Class of 1968: First to be Completely Integrated

The Davis Hotel in 1950s Slaton. Also known to Slatonites as the "Negro" Hotel.

Part I

On a spring afternoon, music drifted from the halls of Slaton High School and out onto the streets when three young Slaton women—Karlene Eastman, Laura Childers and Jo Ann Roberts—sang “Ave Maria” before the graduating class of 1968.

Included in the graduating class was Truett Johnson, whose final quote in the yearbook was: “Men of few words are the best men.”

Future Homemakers of America member and choir participant Toni Briseno’s final quote for the yearbook was: “From tiny sparks great fires blaze.”

Pep squad member Kale Roche wanted everyone to know that “there is a world to see” when she left behind her legacy at Slaton High School.

When the class took to the stage for the final time, it’s easy to imagine the graduates thinking back to their childhoods and even their first days of high school as freshmen, in 1964, the first year of integration.

In the summer of ’64, however, as new high school freshmen anxiously waited for the first day of school, the carcasses of two hundred white sheep littered the black highway leading into Slaton.

W.M. Young of Lubbock passed through Slaton after visiting with his parents, who lived in Tahoka. As Young, driving a pickup truck, approached the intersection of Highway 400 and the Highway 84 bypass, he slammed on his brakes to avoid smashing into a truck that had failed to acknowledge a stop sign at the intersection before crossing over into the city of Slaton.

“The last thing I remember,” Young reported to The Slatonite in 1964, “was looking McNeely in the face just as the collision occurred.”

When he made the fatal decision to cross the highway without stopping, Clint McNeely was driving a large truck with a guarded trailer attached, carrying approximately six hundred sheep. The four hundred sheep that survived left the carnage and roamed through the streets of Slaton.

They roamed the same streets where, less then a decade earlier, two Slaton police officers had taken part in a high-speed chase, all the while spraying bullets at their culprit.

In a January 1953 article in The Slatonite, twenty-nine-year-old Andy Smith lay in critical condition at Mercy Hospital recovering from a gunshot wound.

“Smith was shot in the chest by fellow policeman, Bill White, after the two chased a Negro in a wild car ride from Slaton into downtown Tahoka,” The Slatonite read in the January 2, 1953 article.

According to the article, White claimed to have walked into an alley between The Slatonite office and Brush Motor Freight off Texas Avenue. He strolled past dry brush and graveled grounds in the shadows of the alleyway when he claimed to have seen a “Negro” stealing gas from a pickup truck.

Before the man could respond, a gun was in the air, and White hollered, “Give up or I’ll shoot.”

After White shot twice, and missed, the targeted man entered a vehicle and drove away. Smith, who was a block away when he heard the gunshots, made his way to the alley, and he and White entered their vehicles and drove onto Texas Avenue, chasing after the man.

“A 90-mile-an-hour car chase ensued all the way to downtown Tahoka,” The Slatonite reported, “with the police officers and the Negro exchanging shots on the way.”

In downtown Tahoka, “the Negro wrecked his car,” White said, “and escaped on foot.”

White parked the police car, turned to his partner and said, “I’ll get him,” before exiting the car and chasing the man through the streets of Tahoka.

“White chased the Negro, who zig-zagged between buildings and, at one point, White saw a man, supposedly the Negro, pointing a gun at him,” The Slatonite reported.

“I thought to myself, it’s me or the Negro,” White said, “and I shot.”

With his gun up, White said he was about to shoot again when he heard the slow, groaning moans of his partner Smith. “It’s me, Bill,” he said.

“I never felt worse about anything in my life,” White reported to The Slatonite. “Smith was dressed in civilian clothes and wore no hat. The Negro was also bare headed. I thought Andy was still in the police car or I’d have never taken the chance there in the darkness.”

In 1953, those who thought of African Americans as second-class, separate citizens considered racist banter and wit humorous, and these people felt justified in comically satirizing the growing brutality toward African Americans.

Deplorably, The Slatonite, too, succumbed to the bigotry of the pre–civil rights years in a humor column for The Slatonite entitled “Claude & Irving.”

It was the events that transpired after the Chamber of Commerce Banquet that would be the inspiration for the humor column written in a 1953 issue of The Slatonite.


About slatontx

The ramblings of one of the few remaining small town newspaper reporters left in the world!
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