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Interview with: Reverend James Novarro
Interviewed by: Interviewer's Name
Date: December 13th, 1983
Archive Number: OH 379
I: 00:07 This is a December 13th, 1983 oral history interview with Reverend James Novarro of Houston, Texas. Reverend Novarro, let’s—I’d like to start with your background, just a little bit about your background. Where are you from and—?
JN: Originally from Fort Worth, and I went to TCU and the public schools there and then to the Southwestern Theological Seminary in that city, then came—was called to pastor the Second Mexican Baptist Church here in the city of Houston and then stayed in Houston.
I: What year did you go to the Second Baptist?
JN: I think it was in 1938 approximately.
I: Since this interview is about the Minimum Wage March of 1966, what were the circumstances around you being—getting involved in that march?
JN: Well, on—prior to July the 4th of 1966 I was contacted to see if I would be one of the persons from Houston to go down to Rio Grande City and march for one day to show our support of the farm workers who were underpaid, overworked and who were on strike against a company named La Cacita (?). And I remember that on Sunday night we left for Rio Grande City, traveled most of the night, and arrived in the early morning hours just in time to get in line and—with the farm workers that were going to walk from Rio Grande City to Mission, and I think there’s a little town by the name of La Joya in between Mission and Rio Grande City. And we were just simply going to march that day and—
I: When you say we, who are you talking about?
JN: Well, I’m referring to myself and then a group of others from Houston that had gone separately, and they were there. So, we as Houstonians, we were going to just march on July the 4th and show that there was sympathy, empathy over there with them from Houston. So, my objective was to come back that night, and I’ll never forget that we marched along the road from Rio Grande City to La Joya, and we were met there by the mayor of La Joya who’s a Mexican American. And we were fed, given something to eat, and all along we were the curiosity of passersby and we walked on by the side of the road. And the only thing is that at Mission, when we got there that afternoon, we were not given permission to come into the city until someone from our march would go into the city and arrange with the police department, and that took quite a while, so we had to wait out in the sun until finally, we were given permission to come into the city park and if we would walk single file on the sidewalks from the city limits by the side of the road. And then I remember that I believe that the—one of the local religious leaders of one of the churches had opposed the march, and it had come out in the newspaper and some of the farm workers didn’t feel good about it. In fact, it was the priest of the local church. And incidentally, many of the priests from San Antonio had gone into Rio Grande City and had encouraged the march. So, that was an interesting turn of events, and when we finally got permission to go into Mission, Texas, I remember that we were very careful to walk on the sidewalks single file and obey all the instructions and go into the park and there we were going to spend the night, or so it was indicated that those who wanted to could spend the night. Incidentally, there was an indication that we could spend the night at the park or some of us could go into San Juan. There would be a bus that could take us into San Juan to spend the night in a little motel run by the church, Catholic Church of San Juan. And I remember that as we waited outside of Mission, one of the persons of the march asked me if I would—so I was at the back. 09:25 That was my position of the line of the march. I was simply going to give my support. They asked me if I would go to the front of the line and sort of head up the line and wait until permission was granted to us and then sort of lead them into the city, into the town. And I did that, and then when we got into the park, I was asked if I would stay over and help them walk into the—from Mission into McAllen, and from McAllen into Pharr, and from Pharr into Edinburg, and from Edinburg into San Juan. And they said it won’t take but just three days, and we didn’t know what was going to happen or how we were going to eat, but it sounded simple, and the people, the enthusiasm of the people was there. And we said “All right, we’ll stay until San Juan,” and so I stayed over that night. And incidentally, some of the farm workers, and I believe that this was a very decisive occasion because some of the farm workers were so mad at the local priest for the way he approached the march that they wanted to—the following morning, as we would leave on the highway towards McAllen, that we would go ahead and march around the block where the church was located and call out slogans against the priest and demonstrate against him. And I’ll never forget that night. I thought about it, and I said “What we need is friends, allies, and if we start out this way, going to that church and demonstrate,” and some of them might have even thrown rocks and broken glasses, window glasses, and called out names, “then we’ll get a lot of bad publicity and the march will receive a black eye.” 13:04 And we are going to be in a bad light in public relation because as it was, the police department didn’t want to receive us, and permission was not wanted to be granted. So, that night I slept over there, and the next morning, I’ll never forget how I got in front of the farm workers and got them around in a circle. And I told them how I felt about it. There were some that were very bitter against the priest. They wanted to demonstrate, but I told them that it would be against the principles of the march and the image of the march and against their best interests and the purpose of the march if we did that. And I told them that we needed allies and friends, and we needed to mold the image of the march right there, and I said “I’m going to go ahead and walk towards McAllen, and I’m asking you to do the same thing with me and not be even lose our time in going by the church to demonstrate, but rather, go and walk on the highway peacefully, nonviolently. We’re seeking one thing only, and that’s justice, a minimum wage for farm workers, and those of you that want to do that and to stand up for the purpose of the march and the good of the march, get in line behind me.” And there were some that grumbled, but you know, slowly, some of them went in, some of the men, some of the young people got behind me, and I started walking and walked. And before that, of course, we had a prayer. We prayed for guidance from God and for leadership and for counseling and I said “Now, that church, aside from that man, the person, individual, that is a symbol of what we mean. And so, we certainly don’t want to go there and march and demonstrate against the very symbol that we need as an ally, as a friend.” So, they fell in line little by little. There was a little group that wanted to hold back, but finally, when they saw the majority following, they followed too. And so, we walked from there on into—it was just a short distance from Mission into McAllen. And then McAllen, we did the same thing. We stopped at the city limits and waited until we got permission from the police department, and I think word got around of the way we were conducting, and the march was being conducted nonviolently, because it didn’t take long in McAllen for us to get permission and to walk, single lines, single file, on the sidewalks. Not on the street, but right down through the main street, the highway, and walk through McAllen. And of course, the police were watchful but there was no interference, and I remember that people would look at us through window blinds in the houses and cars. They would gape at us as we would walk by because by now, the newspapers had picked it up, and there were stories and pictures of the march. And I’ll never forget, of course, that there was—I imagine it’s the first time that a priest and a Baptist minister had ever marched together.
I: 19:18 How were your relations with Father Gonzalez?
JN: Very good, very good. In fact, the reason I marched alone from Rio Grande City on into—almost into San Juan before he joined us again is because he was out of the—his diocese and he—somebody came and told him that he had to get out of the line of march until the local bishop would give his okay. And so, as he left the line of march, he turned to me and he said “Reverend, here is my crucifix. You represent me.” And of course, I had my Bible, and I had my Texas flag and American flag as my symbol—you know—and he had his crucifix as his symbol. And when we marched through McAllen, I carried all of the symbols, the Texas flag, the American flag, the Bible and his crucifix. And they caught a picture of me carrying the crucifix in McAllen, and it came out all over the state, and I was the only one leading in the march because he was out.
I: 21:06 Was it at that time that you really became a co-leader of the march or was it before then?
JN: No, before then, before then. From Rio Grande—I think it was at Mission when I became—well, in reality, I became a co-leader of the march—well, we were not even leaders to begin with. We were marching at the very back of the line. It was at Mission when I was asked, and incidentally, it was in between Mission and Rio Grande City that they asked him to get out of the march. And so, I was left alone, and it was there that I represented him and we sort of became co-leaders of the march.
I: At what point did you know that you were going to have to go, or you were going to go all the way with them?
JN: Well, I think it happened at Mission. That’s the place where it really developed into at the end. No, it wasn’t at Mission. It was there that we had decided to go into San Juan only. San Juan was our purpose. That was our goal, and so, incidentally, when I got into—as I was saying in relation to that picture that was taken at McAllen, the crucifix, my own fellow Baptists, that I had betrayed them and it got out all over the state, a Baptist preacher with a Catholic priest and he carried the cross, so he must have joined them.
I: Were you criticized at all—?
JN: I was criticized very much so for that. And I don’t know if he got criticism for marching with a Baptist minister or not, but along the way, it wasn’t until after Harlingen, Edinburg, rather, when we were walking towards—from Edinburg into San Juan that he finally came in and walked by my side. And all of this time, I was carrying his crucifix but through—incidentally, after we walked and marched through, you see, it was my—I developed the idea of having prayer as we arrived, and as we started the day of the march and as we finished the day of the march we would have prayer. And whenever we’d come into a county courthouse, we would have prayer there. Whenever we would finish the day, we would have prayer. If there was a host church that would receive us, we would go there and have prayer, and in the morning as we would gather together to start out the day and march, we would have prayer. And at noon, whenever we would have meals, we would have prayer. And so, in all of this, the Department of Public Safety was watching along the way, and the police departments were watching along the way. So, by the time we got to Pharr, that was the first time that we got the first police escort to escort us through the city safely and that was (s/l in the story). And by the time we got into Edinburg, for the first time we were welcomed by police at the city limits, and then there we were also awaited and received and given a welcome for the first time. Well, not for the first time, for the second time by the mayor of the city, and his name was Ramirez and he was sick, in a hospital, and he came in an ambulance and welcomed us into the city of Edinburg. And then we were escorted by the police all the way into the county courthouse, and under a tree there, by the side of the courthouse, he welcomed us before television. And incidentally, that made—and press reporters and so on and on. In my estimation, that made the march, the matter of Mission and the matter of Edinburg. 26:47 So, by the time we went into San Juan, the bishop of the diocese was willing and ready to receive us and welcome us into the cathedral, and that was a great victory because it was the first time a public figure would welcome us and receive us. And so, I stop and think what if we had demonstrated against the Catholic Church in Mission? Then the bishop couldn’t have received us in San Juan into the cathedral. And by the time we reached the cathedral in San Juan, well, the whole valley was abuzz with people, and people started joining us. They started joining the march, teachers and people of the community at Pharr, Texas. From there on, the line grew, and by the time it reached San Juan, well, we had—instead of just a few straggling farm workers and some of us together, we had the people in the community backing the march and marching with us. And I’ll never forget that it was after the reception at San Juan that we had a meeting that we were to decide on what to do. We said “We’ve got the support. The press is behind. The media is behind. The people are behind the march. The solution is not here in San Juan and here in the valley, but the solution is in Austin.” So there in San Juan, we had some caucuses and gatherings and talked and discussed and decided that we would go ahead and from there start on into Austin. So, five days had gone by, incidentally, and we were tiring and—
I: 29:39 Had you been back to Houston in that time?
JN: No, not at all. Not at all. I was the only one. Everybody else had left, and I was the only one left from Houston. And incidentally, Father Antonio Gonzalez came and joined us in between Edinburg and San Juan. So, that day we decided that we would go on into Austin, and we would stay together, Father Antonio Gonzalez and myself, and march together and go on in. So, the bishop from Brownsville came in, welcomed us, and of course, that really made it. Thousands of people came, hundreds of people came and welcomed us in the cathedral and filled it up. (buzzing noise) So, all right. So, we decided to go on and I never realized when I started at Rio Grande City that it would take from July the 4th sixty-five days of walking daily, and I walked. I can say that I was the one that walked those 500 miles all the way. Some of my colleagues—and my colleagues had to drop out occasionally because of the various things, but I know that I walked all the way from Rio Grande City on into New Braunfels where we had the confrontation with the governor of the state at that time, and then on into Austin where more than 25,000 people gathered from all over the state to receive the march. (tape ends 32:09)
I: (new tape begins 00:02) Reverend Novarro, what motivated your decision to really stay with the march? What was—what motivated you?
JN: The need that was so obvious, so evident. (buzzing noise)
I: We were talking about your motivation behind this.
JN: When I went from Houston, from here to Rio Grande City, I never knew what was awaiting me there. I had no idea whatsoever that I was going to be involved. The only thing was that I was going to indicate that people from the cities and religious people were concerned for the farm workers. But when I got there and saw the people, the farm workers themselves, such fine people, simple-hearted, honest, hardworking, family oriented and sincere, it just gripped me and motivated me. These people were the salt of the earth. They were the very foundation of our society. They were symbolic of the need of the Hispanic, the Mexican American community throughout the whole Southwest in 1966 especially, and I think that that is the very thing that gripped my heart and my will because for a city pastor, say, from Houston, unaccustomed to being out in the sunshine in a hundred and five and a hundred and ten degree weather, I’ll never forget how blistered I got.
I: 03:33 You were not—you did not—weren’t—didn’t have a background of being a migrant yourself, did you?
JN: No, I did not, you see. I had been to school, and you could say within the Hispanic or the Mexican American community my family and my raising was more or less middle class in training and education, all that, and association. So, I would have never imagined that I would have been a part of a march, and yet, as I reflect and think back, I imagine historically it can be said that 1966 is a Mason-Dixon line, dividing line, because before then, it was an arid desert throughout the whole state of Texas and the Southwest as far as school board members, mayors of towns and cities and legislators, state representatives and senators in Austin and county judges and so forth, county commissioners, and it was after 1966 that there were spin offs and organizations and elections and candidates for public office from within the ranks in the local towns and cities. So somewhere, historically speaking, looking at the horizon of history, 1966 will one of these days emerge as a Mason-Dixon line separating the past and the present. And of course, now we have an abundance and a growing involvement of the Mexican American people in Texas in the political process, in the economy, in the educational process, that didn’t exist before 1966. So, by the time we came—we left the valley and we marched on around and about through Falfurrias into Kingsville, by the time we arrived in Kingsville, everybody wanted to be a part of the march. The whole community would come out and greet us and meet us and the police departments and even the Department of Public Safety of the state of Texas. They would come along the way and counsel with us and help us and ask us how we were getting along, and people would come by and bring sandwiches and cold drinks. It was something popular, and in every place, incidentally, the Catholic Church opened its doors to receive us. In Kingsville it happened that way, in Robstown it happened that way, in Corpus Christi. To have between five and 10,000 people come to the very—and the leadership of the community, LULAC and American GI Forum and everybody and just simply form a part of the line until they filled the streets, and we were welcomed by the bishop of Corpus Christi into the very cathedral, and we were escorted by the police department and given a reception and a welcome. And of course, there was radio and television and the print media, everybody in front page. So, that prepared the way and the ground for us to make our way from Corpus Christi into San Antonio where even the Archbishop Luzia (?) at that time received us in the cathedral and flocks of priests and nuns as well as the people in the community marched with us from the city limits of San Antonio. 09:34 And I guess, I imagine for the first time, we had a march down the—downtown of San Antonio and spoke right in front of the Alamo for the first time that had ever happened, had a candlelight march. And of course, everything that we had—that we did and we said was constructed. We were not fighting anybody or anyone. All we were seeking was justice in minimum wage for the farm workers. And incidentally, reflecting back, I don’t believe that the march would have been successful with anything else, anyone else except the farm workers themselves because I don’t think that the people in the cities would have stayed 65 days and marched. I don’t think those professionals would have done it, stayed 65 days and marched. And one thing we made certain, and that was that the farm workers were never displaced in the line of march. They were the first in everything. They were the center of attraction. They were the core of the march. Everybody else in every town and city, everybody else had to be behind the farm workers in the march, whoever they were, leaders of a community in a town, a city, politicians. Whoever they were, it mattered not. They had to be behind the farm workers in the march. And incidentally, we had a donkey that we started out with, and he was a symbol of the farm, and the farm (s/l he digs) and the farmers, and he was our big—what would you call him? (s/l Decorate), no.
JN: Mascot. He was our mascot because along the ways, some people tried to say that we were leftists or possibly even Communists. And so, I said “In the first place, Communists do not pray, and Communists do not salute the flag at every courthouse whenever they arrive. And if there is anybody that could possibly be associated or resemble a Communist, it might be the donkey. So, why don’t you go over there and ask him?” And we would point to the donkey as a possible suspect if there was anyone at all. And incidentally, there were those that would come in from the West Coast and from other sections that wanted to come in and get in and march with us. And we knew definitely that they were not farm workers, and they were not of the people, and they wanted to use the march for their own purposes. And we knew definitely that they—their leanings were questionable, politically, ideologically. And so, we count them off immediate. We made sure that that march remained for its very purpose, and that was one thing, to help the farm workers.
I: 14:28 How were your relations with Eugene Nelson, the labor organizer there?
JN: They were very good. In fact, he was the one that asked me, and the farm workers themselves, to take over, because he himself had some problems insofar that they would not accept him necessarily, you know. He was a labor leader, and he represented to the police department and so on the possibility of problems and difficulties and then the opposition that was so strong against union, not only locally in the valley, but throughout the state. He himself said “You reverends, you pastors, you take over and lead the march.” And so, he was very prudent and very cooperating. In fact, he dropped out of the march along the way in between San Juan and Corpus Christi. It wasn’t until after in Corpus Christi that he joined us again because he said “It is better that way that you get the people behind you and you become—you get involved with the community and the people.” And so, it was from Corpus Christi on into San Antonio and on into Austin that he was with us. But otherwise, in between San Juan and Corpus Christi, he was not with us generally. He would stay in the background and help in the organization and things of that sort.
I: What about support from Protestant denominations along the way? How would you characterize that?
JN: Lamentably, there was no—there was only one Methodist church, and I think it was in Floresville that welcomed us into the city. I asked for support along the way, even from my own fellow Baptists, and no one would give us support. They said “We’ll pray for you. We’ll concede that you have a right to do whatever you wish, but we don’t approve of the march, what it stands for” and et cetera, et cetera.
I: Was this the case with Mexican American Baptists as well as Anglo Americans?
JN: Oh, yes. Yes, yes, definitely. I was criticized for carrying the crucifix of Father Antonio Gonzalez. And eventually, as you can see, there is my church that I pastored, and then from there, we built a very lovely church, brick, and a large congregation, which I lost after 1966 because of the march. There was a council called, and I was asked to attend it one night at the Baptist Temple on 20th Street by—conducted by the pastor of that church and a leader of the local association here in Houston, Baptist. And I was asked to comply with three things, and if not, they would have an ouster of me. One, that I would never again march. Second, that I would never run for the school board as such, and that I would cease being the chaplain of the various organizations, because you see, I’ve been chaplain of American GI Forum and for seven years I was chaplain, national chaplain of LULAC. And even now, I’m the national chaplain of the United States, U.S. National Chamber of Commerce. So, I’ve been involved in the community. So, that march to a great extent had a great affect on my—
I: 19:53 Did you refuse those demands?
JN: Oh, yes. Definitely. I said “These things that I have done I’ve done on the basis of prayer.” I said “I have been a pastor of the people and for the people and by the people that I serve, and these are the needs of the people. So, I’m ministering to the people, and you’re asking me to go against the very thing that I’m supposed to do in serving my people?” So, I said “I don’t have to go into that chapel and pray for 30 minutes or more to come and say that I give in. What you want to do is bury me now. So, I cannot accept that.” And I paid a price for it.
I: You lost the church as a result of that?
JN: Oh, yes. Yes, yes.
I: Were you a pastor of Second Mexican—
JN: No, no. Kashmere Baptist Temple.
I: Oh, I see. You were at Kashmere Baptist Temple.
JN: Yes, on Cavalcade, yes.
I: On Cavalcade.
I: When had you gotten that church?
JN: 21:11 Oh, that church, I had gotten it years before. You see, that’s the beginning of that one. I founded it, established it.
I: You moved from Second Baptist in Magnolia over—
JN: No, no. I moved from Second Baptist—I was at one time the Director of Missions of Union Baptist Association for about seven years. And then from there, I became the pastor of the Kashmere Baptist Church, which was just a mission. And then from a mission, it became a church and grew, and it was from that church that I went into the march.
I: Were you in PASSO at that time?
JN: Oh, yes. I was the chaplain of PASSO.
I: You were chaplain of PASSO.
I: Had you been involved in the Viva Kennedy organization?
JN: Yes, also.
I: So, you came from a fairly active climate here in Houston when you all got into the march.
JN: Oh, very much so, very much so. PASSO was the—I would say a nucleus of support for the march, and I was the chaplain of PASSO on a statewide basis because it was not only local, it’s a state organization at the time.
I: So, you were there at Corpus Christi when you all came into Corpus Christi at the—
JN: Oh, yes. Yes, yes.
I: What was the turnout like there at Corpus Christi?
JN: I would say 10,000 people in Corpus Christi. Dr. Garcia, who was the founder of the American GI Forum—incidentally, the American GI Forum gave us tremendous support from Kingsville on into—all the way into Austin. And he was responsible for bringing in the leadership of Corpus Christi and helping us on in and also arranging Senator—oh, I forget his name, who’s now senator in Austin from Corpus Christi. He was the one that was working for the bishop and arranging and helping to give us hospitality and accommodations and reception and everything. When we left Corpus Christi, we were escorted by the police and given a royal welcome and a royal send off and from thereon in, through Taft and Gregory and Sinton and Mathis, all the way into Floresville and Kennedy on into San Antonio.
I: 24:35 You remember going through Kennedy?
JN: Oh, yes.
I: What was it like there? How—
JN: Very fine. People were very nice. People would come in and flock and help us through Beeville the same way. At Beeville, it was a tremendous reception. They really turned out and helped us out in every way. It was at Beeville that I tried to contact our local Baptist church, and they wouldn’t receive us. But all along the way, I imagine that no other Baptist pastor had ever been in more Catholic rectories and dealt with more Catholic priests and been welcomed in every way in more receptions and by bishops and by even the Archbishop of San Antonio.
I: Did you speak with Bishop Drury at the time?
JN: Yes, Bishop Drury, yes. In fact, we have pictures of him when we were with him. (buzzing noise)You want to—
I: Do you remember James DeAnda in Corpus Christi? You know, who’s now a federal judge?
JN: Oh, yes.
I: Was he active in Corpus at that time? Did he deal with you all there?
JN: He was in Houston.
I: Oh, he was there. He was not in Corpus at the time.
JN: No, he was not in Corpus at that time.
I: What about in Floresville? That was the home of the governor of the state at the time, right?
JN: 26:19 Yes. They welcomed us there. That’s where they welcomed us into the local Methodist church.
I: At New Braunfels, where they came to meet you, were you at the encounter with the governor?
JN: Oh, yes. Definitely. I was—there was a helicopter that came in, and I was the one that told the governor that historically speaking, what he was doing there would have tremendous impact politically on his—on him and in the state, and it turned out to be that way.
I: What did he say to you? How was his tone to you?
JN: Well, naturally, he asked us not to go into Austin. He asked us to stop the march, that that was—that there would be violence in Austin if we went into Austin, and we told him that we had marched this far, all the way from the valley and there had never been any violence whatsoever, that our people were peaceful, and all they wanted was a conference with responsible sources that could help us in Austin. And he was a symbol of that, and he was afraid that in the first place, there would be violence, and that it wouldn’t be good for the state, and he wanted us to stop right there and then.
I: Prior to New Braunfels, had you ever—had you all ever experienced what you might call harassment?
JN: No, not really. Well, I think that in between Floresville and San Antonio some of the public safety persons came to us and told us that there was a possibility that at a given head, there might be somebody that would try to harass us and to be careful. And also, I believe that there was at one—in between Kennedy and Floresville, I believe that that’s the area, at one place somebody stopped to offer our people some cold drinks. And the cold drinks were beer, and we refused that altogether because you see, from the valley on up, all the way in, we had made a vow that there would be no carousing, no drinking, nothing out of the way whatsoever that could in any way affect or influence the effectiveness and the image of the march. And so, you could say that the march was on strict diet and chastity, and that’s the way we reached Austin. And by the time we reached Austin, if you will look into your archives and especially the papers from Austin itself and the Dallas Morning News, which had pictures of that march, between 25 and 30,000 people lined the streets of Congress Avenue. And I’ll never forget how when I reached the steps into the grounds of the capitol, I looked back on Congress Avenue and it was filled with people, and the line had not yet crossed, the marching line had not yet crossed the Colorado River Bridge. It was that long, of people from all over the state. And then, when we set up the microphones and the seating right in front of the—and the cubicle in front of the capitol building and the time came for me to speak and I stood and saw, at the podium, and saw all of the people, it reached from one extreme of the grounds to—it covered everything. People had come in from all over the state. I imagine—I don’t know that at any time before 25 to 30,000 people have ever gathered like that at the capitol building, but it was a tremendous reception. (tape ends 32:10)
I: (new tape starts 00:04) —for purposes of the tape. Ralph Yarborough was the only person of stature who came to be with you all at the capitol.
JN: Yes, he came in from Washington, D.C. specifically to receive us since the governor had refused to receive us and there were no other political figures involved to receive us. Ralph Yarborough, as a senator of the U.S., came in and he walked with us down Congress Avenue.
I: Did you have any—did you ever get any feedback from Lyndon Johnson during this at all? Did you all get any feedback?
JN: None whatsoever that I know of.
I: Yet you got a—you all got some sort of message from Robert Kennedy.
JN: You mean Ted Kennedy.
I: Was it Ted or Robert that—
F: Well, I’m not sure.
I: Must have—it was one of the Kennedy’s.
JN: One of the Kennedy’s. Yes, some sort of communication was had, but it was Yarborough as a political figure, stature, that welcomed us into the capitol.
I: Do you—you know, we’re looking at this from a particular perspective of the Mexican American community, and would you say that it was a Mexican American expression?
JN: Definitely, most definitely. If there was ever been an expression that solidified the Mexican American people throughout the whole state, it was this march. It became a symbol of the unity. It became a symbol of the pent-up frustration of more than a hundred years. You could say that it became the catalyst of unity and cooperation within the Mexican American community on a statewide basis, yes.
I: 02:34 What about the—how much of a labor presence did you feel there during the march, organized labor?
JN: Organized labor, AFL-CIO gave us backing and helped us along the way, but they did it in a way without taking over. No one wanted in any way to take away from what the march and the image of the march that it had become because if anything had ever become a real symbol of the unity and the spirit of the Mexican and Mexican American people in Texas, I would say the march became that, historically speaking. I feel, looking back, that I have been one of the few privileged in time to feel the heartbeat and the pulse of our community on a statewide basis. At no other time have I felt it that way, but that gave me the feel of the pulse, the heartbeat of a people at all levels from the very farm level to the very high peaks and towers and the skyscrapers in the cities.
I: Bishop Pelusi, (?) did you talk to Bishop Pelusi?
JN: Yes, he received us in the cathedral as welcome guests.
I: How was he?
JN: He was very fine. There had been some reservations that maybe he chastised some of his own priests that had been involved in the march, and he had called some of them out, like Reverend Smith, Father Smith and so on. But he received us very well because the march had become such a symbol, such a success, that it was impossible to deny the very presence of it.
I: Who was this Father Smith? Do you remember him at all?
JN: I don’t—I have a recollection of him. He was in San Antonio, and later he became—he was one of the ones that used to go from San Antonio to Rio Grande City to help the farm workers, and he was one of the ones to sparkle or spark what eventually became the march. And yet, he was unable to take part in it, lamentably.
I: Did Houstonians seem to be a core behind this march?
JN: Well, PASSO did, and the people in general were interested in it, yes.
I: 06:24 I noticed a lot of Houston, especially PASSO chapter participation in this.
JN: Oh, yes, yes.
I: Do you have any other questions that—any other reflections that you have on that march Reverend Novarro?
JN: Sixty-five days of my life under the boiling sun of Texas are a part of—of that march in all of its fullness and it’s an experience that has stayed with me and even to the last of my life because I could never do it again, and I don’t know that it will ever happen again because it had never happened before, and I don’t see anything at the present or in the foreseeable future that could serve as a catalyst to bring about something like that again. It was the most constructive march. It was the most inspirational effort, united, cooperative, and eventually, it reached its goal in achieving a minimum wage for farm workers. So, I think that the overall impact, the overall effect of the 1966 march can go down in history as the catalyst, historical catalyst of all that is happening good today.
I: To your knowledge, was there any other contact to the march by any other higher level state official other than in New Braunfels, that one—
JN: No, none whatsoever. You see, one of the things that led us in the moving of the image of the march was that experience at Mission. And since I came from a background of Fort Worth and Dallas and north Texas and had lived here in Houston for quite a while and had traveled throughout the state and become involved in PASSO, in LULAC, in American GI Forum and been down in the valley, I had a feel of our Texas mentality. And consequently, I strove to mold the image and to guide it and lead it and direct it in a way that would cross all barriers and stereotypes and reach the heart and mind of Texas across the board and be successful in eventually reaching our goals and purposes of the march. That is why we saluted the flag and pledged allegiance to the flag of America everywhere we came across it. That is why we had prayer every morning and every evening. That is why we stopped at churches, because these were the symbols of justice, and that is why we never violated any laws along the way. Whatever we were told to do, we would do. We would stop at city limits and ask permission to go in. We would work and cooperate with the police departments.
I: You said the DPS, the Department of Public Safety, you have good recollections of their—
JN: Very good relationship, very good relationship. They helped us along the way. They would tell us the condition of the road along the way for miles to come and come and ask us how we were getting along. But you see, this happened after Mission. Before then, there was a lot of suspicion.
I: 12:26 Now, when you encountered—we mentioned Governor Connally, but Ben Barnes and Waggoner Carr, what was their demeanor toward you?
JN: Well, the same identical as Connally, and I think that basically these are good people. They—the thing about it is they had a stereotype image of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, and they thought that something not good would come out of this, and the purposes were not in the best, you see. But basically, if they had looked into the very core, into the very heart of the march itself and especially the farm workers, the fine type of people, and I’ll tell you. I’ll never forget those people because they were the salt of the earth.
I: You—at the time, Lou Sanchez, who I’m sure you know, Lou Sanchez (?) had El Sol. He started El Sol, and that was one of the first things he covered. Did that march have anything to do with you eventually coming to own El Sol or is that totally unconnected?
JN: Well, I imagine it’s totally unconnected because the owner of El Sol was Lynn Montgomery, and he was the one that sold it to me. And Lou Sanchez had retired and had sold his part to Lynn Montgomery. So, there was no relationship there whatsoever to our transfer directly in that respect. But I did become involved, in my estimation, with El Sol based on our experience with the march, and Lynn Montgomery asked me to become a part of El Sol based on our involvement with the community, and then based on the fact that—and I had come to an impasse in relation to my own denomination and in certain individual leaders, and it doesn’t reference the denomination because I’m a Baptist still, and I’m a southern Baptist and I have not left my denomination, and I’m still pastoring a congregation and serving and having weddings and family counseling and funerals and all of that. I haven’t abdicated, and I haven’t left my faith and my religion because I know that the frailty of individuals and the leadership of individuals can be at fault and not the symbol, not the institution itself. So, I’m not bitter in that respect. I would do everything over again, and I would serve our community in the same manner and in the same way, and our people.
I: Well, I have no further questions. Marilyn, do you have anything else, any specific question that you need to have answered?
F: I don’t think so.
I: Well, thank you very much Reverend. I really appreciate your time here, and I know we’ve stayed a little bit longer than we told you we would, but we really enjoyed it. It’s been very enlightening to us.
JN: I have an album here that—got them some things, some shoes. (s/l That leader, that’s Connelly). (tape ends 17:15)