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Interview with: Senfronia Thompson
Archive Number: OH 179
I: I am interviewing Mrs. Sentronia Thompson, a black legislator in the state of Texas. Mrs. Thompson, as we begin our interview this afternoon could you give me some general background information about family, education, children, etc?
ST: Okay. I’m from a family of three children. I’m the middle child. My parents had a limited degree of education. My father was a sharecropper and a railroad laborer, whose education probably extended to about the second or third grade. My mother was a housewife and a maid whose educational background extended to about the ninth grade. During that time, eleventh grade was applicable to a high school—equivalency of a diploma.
I: Can you tell me where you were born?
ST: Yes, I was born in the town of Booth, Texas, which is located near Richmond, Texas, and Rosenberg. We finally got on the map. Shortly after I was born, before the age of one year old, my mother and father moved to Houston where I was reared.
I: Can you tell us about your early education—elementary school, etc?
ST: Yes. I was reared in the northeastern section of Harris County—which I now represent as a state representative—which is known as Trinity Gardens. I went to the elementary school out there, which is now known as J.C. Sanderson Elementary School. Then it was Trinity Garden Elementary School. I went to E.L. Smith Junior High School, and then I went to Booker T. Washington High School. After that, I was a student at Texas Southern University. I majored in biology, and I minored in chemistry. I got a master’s degree in education, where I taught for 10 years—retarded children. Later, I ran for the legislature in ’72 and won, and now I’m serving it in the present capacity.
I: What type of career were you involved in prior to your political race in ’71?
ST: I was a teacher. I was a school teacher for mentally retarded children at the junior high school level.
I: 02:21.4 And where was this?
ST: This was at Marshall Junior High School here in Houston.
I: Okay. We noted that you have received several degrees, and I think later you did some post graduate work at the University of Houston.
I: Can you tell us what particular field you were concentrating in at that time?
ST: First, I had anticipated—I had wanted to go to a medical school, but I would have had to go to Tennessee to go to medical school. I had two children at that time—a family—and we were just not situated to just pick up and move. Then I decided that I would pursue a doctorate degree in the field of education. But knowing that a doctorate degree was only going to give me one or two occupational outlets—that of teaching a class or teaching as a college professor and that of perhaps doing some research, which probably would have been limited, especially for me being a black woman in the south. So I decided that I might study law, and I enrolled in night school at South Texas College of Law because I worked in the day.
I: What other motivations, in particular, lead you into the field of law, other than the ones that you have mentioned thus far?
ST: Well, I think because of my interests in the field of politics, I felt that it would be an asset to me to have more of a broad knowledge of various degrees of law, rather than, more or less, a general knowledge that I would pick up being a legislator. I felt like this would be a time saver, this would be an asset for a resource, etc.
I: Do you feel that your undergraduate studies have helped you in any way in your law studies or in your political career?
ST: No more than probably acquainting me with the fact of study, perseverance, research, this sort of thing.
I: Can you tell us your reasons for changing from South Texas Law School to Texas Southern University’s Law School?
ST: Yes. Money was the main reason. I make 318 dollars a month as a state representative after all my deductions. It costs about 400-and-some dollars tuition, plus about 100-and-some-odd dollars for books. I just couldn’t afford that.
I: Okay. We noticed that you’ve done— I’m sorry. You have attended, I believe, on the higher levels of education, Texas Southern and the University of Houston. Can you tell us which one of these schools you maintain some type of support and relationship with today?
ST: Perhaps the two black schools, being Texas Southern University and Prairie View. When I went to the University of Houston, it was a newly integrated school because it had been private. I was not a comfortable person in that school along with a lot of other blacks who were there because of the prejudiced situation that existed there at that time.
I: What type of relationship do you maintain with the two black schools? Can you be a little bit more specific?
ST: Yeah. I think it’s more in the capacity of my legislative role, of being able to discuss with them and yet have the type of sensitivity that must go along with the type of problems that they have. And being a part of them—that means black—acquainted with the situation—having a deeper insight into the problem as to what can be done on the legislative level to help to alleviate the problems that they are encountering and have encountered for some time.
I: We noticed that you had done some work with the League of Women Voters prior to your actual election in politics. Can you tell us something about this?
ST: I was a member of the League of Women Voters because I was interested in much of the work that they were doing, especially in the realm of research and a lot of the projects that they were involved in. However, I did not desire to continue my membership with them because they are women who are interested in a different type of situation than what I’m interested in. Their problems all centered around beautification and what can be done. They have worked in the realm of welfare and a lot of other things. But in my area, for women involved—black women—we have more crucial problems, and that is of maintenance of family—you know—clothing kids, of getting the kids off the streets. It’s two different structures all together. There is one, which is a rich structure who has many resources, but they limit themselves in a certain capacity. And here is a poor structure over here, and they just were meeting my needs.
I: There are numerous important issues which you have addressed yourself in your campaign. Which of these did you consider high priority in your first campaign?
ST: 07:50.1 I was basically concerned with these as high priority: Trying to develop some meaningful ways to fund educational programs and to develop educational programs that would be appropriate for today and tomorrow. I was concerned with prison reform, because I just didn’t want to see the Attica situation here, or the Carrasco situation that we’ve just encountered. And it looks like we’re going to be a long time solving it. I was particularly concerned with senior citizen problems. What can we do to provide adequate housing, adequate funding, and adequate meals to people who are classified in our society as a senior citizen? And then, too, the fourth priority was how are we going to address ourselves to the juvenile delinquency in our society?
I: There’s been a great deal of controversy and investigations regarding performance to the (unintelligible) which you’ve just mentioned. I think perhaps you had some involvement in the Gatesville investigations or opinions about this. Can you tell us something about this?
ST: Well, I have had contact with a lot of parents who have children there, and the type of situation that existed there was not one of wholesomeness. Because if you are going to establish as a goal that of rehabilitation, there must be those methods incorporated into the system, or the procedure, that you’re going to use to be able to derive this particular goal or goals. The situation was one of brutality, racism, prejudice. It was not conducive to the general morale, the psychological aspect, nor the educational advantage of the children there.
I: I think, also, you were involved in the Artesia Hall investigation. I thought perhaps you would have some type of impression or reflections on this.
ST: Yes, this particular incident was one of a series of incidents that triggered an investigation into the homes of—that were licensed to operate within the state for abandoned children with certain types of disabilities. I think this particular one school was for basically kids with psychological problems. There might have been some other ones. I was particularly interested in them because I felt like there should be some type of reevaluation points at which we go in and reevaluate institutions at intervals to see whether or not they are up to a certain expectation. Are they actively performing in the capacity that they are supposed to perform? Now, some of the things that I was able to see was that some schools— School A may have an excellent school in a downtown area of Town B. But School A may have four or five other campuses within Town B, and they may look like everything(?). Now some of the situations that we found were this: In investigating one of the schools, we went to a school that had high fences around them. You see this on some of them. The grass was very high, up to your knees. They had a very nice house. This house was for girls who were disciplinary problems. Now, they had the privilege of staying here. If they were able to get into that particular house, they had the privilege of horseback riding, swimming, and a lot of the other recreational activities that that school was supporting. But no black children were there. There was only one black girl there for about 2 days, and she was sent back to one of the other houses. Now, some of the other houses were old shacks, where several children lived in bunk beds, maybe 10-12 in a room—a room maybe the size of 10x9. They had workshop activities that went on, and such activities were making clothes pins for a penny apiece. People are now moving away from hanging clothes out on the line to dry because of the time element and a lot of other things. Many of the workshops that we saw were workshops where old furniture had been thrown away, the floor was almost that of a dirt floor, mice, rats, and other rodents were—entry was easily accessible to this particular building. At this particular school, the kids were being used experimentally by some research group to experiment on the effectiveness of certain drugs. Because of the use of these drugs, they had become obese. This was a problem that was created. There was a building that they were using for a classroom or for a school house—it was an old building way out in the woods with bushes like— No electricity, no desks, none of those things. So there is a question as to what kind of education they were really administering. However, some schools where they had some kids, if they live near a school, those children were permitted to go to that school and return back to that particular campus. Now they always knew when people were coming on the campus, and they knew how to spruce up things. But the visit that we made was one that was unexpected in nature.
14:00.0 They had a room in the house that was built 6x6 with no windows and only a single door for entry and exit, and this was the punishment room. They would be locked up in there with just a small opening somewhere up at the top where air could go in. And really, a person staying in there for any length of time probably could have suffocated if they had a physical condition that would cause breathing difficulty. This was one of the mechanisms for punishment. Now, with the Artesia Hall situation, they dipped them into a tank—a septic tank. They had some children who had hepatitis. They had white and black who had hepatitis. They sent the black children home, and they sent the white children to the hospital. These are some of the conditions that we found in many of the institutions that existed. But as we went on to do our investigation, we were stopped because the speaker of the house warned the people. I was one of the people who served ad hoc rate(?), because the other members were authorized members who had the right to subpoena and investigate. They were uncovering so many things, the speaker of the house, Price Daniel, Jr., of Liberty, Texas, demanded them to stop and threatened to authorize their arrest if they did not stop pursuing that investigation. And they had to stop. That’s the reason why you have not heard anymore about those investigations of those schools. However, I’m sure that there is going to be legislation introduced that is going to make the licensing process more rigid than what it is. I’m sure there’s going to be legislation presented that is going to require certain periods of time in which these schools are going to be reevaluated.
I: 15:58.0 Would you care to tell us about some of the other members of this particular committee?
ST: Yeah, there was only one black member, and that was State Representative G.J. Sutton. He has a brother, also, on the Supreme Court of New York. The Supreme Court brother has a son here (inaudible). Lane Denton is a white, so-called liberal from Waco. Carlos Truan is the general chairman. He’s from Corpus Christie. He’s the general chairman of the overall committee on human relations. But Lane Denton was the subcommittee chairman. 16:41 (__Cheever?) from Fort Worth, John Whitmire from Harris County, (Joe __??) from Harris County. I can’t think of some of the other persons.
I: You were the only female?
ST: I wasn’t really a part of it. I was there ad hoc. I was the only one who didn’t have the right to authorize investigations or subpoenas.
I: I think at this point we should talk about the child care centers and licensing practices. You have been involved in representing them also. Can you tell us something about this?
ST: (inaudible; noise on tape) I think what all needs to be done is that you need to have some set up that you are anticipating operating a school—(inaudible; noise on tape)—and maybe your method or procedure of care of these kids. Now, it is interesting to note that we have children that come from other states here as well as children that go out of state. Now at the time our investigation started, Illinois had children down here—about 800 or 900, and they were paying this particular school where these children were being used as guinea pigs. They were paying as much as 26 dollars per day, per child, where the state of Texas only paid $2.30 within the state for the care of children, depending upon the type of defects that they may have.
I: How has this particular situation been solved?
ST: It has not been solved. It cannot be solved until the next legislature, and that’s in January of ’75.
I: 18:31.7 While we are on these issues, I think another one is the Welfare Department. The criticism that the Welfare Department is racist, inadequate, and not effectively dealing with the poor in this state has leveled off. Are these criticisms, in your opinion, justified?
ST: I think so. In many instances I think they are.
I: Can you explain?
ST: I think that if we look at attitudes, they are exceedingly justifiable, because there is an Anglo-racist attitude that all black people want something for nothing. All black women want to go out and have illegitimate children so they can get some money. All black people look for the state to support them. Secondly, there is also an attitude that the money that they are administering is coming directly out of their pockets, so they want it limited. There aren’t really needs. Everybody can get a job. That’s the American way of life. The system is built up on work. (inaudible; noise on tape) Many people are turned down. Either they walk away because of the hostility that is exhibited to them when they are trying to apply for different monies (inaudible; noise on tape). Everybody wants to tell you that all black folks are on welfare and what they need is a hoe so they go out chop cotton. But those same persons—a person who owns land that the government is paying a subsidy to of 50 or 10,000 dollars not to plant crops—to me, that’s still welfare.
I: Let’s move now to hiring policies in the state regarding minority hiring. This has been an issue in the news, etc. for quite some time. Can you state your position on this and tell us something about the type of response to getting more minorities hired—say—impact on the governor, lieutenant governor, Texas Board of Commissioners, etc?
ST: Let me address, first, the problem of what is attempting to be done by the black caucus that is made up of eight persons from over the state—four from Harris County, one from San Antonio, and three from Dallas. We tried to introduce a piece of legislation that would have set up an EEO office, and it would have had these various agencies submit not policy statements, but plans of how they are going to eradicate the problem of no black employment. Now can you imagine the Highway Department that has 18,000 employees—which is one of the largest employees in the state—with one black—just one black? Or the Parks and Wildlife Department? We were not able to get that piece of legislature through because of the great opposition from the other members of the house for trying to put something in there just for niggers. What we did—Representative Sutton from San Antonio and myself stood up on the floor of the house, and we took up about three and a half hours of their time introducing amendments that we knew had no possibility of passing. But the point of the matter was to wear them down to the point that they would accept something. We were asking for money to be allocated for minorities, including (inaudible; noise on tape). And after three and a half hours, they decided to let us put a rider on the appropriations bill that would appropriate 100,000 dollars to set up an EEO office and get these agencies to submit affirmative action plans. This became, in effect—the various agencies were contacted—(inaudible)—Mr. Lorenzo Cole, who functioned in this particular capacity, but the man had no authority. It was only upon the action of the governor in executing an executive order which was meaningless upon execution. It was just a nice way of saying, “Do this, please.” The attorneys then will rule(?) upon this particular rider because it ruins(?) the constitutionality of it. Saying that you cannot interject anything in the appropriations bill in the record that you can do directly. So they threw that out. So we went to the governor on July 31, at the end of the convention. He assured us that he was going to continue his program of requiring these state agencies to submit these plans, and those agencies that were proven to be discriminatory would have funds withheld from them. This is the effect of this particular thing that we set up—that they would have funds withheld from them. Now, we have a representative—Paul Ragsdale from Dallas—who worked extensively throughout the state of Texas and filed some lawsuits against some state agencies for discrimination. He was also instrumental in going to little towns and filing those suits, also, for other purposes.
24:43.0 Now the lieutenant governor—now I want you to understand this—he (inaudible; noise on tape) hire blacks—hire a black. And it’s usually the type of a black where there’s not going to be too much sympathy to the other blacks’ problems. I think the lieutenant governor hired a black woman and also hired Mr. Lorenzo Cole, who I think is no longer with him, a black man. Price Daniels, Jr., who was the speaker of the house, was all for eradicating all this. He hired no blacks. But he was for solving the problem. The sergeant at arms—it was almost an unknown situation to have black. It was not until we got there and hired blacks ourselves and saw that blacks were hired—(inaudible; noise on tape) We have had a situation where we had one agency that operated right in the capital, who fired a black. We got his job back. He was fired because (inaudible; noise on tape). Now can you imagine the head of the custodial department in the capital being white? And all the people there white? Except there’s very few people who (inaudible; noise on tape). There are about two or three maids and two or three men—black men—but the rest of them are white folks. Now the Highway Department, they’ve got a few more blacks. (inaudible; noise on tape) a single black—one black. And they tell you, “We hired them. We can just fire them. What we need you to do is to go out and help us.” And I tell them, “That’s your job. If you want to correct the problem, it’s your responsibility to hire them. You’re not going to use me as an excuse for not having one.” You have a personnel department. Put them to work.
I: 26:47.6 I think you might have had some involvement in the (inaudible; noise on tape).
ST: No, very little. I only supported (inaudible; noise on tape).
I: Can you tell us how (inaudible; noise on tape).
ST: I think (inaudible; noise on tape) to it of getting some data or some information (inaudible; noise on tape). And this was a little domain all to himself. So out of anger, he lashed out at her and called her a little woman.
I: I think— Did Mrs. Johnson pursue this?
ST: I don’t know. I don’t remember what the outcome of it was except the fact that he apologized.
I: I think his contention was that no blacks had (inaudible: noise on tape).
ST: That’s the excuse of every one that you go to. The University of Texas is one of the biggest discriminators in the world. And they always say—you know—we were hiring. You all just sent us somebody over here.
I: (inaudible; noise on tape)
(Large portion inaudible; noise on tape)
ST: 29:17.4 So what they did, they kept this particular field in committee until almost the end of the session because the deal went over in March, and they wouldn’t let it out of committee until May. So they put it on the calendar, and you had to have two-thirds of the senators present and voting to approve it. And it passed by a majority, but did not pass by two-thirds.
I: I think you sort of had some discussion with the governor concerning this.
ST: The lieutenant governor.
I: Right, can you tell me about this?
ST: I don’t recall too much about— The only problem was, I went to him—it was brought to my attention by one senator that he was blocking this piece of legislation. Sometimes, they’ll allege things to you for different reasons to get you to jump on someone for other reasons. He assured me that he was not blocking this piece of legislation or anything like this.
I: Do you plan to put this back on the calendar?
ST: It’s going to face them every year I’m there until they pass it.
I: The resolution to pay for Nicaraguan students to come to Texas and study was opposed by you on the floor of the House. Can you tell us about the circumstances and events surrounding this defeat?
ST: Yeah. I was made aware of this particular bill that the University of Texas wanted to pass, and usually they get everything they want. But two diehard conservatives were on the floor opposing this piece of legislation, and they had it won because the two persons that were opposing it, they opposed everything. And usually, when they get up they just rattle on. So knowing the seriousness of this particular situation, I rose to the podium and gave my little speech in opposition against the support of this particular piece of legislation. These are my reasons: Number one, the Nicaraguan students come over here by one of two methods. Number one is if his family is rich enough to send him, or, number two, he is funded by the federal government of the United States. I could not see nor could I justify within my mind that we would give financial aid, four years of it, to these students and deny the blacks and the browns and the poor whites. Why take their money and give it to a foreigner and you deny them the right to use it themselves? It just wasn’t good logic, and that’s the reason why I opposed it.
I: As a result of this victory for you, you have been called, or referred to, as one of those “vocal blacks” in the legislature. Can you respond to this? How do you respond to this?
ST: Well, I think there’s something (unintelligible) of another because I stay on the University of Texas all the time. I’m always on them about something. They finally got around to—after staying on them so much—to setting up a program to recruit blacks. Before, they said they couldn’t afford it; they didn’t have the money.
(Loud noise on tape)
I: 33:39.9 We are continuing on about the bilingual education program that you were involved in.
ST: I was saying—alluding to the fact that they are persons who are members of the legislature who feel that the Latin American—or Chicano—however he wants to designate himself, should be born speaking English and come over speaking English. Give him an opportunity to learn. He ought to just learn from trial and error from being over here in an English-speaking country. But we were able to get this passed. I think one of the reasons has probably been the role of the federal government in this particular area. The legislation had been introduced many, many other times. And we were able to get through a piece of legislation that even puts out information for driver’s license and applying for them in the Spanish language.
I: Can you tell us about your work on the special house committee studying state scholarship programs?
ST: We are on the way on that study right now. It will probably be completed in December. I will be holding my meeting this month on that project. But what we are attempting to do here is to see how well the colleges and universities utilize money that has been allocated to them for scholarship use. Now, let me give you an example. You take a child who is a poor child who wants to go to the University of Texas. You have the 35:15 (__??) Act. This is money that can be given to students if their parents are unable to afford an education. Now there are some barriers there. Number one, they don’t want too many blacks in the University of Texas. They have a way of getting you in and getting you out, or not letting you in at all. Usually, it’s not letting you in. We have some schools who would not post information, which would not let a student know that money was available through loans and scholarships for them, therefore, they are not admitted. We have some universities that do this on purpose. They came with a bill last term that we got in committee where they wanted to take this money and appropriate it for the general revenue of that school, which means they want to use it for something else. That lets me know that there is a major(?)— So what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to find out how well they’re utilizing it. There are some abuses with it right now, like hiring faculty people, and things like this, with the money that really should be used for children getting enrolled in school.
I: I think that you had quite a bit of involvement with this at University of Texas Law School.
ST: 36:27.6 Yeah, they had the CLEO Program. We wanted to bring the CLEO Program back, and they didn’t want it. Of course, this is strictly the prerogative of the school to have or not have such a program like this. It is a federally funded program. I think the University of Houston has this program now. They asked me to carry a piece of legislature for half a million dollars for minority improvement. The chances of this particular legislation getting through were very great. It came out with flying colors, but it came out at a time that it had to go on the special calendar. It needed a certain number of votes, not in the house. Any five people could object to the bill and get bumped off. And it kept getting bumped off, bumped off. And the University of Texas, who wanted it so badly, was causing the bill to be bumped off.
I: When you say that the University of Texas was causing it to be bumped off, can you—?
ST: Yeah. Let me be more specific. Like I mentioned earlier, they get anything they want—anything. The bill they were introducing that I kept appealed(?) was probably just an accident. (unintelligible) They probably could of went and got it. They were going to bring the bill back up, and I told them they had to give an hour notice—that a particular piece of legislation that has been appealed will be brought up. I told them that if they brought it up, I would get so many people to come in and be able to vote in opposition to them, and I would deny them the right of having it pass. In turn, they said, “All right. All right. You’re going to beat me on this, but I’ll get you.” And that’s what they did on this particular legislation. They had people that they know in control. I’m going to give you some insight on that. When I say they know people in control, they have persons who are graduates from the University of Texas. (unintelligible) They passed the word around, “You’ve got to bump this bill.” They control, in many instances, the amount of money that a politician is going to be able to ascertain on a campaign. All right, now say your campaign is 30,000 dollars to run, and you have done something that they don’t like. They can contact so many of their ex-students and ask them for money to put in another person’s campaign to see that you are defeated. And they keep those people under fear and threat at all times. You would find, in many instances, a person that voted for something that they know is opposite to the welfare of the majority of the state, but they are afraid to vote otherwise. That’s the reason we ran into all the problems—some of the reasons we ran into all the problems that we had on the education committee.
I: So you’re saying that one of the interest groups in the area is the University of Texas?
ST: It runs the state of Texas. It runs the state of Texas. You know that they were involved in the impeachment process for Governor Ferguson? That’s the first one in the state of Texas, and they had all the facts—you know—before he got out of office and what they were doing.
I: Now that we are on the University of Texas, I think also you were involved in a controversy concerning the building of a 300,000-dollar wall for the school.
ST: 40:05.4 They were building a fountain, they’re putting up flowers—285,000 dollars—several of them. I’m always on them about something.
I: Okay, let’s go now to the salaries of the legislator. Upon taking office, you commented on the fact that you felt that legislators were underpaid. Can you tell us something about your involvement in this?
ST: Okay. First of all, the salary of the legislator is constitutionally established, and that is that we make 4800 dollars a year. Now it used to be no salary at all. This was something of an honor to be able to serve. Then they went to 75 dollars a week, and then they went to 100 dollars a week. Now we’ve learned, from January through May, in the last 20 days, you don’t get any per diem—you know—you don’t get any money to live on. That was instituted to prevent the persons a long time ago from just taking all the time they need and not hurrying up with the business and getting it all resolved. Now we get 12 a day, and that is to buy three meals on and get a place to stay. The cheapest place you can find to stay is 10 dollars a day, and that means there’s 2 dollars left for your three meals. Now this is what happens with some of the other special interest groups. They come in, and you can get breakfast free. You walk in and you get breakfast free every morning, or you can get lunch free, or you can get dinner free. But what you are doing, you are obligating yourselves to these people indirectly through food—our survival. I was still talking about the salaries. With all the inflation and various problems that we are having now, the dollar isn’t going very far. I think about 65 cents at most. Therefore, it makes it very difficult for a person to be able to maintain (inaudible) and to be able to survive—make a living. Even if you didn’t have but one resident to maintain, it’s difficult in this day and time to survive on 4800 dollars a year.
I: How do you respond to the comment that the legislators make up this lack of salary from speeches, honorariums, gifts, etc.?
ST: They’re not. We passed a group of reform laws when I went into office. Heretofore, we have had persons who are lobbyists—we can talk about that in conjunction with this. The lobbyists have people that have been able to give monies for various politicians who will vote a certain way, and who will be able to encourage other legislators to vote similarly. They have been able to get clothes, suits, cars, cabins, stock, jobs—like lawyers who are there. They will be able to get so many persons to be—you know when a lawyer is—retainers. They’ve been able to get so many retainers. They are guaranteed so many retainers. And some companies are going to give them X number of dollars. And this is the thing that they are talking about which turns out to be another controlling device.
I: 43:33.9 Let’s turn now a little bit to your involvement in environmental legislature. So to get us started on this, you, at one time, excluded yourself from the general house because of smoking?
ST: That’s right.
I: Okay, can you go on and tell us a little about your involvement in environmental law?
ST: I supported the legislation that came forth—the Clean Bill—that came forth—the Environmental Bill. I don’t recall all the aspects of it, but it was a type of bill that was a good starting point—a good starter—for the type of laws that we need to have instituted in the state for the health and welfare of all our citizens. However, you know the process of the bill being debated, the bill being admitted, and this sort of thing, it comes out to be a situation where you end up supporting a share or the number on the bill or you have to vote against it because of what has happened to it. I think it became something. I don’t think it was too representative of what actually had been anticipated. I remember supporting that. I moved off the floor for the smoking because I have sinuses, and the smoke disturbs them. I was seated in front of a man who smokes cigars and in front of a man who smokes cigarettes and two in back of me. I just wanted amendment to the bill—to the rules of the house on smoking—because there is allowance provided that smoking can take place in it. I just felt like I have a right of a nonsmoker to not be intimidated and to be made ill because of the smoking.
I: The ethics code, I think, has come up. What position did you take on this?
ST: I voted for the ethics bill, I recall. One of the amendments that really gutted the bill—you know—when I say “gutted,” I mean really took out all the specific aspects of the bill of restraint, to some degree, that would really make it a real, workable and viable piece of legislation. And that was that a person who had some type of information that had to be submitted would submit this information in an unsealed envelope unless there are other types of procedures that would have to take place to have this particular thing unsealed. You have to submit it sealed, and it would have to be unsealed. You go through a certain degree of process. And this was the thing that we were trying to get around. Now, whoever allowed that particular piece of legislature (inaudible), so we think that it’s going to be different for the next body and bodies to come. Well, not any of the reform legislation is from the state because (__??) to be repealed.
I: 46:28.3 How do you feel that violators of the ethics code should have been dealt with—should be dealt with?
ST: I think every (unintelligible), just like the impeachment process of Nixon. I think that should not be a miscarriage of justice. I think that if we are going to be standing in the position of lawmakers, we should be the persons who are with them and any other persons who are to be vindicated or what have you. We should not be a violator or be in a position where we can violate it.
LM: The first session of this interview concludes at this point.
I: This is October 18, 1974. I am interviewing Mrs. Senfronia Thompson, who is a black legislator in the Texas legislature. Mrs. Thompson, I think we should begin this afternoon discussing the discrimination suit that you have against the Rice Hotel. Can you tell us the circumstances surrounding this suit?
ST: Yeah, that was a suit that was filed in 1972 as a result of being discriminated against in the Rice Hotel private club. I was a guest of a member of that club, and upon my entry into the club, I was refused services because I was black. I filed an injunctive relief and was granted that, and we had an out-of-settlement—the suit was settled out of court. We got the Rice Hotel to agree that they would not discriminate against other blacks or other persons who were constituents. That was the result of that case. I think sometime in ’73 was when we were able to get the agreement with them. They did not want to go to court, and they certainly did not want to entertain anymore adverse publicity because this publicity hurt all of the entities that were involved. This particular situation being Rice University, who owns the Rice Hotel in Houston proper. I was stepping on a lot of big toes there, and a lot of people could have been—received adverse publicity that they could have avoided. I think that was the reason why they were willing to do this. They were kind enough even to give me a free suite to hold my press conference in.
I: Can you tell us who your attorney was that was assisting you at this time?
ST: Yeah, I had two attorneys at that time. My attorneys are black. One of my attorneys is now a justice of the peace, Judge (__?) Davis. He was the main attorney. And the second attorney, because of his vast degree of experience in the federal courts—he was the second one, and he actually was familiar with all the federal ramifications. I’m trying to think of the name of that case. Somewhere upstate where—the Moose Lodge case?
ST: 49:45.1 The Moose Lodge case was one of the cases which the arguments that we raised were based upon. The Supreme Court overturned that case in favor of that particular person because of the interstate commerce clause and the goods they were using at this particular lodge. It gave him an opportunity to have his revenues there.
I: Let’s go now to your involvement with the Texas Democratic State Convention. Can you tell us something about your activities with that?
ST: This is a convention that you have an opportunity to get to where a preset (inaudible; noise on tape) and then you go to the state’s convention. The state convention has delegates that would be going to a mini convention in Kansas City, Missouri. (inaudible) (inaudible) During the time we were at the convention, we had several things that had to take place—the election of officers, a chair of the convention, a secretary, persons to be on the predictor’s(?) committee and other committees where there were persons to be elected from. They always surprise us. When you attend conventions, you always are able to learn more because I think that you are more alert, perhaps, from prior experiences. It was interesting to note that during this convention, the various interest groups or forces in action in play for various parts, or portions, of power. I think with these interest groups at this convention—that I was able to (unintelligible) was the labor organizations. And in my particular senatorial district, there are several conglomerations of labor groups—steel workers, Teamsters, and various others. I don’t know if the Teamsters are now. I think they are now affiliated with the 51:58 (__?). They may be, but I’m not sure. And I think there is a tendency to say that our group needs representation and are going to be persons involved with labor. And then there was the anti labor group who says that, “Our group needs representation who are not going to be affiliated with labor.” And then there was the white, conservative group that says, “We must control this particular senatorial district because we are in control. We are the majority. We cannot let our power be eluded.” Then there was the so-called small, minority, black, Mexican-American group of persons who were really not a part of any of those special interest groups who were saying that, “We are looking on, but I do feel that I, too, must be represented.” But I think the two major forces fighting against each other were the labor and the anti-labor forces. Who was actually going to be in control? And not only in my senatorial district, but in every one of them. They fought to control every senatorial district. And I think that the brainwashing that they have done—or cause these people to almost violently want to seek these positions. It’s either we sit and negotiate and not to agree to negotiate or get up and go at it with our fists. And it gets to that point sometimes in that particular situation. But I think labor is now being pushed back and people are beginning to be awakened as to what degree or type of objectives that they have. And they are beginning to fight them and are kind of resentful of this.
I: 53:48.7 Can you tell us what your response was regarding the Jewish members wanting the meeting delayed?
ST: I made a special release which the papers did not pick up—they did not print. I thought it was unfair for the governor and the chairman of the Democratic Party to ignore some 200 persons who are members of this organization and hold the convention on their religious day. I really felt like they too should have been represented by members of their own group and the date should have been changed.
I: Let’s go further now. Can you tell us about the black caucus at the convention?
ST: There are two caucuses. I am a member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus that is presently made up of eight persons. We will probably add a ninth person in January, a person in Austin. But the black caucus that operated at the convention is a compilation of persons around the city of Houston who seek to implement some type of strategies to get some positions that have normally been held by nonblack persons. And it goes beyond that. That is one of the major objectives. And then the second objective is that there are persons who are affiliated with this particular organization who seek to get power as a black leader so that they can utilize it either as a major means of a monetary interest or as a controlling device that would only benefit themselves and not necessarily benefit all who are involved or who would be affected by this.
I: Let’s move now to the general political area, and then we’ll come back and make some further comments. To begin with, I think you’ve already responded to your prior experiences in the field of politics. Can you reiterate this again for us? Was it extensive or very benefitting prior to getting—?
ST: I think it was more moderate, if I can just really recall between the two. Because of my involvement with certain activities, because of my (inaudible), I think I had a moderate involvement.
I: You have referred to a few of the organizations.
ST: Yeah, the Harris County Council, (inaudible)—which is in my immediate area—the credit unions—which I was president of a credit union for about 3 years. We had a food coop going, and I was president of that for about a couple years.
I: 57:10.6 Did this have any particular name?
ST: It was Fourth Ward Credit Union and Fourth Ward Food Coop. And the coop bought food in large quantities at a reduced price, and we were able to— Now we had two different ones operating—a white and a black one—and it didn’t seem like there was any reason to merge them; although, we all had the same problems. (inaudible) More from the white side than the black.
I: Can you tell us about your first work or projects in this local agreement(?)—you know campaigns or something that maybe—
ST: Well, I think I worked one time when (s/l Percy Gray) ran for major. I worked on his campaign. (inaudible) Doing telephone work, addressing envelopes, the usual things most women do on campaigns.
I: Okay. You mentioned your job. You were teaching school, I believe, at the time that you ran for election, right?
I: Okay. Can you tell us what influence or affect your teaching position actually had, or did it motivate you to get into this?
ST: I think that that was one of the overriding motivations in that I taught retarded children, and I also had so-called normal children too, and there always seemed to have been a feeling that you were not doing enough for these children and you had to be in a position that you could be able to help them more, or be able to get more of the resources that they needed.
I: So were you encouraged in this by any particular factions in your school—political activists and such?
ST: No, not necessarily.
I: Had you received any type of academic training that was related to (unintelligible)?
ST: 59:15.8 No, I never had any more than—(unintelligible).
I: Your degree, I believe was in the field of sciences.
I: Can you tell us what type of relationship you retain to date with your former schools?
ST: Well, I’m a student now at Texas Southern University, the school where I got my undergraduate degree. The type of rapport that I have with Prairie View is presently the kind of rapport of seeing how best we can help them in receiving a large appropriations for the next year(?).
I: Were you involved in any way in the Prairie View investigation? Can you tell us something about this?
ST: The Prairie View investigation involves all eight black representatives. And this is a peculiar situation and investigation in that there were some persons from our caucus—the black caucus—who were zeroing in with the white members of the legislature who informed them and convinced them that there were serious problems that existed at Prairie View to such an extent that it was ultimately necessary for us blacks to go down and make and investigation and to eradicate all these walls that existed. But they had certain types of data that would give them more than ample evidence that these wrongs existed. And upon their course of conversation with these persons, I happened to read the interviews after having received a telephone call from some of the news media. I was one of the persons who were not involved. As a matter of fact, there were three of us. I think the persons who were involved were Mickey Leland and Craig Washington. They were talking to the Speaker of the House, Price Daniels, Jr., and another person whose name was (s/l Ben Judiack) from Rockdale, Texas. These were persons who seemed to have grievances and who were supposed to have had all the expertise and all the knowledge about what this school was doing wrong. They seemed to have convinced these two legislators, so they went out and talked to the press about it. When I knew anything— The press was called in for a comment, and I had to read it in the newspaper; that’s how I was informed of it. Later, we were called in and discussed it, and then Prairie View people came and they talked. Of course, it alarmed them because they had this undergoing senate investigation down there, and this is how all the things came about.
(Speaking at same time)
ST: But the investigation has not taken place yet.
I: The investigation has not—?
ST: No, it has not taken place. Our chairman is Craig Washington. We have been trying to get funds, and we’ve been trying to get staff so we can begin. I think it was last year I talked about keeping him as chairman. (inaudible; noise on tape) But I was very disturbed because of the fact that we had hung ourselves (inaudible; noise on tape). That was last November. Then he took it upon himself to divide the caucuses up in various small subcommittees. And now, when the constitution (__?) came about, all subcommittees and committee works were suspended until afterwards. Then we had to wait until September before the money can be turned loose. (inaudible; noise on tape) Then Representative Ragsdale, who has been doing a lot of work with the redistricting—who has done a lot of work around real small towns to make it possible for black people to want an officer—(unintelligible). He decided that he wanted to go ahead because he had gotten very tired of waiting. He finally held his first meeting about a couple of weeks ago. I will be going. I told him today that I wanted hire Dr. Stewart so she could be an evaluator for curriculum down there. And we’re going to try to get our two committees up here. I don’t know how many others will be meeting, but I know we will.
I: 1:04:22 Do you feel that upon going into the legislature you were adequately prepared?
ST: I sure do, because (inaudible; noise on tape). They didn’t know anything but wearing cowboy boots and looking stupid. I think I’m a genius compared to some of my colleagues. Some of them are so dumb that dumb is too intelligent a word to describe them.
I: Where there a great many new adjustments that you had to make upon being elected and taking your seat? What were some of the kinds of adjustments you had to make?
ST: I didn’t have a lot of adjustments. I had a no problems trying to get my family adjusted or anything. We had settled all that. If I had won, who was going to go where, and who was going to stay where. I had secured a place to stay. There were really no problems there. I really didn’t have any major problems or anything that inhibited me taking my seat.
I: What about your relationship or your adjustment to the assembly itself?
ST: I made a pretty good adjustment until I ran across this fellow from Cleveland, Texas, that insulted me.
I: 1:05:33 Can you tell us about this?
ST: This was an incident that happened, and it was very strange in that we have a place that all the trial lawyers would go and eat. This is a place about the size of this office. The food is given to you for free. And a lot of people—everybody mostly goes over there and eats because you get 12 dollars a day to live on and eat three meals off of, and it gets pretty tight. So we ran over there for a quick lunch. And upon going over there, this fellow made a statement, “Oh, here comes my beautiful, black mistress.” Well, he’s a wealthy, white boy from a small town who felt like he had no respect for anybody. He had a knack for putting down minority people. That was his thing. When I entered the room, he made this statement, “Here is my beautiful, black mistress.” Well, it shocked me because I’ve never said anything to the man except, “Hello. How are you?” He approached me one time for voting against one of his bills, and I told him why I voted against it. I told him my point, and he seemed to have accepted it. But he did not stop at that point of, “Here is my beautiful, black mistress.” I immediately said, “I am not your black mistress.” He went on to say, “You mean to tell me that you wouldn’t have sex with a white man?” He asked me, when all black women do nothing but go out and have sex with white men, why do I want to be an exception? And the room was just quiet. They seemed to have taken this very lightly, and they all laughed about it. So it was very funny to them for him to sit there and do that. So I told the speaker that I wanted to make a personal privilege speech. When he learned the nature of it, he told me that the rules of the house did not provide for personal privilege of that nature. (inaudible; noise on tape) So I left the chambers, and I told him that I would go on television—that I would not save anybody, and I would let the chips fall where they may. I went to my office, and he sent for me and begged for me to come back. He told me that I would be privileged to give it, and I was. Now, one of the shocking things in this whole incident that happened was the fact that one of my black colleagues immediately rushed over to this person, after I had given this personal privilege speech—and I had been threatened and a whole lot of disastrous things were going to happen. I told them in my speech, “If that meant for me to come and lower my character or my principles, then certainly I was in the wrong chamber and dealing with the wrong types of people.” And a white man from—Neal Caldwell who was a so-called liberal from Alvin, Texas, got up and he told everyone that it was a joke. It was a mistake, and he was sorry that it had happened and they should look upon it as just a joke. And the house stood and applauded this man. Even my black colleagues stood and clapped. And one of my black colleagues—this is what is so disappointing. One of my black colleagues—one of the males—rushed over to this white man and told him, “Man, if there’s anything I can do to help you, let me know. I’m sorry this happened. She shouldn’t have gotten on the floor and given a personal privilege speech. She just shouldn’t have done it.” And this is the funniest part of it all—just before this incident happened, this man ran over—they were trying to keep me from giving this speech—he said, “Mickey, you’ve got to help me, Mickey.” And he said, “What did you do?” And he told him what happened. He said, “Man, there’s nobody in this chamber can help you if you did that to her. If it had been anybody else, I could talk to them. What did she tell you she was going to do?” He said, “She is going to get up there and give a personal privilege, and she’s going to kill me.” He said, “Well, that’s what she’s going to do. You made a mistake by doing it to her. If it had been any other woman in here, I would go and talk with her, but nobody can change her mind if that’s what you did.” So he was probably— There was two people that I can say that stood with me in that matter, and that was the representative from San Antonio, Representative Sutton, and Mickey Leland. And the rest of them I cannot, to this day, stand up and tell you what position that they took, because there were all kinds of positions and people going behind my back and apologizing for me standing up. They don’t realize that it not only insulted me, but it insulted them as black women and black men and all Texans.
I: 1:10:34 Okay, let’s go on. (inaudible; noise on tape) What goals did you decide to make while you were running for office?
ST: I wanted to do something about the solving some of the problems that we had in the state of Texas. Education was really my main thing. (inaudible; noise on tape) We failed at that because the governor was not, at that time, making long-range plans for education. That was my major objection.
I: (inaudible; noise on tape) Let’s talk about organizers of campaigns. I think you commented before that it was not an extensively financed campaign. (inaudible; noise on tape) Did you have a campaign manager?
ST: Yes, I did. I had a campaign manager who was not just there to manage my campaign, but was a campaign manager in name only. She was involved in campaigning for other persons at that time. But I used an office located in her building. I was my own campaign manager. I ran it the best I could. I was always inquiring for people or persons who were in politics for some help. But the ironic thing about asking people who are already in office is it is difficult to ascertain information from them. They will not give it to you. With the whites, I had no trouble. They knew it. But with blacks, it was just like going to a closed door. They just wouldn’t let you in. They wouldn’t talk to you. Not that they didn’t want help you as a friend; they just didn’t want to be bothered.
I: 1:13:21 Can you tell us if there were any specific campaign slogans that you used during your campaign?
ST: I used so many of them. No, I don’t remember any of them at all.
I: What kinds of strategies did you use to get votes?
ST: I walked. I knocked on doors. I called on the telephone. I was at every activity in that district that might have been.
I: Had you ever been appointed to any political positions prior to your run?
I: What specific political organizations were actually involved in? I think you covered most of them. Were you associated with any particular territory—(unintelligible)?
ST: Let me see. I don’t know. I just don’t remember. There were so many groups that I was a part of.
I: Were there any particular groups that you sought their support?
I: Okay. Can you tell us about that?
ST: The Harris County Council Organizations, the Harris County Democrats, certain labor groups, certain groups, like the environmental protections groups, things like that. I’d just kind of seek their endorsements.
I: Were you successful on all of your—?
ST: I got all the endorsements, and my opponent got none, except two. He received the black lawyer’s endorsement.
(Speaking at same time)
I: Who was the chairman?
ST: Cecil Bush. Craig Washington was the chairman of the Black Lawyers Association, and he got that one. My Latin-American opponent got PASO, the Mexican-American politics. And my white one got the American (__??) or somebody like that to endorse him—Ku Klux Klan.
I: 1:15:21 I think one of your opponents eventually dropped out of the campaign, right?
ST: No, he really didn’t drop out.
I: Tell us about this.
ST: He did not withdraw. He said that he was not going to actively campaign for election in the run-off. A lot of people thought that he was really moving out of the race and he didn’t. He waited until the date had expired when he could have legally dropped, but he did not. He waited until after, and he got on the radio and said that racism had been injected in this, but my opponent is not at fault because she has not done this. He felt like he had to get out. But he really did not want to be beaten by a black.
I: Can you describe the type of response and reaction that you received from the white community during your election?
ST: Yes. It was a very low response because of kinds of people that I have that represent the white community. I have about 32 percent of that district who is white, 12 percent who has never voted for anybody in their life and never will vote, and the other 22 percent are either Ku Klux Klan or people who don’t think of it as a matter of qualification, but a black/white issue. And then, a small minority, maybe one percent of the 22 percent, are persons who are liberal—supposed to be liberal minded—and I got their votes. But basically, he carried the white districts.
I: What was the response you got from the blacks and minorities?
ST: Well, I got a good majority of response. I got about 469 votes and he got 32.
I: Can you evaluate or speak to the point of the type of treatment that you received from the news media during your campaign?
ST: Well, I got very little publicity from the black news media—especially from the black news media. I got very little response from them. Most of mine came from the white papers. They ran some articles on women who were running in politics. I got some coverage there. Of course, I got some coverage when I filed. They did some nice write-ups. There was even one paper that I could not even buy an ad in.
I: 1:18:04 Was this a white or—?
ST: No, this was a black paper.
I: Would you care to mention the name?
ST: No, I would not.
I: So then your coverage in some areas was not, in your opinion, adequate?
I: Any other comments you’d like to make? What about television, radio?
ST: Well, on television I did a series one day. (inaudible) The radio—I bought radio time, and I ran some ads—announcements.
I: Did you encounter any problems or negative attitudes among the voters when you went out into the various areas?
ST: Well, there were attitudes trying to be injected into the campaign by my opponents. My black opponent was telling people that I shouldn’t run because I had a whole house full of children. I had three children, and he was telling everybody I had five and my husband was old and sick and poor and I was ignoring them and denying them my time and love and affection—that he was sick and I wouldn’t even take care of him. He got a preacher in that area to disseminate this information. I was able to go and talk to the preacher, and he found out what was really happening. I stopped him from carrying on the gossip, because that’s what it amounted to.
I: Are there any comments regarding your campaign that you care to make about mistakes, modifications, or changes that you made in your second campaign?
ST: I didn’t have a second campaign.
I: I’m sorry—that you would make in a second campaign.
ST: 1:20:23 Well, I’d probably try to run it more organized than I did the first time because the first time I was like a chicken with its head cut off. I didn’t know which way to really go. And I probably would not wear myself out, but use my time more effectively and probably go into groups. That’s where I’d have an advantage over my opponent, because I would know which groups to go to and where the strengths really are.
I: Were there occasions when you and other blacks that were running for office at that time gave each other support?
ST: I gave some support. For instance, if I was invited to an affair that had a broad cross section of the city involved, then I would let the other black candidates know. I did get some support, but most of the black persons who were running in the city of Houston were seeking my defeat and were preparing themselves in the case of my runoff with a black person. Like Dr. Murray over at the University of Houston had predicted it would be a horse race between both of them. A black opponent needed to get 10 percent of the vote. They were preparing to come out there and work for his behalf to defeat me. So I had little cooperation from them.
I: Were there any national, state, or other local black officials that assisted you in your bid for office?
ST: No, none. Wouldn’t even talk to me.
I: Can you recount for us your views about your victory and your swearing in, in Austin? What were your candid feelings when you discovered that you had won? And the other part is, what were your candid comments on the swearing in, in Austin?
ST: Well, when I first won, I considered that a blessing in disguise. I really did. It’s something that I had won despite of the opposition that I had. When I was sworn in, I was elated, very happy. I felt like I had accomplished something very great.
I: Can you comment on your family’s response?
ST: They were very happy, very elated. They were there when I was sworn in.
I: Was there anything particularly unique about your victory—that you considered to be significant?
ST: 1:22:47 Yeah, I did, because of the fact that my husband had always been the type of person that he might have objected about things that I had done and wanted to do, but if I really wanted to do them badly, he would always come on in and agree and support me. I could always rely on his support. He was very happy, and because of his happiness, I felt very good about it.
I: Did you receive some sort of support from any “unusual” areas that you had not expected support from during your campaign?
I: What comment or reaction do you have regarding the effectiveness of black elected officials at the state, national, and local levels?
ST: I think that they have good qualities. When you think of some of the things they have accomplished—the mere fact that you are able to walk on the House of Representatives floor in the state of Texas and not hear the word “nigger” as it was predominantly used, the fact that you are able to get people to see your point of view or see the other person’s side as not being very majority minded in their approach, and the fact that we were all able to pass on legislation and we were able to resolve some problems that involved some black people in positions that have never been involved before. I think that is a broad accomplishment. I think on a national level, Watergate is a situation that we can look at and look at it very proudly and see the black people, like Barbara Jordan, who were able to sit on that judiciary committee and go down those various areas that the president had violated. I think the contributions by Shirley Chisholm and (s/l Yvonne Burton)—who is going to take a long time to emerge because she has problems. And when I say problems, I’m not talking about problems in communications, but she is a very smart woman. She is a fighting woman. She fights for the people. (unintelligible) the things that she attempts to fight for—she tries to fight for. And the thing that seems to be holding her back this time is that she is a very beautiful woman. It does. I know it’s shocking, but she is a very attractive woman. That tends to—in the eyesight of white people—to be a disadvantage, because they more or less look for the Aunt Jemima type of black woman—you know—the Aunt Jemima, docile type of woman. The more Aunt Jemima looking you are, the better they are willing to work with you and assist you. And when she is able to overcome this—and I’m not talking about through age or disfiguration—she’ll be able to emerge as a very outstanding representative.
I: That’s a very interesting point of view I never—you know—one that probably works against you.
ST: 1:26:08 Because women have a tendency to be very jealous. And even white women have a tendency to be very jealous of black women and the way they look. But if that Aunt Jemima look is there, they feel superiority and safety.
I: I would like to go into this more because it is a comment that—
ST: Well, I dare say that Barbara Jordan would have had—I’m not saying I’m beautiful—but she certainly would not have had the problems up there that I had. She didn’t have them up there. I’m willing to bet my life on that.
I: That is very interesting. I’m sure that we could spend some more time on this, but we have to go on. Does the black elected official, in your opinion, receive full benefits and privileges that accompany an elected position?
ST: I will say that no black person, male or female, in politics, would receive all the benefits because of the way that our society operates. It is one of racism, ostracism, and there is a certain amount of ostracism that is going to exist—and racism—and it would never put you in a position that you would be actually and totally involved in policy-making situations. I don’t care even if you are a (s/l good Charlie). They’re only going to let (s/l good Charlie) go so far. He’ll go a little further than you, but he’s not going to go too much further.
I: Are black officials, in your opinion, treated as equals among their colleagues?
I: Can you respond?
ST: I think that one of the obstacles of our treatment is centered on power. Who is going to appear to the public as being more powerful, more influential, than the other? And it’s a power fight at all times. They tend to expend a vast degree of energy with this fight. I think that’s very obvious. When you look at Craig Washington and Anthony Hall, it is a throat-grabbing situation all the time.
I: Would you care to go into that further?
ST: 1:28:31 Well, they have a tendency to say that Anthony is trying to take control. There are those who allege that he is in control. There are those who allege that Craig Washington alleged the fact that Anthony Hall was one of the people that got an opponent for him; he would not have had an opponent. And then there is Mickey Leland who is in the middle who says, “I don’t care for Anthony, but I’m going to fight for Craig.” He is in the middle, and he tries to come out as the victor or the influencer or the negotiator of the whole thing. That’s the way I see it.
I: Okay. Have you encountered any particular hostilities or discourtesies from colleagues other than the ones you mentioned already?
ST: No. No, I really haven’t. The only problem that I have is (inaudible). Being a woman, it is a problem because there is always that exclusion method that they employ. They only want you when they feel like it’s your presence or your input that is the difference. Other than that, you are not informed and you are continuously excluded.
I: Do you feel that this is for women period? And then black women, is there another level of exclusion?
ST: I don’t know about the white women because they seem to work pretty effectively in that white group. They seem to include them pretty much. But there is— I think that it all centers around this: There is a problem that the position that Barbara has aspired to is one of great leadership, one of great respect not only throughout Texas, but throughout the nation. And there is a fear that black men have that all women who become involved in politics are going to become powerful, and they’ll always be in the background of that woman. So they think, rather than have another person come up and take another role, we’re going to keep her down and we’re going to kill her off right here. That’s what happens all the time.
I: That’s a very interesting point of view, and I’m sure that others would comment and we could go into it further. While we are on this, can you tell us about the relationship between the two black women representatives and the white representatives? Is there a type of caucus?
ST: We have a women’s caucus. There are five women—three whites and two blacks in the House of Representatives, and there’s one woman in the Senate. We come together. We talk about different things before we go back on that floor. From a representative’s point of view, there seems to be segregation. The whites get together, and they work themselves. We’ve got one liberal we call a little gadfly. If she thinks she needs something, she’ll come over and communicate. There are two of them like that. They’ll come over and communicate and talk to you. One (unintelligible), but she’s friendly with us, and the other two seem to stay to themselves and stay within whatever group that they are affiliated with. And the only time they communicate is when they want something. Now, I get along with the woman in Dallas pretty well, but she and (Ricky?) get along very well.
I: 1:31:55 Can you give us her name?
ST: Eddie Bernice Johnson. She was the one that they wanted to run for position on the national democratic committee (unintelligible).
I: Has there been any favoritism in your opinion with regard to contract appointments, chairmanships of committees, etc?
ST: Yes. I don’t know about the contracts. I’m sure they exist. But there are always those opportunities that if you do this, I’m going to see that you get so many of these retainers. There are other little gratuities that go along with it. But now, favoritism, they use it to put somebody in a chairmanship position that they feel like that they can, to a vast degree, control. There are certain pieces of legislation that must go through that committee. This person is going to see that that legislation goes through, regardless of whether it is good or bad. It’s going to be someone that they can rely on for a vote in a split second. Whether or not that person is going to vote for or against that piece of legislation, the mere fact that they have put them in that position makes them obligated to that person to vote a certain way.
I: This I think you have related to, but we’ll cover it to see if you have any other responses. Are there factions, cliques, and (unintelligible), and if so, can you name—?
ST: The same type of situation that exists in the legislature exists in ordinary life. There are labor factions, there are real conservative factions, there are liberal factions, there are minority’s factions, and there is a mixture of these. There are people that are farm factions, urban factions—all sorts of them exist.
I: Do you have any particular project or program in your immediate area to keep you and your constituents communicating?
ST: Yeah. What I do is to contact them on the phone. If they have problems—things with state agencies—this is not saying a whole lot about the state agencies because you have to break down and tell them what you’re talking about. Most of the problems that come to me are problems of people that are either on welfare and are having problems or who have tried to get on and who are having problems getting on. This is where most of the problems come in. But many people have not been able to determine the jurisdiction of a state representative as opposed to a city councilman or a commissioner. If they’ve got a hole in front of their house they call me, if they have grass or weeds that need to be cut down they call me, this sort of thing. They just don’t know. They just know that you are a public official, and you are going to be able to do this.
I: 1:34:50 What particular projects or programs or introductions of acts do you consider significant and are to be considered accomplishments that you have made in the past?
ST: Oh, I passed a bill for the blind—a broader scope on the Cane Law. But I had introduced some legislation, like the Cane Bill, which I did pass in the House, but it was killed in the Senate. We tried to lower the academic requirement for entering Universities, first off, and to increase the amount of income families could have for the (__??) Act. We asked for appropriations for a half million dollars for the University of Texas at Austin for minority people. You know I’ve given that school pure hell. Some of the things that I was able to do with the assistance of my colleagues were to get minorities in that school. They appropriated 400,000 dollars, which was a drop in the bucket because only 100,000 dollars a year would be used. You don’t know how many scholarships or how much money is going to be used for advertisement and this sort of thing. We were able to come together and sue (unintelligible) for black folks. I can just go on down the list of just a whole lot of things.
I: These are the ones that you concerned yourself with that you would like to have on record. Are there any others that you had significant input on that you’d like to comment on?
ST: No, I can’t think of any right now.
I: Okay. What new approaches or innovations or reforms do you feel the legislature should undertake in the coming session?
ST: What I’m working on now is legislation for scholarship utilization—for money to be utilized. There has been a tendency to want to take the money that had been set aside for scholarship funds, and if the money has not been used, put it in general revenue, which means that the school really doesn’t necessarily have to provide the scholarship; they can keep the money and put it in general revenue. There are schools that exist now in the state of Texas that are utilizing this money as a means of faculty salaries and other areas where they are not supposed to be utilizing it. We’re trying to work up some legislation where we can best make use of the scholarship money—advertisement and a lot of things like that. Some of the other areas that we are interested in is laws on habitability. If a person rents a house, it has to be livable for him to really be able to rent it and not rent it to a person with all kinds of plumbing defects and things like this involved in it. We’re looking in the area of age and seeing where we can develop—
(Break in tape)
ST: I plan to go to Congress and be a Congresswoman. I would like to. I plan to be the vice president one day of the United States of American, and I would like to retire as a Supreme Court Justice of the United States or being an ambassador to some country—without having to be the president—have some salary.
I: Thank you very much, Mrs. Thompson. We have enjoyed this very much. This has been Mrs. Senfronia Thompson, black legislator in the state of Texas.
(End of interview 1:38:49)