Violence Towards African-Americans Continued in 1950s Slaton

Part II

“It actually happened,” the column began. “Claude and Irving caught a burglar.”

“The excitement began for the roly-poly barrister and the lean mustachioed jeweler following the Chamber of Commerce banquet Friday night,” the column continued.

As the two men made their way past a jewelry store on 130 North Ninth Street following the banquet, they discovered something unusual about the store’s display case: a hole had been made in the display window.

As the two men investigated the scene, they saw a man standing in the alley, and without hesitation, the two sped down the alley in their vehicle toward the man, who ran away on foot.

“There was a Negro whose actions indicated that he was the ‘culprit,’” Claude reported to The Slatonite.

“Follow that man,” Irving shouted to his driver.

The front-page article described the pursuit of the assumed culprit, through alleyways and Slaton streets, as the man being pursued helplessly ran, trying to find safety from the pursuing men.

The article stated, “The men pursued the Negro by car for a short distance, but realizing that was fruitless, abandoned the vehicle and set after the fleeing Negro on foot.”

The police were notified, and they too, without question, searched for the accused assailant. The fleeing man, with nowhere to turn, was cornered at 127 Texas Avenue. The man was arrested and taken away to jail. The heroes of their own story took pride in capturing their “bad guy” as many citizens were entertained by yet another jolly Claude and Irving story.

Two years later, in 1955, the public’s fear and the separation of African Americans from the mainstream continued to dominate the front page of The Slatonite, where names were rarely given but the term “Negro” continually described members of the community.

That same year, plans began for a new school. It was the school district’s hope that the new school, to serve the African American population, would be opened in time for the new school year in 1956. Slaton High School, a whites-only school, was in a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility on the other side of town—less than two miles away.

One month prior to the first day of the new school year, the Slaton School Board voted to maintain segregation within the Slaton Independent School District. “At a meeting of the Slaton School Board,” The Slatonite reported on August 19, 1955, “a resolution was passed to maintain segregated schools for the school year 1955–56.”

At the time, many people in Slaton continued believing that a segregated school system was best for the students in the community. “There had not been enough study of the problem,” superintendent of Slaton Public Schools P.C. Vardy Jr. said in The Slatonite.

Tragically, in January 1956, eight months before the planned school was to open, a fire ravaged the building of Evans, the all-black school.

“Slaton firemen battled a fire at the Evans School,” The Slatonite reported in 1956. The children, left without a school, were placed in various other locations throughout the town, even though a brand-new Slaton High School with new amenities and plenty of space was just a few yards away.

“The new Evans School which had previously been planned, is expected to be ready in September,” The Slatonite reported

The students would be separated by race for the next nine years. The students of Latin descent were separated by skin tones; the dark-skinned Latino students were required to attend Evans, while the light-skinned Latino students attended Slaton High School. Since most towns in the area did not have an “all-black high school,” black students from neighboring communities and towns also attended Evans.

However, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 changed the face of the Slaton school system.

In August 1964, Slaton Independent School District announced its plans to begin integrating the entire district, beginning with the junior and senior classes and continuing each year to make accommodations for all schools to be integrated.

That same summer, the summer when hundreds of sheep ran loose in the streets of Slaton, two young men from different sides of town followed the sounds of sheep cries and made their way to the scene of the accident.

The two met as they aided a sheep lying on the ground, still breathing, when so many others had died.

“Two unidentified youths made an attempt to save an exhausted sheep that was many of hundreds involved in the truck accident Saturday afternoon,” The Slatonite reported.

A week after the roaming herd was caught and the blood of the sheep was cleansed from the streets, the two youths entered the same school, not as separate members of one town but as equals.

In May 1965, school officials reported to The Slatonite, “The final copy of our integration plans, which were formulated in September, 1964, will be sent to Washington D.C.”

Before the school year began in August 1965, a small news item directed to the parents of Slaton students read, “Buses will begin operation Monday. Routes remain the same as last school year with the exception that children of all races will ride the same buses.”

After the graduating class of 1968 walked the stage and the young Slaton women sang “Ava Maria,” the students of all different ethnicities—black, white and brown—threw their mortar caps high into the air.

For a brief moment, the signature school color, Slaton red, reigned.

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About slatontx

The ramblings of one of the few remaining small town newspaper reporters left in the world!
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2 Responses to Violence Towards African-Americans Continued in 1950s Slaton

  1. lori says:

    My beautiful brown-skinned children are still a little confused that in MY lifetime, this sort of discrimination existed. They now deal with the subtler kind. Not really sure things are all that much better.

    • slatontx says:

      What I find interesting is the fact that I was taught about racism on a broad/national level… For so long, many liked to pretend that this sort of stuff just never happened here. I had a lot of people come into my office and ask what I was working on next, when I would say the 1950s many people’s response was, “the good ole’ days.” It was all a matter of perspective, I guess, but I am learning that those good ole’ days never really did exist… For everyone. But, you’re right, segregation and integration issues (especially in Texas) continued well into the seventies.

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