Page 7


An Independent Liberal Weekly Newspaper AUGUST 17, 1955, AUSTIN, TEXAS I Coercion In Rusk Negoes Who Sign Integration Petition Find Their Jobs in Jeopardy; Many Drop Off, Some Are Fired; Local Editor Says ‘No Problem Here’ The one great rule of composition is to speak the truth’. Thoreau .rxtto Ottsrrurr We will serve no group or party but will hew hard to the truth as we find it and the right as we see it. VOL. 41 R USK OUT HERE the tree fariners and town merchants and tenants aren’t worried about integration of Negroes and whites in the public schools., The place is thick with pine trees and Watermelon patches and the red clay sticks fast to your feet. Everything is moist to the touch; even the pine bark has a spongy feel to it. It’s mighty like the Old South, and you could probably draw yourself a Mason-Dixon line down the Dallas Houston highway without violence to fact. “There’s southern. blood in ‘my veins,” said E. H. Whitehead, editor and publisher of the weekly Rusk Cherokean. 4Trri a southern boy, and none, of these northern communists are going to run my life. We can take care of our niggers fine.” Rusk doesn’t need a Citizens’ Council to fight integration in the public schools. The town has Whitehead and the Cherokeen, and so far they have been quite capable of . handling any situation, no matter itove distasteful. Whitehead takes a kind of quiet, fierce pride in this. “We’ve got everything under control here.” he said, “There’s not going to be any integration problem, herethere’s not going to be any mixin’ of nigger. and white children in East Texas for a long, long time.” Whitehead resolved the Rusk integration problem in a hurry. Early in July, a local Negro barber, Irwin C. Conley, circulated a petition among h i s people asking the Rusk School Board to comply “in good faith” with the Supreme Court decision on racial segregation in the schools. There were 27. _signers of the petitionall of them parents of school-age children. “I led the fight.” said . Whitehead. “I went down and picked -up that petition and let it get arounci that I was going to publish all those names. They started dropping .off–fast. Some of ’em told me they didn’t know what they was signin’ …. Some N.A.A.C.P. communists from ‘Dal i las started all the trouble.” Whitehead says “a few niggers lost AUSTIN IT IS AN ANCIENT Custom around the State Capitol for state employees to give the heads of their departments gifts at Christmastime. Sometimes these gifts are rather elaborate, procedures used to collect the money from the employees raise questions of public policy. Two of the most talked-about departments in connection with this practice this year have been the Agriculture Department and the Comptroller’s Office. In addition, it is customary for House n -ists to give speakers of the House elaborate gifts on “Speaker’s Day” during each legislative session, and the presidents pro tem of the Senate are also the recipients of torrents of costly gifts at dinners in their honor. Last Christmas, John White, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture and a loyalist candidate for the gubernatorial nomination next year, received a new, air-conditioned 1955 Ford from his employees. Its cost was $2,700, several hundred dollars less than the usual retail price because one of the employees knew a dealer in Garland, Texas. There were 132 full-time and 12 parttime employees on the Department’s payroll in December. They were told they could give ten percent of their December salary. White and his division heads state that it was entirely voluntary. About 90 to g4 ,5 percent of the employees eonributed toward the . $2,700, which makes the average contribution per employee about pa. their jobs” as a result of signing the pea tition. The first week the petition was filed, Whitehead ran a banner story on the action and explained that the Cherokeean had held its press run over a day to give all the signers time to drop by the office and let the editor know they were taking their names off the list. The names continued to dwindle during the following weeks. Along toward the end of July, the story was only one paragraph on the front page:. “TWO MORE DROP FROM LIST “D. Waggoner and Ivell Thompson have asked that their names be removed from the list of signers to the petition asking a ban of segregation in . Rusk Schools. There are only six. names remaining of the original 27 signers.” SIX NEGROES still have their names on the petition. One is Conley, the Negro barber. He is self-employed, as are several of the others. A few more work for the railroad and consider themselves “safe.” Lonnell Cook, a tall, shambling Negro in his mid-thirties, wasn’t one of the “safe” ones. He was fired from his job at the Isaac Motor Company in Rusk even before his name appeared in the newspaper. He had worked as a grease boy in the motor company for twelve years. “MY boss he come up to me a few days after they filed the petition. He ask me if I had signed that paper and I said I had and he said ‘Come on in the office and get your check.’ Well, I did, and I haven’t been back since.” Cook says he’s working “around” at odd jobs now and then. He has two children, ages twelve and seven. Two other signers have lost their jobs as a direct result of the publication of the names. One was Leroy Nevers, a shine boy at the Wallace Barber Shop. .The other was John D. Gipson, who worked at the Wallace Lumber Company One employee said that employees were told at a meeting that it would take about ten percent of one month’s salary from each employee to buy the car, and that if they didn’t have the money, assignment forms were available in the meeting room for loans on future salary. This employee said this form was given to her and she agreed to make the loan. Bob Boyd, chief deputy commissioner of the Agriculture Department, says on this point that some of the employees didn’t have the money at the time but “came in and said they wanted to borrow itand that, of course, was :up to them.” The story of how the gift came to be given, how it was a surprise to White, how he came to write all his employees and offer to return their contributions, and how he finally kept the car is one worth the telling. BOYD says that the employees had decided not to exchange gifts but that at the end of a staff meeting early in December Ray Cure of Pittsburgh; Texas, a district supervisor of the department, suggested that they buy a car for White, “since we’ve never given him anything.” Boyd quoted Cure as saying they had the best Commissioner of Agriculture in the country and “want to keep him.” Another motive Cure cited was to get White to stop flying his private plane. Boyd says that White had stepped out of the meeting at the time. He appointeda committee of the six district supervisorsCure, Travis Edwards of Houston, Cal Wallace of Austin, Darwyn Metcalf of Lubbock, Mearl Taylor of Arlington, and Nick Doffing of Pharrand they recommended that`.`we see what we sawmill. Gipson has found work in Houston. Another Negro who signed the petition was fired from the sawmillthen rehired when he removed his name, Then he was fired again, and rehired again. Conley laughs and calls it a “mixup on signals.” “They’re puffin’ the ol’ economic squeeze on ’em, so they had to take their names off,” he said of the others who dropped off the petition. Asked if there were any “safe” ones working for the State at the Rusk State Hospital here, Conley said with a grin: “Why man there’s not a Negro state worker at the hospital. Several have applied for jobs there in the past few years, but they don’t seem to qualify.” EDITOR WHITEHEAD is a slight, spindly young man in his late twenties who appears to be more of a “shop type” than the small-town Jaycee. But he’s on .top of everything. Besides the weekly, he prints a monthly shopping sheet and does job printing. He has an F.C.C. license permitting him to build a 500-kilowatt radio station in Rusk. He came here from livingston in Polk County, where his late father edited the Polk County Enterprise. After ‘a hitch in the service, young Whitehead returned to Livingston, edited the Enterprise with his mother, then sold out his interest and bought the Rusk Cherokeean. He has a clean, modern shop, and his wife is business manager. He was asked if there had been any incidents or any violence in the town as a result of the petition. He said no, then added: “We got a couple of fellers in this town who are just as mean and rough as you’ll find anywhere. can do” about getting the project rolling. Boyd said he asked the department’i “elder statesman,” Mark Fraze, about it, and Fraze said he thought it a fine idea and gave $100 at once. Boyd said he appointed the committee and consulted Fraze because he didn’t want to do anything that would “hurt anybody.” “There were several people that we felt like we shouldn’t approach; we knew their financial status and we didn’t want to embarass anybody,” Boyd says. “Some of them found out about it and they came on in on it.” Bob Williams, director of the department’s Market News Service, said that a couple of out-of-town employees, two widows, were never told about it, “because they didn’t make much money, you know.” “We had to borrow a little to make up the total sum,” Boyd proceeded. “A few of us paid it ourselves. I’ve never seen a thing as spontaneous.” He said they had a committee that ‘reviewed’ the finances, and that “it was open for anybody to come in and look at.” But “Nobody kept a record of how much money each person_ gave,” he said. “It was a total sum.” Boyd says he is positive that White didn’t know anything about the gift until it was given to him. John Moore, the department’s chief accountant, says that “it was pretty spontaneouswe didn’t have anybody who wasn’t happy to give.” “Some people didn’t give, and some people gave a little more than was exso far as I know never knew how much each gave.” It was purely voluntary, Moore said. but it was figured “roughly 10c per Copy NO, 17 “Well, one, he’s got a good business here, and he fired one of his niggers and told him if he ever heard him makin` trouble again, he’d come over in niggertown and tear his hide off him. He could do it, too.” Asked what would happen if someone files suit against the school board demanding integration, Whitehead said: .”Nobody’s goiri’ to file suit here … We aren’t goin’ to have any trouble.” He says integration in the schools would be “cruel to the children.” Besides that, he doesn’t like to think of the possibility of Negro teachers over white children. “If a nigger teacher laid a hand to my child, I’d run him clean out of Texas,” he said. CONLEY, the barber, and apparently the town’s Negro civic leader, is about Whitehead’s age. He lives in a neat, rambling white frame house on a hill studded with pines, overlooking the Negro cemetery. His shop is out front of the rather extensive grounds. There are petunias and roses and calladiums in. front, carpet grass on the lawn, and a vegetable garden on one side and a chicken pen at the rear. He and his wife have no children, but they’re active in the N.A.A.C.P. unit for Cherokee County. He reads a good deal, and there’S a bitter streak in him. You get the feeling that he could never really like any white man after what has gone before. He has had several tours in the service. “I like this country,” he said. “This is my home, but when I get fed up with things I chuck it all and go back into the Army for a couple-a years. I’ve been all overChicago and St. Louis and California. Never been overseas, though.” When you ask him about future plans concerning integration in Rusk, he refers to “the Dalla0 N.A.A.C.P. man.’ He thinks there will surely be some court cases. He says he’s not going to leave Rusk again until he’s “seen this through.” He took me up the red clay road to the top of the hill where the Negro school houses are situated. There are a couple of brick buildings that don’t look so bad. “They’re worse on the inside,” he said: “nor sewage out here,” pointing to a couple of ramshackle outhouses. There are two more buildings, white frame and run down, housing the lower grade classrooms. The city is replacing some rotted wooden steps. Then there is the new gymnasium almost completed, small but neat with tile blocks, and what Conley calls “modern toilets inside.” Conley has a friend, another barber in. nearby Jacksonville, 15 miles north of Rusk, who is also active in the county N.A.A.C.P. unit. A little older, Alfred Sanders is also a little less zealous. He ran for the school board in Jacksonville last year and lost, and he has been a driving force, in county Negro affairs. Now, he’s not sure what to doparticularly when the “Dallas N.A.A.C.P. man” urges him to file a petition. “I’m reluctant to try that after what happened in Rusk,” he said. “We don’t want to stick our necks out here,” he said. . The white people of Rusk and the rest of Cherokee County aren’t looking for any trouble in the immediate future. As Whitehead says, they think “‘everything is under control.” “Well what do you think about it?* Whitehead asked me. I asked him what the ratio of Negroes and whites was in Rusk.. He said the Negro population was about 20 per cent. I told him that in Austinwhere it’s about 15 ‘per centthe high schools will be integrated in September, and no one seems to be disturbed about it. “Well ifs different here,” he said. I asked him if any of those fired had tried to take their troubles to the courts. “They’d have a hard time makin’ anything stick in court,” he said. “They weren’t fired immediately One feller waited a week, until his nigger came In 15 minutes late to work. Then he told him to get out and not come back.” I asked him -what the school board was going to do about the Negro petition. He stared incredulous …. “Rothhe,” he said. BILL BRAM M John White’s 1955 Ford