.
Rev: It was a struggle, but I thank God for the struggle part of life, otherwise he lets you know there is a God above.
Kent: If you had to say what was the biggest challenge you faced as a minister, what would that be?
Rev: The public.
Kent: The public?
Rev: I tell you, the biggest challenge. When I say the public, I mean the public comes up with some problems sometimes. One of the biggest challenges we face in the world the work of Satan is drugs, drugs. Drugs is destroying our community, ‘specially young people quitting jobs and falling for quick money. Lately, since the new Sheriff [Jim Manfre] come there is a change. [tape reverses]
Audio-tape side B:
But I still say that drugs are our biggest challenge in life, trying to get them off those drugs.
Allen: That was kind of the question that I wanted to ask, Judy. Reverend Giddens, would you make a statement, or give some kind of advice on how we might help Flagler County improve in its race relations? Both of you, if you would make a comment
Mrs. Giddons: Well, one way I think that we need to bring about better relations is communicating with one another. Feel free to if there is a problem to discuss it and attend meetings together so we can really get to know each other, because the more you know about an individual the better you can work and live with them. A good example, that Code Enforcement man, we got to meet each other about three months ago. We are able to communicate, and we have there is a love expression “being able to get along”. It is one of the best solutions for solving problems, communications.
Allen: Reverend Giddens?
Rev: I feel like, just like she was saying, the more we can get together in different meetings and talk about our problems rather than arguing about them. I find in life that we can get a better relationship by talking, far better than arguing. When you are arguing, fussing, you aren’t accomplishing anything. When you sit down and express things around a table talking in conversation we can get a better understanding. That’s what I think on that.
Kent: Well, we really appreciate talking with you. You have a wealth of knowledge about the community a whole lifetime.
Rev: Yeah, I’m glad you came, too.
Allen: I know that I appreciate what both of you have done [for the community]. I know that when I first got down here I wasn’t too well received because I tried to do everything so fast; you know that. I had to kind of back off and really oversee what really you all wanted, and we assisted you in that. I appreciate both of you, and I hope you realize that. I appreciate what you have done for the communities, both Bunnell and Espanola because you did a lot of work in Bunnell, too.
Rev: May I touch on that a little bit? In 1975 when they integrated Flagler County they closed down all the facilities in the south area [of Bunnell]. There was nothing down there at all. In 1975, Cory Harris, the Superintendent, talked about putting something back in the community so the children would have someplace to go instead of on the corner or on the street. At that time we had something called a CETA program, where you worked with CETA and the State for about a year and a half and then the Board of County Commissioners that we worked with takes you on as an employee. So the gym there was nailed up, there was nothing, nothing, nothing going on at all in the area. I talked to [unclear] about it and got somebody to give us some balls and I got hot on CETA. I got a salary, I think it was $100 a week at the time and I got that from CETA. We opened up the gym six days a week. We had recreation back into the area put something back into the area there. There was nothing for a long time.
One peculiar thing I thank God, you talk about a new relationship with all that the County had a training [program] that when you worked on CETA .when you got off CETA if you worked on Road and Bridge, you went on Road and Bridge out there. But other CETA programs you couldn’t get on because you were black. But when it come time for us to get off of CETA, the Board of Commissioners take us on, they didn’t want to do it. We set there in the Board Room until twelve or one o’clock in the morning, me and Paul, trying to get taken on as County employees in the Recreation Program. They didn’t want to do it. I asked two friends, Jeff Barber ( He’s gone on to Glory now, I pray God he is!) Jeff Barber has gone to glory and one lady, I won’t call her name, she is still living. She say, “Don’t you all leave this Board meeting; stay here if it take all night, they will do it. But if you leave here, they not going to do it”. They finally did it. We were the first Recreation Leaders that the County had with an office. I was the first one to have my own office for the County part. The School System did, but the County of County Commissioners didn’t nave no blacks there. They give me an office there; they didn’t give me an air conditioner. I went and got my own air conditioner and cut a hole and put it in the window. [laughter] Some how or other you got to make that first step.
Mrs. Giddens: Reverend Giddens designed this house. He got two little boys to work with
Rev: I can lay blocks, I can carpenter, I do all my own building.
Allen: Getting back to those bricks that you said you made, is that the bricks that you use like the concrete bricks that they use now for building houses?
Rev: Yes, I’m going to show you one when we go out there.
Kent: Take a picture of it!
Allen: Very good. Actually, I should take one [picture] of you all together. [laughter] All right! [photo session begins]
Giddens Biographical Information
Interviewee Reverend Frank Giddens Sr. was born and raised in Espanola, Florida. His father was born in Whitman, Georgia and moved to Neoga, Florida to work in the turpentine and timber industries. His mother was born and raised in Neoga. His parents moved to Espanola because it was a place where Blacks could buy and own land.
Young Giddens attended school in Espanola, where the Church of God in Christ doubled as a one-room school house. As a young man he built and operated the second oldest Black grocery store and gas station in Espanola. After the tragic death of his brother he redirected his life. In 1967 he felt called to the ministry and became the pastor of his local church, the St. Paul Baptist Church. He continues to serve there and at another church in Palatka, Florida. He has served as the Moderator of the Indian River Baptist Association for the past seventeen years. He is said to be a powerful and popular preacher who is in great demand throughout the region.
In addition to his work in the church, he has been an effective community activist, promoting housing for low and moderate-income families in the County. He was instrumental in the racial integration of the County work force through the CETA program. He has worked with the Board of County Commissioners to bring about change for the citizens of Espanola and Bunnell.
Interviewee Essie Mae Giddens was born and raised in Hasting, Florida. After graduating from Hastings High School as valedictorian of her class, she enrolled in Flagler Memorial College on a merit scholarship. In 1947 she completed her first two years at the College and she came to Flagler County where she was hired to teach in Espanola’s one room school. So began a forty- year career as a teacher that culminated with her work at the Buddy Taylor Middle School. Her effectiveness as a teacher was matched with her leadership skills during the challenging years of racial integration of the County School System. Since her retirement she has directed her considerable energy in leadership roles in her church at both the local and regional levels.
As a community leader she was a major contributor to the Espanola Listening Project, conducted by the Espanola Citizens in Action Council. She continues to serve as the Chairman of the “Clean Up Espanola Project”. Her newest venture involves the renovation and preservation of the original Espanola School.
Credibility of the Interviewees is thought to be excellent. Their recollections are consistent with written histories of the era, and they corroborate and clarify one another’s accounts.
Interviewer James Allen is a native of Ocala, Florida. He served with honor in the US Army during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. He retired in 1981 and relocated his with his family in Palm Coast, where he soon became active in many civic and community groups. Jim began a second career with the Flagler County Council on Aging where he rose to the position of Transportation Manager. There he gained a unique understanding of the county’s rural population. He has collaborated with other community leaders in numerous innovative programs including the Flagler Learning Center. Jim conducts tours for local organizations to acquaint them with county history. He recently served a term as the Commander of the Palm Coast VFW. He has volunteered to assist in the Flagler County Oral History Project.
Interviewer Judith Kent is a member of the Friends of the Library of Flagler County who has volunteered to participate in the Historical Project as an interviewer. A resident of the county since 1995, she is a retired nurse educator. She gained her interviewing skills in her undergraduate nursing studies at FSU and master’s program at Teacher’s College, Columbia University where she majored in Counseling. Throughout her thirty years of professional nursing and teaching, these skills were practiced in both inpatient and community settings of the baccalaureate-nursing program of the University of Miami.
Producer: William Ryan
Editor: Anita Hoad
Funding: Friends of the Library of Flagler County, Inc.
Blount, Robert S. Spirits of Turpentine: A History of Florida Naval Stores 1528 to 1950. Florida Journal Monograph, Number Three. Florida Agricultural Museum. Tallahassee, Florida. 1993.
Clegg, John A. A History of Flagler County. John A. Clegg. Bunnell, Florida, 1976.