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Audrey and Melanie Lawson Interview
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Gregory, Elizabeth [host]; Lawson, Audrey [interviewee]; Lawson, Melanie [interviewee] ; Greene, Andrea [interviewer]. Audrey and Melanie Lawson Interview. April 30, 1996. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. April 17, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/55.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Gregory, Elizabeth [host]; Lawson, Audrey [interviewee]; Lawson, Melanie [interviewee] ; Greene, Andrea [interviewer]. (April 30, 1996). Audrey and Melanie Lawson Interview. University of Houston Women’s Studies Living Archives Recordings. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/55

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Gregory, Elizabeth [host]; Lawson, Audrey [interviewee]; Lawson, Melanie [interviewee] ; Greene, Andrea [interviewer], Audrey and Melanie Lawson Interview, April 30, 1996, University of Houston Women’s Studies Living Archives Recordings, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed April 17, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/living/item/55.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Audrey and Melanie Lawson Interview
Creator (LCNAF)
  • Gregory, Elizabeth [host]
  • Lawson, Audrey [interviewee]
  • Lawson, Melanie [interviewee]
  • Greene, Andrea [interviewer]
Date April 30, 1996
Description An interview with Audrey and Melanie Lawson, mother and daughter, by Andrea Greene. They talk about their experiences growing up where Audrey experienced times of segregation but Melanie, younger, was always on the "cusp" of social changes during her school years. They continue to discuss their expectations, experiences in the community, inspirations, and the social work they have done.
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas
  • Segregation--Texas--History
  • African Americans
Subject.Name (LCNAF)
  • Gregory, Elizabeth
  • Lawson, Audrey
  • Lawson, Melanie
  • Greene, Andrea
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • interviews
Original Item Location http://library.uh.edu/record=b4555844~S11
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
File name 2011_17_005.m4v
Access File Run Time 01:09:52
Transcript Living Archives Interview -- April 30, 1996 -- Transcript Audrey and Melanie Lawson interviewed by Andrea Greene [some parts of the introduction are inaudible] Introduction Hello, I’m Elizabeth Gregory, Director of the UH women’s Studies Program. Welcome to the fifth and final event in is year’s subscription series sponsored by our Community Outreach Association. This series aims to present over the course of this year and the years to come a sense of the complex history of women’s lives in Houston and of the struggles and changes that have characterized that history. This year’s interview format was developed as an extension of the program’s ongoing effort to open a women’s archive at the University of Houston, to serve students, scholars and the Houston community as a whole. The initial focus of the archive, which is now under construction and is scheduled to open in October, the initial focus will be on both oral histories of Texas women and the papers of Houston area women’s organizations. The Living Archives series provides a means of focusing public awareness on the need to document women’s history, as well as on the Women’s Archive and Research Center. The plans for next year’s series are underway, and if you’re a member of the Friends or currently receiving mailings from us, you’ll get notice of next year’s events in the weeks to come. If you’re not a Friend or otherwise receiving mailings from us, you might consider joining Friends -- there are forms on the desk at the entry -- or add your name to our mailing list. After the interview tonight, there will be an opportunity for questions from the audience. For the purposes of the videotaping, rather than call for questions from the floor we’ve handed out cards so you can write down questions and hand them to one of our volunteers. I’d like now to introduce our guests for tonight. Audrey and Melanie Lawson represent two generations of a strong Houston family. Audrey Lawson grew up in St Louis and went to college in Tennessee, where she graduated with a degree in social administration. She came to Houston in 1955 with her husband the Reverend Bill Lawson when he was named a professor of Bible at Texas Southern University. With him she went on in 1962 to help found the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. She has been an important part of that church in all the years since then. Among other accomplishments: she founded an infant and children’s school there in the 60’s, she founded the Central City Comprehensive Community Center, a nonprofit sister corporation to the church that addresses the needs of inner-city residents, she helped create Muntu Village, a co-generational apartment community, and she was a force behind the establishment of the church’s Rites of Passage program for boys and its Transformation program for girls. In addition, she raised four children, 3 daughters and one son. She is currently president of the board of the Ensemble Theater, the city’s oldest African-American Theater. Melanie Lawson grew up in Houston, in a prominent Houston family, with wonderful models for what kinds of challenges she could give herself in both her parents. She got her BA in Politics from Princeton and went on to joint graduate degrees in Law and Journalism at Columbia. She worked in a Wall Street law firm for three years before returning to Houston, where she was hired as a full-time general assignments reporter at Channel 13 in 1982. She has been the co-anchor of “Live at Five” since 1988, and has covered an enormous range of events, from city and state elections, to the war on crime, to stories that explore the way Houston works, to travelling abroad to cover such international stories as the fall of Noriega and famine in Africa. She is deeply involved in the Houston community, sitting on the boards of directors of such organizations as Fotofest, the American Red Cross, the Alley Theater, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Houston Association of Black Journalists, and the Houston International Festival -- and this year’s very successful festival she chaired -- it’s just over and I imagine she’s both very proud and very tired. She’s also a member of the Texas and New York State bars. Our interviewer Andrea Greene is a member of the editorial board the Houston Chronicle. [inaudible phrases] She too knows the Houston scene very well. Please join me in welcoming Melanie and Audrey Lawson and Andrea Greene. Interview AG: Thank you and welcome. I know we were competing with the Houston Rockets game tonight, so I appreciate you all coming out and appreciate you coming out and being with us here today. I can't believe I'm going to do this, but I have tell the obligatory joke. And I think this joke is appropriate to a women's study program function. The story goes that Adam was in the Garden of Eden. He's walking about and God approached him and asked him, Adam, how are you feeling? And Adam said, Well Lord I'm a little lonely. And the Lord said, Well Adam, of course I have anticipated this, and I have decided that I am going to create for you a woman. And this woman is going to be the most magnificent of my creations. She will have the beauty to rival the heavens and the earth and she will be loving and kind and caring and sensitive. She'll be nurturing, she'll be a helpmate to you, and you shall never be lonely again. And Adam was getting pretty excited about this, and he said, Well thank you, Lord. And the Lord said, But there's a price. It'll cost you an arm, a leg, an eye, four toes, and a pound of flesh. And Adam thought about this for a minute, and he asked the Lord, Lord, what can I get for a rib? But I think that, that Adam got a good deal, a very good deal for his rib, and we have two good examples here tonight. Mrs -- AL: I can't believe you told that joke. AG: I thought I was just, it was very.. AG - Mrs. Lawson, I'm very honored to be here tonight with you, and we've been hearing a lot lately about the celebrations surrounding Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and your husband, William Lawson's fifty years in the ministry. But I think we would be remiss if we didn't also make note of the fact that you've been there all along the way. AL: Not quite fifty. AG: Not quite fifty, but most of the way, and we appreciate your dedication to the church and to serving the spiritual needs of this community. We talked a couple of days ago and you told me you were really nervous about being the interviewee in this situation, and I'm a little nervous myself, but you do have your daughter, Melanie, here for moral support. And Melanie I want to congratulate you too on the International Festival. I went on Sunday and I had a marvelous time and I understand that it was a great success. I met you in person for the first time, I don't know if you remember, about a year and a half ago when we were on a.. ML: On a panel together, right? AG: pn a panel together of journalists, and the discussion had to do with the O.J. Simpson trial. And there was a lot of heated discussion and questions and you were so calm and collected and poised, and I was very impressed and I called you up to tell you as much, and I have to tell you that she, she's so nice. I didn't know that she even, Melanie even knew who I was, called me back and she left a message on my machine telling me how much her message meant to her and that you had saved it for a couple of days because you thought it was so nice, and I have to tell you now that I saved your message for a couple of days, and I have to confess that I let a couple of my girlfriends listen to the message because I felt like I had a celebrity calling me and they were duly impressed. And I say all that just to say that there are a lot of people in the business and out of the business and who think highly of you and have a great deal of respect for the work that you do in this community. ML: I should quit now. You've made this easy. Let's just, you know, go watch the game. No, I'm teasing. AG: My part's almost over. Now all I have to do is ask questions. We're gonna talk a little bit about, a little bit about politics, a little bit about the church, a little bit about your lives, and we'll take questions from the audience and just generally get in your business. So let's get started. The two of you came of age in very different epics. Mrs. Lawson in the Jim Crow fifties and‘ Melanie in the changing and evolving seventies. What influences did growing up in those times play on the development of your outlook on life? ML: Ooh that's a big question. AL: Well since I got here first. ML: Okay, you start. You start. AL: I think that well naturally I grew up in the Victorian age almost. I grew up as a Presbyterian for one thing, in St. Louis, with a, in a very large family. There were nine of us, two parents. With a father who ruled the house, a mother who stayed home, and, But a lot of values and morals and all of that was given to us. The other thing was that as a student growing up in St. Louis we had pretty good education. And a lot of expectations from those parents. With nine children, we all went to college, and everybody became reasonably productive, reasonably productive citizens. So that, that was the kind of thing that naturally, that being the only role model that I had that I was ready to pass on to my children whenever I was to have children, and then the 70's came. Take it. ML: I know in some ways it's kind of interesting, because I've probably straddled many of the years with my parents. I mean my formative years were my parents late at night making up signs for us to carry in demonstrations and things. So I almost cut my teeth on the civil rights movement, literally. But I was very much aware of, and more so now as I look back on it, but very much aware of the fact that our life was constantly in a changing position, constantly in flux. There were things happening all around us as I was in the second, third, fourth grade, that at the time seemed ordinary, although most other people's parents seemed to go to bed. They didn't seem to have the same kind of life we did. But as I look back on it I realize how extraordinary some of those things were. Marching on the school board for instance to demand desegregation, and I would have been in probably about the fourth grade then, somewhere around in there, third or fourth grade, because I was part of the first class of students to desegregate when I was a sixth grader. So I was taken out of a nice comfortable surroundings of an all black elementary school and placed into an all white, what had previously been an all white elementary school in my sixth grade. And suddenly I became one of those little kids that was bussed across town. So that was, that was what I remember. So the seventies, by the time I got old enough to be in high school and college, seemed down right calm in comparison when I went off to school. Because now at least it was natural to be in school with people who were not the same color as I was. I do remember when they took me off to college, my parents drove me up to Princeton. It was the first time I'd gone away to school for any length of time, the first time we had all gone away for any length of time. But we drove all the way to Princeton, New Jersey, and we got to my dorm. And I happened to be in the smallest building on campus, and there were four suites of seven people in each of those suites in my dorm. What my parents didn't realize was, and I didn't either till we got there, three of those suites would be all male and the fourth was all female. Because Princeton was also undergoing some pretty major changes. That was only the third or fourth class of women really coming into Princeton. And my mother sort of looked at me and said, I don't think we're going to leave you here. And obviously they decided against that later on. But I guess I was always kind of on the cusp of these changes. And so I came to just sort of assume that that's the way life was supposed to be, with all kinds of see changes happening around you. AG: Those are very interesting times. And one thing that I think that is lost on people my age and getting back to the 1950s, I just wonder, because I know that we've definitely lost well we talk sometimes about maybe younger people have lost a sense of what it was really like to live in segregation. When you were a teenager, were you very conscious of the fact that there were things you couldn't do or could do? AL: There was, There was some consciousness of it. As I said, having grown up in St. Louis, you didn't have the same probably tight restrictions that would have further South. I actually had my worst experience, I think, once in Chicago in the, what, sixties, late sixties. But growing up you grew up in a neighborhood. Everybody in the neighborhood was of color. The school teachers lived there, the preachers lived there, and so you had role models within, you know, right across the street from you. And consequently you didn't do anything bad because everybody knew your mama, and everybody had the opportunity to reprimand you. So you really did not feel that there was anything else out there that was any better than what you had. I think the new movie, back when I was colored, whatever the beginning is, pretty much shows some of this kind of thing. That as blacks in a community this was, you know, and I mean ours was reasonably middle class. My daddy was in business for himself. So we didn't have to go to the white folks' kitchen or anything to that effect. And we had our own church, we had our own schools, we had good teachers, we had.. So we really weren't missing anything. And actually I think that there's a sense in which the children today are missing something. Because I don't think that they have those same role models within their communities. We've now moved to Sugar Land and to Fort Bend County and so the, Those blacks who have, quote, made it financially or economically are no longer a part of the inner city or of the community. And so the kids that are growing up over in Third Ward don't really have a lot of people to look up to. And I think that they have lost a lot more than we did. AG: I think a lot of what you're saying is true and I'd like to come back to that subject. But to maintain some semblance of chronology, thank you, I want to ask you Melanie: You grew up in a family that just about every Houstonian knows. As the eldest of your parents' children, as a preacher's kid, and today as a television news anchor, did you feel image conscious and were you allowed were you allowed to sort of be yourself? Did you feel like a role model and do you feel like a role model today, and what impact would you like to have as a role model? ML: Ooh. Okay. First of all, growing up. I really didn't feel that much pressure, especially given the fact that I grew up as a preacher's kid, as a Baptist preacher's kid. I can remember being in probably junior high school or high school where I heard that Southern Baptists were not supposed to dance or listen to music or play cards, 'cause we were allowed to do all those things if we so chose. So I didn't know that I was supposed to be staying away from anything that resembled crime. I really didn't feel that much pressure. There was a sense of having to be uhmm, having to forge a path a lot. And I think I probably appreciate that more now than I did even then. You were always the first kid kind of out there, as I say, when we desegregated schools there were maybe ten or eleven black kids in a school of more than six hundred white kids. And there was never a question of Hey, do you want to do this? Or, Well how do you feel about that? It was just kind of like, Okay we're dropping you off here. We'll see you at the end of the day. So I think there were certain expectations that because both of my parents were out there forging a path, we would as well. And you did feel that sense of responsibility. I don't know if I would have called it a role model at that age. I certainly saw lots of what I now appreciate were icons at the time. You know, the Jesse Jacksons and Andrew Youngs and Martin Luther Kings, people who passed through our lives when I was young and not as appreciative, perhaps, as I would be now. But you learned pretty quickly that there were some big issues out there that had to be settled. And so I maybe didn't have as much of a luxury of being a little kid as some other kids who might have. AGL [Did the] other kids look up to you? ML: Well, probably not. But I think most of the other kids thought we were kind of strange. We were, we were doing things that didn't seem normal in most households. We went over to most people's houses. They watched TV after school, they, you know, played out in the back yard, they did all those kids things. And we did some of that, but there was always so much more activity going on at our house that was totally unrelated to just taking it easy. I think we've learned as we got older that we never really learned how to play. We didn't play as much as most kids. Not that we missed it, but just that that was a little bit different. I think the other kids, Gosh, that's a psychological question. I think the other kids probably respected us, probably gave us a lot of credit for being smart and forthcoming and all that good stuff. They didn't necessarily look up to us. I don't know. But that has, that has been a theme that I think all of us have maintained, even in adulthood. You have to be careful what you do around people because you recognize that other people are looking at you and looking towards you and trying to figure out how you would conduct yourself. So I'm less likely to, you know, head to the nearest topless bar, not that anybody would have me there, but, you know, you're very conscious of that. Yeah. No, I know. I know that's another thing I got from my mom. But, no, you do. You feel a very strong sense of responsibility, I think even today, to live up to the morals or the standards that were laid down pretty early. That's a burden sometimes, too. I'll say that. AG: I know. ML: Yeah. AG: I like the anonymity of newspaper reporting. ML: Yes. ML: Uhmm. Well as Stan * can tell you, I spent a little time at the Post and I liked that too. AG: Yeah. ML: Yes and Margaret. They know very well I liked that too. AG: I have a question for each of you that I think kind of goes to the changing times, but you guys can elaborate on that a little bit. Let ask you, Mrs. Lawson, if you ever felt, as Reverend Lawson's wife, that you were living in his shadow. And you, Melanie, have a very high profile as a Channel 13 news anchor, although your husband, Gray Broadnax is very successful in his own right, does he ever feel that he's living in your shadow, and do men feel more comfortable nowadays with wives who have higher profiles than they do? ML: Well, I'll let you start. AL: I would not consider it, I wouldn't call it living in his shadow. And this goes back to the fifties and the rearing process. When I married Bill in 1954, I took on and felt as though this was my major job, to be his wife and mother of his children. I can remember when I always worked because he never made enough money to support us both. But even in the working, and these are some of the things that I can remember my mother, you know, pretty much training her daughters in. Even when I worked, the money that I made was sometimes for those extras that his salary would not be able to take care of. And he and I understood that. Not feeling as though I was in his shadow, I mean the, raising the children was my responsibility and my job. He was busy. He was gone a lot. And I think that I really enjoyed it. I can remember when Roxanne, our youngest daughter, turned 15 or 16, I called all of the children together and let them know: Okay, I've gotten everybody to this point. You're all either in college or in high school, and now Mama's gonna go out and see if she really can do anything. And so that was the first really professional job that I took. I went to work for the VGS as a director of something or other. And but I felt that the job for me in those early years was getting them to the point of being able. The other thing is, you have to understand Bill. He is not a person who wants to place a shadow over anybody. We have been a team all of our married life. And I used to tell people all the time, he was the brains and I was his hands and feet. Because most people could not put into action the things that he could dream up. And I could. And so we worked pretty much as a team. When she was introducing and said we established Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church and we did this, that and the other, because I really feel as though our teamship was much more important. So I have never felt as though I have been overshadowed by him. I took the seat that I wanted to begin the marriage and then stepped out. And she was also the, she was always the stabilizing force. I mean, there had to be somebody there when you came home in the evening if Daddy was off getting arrested, for instance, at a demonstration. And Mama was always the person who would say, Well Daddy won't be home tonight, but we'll probably see him tomorrow or the next day when somebody bails him out. But there was always that sense of you had a stability at home. You had whatever normalcy we called it because Mama was there and she was able to deal with the day to day things even while Daddy was out doing other things. If you've never met my husband, then you might assume he could be overshadowed. If you've ever met Gary, you know he has no problem standing up for himself. I think that I went looking for a guy who was secure. And Gary certainly is that. I dated a lotta guys who didn't particularly like being the person hanging off of my arm. He never had a moment's problem with it, nor does he today. And when we walk into a room, chances are at least as many people will run up to him and say, Hi, Gary, as they will with me. But I definitely got that from my parents, because I didn't grow up in a household where you had, you know, a little mousy mom and a, and a glowering dad. They were definitely equal partners. So I always assumed that a marriage included two people who would make decisions about things. And that has pretty much been the case in our relationship. He takes it very much in stride when somebody calls him Mr. Lawson. It has never seemed to bother him terribly much. But as he is come into his own in terms of his own business and his own career, first as a photographer, now doing computers, people know his name. And, and he is very much the kind of person who makes himself known. AL: Very interesting. Melanie is a Pisces and I am a Pisces. She married a Cancer and Bill is a Cancer. So I think that we almost went about finding those kinds of things. ML:Yeah, that's true, that's true. AG: Well we talked about that you had come to Houston in 1955? AL: 55. AG: 55. And well one of the things that I find that I like about Houston is that black people here seem to have played a shared role in the power structure. Do you share that view? And what was Houston's reaction to the Congress of Racial Equality which was the civil rights organization that you worked with in the 1960s? How did Houston react to the civil rights movement in general? And how did Houston escape some of the large scale acrimony that some of the other large urban areas faced during that civil rights movement? AL: Boy this girl really lays it on you doesn't she? AG: ??? kind of question. AL: I do agree with you. I think that the blacks have, in their times established themselves as a major force in this city. I'm over here looking at Pat (?) Preather, who is out of the Fifth Ward, but where L. H. Simpson in the probably thirties and forties was a and was a power to deal with. He had a way that he did it that is different from the way that it's done now. We've had ministers Yates and L. H. Simpson and the guy that was at St. John, who all through those forties, fifties, sixties were doing things within the community and were sought by the white power structure to get the feel or the lay of the land. CORE was not in Houston when we came here. I had marched with CORE and sat in with CORE up in St. Louis during my college years. When we got here, and in the sixties, I guess, actually the sit-ins began in, almost in our house, because Bill was the BSU director at Texas Southern, and the ML: The Baptist Student Union AL: Thank you. ML: ..director. You're welcome. AL: And those students decided to follow the trend that was happening on the east coast and they were beginning the sit-ins. And so the Baptist Student Center became the place that they learned non-violence, that the sit-ins actually started from. And so we were a major part or we were a part of that whole era. I think that Houston, as I think with most of Texas, respects a strong person who stands for something and will stand up against anybody for that something. And so I think that that was one of the major reasons that this city did not blow up. I can remember times when Bill was called on to go to the Rice Hotel up in some of the rooms way up high to meet with the power people in this town to find out well what is it that you want, you know. Because Houston didn't want to blow up. And so they were willing to give in. I can remember the buses. You know. One Monday morning all of the sudden there were no signs, there was nothing. And the kids got on the bus and sat down wherever they wanted to and all of the sudden, hey, the buses are integrated. And nobody ever said anything. It really was not a big deal. But I don't think that this town wanted its money messed over. And money is, And so we were not going to put up with too much. And so if you pushed hard enough, things happened in Houston. And it was a good time. ML: Well the closest to any violence, and this is not something that I remember specifically, but I guess would be the TSU riots. AL: Where the police rioted. ML: Yeah, well, there where somebody was rioting, but the students got shot. And even that, and Mama you have to help me out a lot with this, but even that was a situation where Daddy was called in right away to meet with the mayor, to meet with a number of other people, Daddy and other community leaders, because they wanted very much to get things fixed before the neighborhoods erupted. So while we had minor skirmishes, and I certainly don't mean to underplay the severity of what happened at Texas Southern, but while we had skirmishes here relative to the battles that raged in other cities, I think there was always an attempt to try to make sure that the things moved along at, at a good rate. And I would just blame that on the fact that Texas likes a maverick. I mean they like to, you know, if you come in and you've got a good idea and you're willing to go out there and ride the range, then that's fine. And, I mean, I just, I think that here you don't have the same sort of iron clad establishment that you have to break through. It's easier I think to sit down and talk man to man or woman to woman about an issue. AG: Well, uhm, I don't want to make any disparaging remarks about Dallas, but I love Houston and I don't think Dallas fared as well in that. I think that they ceded some power, but, people in Dallas ceded some power, and just didn't have the, they didn't have the sharing that... ML: But Dallas has more of an establishment. I think they always have had. AG: But they do have a black mayor now, too. ML: Yeah, that's true now. AG: So. ML: That's true. ML: But... AL: Alright, alright. AG: I'm for Houston. I want to talk a little bit about the Ensemble Theater. AL: Oh. That's my favorite subject. AG: Well, you're going to have any opportunity to talk about it. I want to, Actually I would like to talk about, if you would, why you think that black theater is so important, what you thought about the protests that Jesse Jackson led prior to the Oscars to point out the way that blacks fare in the movie industry and in Hollywood and did you every think about an acting career? AL: Absolutely not. AG: Get that out of the way... AL: Get that out of the way. I'll get that out of the way in a hurry. I think that black theater is so very important because we are the only ones who can tell our story as accurately as it needs to be told. We can tell it humorously, we can tell it with much feeling, but we are the ones who need to write about us and to, and to depict us. We have seen us done by other people, and it is not a true picture. In terms of Jesse Jackson and what he attempted to do at the Oscars, I think that, I think that what Jesse, What happened was, he saw that he no longer has power to draw people for everything that he thinks is a major issue. The fact that you had Quincy Jones running that whole Oscars. You had Whoopi Goldberg out in front. And, unfortunately, if there was no black who perhaps had made it to the point of being nominated enough, those are still individuals who do the nominating, then that's just another one of the things. I think that if we take everything that goes on and try to make a big issue out of it I am watching, and I think all of us are, more and more black directors and producers putting out their own pieces of work, and we'll be back, we'll be back. That's always been the joy of being black. You can't hold us down, boy. And I expect that there will be Oscar nominations of some of the many black films and young filmmakers that are turning out things that, you know, two and four million dollars, where the establishment is having to spend two and four hundred thousand, or million dollars to do the same kind of a thing. So I expect it and, you know, it's like, I think, Jesse had another attempt at something just recently. And it's just not happening anymore. The streets are no longer, and protest is no longer the method. That, We've got to have another method. I'm not saying that everything is hunky dorry, but that's not it anymore. It was good in the sixties, not anymore. AG: I'm going to ask you in just a minute about what you think some of those newer methods might be, but, I'm going to get away from my script a little bit because you have a little expertise in this area. What do you, How do you think blacks are faring now in the media? And are we getting a little bit better shake these days, do you think? ML: Well it always helps to have more of us on the inside to sit down in the editorial meetings. You know that better than anybody else. I think that it's not just how blacks fare, it's how women fare, it's how Hispanics, how Asians. I think whenever you bring more people to the table, you get more perspectives. As long as you've got a bunch of, you know, middle-aged white guys sittin' around the room talking, then the world is from their perspective, from their angle, and you always get a slightly skewed version. I am encouraged by the fact that there're more and more of us in the media, both in front of and behind the camera in my instance and not only as street reporters at the print level, but also in editorial boards, board rooms. That's really vital. I'd like to see more blacks move up the ladder. I'd like to see more women move up the ladder. In television, one of the biggest travesties, if you will, is how women are treated. And you can look at, at two anchors on the air, and invariably you will have a nicely graying, maturing man and you'll have some young version, very young version sitting next to him, female version, and when she starts to get a little too old, she's snatched and another one is put in. And I think until we get to a point where we say, Hey we have as much as experience, life experience to share and I want to watch someone who has a life experience much like mine, that is going to continue to happen. So I think, yes, things are changing, slowly but surely, and I think they will continue to change as more and more legions move into those positions of decision making. AG: I don't know if it's just me, but does it bug anybody else that every time there's a commercial on television about cleaning, it's always the woman at, you know, doing the cleaning. That just, just little things like that. AL: Oh yeah. you live long enough, honey, you will discover we are the ones who are cleaning up. AG: We are. But if we show them on television, maybe then they'll start to see. I see a couple of my friends in the audience and they might have heard this little pet peeve of mine before. I would be remiss if I did not ask this question. The black church has always been the epicenter of the African American community. How do you see that the role of the black church has evolved politically and socially. AL: Unfortunately, I don't think that all of the black church has evolved. I think that too often we are still operating in the thirties and forties in the black church. Now Wheeler Avenue is an exception. But I think that Wheeler Avenue is an example of what the modern black church should be. That it should be very much involved in the community, in politics, in the whole, You know, Bill will stand up and we have, we keep registration cards, voter registration cards at the church. We keep everything that is necessary. He will never endorse anybody, but he insists that you must register to vote and get out and vote. I think the same thing is true with all of the children's activities, the adult activities that are going on. The black church is the only real institution that the black community has, that it owns, that it can control. That is the only place that white money doesn't enter into the situation. So that, that is where our power is, and it always has been. It's been interesting to me to watch the, what do you call it, the, uh, conservative church people. What are they? Christian ML: Fundamentalists. AL: right. The fundamentalists. In the last two years I've watched white churches, for the first time, start to register voters and do political kinds of things up around north Harris County and in some areas. And they have caught on to what the black church has been doing for years. But ours was the only place we could do this. We didn't have any media. We had a few little black newspapers that may come out once a week or once a month. And so the church was the only place that you could corral people or you had enough people to actually get the grapevine moving. And, uh, and so I think the church continues to have that role in our community. ML: Yeah, absolutely. And I also think that nowadays we are seeing a new type of movement on the part of the black church, and there are a number of churches here in Houston that are doing that. Ours, Windsor Village, Brentwood, a number of the larger churches. That's economic re-development in the community. That's moving out and not only saying, We want to empower you politically, we want to empower you socially, but we want to buy up the property around our area, and we want to provide the fundamentals, housing and grocery stores and shopping areas and day care. And I think the church has always been such a strong force in our community, not only because it was the one institution that we control, but also because I think as a people African Americans have always been so centered around their church. That's where you met people socially, that's where events happen, and so usually about the second or third question you ask somebody when you meet 'em is, Hey where do you go to church? And I'm not sure that that's necessarily true in everybody's community, but it has always been the case in the black community. So that was really a gathering place for a lot of things, and not just Sundays. AG: You were talking about black folks moving out to the suburbs, and the church seems to be the consistent place that draws people back into the community, so ML: The church and the hairdresser. AG: And the hairdresser. ML: Always you gotta come back to get your do done. AG: Get your butter ? ML: That's right. AG: Texas colleges and universities were only too ready to slash racially based scholarship programs on the basis of a single court ruling recently. Some black people say that they resent the implication that affirmative action programs make the qualifications of successful blacks somehow suspect, and those people would, would seek to end affirmative action programs. A major news magazich magazine ran a recent cover story on the resegregation of the nation's schools. How do you view this turn of events? What effect have desegregation and affirmative action had on our society? You might need to take notes. Is it time to dismantle affirmative action? And can the black middle class in society at large bring poorer African Americans along without the help of government? AL: Uhmmmmmm. I can't even remember that. ML: So we'll have to break that into little pieces. ?? affirmative action. Well, you know, this is one of those situations where suddenly I have to get political and that's not part of my job, as you well know. But I think that, I think what we're seeing is a basic reaction to some of those changes I was talking about just a minute ago. There is a tendency when you've been the only guy in the board room for many, many years and suddenly you look around the table and there are a couple of ladies over there and there are a couple of black people here and there are a couple of Hispanics here, you feel very threatened by that. So I think, in, in large part, what we're seeing is the reaction of the angry white male, as we so nicely coined it, you know, a few years ago for the congressional re-elections. But I also think there is a general move in the country towards "I want mine." You know, I don't want so many immigrants coming across the border any more. I don't want anybody getting special favors. I want mine. The economy is uncertain for me. I see layoffs coming. I need to be guaranteed that I'm always going to get the first crack at it, whatever it may be. And so I'm not so certain that this is, and maybe this is the difference in our generation, 'cause I have a feeling I know what my Mama's going to say. I'm not so sure that what we're seeing is a return to the segregationist policies of past generations as much as it is an attempt to just protect myself, to carve out my own turf and to make sure that no one else steps on that. Now maybe that's being naive and that's why I say I know my mama will probably have a somewhat different impression. I don't think it's that the country has become more racist. I don't think it's become more sexist. I just think in general people have become more scared. And the guys who are the most scared are the guys who think they're losing all of their goodies. Now that's how I feel. Okay. AL: In 1896 Jim Crow was established. In 1996 affirmative action is being demolished. And I think that we are watching history repeat itself. I think that we are at a point that much of what Melanie has said has happened. And the anger is now boiling to the point that it says no more, no more. I think a little further one of your other questions is something about, Did affirmative action.. AG: What effect? did it help or hurt? AL: And I think that it helped because the only way that that majority that she's talking about, who is really heard now, who has had control for so long, the only way that it ever is going to be turned around is that laws have to do this. You know, laws have taken it away and given it and taken it away, but, you know, I couldn't remember when we first started trying to have what was, what was referred to as integration. That was never going to happen. All we got was desegregation by law. But integration is something in the heart. And until people begin to integrate then I think that we'll just watch laws come and go and come and go, and the same anger will be passed down from generation to generation. It's unfortunate. I think that people like Melanie, like, you know, many of these people out here, affirmative action didn't have‘ ' 0*��(†(@@ ‘ anything to do with it. They had brains. They had brains and the desire to, to make it. They had parents that said, You can make it. And if we could just allow ourselves to continue to live in that, or, yeah, that kind of a framework where, honey, you can do anything, you know. I tell my grandchildren, Yep, you can be president. Well, girl, I'm waiting on you to be the first female president. Then I think we can, we could all, and I think I've [got out of the water] you all, but it's okay, I'll come back. But basically I think that affirmative action is, it's going to, it's going to die, but it did not do that much for some people. For others it opened doors that needed to be opened. And unfortunately many of those doors are closing now. ML: Well it forced open doors because I can very well remember, even in high school, and I went to a nice Catholic high school, but when it came time to apply to colleges, I had good grades, I had good SAT scores, and there was a nun in the guidance counselor office who told me that she wouldn't send off my information to places like Princeton and some of the Ivy League schools I applied to 'cause she thought I would do much better at Texas Southern or at a women's college in Texas. And so, Mama went down there with the stamped, self-addressed envelopes and said she wasn't leaving until Sister whatever her name was signed the necessary information and we mailed it off. I think that there were a lot of ways to get around it prior to affirmative action. You could look at two students with the same grades with the same abilities and you could make up an excuse for why, you know, Johnny, who happened to be a black male from Third Ward, wasn't able to do the same kind of work that Joey, who was, you know, white guy from Rice University area, could go off to the same school. So I think it kicked in some doors. And that was absolutely necessary. Has twenty years or so of affirmative action made us more conscious of wanting to sit down and people the room with different kinds of people? You know, again, maybe I'm naive. I think that we have begun thinking that way and that there is more of a tendency now for, whether it's a corporate head or a university or any kind of an organization to say, Well you know we really need some different points of view. Maybe that's naive. Maybe indeed we are going back, when we look at the rise of militia and people like that, maybe there is a movement afoot that I don't want to acknowledge. But I think the vast majority of people, if you ask them, will prefer to live in a diverse society. Because we don't want to just sit and talk to each other all day, people that are just like us. But that may be the naivete of somebody who's been an integrated situation. AL: If I might just use one personal reference. Two weeks ago we had a luncheon for Daddy. He's been in the ministry for fifty years and so a few of us got together and said, Let's have a luncheon, and we had it at the Hyatt Regency. A thousand people, almost, were there. And on tax day, April the fifteenth at twelve o'clock, you all. And I have never in my life seen a crowd as diverse as the crowd was. There were Vietnamese, there was Chinese Baptist Church had two or three tables. There were Mexican Americans, there were Jews, there were Catholics, there were CEOs, there were poor folks, you know. And I said, Now this, just looking out there, this man has affected a lot of people. And, But that to me was what integration should be like, where all of these people were coming because of one person who had touched their lives in some sort of fashion. And that's just a little personal reference, but I think it really showed a picture to us, sitting up on the podium. ML: But I look at City Council, I look at, you know, and obviously I'm very concerned about the fact that we don't have very many judges of color, but when you look at City Council, which is generally elected, you know, across the board, there is a real diversity there that is almost subconscious, I think, by many voters. When we go out we want to see more women and we want to see more Hispanics and we want to see more, So I think there is a general tendency in our minds now, whether we realize it or not, to want to have more diversity. Again, I'm maybe I'm just hopin' so. AG: Well I think I share some of your views on that. And even at large elected offices are being won by minorities, and that's a hopeful sign. And it's I think that also that history sort of moves in spurts and you kind of go forward and take a little step backward, and then go forward. And I hope that we never do go backward. But let me ask you one more long question. And then I think that we could take some questions for the audience, from the audience. Black conservative Republicans are not known for going around and waving banners and drawing a lot of attention to themselves, but every now and then you come across one. Middle class black families conceivably have the same concerns as other Americans about good schools, safe streets, taxes, and interest rates, and some of those other American families might be Republicans. You both have been politically active. In your opinion, is it the responsibility of the Republican Party to attract African-Americans to their ranks? Or should we crash the Party, so to speak, and try to proactively achieve a presence in the Republican Party? Or can the Democratic Party continue to meet our needs or can they meet our needs? AL: I think that what we have been talking about, if we talk about individuals, thinking individuals who make their own decisions about whatever, then I think that we belong as a party in every spectrum. And if I want to be a conservative, if I want to be a militia man, I should have that right. And, you know, we've got lots of Republicans. And I think that any time you get enough of anybody into a situation, there are some changes that will be made. And whether the changes are for the good or for the bad, I think that black Republicans are going to make a headway. I don't think that we've got that much more from everybody being Democrat. Most of us are. ML: Well I mean, obviously. First of all, I think that it's a misconception that we aren't conservative by nature. Because I think when it comes to moral issues, I think when it comes to certainly crime, I think we're tougher on crime than most people are. And so it's kind of a misconception that, you know, we're all out there sorta hangin' out being, you know, far left. But more importantly, I think that, you know, I look at Colin Powell. I mean how much more, how much more representative of sort of the black conservative wing could there be? I think that we straddle a very different fence, though, than most in the sense that, while we may be conservative about some issues, we still recognize that there but for the grace of God would be me laying over there on the street corner or living out of a car. And we don't have the luxury, I think, of distancing ourselves from our poor brethren. And, again, that may be somewhat idealistic point of view. But I remember Reginald Lewis, the now late Reginald Lewis, who took over TLC and who was one of the wealthiest black men in this country. I remember either watching an interview or reading an interview by him. And he said, Look, you know, it doesn't matter. I may walk out of the top penthouse office in the tallest skyscraper in New York. When I go downstairs and try to catch a cab, I'm still a black guy. I've still got a tough time trying to get a cab uptown. And so, by very virtue of the way we look, we don't have the luxury of saying, Hey that's another guy. I'm me, that's him. And I think there is more of a sense of responsibility to certainly people who have less than we do of probably any other group. AG: I think you're absolutely right. When we talk about crime, crime affects us much more than it affects other groups, and yet we're kind of leery of programs to crack down on crime because we're afraid we're cracking down on... ML: Right. That's true. AG: Right. ML: That's true. AG: So, well I appreciate your being here and you've given us some really good food for thought and you've had some really thoughtful answers. I think that there might be some questions from the audience, and I wanted, I had wanted to ask you a little bit about your ideas about child rearing. I know you have some grandchildren and maybe your grandchildren are coming up a little bit differently than, than maybe your family was raised and whether there are some differences and some girl, some differences between girls and boys and that sort of thing. But we're kind of running out of time, and I hope that maybe some of the questions from the audience, if you'd like to ask some questions along those lines. ML: Now, we aren't going to take questions right, we're going to look at these little cards. AG: Yeah. Well just quickly do you have a... ML: {inaudible} actually, I don't think we've ever done anything... {inaudible}...We'll have to go back and look at the tape ourselves and figure out AL: Do you know what? I raised you pretty good girl. ML: Yes. You did. You did. AL: I didn't do that for that ladies... ML: But you did. You didn't do a half bad job. AL: I think that in terms of the rearing process, I think that children are growing up too fast. They are seeing too much too soon that is too ugly. And so that there is a sense, in fact at the church I've been talking to some of us grandmothers who are the ones packing them to a scout meetin' or to the music lessons or to the whatever, and said, You know, we're gonna have to do a grandmothers club, because younger parents are working one or two jobs or they are divorced or they are whatever, and we're having to almost do this all over again. And I think that we almost need to be the ones doing it all over again, because the times have changed so that I really worry about, I would not want to be rearing in this time. AG: I worry about some of those grandmothers. AL: Yeah, yeah. AG: That's a hard job. AL: It's a harrrrrd job, believe me. Yeah. AG: It is tough. AL: I have ??. AG: I'm going to just take them as they come. AL: Okay. AG: As a newcomer to Texas and a middle school teacher, I see no mavericks in K through 12 education. The education system seems very poor compared to New York City or Detroit where I've taught. Will you comment? AL: I agree. There is, I think that the educational system is unfortunately very poor. One of the reasons that we moved our children to Poe Elementary during the integration years and the whole bit was because we didn't feel that we were getting good education. I still don't think that the HISD is doing the job that it should be doing. But I think it is our responsibility, both that teacher and both, and us as parents to get in there and make them do a better job. I have always believed you've got to work on it from the inside, and if we continue to make demands on the school system, I think that we would see some changes. AG: Melanie, why did the preacher's kid not choose to become a preacher? ML: Oh my. AG: Where are the woman pastors in the Baptist Church? ML: We got scads of them at Wheeler Avenue, if you ever want to come by. Well, but they're certainly a lot of women ministers, and I think that there are a handful of women pastors in town. Unfortunately, the reality of it is that it's still tough for a woman to lead a flock. Not so much because she doesn't have the same command, the same Godly commands that a man does, but quite frankly, women won't follow her as much in the same way that they'll follow a man. I've had more than a few women say, Well you know I like it one of the women preachers gets up, but I really just don't feel like she's a preacher. Not like a man. And I'm thinking, This is coming from us. Imagine how the guys feel. Until it gets to a point where we're willing to support a female minister in the same way that we support a male minister, there are gonna be fewer and fewer of them out there. It's just a tough row to hoe. And why didn't I do it? I guess 'cause I saw it from the inside, you know. That's exactly why. AG: What are, Well I guess the question is if marches are not effective, what would be some more... ML: That's right... AG:..we were going to come back to that, more effective forms of protest? AL: I'm not really sure. I think that that is another one of those things that we're gonna have to begin to create. One of the things that we're right now talking about is some selective buying for the next three Fridays in the month of May that blacks will not buy except in black-owned business of one sort or another. So as the notice says, get everything you need on Thursday 'cause Friday we don't come back. Now the thing is that what we are trying to say in that particular instance is, just notice, white business, how much can come out if just one day is used. It's not enough to kill you, but at least it can make you notice that the tills don't look quite as full as they should on Friday. That becomes one thing. I think that we've still got to do lots of negotiating. As Melanie was mentioning, City Council and County Commissioners, we are going to have to become a lot more vocal, not just going down for pop off day to do something silly, but to actually begin to pull together coalitions of people, of all people, to get things done. So we're gonna have to come up with some different strategies, but there's definitely going to have to be some more movement. AG: Melanie. ML: I'm not sure that marches are completely outdated. I won't, I won't write it off. I think, I think what happened was, and perhaps Jesse Jackson was a good example of that, it became so pat to get together a bunch of people and go stand in the rain someplace that that stopped being an effective means of doing things. But sometimes just sheer numbers can be pretty daunting. Because million man march, whether they were four hundred thousand there or, you know, a million point two, that was an amazing picture to look at on the plaza, especially since it was, it was very much nonviolent. It was very much a positive statement, even when an awful lot of people who attended that day didn't necessarily back or believe in Louis Farakhan. But the statement was still, We have come from all over the country to make this point today. And so sometimes it can be made simply by showing up. But I agree with my mama, I think negotiations, I think economic powerment in whatever fashion or another, I think legal means. You still can't get past the fact that this is a litigious society in some ways, but sometimes it takes the courts to force a new movement, a new law, a change. And so I still think that there are a lots of other ways to do it. AG: I like this idea of not buying on, on Friday, because before we had to use the Susan B. Anthony's and the two dollar bill ML: Yeah, right, the two dollar bills.. AG: that's carrying around bags of money into the store would be, you know, kind of hard, but this, this is a good idea. Who were or are your female heroes? AL: My mother, first of all. ML: And mine. AL: I think with a sixth grade education, raising nine children, educating those children, and, as my kids used to say, Grandmama's cool. I think that she was the best example of what I would like to be. And unfortunately sometimes I wake up in the morning and go look at myself before I put on all this pancake makeup and say, Good morning, Alma, 'cause I look just like her, just like this is happening to her. I think that, I had a teacher, an eighth grade teacher in St. Louis, Bernice Evans, and that lady whipped me and, but she taught me. And I think that that was the kind of person that I could see myself being. And I'm not going to even go into, you know, the great important people that everybody knows those names. But just the little people who believe in you and who tell you you can do it, and that's what she was for me. ML: And definitely my mom, who always taught me that you could just go out and do it. Whatever it is, I don't want to hear a bunch of excuses about why you can't. But I also, I think some of the most influential people in my life were teachers. And teachers at odd points along the way who were very different from me in some cases. There was a little nun when I was in high school, and just like the guidance counselor was a real pain, this was a little tiny nun from deepest darkest Louisiana who really just, you know, encouraged me every step of the way. She was my English teacher, and kept up with me quite literally until she died. She died of cancer a few years ago. And people like that really make a big difference. They don't necessarily represent what you would like to be someday, but it's just the fact that they will take the time. So to whoever that teacher is out there who is disheartened with the system, there are still some teachers who are influencing people even today. They really make a lasting impression. AG: Well HISD is on a lot of people's minds and.. ML: Yeah, I'm sure. AG: this is ML: It's tax time, too. AG: Yeah. And, well, this is a hard question, I've gotta say. Houston is now more than eighty percent Hispanic and black. How do we broaden diversity and bring Anglos back into the system? ML: The Houston Independent School District. Not the city. AG: Right. I'm sorry. Houston Independent School District. ML: Yeah. Well in large part HISD is eighty percent black and Hispanic because so many districts sprung up around it to draw off many of the whites that belonged to HISD. So let's not pull any punches, ladies and gentlemen, there was a reason for all of those other districts. But I think the only way it's exactly what Mama was talking about is a sense that we're not just idle spectators. I don't have any kids, so I can say this from a very theoretical point of view. But you can't be an idle spectator. You can't stand back and criticize the schools and talk about the teachers that aren't doing their job or the principals that aren't doing their job, if you're not involved. And I think that has been the biggest loss on all levels across the board, that parents don't have the time or don't have the inclination to go into the school system anymore and really duke it out for their kids' education. I think that the benefit of HISD over the last few years has been that there has been more of a move to decentralize it and to allow a little bit more control on the campus level now this is just as a reporter looking at things which gives a little bit more authority back to the parents and the teachers in that particular school. That's the only way it's going to happen. And as more and more people move back into the inner city, into the inside the loop, because it is more convenient and I've lived here all my life and will never move. You've got to move back into HISD and not say, Well, we'll peel off and go to a private school, or we'll do this, or go across town to go there. You've got to really be as invested in the schools. And all of them, not just the magnet programs, not just the upper echelon schools, but you've got to be as invested in local schools as you would have been in a private school. Which is why I was glad to see the move to have River Oaks Elementary also declared partial neighborhood school. I think that's the way to do it. That's the way to start. AG: Well, we've been here for AL: For hours, weeks. AG: hours and hours. I'm gonna just ask just this last question here, and this is for you, Melanie. Let me see, what was it? What did your experience in New York teach you to appreciate or dislike, slash, want to change about Houston? ML: Ooooh, that's a great question. Uhmm, you know, the one thing I liked about New York and still do was the fact that it is such a diverse city, it is so mixed up. Everybody kind of lives in the same neighborhoods, goes to the same schools, battles it out. That's very deceptive, though, as I learned. For a long time I thought, Oh gee this is a city with no walls and with no barriers. What I found was, they're there, in fact they're higher in a lot of cases; they're just more invisible. So you may work at a big law firm and think, Gee we're all just alike, until you get to the level of wanting to become a partner or wanting to move up. And it is one of those cities where there are far more institutions. There are far more established walls and things. But I think what it did make me appreciate and forgive me if I talk about something as frivolous as the International Festival, since I'm just coming off of that experience. It did make me appreciate how great it is to, to have a wide rainbow, a wide tapestry with which to work. And this city has it. I mean, we've got people from all over the world here, and we just don't get to see them all that often. And we certainly don't get to seem them all sort of cavorting together on the streets of downtown Houston like we got to last couple of weekends. And that's a shame. I mean I think that it is great to be the fourth largest city. It is great to have an NBA championship. It's great to have all of those things, but we need to appreciate our differences as much as we appreciate our similarities. And, and I think I resented for many years the fact that when I lived here as a teenager I always felt as though I had to be like everybody else. You had to dress like 'em, you had to look like them. And it wasn't until I went to New York and came back that I was comfortable with being a little weird, a little off center. And I think it's the kind of city where we need to open the doors a little bit more, and the windows, and let everybody be themselves, and be a little bit different. So. AG: Thank you. ML: Oh. I appreciate it. ML: You did a great job. You did a great job. You did a great job. ML: Well and thank you. Thank you to all of you guys for hanging in here when you could have been watching the Rockets. AL: Yeah. ML: That was very nice. AL: and it was actually much more, it was much more fun that I thought it was going to be. I was scared to death. AG: Thank you, ladies. Thank you. You're welcome. AG: I really do appreciate it.
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