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Interview with: Judge Willie E.B. Blackmon
Interviewed by: Patricia Smith Prather
Date: August 24th, 2010
Archive Number: OH.GS.0015
Patricia Smith Prather (PSP): Ok, my name is Patricia Smith Prather and the date is August 24th, 2010, Tuesday afternoon around 2 o’clock and I am going to be interviewing Judge Willie E.B. Blackmon. You want me to call you Mr. Blackmon or it doesn’t matter?
Willie Blackmon (WB): Doesn’t matter.
(PSP): Ok, let’s start at the beginning. Briefly what you told me where you were born when you got to Pleasantville and be sure to put that story you were telling me on camera because that is an historical fact that I didn’t have no idea happened. So, let’s start from the beginning. You were born?
(WB): I was born April 16th, 1951 at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Fifth Ward. So I am a native Fifth Warder.
(PSP): Oh absolutely!
(WB): But at that time my parents were living in the Fidelity Manor subdivision which is actually at Clinton Park or Pleasantville or Galena Manors. Where African Americans live in that part of the city. But, I remember we stayed there one year and we only moved because one night my mother woke up in the middle of the night and a burglar had broken into the home and was about to sit on me when I was a baby. My father ran after the guy outside after she screamed and she was nervous about the incident, so we moved from Fidelity to a home in Clinton Park on Calloway Street, 256 Calloway.
(WB): We lived there for about 3 more years till I was 4. My parents divorced at that time and we moved to Pleasantville. Which was about 1955.
(PSP): Ok. And you watched them build Pleasantville Elementary School?
(WB): Yes I did. When we moved to Pleasantville, there was no…oh ah.. excuse me, there was no elementary, sometimes I have a speech impediment, people don’t realize but I went through 12 years of speech therapy. So I have always stuttered, people don’t realize that cause I speak mostly fluidly but I did go to Pleasantville Elementary. Oh, and I watched them build it while I was at the park. My older brothers and sisters, or siblings, went to Oak Prairie off Wallaceville Road.
(WB): And I think they completed Pleasantville maybe in the Fall of 56 and I started in 57.
(PSP): Now, give me the names of both of your parents?
(WB): My original parents were Will and Florence Boney. Some people in Texas pronounce the name Boney (B-O-N-E-Y) as Boney. Like Jew Don Boney and I are cousins.
(WB): So, my father died when I was a child. My mother remarried and to A.L. Blackmon who was from Fidelity Community.
(WB): He was a Korean War Veteran and he raised me the rest of the way with five children that were not his.
(WB): Actually, five of us were not his. The baby girl, Rita Lynette Blackmon was his daughter.
(PSP): Ok good. Ok and so you to elementary school in Pleasantville after you watched it being built and from there you went to..did you go to a middle school?
(WB): Actually, I did go to a middle school, E.O. Smith Middle School. But before I just wanted to mention something that happened historically speaking in Pleasantville. There was a situation where the dam burst. Pleasantville was bordered before they built 610, we had Adelaide Street, that was taken out by 610. On the other side of Adelaide, there was a field and two huge dams that Houston used to dredge the ship channel and put mud and all kinds of other debris into those dams. One day, two young boys and a man was walking on top of one of the dams-the northernmost dam. I will call it dam number 1 and it burst. The wall of it burst. Those individuals died almost instantly by the quicksand and other materials that was inside of the dam.
(WB): The problem with that is that it rushed into the neighborhood and another lady died and the National Guard was called in to remove everybody from the neighborhood before there were anymore deaths and my parents were very much afraid and I was afraid. I had never seen the Guard before, didn’t realize one day I would be a Guardsmen.
(PSP): Wow, so you were about how old when that happened? Were you in elementary school?
(WB): I was about… I was in elementary, I was probably seven or eight years of age.
(PSP): Ok. Ok. So then you went to E.O. Smith Jr. High is what they called it back then.
(PSP): And how did you get there?
(WB): Well, we were still under a period of segregation. So Fir (sp?) was closer to us, there were other junior highs that were integrated, meaning integrating non-blacks. Everything, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, etc. We couldn’t go there because of the law, so we were , the City or HISD hired buses to bring the kids from Clinton Park , Pleasantville, and Wallaceville Road to E.O. Smith.
(PSP): I see.
(WB): So we were bused in.
(PSP): So you were bused in. Do you remember any particular teacher who had a great influence on you at that point in your life? Middle School?
(WB): There were many teachers that had an important part of my life. Most of them of course were coaches.
(WB): Because I was an athlete. I was a scholar athlete they called me. I was an honor student and I was a city champion in track and field. But one of them was Lesley Minfield. Also, Palmer Bowser-my track and field coach. Another was coach James D. Bryant-James “Bear” Bryant we called him. Later coached and gained his fame at Booker T. Washington High School as an outstanding coach and almost became the coach at Texas Southern, years later. But the most important teacher in my entire life was at Pleasantville Elementary.
(PSP): Hmmm.. and who was that?
(WB): Her name was Thelma Smith.
(WB): You may know the name Smith because of the fact that her uncle was namesake of the library that sits between Jack Yates and the University of Houston. He was a doctor, he was a dentist, Dr. Lonnie Smith.
(PSP): Lonnie Smith, I didn’t even realize Dr. Smith had a sister.
(WB): Had a what?
(PSP): you just telling me, that was Lonnie Smith’s sister?
(WB): No, his niece.
(PSP): Oh, his niece. Ok.
(WB): His niece, that was her uncle and Lonnie Smith was a very famous man in the integration of the City of Houston.
(PSP): Oh, absolutely!
(WB): And she was important to me because I was a severe stutterer. I couldn’t speak when I was young. I never tried even in the first grade. I could read and write from nursery school in Clinton Park, but when I got to Pleasantville they teased me because of my impediment. So, I just shut down in the first grade and didn’t even try. So I was failed by my first grade teacher, but when I was in the library one day, they had told Thelma Smith that “watch this kid, we think he has some potential, but he has some problems. We don’t know what they are?” And she watched me one day reading in the library because she was the librarian. And she found out I was reading about space travel, building a space station, the stars, the galaxies, and she started questioning me about what I was reading. And I was able to tell her about it intelligently. But through a lot of stuttering.
(WB): She said, “I know his problem. He is very intelligent, he just can’t speak. He has a speaking impediment.” So she brought my parents to her home and said, “Can I work with this child cause we have a new pilot program at HISD for stutterers and he would fit the mold of that perfectly.”
(WB): And the rest became history. I became an honor student overnight.
(PSP): Wow, that is an interesting story.
(WB): I owe that to her. And I honored her at Texas A & M because of that years later as an educator..
(PSP): Now did she live in Pleasantville?
(WB): Yes she did. She actually, a lot of the teachers at Pleasantville Elementary actually lived in Pleasantville. Cause it was a very pleasant neighborhood.
(PSP): Oh, Pleasantville is a neighborhood that deserves a story within itself, not only because of what it is but all the great people that came out of there. So, you left there and then you went to Phillis Wheatley High School, you remained a scholar, and is that when you began to run track?
(WB): No, actually I ran track starting at elementary. They didn’t have a track program but I would always win all my races at recess, so when I got to E.O. Smith, I decided I was going to run for Palmer Bowser and Lesley Minfield and James Bryant.
(WB): And I found out I was very good and I kept running and the next year I started winning more and more races. So, by the time I got to Wheatley, I was already running. But Obie Williams was our track coach there. He had coached Wheatley to many state championships.
(PSP): Oh sure.
(WB): And they had told him when he was about to retire in 66, don’t retire yet because there is a teen that is coming up. A guy named Willie Blackmon, Charles Russell, Anthony Brown, and Charles Minnette.
(WB): They would form the nucleus of a mile relay team that you will find very interesting. And he said, “Ok, I will stay on for another three years.” So he stayed and when I got there in my sophomore year, he trained me and coached me and said, “You are not a quarter miler or hurdler like you have been, you are a half miler.” And he trained me that one year and I became state champion in the half mile and still I was co-state champion and I still hold with another gentlemen, state meet record.
(PSP): Now was that still when the sports were segregated?
(WB): Yes, I was state champion at Prairie View.
(PSP): What was it called?
(WB): Prairie View Interscholastic League.
(PSP): Interscholastic League. Right.
(WB): So that record will remain even if live to be a hundred.
(PSP): Right, exactly. Interesting. And so then you graduated from Wheatley, and your role models continued to be coaches and I am sure other teachers. How did you get to A & M? Texas A & M?
(WB): Well, as you said my role models were coaches primarily but at Wheatley it was a little different. People like Gideon Sanders.
(WB): A Mr. Bolding. Mr. Carvin and Mrs. Marshall, my French teacher and many others started molding my mind and teaching me things about foreign languages, about mathematics more in greater detail than I had from E.O. Smith. And I was a Wheatley All-American State Champion my senior year. Won two gold medals at the state meet.
(WB): I was recruited by one hundred and fifty universities.
(PSP): Oh my god!
(WB): At that time my mother was going crazy because the recruiters were calling any hours of the day and night because they were in California and New York and didn’t understand the time change. So, I personally didn’t care about the east coast teams or the Midwest teams, or the teams in the south. I always wanted to go west, thinking of my summers growing up in San Francisco, the Bay Area. So, I looked at scholarships from Cornell to Princeton to Notre Dame to University of Texas. Texas A & M, Arizona, Oregon.
(PSP): That’s interesting.
(WB): Berkeley was my number one choice, then USC and UCLA. But my mother and grandmother were both ill at the time and I prayed on it. My mother said, “I want you at Rice.” I always wanted to go to Rice. She used to be a housekeeper over in River Oaks before I was born and she always worked for people who were graduates of Rice. So she said, “I would like my son to have a home like this someday.” And then my father said, “Notre Dame.” But they said, “You have that decision son-make it a wise decision and think about it.” So I prayed on it and then the Aggies always came to me and just said, “We want you to come here from the alumni to the student senate even sent me a telegram.” But most importantly, on A & M’s campus in Austin there are buildings that named after named after a General Earl Rudder.
(WB): Earl Rudder was the only president of a university that called me during my recruiting years. While I was home from track practice, my mother said, “Son, this man says he is President Earl Rudder of Texas A & M University, would you like to speak to him?” I said, “Sure mother.” President Rudder is going to call a kid from the east side of Houston to talk to the President of Texas A & M. She said, “would you like to talk?” I said, “Give me the phone.” I was going to embarrass this person-I knew it wasn’t Earl Rudder. He said, “Hi son, this is President Earl Rudder of Texas A & M.” After he talked a while, I said, “This is the President of Texas A & M.”
(WB): And he recruited me and after thinking about it I decided to sign my national letter of intent at the Rice Hotel in the grand ballroom with television and radio, because I told him if I am going to do this, I want my parents honored in such a program as the Rice Hotel, such a place. And he told my coach, that when Blackmon comes in make certain he comes to my office before he goes to class. So when I went to his office, he said, “If you ever have a problem with anyone at this university….I ask you to come here and you honored that commitment and did that promise. And now if you ever have a problem, if they have a problem with you Blackmon, then they have a problem with me and the buck stops at this desk. Tell them they will have a private meeting with me.” I said I understand.
(PSP): Wow, that is amazing. What year was that?
(WB): 1969 August.
(PSP): So it was still going on, the whole discrimination situation?
(WB): It was and he knew that. He was a man of great integrity because he integrated Texas A &M, brought women in for the first time and blacks.
(WB): And when he did that the chancellor of the A&M system told him that if you bring blacks in then I will fire you. But he says, “ I have sent men to their deaths in Normandy cause Omar Bradley asked me to and he asked me when he did that he said you will not go with them up those hills in Normandy, up these cliffs they had to scale.” He said, “I go where my men go.” They had an eighty percent mortality in his unit. Earl Rudder was that kind of man. So he told them I have sent men to their death and almost died myself and you can’t tell me what to do. We will follow federal law and A&M will be integrated. That is the kind of man he was.
(PSP): And so were you actually one of the ones that integrated it?
(WB): No, A&M was integrated in 63, I started six years later. Although, I was one of the first four African Americans to receive a scholarship.
(WB): So we were the first black athletes. When I was running track meets my freshmen year, people would say, “Are you really an Aggie athlete?” I would tell them, “Look at the name it says Aggies, doesn’t it?” They would say, “No offense, I just never seen a black Aggie athlete till you.” We didn’t have any black football or basketball then.
(PSP): Oh, I definitely understand. So what was your experience like at A&M? Were you treated very well because you were an athlete or did you still encounter some discrimination?
(WB): The only discrimination I ever encountered was one guy who I had to use that that Earl Rudder gave me. That little card-the trump card. Cause the first day in class in history, told me “Blackmon, I have heard about you. You have two problems in my class. First of all, you are a jock. I have read about you. I know about your recruitment, you were highly recruited. And another thing is you are colored and I don’t like colored people.” But, I thought about what Barbara Jordan told me before I ever went to A&M when I was younger. She said always use intellect against people. Don’t just get angry and just react.
(WB): And I could have gotten angry and gotten into the newspapers and all kinds of things but I decided to think about what she said and told the man, “Professor, do you know General Earl Rudder?” He said, “Yes, he is the president of this university. He is my boss.” Now that you have said that understand what I am about to say. He said, “If I ever have any problems with any professor or anyone that they would have a private meeting with him in his office, do you desire that meeting?” He said, “No Mr. Blackmon. We understand each other quite well.”
(PSP): Woah, that is a beautiful story.
(WB): I said, “What you did was wrong. My parents protected us like any other parent of any color in the state.” Years later I found out that a black man was the reason why A&M still exists. State Senator Matthew Gaines, without him it would have ended in back in 1876. It would have never gotten to formalize where the buildings were built, etcetera, etcetera.
(PSP): I know about Matthew Gaines.
(WB): Well, Matthew Gaines was that man but, I said, “As long as I am at A&M I will follow you and admonish you, but as long as you show me that you don’t have any problems with any minority, I don’t care if they are black, Hispanic, or what. Then, you will never have any problems with me. That is all I ask of you.” I had to be in the class. He was fair. So, I think he respected me and it educated him as much as he educated me.
(PSP): I see. Ok, so you graduated from what year from A&M?
(WB): That was the only problem I ever had. August of 73.
(WB): It took me exactly four years to the day almost.
(PSP): Four years to the day. And then where did you go?
(WB): From there I decided to come back to Houston where I was wondering whether or not I would be a teacher so I decided to try my legs off, first of all as a substitute school teacher, just to see what I thought. So I would work weeks at a time at Wheatley, weeks at a time at E.O. Smith, or various schools. At the end of the six months I knew that I wasn’t cut out to be an educator.
(PSP): Right, and what were you teaching? What was your major in college and school and what were you teaching?
(WB): Mostly, I was always teaching physical education. My major was business, sometimes they used me in business classes, but mostly because of my background in sports, physical education.
(PSP): Oh, physical education.
(PSP): Physical education, ok. And you decided…
(WB): I decided that I did not want to do that.
(WB): So I decided to go into oil field technology. I became, I went to work for Aggie. I will never forget walking to the office and his name was-Vice President of this company called Drill Co off Holmes Road. They were out of Midland Odessa. His name was Della Morris (Sp?) class of 51 of A&M. I walked into the office and they had me fill out, filling out the paperwork like everyone else. And Della Morris walked in and saw me there and he said, “He doesn’t have to fill out an application. He is already hired.”
(PSP): Because you were from A&M.
(WB): Exactly! I was an Aggie.
(PSP): That is a connection that our children never had before you, by the way.
(PSP): That was another trailblazing effort or trailblazing activity because we didn’t have that connection before you came along.
(WB): It is a great networking connection.
(WB): That is always used and I have advised other young African Americans to use it too, or Hispanics, or anyone.
(WB): Because it works.
(PSP): It does work.
(WB): It really works. But I worked for the Gillette Corporation as an oil and gas. They wanted to train me in the field so I would learn oil and gas technology, and that was an experience in itself because I had to go back to Barbara Jordan teachings and use my intellect because I was called the “N” word out there and everything else. They would use it in such a way that these other people were the “N” word people but I was their friend working in the oil field.
(PSP): And where were you in the oil field?
(WB): Sometimes I was in inland barges in Louisiana in the middle of the bayous or the bays. Sometimes, I was in the middle of the Galveston Bay. Sometimes, I was one hundred miles out in the Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes, I was as high up as the Oklahoma-Texas border or down as far as Brownsville. I worked Louisiana and Texas. I was one of two African American oil field inspectors in those two states. Then I became the only one.
(PSP): Inspector, who were you working for?
(WB): I worked for Drill Co. Same company.
(PSP): Oh, same company. Drill Co.
(WB): We manufactured the bottom hold assembly for oil wells. When they were drilling, the drilling stem below the drill pipe, you had the heavy weight drill pip, below that you had crossers, subs, reamers, and eventually you get to the weighted member called the drill collar which presses down on the bit and as the Kelly(Sp?) on the surface turned that whole drill stem, it chewed up the rock, the dirt and everything else and sent it back to the outer diameter of the this drill stem and pushed the mud back up to what they called a drilling pit. That was my job to prevent fishing operations, which was a twist off, they could twist off in a hole at any time because the rotary shoulder connections. I prevented that.
(PSP): Hmm. Interesting.
(WB): Then I worked and sold oil tools from around the world after that. After I learned it, I sold oil tools in Indonesia, in Aberdeen, over in Scotland, Canada, ---in Mexico, South America, around the world.
(PSP): Didn’t you also become a Colonel? Or did it….
(WB): That was a little bit later because once I was working in the oil field, I decided to leave that and actually go to work Gillette Corporation as a ……
[Part 1 End]
[Part 2 Begin]
(WB): Territory sales manager from West Houston all the way to Corpus Christi. What I did there is personal care division for the Gillette Corporation which was known for sports, for shaving, for razor blades and toiletries, etcetera etcetera. I worked with the women’s side of the business, which made Adorn Hair Spray, White Rain, Dippity Do, Spin Curls Curl Free, and I did that until I decided to go to law school.
(WB): When I went to law school, I received my law degree from Texas Southern University. In at that point I graduated and went immediately to city of Detroit. Well actually to Detroit where I was a public defender and then the City of Detroit law department. Once I worked for Coleman Young, I used to defend him with legal briefs. Sometimes the staff would give the interns, which I was, then I passed the Bar and became an independent contractor or independent counsel for the City of Detroit and I had to write legal briefs and contracts. So, the contracts department would give me the briefs and give the actual lawyers who were on staff the legal briefs and I would write , they would write a brief and they would use my brief because they thought it was better.
(WB): Which was always interesting to me. Cause they said you are very bright, you understand the law, you will go a long way. And they called me in to hire me one day with my boss, Joe Baltimore, who became a District Judge with Donald Payne on their corporation council and told me we want to hire you because your training of the lawyers we bringing in, we need you. And I said, “you waited to late because I have decided to join the U.S. Air force.” And he said, “That is a noble calling, good luck and congratulations.” I went from Detroit which is my home of record for the military into Omaha, Nebraska. That is where the lead off to my eventually becoming a Colonel because Ronald Reagan gave me a direct commission, and I went in as a first lieutenant, as Judge Advocate military lawyer.
(WB): And the rank went from Captain to Major to Lieutenant Colonel. Never did get to full bird because I would never would take Air War College. But for Lieutenant Colonel both are addressed the same as Colonel.
(PSP): Now what year did you graduate from Texas Southern University Law School?
(WB): I graduated in May of 1982 from the TSU Law School. Thurgood Marshall.
(PSP): From 1982 ok. And who were the memorable people that taught you at Texas Southern University?
(WB): There were many.
(WB): One was Professor Earl Carl.
(WB): Earl Carl
(WB): Yes. The Earl Carl Institute at the law school is named after him in his honor.
(PSP): Ok. Ok.
(WB): Another one was Professor Robeson Key (sp?), a military veteran . Another one was Professor Otis King, who I am proud to say was from Phillis Wheatley.
(WB): He was the Dean of the law school at the time.
(PSP): That’s right.
(WB): Another one was Professor Clevin (Sp?). He was a great guy. One of the few Caucasian professors we had. He was a graduate of Yale. Another one was ….Carl, Robeson, King that almost everyone you got there was outstanding because TSU, I don’t know if you understand? You probably do I am sure, how it was created with a lawsuit with one of my frat brothers. And when they created TSU to make it separate but equal under Plessy vs. Ferguson, a New Orleans federal case, they said we wanted a school that people could not say cause the individual whose pictures on the wall here could not get into the University of Texas, so they said TSU had to be equal. So they took a lot of Ivy League-black Ivy League professors and professors from top ten law schools like Robeson King from the University of Chicago and brought them to TSU.
(PSP): I see.
(WB): So when I was at TSU I in essence had an Ivy League education.
(WB): So it was interesting when I was in Detroit, people would walk up to me after I would do a brief and they would say we have been preparing our brief for five or six months, it is excellent and we are going to win on appeal and the city would give it to me and say “Blackmon” you have one night to respond to this and answer it and argue it next week.
(WB): And I said, “One Night?” So I would get a stack of books on each side of me and I would research them all and write a brief and turn in the brief. And but before that these counselors would walk up to me and say, “Blackmon what law school did you go to?” Trying to get into my head and I said, “Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.” They would always respond, “Never heard of it, I am from Harvard.” And I said, “Well, congratulations that is a great law school and we are going to beat this case too.” And when I would beat them on my appellate appeal and argument, the next time I would see them I would say, “Can we have your counsel on something? We just want to ask you on something.” So sometimes you have to earn respect.
(PSP): That’s a great…. I think Texas Southern University , I don’t want to digress with this but I think they are really not well appreciated, as well appreciated as they should be.
(WB): They are more appreciated in the North, Midwest, and the East then they are in Texas.
(PSP): Ok. In Texas. Right.
(WB): In the east coast and north they are very much so appreciated. When I would go argue before a judge and we would be arguing, then we would retire to the chambers, I would look on the wall sometimes and it would say Texas Southern University-Juris Doctor.
(PSP): Wow, that’s uh, Texas Southern University probably ought to do a better public relations job in promoting the people such as yourself who graduated from there.
(WB): Well we are discussing that right now.
(PSP): Are you?
(WB): Doing a better job of that because there are so many great graduates.
(WB): In Atlanta, DC, and Boston and Detroit and Los Angeles that are graduates of Texas Southern that are doing phenomenal things all over the country.
(PSP): That would be just a story within itself. So, now did when you left Detroit and you went into the Navy?
(WB): Air force.
(PSP): Oh, Air force.
(WB): My brother was Navy.
(PSP): (laughing) Ok. Air force. How long did you stay there and when did you get back to Texas?
(WB): I went into the service from Detroit, Michigan which was my home of record June of 1984.
(WB): And it was always interesting that Texas not my home of record but wherever you join the military from becomes your permanent home of record.
(PSP): Oh ok.
(WB): So, Michigan will always be my home of record for the armed forces.
(PSP): I understand.
(WB): Even though I never served one day as Michigan resident, because as soon as I went in the first day I told them, “I am a resident of the great state of Texas. The Lone Star State.” And that is all there is to it. So, they immediately pushed me put me into a Texas category. But when I went into Omaha, Nebraska, what we called the Strategic Air Command Headquarters in Omaha I stayed there three years. Then I went to their largest operational base where we had thirty one B-1 bombers. I was there for two years as Deputy Judge Advocate. From that base I went to Lubbock cause my wife at the time, my ex-wife, Dr. Blackmon, she was a diagnostic radiologist. She was hired at Texas Tech University.
(PSP): I see.
(WB): So they took me there and I started working as an Assistant District Attorney and assigned to Reese Air Force Base which is a fighter training base. I was there for several years then assigned to Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin for three or four years and then went to Randolph Air Force Base one year in San Antonio.
(WB): Because they were closing down Bergstrom and I couldn’t stay there any longer. I was at Bergstrom only one year when an opening came about at Ellington Field which is the one forty seven fighter wing in Houston and I was tired of driving down the highway. I was at Ellington, the one forty seven fighter wing where I had most of my foreign experience with the military for ten years. After that ten years I was reassigned back to Randolph because I built a home in the hill country and I retired after five …. after four more years at Randolph. A total of twenty five years of military service in the Guard Reserve and active duty. Then they gave me three years credit for law school at Texas Southern. So I had twenty eight years of commissioned service.
(PSP): Oh, fantastic. Ok, fantastic. Well, I think that gives us a very good idea of who you are, your background, how you ascended up the levels-the steps. Do you have any ideas or thoughts that you want to leave us on your connection with the City of Houston, Texas? I mean that is a broad question.
(WB): Yes I do because the City of Houston of course is my home town. And when I came back from Lubbock my mother was ill and my grandmother was ill so I decided to relocate with my spouse in 1989.
(WB): I am sorry. I said 89, but 1991.
(WB): Back to Houston, Texas.
(WB): I was reservist and Assistant DA and I came back to Houston . Was hired on as Assistant District Attorney in Houston. In Lubbock I was gang prosecutor and chief of their Juvenile Division.
(WB): In Houston I was a Juvenile Attorney and a Misdemeanor Attorney, prosecuting cases. Both federal, excuse me, felony and misdemeanor. I did that for a period of years and then made what I thought may have been a mistake in my career cause when I was leaving the DA’s office, Johnny Holmes, the DA at that time told me he liked my job but I had a problem or two with some of his people that I didn’t particularly care for. They didn’t care for me. So I said let me go into private practice. He said, “We know you are good. Stay with us and let me recommend you to the governor for a bench with the Harris County Criminal Court of Law.” And I told him no I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to go into private practice to see how it was. And he said I can respect your opinion Aggie, cause he was a Longhorn. I went to do that for several years, but after a few years, I was given the opportunity of becoming an Associate Judge for the City of Houston. Mayor Bob Lanier hired me with the recommendation of Al Green, Reverend Bill Lawson, and some others-the NAACP, the Urban League, and Houston Lawyers Association. I went to the bench for two years and after that I decided I want to get a full time bench. So, Lee Brown hired me to their full time bench and I stayed there through his administration, then when Lee P. Brown came in I was still remainder Judge and then my last Judge I served under was Mark White, who is currently now running for Governor.
(PSP): So this was in criminal court?
(WB): No. Well it is a criminal court. The Municipal Court for the City of Houston handles Class C criminal misdemeanors.
(PSP): I see.
(WB): So it is a criminal court.
(PSP): Interesting. Well, I think that about concludes it. I probably have some other questions but basically wanted to kind of keep it also within your-the context of Houston since we are interviewing people about the Houston area and their experience and I think through your education and service to the City of Houston, I think that is pretty much it.
(WB): Well, but let me just…just as a side note tell you…
(WB): Tell you something that was more Houston’s history.
(WB): Because when I was a kid, I told you about the time period when I was in Clinton Park.
(WB): Clinton Park, everything to me, the whole world was segregated. People didn’t realize we had a community in the front of Clinton Park that had a Theatre there. It was a whole shopping center, even Jesse Owens once spoke there at that Theatre on stage. And the largest golfing association for African Americans, maybe the only one in the 50s was the Clinton Park Golfing Association. But during that time period, I remembered my father Will Boney, used to always just tell me. I can’t remember his words, but it was like he was saying, “You will do well in life. Your speech impediment is a problem to you, you will overcome that because you are my son.” But I remember getting in…he didn’t have a car, and sometimes my mother would take us to see her aunts over in Fifth Ward. And I remember getting on the bus there on Clinton Park and the bus driver was an elderly white man. I just remembered his words, I don’t know why because it had meant something to me. Cause he would always say, “Mrs. Boney, I am sorry that , I will help you get on the bus with the kids” cause there was five of us, and he said, “It won’t be like this, but I am going to help you to the back of the bus, cause that is where you have to sit.” She said, “I understand..” But he said, “This is unfair and one day this will change.” And I remember that man even today because of what he said and care and concern he had, and even being bused from Pleasantville to Clinton Park, cause we had a Theatre across the street. A Drive-in theatre we were not allowed to attend, you had to go all the way to chocolate bayou, over in the Sunnyside area.
(PSP): Right I remember that.
(WB): So all those things I remember so well. Just it was a period of racism and prejudice which made us feel like second class citizens. Going around Houston and downtown, Marvin Zindler, was told a story, he worked for Channel 13, everybody loved him because he told a lot of neat stories about life and made other people be honest and fair about things they were doing to people.
(WB): Well, Marvin always said that his nanny was black, African American, and she would take him to the theatres downtown. She would say, “Marvin sit downstairs, I will be upstairs with the coloreds, you know, and I will watch you and make certain you are all right.” So he said, “No I don’t want to sit. I want to sit with you.” She told me, “Sure.” So she would take him upstairs with her and those same theatres I remember sitting upstairs ….
(PSP): Right, exactly
(WB): And watching the theatre and always saying, “This is so unfair.”
(WB): So I hated to go there. I would rather go to the black theatres like the Roxy, the Deluxe, normally theatres in the Fifth Ward, Fourth Ward, and Third Ward area, I felt more comfortable because I wasn’t discriminated. You know, at that time by them. State championship at Prairie View interscholastically was special to me, but when they said my junior year we would integrate and we could go to the University of Texas; that meant something very special to me because we had fought so hard through Civil Rights that we could be treated the same as any other human being. And that was a great day for me and I just hated that I could not win the gold medal that same year for my coach, Obie Williams. I made a tactical error in the home stretch and I was beaten by a young man from Memorial; who was excellent, he was one of the best in the history of Texas. And he beat me by just a tenth of a second. Even the pictures, to see it you would have thought I won the race. But, the next year I made certain that would not happen again. I won it. But, it was just a watching Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King and others; and Black people dying all the time in the south being lynched. I always looked for fairness to happen. When I went to Texas A & M; one thing A & M taught me is that one professor had that little issue with me, but he changed. I changed him.
(WB): And we both helped each other. But, outside of that A & M was one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve ever known. People tell me, “Was it was a conservative school?” Well, I never had any problems with it and I still don’t.
(WB): And, as far as that’s concerned I’m a conservative man.
(WB): I’m a military officer. I think in a conservative vein. So, A & M, they have a networking program that helps students regardless of their color. And, I will always love my experience there. But, even the segregated experiences of the 50s and 60s, I was able to learn a lot from it. It made me the man who I am today. So, when I went to foreign missions with the military in Bosnia; I was able to work with the Serbs and teach them things that were taught to me because of segregation and eventual integration in our own country. But they were having problems with each other; not based on color, but based on religion.
(WB): And ethnicity. Life is an experience.
(PSP): Yes, it truly is. Ah did you grow up in a particular church?
(WB): Yes, I did.
(PSP): Which church was that?
(WB): Up until I was four years old, I went to church…I think it was called Mount Corinth in Clinton Park on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Mississippi. I may have the name slightly wrong, but I think it Mount Corinth.
(WB): ‘Cause they have a Mount Corinth right next to Wheatley
(WB): And, this Mount Corinth was in the Clinton Park area. After that, we went to Gethsemane Missionary Baptist; which I thought was the greatest church on earth.
(WB): Our pastor was Rev. Hayward Wiggins, a young man that come in when I was a kid from Pineville, LA, next to Alexandria; which is where my natural father was from, Alexandria.
(PSP): Where is Gethsemane Baptist Church?
(WB): In Pleasantville
(PSP): Oh, it’s in Pleasantville.
(WB): It’s a Pleasantville Church that was mainly a neighborhood community for Pleasantville. And it was such a wonderful thing in there were young people that came out of that church that did fantastic things all over the City of Houston and the country.
(PSP): Sounds like another story. Yeah, the story…Did you…Where are you in relation to Judson Robinson the third? In terms of age? Did you grow up with him?
(WB): No, I did not.
(PSP): He is older than you are?
(WB): No he is not.
(WB): I used to watch him when his parents used to squirrel him around in his carriage.
(PSP): So, he is younger than you.
(WB): Ten years younger.
(PSP): Oh, I didn’t realize that.
(WB): I am a decade older.
(PSP): Oh, I didn’t realize that. Ok.
(WB): But that time period when I was young I used to always watch him when he was a baby. He was born then his parents moved him around. His mother would move him around in his baby carriage. But his father was the reason I even went to law school , was able to get into law school. He wrote me a great recommendation and I was accepted into Texas Southern based on his recommendation, the recommendation of Judge Thomas Routt, and also distinguished alumnus of Texas A&M. Can’t think of his name right now that wrote the other recommendation, but those two African Americans-Judson Robinson (Sr.) and Judge Routt were very instrumental.
(PSP): Well that’s right. That park in Pleasantville is named after Judson Robinson’s daddy.
(WB): Correct. The Senior.
(PSP): So, they were very important people, family in that area. As were many other families.
(WB): Right, cause the Robinson Family was instrumental in working with a certain group that built Pleasantville.
(PSP): I see.
(WB): And it was even my mother purchased her home, she always called Judson Robinson Jr. “Junior” , that is how she called him. And they were good friends and that is who helped sell the home to her.
(PSP): I see. That is right cause they were in real estate still (laughing).
(WB): Right, they were in real estate. Had an office over in Elgin in Third Ward.
(PSP): That is right. Well I was gone for a long time so some of those little facts I know that, but its it didn’t have any impact on my life because of course I am older than Judson and younger than his dad, so but I just know the history of the Robinson Family and how important they were in that Pleasantville area.
(WB): Extremely, very important also because Judson Robinson Jr. actually lived in Pleasantville.
(PSP): Oh, I know he did.
(WB): When he was the President of the Civic Association and when he ran for City Council as the first African American on that body. The people in Pleasantville that were older than him encouraged him to do so.
(WB): And they were his campaign committee, if you will.
(PSP): And they are still one of the communities that get the most voters to come out in the African American community, aren’t they?
(WB): That is a lower percentage than it once was, but it still has one of the highest voting percentages in the City of Houston or even in Texas.
(PSP): Even now. Yeah, good. Well, I wish you well in your candidacy and I thank you so much for this interview.
(WB): I am looking forward to the candidacy to be being hopefully one day on the City Council for District B.
(PSP): Well if there is anything we can do just let us know.
(WB): I appreciate that.
(PSP): Ok. Thank you so much.
[Part 2 End]