Bill Moyers makes a visit to Marshall, Texas, his hometown. The oral history provided by long-time residents of Marshall describes “a Tom Sawyer sort of place” on one hand, and a town formerly divided by racial segregation on the other.
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HOBART KEY: I’ve often thought, you know, that I was lookin’ backward through rose-colored glasses. But for good luck, when I was little, I kept a sort of a diary for part of it … and I … and I look back at that diary and the writing’s not too good, but it says just what I’m saying now …
BILL MOYERS: :.. in those days …
HOBART KEY: … in those days …
BILL MOYERS: … it was good …
HOBART KEY: … I knew it was good.
BILL MOYERS: What were your recollections of the depression? You were both teaching …
SELMA BROTZE: You’re going to be amazed at what we’re going to say.
BILL MOYERS: Nothing you say would amaze me.
SELMA BROTZE: Well this is so … the Depression had no adverse influence upon our lives. Our father had work…were we teaching, you and me? We were teaching. We … the pattern of our life was left untouched.
JOE GOULDEN: Marshall’s always prided itself for being a close knit community. Where… you knew people were your own kind… which means middle-class white, and you don’t want people coming and telling you how to run your business.
INEZ JENKINS: When they sat in at the Woolworth store some of the young, uninformed young whites, bless their hearts, stuck lighted cigarettes, or threw lighted matches at them and the black youngsters would turn to them and say “I love you.”
JAMES FARMER: Current black students are not learning much about their past. Don’t know what happened in the 60’s. Somehow we’ve got to get it back because that’s how you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you came from.
BILL MOYERS: I’m Bill Moyers, and those are voices of the 20th century. Now this century is the first to have taken moving pictures of itself. And in the weeks to come we will use that film to explore some of the extraordinary events of the century and to meet some of the people who made history: Generals, tyrants, presidents, and inventors. But history, the historians tell us, is not only what happened. It’s what people felt about it when it was happening. Not only in books, diaries, letters and old records will history be found, but most of all in memory. So we’re going to begin this journey from the ground up, as we listen to the people in one small place tell stories of their lives and their town in the 20th century.
BILL MOYERS: So many of us live in cities today we often forget that early in the century America was a nation of small towns. The country town was the place where people met, gossiped, bought, sold and learned. What happened there shaped public sentiment and gave a character all its own to American culture. So to look at a small-town is to open a big chapter of American history. The town we’re going to visit this evening is in the northeast corner of Texas, not far from where Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana meet the Lone Star State. It was settled in 1839. By the time Texas seceded from the Union in 1861, it was one of the biggest and wealthiest towns in the state. But then as sometimes happens, places like Dallas and Houston passed it by, so it’s been content all these years with a population numbering between twenty and twenty-five thousand. There’s no special reason why we chose it, except for one thing. It’s my home town. Now it could have been your home town. I’m sure you’ll hear echoes of the people you grew up with. Feel some of the emotions common to small town experience and possibly recollect the influences that shaped your own life as mine was shaped in Marshall Texas. Marshall, Texas, it gave me that “small-town soul” which one writer long ago said makes a man want to know “small, unimportant things about the folks that go past on swift journeys.”
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Marshall, Texas honors one of its citizens: Max Lale. I knew Max when we worked together for the local paper, the Marshall News-Messenger. He’s done a lot of good work for the town —one of those people who stay in a place like this and make a difference, but whose fame spreads no further. I left Marshall thirty years ago for college, and other places far away. Every time I comeback to see my parents I’m struck at how the place has changed. This used to be the heart of it, the town square with a bustling courthouse surrounded by small shops. Life’s about the same here today as in any town its size. Folks come and go in the sheltered intimacy of the little worlds we all make for ourselves no matter where we live. Nowadays not as many people come downtown. The Paramount Theatre’s seen its last picture show … The Lynne Theatre doesn’t even exist anymore. There’s no hotel or restaurant on Main Street to bring folks here. Some shops hang on hoping for a renaissance, but Beall Brothers is gone: The Dimmer company; Sam Whitner’s coffee shop … All the shops are gone that used to be on this side of the square. Now there’s just this drive-in bank. Jessie Carter and Old Man Key would be spinning in their graves if they knew you could cash your weekly paycheck from the front seat of your car. When they were running the banks you could hardly change a dollar bill for four quarters without their endorsement. This was all woods, or open space; meadows. Now it’s shopping centers. When the first shopping center came to the outskirts of Marshall, the heart of the city — its downtown area, the square, which had been its life for a hundred years — began slowly to Ebb away.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Right here used to be a tiny grill where for twenty-five cents you could get the best hamburger in America. It was run by Mr. Polkinghorn. Only six people could get in there at once, six people! Now there’s McDonald’s, Bonanza, Burger King— who cares … there’s a sign there says 40-billion McDonald’s Sold. They weren’t sold in Marshall. (laughs)…
Some things don’t change. The passions of Friday night football. Pep rallies, bonfires, great expectations of glory and conquest. It was bigger than Christmas! I was part of it. During the games I was a cheerleader. Right before halftime I’d dash under the stands to trade my pep squad silks for the uniform of the marching band. And I’d blow like Gabriel on the trumpet my parents had saved for months to help me buy for thirty-five dollars. We usually lost to our arch rivals, the Longview Lobos. That hasn’t changed. Sundays are still much the same as they always were. My father says there are more Baptists around here than people. Of course, God has other children, too. It takes all kinds and we have them here. Methodists worship in a church built by slaves. It was started in1839 with hand-molded bricks and hand-hued beams. And a gallery in the balcony for the slaves. The piety could stifle a teenager’s fancy, and it didn’t always leave much room for new ideas to spring forth in town. But the Old Story assigned a plot to the universe and told us our role in it. If a lot of us are between stories these days, the Old Stories still mean something here:
CHURCH MINISTER: (with children)I’ve got a string that none of you all can break. What do you all think about that? OHHHH. Ohh. All right, walk out with that one; back it up. Go-ohh. All right, everybody get a hold. Now, can you break it? Nobody can break it!! All right now, sit down, sit down. Now if we’re holding on to God, and if we’re loving God, and if we’ll let him make us strong, then nothing in this world can ever break us. Ya’ll hold on to God … No I can’t break it! I can’t, just like nobody can break God’s love for us. Thank you father … we thank you for the opportunity to come together here tonight to meet to carry on our city’s business.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Even politics here begins with a prayer. The City Council is where people confront local government face to face on the issues that really matter: zoning, sewage, and taxes. There is a new industry in town since I was here, a lignite plant. But the old faithful is still around; timber from the piny woods, by the yard. And some people practice an ancient craft: they will tell you here that a third of the flower pots manufactured in America come from Marshall. Marshall is a town where rich and poor still live not very far from each other. And we even have … suburbs. There weren’t any when I was growing up. Now you find them scattered all through these pines. On down the road where folks used to plant cotton and grow vegetables, they raise cattle. You remember this around here: cows have the right of way on a road like this.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) An auction is still almost as much fun as scaring your old maid aunt with a rubber snake. I don’t remember the name of the kid we dared to blindfold a heifer in her pen at the East Texas State Fair one year, but he lost. This is a Texas town; look at the faces. You see it on the street signs as well. Texas heroes share equal billing with the nation’s founders …This is where I grew up, on the street named for the father of Texas, Stephen F. Austin. The elementary school I went to down there was named for Sam Houston, the first president of the republic of Texas. Sam Houston came to Marshall once to make a speech. The old oak tree is still there, duly noted as a kind of well, for some of us, a kind of shrine. When I walked to town I crossed Alamo Boulevard and came back on Bowie or Crockett Streets. Now, I’m sure you remember that Jim Bowie had to borrow money to make it to the Alamo in time to die by the side of Davy Crockett. This was a Texas town. But it was also a southern town. I remember the night air filled with tall tales and the fragrance of magnolia. blossoms. A town’s past and place make it different from every other town, no matter how much they all may seem alike. And we’re really not that far from our past. The town you see in Marshall today is a new town perched on the memories of one that’s gone … For a boy growing up beside these railroad tracks, Marshall was the crossroads of the world. I still remember the Sunday my mother and I came down to wave to my uncle who was passing through on one of the countless troop trains that rolled through Marshall all during the war, shuttling boys hardly old enough to shave to places they never heard of -places like Normandy, and Sicily, and Iwo Jima. For most of this century, the Texas and Pacific Railroad was Marshall’s principal industry. The shops hummed with activity, repairing old cars and building new ones. Then … the humming stopped. . … Except for these freight trains that are still doing some work here, this is a ghost yard now.
HOBART KEY: There are a good many opinions of what happened: of course the general decline of railroad transport was the main feature …
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Hobart Key’s family started banking here way back in the last century. There was a time when they made the entire payroll for the Texas & Pacific Railroad with silver dollars, because people didn’t trust paper money. Hobart Key has lived all his life in Marshall.
HOBART KEY: … nevertheless, they moved the major part of the operation to Fort Worth, and they began to phase this yard down gradually.
BILL MOYERS: When I was a boy in the forties, Mr. Key, I used to come down here to imagine: where are these trains going? I tried to see the cities to which they were destined.
HOBART KEY: Oh yea, I know what you mean. We all wanted to go, you know. That was the thing. There’d be the down train from St. Louis would have a division that would go on from here to New Orleans; another sleeper, a couple of them would cut out and go to Houston, and the rest of them would go on to El Paso, and soon. Dallas, Fort Worth — they always said Forth Worth — El Paso, Los Angeles, you know, all those places we dreamed of going. Of course it was against the rules of the railroad to take a boy in the cab and let him ride in the, engine, but I had some friends, every boy had a friend down here; you’d come out while they were putting water in the tender and kind of sneak aboard, and your friend wouldn’t run you off; and the next thing you knew there you were, riding in the cab of an engine, which was every boy’s ambition. From then on — once you’d been in the cab of an engine, and especially a passenger train — they called those The Varnish because they were varnished coaches, you know — and you were riding an engine that was pulling the Varnish, right then from there on the rest of your life was downhill you’d done everything! … (chuckling) you know this isn’t as easy as it looks.
BILL MOYERS: No, it’s not. I got a few years on you and I’m having trouble.This was a good place to grow up, wasn’t it?
HOBART KEY: Oh, it was the best in the world, I thought. This railroad here, of course was the beginning of adventure for all of us. This was sort of a Tom Sawyer sort of a place.
BILL MOYERS: We didn’t envy Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn their mighty Mississippi; we had Caddo Lake, thirty-two thousand acres of winding bayous, teaming with moss, and old memories. Legend says it was formed in the dark of the moon by shaking earth spirits angry with the chief of the Caddo Tribe. Some folks claim it was just a plain old earthquake. Maybe. This was the destination for paddle wheelers coming up to Texas from New Orleans, chugging into the Big Cypress Bayou with settlers, merchants, and fortune hunters. Sixty people died in 1869 when the steamboat Mitte Stevens burned near Swanson’s Landing. We used to camp down here as kids, and we could hear their ghosts gliding through the lily pads, moaning in the morning mists while the bullfrogs croaked in escort. If you hang around here long enough you hear all the old stories, or start making up your own. Most of them begin, “Listen now, I’ve got a good one for you. There was this old boy … ”
WYATT MOORE: We called it Paul’s Lake, so when he died I figured it belonged to me. And it might; there’s been some wonderin’ about who owns Caddo Lake. There’s been a person or two accused me of owning it, and I guess I have as much or more claim on it as anybody.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Wyatt Moore is almost as old as the century. There’s not much he can’t tell you about Caddo Lake. He’s been poking through these mossy waterways so long he’s a legend himself. There’s not a fish in these parts that he hasn’t caught … twice, or a ghost he doesn’t know by its first name, or a tale he’s left untold. Born in Year One of this century you spent your whole life in these bayous among these cypress trees.
WYATT MOORE: Well up till now — I’m not through yet. I’m waiting for Halley’s Comet and I hear tell they saw it coming the other day, just a billion miles away.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Well you’ve got some time then if you’re waiting for that.
WYATT MOORE: I promised my grandchildren that I’m going to show them Halley’s Comet. I saw it when it passed before. Don’t many people get to see it go by twice.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) You’ve lived through the whole century. How do you account for it?
WYATT MOORE: Well, back when I was younger I noticed people had died at home in the bed — didn’t have hospitals much those days; they died at home in the bed, so I stayed away from home and out of the bed just as much as possible. Then on up in the years when I begun to get ready to retire, I got to reading actuaries of insurance companies, and you die at sixty-seven, after you retire. Well I watched that year when I was sixty-seven and I was real careful all that year, and after that was over I went back to getting reckless again. You could catch fish better last winter than you could this summer.
BILL MOYERS: How come?
WYATT MOORE: I don’t know. They changed their habits. used to use a system make ’em jump in the boat. (laughs)
BILL MOYERS: I caught my first fish in Caddo Lake when I was about eight or nine years old. And that’s the only fish I’ve ever really cared about. But more important to me than the fish was the fact that these cypress trees represented a thousand different characters ghosts, phantoms, creatures, giants. It does something to your imagination down here.
WYATT MOORE: Well it’s kind of eerie, especially on a moonlit night. There’s almost any kind of wildlife around here —fish life and other wildlife, most any kind of varmint. There’s a good many deer possum, coons, and there’s got to be a lot of beavers here lately. We didn’t have beavers.
BILL MOYERS: Any alligators in Alligator Bayou?
WYATT MOORE: Yes, I see one every year or so, and I could see more if I try you can see ’em at night. The big lake gets rough with waves and water and you can’t be on it in a small boat. I have been in two drownings, where some of us drowned and some of us didn’t.
BILL MOYERS: How did you get out?
WYATT MOORE: Well I stayed on a stump eight hours once, from midday til just about dark.
BILL MOYERS: Well, in these 81 years you’ve lived here had world wars, nuclear bombs, cold wars, civil rights riots, changes in America -¨things haven’t changed too much down here, have they?
WYATT MOORE: People haven’t changed. Same people are same people: There’s two kinds of people on earth —the parasites and the producers.
BILL MOYERS: You were always a producer.
WYATT MOORE: Until the last two or three years. The government’s just about made a parasite out of me.
JOE GOULDEN: Wyatt was an old man we used to cultivate beginning junior year in high school on because he made this peculiar white stuff, as clear as this glass of water, called moonshine. And one of his outlets, when I was a junior in high school, was
BILL MOYERS: … Joe Goulden. One of my high school classmates.
JOE GOULDEN: …on the loop. And one night a friend and I bought a pint of moonshine, and the guy who sold it to us said, “Now to really get the full impact of the stuff you should go cut it with a Dairy Queen milkshake.” And we nodded and bought a couple of Dairy Queen milkshakes and went out to Scout Lake and mixed up a Dairy Queen milkshake-moonshine cocktail. And about an hour later I wished Jesus would have come and taken me home I was so sick we laid on the ground and just rolled around and hollered and wailed; and I’ve never been able to drink moonshine since.
WYATT MOORE: There’s quite a moonshine industry here. somewhat became implicated in it for about twenty years.
BILL MOYERS: “Somewhat?” Well I lived down on the lower part of the lake and had me a kind of domain of my own down there. The main headquarters was round on Seritan, but I wasn’t in the union, I was kind of independent-like, and when they caught all of them near, I was the only one that got left out — they slighted me. I went to Jefferson once and watched about fifteen of them being marched off to the federal correctional school. I felt awful lonesome for three or four months, but they all got back and started again.
BILL MOYERS: Lonesome but not regretful.
WYATT MOORE: No. (laughs) Weren’t you constable once?
WYATT MOORE: Well, yea; they had a constable here that he’d done things. Well we didn’t want a constable that had done anything so I was prevailed upon and put my name on the ticket and was overwhelmingly elected, and I stayed constable almost all the term. Finally I resigned. But while I was constable I was accused of being constable and one of the most respected moonshiners in the area, all at the same time. We would give the sheriff fish to kind of keep him soothed on, we’d give the game warden whiskey. He didn’t feel it was ethical to give the sheriff whiskey and the game warden fish.
JOE GOULDEN: He used to run the Liquor Control Board crazy because he knew that lake and they couldn’t find him. An LCB agent told me one time they chased a man for forty-five miles and never, you know, leave a mild area of the lake. Now, they got the idea that Wyatt would just have the ability to disappear, or become a blue herrin’ and fly off.
BILL MOYERS: The rumor was that he drank a pint of his own homemade stuff and became invisible. Do you ever yearn for the good old days?
WYATT MOORE: Well, I think about them some. And I enjoyed ’em while I was there and young and able to stand them. I don’t think I could stand the good old days now. I was thirty-eight years old before I lived where there’s ‘lectric power. We chopped wood and burned wood and caught varmints and eat ’em, and caught fish and eat ’em, and kinda lived off the land. And other people weren’t that fortunate in towns and places, I guess, but the good old days may have toughened me up to make me last to where I am now or even longer, I hope. I’m waiting for Halley’s Comet, then I’ll set me another goal.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) You didn’t have to read about characters like Wyatt Moore in a book; they were part of your everyday experience here. So were older people who might otherwise have been remote figures of authority. Even as a kid you could have an easy and natural relationship with them. My first grade teacher lived just down the block from me. Mary Simpson. I remember her from the time I was knee high to a grasshopper until she died a few years ago. And Miss Collins, my third grade teacher, lived just behind her, and a block over lived Bella Wyatt, the principal of the elementary school I attended. In class, they commanded the heights and you knew your place below. But on Saturdays they were just plain folks, your neighbors. Miss Simpson would be raking the leaves on a Saturday morning and she’d stop to speculate with you about why the mocking birds were so noisy this morning, or she’d ask about your brother who was in the navy. You weren’t just a kid fumbling in the multiplication tables for the right answer; you were …somebody. By the world’s reckoning your father might be just an ordinary man, as my father was. But he was somebody too. Everybody knew who he was and everybody knew whose boy you were. Nathan Goldberg had a shop right here, and one Saturday afternoon when I was about twelve years old, I was walking home twirling through the air one of those round pieces of cardboard that come out of a hatbox. Well, the wind caught it and sailed it right into Nathan Goldberg’s neon sign, and that sign shattered all over the sidewalk. Mr. Goldberg came out —I’d never been in his shop before —but he said, “Billy son, your father’s going to have to make good on that sign.”
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Now, Mr. Goldberg could have called the police, he could have grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, he could have cursed me; but he didn’t. He called my father, because he knew my father. That familiarity was the best kind of safety net a kid could have. Oh, yes, my father made good on that sign. It cost him one-fourth his weekly paycheck.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Every small town has its favorite meeting ground. This was ours; still is: Neely’s Brown Pig Barbecue. The Neelys’ started making what is undoubtedly the world’s best barbecue sandwich back in the twenties. Kept going even when all five of the Neely boys were drafted during World War II. That’s the family in the early days. Young James Neely is standing in front of the goat. James and his wife Frances run the place now. They still, use the same ingredients as ever: a soft bun, plenty of pork, shredded lettuce, and a sauce that remains a closely guarded family secret. Pork-lovers from as far away as Niagara Falls, New York, will drive back here just to savor a brown pig.
JOE GOULDEN: Friday or Saturday night in Marshall, if you would miss an appointment with somebody —one of your friends —you’d just drive ’round to here and you’d find them. Eventually everybody hit this place at one time or another. We would use this as the hang-out. This was really the club. I mean this to me is better than the Metropolitan Club in Washington.
BILL MOYERS: What were the good things about growing up in Marshall? A sense of belonging. when you walked down the street you knew who you were. And also the sense you could have good friends. I come back here now and I can pick up conversations with people I haven’t seen in twenty years as if it’s only yesterday.
BILL MOYERS: Joe Goulden; when I knew him in high school he was called JC. He left Marshall to become a big-city reporter and successful writer, the author of a dozen books, and lives now in Washington, D.C. For years Joe’s father ran the only bookstore in town. His mother still lives here.
JOE GOULDEN: The T&P Railroad’s going north, had two minor pile-ups there; during the war years we’d play guerrilla on there. I’ d have a T&P train come by and we’d be Russian guerrillas, we’d ambush it, and scare the hell out of the brakemen, they didn’t know what these little kids were doin’, throwin’ grenades, which were tomato cans filled with mud, at them. I guess they thought it was just cheap vandalism but we were out stopping the Nazi army.
BILL MOYERS: You said that you had a sense of belonging when you walked down the street. What do you mean? You’d walk six blocks and you’d have thirty people speak to you; the people in the stores in those days men who were the merchants would a lot of times stand in front of the store in the afternoon. And you’d know Mr. Bradbury, you’d know Mr. Granger, you’d know Mr. Hanson, Mr. Powers, and they would say hello to you or rub the back of your head or something.
BILL MOYERS: You’d run into Millard Cope, you’d run into Joe Hirsh, you’d run into –
JOE GOULDEN: …exactly. It was a very comforting thing because the people around were your own folk. Lyndon used to say it, that they knew when you were sick and cared when you died. I still felt it very keenly when my father died in 1972, in a hospital over at Shrevesport, forty miles away. And by the time I got to the house an hour later, this house was full of covered dishes, pies, fruits that neighbors and church people had brought in. It’s customary in the South when somebody dies for everybody to chip in and help the family, because they know they’re going to have a lot of out of town company. We had enough food in that house to feed half of Marshall.
BILL MOYERS: What was the other side of growing up here? What was the price of growing up in a small town?
JOE GOULDEN: Feeling frustrated that you were locked into a certain role here. I knew that the highway went east, the highway went west and there’s not much happen on this particular spot that was Marshall. That you were born into a certain role in this town and unfortunately there was very little upward mobility in those days. The banks were run by the same families; there was one employer, the T&P Railroad; there was one newspaper whose publisher had a son who was essentially my age. I knew there was no future there. And the best job offer locally I ever had was stock manager of the local Piggly Wiggly store, a chain grocery. And one night at 11:00, I was doing inventory, no overtime —I was working seventy hours a week for $35. And the manager said, “Don’t go out to the University of Texas, you’re going to be out of place there. You’ll stay with Piggly Wiggly: we’ll make you produce manager in the Henderson, Texas store, and at $37.50 a week.” He’d give me a $2.50 a week raise. I looked at Eubie Cannon who was maybe fifty years old with a broken back and broken arches and tired and worn out. I didn’t want to be like that thirty years down the road. So as fast as I could get out of here I ran to the University of Texas at full speed.
BILL MOYERS: What gave you the idea you could get out?
JOE GOULDEN: Books. My father was a reader; he was a very introverted man. He had few friends, he knew very few people well in this town, but he read a lot. And I was exposed to books at a very early age. He taught me to read, for instance, when I was three years old. And I went through the Marshall Public Library, I went through that thing by the time I was finished with third grade. And lord I was lost —nothing else to read, and those days you didn’t have the cheap paperbacks and I didn’t have any money anyway. And through luck I discovered something that I think few in our generation knew about: The Carnegie Library out of Wiley College.
BILL MOYERS: The black college.
JOE GOULDEN: The black college. And I found out about it and went out and introduced myself to the woman who ran it and she said, “You know, white people just don’t use this library. I said, “But I’d really like to get in your books and look at them. She said, “Okay, just do me a favor though; I don’t want to get in any trouble with the white folks in this town. Would you mind coming in around the back through the basement.” And occasionally a contemporary would find out what I was doing —see where the books were marked Wiley College Library. They said, “Boy! what you doin’ readin’ those nigger books?” I said, “Oh, they’re interesting.” But I saw the books as a way out. I used to read a lot of adventure stories, and then I fell into books about journalism. And I had the idea that to be a city reporter for the Dallas Morning-News and to cover such exciting things as Dallas politics, God, that would be wonderful! But this world, I’d never have known about unless it was for books.
BILL MOYERS: And for Bella Wyatt.
JOE GOULDEN: And for Bella Wyatt and a father, and then for someone who taught me a bit about writing, about whom I think we share a common experience. The Bear Bryant of senior English, Selma Brotze, who could cow somebody five times her size.
SELMA BROTZE: The classes I taught in the high school were composed of exceptional children.
BILL MOYERS: We thought so. (laughs)
SELMA BROTZE: I thought so and I thanked my heavenly father for it.
JOE GOULDEN: Now, I was talking to someone last night who said he would get him a three-day-mad about her —he would be ready to kill her. But God, I loved her, and at the same time I loved her I could ring her neck. But you come out of there and you know what the written word was all about. And if you were one of the people she considered that had a touch of talent she wouldn’t let you do second rate work.
BILL MOYERS: And what was this?
JOE GOULDEN: This the place where, what do you call it?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Hitching post.
SELMA BROTZE: Hitching post. And there was a round ring that went up here where the people put the reins. You remember the horses being hitched here?
BOTH BROTZES: Yes, yes.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Selma and Emma Mae Brotze are retired after lifetimes of teaching in the Marshall Public Schools. When I was under their spell, Miss Emma Mae was principal of the junior high school and Miss Selma taught senior English and Journalism.
SELMA BROTZE: You taught how many years, Miss Selma?
SELMA BROTZE: Oh, my land, don’t ask me that. Forever! Since the…
EMMA MAE BROTZE: I don’t mind tellin’ you mine; forty-seven.
BILL MOYERS: Forty-seven years.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: And I was —both of us were eighteen years old when we started teaching.
BILL MOYERS: You taught forty-nine years? SELMA: But I started —we were not dry behind the ears when we started.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: We were reared in a home where learning was important. And reading was important. We were brought up to read and to love reading and I don’t remember a time in my life, Bill, when I did not want to be a teacher. We had a neighborhood of children, whose names you would recognize; after school every afternoon we went to a vacant lot on West Rusk Street and played school, every afternoon. And I never did know anything other than I wanted to teach.
BILL MOYERS: And you told me you kept your head where all of your youth?
SELMA BROTZE: Down in a book. I was all the time reading. I didn’t do a whole lot of things some of the rest of them did because I preferred reading.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: She didn’t go out trick or treating on Halloween.
SELMA BROTZE: No, I didn’t do that and I didn’t ride in a wagon down to that place you and Mr. Hall used to go.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: It was not a wagon, it was a horse and buggy.
SELMA BROTZE: Yea, well that’s right. I just didn’t like -¨there was a whole lot of things I didn’t care to do. I’d rather have been at home reading a good book.
BILL MOYERS: Miss Selma, I remember that my interest in poetry, in language, in the word, began with your reading aloud in class Shelley and Byron. I never ask any student to read a poem. I read poems to them.
BILL MOYERS: Why was that?
SELMA BROTZE: Because I knew I could do a better job than they. And I wanted them to have something that would make an impression on them. And the people in the class wouldn’t listen to one of their classmates reading a poem, but they listened to me. I will tell you this, and this you will find hard to believe, too: one child, when I got through teaching some of Shelley, carne and asked me where she could order the complete works of Shelley’s poetry, if you please; and another one had the same feeling about Lord Byron and those two got complete works of those poets. But I always read to them poetry.
BILL MOYERS: I remember, I can see you right now, standing there. And I can see you standing in the middle of the corridor acting as a diligent traffic control officer.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: And I can see Bill Moyers coming down the hall with books under his arms and looking straight ahead with an intent expression on his face. And then going into the library to take his perch as a library assistant; and I thought, that boy has more self-confidence than anyone I’ve ever seen come down these halls.
BILL MOYERS: It’s really because I feared what Miss Selma would do to me if I didn’t go in there … (laughs) Tell me about your most vivid recollections of growing up in Marshall.
SELMA BROTZE: The games the children played. How free and happy and uninhibited children were.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of games.
SELMA BROTZE: Made up out of their own minds, out of their own experiences. You see, Bill, today play is directed by a supervisor. Even a town the size of Marshall must have a Play Director. There must be parks for children to play in. The park we played in was a vacant lot across the street thick with willow trees, not tall, but just tall enough for our mothers to give us sheets to go and throw over the tops, and that is how we made our play houses, see? And we played all kinds of games in there, here out of our head —we made them up. We just lived under the sheets there over the willow trees.
BILL MOYERS: You had to make your own play.
SELMA BROTZE: We made our own play, we imagined things —some of it of course we got out of books’ ideas, we got out of movies’ ideas; but we did that. And then we would dramatize certain plays. We’d all get together and I would be Jack Standfast. (they both laugh).
BILL MOYERS: And Emma Mae would be…?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: I would be the drunk, the town drunk, or the thief or the robber, anything degrading. That was her opportunity to get even with me because she claims I knocked out her first tooth.
SELMA BROTZE: And that wasn’t a game we played, either, that was true!
EMMA MAE BROTZE: I don’t even remember it!
SELMA BROTZE: But I do because I was the victim.
BILL MOYERS: What else did people do for fun?
SELMA BROTZE: I’d go to movies, we went to movies sometimes.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of movies.
SELMA BROTZE: Oh, one reel movies; and we would all go together. Daddy, my mother, and the three children. There would be five, see, in that family, and it would cost us exactly fifty cents for the whole caboodle.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Ten cents.
SELMA BROTZE: Everybody got in. And the way we knew what was going to be —was it Friday or Saturday night?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Saturday.
SELMA BROTZE: On Saturday night we would just wait breathlessly on Saturday for the streetcar —no, it would be on Friday, a day ahead of time, because there will be a big sign on the back of the streetcar and it would say “Six Reels Tonight/Nuf Sed.”
EMMA MAE BROTZE: But you left out this important thing: “Six Reels Tonight, Ten Cents.”
SELMA BROTZE: I was getting to that presently…
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Nuf sed, Nuf Sed! (laughing)
SELMA BROTZE: I was going to get to that.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: NUF SED! (laughing)
BILL MOYERS: What kind of movies did you like?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: There were two classifications of movies in those days. One was called “Shootin’ ‘n Killin'” and the other was called “Huggin’ ‘n Kissin’.” And my father preferred the”Shootin’ ‘n Killin’ and Selma and I preferred the “Huggin’ ‘n Kissin’.” But having six reels, you had some of both.
SELMA BROTZE: You had six doses of it, see?
BILL MOYERS: This was a big event for the family!
SELMA BROTZE: Oh my it was, yes! The regularity of it never did become boring.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: That’s the reason we ran down to the corner of West Houston to see if they were going to have six reels for ten cents. Nuf sed. (both laugh) Someone told me that people in this town lived by the whistle of the train. Was that true?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: They did. Dare I tell him the story?
SELMA BROTZE: Tell him. But wait a minute, not on the air. Oh no, tell me. Come on. If it doesn’t work I’ll edit it out. What’s the story?
SELMA BROTZE: Do you hereby swear that you will not use it, because this is a lovely lady.
BILL MOYERS: I vow that I won’t use it unless it’s a good enough story that I need to use it.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: You will need to use it, and you do not have to use the name. I’m not going to give you the name.
SELMA BROTZE: Is she dead now?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Yes, she’s dead.
SELMA BROTZE: She’s dead.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: But that doesn’t mean —you don’t have to have the name. She lived on East Austin and she taught in the East End School —you would know her.
SELMA BROTZE: I went to that school.
SELMA BROTZE: Yes, you know her, but don’t tell the name.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: I will tell you later. She lived on East Austin Street. And for some reason she, probably she had important home chores which she had to perform before going to school, so her alarm clock was the five o’clock whistle from the TP shops. Everybody set their — You knew when five o’clock in the evening came because the whistle blew, you knew when noon came because of the whistle, you knew that it was time to get up if you were an early riser because of the whistle. The morning after -her first morning after she retired, the whistle blew and she jumped out of bed and started to get dressed and all of a sudden she realized that the whistle no longer meant anything to her, so in her nightgown she opened the front door and stood on the porch and thumbed her nose at the whistle (laughs), the T&P whistle, and that’s all there is to the story!
SELMA BROTZE: No one would suspect that this lady would do anything like that, you know.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: I would suspect if of her, I would suspect it of her! You knew her.
SELMA BROTZE: She was very prominent in the Baptist church. She had charge of many things up there. And she really and truly was a very lovely person.
BILL MOYERS: Was that Miss Bessie Bryan?
SELMA AND EMMA BROTZE: Ohhhhh! (both laugh)
SELMA BROTZE: You guessed who it is! Bill, don’t put it in the show, please. She was a good lady.
BILL MOYERS: She was a good lady.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Miss Emma Mae, do you you remember Saturdays on the Square?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: (V/O) Oh yes, not only on the Square, but all through town, every Saturday night was the biggest event ~or the townspeople, because every store was open.
SELMA BROTZE: (V/O) It was hard to make one’s way through certain portions of the town because Saturday was a go-to-town day.
JOE GOULDEN: (V/O) Farmers would go in there loaded with wagons, portions of wagons with produce, corn, tomatoes, and the people would go do their shopping on the. west side of the Square there. And then you had the mercantile stores around until the Second World War. The square was very sharply divided, blacks simply did not come on the east side of the Square. They were spring-barrel told not to, and they’d get knocked off the sidewalk. They shopped on the west side of the Square. Now a lot of the cheaper department stores were on the west side of the square and you as a white could go buy something there. But a black didn’t dare go to the other side. Now, that changed during the war. But the Square’s always been something —my mother, who’s now in her seventies, used to make her first trips to town on a horse and her own wagon from Elysian Fields, which is about twelve miles south of here. They’d get up at three in the morning and put the kids in the back of the wagon with the produce and they give them’ a blanket and they go to sleep. And they wake up at sunrise when them came to Marshall. And all the farmers in Harrison County would be there. And now they would sell their produce and buy the kid some candy and do their grocery shopping for the week, and then at three in the afternoon load up and go home.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: There’s one thing about going to town on Saturdays which I feared particularly during the daytime, and that was passing a saloon. There was a fear in my heart about going by a saloon and seeing a man staggering on the streets and knowing what had caused it. You see at that time, Bill, the town was what we called “~vet” open saloons. And there were groups of women who got together and men also, but primarily women, who determined that they would do something to have Marshall go dry. We all marched in white dresses carrying a white flag. Our mother made our white flag by tearing up a sheet.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Before the national movement, that was somewhere around 1910 or ’12.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Oh, oh yes. And everybody went through town singing this song. I don’t know if I could sing it or not. Try.
EMMA MAE BROTZE: I can’t sing, but I will sing it anyway: Glory, glory Halleluyah. Marshall’s going dry. The town went dry, and everyone was hilariously happy.
BILL MOYERS: How do you account for Marshall being ahead of the national movement on prohibition?
EMMA MAE BROTZE: Because we were a very out…Marshall has been a very tightly structured town, I think. The people —cohesive is a better word. And anything which would be for the betterment of the town, everybody rallied around it. There’s of course I’ve never lived anywhere except in Marshall, but there has been a cohesiveness about the town.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Shared values of membership in small town life gave the people here that cohesion they still talk of. But it also came from the past -¨the particular past of the Old South. Before the Civil War, east Texas was settled by small farmers and large plantation owners who left the southern states looking for land where they could start over. With them they brought the economy and values of the slave system. And they fought to keep it. During the Civil War, Marshall became the seat of civil authority for the Confederacy west of the Mississippi, and the loyalties continued to a cause that was lost, but not forgotten.
HOBART KEY: This is the old Marshall cemetery. It’s been here since the city started in about 1842. Now here is General Lane; he had a rather remarkable career, fought in the battle of San Josinta, in about half a dozen Indian wars. He volunteered as a settler and went to west Texas and fought Indians. And he came back and became a Major-General in the Civil War.
BILL MOYERS: For the Confederacy.
HOBART KEY: For the Confederacy. And raised a regiment here, and then went on with them, fought Pleasant Hill. IN fact, we have about three or four Confederate generals buried in this cemetery. Most of them were living when I was a young man. My grandfather — my mother’s father, was a captain in the Georgia infantry, and of course I heard a lot about that end of the War, and about General Sherman. Marshall was the Richmond of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi.
BILL MOYERS: Unspeakable profanity though it be, aren’t there some Yankee soldiers buried here?
HOBART KEY: Well, yes, now that you mention it.
BILL MOYERS: (laughing) You weren’t going to mention it!
HOBART KEY: Uhhh, there are a few here. You see that monument way over in the corner…
BILL MOYERS: Off to itself.
HOBART KEY: Off to itself, where they won’t be by bothered us and we’re not bothered by them. That largest monument is to the Yankee soldiers who died here in the prison camp.
BILL MOYERS: So it was really impossible, wasn’t it, to have been a young man here, to be a boy, and not be aware of that powerful presence of the past.
HOBART KEY: Always. And you might say you could reach out and touch it, because you were goin’ fishin’ every day with your grandpa who fought in that war.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Like other towns in east Texas, Marshall has its statue of Johnny Reb on the town square. You couldn’t stand here without thinking about the Confederate cause. At the same time, above it, was the eagle, representing America, Union, Washington and Jefferson and Sam Houston, too. The eagle was always greater than the statue, always above it. It was the stuff of ambition, it could make your heart beat. But it was troubling, too. What was it Johnny Reb had fought for? You knew there was something terribly wrong about it, but something you couldn’t run from either. And you knew and loved people who could still shed a tear for the South, still weep for the for the lost cause.
INEZ HUGHES: All of you’ve heard of Mimosa Hall, haven’t you, down at Lee, Texas. Do you recognize it here in the pictures?
STUDENTS: Yes ma’am.
INEZ HUGHES: That’s right, there it is…
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Inez Hughes is eighty years old. She’s descended from one of the first families to settle in these parts. She taught English in the high school for years —taught it to us unforgettably -¨and is now the curator of the museum in the old courthouse.
INEZ HUGHES: Mimosa Hall was built 1844, and the Blocker family have lived there ever since. And did you know that there they have a cemetery, is called the Webster Cemetery, they now call it Mimosa Hall Cemetery. And in it they have slaves.
INEZ HUGHES: Now all of this was cotton —I can remember those times.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Douglas Blocker grew up at the cotton plantation known as Mimosa Hall. He remembers when cotton was still king. When did cotton finally die out of east Texas?
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: I think you can date it with World War II, you know. Before the war, cotton was number one, now it’s number ten.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) After the Civil War most of the plantations were broken up and the land divided. But Mimosa Hall was kept intact and worked by tenant farmers. When I was growing up it was still a picture of southern elegance and hospitality. As teenagers, we would drive by half expecting to see Rhett Butler striding up the stairs in his riding boots. Today, Douglas Blocker lives here with his mother, Ethel, who once managed her cotton with a watchful eye.
ETHEL BLOCKER: There’s twelve hundred acres here, and there was about twelve tenants. I rode a mule -¨it was a good saddle mule, too. So I rode my twelve hundred acres twice a day to see that my tenants were tending to their business, because you know they’ll steal anything they can lay their hands on. I got my crop picked in one day, ’cause they all come; I paid ’em a set o’ pounds a pickin’ I paid ’em a whoooole dollar for the one that picked the most cotton. Heh, heh heh heh.that’s the way I got my crop picked.
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: That’s my father who was almost ninety when he died.
BILL MOYERS: In 1976 …
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Yes, in May, and Mardi Gras departed this life about Christmas.
BILL MOYERS: Mardi Gras?
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Yes, his dog.
BILL MOYERS: Mardi Gras was a dog?
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Mardi Gras.
BILL MOYERS: And buried in this honored place beside your father.
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Well she was here first and when Sullivan’s man came, wanting to know where my father was to go, I said next to Mardi Gras. She and my mother’s dog did not get along and so we weren’t invited to the funeral. Now this quadrant was the slave-ground because they were families as you will see in a most touching way over here. From those days the markers were not permanent and so just as we have lost markers inside and do not know. Here we have Henry Clay, Joe Allen, and Leb Johnson.
BILL MOYERS: These are all slaves.
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Yes, they were the slaves, although their lives took them elsewhere after independence. They were not associated with the family in a business sort of way, but this was their family in a sense which we cannot understand, and they were felt to be.
BILL MOYERS: These men, who had spent years after emancipation as free men, came back all those years later to be buried in the place where they had been slaves.
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Because they felt that this was their family and they were welcomed as family.
BILL MOYERS: That’s hard for us to understand today, isn’t it?
DOUGLAS BLOCKER: Who can understand such a relationship, and yet, there it is.
BILL MOYERS: It’s hard for people whom I tell about Marshall to believe that at one time Marshall owned more slaves —Harrison County had more slaves than any other county in Texas.
INEZ HUGHES: In 1860, one man, you know, Mr. Scott, William Thomas Scott, had over five hundred slaves.
BILL MOYERS: What impact did that era of the Civil War, those old antebellum days, have on Marshall in the twentieth century?
INEZ HUGHES: Oh, every phase, every area, felt the impact. Religious, social, political, industrial – every phase of our culture felt the impact. For instance in politics the Reconstruction period produced the Citizen’s Party.
BILL MOYERS: In what year was that?
INEZ HUGHES: 1876, right? That was the beginning of what we call our industrial expansion period. See the railroad had come here in ’73. The whites couldn’t even vote. The Little Virginia courthouse was here, and during the Reconstruction period, they had one entrance to it this way, and it was blocked off, roped off, and it took three days to vote, and the blacks completely flocked in and would not let the whites even get in to vote!
BILL MOYERS: This was the Reconstruction Era!
INEZ HUGHES: Yes!
BILL MOYERS: Blacks excluding whites.
INEZ HUGHES: Well, the blacks, you know, all the officers were replaced by blacks.
BILL MOYERS: So the animosities kept building on both sides.
INEZ HUGHES: Everyone, practically, in the county, had had grandfathers or fathers who had fought in the Civil War, —in fact my stepdaughter said she —she taught history, American history, in one of the towns in the county —and said the whole year I tried to teach American History without mentioning Lincoln’s name. That’s just back in the 1930’s.
BILL MOYERS: I was always struck by the fact that when Marshall men had gone off in this century to fight in the Oregon, to fight in Normandy, to fight in Korea, to fight in Vietnam, it’s the Confederate statue that’s the memorial.
INEZ HUGHES: That is typical of this area, of Scottsville Cemetery, the Confederate memorial, over in the Marshall Cemetery, the Confederate memorial.
BILL MOYERS: What do you think that did to our attitudes, our sense of our self?
INEZ HUGHES: I feel that we absorbed something of the dedication those people had to a principle, that they were willing to die for it, to fight for it, and die for a principle of individualism. And I’ll tell you what Governor Clark’s grandson, Carsal Clark, who was president of the First National Bank across the way —when integration was brought in —’64, wasn’t it? —he said, “Well, today we lost the Civil War.” And that was in 1964. Up to that time we had won it. (laughs)
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Today, it’s hard to believe that only twenty years ago, a dozen years after I finished high school, did this officially cease to be two towns. We had existed so long in separate realities, half black, half white; separate schools, separate drinking fountains, separate lives. Deep down, you might know something was wrong, but you didn’t want to admit it to yourself, or share it with others.
JOE GOULDEN: I remember as a kid about five or six years old I lived in a house that ran alongside an alley that went to the cotton gin, and horse drawn wagons with cotton would come by and bales would fall out and we would grab it, my cousins and I, and we would make our own little cotton fields, as kids will do. One day a little black boy jumped off the wagon and he decided to sit there and play with us while I guess it was his father took the load on down to the gin. And one of my aunts carne out on the front porch and said, “Little nigger boy, go on, you can’t play here.” He jumped up and ran, and I couldn’t understand why because he was just like us, he was out in the dust havin’ a good time.
JOE GOULDEN: There was an old chaplain lived down in east Marshall who was the brother of one of my high school teachers who called a bunch of us kids one day and showed us a big photograph he had of five or six blacks hanging from a tree on the campus of what is now East Texas Baptist College — big oak trees up there. These were people lynched, around the turn of the century. And then he pulled out a piece of old, dried, rope, with brown —he said blood stains on it; and showed it to us and made us handle this as part of the lynch rope. I felt physically sick. That people I knew and I lived with could have done such a thing. Or their grandfathers could have done such a thing. I was physically ill.
BILL MOYERS: It stay with you a long time?
JOE GOULDEN: I had nightmares about it several nights. And I knew from then on —I was probably eleven, twelve years old —there was a dark side to this town, that we didn’t know about.
BILL MOYERS: Marshall, Texas: Marshall, Texas. There really were two worlds here. If you grew up in one, you didn’t trespass the other, except superficially. That’s the hardest thing to acknowledge or understand today: That our history could have held such advantage over our moral imagination: that you could grow up so pleasantly in so small a place —well-churched, well-loved, well-taught — and not apprehend the reality of others. The radio station that signed off with Dixie instead of the Star-Spangled Banner: you knew that wasn’t right, but it was …custom. Custom: something repeated over and over again until it became the way things are. Custom taught you to keep your distance, even if, on a Wednesday evening you came down and sat outside this Black Church as I did and listened to the choir practice. We lived in the same small town, witness, to the same faith, sang and prayed to the same god.and kept our distance. Except for the music.(Black church choir singing spirituals)
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) The Wiley College Choir. When I was growing up, Marshall had two black colleges: Wiley and Bishop. Bishop has moved to Dallas, but Wiley remains. When change came to Marshall, students from Wiley and Bishop brought it. (more church choir singing) James Farmer. He was born in Marshall in 1922. I never knew him; but when I was a boy, he was a student at Wiley, where his father taught.
ROBERT HAYES: Our native son returns home! It’s just good to have Dr. Farmer here. Let us welcome Dr. Farmer. (applause)
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) He went on to found the Congress of Racial Equality, an important civil rights organization in its day. But his awakening came here, in Marshall, Texas.
JAMES FARMER: I hope my young friends, my brothers and sisters, of Wiley College, that you are a part of the tradition which has made this college great. I hope that you are aware of all that has gone before you, and thus are conscious of the responsibility which you bear. In 1954 the Supreme Court has said, “Looka here Mr. Jim Crow, it’s time you were dead. Hallelujah, I’m a travelin’, Hallelujah,’ ain’t it fine; Hallelujah I’m a travelin’ down freedom’s ma.in line.” Most of you are far too young, all of you indeed, to remember it. You were not born in the early 1960’s; you were not born at the time of the Freedom Rides. We rode into Jackson and we were still singing “If you can’t find me in the back of the bus, you can’t find me nowhere; Ohh, come on up to the front of the bus, I’ll be ridin’ up there.” And we pulled into the terminal at Jackson, then the white Freedom Riders began singing, “If you can’t find me in the front of the bus, you can’t find me nowhere; Ohh, come on back to the back of the bus, I’ll be ridin’ back there.” And it was rocking all over. The jailers are running around, “Stop that singing, stop that singing! Cut out that singing!”
BILL MOYERS: What was this neighborhood like when you lived here in the thirties?
JAMES FARMER: Well, this street of course was here but not paved. It was red clay. Mud when it rained. This is my house, this is where I lived from age thirteen to eighteen. I would go downtown occasionally to make a few purchases, usually I would go down to see a movie in the movie house. I think it was the Paramount Theatre in those days. Significantly, blacks sat up in the balcony —we called it the buzzard’s roost then. So when we walked downtown we would go around to the side entrance and up those stairs and see the movie.
BILL MOYERS: You weren’t allowed in the front entrance.
JAMES FARMER: We were not allowed in the front entrance, and were not allowed to sit downstairs.
BILL MOYERS: What went through your mind on such an occasion like that, or did anything –
JAMES FARMER: YES! Almost invariably. The students used to have discussions every night —we called them bull sessions then, now they call them rap sessions. We would tell ourselves and each other in louder and louder terms how horrible segregation was and that something must be done about it, and we have to put an end to it. But that didn’t go very deep, because the very next afternoon we would walk down to the Paramount Theatre, go around to the side entrance, up those stairs, and sit in the buzzard’s roost.
BILL MOYERS: Did this reality not beat the spirit down?
JAMES FARMER: What it did was to stimulate me to participate in a movement that would try to bring about change.
BILL MOYERS: Did you have any hope that that change might occur here in Marshall?
JAMES FARMER: Yes, I hoped it would occur all over the country. I thought it would be difficult here in Marshall because it was a small town and the two worlds, the black world and the white world which seemed to pass like ships in the night had such little contact. And Marshall seemed to me at that time to be a city that had a built-in resistance to change. People were quite comfortable. There was an etiquette. Everyone knew what he was supposed to say, how he was supposed to act, and lived by it.
BILL MOYERS: When you say etiquette. Describe that. An etiquette for white people? .An etiquette for black people?
JAMES FARMER: Oh, yes, very much indeed. The fact that a black was not to be called Mr. He could be called anything else, he could be called Reverend, he could be called doctor, he could be called of course, boy, or uncle if he were old enough for that appellation. But not Mr. That was taboo. That would sort of symbolize an equality.
BILL MOYERS: Did anybody tell you this is wrong, this has to be changed? This is an affront to humanity?
JAMES FARMER: Of course. We had one professor, Prof. Melvin B. Tolson, who was Professor of English, coach of debate and director of dramatics. He subsequently, by the way, became a well-known black poet and almost any anthology of black American poetry includes works by Tolson. The intellectually bent students would congregate at his home in the evenings and there we would read his poetry and comment on it. When I was in his classes, he taught everything. He compelled people to think. How well I remember one day when I was a freshman in Tolson’s class. He saw me walking across the campus a good distance away and he yelled, “Farmer, Farmer.” I responded. He said, “What are you reading these days?” I told him that I was reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. He smiled and said “That’s fine, I’m glad to know that at least you are reading the broth of knowledge. But why don’t you eat the meat?”
BILL MOYERS: What did he mean by that?
JAMES FARMER: Well, he meant I was reading fiction. Though it was great fiction. But he wanted me to read other things as well.
BILL MOYERS: Wasn’t there an effort at that time to dismiss men of that .
JAMES FARMER: Well, he had a problem. A couple of years before I entered Wiley College, Tolson had been told to get out of town. And to be out by sundown the next day. Tolsons’ friends gathered at his home, and they were going to sit it out because he did not intend to leave. However, the president of the college, Dr. Dogan, was a good friend of probably the most influential white in town, the banker, and he called Mr. Key, the banker, and explained the problem. He said, ” Mr. Tolson is my best teacher and we just can’t get along without him and he’s been told now by some people in town that he’s got to be out of town by sundown and I don’t know what will happen to Wiley College without Mr. Tolson.” Well, we understand that Mr. Key told Dr. Dogan that he needn’t worry about it, that he would take care of the matter, and he did. And Tolson remained.
BILL MOYERS: What was it like in black Marshall for a teenager in those days? We could not go into any restaurant downtown except the little lunch counters which existed in the black community, but downtown we could not eat at the lunch counter at any of the drugstores, any of the variety stores, we could not go into any of the hotels. That was another world, a world which we knew existed but thought about as little as we could because it was painful to think of the fact that we were told you’re not good enough to associate with other people.
JAMES FARMER: If we were shopping for an object such as clothing we were waited on but after the whites had been waited on in most cases. And then we were not allowed to try on clothing. There were exceptions to that. Well known persons in the community such as the president of Wiley College, Dr. Dogan at the time, Prof. Pimberton who was the principal of Central High School at the time, they and their families were known and I’m sure tried on clothing. But most of us did not. It made shopping rather difficult. We could go into the variety stores, the 5 and 10 cents stores as they were then called, and make purchases at all counters except that one which was forbidden, the lunch counter.
BILL MOYERS: Did you decide here at Wiley College to challenge the system?
JAMES FARMER: Oh yes, yes! There’s no question about it. I decided it out of my contact with Prof. Tolson, the campus radical, and the conflict within my own soul, in opposing segregation with my words but with my deeds adapting to it. Like going downtown to the movie theater, walking up those side stairs and sitting in the balcony, the buzzards’ roost. CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality which I founded in 1942 in the city of Chicago was stimulated to a great extent by that contradiction which I felt while I was here at Wiley.
JAMES FARMER: (to students) In 1960, when college students throughout the south were sitting in and marching, I cannot tell you how pleased I was when I picked up the New York Times one morning and saw that Wiley College students were a part of it. They too were marching. That made me weep, it brought me to tears.
BLACK DEMONSTRATOR: we are here for what is ours, what we deserve and what is rightly American. We are Americans and we will be treated as Americans.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Spring 1960, protests against segregation sweep the south. The whites of Marshall, long accustomed to a docile population of blacks are stunned when students from Wiley and Bishop College asked for service at all-white lunch counters and refused to leave when they are denied it. The students are arrested, 400 others gather on the courthouse square in sympathy. They’re dispersed forcibly. Local police call in highway patrolmen and Texas Rangers. The students are charged with unlawful assembly. A friend of mine will look back one day and say “We were two worlds waiting for an event. This was it.”
INEZ JENKINS: The students surrounded the courthouse and sang and prayed there and made their demands and they were hosed. Students who returned to the campus of course returned wet and there was one young ministerial student who said to me —when I asked what happened to you, what happened to you? He said “Oh, Miss Jenkins, I’m wet, but I’m happy.”
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) Inez Jenkins is now associate professor of religion and philosophy at Wiley College.
INEZ JENKINS: The students had come of age, the black youth had come of age. And as I often said, I felt that the time had come and they would just open, you know.
BILL MOYERS: “The time would come.” What do you mean by that?
INEZ JENKINS: Blacks had had about 100 years of education and if education has value if it’s a search for truth, if it brings enlightenment, then certainly the students would be awakened, you know, to what this country is all about. I was Dean of Women at the time that our students were arrested here in the local jail and the two Texas Rangers delivered the subpoenas.
BILL MOYERS: Two Texas Rangers came to arrest them?
INEZ JENKINS: Yes. And I’d never seen a Texas Ranger before. They were tall, beautiful human beings but yet a little bit frightening to me. And those guns you know on their hips. What you see in the movies you know. And I had never been that close to a gun before, believe it or not. And I offered them the courtesy of my office to have seats and as we talked together I also noted that they had not taken off their hats. And I asked them to do so and they refused, and so I told them about this wonderful story that I had heard when Teddy Roosevelt passed Booker T. Washington who was then the president of Tuskegee Institute and Mr. Washington tipped his hat to the President and of course the President returned the courtesy and his wife asked him why did he tip his hat to that Negro, and the President said, “I could not afford to allow a black man to be more courteous than the President of the United States. And then I said to them how much I admired their people that all of them that I have met always rose to the level of their culture. And so the faces, if you don’t mind my saying so, turned red, and the hats came off. And those two men shook hands with me.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) What about redeeming the town? Did it serve that purpose?
INEZ JENKINS: Yes, indeed. Because now Marshall has a black postmaster and you have black clerks in the banks, black saleswomen in the stores.
BILL MOYERS: (V/O) So change has come to Marshall. There’s been a black Mayor, a County Commissioner. The schools are integrated and sports of course. The medical association has even elected a black physician as president. His name is Izzy Lamothe. Perhaps it says something about the nature of a small town, that like the students of Wiley College who challenged the way things were, he too came here from someplace else. Who knows how long we might have hugged the past tightly if the world had only let us be.
IZZY LAMOTHE: I couldn’t even practice on the staff of the hospital. For a whole 15 years.
BILL MOYERS: What happened to a black person in Marshall who needed hospitalization?
IZZY LAMOTHE: We as black physicians would call a white physician and ask him to please admit this patient to the hospital and he would then take the case and treat the patient in the hospital. Then after the patient got well or whatever, and was ready for discharge, he would if he felt so inclined, and felt that maybe we might send him some more, he’d send the patient back . But he was free to keep the patient and in some cases they did.
BILL MOYERS: Mrs. Lamothe, you came from Washington, D.C. What was your impression when you arrived in Marshall?
MRS. LAMOTHE: At first I didn’t notice it. But then as I started to get out in the community it hit.
BILL MOYERS: How?
MRS. LAMOTHE: Little incidents. Being called by my first name, this type of thing. And it made me very angry.
IZZY LAMOTHE: The one thing I found that was quite common with those who had been here and those who come from Marshall, those blacks particularly, they all seemed to be subservient to the white community. There was never any disagreement. There was disagreement while they were in their own group. I mean they’d talk about all that went on, but when they got down in front of the white power structure, it was different. So there wasn’t any concerted kind of an effort to change situations at all.
BILL MOYERS: Your daughter was the first black child to be admitted to the Catholic school in Marshall. What happened when you took her?
IZZY LAMOTHE: It was like George Wallace standing at the door of the University of Alabama. Really, because when we took her the people were standing in the door.
BILL MOYERS: Literally.
IZZY LAMOTHE: Literally.
BILL MOYERS: To keep her out?
MRS. LAMOTHE: Yes. I walked with that child with such determination, but they knew, I did not intend to be stopped. The sun was shining beautifully and I had an umbrella in my hand. And we intended to go to school that day and we did. The people weren’t very friendly. Nobody smiled. But we did go to school.
BILL MOYERS: Has all the scar tissue, the struggle, the pain, been worth it?
IZZY LAMOTHE: Oh sure. Doggone yes. We’ve seen so much change and so much happen good until what’s left is sort of like mopping up really.
MRS. LAMOTHE: Personally and individually you are accepted. Not as a whole group of people I don’t think. Publicly you’re accepted because of the public accommodations but privately we still aren’t. I’m not terribly bitter about that. As I have told some of my white friends, I have lovely black friends and they keep me very happy. So I can find contentment in that.
BILL MOYERS: Marshall; Texas, Marshall; Texas. It’s not even a town anymore. It’s an all-American city and rightly proud of being so. But as we know from this century, the good things do not come to us singly, they arrive with a mixture. I was nurtured here and cherish the memories. When I knocked on a door, it opened. But the place that anchors one man can be another’s prison. Changes feared by some set others free. The Marshall I knew is remembrance only. The years have swept it away. The center is gone and with it the sense of place that made small towns the focus of lif at the turn of the century. But just as many people live here now as ever. It’s their home) too, and their realities mean as much to them as mine did to me. So I will be careful not to boast to my grandchildren about the good old days, or explain away those that weren’t. I will tell them, however, of the small town that once existed in America, and for better or worse, is no more.
I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on March 26, 2015.