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Interview with: George Brown and Marshall Brown
Interviewed by: Nicolas Castellanos
Date: January, 13 2010
Number: OH GS 0003
Nicolas Castellanos (NC): Good afternoon and today is January 13th, 2010. We are here at the African American Library at the Gregory School and we are joined by the Brown brothers. Please for our record, would you state you name, birth date and place of birth.
Marshall Brown (MB): Marshall Brown, born in Houston Texas in 1937.
George E. Brown (GB): I am his younger brother, George Erwin Brown. I was born on Vincent Street, in the Fifth ward in Houston, the same place Marshall was born, on August the 12th, 1939.
NC: Ok Gentlemen, So you have been in Houston for a long time, you contributed to the Houston community in many ways, earlier you were talking about…we are here at the Gregory School, and you were talking about, you were saying that your mom attended school here. Do you have any memories of that? That she shared with you?
MB: Yes, my mother, they walked from fifth ward to this location, they originally went to school at Booker T. Washington, her high school, and then later they transferred to Yates high school, and her class was really the first class that graduated from Yates high school.
NC: And what year was that?
GB: Should be 1928, they had a golden line that they put out in front of the school, her class dedicated that line which is now called Rine [?] middle school. Actually what happen is, we did not grow up in Houston, we were born in Houston. My family moved to Prairie View when I was two-years-old in 1941, Marshall was four-years-old by the time we previously lived in Angleton, Texas, where my father was the agricultural extension agent there, and then he was hired to go to Prairie View A&M University to be the administrative assistant for the cooperative extension program, and that is how we got involved in scouting. Now we have a close connection because my mom would come to Houston, sometimes twice a day, and we would ride with her and we had a chance to learn a lot about Houston.
NC: Just for the record, going back, Fifth Ward to this location is roughly about, in distance, three or four miles?
MB: Without the freeways then, you could walk through downtown,
GB: It’s not that far
MB: It was not as far as it would be now. In fact it is almost impossible to do that now, and then later, also, they walked from Fifth Ward to Third Ward to Yates high school.
NC: You say that your family moved to…Prairie View and while you were there, that is when you got involved in the Boy Scouts.
GB: Also probably should state this, our parents were graduates of Prairie View. That is where they met and they later got married…so they had decided…that when there was four kids…it was time that if an opportunity came about, it was time for us to move to Prairie View so that we could be raised in an environment that they had seen other kids raised, like, you already interviewed Cameron Wells.
GB: The environment we had at Prairie View was sort of like a community. They had wood frame houses that had been designed and built by students that were in construction, in the construction trade curriculums, and so by the year 1910, an aerial view of Prairie View that appeared in a Washington D.C. newspaper showed that Prairie View had over 100 buildings, and so that had homes for all the faculty and staff, people there and we lived in one of the family homes, and so we actually had the East side of the campus versus the West side in terms of competition. I think Cameron Wells probably told you about the fact that he went to school at Prairie View for 30 some years. We did not go there quite that long, but we went through elementary, I mean kindergarten, then elementary school, high school and then we matriculated in to Prairie View A&M college.
MB: …It was part of the university. In fact when we graduated from high school the president of the university signed our graduation certificates.
NC: So you talk about an academic community at Prairie View and you also talk about competition, what side were you on? Were you on the East or on the West side?
GB: We were on the West side
NC: Did you win?
GB: We always won!
NC: Are you kidding me?
GB: I am telling the truth, we were always on winning teams.
NC: The winning teams were on the West side, so, to coin a term, the West was the Best.
GB: The West was the Best.
NC: Let me ask what were some of those sports that you participated in, that you had competition?
GB: Marshall was the better athlete of the two, my sisters were athletes also, they were better than I was. I was the worst athlete, but I participated in basketball, and track, and Marshall you tell.
MB: I played tennis and basketball and I was a good tennis player.
NC: And would you say the West was the best?
MB: I don’t know if there was that much competition between one side and the other side there wasn’t that many people. There wasn’t so much one side versus the other side, it was a small community and we were all part of the community. I think an advantage at being at the university is that we had an opportunity to be a part of all the special activities that came to Prairie View, all the high schools would come there for different events on a regular basis.
MB: The scouting camp that they would hold in the summer was one of the first camps that Black scouts could go to in the state, and so this was a big event. There was anywhere from 200 to 300 scouts at that camp, on a regular basis, and it was a large camp, and it had restrooms with running water, and showers, and they had these large tent frames that look like a military camp when they put up all those tents. It was quite a sight to see.
NC: Let me ask, in your opinion, Prairie View in distance it is North West of Houston, how far?
GB: When we were growing up it was 45 miles from downtown Houston, now the city limits from Prairie View is about, what? 5-10 miles away.
NC: How would you, in your memories, how do you see the two places supporting each other, the city of Houston and Prairie View?
GB: Prairie View served as a center in Texas for all state wide conferences, meetings, activities, school competitions…the cooperative extension services, like the Four Leaf club encampments, the Red Cross, even the training of medical doctors for the internships, took place at the hospitals at Prairie View, and so forth, so it was…
MB: …The hospitals at Prairie View, in fact that was probably the only place that you could go get an operation, outside of the large city. The real experience I think, the impact of Prairie View on Houston is that most of the graduates taught school in the local schools, the principals of these schools that you are talking about. Most of them went to Prairie View, like Wells [Mr. Cameron Wells Jr.] that you were interviewing, he used to be a school principal here in the city. His father used to teach at Prairie View, and he later he was a treasurer at Texas Sothern University. His mother was also a teacher at Prairie View and the public schools in, here in Houston. My mother was a public school teacher and like George said, my father worked with the 4H Club, we had a chance to go, travel around the state, and visit every 4H Club camp following him.
MB: He would take the students to Washington D.C. for the national 4H Club Conference. Occasionally we would get a chance to go on that trip also, which is a real story about how you get a large group of students through the South to Washington D.C. and back safely, you have to plan that, you just could not get on the road and travel.
GB: I want to expand how Prairie View impacted Houston or Houston impacted Prairie View. One of the major “impactors” in this city now is Texas Southern University. The whole idea for establishing Texas Southern came about at Prairie View because of the way Prairie View was set-up. It was set-up, where, the president of Texas A&M was also the president of Prairie View. So, when they saw an opportunity during the Heaman Sweat case, one way out of it, that was decided, was that they needed to establish a University that was autonomous, that had its own board of directors, and who can offer all the things that are offered at the University of Texas. W. R. Banks who was the, quote “principal” at Prairie View…many of his administrators set up Texas Southern, and Banks became the first chairman of the board of regents and Cameron Wells’ father became the treasurer for the school, and there were a lot of other individuals who left Prairie View to set up Texas Southern.
MB: We had a cousin who used to be the vice president of Texas Southern, Dr. Hortence Dixen, and also, she was the first Mayor Pro Tem of the city of Houston.
GB: So today, things that go on in Houston, for example, we just had a city election and the family of one of the candidates that was in the run-off, you probably could guess which one I am talking about, they had all these Prairie View connections.
GB: So by being a school that educated a lot of folks, but even for people that did not go to Prairie View, they met us there when they were in high school. One of the things I was impressed by, is that a person who did not go to Prairie View, he’s actually out of Texarkana, he went to school at Tuskegee, and then later, North Carolina…, he is a retired person, because close to us in age. I call him on the phone and he said “I know you,” I said “You do,” so he started telling me all about when he would come down for interscholastic league competition... so he started telling me, “you know I have some of you students, up in Boston…” at Harvard, places like that…not only has Prairie View has been able to impact Houston, it impacted the whole state of Texas, it impacted the United States.
GB: We just happen to be in a location where we were able to meet people, because it was the center where a lot of folks came. Scouting, the thing that was so impressive for me that I remember, woke-up one morning and these scouts were coming, marching down the street in front of our house. They decided to stop in formation and I was very impressed with them and I am sure Cameron Wells and those guys were in that, but all these guys from Houston…stimulated interest in scouting. So when we were able to join the Cub Scout pack, it was not just…like most things that scouting…it is not just the kids joining, it was the whole family. My father became the Cub Master, my mother the Den Mother, and we held meetings at our house on the campus and we learned all the activities that you learn in scouting. Basically on our front yard, back yard, or off into a little adjacent wooded area that we had…to the house.
GB: Those are the things that I think Prairie View impacting…when I went on active duty in the army I was in Seattle and the first thing that happen was, I bumped into a person and they said, they called me by my name, and I said “Wow!” I only met once before at the Junior/Senior Prom at Jack Yates high school, I said “Man, it is a small world.”
GB: I got off the plane in Alaska the first person I meet is someone from Prairie View. Those kind of things happen quite frequently.
MB: Let me tell you about…My mother, as you know, received the Silver Beaver award, which is one of the highest awards that you can get in scouting. She was very active for a number of years working with the scouts. We use to go to Camp Strait…during the summers… Later on, I went to the national Boy Scout jamboree with the students from Houston and San Antonio was on the same train that I was on, went to California to Irvine ranch and it was a very impressive trip, for me, later on I moved to California, after I graduated high school, where I worked in the aero-space industry. I work for Southern California Edison, leading architects for a number of years, and I came back to Prairie View to stay for one year, been there now 37 years. In fact, Terry Smith, the architect that did the renovation for this building was one of my students, but there are a number of graduates in the Houston area that graduated in our architectural program.