Attorney relates Daytona’s segregated times in new novel ‘White Sugar, Brown Sugar’
BY JAMES HARPER
There was a time when Blacks living in Daytona Beach could not go across the bridge to the city’s beachside unless they were working in someone’s house as a maid, working as a yard man, cooking n a restaurant or cleaning hotel rooms for tourists.
Attorney Mike Pyle remembers those segregated times and has written a novel titled “White Sugar, Brown Sugar” using the city and that time period in the 1950s and 1960s as the setting for the book.
Pyle said the book is about the friendship of two boys – one Black, the other White – and how their relationship defied the odds of race and time.
“I decided I wanted to have a Black character in the book late. I saw similarities and differences how people of different social and cultural backgrounds, with different incomes could go through drug abuse and alcoholism. I wanted to show somebody with money and somebody without money ending up in the same situation,” Pyle explained.
‘Didn’t understand racism’
Pyle, 59, uses the pen name E.G. Tripp, which he and his daughter came up with.
He was born and raised in Daytona Beach and says though the characters in the book are fictitious, they are based on his life and people he met on his journey to becoming a successful attorney in the area.
The White character in the book is Jude and Roosevelt is his Black friend. Jude is loosely based on Pyle’s life.
Remembers MLK’s arrest
In an interview with the Daytona Times, Pyle remembered hearing someone visiting their house and used the word “nigger,’’ which his father heard. His father also was an attorney.
Pyle said his father, who was a long way from being a civil rights activist, quickly told the person “that kind of language was not tolerated in his house.”
The attorney also remembered when Dr. Martin Luther King came to St. Augustine.
Pyle was about 9 or 10 at the time.
The St. Augustine Movement took place in 1963 and 1964 and had a role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
During that time, despite the passage of the 1954 Supreme Court’s Brown vs. Board of Education, St. Augustine still had only six Black children admitted into White schools.
Unrest in St. Augustine
In 1963, a sit-in protest at a St. Augustine Woolworth’s lunch counter ended in the arrest and imprisonment of 16 young Black protesters and seven juveniles. In September 1963, the Ku Klux Klan staged a rally of several hundred Klansmen on the outskirts of town. They seized NAACP leader and local dentist Robert Hayling and three other NAACP activists (Clyde Jenkins, James Jackson and James Hauser) whom they beat with fists, chains, and clubs.
In the spring of 1964, Hayling put out a call to northern college students to come to St. Augustine for spring break, not to go to the beach, but to take part in civil rights activities.
That event brought the movement in St. Augustine to international attention.
From May until July 1964 protesters endured abuse, beatings and verbal assaults without any retaliation. By absorbing the violence and hate instead of striking back, the protesters gained national sympathy and were a factor in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
St. Augustine was the only place in Florida where Dr. King was arrested, on June 11, 1964 on the steps of the city’s Monson Motel Restaurant, which was segregated.
The demonstrations came to a climax when a group of Black and White protesters jumped into the swimming pool at the Monson Motor Lodge.
A rich kid’s reaction
Because he delivered newspapers, Pyle remembered reading about the St. Augustine Movement and the arrest of King.
Being so young, Pyle said he didn’t understand what was really going on and “didn’t pay much attention’’ but he knew that King had been jailed.
Early on, Pyle said his first interaction with Black people was the maid who came to his house twice a week. She had children who were not friends of his.
There is a character in the book based on the housekeeper.
“She had two sons. I thought they acted differently. I thought they were hostile to me because I was a rich kid across the river,” Pyle remembered.
Pyle also remembered seeing Blacks near the old Halifax River Yacht Club where his father was the commodore. The Whites would fish on the docks while the Blacks would fish on the banks.
Pyle said he also knew a Black man growing up who worked at the yacht club known as Brownie because his name was Brown. “He was the only Black person there. He would give us advice on fishing,” Pyle continued.
And there were a couple of Blacks who were yardmen at his family’s house.
“They would come across the river pulling their lawnmowers and their rakes on bicycles. I had a general understanding they had to be back across the river before nightfall. It wasn’t discussed in my household why,” remembered Pyle.
Though Pyle was privileged, he still had to work. One of his first jobs was at Morrison’s Cafeteria where he worked on the line serving food.
Morrison’s, which was sold to Piccadilly, was set up then with Blacks working in the back cooking food, Whites on the line dishing the food on the plates to customers, and Black waiters carrying the customers’ trays to their tables.
Pyle remembers the bathrooms for workers at the Ormond Beach restaurant being segregated.
“The Black guys had one bathroom. There was a single men’s bathroom the managers went into. White guys used the management bathroom,” Pyle recalled.
Pyle said he worked at Morrison’s off and on from 16 until he was 22.
During this time, Pyle would experiment with drugs and alcohol and eventually learn he had a problem. Jude, the character in his book, also has this problem.
A garbage man
When Pyle graduated from high school in 1971, he had no plans to follow in his father’s footsteps of becoming a lawyer.
He recalls that there was only one Black person attending Seabreeze graduating with his class. Pyle would go on to Daytona Community College with the intent of majoring in mental health counseling.
Before graduating, he managed to get a job counseling. After six months, he quit and moved to Connecticut with a girlfriend. He would get a job as a sanitation worker while up North.
Pyle said in Daytona Beach all the garbage workers were Black. That was not the case in Connecticut.
The job in Connecticut lasted a year – as long as his relationship with the girlfriend.
He packed up and moved back to Daytona Beach and wasn’t too proud to get a job as a garbage man in his hometown even though he was the only White worker initially.
On to law school
Pyle said his job as a garbage man job ended because a syringe was found in his truck. He admits he was using heroin at the time but not on the job. Pyle added that he wasn’t fired but his bosses gave him such a hard time that he quit.
Fate would have it that after losing this job, he decided he wanted to become a lawyer and started law school when he was 27.
He would first get his associate’s degree locally and go on to the University of Florida, earning a bachelor’s degree in English.
This is when he discovered his love for writing. He taught English to foreign students while he was getting his master’s. He received his law degree in 1982. His Daytona Beach firm is Pyle and Dellinger.
Along with being raised to treat Blacks as equals, his humbling experience as a garbage man and cafeteria worker helped him to further understand the civil rights movement.
“I didn’t understand racism – why some White people were feeling and acting like they did against Blacks,” he noted. “In my house, it wasn’t permitted.’’
For more information on Pyle and his book, call 386-615-9007.