Page 1


Eldrewery Stearnesand Houston Movement From Our Houston Correspondent HOUSTON The youthful leader of Houston’s sit-in movement which has been going for just more than a year in the South’s largest city, believes with firm conviction that there are only two men truly inspired to lead their people from the valleys of segregation and discrimination: himself and Martin Luther King. Eldrewery Joseph Stearnes did not express this conviction boastfully. “Some people here think I’m not for real. Well, I am,” he said. “I’m no fake. I honestly believe that there is only one other man in this country who is as dedicated to winning first class citizenship for the Negro people of this country. That is Martin Luther King, a truly great man,” The Texas Southern law student told the Observer. The movement he heads is the Progressive Youth Association. It had its beginning March 4, 1960. At 4 p.m. that day a group of about 20 Negroes strolled into Weingarten’s No. 26 at 4100 Almeda Road. Unlike any Negroes before them, they filled empty seats at the small coffee shop counter in the busy supermarket and asked for service. As the studentsmost of them just out of their teens and all neatly dressed and most of them carrying bookstook seats that were rapidly being vacated at the counter, Stearns was stationed In a nearby public phone booth, which had been set up as a kind of command post. From this point, he could order transportation and reinforcements and notify the news media. None of the students got service that afternoon, but they were back as the store opened for a big Saturday’s business the next morning. Large crowds, white and Negro, gathered throughout the day and violence was just below the surface of the milling, jostling mass. Fortunately nothing happened. Meanwhile other students filed into another supermarket two blocks north, and eight blocks south a drug store coffee counter saw Negroes take a seat and ask for service for the first time. Dear Students, Professors, and Citizens: We ask your help. Austin, Texas, is ready for further integration of public facilities and business establishments. Many restaurants are open to Negroes, as are predominantly white churches and civic organizations. The University of Texas has been integrated since 1956, with no racial violence whatsoever. But our theaters refuse to open their doors to Negroes. The theater managers refer us to Mr. Leonard Goldenson, President of ABC Paramount, 7 West 66th Street, New York 23, New York, in whose hands the decision rests. For more than two years Mr. Goldenson has refused the persistent requests of hundreds of Austin residents. Since last November as many as 600 students and citizens in a single day have stood in protest lines in front of the theaters three times a week. We are using every peaceful, lawful means of protest available to us. Can you help us? Inform Mr. Goldenson of ABC Paramount at the above address of your decision to “Well, that was the first action, but it actually began in Room 17 of the law school. Four of us were there talking, and we just decided to do it. This was on March 2,” Stearnes said Losing a Son Stearnes was born the son of a semi-skilled contractor. His family still lives in his hometown, Galveston. “I haven’t seen them for a year. I called mania just before we began and told her she was losing a son as I was not giving this up,” he said. He graduated from Central High School, and delivered the valedictory address at his graduation. In 1953 he entered Michigan State University’s College of Arts and Science. He was a member of student government and joined a fraterity. After taking courses in philosophy, foreign language, history, economics, and political science, he took a degree in business and public service in 1957. “Then, I came back to the South to play the role I am playing. Not this particularly, not just the sitins, but to be a leader of these people,” he said. The Progressive Youth Association has 200 active members Stearns said, both white and Negro. All are students. Between two and three thousand business and professional men, white and Negro, contribute and carry membership cards. Each card has the association motto: “Freedom-Dignity-Justice.” The studentsthere are always a few girls and most times three or four Rice studentshave spread their movement from the businesses which operate in mixed areas, to downtown businesses and public buildings, to transportation systems and theaters, to utilities and public stadiums. In some cases negotiations have brought about integration or the hiring of some Negro employees in business. “To be effective, there has to be a dual appeal made to Negroes by PYA: privileges and equal work rights. The young ones don’t have jobs, so we try to get them equal privileges, the older ones want and need better jobs, so we patronize only theaters which belong to integrated chains. Send a dollar, or as much as you can afford, to help buy a full page advertisement in the New York Times, protesting Mr. Goldenson’s segregation policy, and to aid us in bringing integration to Austin, and to Texas. Send your contributions to Students for Direct Action, 2844 Shoal Crest, Austin, Texas. This letter was refused publication in The Daily Texan, student newspaper, due to Southern conservative censorship policies. Chandler Davidson, President, S.D.A.; Paul M. Van Buren, Ass. Prof., Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest; Manny Solon, Pres., Univ. Religious Council, Pres., Hillel Foundation Stu. Coun.; Dell Jackson Hood, President, Canterbury Assn.; James Neyland, PresidentElect, Student YMCA; Susan Reed, President Elect, Student YWCA. Supported by: J. Frank Dobie, Roger Shattuck, Ernest E. Goldstein, William Arrow. smith, Rev. Brandoch Lovely. try to obtain these for them,” Stearnes said. PYA has listed 17 accomplishments that include desegregated cafeterias at Greyhound and Continental bus stations. The list also included: Desegregated cafeterias at the police station for employees; integration of Jeppesen Stadium and the Houston Civic and Recreational Center; the hiring of several Negro employees at UTote’em, three managers and employees; Ralston Drugs, three managers and 16 clerks and cashiers; Askew Pharmacy, one pharmacist; Minimax Food Markets, three cashiers; Danburg’s Department Stores, seven sales ladies; Weiner’s Department Stores, four sales ladies; Frank’s Variety Stores, two sales ladies; FoleyNewsom Service Station, two managers and eight attendants; Weingarten’s, 14 cashiers; HenkePilot, three cashiers; and Sacco Brothers, a trend toward all Negro cashiers. Lunch Counters Opened By far the most significant achievement got the least publicity. This was the opening of 65 lunch counters, mostly in the huge downtown area and including all major department stores, to Negro customers. Vie desegregation came about quickly and quietly after about two weeks of sit-in demonstrations and a couple of afternoons of negotiations. After a meeting with the major retailers and representatives of most news media, it was agreed there would be no news, not a single story or broadcast of the desegregation of lunch counters. Many Houstonians learned of it months later and did not believe until they saw for themselves. Some still do not believe it. Some do not even know it. Stearnes spoke of this news blackout frankly, but without bitterness. CENTRAL TEXAS Within the night between Alvarado and Mansfield beside Farm to Market Road 917 a light’ bulb lit up the white wooden house with ten or fifteen cars in front on the packed-down dirt under a tree spreading there. The sign on a board to the side said “Cahill Methodist Church.” There was an empty pew at the back, on the left from the little antebox built into the corner of the one big room. The preacher, a country-talking man in a brown suit and a light yellow tie, had just struck out the batter, and the umpire was calling him out. “Is he callin’ you out? Is he tellin’ you you lack compassion, and devotion, and love? “They’re up there!” he said, pointing up. “They’re watchin’ us down here! What will you do about it? Will you give yourself in service to the church?” Over his head, a cross made of glass tubes glowed with a white light; the black wire dropped down to it from the arching-over ceiling. On the left was a painting of a Jesus with long hair and a sharp chin, lit by a lectern light overhead, the short chain visible. On the right side a sign on a board said: Enrollment 48 Attendance Today 28 Attendance Last Sunday 18 Offering Today 4844 Offering Last Sunday 1816 The preacher called for those waiting to declare their faith in Jesus to “come forward to this altar,” a wood railing around three sides of him. “Well, let’s face it. It was a conspiracy between the merchants and the newspapers, the radio and television, too, but the newspapers are what hurt in a movement like this. “First of all, it prevented newspaper people from being newspaper people. It prevented them from informing the people of a major social event. They said it was done in the name of public safety. If so, it wasn’t worth it. “Another thing, the Negro people had no way of knowing they could use these facilities. When they came in a store and saw a few Negroes eating with white people they didn’t know if it was a sit-in or what. “I say all of this regretfully, not hatefully. For the most part, the newspapers have been fair with us,” Stearnes said. But the achievements have not come easily. Four times, on different charges, sit-in students have gone to jail. Unlawful assembly and loitering are the charges usually placed against them. Their cases could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the first students were jailed, about a month ago, a group of Negro doctors showed up to post bond. Negro lawyers have also stood with the students and given legal advice. While movie houses are being hit every weekend, the organization continues the attempt to gain equal job opportunities for Negroes by peaceful picketing of utilities and stores. One of the first large scale operations of this type occurred when one Sunday afternoon three weeks ago, workers at a Southwestern Bell Telephone Company office found the students picketing the building they work in. “That was only a beginning, a warning you might say. We will be back to other places like that,” Stearnes said. “Banks have a lot of Negro accounts but few Negro employees. “The usher will turn down the lights and you come forward and speak to God, as long as you want to. If you want to accept Jesus Christ as your Savior, now is the time. If you want to dedicate yourself anew to a life for Jesus. come up forward. “First we will sing the first verse of ‘I surrender all.’ ” THE PASTOR HIMSELF \(for I the speaker to one side, a chunky man in a blue suit, hands folded in his lap. The woman at the piano \(the light over her music exposed raw directness that served the purpose. The older voices were weak and diffuse, but the 25 children clustered up front to the left were clear, were bells, lovingly surrendering all. “Ask for Jesus’ help in this resolution,” the visiting preacher said. “After all, you can’t do it alone. It’s Jesus Christ who is our Savior. He must help us. If you’re not a Christian, or if you’re a member of another church and want to give yourself up to Jesus through this church, come forward. “Now whoever the usher is, turn down the lights.” A man wearing a white shirt and a tie rose -and went into the box at the back. A switch flipped audibly, leaving only the red shaded light over the picture of Jesus and the white one bare over the piano. Two women went forward. Then others. One was a hunchback and old. The old farmers sat stock still Hospitals have us segregated all over the place. Then there are , the other utilities, gas and electricity. We intend to keep demonstrating against all forms of segregation, wherever we find it,” he said. “I could not have accomplished anything, and PYA would never have been, if it had not been for all of the young people who work and suffer together: Among the contributions we have made must be included the inspiration all of these young people have given to others who will follow them,” he said. ‘A Difficult Thing’ “When you really believe in