The first African-American from Orlando elected to the Florida Legislature and the first black male to pass two constitutional amendments, Alzo Reddick grew up at 700 West Jackson Street in downtown Orlando. Dr. Reddick would later lead the historic preservation of the neighborhood with the Wells’ Built Museum, work to bring Florida A & M Law School to the community, and create the Soldiers to Scholars Program for military mentors and at risk youth. Listen as Alzo Reddick describes the people and places that have special meaning to him in this oral history interview.
Alzo Jackson Reddick, born November 15, 1937 in Alturas, Florida which is a little fruit community outside of Bartow. Attended Union Academy in Bartow, Florida and moved to Orlando during the time I was in the first grade. So I’ve lived in Orlando from the first grade to 2015 when we’re doing this interview. So from a six year old to almost 78 on my next birthday.
LISTEN Part I (10:00)
So how did you happen to come to Orlando?
My father was an insurance agent to the Atlanta Life Insurance Company and that meant from 1944-1945 he had a white color job. That is he had a tie and he sold insurance for two different black insurance companies: The Central Insurance Company and The Atlantic Life. And we almost starved to death because it was a glamorous job in 1945, ’46, ’47, daddy was an insurance agent and most black men other than the preacher, the mortician, no doctors at that time in Orlando, preachers, morticians, teachers were the only black men that wore ties that I can think of, but we did not earn very much money. The family did not and so daddy became a waiter and a bellhop and worked at a series – The Wyoming, The Orange Center, Dubsdread Country Club, The San Juan Hotel, The Angebilt Hotel, and so those were the kind of jobs. And my father was the head waiter at Morrison’s Cafeteria so he had a number of jobs, but he was also involved in labor and so my daddy was threatened. When I was in college he was leading the strike at the Morrison’s [Cafeteria] on West Colonial Drive and I was in college and someone said that they were going to come and shoot him in the knee and momma was scared.
1936 photo of Mr. and Mrs. William Alzo Reddick, parents of Alzo Reddick, the first African-American from Orlando elected to the Florida Legislature.
Smathers Pepper Campaign of 1950
But part of my involvement in Orlando that I began my first political campaign was the Smathers Pepper Campaign of 1950. I believe I was in the 5th or 6th grade and there was an effort to persuade black men and women to vote. But you could lose your job by voting in Orange County as I believe Dixie Barber was the Clerk of the Court and it was very bad for black people to get registered to vote and you could be fired. And I should just add that one of the five teachers that was suing Orange County for equal pay in the 40’s, one of those teachers, one of my teachers that were fired because a black teacher had the temerity to say that they should earn the same amount as white teachers.…
My next door neighbor was the first black female to have a librarian’s degree in I’m going to say, 1945-46. Her name was Eddie Jackson and at the Main Library downtown, Miss Eddie Jackson, took me to the black library on Terry Street.
Photo of Mrs. Eddie Thomas Jackson and tribute to her legacy.
I was promoted to the second grade, I can’t remember between the first and second grade, I fell in love with the library. And all these years later seeing all those books coming from Bartow I’d never been in a library before and so the black library was on Terry Street.
Photo of Mrs. Jackson with schoolchildren at the Booker T. Washington Branch Library.
I fell in love with those books and the library was open on Saturday. And so, Miss Eddie Jackson, again black female in Orange County with a librarian degree, I think from Northwestern or someplace. But she earned a livelihood as an elementary school teacher. But she took Alzo Reddick, Bill Harris, another prominent Orlandoan, there was a series of black males that at elementary school she took us by the hand and she took me to the library and I would just like to talk about that for a moment. At Jones High School when I said I couldn’t find any more books to read Miss Starks who was the Jones High Librarian called the librarian at the white library downtown and they were able to get books back and forth for me at Jones High…
Florida State Representative Alzo Reddick presenting the Judy Mucci Award to her parents Mr. And Mrs. Mucci. Judy Mucci served as a Librarian, Manager, Associate Director for the Orange County Library System from 1973-1993.
First Black Legislator to Pass Two Constitutional Amendments
I was the class president in the fourth grade. I was the class president in the eleventh grade. But I was also the first black male at Winter Park High School. The first [black] chairman of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, the First Black Administrator at Rollins College. The first black legislator elected to the legislature to ever pass two constitutional amendments which changed the constitution from reconstruction.Today, I direct the [UCF] Soldiers to Scholars Program…. As a child the black teachers that influenced my life: Miss Eddie Jackson, the first black librarian, Mrs. Brown, my fourth grade teacher, and Miss Thelma Vivienne Jackson Dudley was an English teacher, and Mrs. Reddick was an English teacher. Those black women from the time I was a small boy told me I was going to be somebody. They told me that. They made me believe I was smart. They made me believe that I had something on the ball.
And the reason that I’m giving you the speech that I give young black males, I played football in high school and college. And when people see me they say, “You played football?” Yeah, I played football in high school and college. I don’t tell anyone that I was a great football player, but I played football in college. I played against Deacon Ladd in high school and I played against Ernie Ladd in college. And so, again, I’m not saying that I’m a great football player, but I’m the first black male so far as I know, I stand corrected if there’s another black male, that’s passed a constitutional amendment.
Virgil Hawkins Law Clinic
And the reason I’m proud of that as a legislator is that when people sent me to Tallahassee, I went to Tallahassee to take care of business and that legislative accomplishment is very, very important to me. Virgil Hawkins was the first African American when I was in high school he was applying to the University of Florida to attend law school. And he was never accepted into the University of Florida Law School. But during my time in the legislature, I passed a bill that creates the Virgil Hawkins Law Clinic at the University of Florida Law School. So when I tell you that I’m proud of my legislative accomplishment, Alzo Reddick… passed two constitutional amendments. One dealing with single member districting which changed the constitution and another dealing with historic preservation. And I think, not enough people, black or white know what black contributions were made in this country…
LISTEN Part II (19:42)
So my father from the time I can remember worked in citrus as a young man, plowing groves… Came to Orlando… became a head waiter at Morrison’s Cafeteria and other cafeterias where he worked as a head waiter, but he died at the Cheyenne Saloon and he was one month short of his 80th birthday and he was working up until two days before he died… He was very grateful to have a job. My mother had passed and daddy had more money than he’d ever had in his lifetime. And the people that ran – Bob Snow and his successors were very kind. He was a janitor. He was a man that I don’t think he exerted himself, but he had a great personality…. And there’s a scholarship, a small scholarship named for him at the university where I’m now employed. And we’ve never had a lot of money in it, but his duties as a waiter, a barman, bellboy, all of those jobs helped get me through college. And I’m the first in my family to graduate….
The Reddick Family. Pictured from left to right are: James R. Reddick, Ann Reddick Britten, Cynthia Reddick Daetwyler, Lorenzo V. Reddick, and Alzo Jackson Reddick.
For me to be the first in my family to graduate from college and know my father worked as a waiter and my mother worked for the Nasrallah’s. He was a home builder. And my mother, I attended on a half scholarship, football, and it became an academic scholarship, but my mother worked for the Nasrallah’s local business builders. And there were times when my mother had to borrow half my tuition and Mr. Nasrallah advanced her pay so that I could stay in school. And I tell people these stories because I feel very strongly about black-white relationships…
Country Club of Orlando
And people at the Country Club during my college years, Mr. C. Dewitt Miller and many prominent people in Orlando gave me a job during my undergraduate years. So I met some of the prominent Orlando people from the Country Club. And I can remember some of the golfers referring to the caddies as “Boy, Boy”. But during my years at Orlando Country Club, I can think of some of the people that I worked for, I don’t think anybody called me “Boy”. They would refer to me as “AJ” or Alzo. So my recollection of the years that I was in college from 1956 to 1960 I had a job every year. And so I want people to know the people that were very kind to me. During my years at Jones High, I tell people I can’t sing and I can’t dance, but I found that the female of the species liked pretty clothing and I never had an inkling of stealing anything from someone. So I was a paperboy in the morning and I washed dishes in the evening so I liked to dress…
I grew up, I lived in the 700 block of West Jackson Street. If one can think of Church and Parramore being the heart of the black community. I lived one block south of Church Street and lived between Parramore and Orange Blossom Trail. So it’s very easy for everyone to know exactly where I lived. We were just a few blocks from the current Citrus Bowl. If one were to travel, to come out my front door and march down maybe four blocks past Orange Blossom Trail that is where I lived…. So we’re thinking of Parramore looking west that’s the block in which I moved as a first grader in 1945. And it’s the block in which I lived until I went off to the Army in 1961. So one can say the entirety of my life from elementary school until going off to the Army was spent in the 700 block.
First Black Policemen Employed in the Black Community in 1953
I saw gambling, I saw hot pillow hotels where people would go for romantic interludes in that area. I saw white men that were drunk and come and scream obscenities to black people in that area. I was a 9th grader when the first black policemen were employed in the black community in 1953 and they could not arrest white people. I knew all the first black policemen. And so Judge Perry’s father was a waiter with my father before he became a policeman. So Howard Perry, Mayo Jones, I knew the names of all the black policemen and one of the black policemen, Carrington, one of the black policemen, who was fired. And so, Orlando was a small town and so the area in which they patrolled is the area in which I grew up. And so I remember.
First Black Male to Teach at Winter Park High School
Just for the record, I was in the tenth grade in 1954 when Brown vs. Board of Education, when the decision came down. But by 1967, I was the first black male to teach at Winter Park High School. So from the time I was in high school I graduated from college and spent three years in the Army and I think I was quite an accomplished teacher because the supervisors from Orange County would come out to Phyllis Wheatley [School] and listen to me in the classroom. And they decided that I could be one of the guinea pig blacks that could teach in the white school. And so I was offered a job at, I think, Oakridge, Edgewater, and I ended up selecting Winter Park High School because Winter Park High School was the best school and I had a good friend out there by the name of Ed Creech…. But the kids were just great to me. I want the record to know that Dale Zion and Larry Kahn were two Jewish students that were my first student assistants and so I include that every time I make a speech or an interview.
An illustration of Dr. Reddick drawn by his grandson Jacob Jackson McGee.
I want people to know what race relations were, but there were people of good faith that Alzo Reddick had someone running interference for me. And I participated in the first teacher’s strike. I am a labor man. In 1968, my wife and I went on the teacher’s strike and we stayed from day one to day end. So I’m a hard core Democrat. And I’m very active in the teacher’s organization. And some of my students, white students, families in conservative Winter Park asked that Alzo Reddick come back to school because the kids, I was a much younger person, but I know a little bit about American history. I love American history. The kids at Winter Park High School were just great. Some of them were very conservative. Senator Hawkin’s son was one of my students. And I’m trying to think of the judge’s son, and Randy Saltzgiver, and William Beardall, the mayor’s grandson was in my class. I had like a who’s who of white kids in my class and by and large they were, the kids were very kind. I can only think of one, someone hung a noose in my classroom at old Winter Park High School. And it was apparently a bad joke….
Good Relations with Many Republicans
But I want everyone to know how nicely this first black male was treated at Winter Park High School by some fairly conservative parents. And I never agreed with Senator Hawkins about anything politically, but I met Lou Frey. My wife was Lou Frey’s guidance counselor at Winter Park. My point is that I had good relations with many of the Republicans over the years and the kids at Winter Park made it possible for me to go to Rollins. Because again, people would come to listen and I’m very grateful to those kids.
You’ve taught in primary, higher education, segregated, non-segregated schools, so you’ve worked at all these different levels. You’re one of the few educators who have done that…
Let me just say this as clearly as I can. I feel very grateful that I am still employed at this ripe old age. I arrive every morning at 6:30 and supervise. I don’t walk as much, the younger people walk. But I feel very enthusiastic about the opportunity to teach. And when I come in and show you the pictures and most white people and most black people don’t know that when that boat sank at the end of 1862 that there were six black soldiers and its DNA showed there were six black soldiers. And the boat is at Vicksburg and I’ve actually been on this boat so I’m excited about American History. And basically, my quest is for Americans to know more about American History. And as a soldier myself, I believe very strongly there would not be a United States of America without the body parts of black Americans during a crucial time during the Civil War. I visited Gettysburg on one occasion. I’ve visited Vicksburg…. I visit Fort Sumter every time that I possibly can.
Ten Percent of the People Who Died Were Black Soldiers
And so when I go around and I talk to people about the Civil War I want them to know that 10 percent of the people that died were black soldiers and they fought at a time when the people that I served with died in Vietnam. Well, we gave up on Vietnam, not because we couldn’t continue to fight. The Vietnamese could accept 100 Vietnamese soldiers bodies returning. We couldn’t accept another white or black American. We said, “We’ve had enough” and we threw in the towel. So as a soldier and a football player I feel very confident to stand up and say the men with whom I served died in Vietnam and we did not win that war. And as a great, grandson of slaves born in Brooks County, Georgia I may very well have been a slave because we’ve never mounted a successful slave insurrection as the Haitians did. So it’s a well known secret, how come the Haitians were able to defeat Napoleon?
Reading the Bible with my Grandfather
And so, I speak to over muscled black males who go around with their pants hanging down and uttering ever obscenity known to God or man. I’m saying the reason we as a race were violated and our women were violated, we were never strong enough to defend them. So let’s not have people disrespecting people that fought hard to earn freedom. So I’m quite critical of young black males that will not compete. I think that the grandfather that would listen to me read as a young black person, who could read The Bible and not much more, but was very proud. And so a part of what I do today in my old age when I walk these children to school, I come in and I give them a lecture and I’m always testing them on how many of these people – when you look around at some of the people you see: Jackie Robinson. I played hooky from school to see Jackie Robinson in 1948 when he came here.
Mrs. Bethune Cookman
My teachers took me to see Mrs. Bethune [Cookman] before she died in 1955. I graduated from high school in 1956. There’s a picture of me with Alex Haley over there who wrote The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots. So the reason Alzo Reddick had an opportunity, there were black women primarily that said, “Boy, you’re going to be somebody. We’re going to take you up. You’re going to have to compete against the white world at some point.” And so, I can never say thank you to those folks.
Claude Pepper and George Stuart
But I call the kids in and I try to have them straighten up and I tell them to say, “Yes, sir,” “No, sir,” “Yes, ma’m,” “No, ma’m.” You know I’m trying to get another group of African American children ready for a society that may be racist. But if they can do quadratic equations and understand, and the periodic table, there’s room for them. I believe that from the bottom of my heart. So one of the questions you asked me why [I do this]. I think that people must see a model that they can believe in. And the people that I admire and looked up to, I can remember Mr. Grouper one of the social studies teachers. And I can remember Claude Pepper being a, trying to speak up for black folk. As a child in elementary school there were always white males. And George Stuart, I remember, George Stuart. And he hired people from Jones High School to work at Check with George Stuart, and they weren’t all cleaning toilets.
And so for me, I call racism what it is. And I think that the Back to Africa people, I think they’re ignorant. And, most of the Tea Party, I despise the Tea Party, and most of the things they represent. But there were a few Republicans along the way, we wouldn’t have a law school without Glenda Hood. I love and admire and respect Glenda Hood. And obviously… George Stuart is someone, Claude Pepper is someone that I admired. William Beardall and the Beardall family, the Nasrallahs. So there were a number of people. So whatever progress we’ve had as a race, there were always people not just the abolitionists, but people that did things. So at this time, I think, we cannot attribute all that ails the black community with racism.
Young black males
As an administrator at the University of Central Florida, hell nobody’s keeping anybody, any black young male out of the University of Central Florida. Young black males are keeping themselves out of the University of Central Florida. And if they believe that flexing their muscles and shooting someone with a 22 Special – I want to show you something. Look at that submarine. And you see this little dark skinned fellow smiling, that’s my grandson, one of five black men on a submarine with a 160 white males. And to be on that submarine you have to have yourself pulled together….
LISTEN Part III (17:33)
I think there’s still racism, but I also think there’s ignorance, apathy, and cowardice. That’s what, I call it: “Refusing to compete.”
Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
And so at this point in my life, I want to tell the truth. I want to tell the truth. You know there’s a statue over there of Robert Gould Shaw, and Robert Gould Shaw is the colonel that led the 54th into Battle of Wagner. And that’s a statue of the first sergeant that won the medal of honor for picking up – you see that picture there – that’s the famous battle where the colonel is killed and the first sergeant picks up the flag and he wins the medal of honor. And that’s the statue. So this is part and parcel why I wanted you to come out. I like for people to come out and see some of this stuff and hear some of the stories….
It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness…
I asked Mrs. Brown one day at Holden Street School where the Lynx Bus station was on 441. I asked her, “Why didn’t slaves fight back?” And I think Miss Brown thought I was crazy and that’s one of the questions that I asked and I couldn’t figure out. There was nothing. As a librarian look at every textbook from 1945 until I’m going to say, ’65. There isn’t a picture other than Booker T. Washington. I don’t even remember seeing a picture of any black person in my history book I ever read. And so, to a certain extent Miss Tracy, this little office of mine and a few pictures at the university I have a small office there, this is my effort, in the words of Robert Kennedy, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
The Golden Thirteen
I’m not complaining to you about all the used books. I’m saying that there were no books. And if these pictures of the men of the 54th, in these pictures these ex-slaves fighting for their masters, if these books – why didn’t anybody say anything that 10 percent of the black – and so for me, I’m an educator. My degrees are in education and not history. And so you see that picture up there of the Tuskegee Airmen see there’s another picture up there with black men. There were no black officers in the U.S. Navy when WWII began. There were 13 black officers in the U.S. Navy and they call them the Golden Thirteen. And one of them – we have his picture up there, one of those 13 black officers. He was one of the first black officers that they allowed to become an officer. And so when you begin, my point of view is stuff that I collect in here.
The Tuskegee Airmen
I graduated from high school in 1956. There’s no picture of any black officers, there’s nothing about the Tuskegee Airmen, or, for example, this fellow right here. He was killed on December 4, 1950. He earned his wings and he was accepted. He earned his wings in ’49, a year later he was dead. There’s no picture of that first black navy pilot in any book in Florida. He was trained here in Florida…. I’m enthusiastic about these things… So what I do today is talk about the history that was left out and the mayhem that was done to black children by simply not telling the truth.
If they could give their lives why couldn’t they get into the history books?
I never make any pretensions that black soldiers won the Civil War all by themselves. Or the Black Union Navy won. What I contend is wherever America has moved forward especially in terms that Civil War, there were some black soldiers. And so, if they could give their lives why couldn’t they get into the history books. And so what kind of psychological warfare has it been on the entire population. And so, a very curious Alzo J. Reddick in the fourth grade, is still a very curious Alzo J. Reddick at almost 78 on the next birthday.
And so what I do is I lecture and I lead and usually this is the time when people ask me to speak and people become interested in African American history. And my feeling very simply is African American History must be told with American History. And we don’t deserve a month. We deserve the truth about American History. And so if this boat is down there in Vicksburg why don’t you tell white kids and black kids or the ones that cannot say, “Negro” but could say the magic word. Why don’t you say that when this boat sank in 1862 there were four black sailors on there that sank with them. So anyway, that’s the part that motivates me.
In the book Crossing Division Street … you’re credited with leading the revitalization and historic preservation efforts in Orlando’s African American community. Would you describe some of your vision?
Yes, exactly. What happened is I wasn‘t aware, let me tell you what I don’t think I was given credit for and I think I deserve. If you were to interview Mayor Bill Frederick and Brenda Robinson from the City of Orlando as a paper boy where the Wells’ Built Musuem is that is where Orlando Sentinel was, as a paper boy from ’53 to ’56 that’s where I picked up my papers every morning. I was there in the morning. And so at 5 o’clock every morning that’s where I was picking up those papers. And in the evening when I wasn’t playing football I was washing dishes at the Orange Court [Hotel].
I put a Million Dollars in the Budget for the Wells’ Built Hotel
The City of Orlando was getting ready to tear down that Wells’ Built Hotel. There was 500,000 dollars in fines. I went to the mayor, I went to Brenda Robinson and I was an important person in the Florida Legislature. The Democrats were in charge. I went to the Speaker of the House and there was, I secured money, the Trust for Public Land. Lester and his two brothers they were with the trusts. So I put a million dollars in the budget for Wells’ Built Hotel. And I had some of my soldiers sleep in Dr. Wells’ house when they were going to tear it down. The people that built the arena, I was working with Mrs. Thompson and so we had squatters staying in the Wells’ Home. So I had my squatters staying in the Wells’ Home. So I had my soldiers sleep in the, pull guard there, when it was on the East Side of Division… until Miss Thompson could get enough money to put it on the west side.
Saving the Wells’ Built Hotel
So Dr. Wells’ sister was not only one of my teachers, we rented from Mrs. Wells and from Mrs. Rogers. And there were times when we didn’t have the money to pay Mrs. Rogers. And so this is an example. My English teacher, they were proud of me as I went up the ladder, so when I helped save the hotel, Brenda Robinson, if she’s still around they know in the legislature I got a million dollars put in the Housing Act. So when Senator Thompson says she had a dream – what I tell people… I want people to know that as a legislator I take pride in doing what I did to save the Wells’ Built Hotel.
And I was a paper boy, and the City of Orlando was going to tear it down just as they tore Harmon’s Cove and they tore Branson Hotel. I believe in historic preservation. So to me I think I was deprived of something that I fell very passionate about because the Well’s built wouldn’t be there and the home wouldn’t be there without Alzo Reddick’s prowess as a legislator.
Delivering the constitutional amendment and a million dollars…
And I would just say The Orlando Sentinel has some problems with me. You know they’ve given – Wells’ Built was saved and when we came up with the money they put a whole page for Mercedes Clark. Well, why would you put up a story of Mercedes Clark. It’s Alzo Reddick, you know, the same guy who delivered the constitutional amendment, is the same guy. And the Speaker of the House would tell you when they put the million dollars in the budget to help save it. So for me, The Orlando Sentinel is not only an unfair paper, they think about me what I think about them. So my point is as passionate as I am about black history, so if I’m the guy that delivers the constitutional amendment and Miss Thompson, there’s no one ever until Alzo Reddick, ever put a million dollars in the budget for that. So when The Sentinel would not tell the truth, I want people to know what kind of a person I am. In other words, I didn’t go spending flowers, drinking whiskey, or spending time chasing the female of the species. In a white dominated legislature, Alzo Reddick passed a constitutional amendment, saved the hotel that the City of Orlando says is going to destruction. And so, Bill Frederick is no friend of Alzo Reddick, but if Bill Frederick and Brenda Robinson would tell the story, I want the folk, I want the folk to know, I’m not running for anything, but I want the folk to know that I delivered.
Two Constitutional Amendments
And there are two constitutional amendments. One changing the constitution for single member districts. I’m very, very proud of, my point is, that I believe if I’ve done anything for the City of Orlando, I think at some point, The Sentinel took some adversarial position with Alzo Reddick because we had the Secretary and Senator Morph they didn’t want Highway Patrol in all the tourist areas and I was chairman of the appropriations committee. And I took the position of the Transportation Secretary so I got kind of cross ways and I’m not lamenting the fact. But what I think, for my role in Orlando, Florida, the Wells’ Built Museum is down there and I put the money in the budget. I just want somebody to know that I did it and I want some credit. For the people, the Speaker of the House and Lester, the Trust for Public Land, they will tell the same story.
Honor and Integrity
So for me, this is a term that I use, the mothers of Sparta, Athens said, “Come back with your shield or on it.” I think that young black males must have some sense of honor and integrity. And there should be no, take no pride in being a pimp, and that you can sell black women off the corner of a development. And I believe that young black males must have a black male similar to Alzo Reddick that talks about Paul Robeson, All American Football player, Phi Betta Kappa, Law degree from Columbia, singer, actor, and the ladies loved him, black and white….
Manhood and Masculinity
So to me my view of masculinity and manhood, is to be redeemed wherever America is in competition: in the classroom, in the lab room, not just on the football field and the baseball field; in the English professor classes, in the poetry jam. So for me, I thank God that I have an opportunity to pay back some of the investments that were given to me. I had a lot of teachers that in an age of rigid segregation, librarians, and I tell this story many times about how Miss Jackson and Miss Star, the librarians and those teachers that told me, that made me believe that I was going to – I’m not saying that I accomplished a great deal, but what I’m proudest of… that a historic place is still in downtown Orlando. And it’s not downtown because someone had a dream. It’s downtown because Alzo Reddick, Alzo Reddick put some money in the legislature. And so I feel that The Sentinel did not, I feel that The Sentinel did themselves a disservice by not telling them the truth about it. But I’m very proud of that just the same. So if someone wants to know, I’m very proud of that.
Alzo Reddick’s biography from Who’s Who Among African Americans, April 2011.
Elected to the Florida Legislature in 1982
But I hope I’m being as accurate and forthcoming to say the people that made it possible for me to graduate from college and my mother was a maid. And when she borrowed half my tuition, I think people should know who in 1960 would have ever known in ’82 that Alzo Reddick was going to be elected to the Florida Legislature. But Andy Nasrallah whose son is an architect advanced my mother the money because I was on a half scholarship and, hell, I think, that I haven’t hit a home run on everything. And certainly, I certainly have not made a lot of money and I don’t have a lot of money, just like many other Democrats. I don’t have a lot. Never made a lot. Never stole any money. Never took a dive vote. But, for politics I went to the hardest places I could find to do the hardest lifting I could do and I believe that….
LISTEN Part IV (19:33)
Bringing Florida A & M University Law School to Orlando
I met with Charles Hawkins, Commissioner Daisy Lynum, President Fred Humphrey. The first meetings that we had about getting the law school were held either in my office or Commissioner Lynum’s office. And Commissioner Lynum and Mayor Glenda Hood, Mayor Glenda Hood, is just a special person to me. And without the early interference, the early one, the first meeting was held in my office. The next meeting was held in Commissioner Lynum’s. So I’m saying, “Why the hell didn’t somebody put a plaque up there for Alzo Reddick, you know, in terms of the law school? I”m not asking to put a statute out there for me, but for Alzo Reddick who was a paper boy along that route, a paper boy every morning. And Miss Starks, the librarian, whose son was first admitted to the University of Florida Law School, that was the neighborhood in which I was the paper boy. And so I felt that we delivered on some things for Orlando for the black community. And unlike some, I don’t do a lot of cursing publicly. And I’m not prepared to say all nasty things against all white people or Republicans. I don’t like Jesse Helms. I never liked Jesse Helms, but Glenda Hood, if there were more Republicans like Glenda Hood. I think there’s a quantum difference between the Tea Party Republicans as opposed to the Rockefellers that helped create and maintain Spellman University.
And so people don’t make a distinction of a Republican senator when they kicked out all the – white people did not want black soldiers in Brownsville. I don’t see the Brownsville book up here. But they kicked all of the soldiers out of Brownsville. It was a Republican Senator from Ohio that did their best to get the black soldiers restored. So what I attempt to do sometimes is to tell he truth about some of these events….
You see the Sergeant Major come in and offer you water? He spent 24 years in the United States Army. He’s Airborne Special Forces. In other words, the toughest of the tough in the Army. And he literally jumped out of an airplane and has eaten a rattlesnake. Right now he weighs 145 pounds, that’s what you weigh in the military. He represents the highest rank as an enlisted man in the United States Army. And there’s nothing more feared than the Special Forces. And so part of the message is here’s a Republican senator that tried to get these… all these professional soldiers were fighting in the Philippines. They kicked them all out. It was a Republican Senator that tried to get some of these people back and Roosevelt didn’t. So I guess I’m trying to convey to you some of the minutia that I know about American History and black soldiers and their plight….
There were people, Earl Warren, in my picture, was a fair man and so when we tell the story let’s talk about the people who were brave enough to not drift far ahead of the public – you’ve got to be elected. I feel grateful for those folk and when I get a chance to talk about them I want to share that.
You created the Soldiers to Scholars Program. Would you tell us about that?
There’s a federal program called Troops to Teachers…. What we did is we said if you have an honorable separation from the U.S. military and you can do college level work, we will accept you into Soldiers to Scholars…. So my idea was why not recruit men and women who have served honorably and have them live in the inner city and become role models and so initially that is where the idea came from. It’s Troops to Teachers which is a federal program and so Soldiers to Scholars, becomes a federal form, and after talking to Dr. Hosenbeck, who is my boss, and Dr. Hitt, Dr. Hosenbeck was persuaded that it was a good idea. Dr. Hitt thought that it was a good idea. And Dr. Hitt persuaded the internal folk so we have funding for 31 people….
Soldiers to Scholars graduate Charlie Patterson, center, pictured with Dr. Alzo Reddick, right, creator of the University of Central Florida Soldiers to Scholars Program. Mr. Bradley, a Soldiers to Scholars employee is pictured on the left.
I’d like to see Soldiers to Scholars expanded because as an educator after all of these years, I’ve taught in segregated, elementary, high school areas and taught where, I’d just say, I’ve had a series of jobs from Phyllis Wheatley to Winter Park High School from Winter Park High School to Rollins College from Rollins College to Valencia and from Valencia to the University [of Central Florida] where I’ve been employed since 1991. I’ve received some promotions and I want to say as clearly as I can there were people that made it possible for me. Dr. Hosenbeck as far as I’m concerned there isn’t a greater guy in the world than Dr. Hosenbeck….
I say with great pride within the past two years we’ve graduated at least six MSW’s. And I’m not saying that we can stop the suicide rate. But I have a picture of one of my soldiers up there. He committed suicide. He was on reserve status and left Soldiers to Scholars… Dr. Hosenbreck, I express, I tell him I’m not ready to retire. And I tell people that I intend to equal Hyman G. Rickover’s time on duty…. I think that I’m the only black guy in the United States of America that talks about Hyman G. Rickover all these years and talks about the fact that he was turned down, there was racism and anti-Semitic behavior, but nevertheless he got into the Naval Academy. He was passed over I think I mentioned that, but he eventually made it to Admiral. I want them to be spark plugs for the little girls and boys that hear me and I don’t expect them to remember Admiral Rickover, Admiral Zimor, and Admiral Boyle, these are three white males in the United States Navy. But I hope that they will remember the enthusiasm of an older black guy with a bald head that loves this stuff.
Speaking of your educating young people I believe I heard that when you were young one of your teachers connected you with church and Boy Scouts. Is that correct?
Yes, her name was Violet Brown and the year was 1948 and Miss Brown’s house where she lived is not too far from here. The house that she built. And Mrs. Brown rigged the election. I was elected class president of Mrs. Brown’s class. I joined Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church where I still belong to Mt. Pleasant today. And I played hookie to see Jackie Robinson when he came to play baseball. I still atttend that church. I joined that church in June of 1948… But Mrs. Violet Brown she didn’t suggest a church for us, but she made speeches about the church. And Miss Brown what I remember about her she talked to us so much about Marion Anderson, the soprano. And the reason I think I have political awareness, I heard so much about Marion Anderson and there’s a picture somewhere of Eleanor Roosevelt. And so Miss Brown was very acute. She made us aware of the world. She said, “We were going to have to compete. Integration was like heaven. There would be integration and we were going to have to be prepared to compete in a white world….” And I joined the church all because of Miss Brown. And so Miss Brown, Miss Dudley later in the 10th and 11th grades. Miss Dudley and Miss Reddick took us to Florida A & M. The reason I saw Mrs. Bethune is because those teachers insisted on taking us to see people. And so those teachers made it possible for me to see a part of the world that I’d never seen.
Dr. Alzo Reddick’s Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church Bulletin
LISTEN Part V (15:18)
So I had involvement with politics and because I lived next to a librarian, it’s one of the most fortunate things that’s happened to me. Mrs. Jackson taking me to the Albertson Public Library on Terry Street. I just, it was the most fascinating. I thought, I literally thought that I’d died and gone to heaven. I’d never seen so many books in my life. And I will tell you I cannot keep up with all the books. I mean I buy books like this one was our speaker right here for Veteran’s History Month…
And so, part of what I feel today having been a teacher all my life, I have no complaint. I wish that the salary had been better, but I have no complaint about the opportunity that I’ve had to be a teacher and to have had some opportunity for leadership in this community. And the opportunities came from both the black and white community….
Lawson Lamar was one of my best friends. When I became one of the first black males to teach at Winter Park High School, Lawson Lamar’s father was the swim coach, Tom Lamar, very respected person. I can do the Australian crawl, I played football. I never learned, I never had a swimming lesson in my life. But Tom Lamar was one of the nicest folk and so I learned I’m the swim coach at Winter Park High School. Hell, I couldn’t swim across the pool if my life depended on it, but the doctors’ and the attorneys’ kids who swim – “Don’t worry coach, we got you….”
America is a perfecting country, and you got to occupy the high ground. And the high ground is wherever new ground is being plowed, new solutions are being found. And my plea is, I simply want 15%. Whatever we are in the population of the librarians, of the nuclear engineers, of the computer engineers, the neurosurgeons, all this sort of stff, and that’s my take. And I think America is the most marvelous country in the world because America is constantly on the mend. I think as someone who knew his great grandmother who was a slave in 1855, who has served in the Florida Legislature for 18 years, and to have campaigned and voted for the first black President of the United States, and expect to vote for the first female President of the United States I am happy to have had the opportunity to have been a soldier in the evolution going forward. And America must continue to evolve, be inclusive and we need people that contribute to the change. Whether they are here for the change, nevertheless, prepare for the change. That is why it is great to be an American that believes in looking forward to our kindergarteners to assume their role. The army goes marching on. America goes marching on. That is all.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn Carter with Dr. Alzo Reddick and his wife and grandchildren on a family vacation in Georgia. Pictured from left to right in the front row are: Jacob Jackson McGee, Carter McGee, Zelda Mcgee, and Mrs. Reddick. Pictured from left to right in the back row are: Former President Jimmy Carter, Rosalyn Carter, Kennadi McGee, and Dr. Alzo Reddick.
Miss Kennadi Magee, Alzo Reddick’s granddaughter, is Miss Jones High School 2015.
Interview: Alzo Reddick
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: February 19, 2015
Place: Soldiers to Scholars, Orlando, Florida