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Robert W. and Helen S. Saunders papers

Identifier: S06

  • Staff Only

Scope and Contents

Includes materials on NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) activities in the nation, the state of Florida, and the city of Tampa, FL, civil rights, affirmative action, voter registration, school desegregation, equal employment opportunity, fair housing, and equal access for the disenfranchised.  Also includes material on Harry T. Moore, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other notable leaders of the NAACP and the civil rights movement.


  • Created: 1950-2001
  • Other: Date acquired: 05/00/1984


Conditions Governing Access

None. The contents of this collection may be subject to copyright.  Visit the United States Copyright Office's website at for more information.

Biographical or Historical Information

Robert William "Bob" Saunders, Sr., son of Willard and Christina Rogers Saunders, was born on June 9, 1921 and grew up in an area of West Tampa (FL) known as Roberts City. After graduating from Middleton High School in 1940, he attended Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, FL before entering the Army Air Corps in 1942. He was primarily stationed at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama and, by the time he was discharged in 1946, he had been awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Atlantic Theater of Operations Medal, and the World War Two Victory Medal.

After the war, Bob returned to Tampa and worked for the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, the city’s African American newspaper. His column, “Central Avenue Buckshot,” chronicled life on Tampa’s Central Avenue. When he moved to Cincinnati, OH to work for that city’s edition of the Cleveland Call and Post, he became active with the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

In 1947 Bob moved to Michigan and enrolled in the Detroit Institute of Technology, earning his B.A. degree in 1951. He worked for Ford Motor Company, became active in union affairs, and supported the local branch of the NAACP.

After the murder of Harry T. Moore in 1951, Bob was appointed Field Director for the NAACP, State of Florida. Between 1952 and 1966, he developed programs aimed at increasing NAACP membership and fundraising. He also investigated police brutality cases, increased voter registration, secured salary increases for black teachers, and worked to end racial segregation in the public schools. During that time he also served as the Executive Secretary for the Florida State Conference of Branches and Youth Councils.

In 1966 Bob moved to Atlanta to head the Southeast Regional Civil Rights section of the Office of Equal Opportunity. He served as Chief of the Office of Civil Rights until 1970 and as Chief of the Office of Human Rights from 1970 to 1976. He was responsible for the implementation and enforcement of all civil rights requirements in poverty programs, including the Job Corps, Community Action, Head Start, and Legal Services. He also organized state equal opportunity officers in all eight states of the region to form the Southeastern Equal Opportunity Association. Region IV included Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.

When Bob returned to Tampa in 1976, he became the Director of the Hillsborough County Equal Opportunity Office. During his eleven-year tenure, he developed the Civil Rights Program, the Fair Housing Program, the Minority Business Project, EEO Contract Compliance, and the Human Rights Ordinance for Hillsborough County.

From 1987 to 1988 he served as Executive Assistant to the County Administrator (Larry J. Brown), Board of County Commissioners, Hillsborough County, Florida. Bob retired from public service in June 1988.

Bob’s book, Bridging the Gap: Continuing the Florida Legacy of Harry T. Moore, 1952-1966, was published by the University of Tampa Press in 2000. During his career he received numerous awards including the Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award from Florida A & M University, the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service from the University of Tampa, and the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from the University of South Florida. He died on March 18, 2003.

Bob’s grandparents, Bahamian immigrants, were founding members of the Tampa Chapter of the NAACP in 1917.

Helen Strickland Saunders, the daughter of Henry J. and Lucy A. Strickland, was born in Mims, Florida, and graduated from Titusville High School (Valedictorian). After attending Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, she joined the Tampa office of the Central Life Insurance Company of Florida as a claims clerk. Within several years she became the first assistant to the manager of the Ordinary Department, then department manager, and in 1985 she was appointed Personnel Director. She retired in 1989.

Helen served as secretary of the Tampa Branch of the NAACP from 1964 to 1976 and as president from 1976 to 1981.

Helen and Bob married in 1953. Their son, Robert W. Saunders, Jr., served as a detective with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department.


34.63 Linear Feet

79 boxes

Language of Materials



This collection documents the extensive public service roles of Robert W. Saunders and Helen Strickland Saunders through correspondence, personal files, legal files and related materials.

Arrangement Note

Organized into the following nine (9) series: Personal files, Correspondence files, Memoranda Files, Legal Files, Reference Files, Subject Files, Photographs, Miscellaneous, Media. Materials are alphabetical and chronological within series.

Source of Acquisition

Robert Saunders; Helen Saunders

Method of Acquisition


Other Descriptive Information


Processing Information


Robert W. and Helen S. Saunders papers
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the USF Libraries - Special Collections Repository

4202 East Fowler Ave.
Tampa FL 33620-5400 US