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Interview with: Bobby Caldwell
Interviewed by: Nicolas Castellanos
Date: January 15, 2010
Archive Number: OH GS0014
Nicolas Castellanos (NC): Good afternoon, today is January 15, 2010. We are at the African American Library at the Gregory School. We are joined here today by a Mr. Bobby Caldwell. Good Afternoon
Bobby Caldwell (BC): Good afternoon.
(NC): Ok, for our record would you please state your name, date of birth, and the place you were born?
(BC): Bobby H. Caldwell, born in Dallas (?), Texas March 12, 1934.
(NC): Ok Mr. Caldwell and you attended Texas Southern University from 1951-1957.
(NC): Ok, and what led you to Texas Southern University?
(BC): Well, um. I was one of the -----kids, where I finished Booker T. Washington in Dallas. I wanted to go to Columbia , New York University, or someplace like that. I even applied, for a joke, I applied to Southern Methodist University. I was automatically told that because of my race I couldn’t come down. For the rest of the universities, I was told that because of my (things?) I couldn’t move there. So I was wondering where I was going to do? I knew of the existence of Texas Southern because of, for example, had met Heman Sweatt when he came through to Booker T. to speak to us on the Supreme Court for his case that he argued there. In the United States Supreme Court, for his case Sweatt vs. Painter. Did you know that Mr. Sweatt had been enrolled at the University of Texas and he had been denied there? And TSU was created as a separate but equal school to the University of Texas. So I decided I was going to Texas Southern University. And it just so happens that the in June 1st, 1951 the name of Texas Southern, the school had been changed from Texas State University for Negroes to Texas Southern University.
(NC): Ok. And during your course there from 1951-1957 what were some of the teachers and professors and buildings? Things you remember of the campus? Could you explain some of that?
(BC): Well, on the campus I was, for educational purposes, there was 2 buildings. It would be called the original Fairchild Building, which housed mostly South African (??) things of that nature. Then the administration building which housed the whole university, the law school was on the second floor. The whole school was there. They was building a pharmacy school when I arrived and we had an auditorium and a library.
(NC): Ok. And uuh do you recall any favorite professors that you can remember by name? Anyone that influenced you? That you would like to recall?
(BC): Well, I think one of my favorite undergrad professor was Dr. Henry Merk (sp?) . He was a professor of Sociology and he was very dynamic and he kept your feet to the grind. Whenever you leave his classroom you realize you had accomplished something. I was so excited by him I took some 18 hours in Sociology just so I can be in his classroom. In my law school I had several professors. Our first year I had Daschle (Sp?) in Torts Law. My second and third year I had Kenny Callahan in Federal Court. They were all dynamic teachers.
(NC): Great. And after your education you were offered a librarian position at Texas Southern University. Would you please explain that?
(BC): Well, when I finished law school in 1957, the only thing I had was a law degree and no money. I went back to Dallas where my mother was living and tried to find a job before I could prepare for the Bar. I needed the money to pay the fees to take the Bar Examination. So I went back to Dallas and tried to find a job and I couldn’t find a job. I was either under qualified or over qualified, but no one would give me a job. I recall a guy who said “You want a job?” I go, “I want ----------background?” “Oh no we change our mind”. So certain jobs were not available to me because of the pigmentations of my skin. So my dean fired(?) everybody and said, “if you come back down, I will give you a job working in the law library”. And at the same time I applied as editor, assistant editor for Lawyers Corp. And while I was taking those and taking the test, the law librarian resigned and the dean offered me the job as law librarian and I accepted.
(NC): Ok. And I see that as the librarian you had worked heavily with civil rights lawyers at the time.
(BC): Yes, I had met various civil rights lawyers while I was at school. We would meet, well when I say civil rights lawyers, I meant -----------minority lawyers------and everything you touched during that time, there was some racial connotation there, so you had to defend race. So most people gave them that title. They were out there, every person was trying to make a living day-to-day. But there were some at that time, there was so many civil rights cases because blacks were deprived of their liberties that they were fighting or trying to fight these cases in court under this doctrine of separate but equal.
(NC): Um hmm. And um, do you remember any specific event that you participated in? A particular case that you would like to talk about?
(BC): What do you mean?
(NC): Umm, well is there a particular case that brought your qualifications and your interest to the court house that you worked on?
(BC): Oh you talking about while I was a law librarian or you talking about after I passed the bar?
(NC): You are right. I meant indicate after you had passed the bar. And here you passed the bar in 1962?
(BC): Yes, I believe that is the date. And I thought I would resume, my favorite case is the first case that I had after I passed the bar. I was still a librarian and one of my friends who had went to law school with me had passed the bar and he had gone to the court one morning. He was late for court and he called the court and told the court that he was going to be late. When he got to the court, they found him to be in contempt of court for being late. So they fined him $100. So he paid the $100 and said that “I don’t want that on me” and he came and talked to me about it. I said let’s appeal it. So, the only appellate work I had ever done was filing a moot court during a moot court competition. Sat down and wrote a brief and went down to the court of appeals. About 3 weeks I got a call when we were supposed to come, saying “Congratulations!” I said, “For what?” They said, “You won your case. The judge had been overruled.” With that, the Judge, Jimmy Duncan was his name, as long as --------Jimmy Duncan’s court, especially black lawyers. During the conversation he would howl and growl and make you think he was a devil in a robe, but after that it was smooth.
He quit holding lawyers for being in contempt for being late, as long as they called and said, “I am going to be late” he would accept that. And after I was practicing in his court one day, I was late one morning, and I walked in there a few minutes late, and he said “what are you coming from?” I said, “I been to another court”. He said, “Go there and sit down I don’t know what I am going to do with you.” I said, “before I go sit down can I ask you a question?” He said, “yes” I said, “You familiar with---------law?” He looked at me and said, “Yeah I am.” (laughing)
(BC): That was my first case. My second case that I tried was, I had an auto theft case. My client was caught in the courthouse on account of the car that was allegedly stolen with 2 to 3 other people. They all ran from the cops but my client stayed in the car, they charged him with auto theft and we put on all the evidence that the car wasn’t stolen. There was no direct evidence, so I told the judge he was being charged with circumstantial evidence. They had of course convicted him of circumstantial evidence. But at that time we had one of the most racist judges I think I had ever met and would meet by the name of Sam Davis. He was half dead at that time, but he looked up at me and said, “oh well in lieu of --------this charge I am going to give it to him anyway. I think I can.” And all in all, they had him pull his case from circumstantial evidence, and of course the circumstances were that he stayed for his friend, they found him guilty. It took about an hour and a half to deliberate. I-----------as a practice group I became more concerned about the plight of minorities, especially blacks in Houston and our judicial system. I could see the injustices that were being done. So, I began to work harder and some cases that I could get dismissed, there was this one case that he told me he was charged with aggravated assault. I went down and talked the District Attorney’s office about it. Well, the fact is the judge told him you need to go get you a lawyer. You go to Bobby Caldwell and he gave him my card. He gave him my card with the telephone number. I go the judges to do that from time to time. So of course I came out, and talked to him and two or three days later, whenever we met at the court the state made a motion to dismiss the case. The court said this isn’t adjudicated, saying you are charged with rape isn’t it? You moving to dismiss it? Said, yes that was before they got Bobby Caldwell.
So I began to feel good that I did know what I was doing and people got word around that I did know what I was doing and the crux of my practice was being observed around having lots in society needing lawyers, but have no money, they would come to me and I would be able to work out something with them to help them to try to get justice and as a result of that I became concerned about the social injustices that was being done with students at Texas Southern University. Students at Texas Southern University was, going back I would say as far as Birmingham, these were done in the 60s, when I don’t know if you remember or not, but we had the sit-in where blacks were denied all direct access to public accommodations, even in restaurants, even in train stations, even in department stores, grocery stores, and coffee counters. Blacks could not go in. The way it started in the Carolinas and then it came through the colleges throughout the South. Texas Southern became part of that and students were being charged with trespassing or loitering and I was able to do research with the lawyers of many of those cases. It was then that I started my practice. The students at the educational campuses began to grow because we had gone into the war in Vietnam, there was marches that was going on for different types of reasons in this country. At Texas Southern, the students were demanding that------- be closed because they got to the point that ability, in other words, what was going on---race on race, but white with the KKK signs, several would go through campuses and making racial calls and slurs. There was so many things going on at campus that the students started protesting. As a result, the administration did not see eye-to-eye with the students and the students were discriminated against by the administration. So the administration took the role of police, judge, and jury in deciding
certain people on campus. At one time they had 3 people put under (P bar???) and after then we met at the jail house singing and they know that we were behind them and I fought through for them and after they got out a couple weeks later, police started driving up and down the street in front of the dormitories and I think someone threw a slice of watermelon…..
[Part 1 End]
[Part 2 begin]
(BC):…… at one of the cars and they would turn back and just went in and shot up the dormitory and arrested all of the men in the men’s dormitory and carried them down to jail. In the process of this was going on, one of the rookie cops was killed and one of the bullets ricocheted off of the building and struck the cop, so our ----(indecipherable) the Houston Police Department, incidentally at that time had the most racist police chiefs, I think in the nation, Herman Short. So he decided to file murder charges on five students and I represented two of those students- Floyd Nicolas(sp?) and Mr. Wright and we never did go to trial because the case they------they got a change of venue on one of the cases, with the new Brown rule, the case was tried on the new Brown rule, I was there and they ended up with a hung jury. And they never did try any other people. But the results of that were that they were kicked out of school. For some reason, a number of students decided they wanted me to represent them whatever happens. So my office became headquarters for the disenchanted of Texas Southern.
But anyway, Floyd Nicolas who was charged with murder indictment against him, a year later they came up with a “he had a pistol on campus at night”, so they filed a possession of a weapon against him and we played with that for 2 years and finally the judge decided that he played around with it long enough and he did dismiss it. And with that, it became known that if you did something on campus, call Bobby Caldwell and he will be at your service. And we, the next encounter. Please tell me if you want me to stop because I can go on and on about things…….
(NC): Good afternoon. It is January 15, 2010 and we are in our second recording session with Mr. Bobby Caldwell.
(BC): I think this is kind of a quote, but today is Martin Luther King’s birthday isn’t it?
(NC): It uhh… is today his birthday?
(BC): Yes. Yes.
(NC): I didn’t realize that.
(BC): Yes they celebrate it Monday-January 15th.
(NC): Ok, would you like to say something?
(BC): No, I go off…
(BC): Anyway, we will get to that later..
(NC): Ok, ummm well we are going to talk about at UT Austin, there was students charged with inciting a riot.
(BC): Yes, well this has already been stated earlier. This was one of the mechanisms the powers that be had to try to stop anything that blacks were trying to do to eliminate discrimination during this period of time and it was going throughout the United States, especially in the South where you had a number of black schools. In Austin they had a very lot of organizations that had a student body which was trying to eliminate persecution and discrimination. And by this time you had both white and black students combining their forces together to eliminate discrimination and Larry Jackson was the leader of the student group in Austin, University of Texas-----It was some problem they had with a service station. They put up a demonstration in front of the service station and Larry Jackson and a Co-Chairman, who was female, were charged with inciting a riot and at that time, the thinking was “if we can get the leader, we can stop what’s going on”. So we took the case and we tried the case in Austin, tried for a whole week. It was much more …to it, 2 years in the jail and a fine, and we was able to get the judge, although the judge did find him guilty of inciting a riot. We was able to get the judge to give him a probation and we appealed the case and the Court of Appeals upheld it. And the other students, well they seen how the system works, so the other ones that were charged, the majority of them tried their own cases without lawyers. I understand, finally the District Attorney dismissed the rest of the class against them.
(NC): Ok and uh you also helped many people and I see that you helped Mr. Lee Otis Johnson?
(BC): Oh yes! That was , all of these cases that I have mentioned was after I took over Lee Otis Johnson’s case. Lee Otis Johnson was an activist who was attending Texas Southern University. He was one of the persons of our fraternity that lived in (Pea farm???) at Texas Southern University and he would have been charged with the killing of a police officer at Texas Southern University but he was not on campus that night. So they knew he was in jail for another violation, so they couldn’t charge him. But anyway, I got a call from his nephew. I knew he had been charged with marijuana, but he kept telling me, there is nothing to it. I got this lawyer and he is going to handle this. Well I said, “ok”. I am going to Philadelphia for a black power conference. When I got there, got there Monday, on Tuesday, Wednesday morning they sent us a special delivery mail that Lee Otis Johnson had been convicted and sentenced to 30 years for allegedly giving an undercover police officer a marijuana cigarette. At that time, the possession of marijuana cigarette, any amount of marijuana-the maximum punishment was life in penitentiary. So, we organized around that and I came back and took up the appeal to the Court of Appeals, and we had to go to federal court. I went to federal court and in the meantime, we blasted and blasted the state about how ridiculous the marijuana law was. It was during this time, everybody started smoking pot (laughing), all around campuses and every time we go through a riot. We had one rule, no pot allowed!
(BC): Cause the police officers were used to stopping and talking what people were doing. So we took the position, I took the position that he had been denied a fair trial because of Lee Otis Johnson was not only an activist who was a member of (Snick???) through an ----committee and he was very vocal he was always attacking the mayor, the police chief, anything that he thought was wrong he was attacking it. And, they would tell the jury, this was prejudicial and in fact the jury knew about it and the court clerk of the Houston jury agreed with the Houston Judge and they got him a new trial. The case was appealed to the Fifth Circuit and Fifth Circuit found for the trial court, so the State of Texas for that. You can forget about the case and forget about the end results cause they was coming to arrest Lee Otis Johnson, but that case was throwed out. What happened, the results of that case, this case made national headlines. Texas sentencing regards to marijuana made national headlines. Then 2 years after Lee Otis Johnson case had been overruled, the State changed the sentencing law in the State of Texas which made a (Marijuana) cigarette a class-b misdemeanor. Which only carries 6 months in jail.
(NC): Ok, it is January 15, 2010. This is the third session with Mr. Bobby Caldwell. Good afternoon Mr. Caldwell.
(BC): Good afternoon.
(NC): And you wanted to explain the political and legislative and just the social climate of Houston in the 1960s.
(BC): Well it was bad. Both from the black’s perspective and also the city as a whole and the state of the area.
[Part 2 End]
[Part 3 Begin]
(NC): Ok, it is January 15, 2010. I am here with Bobby Caldwell for the Neighborhood Voices project for the African American Library at the Gregory School. And once again good afternoon Mr. Caldwell.
(BC): Good Afternoon.
(NC): And you wanted to discuss what the environment was like in Houston during the 1960s.
(BC): Yes. The environment both politically, social, and economic was bad as it applied to blacks in Houston. The 60s began with the era that we talked about earlier. The sit-ins, trying the sit-ins. The purpose, the reason that the sit-ins existed was because of the fact that public accommodations was something unknown to blacks. When I say “unknown” you couldn’t go to movies. You went to a movie, the only movies you could go to you would have to sit in the back. You couldn’t go to a restaurant, a white owned restaurant even to take out food. There was a certain place you had to go to get food to take out. You could not go in through the front door to buy it, you had to go in the back door in the kitchen and take the order there. I think in some places there was even a little wooden door at the kitchen where they smoke and everything else come out. There was a window where blacks had to go and pick up food. Aaah…a woman….go ahead
(NC): No, I was going to ask you, so when we think of Houston businesses that we see today in 2010 that existed in 1960, some of those businesses participated in this type of segregation?
(BC): Yes. If there was a white owned business that existed, that exist today that was in existence in the 60s, those white owned business were segregated. There was nobody, there was no good boy that said, “well you might be doing it, but I am not going to do it”. That was not the case. They were all doing the same thing and it was being accepted by blacks as this is the norm. And weren’t nobody rocking the boat until the sit-ins started, and then people began to rock the boat. But when it first started, there was no voluntary to accommodate the blacks. A number of stores shut down their counters and I was talking to my wife, some of those stores shut down those counters and never opened them back up again. And one of those stores was Walgreens. Walgreen drugstores used to have coffee bars and when the black students would start and sit-in, rather then serve the blacks they closed them down. They took them out and they never did come back. They had some stores that they came back but instead of having a place for you to sit, there was only a table for you to stand to get you a cup of coffee. Most of your big food, restaurants where there was no place. Blacks could not enter. Again with the sit-ins this was done by students at, started by Texas Southern University and finally some students from U of H and even students from Rice joined in the last days of the sit-ins. But there was no 100% support. I doubt if there was even 50% of the black community in support of what the students were doing. Some gave them lip service, but we had only a few businessmen that gave money to raise bond, to get the children out on bond. The lawyers, the majority of the work that the lawyers did in defending the children was basically pro-bono. This was, I wasn’t a part of it but I was at Texas Southern looking at what was going on. For instance we had a store on the corner of Cleveland and Almeda, there was a Weingarten store. Weingarten had the counter where you could go in and order food, sit down and eat your food. When the students went in there, they closed that down and the students who put up picket signs around Weingartens. Did you know that the people, black people in Houston crossed those picket signs and went into Weingartens?
In the majority of the places where picket signs were put up, the majority of blacks denounced what the students were doing and went ahead act like everything was lovey-dovey. And this has been the attitude of black Houston. From that day forward to all of the problems that we have had in Houston, we have never had 100% participation. I won’t say that, say 50% participation in any activities to improve the plight of black Houston. I remember when back in the 60s we became concerned about running black candidates and getting blacks registered to vote. We started going around to trying to looking for places to go to get people to gather. So we could talk to them about the importance of voter registration. The importance of even at that time paying the poll tax so they could vote. We found Dr. Lonnie E. Smith, who was the plaintiff in one of the cases fighting what was known as white primary in Texas and that is why the Democratic party was denying blacks the right to vote in the Democratic primary. Dr. Smith took his case all the way to the Supreme Court and we found him and he was a very gracious old black man who was proud of what he had done. He would love to go out and tell his story about how he fought and why he fought it. But we would go to schools, we would talk to teachers and pupils and they would go “oh yeah’ and we would call a meeting and get there and nobody would show up. So this had been how complacent blacks have been. The majority of the blacks considered the movement type of people as being a threat to them, because they wanted to maintain, I guess the status quo. We used to hold rallies at Emancipation Park and if we got a hundred people at a rally it would be surprising. And this was on issues that were germane to the City of Houston. Every now and then you might have a rally where a large number people would show up, but it was not anything compared to what it should be to a city the size of Houston. So, what do we do, what happen that.. its continuing you have to be here to believe it. But I have had----students was attacked by the police at Texas Southern University. We had people come out and say that “what happened to them should happen to them.” “Cause if they come around my property, I am going to shoot them myself.” People was arming themselves, but they were arming themselves against the students not against the police officers.
Even when they were down rioting at Texas Southern…… it was the students fault as so many people wanted to say. I know we kinda of mentioned about it, but when Carl Hampton was killed, you would think that. But when police officers go up on top of one of your largest churches in a black community and wait for him to walk into the streets and blow his brains out, you would think that this would raise the conscience of the community to want to do something about it. But, they were saying they didn’t have any business down in Dowling Street anyway----the businessman there, as they called themselves businessmen, people that were running the cafes and were running the dope and sitting out there with liquor. They were running the prostitution, they didn’t want him on Dowling Street because of the fact police officers were patrolling the area and they were feeling like it would affect their business. And as Carl Hampton was killed, they had a grand jury inquiry. All of the blame was put on people who reported to Carl Hampton and nothing on the police department. And this was accepted by the black community. The 60s have carried on over into the 70s, 80s, 90s, and even today. The black community is complacent with what is going on. We find that after, I think it was in the 60s that someone within the Democratic party identified we needed some type of black representation in Austin. We hadn’t had any black representation, blacks had not had any representation since the Reconstruction days back in the 1860s. So the word came out that they were going to have a, create a district, a legislative district for Harris County. And the first thing that was said, this is Barbara Jordan’s legislative district. It was created, she was appointed, and she stayed there until they created a third district. Then she got that. And she stayed there until they created a congressional district. And she got that. And she stayed in that until her health came to a point that she couldn’t handle it any longer. And she left. And if you go back and check all the archives that they have at Texas Southern, I would guess that you could never find any black issues that Barbara Jordan ever raised.
The only issues that Barbara Jordan raised was issues that labor wanted raised. She made the fact that she was------made a speech cause she was considered by most to be an eloquent speaker. So therefore you could hear her avoid the roaring through the legislature about something. But to say that she was fighting for welfare, to say that she was fighting to end discrimination, to say that she was fighting for single member districts, so blacks could be elected, she never did. And she was , and these was jobs that blacks were not asking for. These were things white people said we are going to do this and Barbara Jordan was leading the way. And as you sat down and look at the history behind black politics, cause I think she was the beginning, well not really the beginning of, I don’t want to say electoral politics, prior to her, prior to Barbara---there was appointments and then being elected.
[Part 3 End]
[Part 4 begin]
(BC): We did have---Hattie Mae White who ran for the school board in the early part of the 60s and she was I think our first black elected official in Harris County since the time of Reconstruction. But there was so much difference in Mrs. White and Barbara as there was in night and day because Mrs. White although she was doing the school board, she took the fight of integration to the board and she let them be reminded, this was what the board was there for. To try to get integration to move smoothly. Barbara was altogether different. Barbara never took an issue. Barbara Jordan could talk about what a thug Richard Nixon was and try to tell him that he had not obeyed the constitution. But you never heard her talking about what should be done to help the have nots in our society. And there again she still being called one of our great champions of freedom. But if we go back and check her records I don’t think that that is there. We had Curtis Graves took her position we she ran for Senate, ran for state legislature when she was appointed to the Senate. He had some ideas as to what should be done to help the plight of blacks, but not Barbara. But she, probably the most people have forgotten about Curtis Graves, more people have forgotten about Hattie Mae White, other than the school board, the administration did name a building after her, but they finally got rid of that building and when they got the new building I don’t think they named it Hattie Mae White administration building though. Named something else but Barbara got schools.
It’s the whole thing that the majority of our politicians, see we only started coming into our own in the late 60s of any type of representation after Barbara. Then we got single member districts and we got another congressman but ---came late, but our single member districts in the legislature, our single member districts in city hall I think had been basically a joke. It is hard for you to picture Dowling Street in the late 60s and early 70s, but it was a thriving place. There was all types of businesses. It was true that had businesses all in Fifth Ward and Third Ward and it was why in the 70s we were getting single member districts in city council. So it means that these districts on Dowling Street and Lyons Avenue were being represented by black people. But what did they do? You saw Third Ward and Fifth Ward grow apart under their watch and it has never been back since. We, politically we saw Houston die as far as blacks were concerned. Cause what happened, the majority of our blacks felt that they had to get out of the black community because of the services going down. There was no protection for the tenants. There was nothing there, the ones that had homes there was this fear for not being kept up. There was no police protection and they moved out to other parts of the city. ---we had white absentee landlords that, I believe that there was this mentality among white folks, that as long as you play by my music I am willing to help. I will make you think that I am helping. But when you start-----the big head, then I don’t do nothing. So, when integration came and blacks started making demands and started winning cases these absentee landlords said you got this, so I am not going to keep up the house, I will just let it run down. And they began to do it and they did it. Until what we have now, we have a Third Ward, a Fifth Ward, and even in Fourth Ward we have these absentee landlords now, they are making a killing because now they selling these properties building atrocities and whites are moving back into the area now.
So the political climate, if we sit down and look at what happened politically among blacks is a revolving door. You don’t have, for instance if you sit down and look at your elected officials at one time, everything in Fifth Ward went back to Barbara Jordan. And there was some Jordan connection between every elected official in Fifth Ward. If we look at our, at one time until recently our city council was going from city council to state legislature or vice versa. There was nothing until recently that some new blood is being put in the electoral process in the City of Houston. What do we have here? We don’t have any black participation. When I say black participation, we don’ have anyone to help to call the shots to help get people out to vote. So we can go in and make a change or make a difference. For instance, when I became of voting age, the Democratic party was running Harris County. Everybody was a Democrat but they were all white. We had blacks that they made election judges and precinct judges and they was told basically what to vote and how to go out what to vote, when to vote, and how to vote. Then when we started electing single member districts, we forgot about even getting the people to vote. You sit down and look at Sheila Jackson Lee, I think last not last election, but the election before that when we had a very important race being run for a black man was running for county clerk. I went down and looked at the number of people that voted in her district and it was less than 22%. If it was that much. And during that time did you ever hear anybody saying anything about let’s get out the vote? The reason why you should vote? Going back, it seem like these elected officials, they get their jobs and they become complacent. I was just listening to a statement by Sheila Jackson Lee this week when she found that she had 2 opponents. She was talking about how she produce since she’s been in Congress. ----I couldn’t forget about, about three years ago, I had a 70, 80 year old lady came to my office and she told me that, in 2003, 2001when a hurricane came through here. Can you put a pen right there?
[Part 5 Begin]
(NC): Good evening.
(BC): Good evening.
(NC): Good evening. Mr. Caldwell, today is the 15th of January 2010 and earlier you had mentioned that today is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. And I wanted to ask, did you have the opportunity to meet Mr. King-Dr. King?
(BC): I actually did.
(NC): And would you talk to us about that meeting and ?
(BC): Well, I don’t remember the year but it was sometime in the 60s. I helped organize a student group of SCL. F.D. Kirkpatrick who rode with Dr. King in Alabama, came to Texas Southern to go to school. And he decided he wanted to do an SCL organization on campus. So I wrote the articles of incorporation for him and for the chapter. They operated on it. In the meantime, Dr. King was coming to Houston for a fund raiser and he decided he wanted to come in and see the surroundings and meeting people, etc. He knew people like Bill Lawson and a couple of people in Alabama that been in the marches with him, but Bill Lawson put together a little meet and greet at the Rice Hotel and I went down and met him there. We sat down and discussed some of the problems that was going on here in Houston and what was needed in Houston. Things like money for voter registration and at that time I was representing two of the five in the murder case. Money was going to be needed for that and out of the big extravaganza that Dr. King was bringing in at that time. We sat down at that afternoon and ordered some drinks and talked about the whole, the whole pattern of what was going on in the country. About that, even two or three years earlier he did come to Houston in one of the local black hotels and we had a session on civil disobedience and he was teaching about civil disobedience and how to roll with a punch, things of that nature. That time in this location. Then when he came back for the big show, he came in with Aretha Franklin, Harry Belafonte, and some other group and he spoke at the Coliseum. That was the night that someone put out a couple of stink bombs. You had to let the air clear out for a little while before you went back in.
(NC): What was he like as a person?
(BC): As a person he was a good little Joe. That is what I would call him. He was lively, told jokes. He was serious about what he was doing and even though he made a joke of some of the things that happened to him, but he could ----the joke was on Bill Connors (Sp?) Bill Connors was not gonna stop him. He came up with this song, Bill Connors(Sp?) cannot turn me around.
(NC): And thinking about the day of his assassination, what do you remember what Houston was like? And…
(BC): Well, I can remember it was a very sad day. I was went in one Friday afternoon and was leaving my office for a little recreation and my secretary called me crying and said Dr. King has been shot and I said, oh wow. But I was not surprised because I had seem his been to the Mountaintop speech. After that it sounded like a man getting ready to die. But Houston, we didn’t have any of the looting or the burning that they had in other places. That is the complacency of Houston. Nobody really---there was people who didn’t like him, but nobody got mad, nobody did a damn thing about it but cry. We had a march and people got up and gave their little sayings about ---at Emancipation Park the Sunday after he was killed and I think there was a lot of sadness cause people thought that they had lost the great friend that the black man would ever have, I guess. That’s what I think from a lot of people. But they got over it, I guess. They didn’t forget about him. That was the extent of the whole thing. They respect and obey the money and then that was it. I don’t think that we, I don’t think it motivated anybody to do a damn thing. I mean as far as trying to keep doing what he was doing. I don’t think that changed. There was others that stayed out there, but I don’t think we had anybody else. Sometimes, when something happens there is a fire put in the belly of mankind to really do something. King’s death did not do that in Houston. In fact, I don’t think King’s death did that nowhere in America. It’s just that he is gone and they kept on doing the same thing they was doing.
[Part 5 End]
[Part 6 Begin]
(NC) : Good afternoon and today is February 12th, 2010. We are here at the African American Library at the Gregory School. We are joined by Mr. Bobby Caldwell.
(BC); How are you today?
(NC): How are you today?
(BC): Glad to be back.
(NC): Yeah, this is your second go around. And we are interviewing you for our oral history project. And as you have indicated before, you spent a long history here in Houston and you have played a part in Houston’s history and the development of that history. I wanted to ask you about, during the 1967, there were some injustices. Um, excuse me, there were many injustices. And before I got there, I wanted to ask you, your participation and the particular topic where there was an incident where Gene Locke, he was assaulted.
(NC): Ok, would you please explain that incident and also the subsequent issues?
(BC): Well, I know more about the subsequent issues because I became involved after the fact. It was my understanding that on one morning, Gene was on his way to class. And he was jumped on by several white males and he came over with some bruises and some blood, bloody nose. And the student body was notified that he had been hurt. As a result of that there was a rally on campus and he was telling them about it. And there was some dialogue as to what had happened and what would need to be done by the university in order to see that things like this didn’t happen again.-------everybody was doing their thing on campus. So some of the students as a result of when they left the rally, they was not satisfied at what the university had done what they could have done in order to apprehend the people who had jumped on Locke. So, they went around started destroying some properties on campus. I think some student went into the bookstore and pulled down shelves of books off the shelves. There was some sorority having a cake sale. I kind of interrupted the sale, somebody touched and knocked over some of the tables and I don’t think there was any more damage than that was done. But as a result of this incident, three people was charged with inciting a riot-Gene Locke, Dwight Allen, and a another white female. And it became our, we ended up----getting them out of jail. And then we was representing, so we had to represent them. So that was a I think the beginning of representing radicals in that time. When I say radicals, this was a name that the press wanted to give to anyone that was trying to fight the status quo. Incidentally, the lady was charged was Marjoie Hell (Sp?). So we began first doing some of the things that lawyers should be doing our investigation and try to develop evidence to point that there was no inciting the riot. This was an afterthought of the police after talking with the administrators. As a result of that, the first thing that…I assume what happened afterward, you want to know what happened through the trial, is that correct?
(NC): Yes, sir.
(BC): Well, one of the things we did I had having been involved with some other cases in Texas, so I had been communicating with William Counselor(sp?) out of New York as to what should be , what we could do with these types of cases. Because inciting a riot case, it had been done throughout the country against people who were trying to fight for eliminating injustices. So we had done some work similar in, well same principles were used in State of Louisiana with a lawyer there, by the name of Smith. So we had what we called a Drombowski (Sp?) type of action that we had so we, I think I mentioned it earlier, we filed this in Federal court against University of Houston alleging that their conduct was a violation of First Amendment right of Free Speech. -----all they was doing was exercising their free speech. Their was several case in which we were able to take the depositions of the President of the University of Houston. We was able to really get him to admit that the filing of the criminal case was an afterthought. It wasn’t that this happened and then they filed suit. It was two to three days or more before they filed suit. In fact they filed destruction of property against, I think thirteen students and they didn’t have any actual pictures of any student doing anything per se, but they picked pictures together and was able to try to identify students that was involved. And so we went to trial, we , they had set aside the money----we considered a number of blacks and other minorities that was in jail as being personal because some of them were filed with charges that they didn’t commit and this was a day to commemorate these persons. It surprised me when I got to court that morning because the fourth floor of the criminal court building was just blocked with people-high school students, college students, University of Houston students, Texas Southern University students, Yates and Wheatley, old people-grandmas, grandpas, mommas, and daddies. Everybody was on the fourth floor was there.
(NC): Did you expect that?
(BC): No, I had no expectation to see that many people up in one building and the court room was packed.
(NC): So that was a lot of good support?
(NC): For your issues?
(NC): Ok, so that must have given you a confidence, especially if you didn’t expect it when you walked in there.
(BC): Well, we were there to try a case and we were prepared to try the case.
(NC): Let me ask, so then how did the case proceed the day that was jammed the courthouse?
(BC): Well, the thing that happened was that the judge called me up and I think it was good that it was in his court because he was young. He had just been there no more than six months.
(NC): Do you remember his name?
(BC): J.D. Guyon(Sp?)
(NC): J.D. Guyon(sp?) was the court judge?
(BC): Yes. He had been a former municipal court and he had just been appointed to this bench and because another judge had moved up. And he asked me could I control them and I said, “No I can’t control them, but you gonna have hell if you try to get them out of here.” So he said, “Well, you go talk to them.” I said, “Yes, I go talk to them. What I going to tell them is that they are going to be able to come into this courtroom and sit down rather than be back out in the hall. But I said you should not allow your bailiffs that urge them or try to make these people leave this hall, cause they are not going to do it without a fight.” It just filled the tension, and they---had lost three prisoners---wanted to take it out on the people that was left for the trial. Well, anyway I went and told them that, they would have to come out of the courtroom. They didn’t have a seat because there was other matters going on, but I wanted to assure them that after we picked the jury they would be able to come back into the courtroom. In the meantime, another friend of mine came by and saw it and he went down and talked to another judge that had a court about three times the size of the court that we were in. And asked him would he change places so we could go there? So we moved down there, so some people was able to. I would say thirty to forty percent of the people was able to get in before we started picking the jury. After we got the jury picked, there was enough space for just about everybody who wanted to see the trial to come in. We never had anymore problems with crowds cause we moved it to a larger courtroom the next day. So during the major part of the trial, we had 300 people that had been inside.
(NC): And how, and this is the case you are talking about, one of the defendants was Gene Locke?
(NC): What was the ultimate result?
(BC): We ended up with a hung jury.
(NC): Ok. Ok.
(BC): And, they never did try it again.
(NC): they never did try it again.
(BC): But, case dismissed.
(NC): Ok, let me ask you just on a personal note, after this did you know Gene Locke? Or influence him because he became a lawyer. He became an attorney.
(BC): No I didn’t. I didn’t. I can’t say I influenced him. But I didn’t know who talked to him about becoming an attorney. Next thing I knew, I heard that he was in law school and out practicing law.
(NC): yeah, yeah. Ok. And I also wanted to talk about the People’s Party. You had played a part in the development and the movements of the People’s Party here in Houston.
(BC): Well, People’s Party it was here and we had been a group of individuals that was against the oppression of black people and other minorities. They knew that they were going to have problems with law enforcement and especially since they were sympathizers with the Black Panthers. They knew they were going to have trouble so they came to me and asked me would I be there? Oh yes. One of the first things that they wanted to learn about was, cause they were selling Panther newspapers on street corners, on public corners. There was no law against selling anything on public corner unless you are interfering with somebody else, its gonna be calculated to ---the peace or something o that nature. They already sell the Chronicle on the corner and the Post on the corner everyday, so why did this be a problem?
(BC): But, uh that didn’t quite answer the question when it came around to the police department.
(NC): No, so there was some interference?
(BC): Yes, they wanted to say that they couldn’t sell the paper on the corner.
(NC): And how did the Houston Police Department justify that?
(NC): that’s it
(BC): That’s it. They didn’t want to do it and if you gonna try to stop us we are done. And therefore, it gave rise to one of the biggest problems was the fact that the police was trying to stop someone and question why he was selling newspaper on Dowling in front of People’s Party Office and when they stopped and started talking to the boy, he started running –he ran into the People’s Party headquarters and it happened as he was going to the People’s Party Headquarters…………………..(long pause)
[Part 6 End]
[Part 7 Begin]
(NC): Good afternoon and we were discussing the People’s Party and that they were trying to sell newspapers and they were hindered by the Houston Police Department.
(BC): At that time on ….
(NC): In 1967…
(BC): Getting back to the fact that of pre the death of Carl Hampton was that the People’s Party wasn’t the only organization that was trying to emulate the policies of the Panther. They had their own headquarters and Carl was really become the chairman of the party. On this particular night, as Carl drove up, after he tried to run up into the headquarters behind the boy, and he said “don’t you go into my headquarters because you have no business going in there.” Afterward, he (the boy) went for his gun and Carl did pull his and said “ok, I got mine-so let’s see who can shoot first” And they stood there for several minutes, each one with their gun at each other. Carl went out and the whole area was loaded with police officers. They stopped buses going through, people from going through. By eight o’clock at night someone called me and told me that there was a police riot, and it might be something that happen at Texas Southern down at the headquarters. So I tried to go down there, when I got there I couldn’t get through. They stopped Carl from all directions going in.---they stood there for about an hour and then the police department finally left. And as a result of that the party decided to arm themselves to protect their office building and they got their rifles and sat there on the porch to protect the building. And as the---that night then it went on through the next day and finally other organizations like the ---Browns and other people brought rifles in for them to reinforce themselves at the office. This lasted for over a week through next Sunday. And that was the night when Carl Hampton was killed.
(NC): Good afternoon, we are joined here again by Mr. Bobby Caldwell and right now Mr. Bobby Caldwell was talking more about the People’s Party.
(BC): Ok, as I was saying after the, on the Friday after the standoff between Carl Hampton and police, after all the police left they went back and filed criminal charges of unlawful possession of a weapon on Carl. And it was a case that could easily have been beaten because he was going to his office, he had just left his home and he was going to his office with his pistol, and but they filed it anyway and the…I tried to deliver a bond to the J.P. court for Carl but they would not accept the bond. At that time it was a general practice that if someone was filed it on him and before they made the arrest, you carried a bond down and they would accept the bond and they would recall the ward. But for some reason they did not want Carl to make the bond unless he was put in jail. Fact they told me that, “he won’t have to change into a uniform, but he would have to go in and out”. Although going in and out sometimes might take three or four hours and Carl being skeptical of the police, his attitude was he wouldn’t mind god if I would go in with him. So I was like, I don’t need to go in with you, but we finally decided that…a week later after negotiating for that whole week one clerk told me bring the bond in Monday morning and I will accept it. And I thought that was what I was planning on doing. But instead, that Sunday everybody was still being jovial and looking over his shoulder and having a good time. And someone ---came down the street and said, “Hey, what are all the white men doing up on top of the church?” And Carl and another guy by the name of ---- went down out in the street to look up. Cause this church was some two to three hundred feet south of the headquarters on Dowling, St. John’s Baptist Church. And when they got up there, the police officer started shooting and he shot Carl in the head and killed him.
(NC): And let me ask you Mr. Caldwell, was anything done after the shooting?
(BC): Nothing favorable. There was a Grand Jury investigation. No charges was ever filed against the Policemen that shot him. But, there was a Grand Jury investigation and when they came back they put all the blame on People’s Party 2 and justified the police department in the action that they took. And the FBI was contacted, the Justice Department was contacted, but nothing was never done.
(NC): Nothing for the federal level?
(BC): The federal level, the FBI, the Justice Department, and they took the word. First, they said we will wait what the Grand Jury statement. The State automatically, the next day it was announced that a Grand Jury was going be asked to investigate the case to see who was at fault. So the FBI and the Justice Department was waiting on the State Department to see what would happen in the State system. And even after the State system, even after the Grand Jury found no criminal activities, and nobody was indicted. But they stated the fault was with the People’s Party 2. Then the Feds decided not to do anything about it.
(NC): And if you can describe the general attitude from the City of Houston, the citizens-black or white. Would you say, what would you say the general attitude was?
(BC): I think the general attitude was that we are getting rid of him. He got what he deserved. We did have some blacks and a few whites that knew injustice had been done. But the majority of people who even testified for the Grand Jury placed all the blame on the People’s Party 2. There was some business people on Dowling Street which were boot leggers and pimps and whores. They didn’t want the cops there. So they were glad to see the People’s Party gone.
(NC): After this incident, after this tragic incident what actions or directions did the People’s Party take? And how did they participate after this in Houston?
(BC): Well I think that they had tried to do the same things that they were doing. They had free breakfast programs and they was having health clinics for people in Third Ward and Fourth Ward and they was just trying to move people and do everything they could to stop this discrimination and oppression. They was trying to teach people how to do it to help eliminate it themselves and they moved into a new location. And after moving into that location, Charles Freeman(Sp?), one of their members, he was working on his car one morning and an officer came by and stopped him and arrested him.
And told him he had found a matchbox with marijuana in it, in his car. I represented him on that case and we tried the case and he was acquitted and prior to the time of him being acquitted, as I’m going to trial, one day they looked up in the police department, busted in with a search warrant of their building and they claimed they had lawful evidence, that they had stolen property in their building. And they did find some rifles that they claimed was stolen, which according to the evidence was stolen. But they had nothing to do with it. They didn’t know it was stolen because, during that time in Dowling Street, people would come by and people would bring rifles and ammunition by because they knew that they needed it. Someone gave them some rifles, they didn’t know who but gave them some rifles. They didn’t know where they got it from, I think they brought in 5 or 6 rifles that had been stolen from a person who lived about 10 miles from where their office was. And to this day, I never know, and they would try everything they could do to get to who this informer was. But the court ruled we didn’t need to have that. And we tried, I think we talked about 8 people with the possession of stolen property and we tried that case and we got 10 year probation in that case. Everybody knew they wouldn’t be going to jail but they tried to get them to plead and they said no we are not going to plead. So we tried it and I think it was a bad thing about it, but we ended up with 4 blacks on the jury and for having 4 blacks, we did get 10 year probation. And then later on we did try the Charles Freeman case and so we won that case. And I think with that the majority of them decided that it’s time to leave Texas. They could not live in Texas without going to the penitentiary. I think that was how it was resolved.
(NC): Yeah, that was going to be my next question. What are some of the following services that the People’s Party provided. Let me ask, what was, do you remember the address on Dowling Street? The mailing address? Or a cross street?
(BC): Oh yeah. It was at Dowling and Tuam
(NC): Dowling and ….
(BC): D-O-W-L-I-N-G at Tuam-T-U-A-M
(NC): Ok. And let me ask, you were talking about some health services. What were some of the health services they provided at the People’s Party?
(BC): I think that they arranged with doctors for children to get shots. And they---with dentists to come so they could get free dental work. Those were the two major things that they were doing. And they had a free breakfast program.
(NC): So, really the People’s Party is here as a civic center, a social center for social networks. And the police really terrorized this organization.
(NC): I mean they murdered somebody.
(BC): This was the same thing they were doing all over the country with the Panthers, they did the murders in Chicago-with Bobby Joe Connors in Chicago and they tried to send 2-3 Panthers to jail in California. It was just a pattern that was used.
(NC): And uh strong enough that the People’s Party, as you said, just some of them, founding members-they left Texas.
(NC): Hmm. Ok.
(BC): And those that didn’t, they came in afterwards. The old Black Panther Party is gone. I understand there’s new people now calling themselves the Panthers, the New Black Panthers, but there it is nothing like what the old party was.
(NC): Let me ask, what year do you think the People’s Party or founding members started to leave Texas? Or became inactive? What year do you think that was?
(BC): Probably around 74.
(NC): 1974? In that area?
(BC): Yeah. Yeah I would think so.
[Part 7 End]