Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Remembering Wiley College while the rest of Texas remembers the Alamo

With so many Texas politicians tweeting and opining today about William B. Travis' famous Feb. 24th, 1836 letter from the Alamo, Grits was delighted to discover in my Inbox this morning my "Today in Texas History" email from the Texas State Historical Association leading with "Rangers sent to Wiley College in response to student demonstrations - February 24, 1969."

Though the Alamo story is beloved, I've heard it a thousand times if I've ever heard it at all. There was a time I probably could have quoted you most of Travis' letter. But even though I grew up not far from Marshall in Tyler, I'd never heard the story of 100 Rangers and assorted other cops descending on Marshall in 1969 to squelch protests at an historically black college. (I'd have been two years old at the time.) Nor was I aware that, according to the TSHA, "In 1962, Wiley and Bishop College students held sit-ins at the local Woolworth store. Their activities and the local reaction made national headlines."

When I searched for more on that earlier episode, I found this account that placed the Woolworth sit ins in 1960, not 1962, in the weeks following the famous sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at Wiley College on March 17, 1960, and the Marshall sit-ins began eleven days later. "Police arrested 20 students at three different lunch counters for interfering with businesses." Then,
In response students gathered in front of the courthouse and sang. A crowd of white people gathered, and in a few hours grew restless. In an effort to clear the group, the city fire department unleashed hoses of high pressure water at the demonstrators and several bystanders. Police arrested 37 more students in the process.

On 31 March, a crowd of 350 students met at the bell tower of Wiley College for prayer and songs in support of those still in jail. Later that day, the student leaders announced a boycott of white merchants.

Meanwhile, Texas Governor Price Daniel ordered an investigation of [one of the organizers] Dr. Wilkerson after discovering his former ties to the Communist Party. Within a week the Bishop College president fired Wilkerson.
Eventually, school administrators called for an end to the demonstrations and that summer, the "Wiley College president fired the entire teaching staff except for those who supported the administration during the sit-ins."

Fascinating. I'd never heard those stories before, which lamentably has been a recurring theme for me recently.


Anonymous said...

Protester Joel Rucker was convicted in the corporation court of violating a Marshall city ordinance and lost his appeal to the county court. The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed and ordered the prosecution dismissed. RUCKER v. STATE, 342 S.W.2d 325 (Tex. Crim. App. 1961). I assume the other convictions under the same ordinance were also dismissed.

The Old Skool Preacher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Old Skool Preacher said...

Thanks for the research and the post.

It's ''Uncle Tomism'' at its highest level.

May this be uncluded in the conversational history of Black Texans.

Anonymous said...

Heard of this a couple times from a old friend who told tales of the water hose and the terrible treatment they received from MPD.

Anonymous said...

Thank You so much for always telling the truth. Thank You for remembering Wiley College

Anonymous said...

Do you remember Lee Otis Brown? Circa: late 1960s. Texas Monthly recently printed an article about him:

He was best known for the thirty-year prison sentence he got in 1968 for passing a marijuana cigarette to an undercover police officer in Houston. Those who thought the punishment didn’t fit the crime distilled their outrage into a chant—”Free Lee Otis!”—that was heard on campuses around the state, including Texas Southern University, where he had been a leader of the Student Non- Violent Coordinating Committee in the mid-sixties. In a famous incident in 1970, protesters disrupted a speech by then-governor Preston Smith at the University of Houston. Unfamiliar with Lee Otis’ case, Smith asked a reporter, “What in the world do they have against beans?” When the reporter explained what the crowd was shouting, Smith said, “I thought they were saying ‘frijoles.’”