Young women in gorgeous gowns and wrapped in fluffy tulle walked elegantly across the stage in Slaton – 50 years after the small town’s beginnings.
In 1961, Slaton was a bustling town where grocery, appliance, and western stores took place of the wild prairie flowers as the city prepared to celebrate 50 years of its existence.
Many citizens gathered on May 29th at the Slaton High School Auditorium and watched as young women were judged on their elegance, poise, sophistication, and talent as a Miss Slaton was to be chosen on that night of beauty.
“The young woman representing Miss Slaton during the Golden Anniversary Celebrations,” an emcee said to the large crowd. “Miss Carolyn Rhoades.”
Miss Slaton made many public appearances as the city’s population doubled to more than 12,000 visitors during the Golden Anniversary in the summer of 1961.
However, the men weren’t left out of the festivities.
A beard growing competition was held in honor of the old frontier pioneering days. Men all across town grew full beards, half beards, and as much of a beard as one could which, besides from a few stubbles, wasn’t much. But, for that summer, men put away their razors and let the wild fur grow. The beards were judged during the festivities that took place on the town square.
Along with the beard judging festivities were various cookouts and barbeques sponsored by many of the town’s organizations and a parade traveled down the red brick streets of the Slaton Town Square.
“Slaton’s festive and long-planned Golden Anniversary celebration will kick off June 8th,” The Slatonite reported in 1961.
Kicking off the anniversary was a women’s luncheon where the women took to the town square dressed as pioneers. A two-day rodeo was held at Tiger Stadium followed by a dance at the VFW Hall. A granite monument in the shape of Texas was given to the city and placed on the lawn of the town square.
After Ben Davis, a postal employee at the time, picked up his trophy for best beard in Slaton and the last of the confetti and thrown candy was swept from the streets the people of Slaton went their separate ways.
However, for the local bowling league, it was back to work.
Five young Slaton men who called their team, “The Smoothies,” were the talk of the town in August of 1961. Wearing rayon collared shirts and pressed slacks, with neatly Brylcreemed hair, the team practiced for many hours at local bowling alleys.
In a national bowling tournament, “The Smoothies,” of Slaton placed fourth among 12,000 teams and each took home a $700 check.
For “The Smoothies,” like the rest of the citizens in Slaton, that August was filled with the typical faire of a small town summer. Backyard cookouts were held with friends and family. Trips to Buffalo Lake were customary. Lounging beneath shaded trees in the county park was routine. For the youngsters of the town, the place to be in the summer of ’61 was the city pool.
In late August, trying to absorb the final days of summer; a young Slatonite made his way to the city pool to enjoy an afternoon of swimming.
Unknown to many in the community, that person was denied entrance.
It wasn’t until the summer months had passed and well into the winter of 1961, when the story first appeared in The Slatonite.
“A Slaton resident of Mexican descent – an American citizen, not a Mexican citizen, was refused entrance to the swimming pool, operated by the Board of City Development of tax funds, last August,” A story in The Slatonite read in December of 1961.
The article reported that a stern letter from federal government officials was sent to the mayor.
“Slaton was thrust into the spotlight of state notice this week when it was made public that the City Commission was ordered by the U.S. Department of Labor to integrate its municipal swimming pool or be refused the use of Mexican national labor,” The Slatonite read.
Regional Director of the Department of Labor, Tracy O. Murrell wrote in a letter to city officials, “This is to advise that unless the city of Slaton takes corrective action to remove the discriminatory restrictions in connection with the use and operation of the municipal swimming pool within 30 days from the receipt of this certified letter, action will be instituted to remove any Mexican Nationals in the area and prohibit Mexican Nationals being contracted into the area.”
“We resent the government trying to ram something down our throats,” the mayor said to The Slatonite.
Farmers’ were not fond of the governmental actions taken to fight discrimination in Slaton.
“We told the Department of Labor we would work something out, and I think we would have,” a local farmer said. “They’re just trying to put the squeeze on the Bracero Program and get it closed down entirely.”
In response to the outrage city officials wrote to the Department of Labor, Murrell sent another letter to the city of Slaton that stated, “Mexican Nationals cannot be recruited by the secretary to be employed in any area where there is evidence of discrimination against other persons of Mexican Nationality or ancestry.”
Murrell also gave city officials many examples of discrimination taking place in Slaton through private investigations that had been conducted starting in 1960, including an incident where an investigator was told by the pool manager that the city pool was, “whites only.” Murrell said they had given Slaton officials plenty of time to correct these issues, but no improvement had been made over the year long investigation.
In Article 8 of the Bracero Program, Mexican Nationals were to work in areas that were not discriminatory to Mexican people. The Department of Labor had no other options but to rescind the Bracero Program in the area which would have affected not only Slaton, but also the surrounding communities of Lorenzo, Post and Lubbock.
The discrimination complaints affected the entire South Plains and the discrimination itself, according to Murrell, “applies specifically to the Slaton situation.”
By the summer of 1962, when Slaton entered its 51st year of existence, the pool was opened to all of Slaton’s citizens, no matter the race.