Interviewee: Dr. Mary Jourdan
Date: October 1, 1974
I: This is an interview with Mary Butler
Jourdan Atkinson, October 1, 1974, at her home in Houston,
Texas. Good morning, Dr. Atkinson.
MA: Good morning, Dr. Nancy.
I: We would like to have a little background
information on your birth, your family, and where you received
MA: Well, let’s put it this way. I was born on
the edge of a100-acres of steep pasture that had never been
plowed. There were cotton fields on the other side, right in the
middle on my grandfather’s ex-plantation, oh, about 10 miles
northeast of Austin.
I: What year were you born?
MA: [01:10] I was born in ’98 (1898). I barely
got most expectedly. I’m sure that my family entered the century
with the rest of the grandchildren.
I: You were much younger than your brothers
MA: I had no sisters. One of my brothers was
15. One was 18, and my oldest one would’ve been 23 if he’d been
there. I supposed I summed to be his reincarnation, which I’ve
always claimed is why I’m a deviate.
I: A deviate in what respect?
MA: Well, I understand most people on
faculties come out as deviates when you check up there,
Minnesota, not the basic. another question they asked like that.
They are always on the border between masking them and rather
than being extreme one or extreme the other. It’s supposed to
be—what’s the word for it? I believe it was Carlisle said that
all people with any conscious of genius are always—what’s that
word?—meaning they’re both.
I: I know what you mean.
MA: I can’t think of the right term for it.
I: A mixture of both characteristics?
MA: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: That’s interesting. You have mentioned to
me that your grandfather was the conformist. Either he was
anti-succession of being in Texas?
MA: Oh, he was an anti-secessionist,
definitely. He had come here while this was still Mexico and
said that he’d been coming out of the South because he saw what
was happening there, and he wanted none of it.
I: What was his name?
MA: His name was Frederic—no k—F-r-e-d-e-r-i-c
I: You’re sure of that?
MA: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: He came from the South, from what state?
MA: [03:15] From North Carolina, I
understand. I have never been able to tie in to that family,
although I have been told that they come from a brother of
Jean-Baptiste Jourdan who was with Lafayette, and that
Jean-Baptiste, who was later marshal of France, was at that time
unmarried and [unintelligible]–I believe it’s called—had the
right to come over here. Still there are some descendants, due
to that respect, to the pope. He went home and he sent these two
married brothers, from one of who was supposed to have come.
Now, I have not examined any census records and been able to tie
back, so I’ve been thinking I would see if I could find a
business of all the people who did come early.
I: He settled then in Austin, Texas about the
MA: No, he settled near Bellville. He was on
the way from the battle of the Siege of Jasima (??) was being
fought, and his wife’s people—seems to me 8 or 10 of them were
already—her brothers and sisters—here in Austin. There was a
colony of those—coming to join them, but they were Bachmann’s,
as I understand they are Ausaitians (??) by descent.
I: Then when did he move to the Austin area?
MA: He first moved to Bastrop. I find him
listed in 1840 in Washington County, which was really cut off
from all the Austin County. Then I next find him at Bastrop. In
1852, he bought from Henry Burden what we call the home place,
which is now a park given by my cousin who died last of June. He
was 94. He bought that place in 1852, and my cousin’s mother
inherited it as her part in this plantation. It was spared up
and divided amongst 9 children.
I: Then your parents were born about the time
of the Civil War? Is that correct?
MA: [05:57] No, they were both born
before the Civil War. They were middle-aged when I was born, and
I always had the experience of having grandparents for parents.
I: You grandfather then owned slaves, correct?
MA: A few, yes.
I: Even though he was not sympathetic with the
secessionist movement in the south.
I: It was the practical means, I suppose.
MA: I had a (unintelligible) in the beginning
that married my father’s sister who had quite a number. Those
family blacks were still around most of the time. They were
living on land that they had acquired within this plantation
when I grew up.
I: Did they adopt the name Atkinson?
MA: No, they weren’t ever. Now, but remember,
this is (unintelligible) that we were talking about, although
John Atkinson was a brother-in-law to Frederic Jourdan. They had
married Bachmann sisters, and John Atkinson’s name, along with
another John Atkinson, is on the same monument.
I: Then you have deep, old Texas ties in your
MA: [07:22] Right. In fact, as I
understand it, our people belonged to what they then called the
old party, which was adverse to annexation. They would’ve
preferred to stay in Mexico.
I: Where did you get your education?
MA: Well, I didn’t go to school from the time
I was about 12 years old until I was 20. I got it at home.
I: Who taught you?
MA: Oh, everybody in the family. I did enter
the university under what they called individual approval. You
can, when you’re 21, if you can read and write the English
language, and I was immediately put into the more advanced
English sections, and I ended with a Phi Beta Kappa key.
I: What year was this that you were at the
University of Texas?
MA: I was there 6 years. I had to make up all
of those lost.
I: When was this?
MA: Well, I was 21, so I must’ve entered in
1919, and I married at 26, but now I’ve always had an eye
difficulty. I presume it’s what they call dyslexia. I don’t know
any other name to give it. My eyes don’t focus together, and I
have a kind of a blind spot right in the middle, for which
reason I never try to read figures and trust what I see.
I: Do you have difficulty in reading print
MA: No, because I can read the word by the
shade. I’ll know what should be there. I have difficulty in
writing because I leave out the middle of the words. I don’t
miss them. Now, figures, it’s not like words. You’ve got to see
every individual figure, and my eyes will kind of take the 2 and
make it into a 3, or turn a 7 upside down and make it into a 5,
and all that kind of stuff. This is really why I dropped out of
I: Did you get an advanced degree?
MA: [09:33] I have been in graduate
school about three times, and the last time I came out with a
Bachelor’s of Science in Education, and then an MB in Education.
The reason for taking in Education is that for no one will I
I: The foreign language requirement is
MA: I have no use in my life for German, no
love and no liking for it. I’m not about to learn it.
I: It is the professional language of your
profession. You are a cultural anthropologist.
MA: Yes, and I can read French, a little bit
of Australian, Spanish, and Italian, if necessary, but no
I: You have taught at Texas Southern
University. Did you teach any place else?
MA: I taught there 2 years. Before that I
taught 2 years at the University of Houston.
I: In the anthropology department?
MA: Oh, I don’t think we ever had an
anthropology department. At least we didn’t. I thought really
anthropology at TSU. Texas history is a good anthropology
course, if you teach it that way. Then I taught man in
I: Have you always lived in this neighborhood
or did you move into this neighborhood after it became an
MA: I moved into it before it became
integrated, but I moved over on this side of town only because
of my relationship with TSU.
I: This was a very nice neighborhood called
Old Riverside at one time. Is that correct?
MA: No, this is Riverside Terrace.
I: This is Riverside Terrace.
MA: Old Riverside is on the other side of the
valley from us.
I: We are south of the Bayou.
MA: We are now south of the Bayou.
I: About 1950s?
MA: I think I’ve owned this house 10 years.
I: About 1950 was when the neighborhood began
having blacks. Is that correct?
MA: It was a little later than that.
MA: [11:57] There were no blacks on this
side of the Bayou when I bought this place, none.
I: What class of people lived in this
I: Uh-hunh (affirmative), now.
MA: Well, the people that live over here are
either professional or retired.
I: Most of them—it’s a predominately black
neighborhood called Sugar Hill. Is that correct?
MA: It’s not called Sugar Hill, but it’s
classified as a Sugar Hill.
I: Well, what is here is Sugar Hill, and I
didn’t know whether this was the only area.
MA: There are other Sugar Hills.
I: Ah, it’s any area of upper class
MA: Right, now, a really swank place is Tilley
Preston, which is the most eastern section of Old Riverside, the
one reserved section of Old Riverside. So far as I know, it is
totally black. In real life, it’s not necessarily so. It just
is. We laugh and we say we’re 2-car families. Well, they’re
3-car families over there.
I: Are there many whites living in this area
or just a very scattered few?
MA: [13:15] I would say about 1/5th. I
make the directory, but I haven’t checked them up. However, we
are having more families move in now because—there are several
reasons. One is the availability of this area. It’s right in the
center of institutionalism, the University of Houston, TSU,
Medical Center, Boone’s Hospital, Rice, Herman Park. We have
recently had a professor from the community college buy and move
in here. We have also had what is obviously a very well-to-do
family buy a big house on the corner of Del Rio and
I: These are white families that are moving
back into the neighborhood?
MA: Yes, moving back into it.
I: Dr. Atkinson, because we had a problem with
our power supply, we’re going to resume talking about the
Riverside Terrace neighborhood, and we would like to talk again
about how this neighborhood changed. First off, what was the
effect on this neighborhood of the first black family moving in?
MA: [14:53] We sort of were prepared for
it. We knew that inevitably this was going to happen, and they
were prepared to receive it. They were ready. It seems to me
that every family were prepared to receive it with grace. The
people over here are particularly—who were either university
professors themselves or wives organized their own real estate
development. This has always been a changing neighborhood
because it’s always been professional, and the companies would
move people in there for 4 or 5 years, and all that sort of
The real estate developer who sold me this
house told me it was originally heavily Jewish. Then it became
heavily Catholic. Now it’s on its way to becoming black he
thought. There were no black families here for at least 2 years
after I came. The real estate developers were ready to drive us
all crazy. They were standing in the driveway and practically
demanding a price and so on, on one’s house.
I: Blockbusting tools.
MA: Blockbusting—we didn’t have blockbusting
I: This was a tactic?
MA: This was tactic we tried on our homes.
I: This was when you put the sign, this is our
MA: The Unitarians revoked that sign I think
in Indiana somewhere. The signs were ordered and there were put
I: This is my home. It is not for sale.
MA: Right and the hoodlums would come through
here and see it without the light, the yard light, and destroy
and take away the signs. I lost two before I finally swung one
to my upstairs window where it couldn’t be reached. The
neighborhood sits on the city grounds, and the house has changed
hands clearly, although we’ve never had I think less than 1/5th
Anglo, because I make the directory for our city club. We have
250 families in our own city club, and there are some city clubs
that go down the line all the way to McGregor Park.
I: Are these very active groups?
MA: They’re very active groups. They watch the
property thief, and they watch the property values very closely.
They also watch that these let no business groups in.
I: What is the price range on the houses in
MA: [18:00] The price range did go down
for down for an extent, but are now already up. They had $27,000
on them, but I would say beginning with the smaller houses on
associates south by the colleges, $30,000 to $90,000 to
$135,000. I’m talking about the three areas now, on the river
side of the bayou, all the way from Herman Park down.
I: On the south side?
MA: On the south side.
I: What are the differences between the south
side and the north side of the bayou?
MA: Well, the north side is, from our point of
view, a [unintelligible].
I: Because of the apartment complex that’s
MA: There’s a new apartment complex.
I: New homes were torn down and—
MA: I saw a $100,000 home bulldozed down to
make way for instant homes, which is what those apartment houses
actually are. Yes, there are a number of those of affluence,
extremely powerful. The core of it was TSU. The core of
everything is Texas Southern University. Now, Texas Southern
University was referred to among the students as “The house that
Sweatt built.” If you remember years ago they even threatened
(unintelligible) and now they’re on blacks in Texas graduate
I: The Houston mail carrier.
MA: A Houston mail carrier who was a graduate
student in sociology and ready to go to law school. I was living
over on the Montrose side, and he and an elderly administrator
named Mr. Mann came to my house for a concert. To come
unchallenged into that community at that time of day, they wore
their mail carrier’s uniforms. Everywhere they were moving
south, but the people in the south weren’t going to have
it—where is your chastity belt set aside. They forced after
reviewing the federal action, there was money to send their
black graduate students to urban colleges, but Texas would have
none of that. They weren’t sending Texas money anywhere.
[20:46] About 1960, the University of
Houston, which was then a private metropolitan school moved out
into the sticks, for at the time, nobody even knew where it was,
because I came back here from being out of the state for some
time and couldn’t even find the place. I don’t know what estate,
but some estate gave the University of Houston acreage for a
black branch, since it was left to policy. They had to have a
black branch, so it was established about a quarter mile from
the University of Houston property. The faculty traveled up and
down between the two places to keep the two groups separate.
I: Separate but equal?
MA: Perhaps that set it unequal. A strange
thing, that was the first black settlement, crossed up right in
the middle of Riverside. If you will remember Riverside was all
part eventually of River Oak realty because River Oak accepted
no Jews, and all the Jewish money was in Riverside, and there
was always a question of what was the culture of the two areas.
Houston had something that nobody else had.
At least I have seen it described, I believe, is a wholly
all-black business town, if not in the United States, certainly
in the South called Sugar Bay, which was right downtown.
I: Built by black money.
MA: Built by black money. There are some black
businesses in the Sugar Bay, an elderly barber who was
considered a sage among his people. Over in the palace, I
believe that’s his main barbershop, and his children built it,
and he knows all the history of that area.
I: What’s his name?
MA: This is George Nelson. He is a wonderful
man. Dr. Laurie Slip, whose book was out at primaries, had his
office in that building.
I: He had to go the (unintelligible) 1940—
MA: It (unintelligible) but when Texas
Southern was established, university professional men
immediately moved into the Riverside area. I felt for them. I
heard them say among themselves that there would be no further
development downtown. We could come over here. First thing, Mac
Hammer, a black millionaire from Fort Arthur has established the
[unintelligible] Company. Certain university professors—that is,
TSU professors—established the Riverside National Bank. Right
now, there is a black medical building going up in the Riverside
I: Who financed that?
MA: It’s the doctors, I presume. Now, none of
these things are segregated. There may be blacks, but
I: They are open to whites, if whites wanted
to use them.
MA: [24:42] —wanted to use them. The
ingress is always black on that side of the bayou because of the
residential area. There was a residential area over at
I: That’s on the north side of the bayou?
MA: On the north side. We laugh and say we’re
two-car families over here, but they’re three-car families over
I: Are there any whites living in that area?
MA: I don’t think there are any, but they can.
They just don’t happen to be there. Now, this justified the
thing that happened, I believe, in Florence, Italy in the
college of our own anthropology. There’s an international
anthropology (unintelligible). They deployed a forced
integration that is going on in the United States, particularly
in the schools, because this is something that you can’t force.
You can’t force one’s ethics to like another ethic, just because
you make them sit by them. You’re much more likely to increase
hostility on the basis that no one wants to be told what they’ve
got to do.
I: There some flights over this.
MA: Uh-hunh (affirmative). I lived over there
then. That’s why the white flight, but we had one school board.
I know that 300 letters went in from Anglos asking for
integration in the schools over there in the elementary schools.
I: Turned it all about.
MA: Turned around everything now, and I don’t
know that it was then. These laws are varied. The public was
never let know that the levis existed. Eventually, because of
the school situation and help from pushy real estate, there was
a white flight from over there.
I: Now, that differs from this side.
MA: [26:53] Entirely. It’s Riverside
I: Right. Now, this side was where they put
the signs up and tried to keep the real estate people from force
MA: They not only tried. They did.
I: What is the attitude of the people here
towards the blacks that moved in?
MA: Oh, there were some dialogues open with
them, but not many (unintelligible) in the majority. I was
present at the civic club meeting where eventually there was a
vote. Lately, I’ve been sort of not sure whether to go or not
because they had to do it. When the so-called Caucasian clause
was thrown out of the bylaws, and I think the vote was 87-17, or
something like that, so letting it go without any code-cutting.
I: On the neighborhood level, were black
children accepted by the other children?
MA: The minute they moved in, the mothers over
here sent their children out to play with the black children and
invited their parents in for tea. This has been used all over
the United States with the advances of urban integration.
I: Was it educated, middle and upper class
intellectual approach to the problem?
MA: That’s right.
I: How did the blacks that moved in feel?
MA: Well, I tried to say earlier in this
conversation—blacks don’t feel that blacks are any different
than anybody else and that non-blacks are any different than
I: Was there an effort, do you think, on their
part to move into the new area in the first place, to be the
first family to move in?
MA: [28:57] They were only interest was
they didn’t want to (unintelligible). I heard them say so,
because they had got some of them over in old Riverside. They
had purchased good houses over there, only to learn that there
was no voting and they had no protection.
I: An apartment would be built next door.
I: That was not divulged to them.
MA: I’m going to say something for which I am
sure I will castigated. Nevertheless, I am sure that much of the
verbiage of so-called racist flight has been due to the reaction
of second and third generations of Americans, and especially
from Europe who have come over here, and that’s their
fortitudes. They know nothing about black people. They still
have the old ideas based on black magic. They were worshipping
that kind of thing. This is really the first ones that came with
their children and grandchildren.
I: To perpetuate prejudice?
MA: Well, and they’re afraid that they’re
learning something because the South does have restrictions
(unintelligible). If they see them running up and down, running,
swimming, cursing, and carrying on where they live in New
I: The redneck element.
MA: The rednecks structure element could
probably get money even from the communists to do it.
I: You used an interesting phrase “the Red
Hots.” Could you explain that?
MA: Well, it’s . . . which meaning the people
that Mrs. Till Brown Cary once expressed. There’s a relative
piece to that. Tailors would wear their shorts loaded with
lavender so they can get out and load them on the closing.
I: I like that. Where these the red-hot
MA: Well now Red Hot and Redneck—wait a minute
Dorothy, I have to think.
I: They don’t have to be the same thing?
MA: Rednecks are—he’s a thrasher from
(unintelligible). A Red Hot is a social elect.
I: Yeah, they trusted his (unintelligible) on
occasion. Is that right? Okay, it is redneck then, a lower class
fright, ignorant usually, prejudiced, who come through and
I: Organized terrorism.
MA: [31:35] Well, once you are acclaimed
to do what’s called “bad-mouthing reals.”
I: Do you think that there was a plot on the
part of the real estate people to employ these people, sort of
get them to come in and stir up trouble in order to make a
profit on the fast turnover of houses?
MA: I don’t know that there was exactly
conniving between those two things. Most surges I always saw
them as an indigenous movement. It’s really hard to conceive of
any ideas of Christianity. We have to believe that so-called
white people, which really means bronze by descent, they thought
they should dominate the world.
I: The late crusade in the sense of the
MA: Exactly. I think the Red Hots were part of
anything the bad guys do. I think that they were—
[Tape ends] [33:12]
MA: On Riverside (unintelligible).
I: That’s one of those developments over
MA: Yeah, that was a street that was very
quiet and knew that the whites (unintelligible).
I: Was this the source of much of the
break-ins, robberies, and things that take place in this
vicinity? Do these people come out of these kind of outlaws?
MA: That kind of horrors, yes. Okay, Villa
Caprice has been bought, taken over by black real estate
developers. It’s been fenced, security guarded, and safety
gates. It’s been completely rebuilt. It took them about 2 years
to get the job done. As I understand, tenants are being
carefully screened, so that it is now a decent place to live in
again. If you look, you’ll see many signs of urban movement over
there. How long it will take to really get rid of the criminal
element in old Riverside that has infested it, because the
criminal element and the narcotics in those days, and all the
rest of it, follow black ruling. It is a belief that the schools
go together. At the moment the youngsters come in—I saw it
happen over there in old Riverside. It’s been checked out over
I: You say that this Villa Caprice has been
bought by black money? Now, these other—
MA: It’s currently being managed—the Gulf
managed, and I assumed it was being taken over by black money.
I: Are the other complexes owned probably by
MA: [02:32] I heard them say in my
bank—which is definitely Germanic by ethnic trends—that the
Jewish and the Italian units that put up all those multiple
apartments on Riverside were having trouble collecting their
rent, because they got lies and the people didn’t have it.
I: They don’t send black agents in to collect?
MA: [03:06] One wonders why not—probably
because they don’t want to have to be with them.
I: Maybe when our crime problem in the black
community maybe stalls out of the black community itself?
MA: I think it is slowly on the way. Some
electricians are warned of those apartments immediately, either
town requests or the embassy. I don’t know which one, and a
hundred persons on the roofs (unintelligible).
I: Do you take any special precautions living
in this neighborhood, you yourself?
MA: We constantly advise that everybody keep
their eyes open for what’s going on among their immediate
neighbors and report immediately anything that looks out of the
I: Like a group of boys coming through?
I: Strange working men around?
MA: Uh-hunh (affirmative).
I: I know that some of the houses have bars on
the windows and sort of thing. Are these effective?
MA: With any sense—the major trouble of it
that so many people are away from home all day, and the
robberies take place in the mornings. I don’t believe in
expelling or suspending troublesome students. It is my belief
that every student should have a large room with a security
guard. When a junior or a senior high school student is out of
control where he belongs, he should be sitting there and checked
there. He should never be turned out on the streets to play on
the left side. It goes back to the school system.
I: Or a penal system, perhaps. Having been a
teacher in the public schools, I don’t want to keep those
children in the public schools, but as you say, a guard room
with handcuffs maybe to the law. It is a very hard problem.
MA: [05:38] But every student needs it,
you know what I mean?
MA: Their own incarceration unit. They just
should not be turned loose on the public.
I: It’s very true. What about walking in this
neighborhood? Is that possible?
MA: It’s not possible on account of the bays.
Our curse is dogs.
I: You don’t have purse snatchers over here?
MA: No, we have not had purse snatchers over
I: I think they tend to haunt the more
populous areas like shopping centers where there are a lot of
people around and a lot of shopping.
MA: What we do have is breaking into the house
and messing them up.
I: Just vandalism.
MA: Vandalism during the daylight hours.
They’re not (unintelligible). They come in new apartment units,
and they come or they get suspended or expelled from school.
I: Or are truant, because a lot of them are
MA: They are truant, yes.
I: The parents don’t know what they’re doing
because the parents work. The students will tell them they are
going to school when indeed they have not.
MA: [06:55] Yeah, uh-hunh (affirmative).
It seems to me that the majority of the children from this
neighborhood are not put to the public school, which is on the
edge of being across the flats, but are sent across town either
to private schools or to the better schools.
I: This would be the middle class and upper
class people in the neighborhood who send their children out of
I: It is the apartment children—
MA: We don’t have no apartments. These are the
apartment children from all around, and I understand the morale
is getting lower every year.
I: I’m afraid that is true. I haven’t been in
the school system for about 5 years.
MA: Not only in our public schools, but in the
public schools around TSU.
I: Do you think that the Houston black
community is any different than other black communities in
comparable towns in the south?
MA: Well, I really doubt it. You see, this is
because we have lots of people that are (unintelligible), and
she’s from the South.
I: You would tend to say then what is true of
Houston probably could be generalized as black communities
MA: Well, I would certainly think it was true
of places like Atlanta and New Orleans.
I: Large urban areas in the Deep South.
Houston hardly is deep south. It’s such a strange mixture.
MA: Houston is southwest.
I: It has a mixture of things that make it a
little different, because we’ve already talked about some of
those. Well, Dr. Atkinson, this has been very interesting. Your
views as an anthropologist and a member of an integrated
community I think are most valuable, and I certainly appreciate
MA: Oh, thank you.
[Tape ends] [9:15]