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Interview with: Dr. Robert Galloway
Interviewed by: Vince Lee
Date: November 19th, 2011
Archive Number: OH GS 0020
VL: Good afternoon. It is November 19th, 2010, Friday, and we are at the African American Library at the Gregory School. We are joined this afternoon by Dr. Robert Galloway, and he has agreed to participate with us as a part of the Houston Oral History Project Neighborhood Voices. Good afternoon Dr. Galloway!
RG: Good afternoon!
VL: How are you doing today, sir?
RG: I’m very well, thank you.
VL: I thank you for joining us today.
RG: My pleasure.
VL: And to begin with, for the processes of our recording and of the session, could you give us your full name, your date of birth, and your place of birth, please?
RG: I am Robert E. Galloway. I was born in Chicago, IL. On January the 27th 1940.
VL: OK. And I find it interesting that you had mentioned in the bio that you had given me, you mentioned you were born an artist. And could you elaborate, or talk a little bit more about that…or what you mean?
RG: Sure! When I was about 5 or 6 or 7, it was apparent to—to me and all onlookers that I was, I had been gifted with a talent of, uh, of—of uh, artistry. By that I mean, I had acquired the ability to visualize reality and concepts quite readily. And I also had an ability to concentrate upon will. And…and this I uh…uh…I assume was a gift from, from my creator. And so when I was about 13 years old, this ability was confirmed by the Art Institute of Chicago, because they gave me an award which I took home to my mom. And I showed it to her and she said “that’s fine! That’s wonderful, son. Unfortunately, I don’t think that you’ll be able to necessarily earn a living by being an artist. So I would encourage you to look for other horizons.” My mom being my mentor, my role model, and my friend, I of course took her advice, as I usually d—did, and started looking for other things and so that’s when I decided to look for other things; nevertheless, I kept that gift within. And every opportunity I would get, I would go to a museum or art show…oh, and I would draw constantly as I, as I meandered on my different journeys.
VL: OK. Since you had mentioned your mother, could you state the names of both your parents please? Your mother and father.
RG: My mother, her name was Edna Branch….and she was born in Brookshire, TX. My father, his name was Fletcher Galloway and he was from Yazoo, Mississippi. My mother was pretty, bright, and also she was the eldest of the clan, whatever group…group of kids that were around. So that when her sister ran off to the city called Chicago, my mother was given the job of going to fetch her and bring her back to Brookshire. And so…uh, but when my mother went there to—to get her sister, she ran into this handsome man from Yazoo, MS and she didn’t come back. Of course, that…that was my home.
Interestingly my mom made it incumbent upon me to spend as many summers as I could in Brookshire, TX. I didn’t necessarily agree with her, but I was too small to really object, so I…I did what she…she and my father requested and I spent all of my summers, most of them, in Brookshire, TX. And in…in the process I in-inadvertently, uh, acquired another culture, that of the… Texas, and of the south, and …as well as my…my roots in the, in the north. I was really broad, in terms of my exposure to—to cultural input.
VL: Was Brookshire, TX., was that a…was that a small town? Would you categorize that as a small town?
RG: Yes, but now, if—if you ask me how many people were there, I—I wouldn’t…I wouldn’t know. But all I know is that it’s a small town near Patterson, TX., on a...on…on…I-10. And uh, and my mom, she was a graduate of uh, Prairie View A & M University. That’s were a—a lot of African Americans went in that—in—in—in those days. Uh, that was one option.
VL: Would you say Brookshire was an African American community? The t—town…uh, for the most part? Or were there other races and ethnicities there as well?
RG: Ya, there were other races and eth-ethnicities there, so I would say it was…it was others. It was African Americans, Hispanics, and…and uh, whites.
VL: OK, how old would you say you were when you started traversing back and forth from Chicago to spend your summers in Brookshire? Would you say like from maybe age 5, age 6, uh…?
RG: I would say…
VL: Or even earlier?
RG: Ya, well I would say age 5 or 6…
VL: …and that just kept going on until maybe age 12, or so, or?
VL: OK. And what are your fondest memories of spending your summers in Brookshire? Can you share a little bit about that? Or the town? Or just the people?
RG: Uh…just uh…just uh… a family of learning new things, of uh…the strength of a family is, is awesome, and it’s and it’s pretty uh, pretty rich and robust, and also very, very valuable. I—I would say that uh…it was just, it was just a very warm, positive, enforcement of uh…of…of the love you get from a community. And so, that’s, that’s what I remember.
VL: OK. OK. You have a very interesting career; I know that from our discussions you—you’d told me that you were a Doctor of Internal Medicine. And you, as you had told me earlier, you were born an artist. Or had, have…have a passion for the arts. Can you tell me what spurred the change? Was it predominantly through the advice of your parents saying, ‘perhaps you need to look at the areas of something to earn a living’ or were there other factors involved?
RG: There was no change. I was given a gift and this was manifested in…in…in uh…in school when I was with my playmates I—I—I used to draw constantly. And this was an outlet for me, and I was obviously very good at it, because not infrequently teachers would come to me and say, “well, Robert, could you draw this, could you draw that?” And I—I—I would oblige them. Sometimes if I didn’t particularly like a person I would draw a kind of a funny cartoon of them, and float it around the classroom and that would really kind of level them. So uh, that’s what I had within. And so, when I grew up, that element was still within. Simply, I—I—I added other layers to my being and my—my—my, uh, personal composite.
VL: OK…OK. Can you tell us the history of….well maybe this wouldn’t be the right question, since we may have covered it earlier….but I was going to ask about the Houston or Texas connection; but I see that through your mother, when you’d spent your summers in Texas, traversing back and forth from Chicago, that may have established it. But, besides those did you venture elsewhere in Texas, at the time?
RG: Of course. The places that I went, other than Brookshire, was obviously, Houston, TX. I spent a lot of time in Galveston, and…and uh, Egypt, TX. So these are places where kinfolk were located, in and around Houston, TX. So, uh…I, uh…went all these other places I had a very close aunt, who lived in Galveston, TX. And uh…and La Marque [TX]. And—and so I went to La Marque to…to visit her. I went to Egypt, TX to visit some cousins and I went to Houston a lot because I had a lot of relatives in…in Houston, TX.
VL: OK. And I guess as a child when you had spent your summers in uh, in Texas, and visiting various cities…did…as a child did you feel any type of feeling of the segregation that was prevalent at the time…I guess as a child, you feel…in some instances adults try to insulate you from the realities of the time, but did you have a sense of, or any kind of conception of, that things weren’t exactly as they should be? You know, coming from the north and Chicago and then coming into the south to spend your summers?
RG: Well I’m sure there were some subtle elements of that. But nothing that was glaring or that I…that sticks out in…in…prominently, in my consciousness. Yes of, and… and… and as you’ve suggested my… your parents and uh…and all of the family….they do a very good job of protecting you and insulating you, uh, from many negative experiences. But you are aware of your world…and…and…and the world within the world, or the world outside of that world. So I was aware of uh…of…of…of these things. But I remember my childhood as being a…a very good one and a very happy one.
RG: What I enjoyed, later on, was that I—I was learning about the south, and about the uh, rural life, in—in a way that I would not have been able to had I just simply stayed in…in…in Chicago. So, exposure to the…the…the chickens and the pigs, and the…and the turkeys and…and…and…and the horses, was a….was a very robust and…and…and…and…and very viable and vibrant uh…uh…ex-exposure to me; and it v—…it…it enriched me in ways that I would not have anticipated.
And so…and also, my—my mother, by uh…a—a—a—and my father, who, of course, reinforced whatever she suggested, uh, by demanding that I go and spend my times in…in…in…in the…in the…in uh…in Brookshire, uh they were protecting me from the…from the ills of the…of the…of the city and the north. Which, and—and there were considerable, uh…prob-problems there. Which, I simply dealt with; but…uh… when I, when I grew up I recognized her, her wisdom. But I would not have been able to recognize it as a child. And…and so, that’s…that’s a very important story.
VL: OK. OK, so it sounds like you were exposed to both, uh, living in an urban large city and also the…the…also the benefits of, maybe for lack of a better word, country life or the wholesomeness that living…
VL: out in the country offers, in terms of values, morals, and upbringing to uh…your formative years as a child
VL: OK. Now I understand you are the founder of the African American Heritage Museum of Houston. Do you know what the catalyst or the genesis of the establishment of that institution was?
RG: That’s a good question and I have been asked that question many times. I recall specifically being asked that question by a—a friend of mine, and a mentor, whose…uh…Reverend Bill Lawson. He was one of the people who, when I asked for uh…a donation or gift, he said yes; but first he asked me how I…he asked me the same question. And I’m not sure that I knew the answer, I simply do know that it was something that I—I felt very…uh…I felt as though it was an element of—of Divine Guidance and uh, and as though there was an…a…uh, an architect, a Divine architect that had in some kind of way prompted me to do that. But I couldn’t articulate that because I wasn’t as familiar with God as I…as I…as I was going to be when I matured. So uh….but if I were to ask and look for specific events, and I have subsequently thought about it, deeply, because these questions were asked of me.
I recall that I was very, very close, in terms of friendship, with John Biggers. He was a friend of mine and I…I…I just really liked the guy. And we used to hang out together and we would shoot pool at my house. And sometimes he would win and sometimes I would win. I remember one time though, he came over [to] my house, I had…I had acquired a number of a…of—of uh… of uh African Art sculptures, in his absence. But, he had been the catalyst because he had taught me about African Art and uh…and I thought that he would be pleased, but when I showed him my collection, he was both amazed, and at the same time he was angry. And this was puzzling for me. And I said, “what’s wrong, man?” You know? And he said, “boy, this stuff belongs in the community.” And it was the, one of the few times, that I had ever seen him angry, at me. And within a second he was…he was…he—he reverted back to his…his usual jovial self.
He went home and we didn’t talk anymore about it. But I thought about it, of course, I could see number one, that he was very serious. And number two, I had to reflect on what…what did he mean? And…and as I thought about it, I agreed with him. I—I had started a process of uh…of uh of gathering things, and hoarding things for myself. But in a better…in—in a larger sense, there was a better utilization for these objects and the community was much more important than I. And I certainly agreed with him. I learned from that, and I, I think that I subsequently did come up with the idea of a…of a museum. But I’m thinking perhaps, that event catalyzed my reaching that realization.
VL: Can you tell me, just on your recollection, when you and Dr. John Biggers first may have met, or when you had kindled your relationship with one another?
RG: That’s—that’s difficult to…to…to ask….uh, all I know is that, I met this guy and we were friends and we used to hang out…uh…
VL: Through a mutual acquaintance? You were introduced to him, or you had known each other, I suppose, one on one, at some point in time, and then, I guess the relationship developed, or flowered, from that point on?
RG: I’m not sure. I…I…I…I don’t recall. All I know is that, he was my friend…how…how I met him, I don’t know.
RG: I…I…I…I…I think it probably occurred because I was interested in—in African a-art. And we would…we would meet frequently in little hotels with the…with the dealers… would meet the people who were going to be recipients of their art. And I would meet uh, these dealers, and…and John would frequently be there. And so, and while we were there, sometimes, he would…he would explain to me, what I was looking at; because I really didn’t know. He also made it a…made it a point to, uh, to make it clear in my mind, that these were not ugly.
That was a com… a…a…probably a…a….a common con-conceptual framework that people of my uh….uh…ilk conceptualized things because all of us looked through European eyes, so to speak. We had been taught by….and…and we didn’t know anything about Africa or African art. And so John made it very clear…very clear that you had to look differently. And so I had to have many, many meetings with him. And in time, actually a very short period of time, I, uh, I grew, and I grew, and grew, and in—in fact, I…I…I reached the point that I, I was pretty much on auto-pilot. I could do it myself, now. I didn’t need him. But then, after I acquired some…so many pieces I—I showed them to him one day, at my house, and then I….well I already explained to you what happened.
RG: He, uh, he reacted both positively—“this is a…this is a great collection you’re…you’re amassing”. But, two, “it needs to be not just hoarded by you. It needs to be shared.”
VL: Yes, yes…would you say that though your relationship and interactions with Dr. Biggers over the years, in…in a sense that gave you a better idea of what he saw when he was looking at various art works? Or his analysis?
RG: Oh absolutely! He was probably….he was my best friend and so I…uh…I really loved that guy. And at times I was kind of amazed, why he reciprocated, he—he seemed to like me pretty much too. And I…I…I found that sometimes a—a little puzzling because I was a doctor. But at the same time he probably saw deeper, within me, and he saw the artist that was in me, that I had sometimes forgotten. But he, well, he was a very deep person, and he could probably penetrate those different veils that surround all of us; veils that I understand now but I didn’t necessarily understood then.
VL: OK. He—he’s…going back to the…the phrase that you utilized, he probably saw the…the person that was born an artist, and that always remained a part of you….
RG: Oh absolutely! Like I say, he was a very deep guy. He was very spiritual and that… by that I—I mean, he could…he could almost see your spirit. And uh, and that’s important because I don’t think that uh, as many people in this society recognize that they are spirits…or spiritual beings. A—a—a—as…as…as…a…as…as…should be. We are a very…we’re too materialistic. And that’s probably one of the things that prompts me to continue in this quest.
VL: OK. Going back to the African American Heritage Museum of Houston, can you give us a date on when it was founded? Was it 1989? I—correct me if I am wrong. In…
RG: It was 19—uh in—in the fall of 1988, I, uh, I went through a number of maneuvers and…and actually founded the museum. By that I mean, I sent off, uh, papers to the Se—Secretary of State, registering m—th—m-my organization as a…as, uh. [the] African American Heritage Museum of Houston. Now that had been done with the input of a lot of entities, including the Museum of Fine Arts, under the auspices of Peter Marzio, who was a very, very good person—still is. And…and…and…and he was a source of support; also, the…the, Menil Museum. It was very interesting that I had spent a lot of time trying to see who Mrs. Men-Menil was ’cause her husband had died, but I never could see her, but it… immediately after I founded this museum she was in my office, and that was amazing. And, not only did—did she come to my office, she—she pledged full…total support for anything that I needed this…in terms of this museum.
And she followed it up by sending m—much of her staff over to paint the walls of the room that we had designated as our gallery. She would give us pedestals. And she even sent over some of her curators to uh, to organize my personal collection, which was fantastic! I mean, I really didn’t, you know, I really didn’t know too much, other then I loved the stuff. But now she organized it for me. So, uh, and then… in…in addition to the Museum of Fine Arts and the Menil Foundation, there was an organization in town called T.A.L.A. which stands for, Texas Association of Lawyers and Accountants. This is a nonprofit organization that was set up specifically for other nonprofits to help them along the way, because all of them start out kind of ‘fledgling’. They don’t, maybe, necessarily like to remember that they were fledgling, but they—they all start out that way and certainly I was a fledgling org-organization; so I went to TALA and TALA would help me get further organized in ter….in terms of, you know, what to do, in terms of caring out the business of…of the museum. Because it’s—it’s quite, uh…uh, involved.
VL: Especially the day to day operations and…
VL: the maintenance of…
VL: such an institution.
VL: So apparently it seems that when Mrs. Menil had found out the existence, and the establishment of your organization, something must have touched her, inside, for her to lend her support and…
RG: Well I don’t…
RG: Well, I would say that she’s probably, she’s, as I understood her, she is always been on a higher vibratory frequency than most people. So, certainly something touched her. And…and she was moved.
VL: OK. Where was your institution located at?
RG: Well, initially, my organization just, we would meet by telephone and—wherever! But uh, and we did, uh, nominate a search committee to find a place and after many months of uh…of not being able to find a place, we did decide to utilize my building. I was a…I had a professional building where I practiced medicine, but there was always, a…a …a…a space, uh, free. And particularly, since I was the owner, or co…one of the owners, I could designate a space and…and we could utilize that. And pay…pay some uh…some rent. So, 2101 Crawford [Street Houston, Texas] was the space that we chose as the uh, of-official place, until we found uh, an-another space. But once we found that space, the energy to continue searching kinda dissipated. And so we were…we were stuck there.
VL: Ok. Could you give us a sense of what the museum was like inside? Maybe a…a glimpse of the types of works that may have been on display?
VL: And maybe any…any distinctive features a visitor would experience as they enter the galleries or the building within?
RG: Well, again….the support that I had was significant because there was the… uh… Mrs.….uh, the Menil, there was Peter Marzio at the Museum of Fine Arts, and they knew what I needed. And so, we always had a suite, whi—with which we designated as the…the museum. The walls were frequently plain…painted uh, a…a…a…a…a…a flat white, or something that would allow whatever pictures, photographs, were there, to, uh, to—to shine and shine out. And…and…and…and so it—it was a…plain white structure, you know, ah, inside a suite that was 12 X…12 X 12. And so, it was on the first floor and uh….and that’s…that’s how we started.
Now, I was a very… fortunate to be in close contact with Texas Southern University. And in fact, I had several members on my board who were from Texas Southern University. And as a result it was….it was… I was fortunate to be the re…to be the recipient… we were fortunate to be recipient of a loan, of some of the art works from Texas Southern University. In fact, we always had art…art works from Texas Southern University, including a…a…a…paintings and sculptures. Carroll Simms, who had been a…a…a very, uh, famous uh, t—teacher at Texas Southern University, volunteered his time as a, uh, as a curator. John Biggers volunteered to be on the advisory board. So we had a, you know, tremendous amount of support!
But, one of my concerns was that…uh…looking at museums, historically, museums historically have been something…kinda warehouses that had housed things that had been taken, or conquered, or stolen! Well we weren’t in the process, nor in the business of…of…of conquering, or stealing. But what we did have and what we… and what our mission was to serve as a…as a repository of the cultural contributions of uh, of African Americans. And so, that didn’t necessarily mean that we had to keep everything in one spot. And so our museum was designated as alive. In other words, we moved.
If there was an exhibit that we wanted to see and we wanted to take the…the, uh… a…a…a…a…a group of people to—to see, we—we organized vans and buses and…and we went there. We also saw, to—to give you an example, of th-the…uh…the African American museum in Dallas, uh, under Harold Robinson. Well we got a…we…we got a busload of kids…and…and…and adults, and just packed ’em up in a van, and…and…and…and…and…and took ’em there to see his uh…uh…their museum. And we did that on…re-repeatedly.
Also, if we…if we…thought that it was good to have visitors…for instance, the Buffalo Soldiers, well we would, we would, we would contact the Buffalo Soldiers and arrange a pre…uh…uh…uh….a…a…a…a set time for them to meet; and people, the community would come and meet the Buffalo Soldiers. Well now, so that was a…a kind of a different from the ordinary museum where you just set the… things are static. In this instance we had people come to us and we had bus loads of people going here and there to see—see this and that.
We even had a on…on another occasion, we had Mollie Stevenson’s Ranch, down Almeda Rd. Because she had a…a…a whole bunch of folk art that was, uh…that was something that we… and… so we…we would arrange a bus load of people to go down to [The American Cowboy Museum at] Mollie [Taylor-]Stevenson’s Ranch and to observe her folk art, as well as whatever kind of animal husbandry that you had; because all of that is a kind of a form of art, as well.
So, as you can see, our museum was kind of a-a-alive. We moved; wherever we had to do…wherever we had to go. We even asked the great percussionist and drummer, Babatunde Olatunje who was a percussionist from Nigeria, meet, at Miller Outdoor Theatre, after we got the grant of course. And of course we publicized it in the Houston Chronicle and other newspapers. And people would meet out at the Miller Outdoor Theatre, uh, s—so…so that, uh, there we announced on…on more then one occasion we were there. OK?
Finally I—I can think of an—an occasion where we had a very important lady by the name of Margaret Burroughs who happens to be the founder of the African American Museum Associations of America. She was coming down to Houston to be the recipient of our Woman’s Art Caucus Award and we thought that that would be a good time to kick off our founding…uh….b—board. And so, uh, Mrs. Burroughs…Dr. Burroughs, came down. She served as the honorary chairperson and uh…and uh… received. Went down the road and got…received her award, and…and…and…and did several things at the same time and so that was another event. And so it was quite dynamic.
But I want to say this one thing, in a—all though all of these big events were occurring over and over again, I recall one day, I was downstairs in…just kind of looking at the museum and I…a…a man came into the museum and he was dressed in overalls and a nice clean shirt and he had two little girls: one he was carrying in his arm and another one was…she must have been three or four…she was…she was walking. And we had in that gallery at that time, a…an exhibit of a, of photographs. Of…and we had a…from time-to-time different photographs or different paintings. This one was perhaps Benny Joseph’s photographs…but uh…I recall, specifically there was a photograph of the great Barbara Jordan on…on the wall. And he took his little girls up to that photograph and I don’t know what he said to them but in that moment they were so energized. Not just physically, but spiritually and mentally that this was a great, great woman. A great, great person, for Texas and the human race. And that was such an important moment for me, because it was difficult to uh…interpret but, what it said was that that man was very, very comfortable and uh, with this….
RG: …museum. And…and, uh, whereas he may not have been comfortable with other museums. But this was his and there was something in there that he had to—to transmit to his daughters. And that was such an important thing, because sometimes you can transmit more in a moment than you can in a whole year in terms of education, in terms of giving your kids the type of learning that they need and he did that in a moment. A—a—and the conduit was this…this…this African American Heritage Museum. I was very proud of that, I was very proud of him—even though I didn’t know him!
VL: And in terms of the comfort level, that means he could, come as he was, or come as they are, come as ‘you are’ and…
VL: …not feel any type of pretense or…
RG: I recall that because I was….I recall one day I…I…I…I…at another time I had been talking to my wife, I…I used to go to the Museum of Fine Arts and Me—Menil and I asked her one day to go to the Museum of F—Fine Arts and I said…and she said, “no” and so I said, “why?” And she said simply, “why, I don’t feel comfortable.” My wife was [of] course, was very honest. She’s a powerfully intelligent woman. And so I accepted it and I stored that information as being facts. And it was true, and it was probably true not only with her but for many. That was information and data that I stored. And I…and…and…and part of this in-initiative to, uh, stab—establish The African American Heritage Museum, for Houston, was born out of that experience.
VL: And kind of going back to what Dr. Biggers had said, you have to share this with the community.
RG: Of course.
VL: And that means making everybody feel welcome, or everybody being involved, or comfortable in that subtle type of setting. Uh, I also know that through our previous conversation that you’d known Mrs. Pearl Suel….
VL: as well. Could you tell…tell us a little bit about your relationship with her and, uh, maybe an experience that you both had shared together?
RG: Pearl Suel was a…a very wonderful per—uh, lady. She was a powerbroker in…in…in…in…in…in one word. By that I mean, that she was a guardian of the community and anybody who she, who…who…who aspired to be something higher in the community, they had to go through her. She had set up meetings with me to meet, El Franco Lee at her home. So we would meet at…at her…at her home for tea and…and…and uh…for lunch. And, uh, and if he was there, then I would meet him and we would kind of exchange things. So, that’s how people like that uh, cultivated and nurtured those who were rising up in the community.
VL: And was Mr. Lee the Harris County Commissioner at the time, as well?
RG: He was going to be as a result of her.
RG: And so she did the same thing for Judson Robinson [Jr.]; she did the same thing for Mickey Leland…a—all of whom where my friends and colleagues and I…and I…I, you know, I palled around with them, as…as…as a…as…as…as…as much as I did, John Biggers. I liked them all. So, Pearl Suel was also on my…on my board…on the board of the African American Museum. In retrospect, I guess she was there because she considered it to be important.
VL: OK. And, uh, going back to the museum, how long was it, uh, in exis—I know it was for of a limited duration, how long was it before it actually closed?
RG: The museum was in existence for about two years. It was becoming very difficult for me to function as a mu—as a physician and also to manage this, uh, because uh, a museum is—is, uh, is…is…is…is uh, [an] organic entity…it…it…it has a life of its own and for the first time in my life I realized, I recognized, what pregnancy was. Because this…this…this entity, this had a life of its own and it was ki….it was uh, it was kind of suffocating me.
And I didn’t always have the staff there, who were all volunteers, I didn’t have money, [and] I didn’t really know what to do. And so I kind of got with another board member and what we suggested was uh, we would pretend that the museum was going to close. But we did it in a way that there was a press release, and we wanted this press release to go out to—to Houston and to others so that when the mantle or the baton was picked up, and we knew it would be, others would pick it up and…and…uh, and… and dem—demonstrate a manifest ownership. And so that everyone would buy into it not just one person, and uh, and we knew it would be done, but we didn’t know when.
VL: I—I know this is going back a few years, would this have been right around 1990, or so?
VL: When…when it came to a conclusion?
RG: Well now, uh, ya.
VL: OK. OK. Through that experience what would you say you learned, in retrospect, through establishing the museum and helping to run it? Any…any…any thoughts or lessons learned, in retrospect?
RG: It requires a lot of planning and a re…and it needs to have a source of funding that is perpetual.
VL: OK. OK. And a commitment of time that no one individual who also has another commitment and obligation can maintain indefinitely….
RG: That comes under planning.
VL: OK. I know this sounds as a strange question but I know you’ve been part of the art world through your passion and also part of the medical world through your training and education; what do you think are the parallels you see between both those fields? And by that I mean what do you think art has done for your medical practice and what’s the practice of medicine brought out in your passion for art? I know it sounds very philosophical and maybe…uh, someone would say “what’s….I don’t see the connection” but….
VL: I’m just throwing that out there.
RG: Well I see the connection. Art is, uh…is…is creation. Art is visualization. Art is the ability to concentrate and to translate one reality into another. Medicine is also a form of creation…I view the museum, this African American Museum, as being a form of therapy for the community. And without it the community will get along just [as] well, but it needs that…it needs the museum because the museum is a form of penicillin.
There is a saying from one of the tribes in Africa, it’s—it’s called…and it’s…it’s the Sankofa Bird, uh, and the bird is, uh, looking…arch—arching back, and looking at its…at its…th—the bottom of its spine and basically it’s saying that you cannot go forward unless you can look back. Basically that says to the young ones, particularly, who are trying to find out what to do in life, they have to find out what their…what their ancestors did, what their parents did, and their parent’s parents. This is very important because within that cultural context is the strength and an energy to move forward. And so, that’s that.
Another exhibit that I had….uh…I’m—I’m jumping now to…but I recall…
VL: That’s OK.
RG: …uh, the Maritime organization of Houston made…gave us an exhibit and they brought in bales of hay, of cotton, with uh…on…on the wall they had a little, uh, work…wage…wage slips, showing the wages that were…that were earned and sometimes they would be like uh, .05 cents or .10 cents or .15 cents an hour. And it was good to see that and to see the cotton because a lot of people don’t know what their parents, or what their parent’s parents went through. You know, now you could see some cotton, you know, and so we had all kind of things going on.
I did a lot with the…with the a—assistance of the—of these other people. Great individuals. Not just the… not…not just the board but the host of volunteers as well as good friends, like, uh, the—the Menil Foundation and…and the Meni—Museum of Fine Arts and others. It was great.
VL: Do you remember the operational hours of when the Museum was open? Was it strictly Monday through Friday, say 8—4 or something of that nature? Or…
RG: I think, uh, in addition to that, I think we had some hours on the weekend. And uh, and we always had a docent or…or…or two…there was…I remember, uh, Mrs. Bettye White, a…a great lady from Tex-Texas Southern University. Used to volunteer some of her time as a docent, to uh, to just, you know, usher people in and to, you know…
VL: There would be a guest book to sign or something?
RG: A guest book, obviously, and uh, and a donation—we didn’t ask for, uh, a fees but we did ac—accept donations.
VL: OK, OK, I was going to ask…that was….you, you’d…you’d answered that question, cause I was going to say was there an admissions charge, or something for visitors, but that…uh…
RG: We knew we would get some, uh, we would get to that when we got organized.
RG: So, ya…
VL: OK. Who would you say were some of your greatest influences during your life that nurtured your passions both in the arts and also within your profession of practicing medicine?
RG: My mother. My mother was, uh, was my hero. I think mothers are all of our heroes. And uh, my mom…my mom, was a….was always there for me. And she encouraged me to be the best, the bes—whatever I was going to be. So, she was there, and I…I feel as…as though her…her DNA or her spirit was with me at…at all times. Bu—but my father was a good guy too. He was…he was very important. But my mom, uh, she, uh, I was probably very, very close to her. Uh-huh. And so she…she was…she was a very, uh, im—important force, even though she was perhaps no longer al—alive, she was still there. John Biggers was a big…big force. My wife, you know… Great, great, people. Great spirits…great souls.
VL: OK. OK, and now we’re in…2010. I realize that the Houston Museum of African American History has kicked off recently….
VL: And I understand that you are part of the board.
VL: What’s that experience been like?
RG: It’s been like a rocket ship! Uh…a—a—a rocket ship…uh…jettisons off from one gravitational field and goes off into space and, uh, looking for new vistas. And that’s what that experience is like. Uh…uh, it’s exciting! It’s powerful! What’s a an… an… an…an…an…and it’s…it’s…it’s…it’s really good. It’s…it’s good. It requires work but, uh, we have a gre—a great board members. Uh, on this, uh, this new museum. And so… and… and great support, just like I had when I started my initiative.
VL: And now you work with Mr. John Guess, I take it?
RG: John Gress…Guess…and Melanie Lawson…tho—those are…are our leaders. They’re great people.
VL: OK. And I’m sure as we go along, you as part of the board, you—you’re going to have to make certain decisions along the way….and they’re going to probably tap you for your insight. Do you also see a lot of the fruits, or the results that are currently in place that were germinated when you established your institution?
RG: Yes, it’s a…it’s kind of a continuum.
VL: OK. OK, in concluding is there anything you would like to touch on or is there a thought or a memory you’d like to leave with…leave us with in regards to your experiences as a doctor, or as an artist, or as an individual?
RG: Well, I think I made reference to the Divine Architect earlier. I think that the Divine Architect is involved with a lot of our endeavors and whether or not we understand that. I believe it, and I believe it as I become more…older. G—God is involved with, uh, with all of our…activities. And…and that’s, uh, that’s a good thing.
VL: OK. Well, I thank you for coming in and participating in the oral history project at the African American Library at the Gregory School. It’s really been a pleasure talking with you, Dr. Galloway. Thank you for sharing with us.
RG: Thank you, sir!