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Interview with: Paulette Williams Grant
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: June 30, 2008
DG: Today is June 30, and we are in the home of Paulette Grant who is being interviewed for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you today?
PWG: I am fine.
DG: Great. Ms. Grant, let’s begin at the beginning. Why don’t you tell me about where you were born and your earliest memories?
PWG: O.K. My name is Paulette Williams Grant. I grew up in what is now considered old Freedman’s town, Fourth Ward, and I attended Gregory Elementary School from kindergarten to 6th grade. I have often wondered when I pass the school if they were going to do anything with it, if they were going to tear it down like they did so many of the old structures that I was used to seeing there. But Old Freedman’s town was such a wonderful place to grow up in because we were so sheltered, we had everything right there although we were right at the end of downtown. We had everything right in the neighborhood, you know, there were stores, your beautician, your school, your music teacher –everybody was right there and it was like just a big, happy family. And I really miss those days now because we are out in the world and people just do not care like that anymore. I loved Gregory. Gregory is the reason I succeeded in life because they gave me the basic foundation from the very beginning. I retired from engineering at Texaco after 33 years, and considering what we had to work with, we had wonderful teachers because the books we had at that time . . . as you know, schools were segregated because this was the early 1950s. The books that we had were the books that the white schools were throwing away, so we never had new books, but surprisingly enough, many of us succeeded and went on to have wonderful careers and wonderful lives. And I attribute that to the teachers. It had to be the teachers.
DG: Where were you born? Where was that first house?
PWG: I was born in Houston, Texas. I was born at the old . . . at that time, it was the Negro Hospital. It is now Riverside. I lived at 1312 Shaw Street and if anyone is familiar with the downtown area, they know that part of the Enron Building parking lot is sitting where my house used to sit. I am a member of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. I have been there all of my life. And the church is still the only structure that is still there right now. It is surrounded by tall buildings and it is the only structure still there. This was a beautiful neighborhood. It had the old houses similar to the ones in the Heights with the porches. The porches went all the way around. Little kids . . . you could go under the house because you could actually bend over and just go up under there, but I think that they learned from tearing down those beautiful old homes that we had to preserve the Heights, because the homes were very similar to the ones in the Heights. They were beautiful old homes. My house had like 12 or so steps up to the front porch, a porch all the way across the front. It was just a beautiful neighborhood. Very, very pretty.
DG: What did you do for fun?
PWG: Well, you played with all the kids in the neighborhood. I am an only child but the neighborhood was full of children, and you were safe then. You could go outside and play without having to worry about anybody driving by grabbing you, taking you someplace. So, you were safe. You had all these kids to play with. The neighborhood was full of children, just full of children, and most of the children in the neighborhood went on to be very, very successful people. And they went to the same church. You went to the same school. You went to the same functions, you know, and the teachers at Gregory and even when I went on to graduate from Jack Yates, the teachers, many of them lived in that area, so they also went to the same church. There was nothing you could do because they would tell your parents, you know? I mean, Sunday morning, you would see them, 5 days a week you would see them. The only day you probably did not see them was on a Saturday, and maybe that was what we called our free day!
DG: So, you played with other kids? Did you have favorite stores, favorite theaters? What are your other memories of that time?
PWG: Well, there was a theater on West Dallas called the Rainbow - it was the Rainbow Theater - and we would go there a lot. There was also one downtown. I cannot remember exactly since they have built up downtown so much but there was one also called the Lincoln Theater. As you know, there were very few that we could go to. We could not go to the various theaters around town because they were segregated. I mean, we could not even go to the same restrooms. Usually, the restrooms that we had to go to were way in the back, down some stairs, you had to walk God knows how long before you even got to it, you know, so we did not have a lot of places that we could actually go but we did have our places that we had fun.
DG: Were you aware when you were young and if not . . . I mean, when did you first become aware that there were 2 systems in place and that the other system was maybe a little bit better equipped, a little bit nicer, or was it something you just grew up not even knowing about?
PWG: Well, as I said before, we were very sheltered. Everyone sheltered you. You went to church, you were sheltered. You went to school, you were sheltered. And we were big kids before we actually realized, well, you know, there is a difference. When you grow up with something just being there, you are used to it so you are not really thinking about difference. This was just the way it was, and we just adhered to what was going on. And I don’t ever remember not liking it, liking it, disliking it. I never really thought about it at all. We were having a very good time, like I said. We were very sheltered, you know, you didn’t know . . . it is like some people say sometimes, “Well, I did not know I was poor until I grew up.” You know, you do not realize how much your parents and your teachers actually do to make you comfortable where you do not have this type of isolation feeling. We took part in many, many things. We traveled, we were able to go places and see things. We went to other cities, you know, met other people, so although it was on a segregated basis during that particular time, we still managed to do a lot of things – very interesting things. It made me very curious. I love to travel. I travel all the time now. But this was instilled in me by these people. My mother always felt like, “Well, if you cannot do one thing, learn to do something else. Don’t always have just one thing to fall back on. Always learn.” And so, she pushed me. My father pushed me. “Learn this. Nothing you learn is ever wasted.”
DG: Let’s talk about the Gregory School. That first day when you go over there, I mean everybody remembers that first day of school or their parents do, at least. Can you name some names and tell me about the school, the principal, your teachers and what that school was like?
PWG: I think, if I am not mistaken, I cannot really remember because, like I said, this was kindergarten and I cannot really remember the teacher. Actually, I wrote it down in later years because it has been so long ago. I will be 64 years old in September. So, this has been a long time. But several years ago, I wrote down when I could still remember who the teachers were. I actually wrote it down so that I know who the kindergarten teacher . . . I think, if I am not mistaken, the kindergarten teacher was a Ms. Matthews and some of my friends that were with me during that time, there was Fannie Scott, there was Charles Earl, and Robert Harris. There were just a lot of people that I am still in touch with now. We are still friends. We still socialize together, you know, even after all these years. Like I said, it was just kind of a community. It was almost like a little city within a city. So, we still cling together after all these years. And we have lost friends who died over the years and that is like losing a family member because you were so close growing up.
DG: So, there was no way to compare but what did you learn? What was it like back in those years in elementary school at the Gregory School?
PWG: I would say that it was like school now. I do not think there was a big difference as far as how we were taught.
DG: Heavy discipline?
PWG: Oh, heavy discipline but not abusive discipline. You know, you were not hit, struck, beaten, nothing like that. At that particular time, kids were more afraid of being shamed in front of their friends than the actual hitting, so you could tell me to go . . . if I had done something wrong, you could tell me to go and stand in a corner. My friends are back here in the class looking at me. Oh, this is killing me! You did not need to be abusive to be effective. We had a lot of respect for the teachers. I mean, there was just no way you were going to actually say anything them wrong, talk back to them, be ugly to them. There was just no way. Oh, you were angry, you did not like it, you know. I mean, what kid does like to be told something that you had done wrong? But, you know, the discipline was just there and it was a different discipline. It was not a child abuse but it made us the people we are now, and every one of us . . . I can think of one or two that maybe kind of fell by the wayside but it was not fell by the wayside in the way you think, you know, where you are in jail or you murdered someone. It is just that they did not go on as far, but they all did very, very well.
DG: When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
PWG: I always have, believe it or not, although I went to work in engineering at Texaco, I always wanted to be a musician. I wanted to be a musician. I am from a family who is very, very, very musically inclined. My grandmother was an organist and I have cousins who are organists at various churches. Even now . . . I had one that started out at Lakewood many, many years ago, and then, in the neighborhood, we had many people in Freedman’s Town who were musicians, and one of the promoters, big promoters at the time lived there. So, you got a chance to see a lot of the people and I have always loved music, so I basically wanted to be a musician, but my parents always thought that musicians were kind of not the nice people that they wanted their little girl to be like. And I am kind of happy than it did go the way it went.
DG: Who was the promoter that lived in the neighborhood? Do you remember the name?
PWG: Don Robey. He owned Duke Peacock Records.
DG: So, other than sort of the reading, writing and arithmetic, were there extracurricular activities at Gregory School? Were there electives?
PWG: I would not call them electives but I do remember one thing that we did every year and several times a year. They would take us to the symphony. And I never will forget, to this day, I still remember Leopold Stokowski. They would take us to the symphony every year. And then, we had our parties and May Day programs where, you know, you had the little kids that had their little costumes and they danced. I think they still do the May Day programs, you know, but yes, we had a lot of different functions. But most of the functions were within the community – you’ve got to realize. They could not take us to the museum or to the . . . maybe they had a special day they could take us, you know, but we could not just go; like I want to take my grandbaby now – I can just go and take her. We had to have special days. And my two grandbabies, Leslie ______, she is 10 right now, and Ms. Adia Marie Grant, she is 7. And the whole world is different for them and I am so happy that it is. I try and expose them to different things. I take them everywhere. I buy things for them to make those minds better, improve those minds. My oldest grandbaby, Leslie, she is at Hipp Preparatory, College Preparatory School and they are very, very strict. But she is doing very well. The younger baby, she attends a school in Sugar Land and she is doing very well. Education has always been very important in my family – very, very important.
DG: When you moved on from the Gregory School, where did you go to school? You said Jack Yates?
PWG: I went to Jack Yates.
DG: What was that like?
PWG: Well, again, the books that we had were the books that the white schools were throwing away, but, again, you have all these people succeed. It kind of puzzles me now . . . when kids have so much, that they seem to fall by the wayside. When we had books, you would start getting your homework, you would turn the page and the page might be torn out, or was scratched over so badly that you could not tell what the lesson was supposed to be. But those teachers made sure that we knew exactly what we were supposed to do. Exactly what we were supposed to do.
DG: Did you expand your horizons? Did you get involved in music when you got to Yates?
PWG: Oh, I have always been . . . I did not go professional or anything like that but I have always sung in choirs and groups and I am in the choir now at my church, you know, so I have always loved music. I have got a very, very vast music collection. I love music. The only type of music, I cannot say I do not like it but I have to kind of be selective with it is jazz. I have not quite figured out jazz, and the jazz I have not figured out is the kind that it just sounds like someone is playing a bunch of chords. There is no melody to it. I do not know what they call that but there is no melody to it. It just sounds like a bunch of people just playing chords and just making up sounds. I like melody. I love country and western, believe it or not. I love gospel, R&B, smooth easy listening. I love music. I have a hobby room in my house and my daughter says all the time, she says, “Oh, you can come out of there with such beautiful things but I put my music on and there is no telling what might come out of that room.” I love music. I have always loved it. It is so soothing to my ears.
DG: What year did you graduate from Jack Yates?
PWG: I finished in January of 1963. The reason it was a January class was because at the time, we could start school in September or January and they were considered low and high, like if you went to the first grade from September to January, you were in the low first. Then January to June, you were in the high first. With me, with my birthday being in September, I was just a few days short of being able to start in September, so I had to wait until January. So that is why I finished in January.
DG: O.K., and then what?
PWG: Well, then I went on to college. I went to HCC, I went to University of Houston. I got married. I had two children. My daughter is a field representative with Schweppes Dairy. My son is a pilot. Her name is Kim. My son’s name is Leslie. She named her daughter after her brother and her father and her grandfather – all of them were Leslies. I went to work for the City of Houston for about 2 years. It was O.K. but I just do not have the heart for some of the things that I saw. So, I went to work for Texaco in 1969 and I stayed there 33 years. I retired in March of 2002. And I say all the time, “If God made anything better, he kept it.” I drive along the freeway every day and say, “Lord, if this is a dream, please, please don’t wake me up!” I am having a ball. I am truly enjoying this. I have to give all praises to God because, let me tell you, he just did not have to be this good. Considering where it started, all the things that have gone on and the obstacles that were put in our way, it did not have to be this good, it really did not. I am able to sit here now and do just about anything I want to do. I am not Donald Trump, I am not rich, but I am comfortable and I can do what I want to do. And that truly is a blessing. I think this is what so many of those teachers at Gregory and your parents and the men and women in your neighborhood, I think this is what they were pushing us for. And in the wake of our maybe first black president, I think this is just wonderful. I am standing on the shoulders of many, many great people. I want my children to stand on mine. Mine standing on shoulders, they are standing on shoulders, and all of those shoulders are doing this – pushing, pushing, pushing. Pushing you up. They were taking all type of abuse, misuse, but it was for a reason, and I am sitting here today. That is their reason.
DG: I want to talk about the change. You graduated from high school in 1963. The 1960s – 1962, 1963, 1964 – I mean, big, tumultuous years in this country’s history but you are a high school graduate so you would be forgiven if you were not necessarily aware of all that . . . you know, we graduate from high school, we are worried about what college but what were you aware of and how did things change? Can you just kind of give us the overview of when you sort of became aware of the need for change, how things changed, what your involvement might have been?
PWG: Well, I would say that we realized there was a big difference when we were in high school because I lived in Freedman’s Town which is Fourth Ward and I told you on Shaw Street. I passed 2 high schools to get to Jack Yates. Booker T. Washington, at one time, was on old West Dallas but they tore that down and built the Double Tree Hotel, I think, and other things around there. They moved Booker T. Washington to Yale Street, all right? So, that meant there was no high school for us to go to. I rode 3 busses to get to Jack Yates. I rode the Taft bus, I would walk up to West Dallas, I would catch the Taft bus. That would take us to downtown. Going downtown, you walked over 1 block, you went to Main Street, and you could catch just about any bus going down Main Street because they were all going past where we had to get off, which was on Elgin. We would get off on Elgin. Then, we would catch another bus and that bus would take us on to Third Ward within a block of Jack Yates. So, every day, going and coming, I rode 3 busses to school. But it was fun because all your friends are here. You know, you are all doing the same thing so you do not have this isolation or anything. But I think that is when we really became aware that there was a difference because when we would get on the bus on Elgin, there were white children coming from like the Waugh Drive area back there. Well, they had all the front of the bus. We had to sit in the back of the bus and I think Houston Community College now, the central campus, I think that used to be San Jacinto High School. So, when we would get on, the bus would go maybe 2 or 3 blocks and then they would all get off at that high school and then we had the bus to ourselves. But I think that is when it really became evident to us that there was a difference because we could not go to that high school. We had to pass that high school, and there was another one – I cannot really remember now – but we passed high schools to get to Jack Yates, you see. And we should not have had to do that. But we could not go. But, in spite of, we still did what we had to do. We still did it.
DG: So, then you went on to college and there must have been differences at the college level as well.
PWG: Maybe some but not a lot a. The differences were not quite as evident there as when we were younger. Things were beginning to slowly, slowly change, you know. Even today, things are not where they should be but they are certainly a lot better than they used to be.
DG: Did you find yourself in the middle of any of those changes? Did something sort of start one way and by the time you left, it was different?
PWG: Yes, in a way. By the time I left Jack Yates and when on to college, schools were beginning to be integrated. So, many of the schools . . . now, not Jack Yates because of the area, I think, more so than the fact that there were no white students there . . . I think the area being predominantly almost 100% black, made it so. But I have friends who went to other high schools who did, by the time we finished high school, actually have white students in the school. It was an interesting time. It was very interesting and it took a lot of strength for our parents to survive it. It took a lot of strength for us to survive it because it was not a good time, not a good time at all.
DG: Any particular events stand out for you from that time?
PWG: Yes, some of the riots, some of the Woolworth counter sit-ins, you know, where you see these people being misused or not waited on. I personally have actually gone into a store and been totally ignored, totally. I have actually gone . . . at that time, time we are talking about . . . I have actually gone in and sat at a counter after everything was supposed to be O.K. to do this and been totally ignored. As a matter of fact, it has been within the last, I’d say 10 years, that I actually went to one of the stores here in town and I stood at the counter . . . I love watches . . . I stood at the counter. Now, I could very well afford to buy what I was looking at. I mean, it was not $10,000 but it was a nice watch. I stood there. The lady ignored me. A white lady walked up and she looked and she came right over and she waited on her. And the lady said, “Oh, I am just looking. I cannot afford to buy this.” Now, I could very well afford to buy the watch I wanted but she ignored me so I asked her, I said “Why did you do that?” And she said, “Oh, I did not see you.” I said, “I think you did. Now, you just lost a sale because I was going to buy that watch. That would have been a good commission for you.” “Well, let me show” . . . “No. I will go someplace else,” and I left. You do not always have to be confrontational to be effective.
DG: When all that change was happening, were there leaders in the community you were aware of, were there people that you looked to?
PWG: Yes, but they were not people that you would consider leaders. Every person there was a leader. From your teacher to your minister to your Sunday school teacher –all these people helped shape you. All these people had something to do with pushing you. Here we go again with these shoulders you are standing on. It was like, “Well baby, I did not get a chance to do this but you make sure, now is the time for you to do this.” So, you are being pushed. You are constantly being pushed.
DG: That was the support from underneath but what about the people clearing the path ahead in terms of fighting for equal rights, in terms of demanding equality, the people sitting in at the lunch counters? Were there names that were familiar to you from that period?
PWG: No. I do not remember any specific names here in Houston but there were many, many people who did just that. It seems like there was a man named Duncantail (sp?). I cannot really remember his first name because, you know, I am right in that area of time where – what am I, 17, 18 years old, you know, and your mind is not quite kicking on this, you know? You are thinking about other things, you are trying to get through school, you know. You want to go to the movies and act silly with your friends and stuff like that, you know. And now, a lot of times, I think back and I wish that I had talked to a lot of the people and asked questions and documented stuff but I was not thinking of it at the time. But as far as the people who really were doing the sit-ins, that could have been the minister at your church or one of your teachers. It was not just a famous name like Martin Luther King. It was just everybody. It could have been your next door neighbor, you know. And I am just so thankful for all these people because they were the ones who made it possible for us later on to do some of the things that we have done.
DG: So, you got married. What year was that?
DG: And where did you make your home? What was life like? Sort of take us through the chronology after . . .
PWG: Let’s see. When we first got married, we lived in an apartment on Calhoun. I am not quite used to living in rented properties. My husband and I were young. We were very young, like 19, 20, something like that because we were still in school, and I did not like paying that rent so I told him, I said, “You know, I just do not like this.” And the manager of the apartment even told me, he said, “Ms. Grant, every time you come over here and pay me, you look ill.” His name was Mr. Brown. I said, “Mr. Brown, I am ill.” I said, “I don’t like giving you my money. This is like” . . . and I was young, you know. And although there are certain things I was not paying attention to, I was definitely paying attention to those dollars because my husband and I were having to work to do this, you know, and we were going to college and everything. He said, “But you look” . . . I said, “Mr. Brown, I just do not like this.” So, we lived there 6 months and my husband and I bought a house on England Street which is up in old Foster Place. We had to lie about our ages to buy the house because you had to be 21 and we were not 21 quite yet. So, that was the first house we bought. And then, we bought 2 others, rented those, and just progressed on from there. But I never liked paying rent. I do not like doing that. To me, that is throwing money down the drain. I want my own thing, you know, I really and truly do. I had a real estate broker’s license and basically I went and got that license because I did not want to sell anybody anything – I wanted to know how to deal with my own things and how to find deals and how to just maneuver around and get what I wanted. So, that is what I did. I have never sold anything to anyone because that was not the purpose of getting that license.
DG: What year did you have your children?
PWG: My daughter was born in 1965, my son was born in 1971.
DG: 1965. She was 6 years old starting school in 1971.
PWG: Yes, she really was.
DG: What had changed from her 1st grade class and your 1st grade class here in Houston?
PWG: Well, the school was integrated. There weren’t just all black children and there were black and white teachers, you know, other ethnic groups of teachers there at the school that she went to. She did not have the sense of not knowing other races of people. See, with me, all I saw were little black and brown faces, you know. That is all I saw. With her, there might be a little Asian kid over there. That was perfectly normal to her, which was great because that is what the Civil Rights Movement was all about – getting there where you can interact with other people and appreciate those other cultures. Everybody has something to offer. Everybody.
DG: Did you still feel the need to shelter her?
PWG: Well, you always feel the need to shelter your children.
DG: I mean more so because she is black, because this is Houston, Texas? Did you have a sense that that had gotten better?
PWG: Times had gotten better but even today, with my 2 granddaughters, you still have a sense of wanting to shelter them because it is still there. It might not be as open but it is definitely still there. I can recall incidents that have happened to me just within the last couple of years, so it is still there. But you try and ease them into this so that they are prepared for it and they realize that everyone is not going to react the same way because this is a white face, an Asian or Latino face, whatever, this does not have to be a bad person. You have to go like Martin Luther King said, “by the content of that person’s character and not the color of their skin.” So you have to deal with them on their character and that is what I am teaching them and that is what they are learning because 2 of my grandbabies’ friends at ______ are 2 little Latino girls. And she does not see the difference. Well, I do not just have to have a black friend here or a white friend there. She likes them. They get along well. They are kind of on the same order. Quiet, easygoing, so she likes them because of the content of their character, not because of the color of their skin. So, I like that. I really do. I love it.
DG: You said that Gregory really prepared you for everything that came afterwards. Can you look back now or at that point when you were raising your own kids and sort of identify what it was you got from Gregory?
PWG: Oh, yes, because many of the things that I got from Gregory and the people that I was around at the time when I was growing up are the same values and things that I taught my children. Many, many of the same things that I was told, I wound up telling them. Oh, yes, very much so.
DG: Can you get specific? Things like what?
PWG: Do unto others. Be honest. Treat people like you want to be treated. Learn everything that you possibly can learn. My daughter right now, she is a field representative for Schweppes Dairy. She’s got a CDL license – I think I said that right – where she can do the 18 wheelers if necessary. That is not what she does but she’s got that. She’s got a bartender’s license. She is a personal trainer. You see, so they learned from the things that I was told. The same thing with my son. My son is a pilot. He is one of the few black pilots up there. But I taught them there is nothing that you cannot achieve if you really want it. Nobody can stop you.
DG: That came from Gregory?
PWG: That came from Gregory, my church, my parents, everybody around me, but you have got to also remember that the teachers at Gregory were, many times, friends with a lot of the parents of these children. Many of them went to the same church. Many of them belonged to the same organizations. So, you are with these people, like I said, constantly, five days a week, on Sunday. The only day we got a break, I think, was on a Saturday, and that might not even be because they might be in your kitchen drinking coffee with your mother!
DG: So, the school was a logical extension of the community?
PWG: Oh, very much so.
DG: It was not a separate institution. It was just sort of integrated?
PWG: It was just a part of the community. They looked out for you as though you were in their home. They taught you as if you are in their home. You did not have this, well, she is the teacher and I am the student and there is an isolation factor. That was not the case. These were almost like extended mothers and fathers, and they saw to it that you did exactly what you were supposed to do or they would take the time to come to your house or call your house or do whatever they had to do to get you on track for what you needed to do.
DG: So, if I had asked you when you were a little girl to describe Houston, you probably would have described your Gregory experience because that was your world. By the time you got to college, when you were young adult, how would you have described the Houston of the early 1970s?
PWG: Compared to when I was at Gregory?
DG: If you and I were friends and we met and I said, “Where do you live?” and you said, “Houston, Texas,” and I said, “I am thinking about moving,” what kind of place is Houston, Texas? What would you have told me?
PWG: Oh, I would have told you come on. You would have loved it. I would have definitely told you to come. I have actually tried to get some of my friends to come from the East Coast to move to Houston now. Houston is not so isolated in itself that it is different from other places. The same problems that we had here, you could have come into if you had moved to Florida, California, wherever. So, you have to know how to live within that system, you see, because although it might be different over here, it all kind of boils down to the same thing – you have to learn to live within where you are.
DG: If those were sort of constants, what made Houston the best place to be for you?
PWG: Because it was my hometown. That is the only reason. It is my hometown, so it has got to be better. Just like your children. Your children are better! No. I would say our weather – I know it is hot, it is very hot – but I think Houston has some of the best weather of all the United States. We do not have a lot of, like the people with the floods and the tornadoes. Now, we do have problems sometimes with the hurricanes but the hurricanes usually very seldom actually come and just do a lot of damage here. They have, you know, 1 or 2, but Houston has good weather. I know many, many people now that are the friends of mine on the East Coast –they are moving south because of the warmer climate. You know, like they say, we are getting older – our knees hurt. I do not have to worry about that. I have always _______, I have been trying to tell you to come on. I do not know why you moved from Mississippi to go to Chicago anyway or New Jersey. Why did you do that? You know you are used to this Mississippi warm weather. You are going up there, you stay 30 years, and then you complain, “Oh, my knees hurt,” or “My back hurts and the weather is so cold.” You knew that when you went.
DG: So, Houston has good weather. What about the spirit of the city? What about its people?
PWG: I think Houston has very, very good people. I think people have learned over the years and, like I say, nothing is 100% -- there are still problems, but I think people have learned over the years that you have to judge people by the content of what they are inside, their character, how they are. Did you see on CNN recently the young white man that attended Morehouse College? There was a young white guy who attended Morehouse and he said . . . this was maybe 2 weeks or so ago . . . and they asked him if he was treated any differently. He said, “You know, no, I was not.” He said, “But being here at a predominantly black college, I have learned that there are just many different ideas, thought processes. There are almost as many different ways of thinking here as you have people.” So, because this is a black college or a predominantly black college, you cannot look for these people all think the same. He was expressing this, you know. And a lot of people were just really in awe of the fact that he had actually said this or thought this. But you have to live in this to understand that we do not all think as one. We do not all think as one. Houston has changed. It definitely has changed. You still have your problems but then you are going to always have that because you are going to always have somebody who wants to be a problem. You are going to always have someone who will not want to get along with somebody. All they will see is this. They will not see what is inside. And I might be the best person in the world to be a friend to them but, by and large, they are in the minority and I like that.
DG: If you could do something to our school system to take sort of the best of Gregory School and instill it in all of our schools, what would you take from Gregory and put in our school system today?
PWG: I would put teachers there who really wanted to teach instead of making a paycheck. I would honestly put teachers there who wanted to teach. True, this is a job the but you cannot pay someone to love teaching children. I have teachers in my family and they love it. It is a love. Forget the paycheck. You need to make a living just like everybody else but there is a love there. That extra mile. That little extra that teachers will do. That is what they need. Then, they need to make sure these children are interested. Give them what they need to learn. Push them. Don’t just give them something just to say you’ve got . . . oh, well, they passed this or they learned 2+2 or whatever. You have got to make this interesting to them. Make them want to learn. I remember years ago, a young black man told me this and I have never forgotten it. He said, “Ms. Paulette, why do you think that so many of our athletes are black?” And I said, “Well, I guess they are just good at what they do.” He said, “That is true.” He said, “But they know that the can make a very, very good living doing this.” He said, “But if you teach them that they can do very well in science, in math, in other fields like this, they will do the same thing but when you get kids who grew up in a poor environment, they are going for the money. They are going for that money. They want to live better. So they do what they know. But when you teach them that they can also make a good living as a teacher or a scientist or whatever, then watch them go for it.”
DG: You have lived through a lot of change in our city. What you see for the future?
PWG: I think it will get better because, now you see people interacting more, so when you see them interacting more, then you learn to respect each other. You learn that every black face or every white face or Hispanic, Asian, or whatever, is not a carbon copy of another one. See, people are interacting, so I am so happy that when my daughter when to school, that they were able to interact because when they are interacting with other races of people, then they realize all of them are not bad, all of them are not good. You have got to pick and choose, just like anything else, you see? So, I think that because of this, I think we are doing O.K. I think we are. There will always be a problem but then nothing is ever going to be perfect. But, by and large, where something might be on a ratio of 80/20 when I was a kid, maybe now, it will be reversed, you see; that 80 will be tolerant and good to each other and respectful of each other, and then you will have that 20 that are just totally lost. I do not care what is going on. As a black woman, I could will them $2 million and they still would not like me! You see, they would not like me no matter what. But, the fact of the matter is that 80 . . . people are beginning to respect each other and like each other because what Martin Luther King said, “the content of their character,” you know.
DG: This interview is going to become part of the archive at the Houston Public Library. You talked a lot about shoulders – the shoulders you stood on, the generation that is standing on the shoulders of your generation – that generation 20 years from now that is standing on the shoulders of your children and their children, what do you want them to know about this period in Houston’s history? When they look back, what should they take from this?
PWG: I want them to know just how hard their people struggled to get them to the point that they are now, to appreciate it, love it. It was not always like this. Think about the fact that you can go to the library and actually read any book that you want. Think about someone telling you, you can’t learn because we are not going to teach you how to read. Think about not being able to go to that movie you want to go to, but you can only go on a certain day and you have got to sit in the balcony. Think about that and think about just how hard your people struggled to get you where you are now. I appreciate all those people so, so very much. Oh, I cannot even begin to thank God enough for them. Appreciate it. Just like your parents work for you, your generations before you worked very hard. They might not have known you but they were pushing you the whole time. You are our future.
DG: Ms. Grant, thank you very much for your time.
PWG: Thank you. I appreciate you coming. Thank you.