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Interview with: Quentin Mease
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: June 10, 2008
DG: Today is June 10, 2008. We are in the home of Quentin Mease who is being interviewed for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you today, Mr. Mease?
QM: Fine, thank you.
DG: Mr. Mease, could you tell us about your early life? You were born in 1908 in Buckston?
QM: Yes, I was born in Iowa in a coal mining town and when my father passed during World War II, my mother moved the family, my mother moved the family to Des Moines. I stayed there until I entered the military; that is, the Air Force for World War II.
DG: Before the Air Force, you were active in the YMCA?
QM: Oh, yes. That was my professional career.
DG: I see you were the Director of the YMCA at the age of 19.
QM: That’s right.
DG: How did that happen? Which YMCA?
QM: Well, that was in Des Moines, Iowa. Now, my father was the Chairman of the Board of the YMCA in Buckston, Iowa, but that was a small coal mining town and when he died, my mother moved all 5 children to Des Moines. That is when I became active in the Y here.
DG: And what was the YMCA doing back then? What kind of work did you do? What went on at the YMCA back then?
QM: Well, the YMCA, it was much similar to what it is doing now. Now, when we were there in Buckston, Iowa, it was a small coal mining town, it was the biggest thing there. It was a big 3 story building in a town of about 6,000 population, and it was the center of activity for about everything. Everything that occurred happened there at the YMCA. The biggest building in town was the YMCA, a 3 story building. It was sort of the center of interest because it accommodated everything, not only the meetings of the boards that met there but the theater was in there on the 2nd floor. It was silent movies in those days. My sister was quite a pianist and she used to play while those silent movies were on ______. She would be piano playing and I used to sit on the bench beside her and turn the sheets of music keyed to the pictures and it was quite nice.
DG: Also when you were in Iowa, you became active with the NAACP and the Interracial Commission. Why did you get involved in those organizations early in your life?
QM: You said the NAACP and what other organization?
DG: The Interracial Commission and the Negro Chamber of Commerce.
QM: Oh, well, the Interracial Commission, that occurred in later years but then NAACP at that time was the only organization that was engaged in what we now call the Civil Rights Struggle. But that occurred more after we moved to Des Moines, Iowa. I was active in that. The president of the junior NAACP and that was the beginning of my interest in the civil rights activities. Now, I also became active in the YMCA there in Des Moines because it was very close to where we lived and as soon as I got out of school, I would head to the YMCA and just I think that was the reason for my later professional interest in the Y, was my being there as a junior in the YMCA and the clubs and the basketball, baseball, boxing – whatever it was, I was involved in it. And that made it very attractive. Of course, that led to, later in life, in the latter part of my life, I became a professional YMCA person as what we used to call the Y secretaries. Now, they are known as directors of the YMCA. But I was a secretary there almost without salary. I mean, the salary was very nominal. It did not pay much. I was just interested in the program and the activities and I guess I would have served without a salary.
DG: In 1942, you went in the service.
DG: You joined the United States Army Air Corps. Now, you were 34 years old when you went in the service.
QM:Yes, I guess that added up all right.
DG: Yes, you were a little bit older than a lot of the other kids that were enlisting and you served in the Pacific theater.
QM: Yes, out there all over the Pacific, the main center of activity when I arrived there in the Pacific theater there was in Australia. And we were then undergoing training for what we hoped to be the invasion of the Japanese because they had already carried the warfare there to Australia and they were in the Philippines. And the fact of it is when I arrived there in what was called the Pacific theater, it was a place there just about 15 miles from Hiroshima and the bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and also Nagasaki just about 1 week or 2 before we arrived there. And, of course, it was nothing but an utter destruction and everywhere you’d go, you would see signs of the results of the two A bombs, atomic bombs that had been dropped there in Hiroshima was the main focus of the aneurysm but also the Japanese planes had also attacked the other places. Now, MacArthur’s headquarters when we were arrived were also there and he was in charge of what was called the Tenth Command. We served under him gradually as the war progressed and he moved on up north there . . . it will occur to me again but now I cannot think of it . . . but anyway, eventually to the Philippines where his _______ and at that time, we were in training to attack the Japanese homeland; that is, Japan itself, but the war ended . . . I mean, the Japanese surrendered before that could happen. And so, then instead of training for an invasion, it was we went into training for occupation of Japan. As I said, the place where we arrived there, it was there at the seaport and just outside of the city of Hiroshima, but most people call it HEE-RO-SHEE-MA. But anyway, we arrived there on a Sunday and the first thing I did was . . . we did not know where we were going to stay because there was nothing but utter devastation as a result of the atomic bomb that had been dropped. As I say, it was quite interesting in going up to the headquarters that General MacArthur and his headquarters had already been established, well from the seaport there to the main part of the city that _____ after the bombs had been dropped, there were Japanese troops about every, I would say, 50 to 100 yards but what was interesting – their backs were turned to the highway. They would not face them. And we could not figure that out. But anyway, we finally got into the town there, I found the headquarters and presented and got orders for our location where we were going to be occupied until further orders.
DG: Now, you went into the Army Air Corps as an enlisted man and came out as a captain. The Armed Forces were segregated during World War II, were they not?
QM: Yes. The troops were all divided because of the segregation and it was not until much later . . . I might say that I remember when things changed . . . I was in Japan there at Yokohama which was quite a city itself, not as large as the principal city of the capital there of Japan but when orders came down that we were to do certain things that, in the past, was unthinkable, it was quite a revelation and the fraternization on the part of the troops changed overnight. What I mean is the main theater there that was in Tokyo was Ernie Powell’s theater. You know, he was a famous writer there during the war years and after American troops had occupied Japan and all of that, the main theater there in Tokyo . . . the name was changed to Ernie Powell. Now, the thing of it is, to show you how it went, when I was an enlisted man before I went to OCS, that is the Officers Candidate School, he was not a colonel . . . of course, later, he became a general. You are probably familiar with that name. Benjamin Mays. He was quite a young man but he was in command of an Air Force . . . I am trying to think of the name, but anyway . . . squadron, that we had come down to Dale Mabry Field – that is where we were stationed – and it was quite unusual that he and all of his squadron when we would go to the theaters, that was one of the things that we did about every night or so, the camp theaters, but here they were all commissioned officers that had to sit in the rear of the theater like the enlisted persons. I was there for about 9 months but due to the persuasion of the officers, they thought that I was fit material to go to OCS, that is Officer Candidate School. And so, I had a good situation there because of the training and all. I was a personnel sergeant major so I did not have to do any drilling or anything. In the morning, I would put on my khakis and tie and everything and go to the headquarters and do nothing but personnel work there. And that was good and I was satisfied with that for a while. But they thought I was equipped for something better and kept insisting that I apply for Officer Candidate School, and so it would not appear that I was a lagger, I did so and when the orders came down, I applied for the Officers Candidate School for Intelligence, to be an Intelligence officer in the Air Force, but I wound up the orders were I went to Armored Force at Fort Sill there in Kentucky and that involved training to be an Armored Force officer that would ride in the tanks and doing that. Well, it was not something that I asked for but that is where they put me. But things worked out all right when the time came for graduation and all, we were then given new assignments and my orders were to report to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. That was in the Air Force. I was back in the Air Force. Well, I was satisfied with that and it was an area just outside of St. Louis. Every weekend, we would go into town in the city and go to the theaters. Now, at that time, the theaters, of course, were segregated. On Saturdays and Sundays, we would also go to the ball park and see the Cardinals which was the National League team and the Browns was the American League team. And they made it pretty nice there, I think, and we were there for, oh, I would say I know at least 6 months or more before orders came down that I was to report to overseas duty. I left St. Louis and went to California there just outside of San Francisco. I think it was called the _____ Air Base then. It was for overseas training which meant in time, the ship to . . . well, the Pacific theater, that was the induction to . . . and it was there that after a period of time, we were shipped to New Zealand and then, as I stated, after the Japs surrendered, then, of course, we went to the Philippines and then onto Japan for occupational duty. So, altogether, I was overseas over 2 years, somewhere between 2 and 3 years in the various stations there and for more than 1 year in Japan itself.
DG: When the war ended, what did you do?
QM: Well, it was occupational duty then and that was after the bomb had been dropped.
DG: When you got out of the service, what did you do?
QM: Out of the service? Well, then I came back home to Des Moines and that is when the YMCA got in touch with me and they insisted that I . . . that was it, they arranged for me to go to George William College there in Chicago and they figured that I should complete my work to obtain my degree and all, and to be a professional YMCA secretary. Now, I was serving before that time in Buckston, Iowa, that coal mining town that I mentioned and also in Des Moines but I did not have a college degree. I was just doing what came natural to me. They thought that I should remain in the YMCA, get a college degree and that is how I wound up at George William College.
DG: You then accepted a position in Houston at the Bagby Street YMCA? Is that true? How did you come to Houston?
QM: Well, the _____ YMCA was in Des Moines.
DG: Right, how did you come to Houston?
QM: Well, I went to George William College for about 2 years there. I wound up with a master’s degree and at that time, I suppose they still do it, what was it called? They were called general secretaries then of city association. Now, they ______. Well, they would come to interview students who were about to graduate to entice them to come to their cities where they needed a replacement. I had several invitations to remain with the Chicago Y. Now, I was doing part-time with the YMCA there but also Detroit, Los Angeles – they knew about my work there. And Des Moines, the hometown. But I guess the thing that made me interested in Houston – I knew nothing about Houston, I had never lived in the south other than military work. But the general secretary whose name was Rasmussen, he was one of those general secretaries . . . well, they came there from Detroit, Los Angeles and other cities, as well as Chicago to interview graduating students and I think that what made it interesting, he came with I guess you would call it in those days, airplane tickets to come down and ______ Houston over in the job. And I remember I arrived on a Sunday out at Hobby Airport, the old airport. It wasn’t like it is now. It was the one across the street on Telephone Road. The man who was in charge of . . . the secretary of the branch it was called, Mr. Craver, he met me out there and they had already arranged for me _____ because he was near retirement and that was the reason why they were anxious to get someone to succeed him. Anyway, Rasmussen who was his general secretary, arranged for 2 trips for me to come down there and look the city over and he made it so enticing. Now, the other reason for my accepting of the invitation was at that time, the African American population was approximately 150,000 and the YMCA, they had just completed the YMCA there on Louisiana. It had begun before the war and they only had finished 2 floors there. Well, there is a long story here. Before the war started back there, I guess in 1939, they had had a campaign for a new central YMCA that there on Louisiana; the old one was over there on McKinney downtown near where the First City National Bank is, only it fronted on Fannin. Anyway, it was to be a new central YMCA, that is for a white person and then a YMCA for the black members and revert, ________ and they bought a lot over on . . . well, it was 3 lots but it was totally inadequate on Grey and Hutchins Street. As I said, Craver was retiring soon and so I started making plans for this building program but in riding around, I noticed all of this on Wheeler Avenue. It was nothing but woods there then and Texas Southern had just been open a few years but it was only about, I imagine about 2,3 buildings over there. So, I would ride up and down ______ and saw all this vacant land unoccupied and undeveloped, and learned that Mr. Friendly owned that. He was president of the big cotton company here. I cannot think of the name of the company right now. But that building is still there on Prairie. Anyway, before we finish, I will probably think of it . . . anyway, I learned that . . . when I say I discovered, I learned that he was the owner of all that property there. Now, not only where it is, is where Yates High School he owned. It was nothing but woods all the way down in there and there was a Negro couple, African American now we call them, who were friends of Mr. Frummy. She was a hairdresser, a beautician, used to go to River Oaks and do the hair and the beauty work on the wealthy person. He was the head . . . I forget what hotel it was. I am not sure if it was the Rice Hotel out on Lamar but he was in charge of the black personnel there.
Anyway, I learned that they were acquainted with Fleming and so I talked to Mr. Dupree and Mrs. Dupree. She was with me on it and encouraged me to go out to Flemings and make . . . I mean, the idea was for Mr. Dupree to go down to Mr. Fleming’s office and tell him that the YMCA . . . the war had ended and they had built the property there on Louisiana where the building is now, but nothing had been said about the YMCA for the Negro personnel. And the rumor was that the money that had been raised for the so-called Negro branch, that was used in the building downtown on Louisiana. So, that started a stench. Well, Mr. Dupree, he was kind of reluctant about _____ but Ms. Dupree , she kept saying that Clarence, you ought to go on out there and see about that . . . Mr. Fleming, he is the nicer man and he will understand and so on. Finally, Dupree went out to where they lived there in River Oaks and how did it . . . somebody _____ they knew the Flemings. “Oh, you can just go out there and sit on the front steps and when he comes home from the office” . . . well, he went out there and Mrs. Fleming, she knew him and she invited him in and ______ why he was anxious to see Mr. Fleming. He was reluctant to go to the office. She said, “He’s got those two old women there who are the clerks or secretaries and they are skilled in knowing how to get rid of troublemakers!” and somewhat urged him to see the Flemings. Mrs. Dupree was the one who insisted, “If you can’t see him down there, go out to the house.” Well, he went up there and Mrs. Fleming, when he arrived, she invited him in and in the conversation, they finally got around to why he was there and that was the thing that was really fortunate. When he arrived home from the office . . . oh, Anderson Clayton Company was the cotton company. I think they are still in business, I don’t know, but anyway, that building is there still on Prairie. When he arrived home, Dupree . . . well, I got it like this: I was in my office there. I was on the job here in Houston. It was on the 2nd floor of the old Pilgrim Building. That is where the downtown hotel is there. I cannot think of the name of it now but it is right there on Bagby Street, Bagby and West Dallas. And, you know, there is a bigger hotel out on Post Oak. I cannot think of that . . . anyway, when Mr. Fleming arrived home from the office, Dupree did not hardly have to think . . . the way I learned about it, I was in my office there on the 2nd floor of the old Pilgrim Building and it was kind of late, it was after 6 o’clock. Here, Dupree came in and he sat down and he was so anxious to tell me what happened that when Mr. Fleming came home, Dupree did not have to say a thing – Mrs. Fleming, she got on him saying, “Lamar, you ought to do something about that building for the Negro YMCA. Clarence is here telling me all about it and how you can use that money downtown along Louisiana for that building,” and got on him. Well, I guess it kind of got to him and he told Dupree to come down to his office the next day. Dupree went down there and when he got there – he related all this to me when he came there to the Pilgrim Building that evening – when he got there, Mr. Fleming had his right-hand, whoever it was, there with real estate men and all for some of that _____ land there that was on Wheeler Street, enough for a YMCA building and also Mr. Fleming gave him all the land where Yates High School is. All that was wooded area. The YMCA, he did that. Well, then, at the board meeting _______ and they were told that and then a new general secretary or president had come through Houston by that time from Cleveland named Rasmussen and he was unlike any of the old bunch here. ______ and started a building campaign and resulted in the building being erected there on Wheeler at what was called the South Central YMCA. Now, that is owned by Texas Southern University because there is no longer a YMCA. The YMCA just required this year, not over 6 months ago . . . I think it is about I heard as many as 8 acres but it is maybe ______ over there in Palm Center, right there on the corner of Martin Luther King and Griggs Road. We met over there, oh, I don’t know, several months ago, and Bob McNair, the owner of the Texans, he and some of his fellows there and anyway, we met over there – not a groundbreaking, it was for a celebration because the new branch is going to be built to replace South Central over there and Bob McNair . . . and it should be known as the Texans Branch because he gave a big chunk of money – I don’t know but I have heard - $100,000, $200,000, I don’t know how . . . I have not seen the actual figures. Now, that was one morning we met over there in celebration and announcing that. And the next day, we met over at Reliant Center and McNair was there. He appeared and some others. Oh, it was quite an occasion there. And the Chronicle had their reporters and photographers on hand and everything. It was quite an occasion. But that is how that developed. So, any day now . . . the architects are working on the building plan and an announcement will be made about groundbreaking the YMCA over there.
DG: The South Central YMCA when it was built, it became a real center for community activity and, in particular, for civil rights activities.
QM: Yes, the fact of it is, we got a lot of criticism at the time, too, by some of the more conservative people. I mean, we were accused of doing things that a YMCA was not supposed to do. Have you heard of this – he was a youngster then named Eldrewey Stearns? Well, at that time, Eldrewey was one of several young students at Texas Southern that I hired to do the club work; that is, as a part-time job meeting with some of what we called the high Y clubs and all and the sit-in movement had started over there in North Carolina. It had spread to Atlanta and other places. And so, Stearns, a feisty little . . . he came down, reported for duty at the Y after classes, about 3 of them. They would come to the Y and find out which club they were to meet with that day or that week. And we were setting up in the gymnasium there. It was a large gymnasium about equal to any college gym for an NAACP dinner, what they called a banquet at that time. Stearns saw us back there setting up the tables. We had a food service. Setting up all these tables for about 500, 600, 700 people there in the gym, and we had a dais at that north end there at the table there where the speakers would be to pick up on the program. He and I had already set up the microphone and ____ speaker for the program and Stearns saw that mike up there and he went up there where the head table was . . . there was a long ____ table and then a dais that held another 20 people and was in the front of the mike there and he started to orate. I do not know exactly now what it was but it was something and when he finished, he said, “Mr. Mease, how does that sound?” I said, “Oh, Eldrewey, it sounds all right but instead of you wasting your time doing that, you and some of the students there at Texas Southern ought to do like they are doing over there in North Carolina and all. And he said, “What is that?” I said, “Well, you know, what the ______ papers are full of there. That is where the sit-in is going on and they are doing something to change things and you are up there” . . . well, I did not say anymore and he did not say anymore and the very next day when he came down to report for work there . . . as I said, they worked with the club. They would come to the Y to find out which high school or junior high to go to where we had clubs. But we started a grade Y club and then junior high Y and then high Y. So, when he came down . . . and I thought he just came from work . . . he said, “Mr. Mease, meet your president of the student union.” I think that was the name he called it. I said, “Well, what is PYA?” “Meet the president of the PYA.” I said, “Well, what is the PYA, Eldrewey?” He said, “Well, that is Progressive Youth Association.” I said, “Well, now, what is the Progressive Youth Association?” “Well, we are the city ______” and that is how it started. They organized up there at Texas Southern but word got up to Austin what was happening at Texas Southern, what these kids were doing, and word came down to . . . Dr. Naibert was the president then. He got orders to kick them off the campus and not let them meet there anymore. So, the dean of men students, Ina Bolton (sp?) and J.B. Jones, Dr. Jones and Dr. Bolton, they met with the students and told them that they could no longer meet there at Texas Southern on the campus, that they were creating a disturbance and so forth and so on. So, they wanted to know if they could meet at the YMCA. Well, I knew then that that was headed for trouble, but when I say that, that there would be some criticism about it because even some of our members who were board members, were not happy about that. But when I told Stearns about doing this thing there, emulating what was going on over there in North Carolina and all and Georgia, I felt that I could not back down so I let them meet there and every afternoon as the classes met out here, they would be _______ down ______ street and coming down to _______ and as they got downtown . . . Louie Welch was mayor then and I guess some of the downtown ______, they got on Louie and the police chief then, I cannot think of his name but . . .
DG: Was it Herman Short?
QM: Yes, Herman Short. That was it. Yes, he sent out some of his minions and, well, it looked like there was going to be real trouble down there. Herman Short was the name. I did not think I would ever forget that name. There would be just a stream of them coming down Wheeler but the police were already there in the squad cars waiting for them. And you know what it led to. Well, what it was, they would come down there and then they would go from there because that was before Louie or Herman had gone to it and they went on Almeda. That is where the sit-in movement started there. I forget the name of the drug store there. Do you know the Weingartens and Hink & Piloff (sp?) used to have a food service there. They used to have counters. Well, the kids went there, the students, and Maxim Drug Store and all and that created . . . well, then they would go downtown to the theaters, you know, and the hotels and all. They were using the YMCA as the central location ________ and that was making it uneasy for our board and myself because behind my back, they were saying that “Mease came in from the North and he is down here behind all this,” and so forth and so on, when the thing of it is, yes, I came from the North but there was some segregation in the North, you know, back at that time. We had to go to the big theaters there in Des Moines but we would have to sit in the corners _______ and I was used to going to the Strand, the Des Moines Theater, the Capitol and all of that. Some of them had balconies. You could sit up there but you could not sit in the prime locations, so I was used to Des Moines. Well, all that was a sit-in movement and it extended to the hotels. And the main thing that helped us a whole lot was John T. Jones. Now, he was Jesse Jones’ nephew, you know. When Jesse died, John T. was considered the heir of that and Hobart Taylor, he was a black or Negro business man, had a cab business but somewhere . . . oh yes, his entry or connection with John T. Jones was Hobart and Dr. Fred Patterson who was the president of Tuskegee University and that was the way money was raised then for the black universities or colleges. He had come to Houston and he and Hobart were to go up to see Jesse Jones up there. You know, Jesse and Mrs. Jones lived on the top floor of the Lamar Hotel and they would go up there mainly . . . that was the Houston connection but Booker T. Washington was the main one who was there. And they would go up there and tell about the school and all and about that, and that is where Jones then would get on the phone or call in his . . . I think his name was Fred Heike (sp?) or something . . . to send letters or dictate letters or calls and raise money for those schools. And that happened every year. Well, Booker T. Washington died and then his successor whose name I do not remember now, used to come each year with Hobar Taylor. You have probably heard of him, I don’t know, but that was the mission in Houston, to raise money for Tuskegee University. Now, one time, Hobar was ill and in the hospital and could not go, and so he called the Y and asked me if I would . . . well, Booker T. Washington had died, his successor, used to come, and said, “Quentin, I cannot go. I am here in the hospital. Well, will you go with so and so?” That name, I cannot recall. It will come to me in time. But anyway, that is the one time that I met with Jesse Jones. But now, this last thing I want to say . . . Jesse and John T. Jones was his nephew, and John T. had served in World War II and was a prisoner in, I don’t know if it was Army or the Air Force over there. I think he was in prison there. I think it was in Austria or Hungary, one of those two where he served. But anyway, the YMCA used to, as a part of their work in the prison camps and all, serving the prisoners, and because of that, John T. kind of had, I don’t want to say a fondness for the YMCA but anyway though – I don’t know what the word is right now but anyway, Hobar told John T. what the kids were doing and you know we older ones, we can’t do it but the kids are doing it, and Louie Welch and Herman Short are trying to make it rough for them and all. Anyway, he got in there because Hobar used to play his politics and anyway, the sit-ins on Almeda there where Weingartens and Hank and Piloff (sp?) stores were and Askew’s Drug Store, like that, and then gradually it _____ downtown and Foleys used to have a nice café there. Later on, we used to eat there. And then, the theaters. Now, I will show you how we got into it, I mean, involved in it . . . Hobar was working with John T. Jones and the three big theaters downtown were owned by the Jones enterprise. The Metropolitan, the Loew’s State and the Majestic. The Majestic was around there on Rusk Street, Rusk and Travis, and do you know where the two metropolitan and Loew’s, they were the two big theaters there on Main Street.
DG: The Jones family owned the 3 main theaters downtown?
QM: They owned the 3 principal . . . and they not only owned that, they owned River Oaks Theater, the Delman used to be there on Main and Wheeler and oh, there were about 8 or 9 theaters they owned at the time. Well, anyway, as part of the desegregation movement and all, he was in his office. Three main targets were, of course, the theaters, the hotels and the big restaurants. And then, by that time, the general manager of Foleys was involved in it. His name does not come to me right now and I know him well. I know the name well. He was involved in it because Foleys was the big store downtown. And they had, you know, a café there on the second or the third floor there where it was. Well, then, now, Sonny ______ was involved in this and part of it is . . . the restaurant, Sonny was the liaison person there to work with them and Foleys – I cannot think of his name now but he worked there and he was the agent or the liaison person there with the big stores, like Sakowitz then was opened downtown and some of the others. Most of your big stores were downtown then, not out on Post Oak like the Galleria is now. _____ John was the one who was named catalyst for this. Theaters, hotels and restaurants. He arranged a program there wherein, at the same time, all 3 of those interests were opened and the way it was done, here was the strategy worked out by Jones and Taylor . . . we met at the YMCA. I was asked to select about a dozen couples, so-called respectable Negroes, and ask them to do this. I said about 20. It was more than a dozen of them. But they all responded because we had their interests involved and told them what we wanted to do, and several of those couples were to go to the theaters and seek admission and the same thing at the hotels and the same thing at the restaurant. And the strategy was this, now, John T. Jones arranged where we were able to have tickets already in advance so that they would not have to be turned down by any of the ______ and the same thing at the restaurant. Now, Sonny _____ was the one that they convinced to be the agent for that. I think Sonny at that time was president and then, the other one, I do not know how I cannot remember these names but Albert G, he was the president . . . I think it is either he or Sonny were president of the State Restaurant Association. That was the strategy there that they, because of their ownership and interest and all that, the word was passed down that we are now opening facilities or say desegregating – that word was not used back then but that is how the strategy was and John T. Jones was the main person to arrange for that.
DG: What year was that?
QM: Well, my memory kind of escapes me now. I cannot say what year. It will come to me but I cannot say.
DG: The late 1950s, early 1960s?
QM: Well, it was in the early 1960s, yes. It was in the early 1960s. Now, I am trying to connect it now with something else. And do you know where real trouble was discovered though was at that time, there was a big restaurant at the courthouse, the old one, you know, and it was segregated. They figured that that was here owned and maintained by the taxpayers . . . I don’t know if it was Stearns and them who decided to do that or not but they went down there and, oh, I had a picture of it for a long time; there were 25, 30 of the students, went down there to be served and they just occupied the tables. And that led to their arrest. And I can remember the Sunday morning when we used to have a membership campaign breakfast on Sunday mornings and I got this call from Stearns that they had been arrested and they wanted to . . . yes, that figure sticks in my mind . . . $11,000 for the bail money. And so, I called Taylors and the rest of them, Jamerson, Herman Washington and some others. He was a real estate man. And Jamerson operated Franklin Duty School. I told them that Stearns and them, about 30 of them are down there in the county jail. The bail was $11,000 and we were going to have to raise that money. I don’t know how they did it but they got it. Eddie Young was in there. He was a longshoreman I remember. He was active there in the Y and all of them . . . they went down there on a Sunday morning and had that bail money and that ju
DGe that was in charge of that section of it, and they got them out of there. ______ any connection with that, too. I remember Louie Welch called me _______ involving those students. I cannot think of it but it was something. It escapes me right now. It will come to me. But anyway though, Herman Short, of course, he was the problem. It was something there about him and Herman Short. It involved raising money for the bonds and for getting them out of trouble. I cannot recall right now just what it was. I will but at this moment, I cannot recall.
DG: What about the desegregation of the school system? Were you active in desegregating the schools?
QM: I don’t know. Let me think. Yes. You know, some of them were arrested there at Texas Southern. That was the one where the problem was. It wasn’t the grade schools or the junior high or high school. It was Texas Southern. That involved the state, of course, and that is where I guess you can call it a riot there one night because I know I was called. I was home in bed and they called and they said that police have cornered off that property around there and the police were armed and they were going to arrest some of them. Well, they did arrest some. I am trying to recall exactly all of the things that were involved. I know one thing about it – we did have to raise money, that is, for bonds to get them out of there. I remember Herman Washington. Now, the bank was over there and the president of the bank was Dr. – I am trying to think of his name – and Herman Washington was a real estate man and he was on this committee there that were meeting there in my office there that decided how we were going to do that. His office was over on Lyons Avenue but he was president of the bank there on Live Oak if you know where that bank is there. We met and we decided . . . oh, yes, Herman was a board member and he was all in favor of this and the fact of it is, Herman I think was the one since he was a member of that board that arranged for that bail. Dr. Carroll was the president. He had a fit when he learned about it because they were getting his bank in trouble and yet, he and Herman were good friends. I forgot that incident but I know that we were sitting there in that office, right there on that Saturday night. Bill Thomas was involved in that bank because he was the one who encouraged us to form that bank. Some of these things, if someone mentions it, then I recall what it was. What it was – Bill was president of the bank and Dr. Carroll was chairman of the board, and that resulted in Bill Thomas being kicked out of the presidency because Dr. Carroll, he did not want the bank involved in that. Some of those things were quite tedious. And here I was, just a Y secretary and should not have been in any of it because, well, after all, there were some people in town who thought that I should just do what I was supposed to do – just conduct Y programs. But I could not help it. I just felt that these things needed to be done and since we were right there in the center of it, I definitely was in favor of anything that meant desegregation. As I said, back then, we did not call it desegregation, but the end of segregation. Of course, back up North schools, they were always open even though some of the restaurants and hotels back up home were segregated and yet, in my home state there, there were laws on the state books there, civil rights and laws. I mean, it was against the law to segregate and yet, it was practiced in some instances. That was the irony of it and it was the wife of an African American, well, Negro it was called then, who opened up the theaters. She went to the Des Moines Theater, that was the biggest theater there. It was a fine theater. Big, too. And she went there to demand admission and she was bodily escorted out of the theater there. I mean, the manager was under orders. She got an attorney and it went to the Iowa City Supreme Court. The law was on her side and that opened up the theaters there. But I remember I guess I was in my teens but the irony of it – here it took this lady to do that when there were all these Negro men in town who did not have the guts to do it. But Mrs. Jefferson, she did that on her own. She went to the Des Moines Theater and she was escorted out. And what she did, she just went on by the ticket office, box office and sat out, and they carried her out. She got an attorney and went to Iowa City which is the state capital there and that broke it up. There were a lot of things that happened during that period of time that was involved. There wasn’t any one single incident. It was just a lot of things that happened and a number of people were involved that made it possible to break down these laws on segregation. But in the case of Mrs. Jefferson, I remember there that there were doctors and lawyers there in Des Moines, professional men who had good salaries and all, I mean, income, and yet, it took this woman to do this. And quite often, it was cases like that.
DG: Tell us about the building of the Astrodome. Can you talk about the building of the Astrodome and your efforts to make sure it was desegregated?
QM: Do you see that picture there? This was a latter day when that happened but Roy Hofheinz was the main catalyst for that. He had a right-hand man. The right-hand man was named _______ and ______ was a native of Alabama but he was very open-minded on things. I mean, he was . . . and there wasn’t any publicity to it . . . an organization that we formed that ______ was the prime mover in getting that started. He and the _______, I remember, he was a kind of small town oil man and his wife, Joyce, and several others – we used to meet quietly and no publicity about what we had been doing. We would meet in homes and all that. Well, now, some way or the other, Bob Smith was _________ used to work for Bob and ________ and somehow, one way or the other . . . I don’t know how I want to begin this. I know this letter and I wish I still had it . . . we got word that _______ was going to . . . he was the original owner of the Astros and he and Roy Hofheinz . . . Roy was with him in that, too . . . had already announced that they were going to seek a national league franchise, a ballclub and they were going to meet in Chicago with the officers of the heads of the National League who would make that decision. So, I wrote a letter to Warren Giles who was the president of the National League and saying that about some things that they were doing and we were successful in doing. I had a letter somewhere here. But in that letter, the statement was made that we were good ball fans and we would certainly support the Houston team if a franchise were awarded to Houston and ________ in Chicago, in New York. I used to, each summer, go to New York and head up that Yankee Stadium up there and watch the Yankees play way back there in those early days. And made the point that our people are real baseball fans and would support the club if it were open seating involved. But if not, then we would contact Negro leaders and organizations in all the other National League cities that Houston was the only club that was going to operate on a segregated basis. I remember this so well. I had forgotten though. When they got there, Warren Childs was the president of the National League then and he read that letter and when he got back, it was either Bob or Ju
DGe Hofheinz, one of the two, called me thanking us for what we had done. You know, the part of this that I mentioned about this player, Warren McVea, we helped him on the football team, you know. And, as _____ as it was, all of these schools, colleges – I think they said about 200 of them _______ they were anxious to get him playing, you know, so the same thing was at University of Houston, was to get him to do it and Bill Yeoman was in on that, too. Anyway, though . . . boy, there are so many things. I forget some of these things. But anyway, ________ was part of the strategy in getting Warren McVea there. He was that sensational high school player and all. Had 2 of the young fellows on our staff and it was at Vaudeville I had . . . it was virtually a brand new car. I sent them over there to San Antonio, his home, to bring McVea’s parents over and we had a dinner at the Y for them and Hofheinz had arranged for box seats right behind home plate. We gave them royal treatment. And then took them on back on Monday, arranged for them to stay at that Astroworld Hotel. Do you remember that? Oh, we gave him the royal treatment. And, as a result, Warren entered the University of Houston. But that was all those things that were going on. I forget some of these details. But I would not have thought of that if you hadn’t brought it up about that. That was just another one of those things. Yes, those were days when I don’t know where I found the time from the YMCA but it was these other things that were very interesting and demanding. Yes, this is where they broke the ground for . . . _____ who called me, he says, “Quentin, do you know the” . . . I had read in the paper and I knew about it that, “We are going to break ground for the new domed stadium and I thought maybe you would want to come out and see it.” So, I said, yes. Now, these 2 fellows right here, this here is Jim Brooks, he was our physical director and this right here, I know his name so well – it will come to me – he was just after a while there in the _____ bar.
When I got this call, I went back and Brooks was in there also eating breakfast and I told him about that I had received this call from _______ inviting me out to the groundbreaking for the domed stadium. So, I thought we would just go on out and watch. Well, when we got out there . . . you recognize the commissioner’s court at that time . . . I mean, this right here ______ know their name because this is B.B. Ramsey and Ju
DGe Elliott and here is Squatty Lyons (sp?) and his wife. This is Bob Turrentine. He was county treasurer, I think, at that time. Yes, this is the one I could not think of. Kyle Chapman (sp?). So, we went out there just thinking it was going to be one and it was, I am sure, it was either Bob Smith or Roy Hofheinz who said after they had already broken ground, he told us to get up on the platform and break ground also. Well, do you know how they broke ground on that because it was Colt 45 and they did not break ground with shovels. It was with guns. Do you see the guns here? I remember what happened. Hofheinz was down here on the ground ______ and we were ______ and he told us, “Now, when the photographer drops his arm, then you shoot. Fellows shoot. Now, break ground.” Well, he dropped his arm or someone dropped his arm. Maybe it was _______. He dropped his arm and we pulled the trigger but there was no shot heard. And everybody laughed. And I remember Paul ____ laughing. He said, “Oh, you can tell you guys are” . . . we did not now what to do. They were the old 45 guns and we did not cock them. You had to cock them before you could . . . so then we cocked the revolvers and fired and broke ground. So, that is what that is.
DG: When did you leave the YMCA?
QM: The year? When did I retire?
DG: Yes, what did you go do? When you left the Y, what did you leave to go do?
QM: I left the Y on a Sunday – what I mean, my last day there in that office getting my files and everything, and the next morning, I was out at church, it was a Lutheran church right off of South Park there, and I don’t know how I got acquainted with this fellow from San Antonio but they had had their offers, and I am trying to think of that church . . . anyway, whatever it was, they offered to open it up to start a program that was state aid and ______ they called it HELP, Human Enrichment of Life Program. There were a number of state agencies housed in that building and it was funded by the state as well as that church. I cannot even think of the name. It was San Antonio. I know that was the connection there. But anyway, we worked in there. Eventually, that church was sold to some denomination. We had headquarters over there in one of those buildings there in Greenway Plaza. But a program called Human Enrichment of Life Program. Some of those programs were funded by the state. And we did it until it was just time to quit.
DG: You moved to the Harris County Hospital District. You helped form the Harris County Hospital District?
QM: Yes, I was one of the 7 members, original members.
DG: Can you tell us what led to that?
QM: Now, let me see. Yes, I was one of the 7 members. I know all 7: Dan Arnold, Gerald Hines, ______, Aaron Farfield (sp?), Don Horn _______. Of course, Dan Arnold and I, we would go and have lunch with him every summer. He lives in Beaumont. What’s his name. _______. Now, let me see, what led to that thing here? What was your question there? Oh, the Hospital District?
QM: You know, 4 times, efforts had been made to create a hospital district. Jeff Davis was a hospital owned by the county but it was family owned and deplorable conditions. I forget his name – Jan de Hartog, came here and wrote a book about it and the name of it was “The Hospital,” and how babies, newborns, were there in boxes in the corridors and all. Just deplorable conditions. Because the city and county had so outgrown until the hospital was inadequate and it was built as a result of during the war years, government funded and all and poorly designed and constructed and all. It was just one day, money was available and they just got it and threw up a hospital. Well, anyway, that led to I think it was the 4th one but Dan Arnold says, no, it was 5, before that thing was passed. But anyway, it was passed and I was called – now, who called me? I am trying to think. Oh, Francis Williams. He was on the committee. He was an attorney. He was an African American, a young attorney. Later on, he was appointed ju
DGe. Anyway, Francis called me one day at the Y and said that this committee was going to meet over there at the old Houston Country Club building. They had a restaurant or a café over there and to select the new Hospital District board. And he was the only, as I say, African American, on the committee. And he thought I would be someone who would be suitable for that. So, I told him, I said, “No, Francis, I have already been getting some criticism to do anything that isn’t my YMCA _____.” So, anyhow, he said, “Well” . . . I mentioned some names like I mentioned Hobar Taylor and Judson Robinson and Jamerson and some of them. I said, “They are older men, they are successful business men and they can spend the time now.” I said, “I spend too much time on other things other than the YMCA and anyway, any time it comes up, then they hear my name pop up. So, I said, “No.” He said, “Well, we are going to propose these names again”; I mean, Taylor and Jamerson and Robinson and some of them. He says, “If those 3 do not accept and so forth, will you agree then?” I told him, I said, “Let’s try that. Let’s go on and name them because I am spending too much time away from the Y doing other things.” So, I did not think anything about it. Of course, I thought I had gotten rid of _______. I mean, they were faced with the timetable, they had to come up with a name and so they wanted to name one of them and I was downtown on Louisiana at Central Y . . . we just had staff meetings down there, and I was parked out in front of the Y there on Louisiana and one of the fellows came running out and he said, “Quentin, somebody over at the Chronicle wants to talk to you.” And I said, “What is that about?” He did not know. He said, “Well, they want to talk to you.” So, I went inside and took the phone and it was a reporter. “Mr. Mease, I just want to congratulate you.” I said, “What?” He said, “You have been appointed by the commissioner’s court on the Hospital District. There is a new Hospital District board.” And I said, “What is that about?” And he said, “What we want is we would like to have a picture of you, a glossy,” he called it, “and some brief bio _____ so we can run this in the afternoon paper.” Well, the Chronicle, you know, was an afternoon paper. The Post was the morning. Well, I told him, I said, “Well, if you call my wife,” and I gave him the number, I said, “She might have a picture of me.” I did not know that term [glossy]. And I said, “You call her and she might get” . . . and she found a picture there around the house there. And he said, “Well, we will send out there and do that.” And so, that is how it happened.
DG: I want to wrap up, sir, your walls here are filled with awards. You have a hospital named after you. You have been a recipient of the Outstanding Leadership Award, Community Service Award by the Houston Area Urban League and Humanitarian Award by the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and all these other awards. Looking back, what are you most proud of in the work that you have done?
QM: Proud of?
DG: Yes, sir.
QM: Well, one thing I can say – I can say this: I should have said no. I don’t know. They all have been, I guess, worthwhile. I don’t know. They have all been worthwhile and for the betterment of not only the community but of mankind or human beings and what we call service. They have taken a lot of time because most of those were boards, you know. And one time, I was on close to 30 boards. Right now, I am on 14 boards. I think 11 of them are here in Houston and the other 3 are out of town. I mean, they are not mandatory attendance but I try to make them sometimes. Well, let me say this . . . a number of these boards, I am . . . oh, what is the term for it?
QM: That’s right. I want to say emeritus. A number of them, I am emeritus. I am emeritus there at Baylor College of Medicine, I am a life member of the Medical Center. There are several others . . . well, most of them, I am emeritus because I attend all of the meetings and the only thing about it, I try to get off of them because so often, they are campaigning _______ closed a campaign about 2 years ago and now they have got a $600 million campaign for Baylor Hospital and Clinic there on Cambri
DGe right across from the VA Hospital. Do you know where that Kroger store is? It is all that vacant land, that is brand new. But most of them, they ______. I try to talk them out of it. Anyway, it has been worthwhile, I guess. You can capsule it all and say that it has been serving mankind or service of mankind but I think that others could have done just as well, other persons, and I am not indispensible.
DG: Thank you for your time.
QM: Thank you for coming out and spending the time with me.